Somnath Pal from Mumbai recalls the days when he didn’t have enough money to buy his favourite plant — the water lily. “I bought my first water lily when I was 18 years old. In that moment, I felt like I had gained something very special in my life,” the 36-year-old says.
Fast forward almost two decades later, and today, Somnath owns a garden which is bursting at its seams with over 200 varieties of water lilies, 80 varieties of lotuses, and 15 varieties of other water plants. “I have a total of 300 plants which also includes a variety of other plants like roses, marigolds, papayas, guava, hibiscus and ground orchids,” he says, adding, “Watching my father water and take care of his plants inspired me to begin gardening myself. Along with my two sisters, I would help him do this from a young age.”
‘It was love at first sight’
Somnath saw water lilies for the first time on his trip to the nursery with his sister and her husband. “It literally was love at first sight,” he says, adding, “I didn’t have enough money to buy them that day but, within a year, I saved Rs 100 from my part time job as a security guard and went back to buy four water lilies.”
Over the course of time, he saved more money, and bought more plants. After reading up on each variety, he learned to take care of them himself.
What started as a hobby on his terrace farm has now turned into an 11,000 square-foot land cultivation project. With an increase in earnings, Somnath began importing more varieties of water lilies from countries like Thailand, China, America, Italy, and the UK. He also bought some from Assam, Kerala, West Bengal and Maharashtra.
Somnath grows rare varieties of water lilies, including Nymphaea Immutabilis, Nymphaea Eros, Nymphaea Mekkala, Nymphaea Red Flare and Nymphaea Colorate. The lotuses include Nelumbo Snow White, Nelumbo Vaasuki, Nelumbo Nakshtra, Nelumbo Twinkle, Nelumbo Red Silk, Nelumbo Kaanchi, Nelumbo Green Apple and Nelumbo White Puff. Colocasia Esculenta Black Magic, Colocasia White Lava, Papyrus Dwarf, Papyrus Giant, Butomus Umbellatus, Thalia Dealbata, Thalia Geniculata and Star Rush are the different varieties of water plants.
The plants in his garden are priced anywhere between Rs 1,000 and Rs 45,000. He receives 200 orders per month, mostly from Southern Indian states, including Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. He also grows hybrid plants like Blue Whistle, Suwanna, Aashia, Swayam and Painted Dream.
Somnath narrates a step-by-step approach to growing water lilies:
- The first step to grow a water lily is to float the tuber in a bowl of fresh water, under dappled shade, for almost two days. You can also keep the bowl covered with a plastic mesh to avoid the tuber being picked at by birds or other animals.
- You can grow these plants indoors too, just be sure to keep them near a window or balcony and provide them with direct sunlight for four to six hours.
- Meanwhile, prepare a container and soil substrate. Make sure to choose a round bottom, tapering container. Now, in a 12×12 inch container, you can add four inches of clay soil.
- After this, the tuber should be carefully placed parallel to the container wall, which should be at least two inches deep. If you are growing a tropical tuber, then you should place it on the centre of the container.
- Water should then be poured upto the brim of this container. And within a few days, you will be able to see small floating leaves in the container followed by buds.
- Clay soil is the best for water lilies and lotuses. The second best is black cotton soil and loamy soil, which absorbs water and holds more nutrients for the plants.
- If your pond water or soil starts to smell foul, you need to change it immediately.
- Algae and snails are the biggest challenges of growing water lilies and lotuses. However, one can manually remove these from the pond. A method to get rid of hermaphrodite snails is by using a pinch of copper sulphate in 30 litres of water and transfer the solution in the pond. After this procedure, one has to change the pond water the next day.
- The best time to grow water lilies is from March to October.
If you wish to order one of Somnath’s many plant varieties, you can contact him on 90046 03931 or go to his website — Nymphaea & Nelumbo.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)