In 2014, when 60-year-old Irene Gupta converted her house into an apartment complex she dedicated a portion of her terrace to a small garden.
“Earlier, we had space around the house and there would be a variety of plants growing inside. My mother had been an avid gardener and I didn’t want her to stop enjoying her plants for the want of space,” says Irene.
She started by planting some seasonal spring flowers such as petunias and dahlias in terracotta pots. And within a few months, Irene was enamoured by her garden. From a handful of terracotta pots, today her terrace is filled with containers such as plastic crates, thermocol boxes, paint buckets, a water tank and more. These hold over 40 varieties of vegetables and fruits.
Irene shares with The Better India how she created a beautiful garden in her limited space.
Bitten by the garden bug
When Irene, her mother and their helper moved into their renovated home, they had a terrace space of 2,000 square feet. Initially, Irene planted 10 varieties of plants, including aloe veras, ponytail palms, money plants, and some seasonal spring flowers like petunias, chrysanthemums and more.
“These plants were nurtured by my mother in our old home. We placed them in terracotta pots with organic potting soil and transferred them to the terrace. Within a few months, they started to produce flowers too. It was around this time that I grew cautious about increasing the load on the terrace. This set me on a course to find out ways and means of lessening the weight of the planters without compromising on the quality of my plants and produce,” says Irene, adding that she browsed the internet looking for solutions.
At first, she came across several blogs from other countries like America and Australia and most of the gardening tips were based on their climatic conditions. However, Irene managed to find a handful of Indian blogs that offered her basic tips. To learn more, though she couldn’t understand the language, she regularly watched a Malayalam show named KissanKerala on television. Here, she learned about growing plants in cocopeat, coconut husk, composting and more.
Not only did she find a solution to reduce the load of her plants on the terrace but also noticed that in several American blogs people were growing vegetables and fruits in wooden crates.
“So, I decided to try this method. However, I could not find any wooden crates so I settled for discarded plastic crates used to stock fruits and vegetables. Since these have holes on all sides, I lined them with old curtain cloths to hold the soil in place. Then, I planted cauliflower and allowed it to grow. It was a success,” says Irene.
Growing plants in recycled containers
Soon, she procured more containers and started growing a variety of vegetables like tomatoes, brinjal, cabbage, gourds, and fruits including guava, pineapple, lime and strawberries. Irene says that she cultivates the vegetables depending on the season.
“Some leafy vegetables like mint, coriander, curry leaves, giloy, and basil are perennially growing in containers like plastic crates or paint buckets,” says Irene, adding that she has also recycled thermocol boxes, printer ink drums, and old gunny bags to grow the plants.
To create wide grow beds for the vegetables, Irene recycled an old water tank that was lying around in her society. She had the 500-litre tank cut into two, sealed tight at the bottom, and filled with an organic potting mix. In this, she grows fruits like grapes and root vegetables.
“Apart from this, I also created extra grow beds by having a patch of elevated trough installed on the terrace. This trough provides space for better root growth and to grow crops like cabbages,” says Irene.
As nutrition for the plants, Irene adds compost prepared from kitchen scraps and fertilizers made from tea leaves, onion peels and eggshells. She even adds cow dung as vermicompost regularly.
Today she has utilised 1,100 sq ft on her terrace for growing plants, which fulfil her family’s seasonal vegetable needs. For over three months last summer, Irene harvested more than 40 kgs of sponge gourd. Other crops she grew included bottle gourd, snake gourd, bitter gourd, bitter melon, cucumber, long beans and cowpeas.
In winters, she grows crops ranging from broccoli and cabbage to turnips and carrots, besides a variety of greens. As ornamental plants, Irene grows lilies of various kinds – from the common rain lilies to exotic ones like Asiatic, bougainvillaeas, jasmines, crepe myrtles, many varieties of hibiscus, morning glory, passionflower, among others.
Irene says when she stands on her terrace she sees so many barren terraces around her which makes her sad. She sees potential being wasted.
“I know that many realise the benefits of having a terrace garden but fear issues like seepage or think it’s too costly or believe they do not know enough,” she says, adding that she is happy to help, if it would encourage someone else to follow in her footsteps.
You can email Irene at email@example.com.
Edited by Yoshita Rao