Growing plants in your own space not only improves air quality but also has a calming effect on the human mind. Sakshi Bharadwaj, a 25-year-old resident of Bhopal, took this advice to heart and created a ‘mini jungle’ behind her house that houses 4,000 plants of 450 species. What’s more? There are 150 species of these plants of exotic varieties and they are all grown in a vertical set up, using hollowed-out coconut shells, recycled bottles and cans.
“Gardening is in my genes,” says Sakshi, adding that she studied microbiology owing to her love for nature.
“In 2019, I started working as an assistant professor of Agriculture at Mansarovar Global University. I developed a special interest in growing plants because I was teaching students about concepts like propagation and understanding plant genetics, and I wanted to make sure I always spoke from experience. So, before teaching a concept, I would try out the concept at home,” she says.
She would graft branches from trees and raise saplings, or purchase flowering plants and propagate new saplings from them. Apart from that, she would also experiment with making bio-enzymes using citrus peels and making vermicompost by feeding worms only medicinal plants such as neem or papaya leaves.
Growing exotic varieties
Early in 2020, while looking through social media, Sakshi stumbled upon an urban gardening community where users were discussing exotic plants such as Monsteras and Philodendrons that they were growing at home.
“I was shocked at the variety of plants others were growing, and at that time, my garden seemed so small because I was growing simple plants like hibiscus and roses. So, I reached out to a few of them and placed orders for snake plants, some Monsteras, Philodendrons, and Begonias,” says Sakshi.
But she did not stop there. She planted them in cement pots purchased from nurseries, added organic potting mix and vermicompost. She would water them regularly and watch them flourish.
“I decided to plant them in cement pots even though I have a garden-space around my house. The ground has several red ants crawling, and they destroy plants. I tried several organic methods to get rid of them, it was always a failure,” says Sakshi.
Though the plants were growing well in cement pots, Sakshi had the nagging thought that stopped her from buying more pots to propagate her plants. That is when she decided to go eco-friendly.
“I drink coconut water every day. I thought — why not propagate new saplings into the coconut shell? The husk would be a great solution for water retention and the medium was sturdy enough to never break,” says Sakshi.
Creating a vertical garden
To put her plan to action, Sakshi picked out coconut shells, cleaned them thoroughly and let them dry. She created two holes at the top of the shell, fitted metal wires and ropes to hang them against the wall. To support the ropes, with the help of carpenters, Sakshi had nails drilled into the wall. Finally, she filled the shell with organic potting mix, vermicompost, and kitchen compost and placed the saplings within.
“It took a few days to clean the shell, and propagate the saplings. But, till date, all the plants continue to grow and I keep propagating new ones. The plants have no pest issues, and the coconut shells are a natural source of nutrition for the plants. Now, my garden has more than 4000 plants. There are 450 different species of plants and 150 of them are exotic, including some from the family of Philodendrons, Monstera, Begonias, Calathea, Palms, Peperomia, Ficus, Epipremnum, Sansevieria, Chlorophytum, Aglaonema among others,” says Sakshi adding that she also planted exotic saplings into recycled plastic bottles and cans.
Sakshi’s favourite plants in her garden are the Monstera Adamsonai because that was the first rare plant she grew, and the Philodendron dragon, an exotic species that she got from Indonesia.
To make the recycled planters look attractive, Sakshi spent every Sunday during the lockdown painting them in different colours using water-resistant paint.
Apart from recycled plastic containers, she also used plastic covers including milk packets as polybags to propagate seedlings. In the future, Sakshi hopes to run a nursery that specialises in distributing exotic species of plants.
If you wish to know more about Sakshi’s garden or purchase exotic plant saplings from her, you can reach out to her via her Instagram page.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)