Terrace gardening enthusiasts often struggle in the scorching heat of the summer months, with their plants at higher risk of wilting. Some gardeners then move their outdoor plants to rooms with more shade to avoid direct exposure to harsh sunlight. But for 51-year-old Raja Chadha, a resident of Vadodara, Gujarat, this season is when his aquatic plants thrive on his terrace garden.
“Living in an area that has hot and dry summers, I was looking for a natural solution to reduce the temperature of my surroundings. I decided to grow aquatic plants that would absorb the heat on my terrace and keep my home cool. Meanwhile, both my parents had relocated from Bhopal to come live with my family here, and I thought tending to a terrace garden would keep them both occupied,” says Raja, who works as an inspection engineer with a UK-based company.
In 2017, he placed 10 pots on his 1,500 sq-ft terrace to grow water lilies. Today, he has close to 300 pots with 200 varieties of aquatic plants, including water lilies such as avalanche lily, purple joy, Panama pacific lily, as well as ornamental plants such as water bamboo and water cabbage. In the other 100 pots, he grows a variety of adeniums.
Sourcing lilies from abroad
Raja would travel to countries such as Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia for work very often. During his trips, he would spend one day sightseeing and purchasing souvenirs for his two sons and wife.
“During one sightseeing tour in Malaysia, I saw a botanical garden that had thousands of water lilies. Each of them had distinct features and looked very pretty. This was the first time I’d seen so many varieties of lilies, and was pleasantly surprised,” says Raja.
So in 2017, when he decided to grow aquatic plants himself, lilies were his first choice. During his first trip to Thailand that year, instead of bringing back souvenirs, he carried back over 10 tubers of water lilies. Raja did not choose locally available aquatic plants such as lotuses, because the flowers bloom only once in three or four months. However, lilies bloom once a day.
Before planting the tubers, Raja read several blogs on caring for aquatic plants and watched videos on YouTube. He purchased a 24 inch-wide bowl that is otherwise used to feed cattle to begin planting.
“Based on what I had found via research, I filled the container with a layer of vermicompost, put clayey soil over that, and topped it with fine sand with no rocks. Finally, I planted the tuber and filled it with water,” says Raja, adding that his first few attempts were failed, and that he lost up to 40 tubers before understanding how to properly care for them.
However, by the end of 2017, through trial and error, he understood the process.
Growing aquatic lilies
Raja says he understood two important processes that must be followed while caring for lilies.
Like any other flowering plant, lilies, too, cannot handle extreme temperatures. Being in Vadodara, it was hard to expect pleasant weather throughout the year. So to avoid harsh sunlight during summer months, he installed a green overhead net on his terrace.
“While planting the lily tuber or rhizomes, I add a layer of vermicompost, self-releasing fertiliser, clayey soil, and fine sand. I learnt that these layers help hold the plant in place, enable their growth, and provide the nutrition on time. No separate maintenance or addition of nutrients is required. I refill water whenever the level drops,” says Raja.
Some lilies are planted in large bowls because they have a widespread root system, and others are placed in recycled ink buckets or drums because their roots grow deep. To ensure that the water does not become a breeding ground for mosquitoes, Raja breeds guppy fish in each pot.
“The fish eat the larvae and are also ornamental. My children enjoy watching these little creatures swim in and out of the leaves,” Raja says.
He adds that the plants and water absorb most of the heat, and do not allow it to penetrate the house. While the family depends on air conditioning during the hot afternoons, the mornings and evenings are usually cooler compared to before, when there were no plants.
During winters, when the temperature drops, to keep the plants warm, Raja carefully puts them into temperature-controlled aquariums located inside his house.
“The aquariums are also home to a variety of fish. There are a total of five large aquariums, and two of them are connected to an aquaponic system to grow the lilies,” says Raja.
Raja’s gardening journey which began with only 10 to 15 plants, has slowly become a total of 300 plants today, and according to him, the most expensive lily he owns is the ‘Sanam Chai’, which cost him Rs 15,000.
If you wish to know more, you can email Raja at email@example.com
Edited by Divya Sethu