‘How I Built an Orchid Collection’: Retd DRDO Scientist With 1500+ Plants Shares Tips

‘How I Built an Orchid Collection’: Retd DRDO Scientist With 1500+ Plants Shares Tips

Viswambharan N K, a retired DRDO scientist from Kochi, maintains a thriving home garden with over 1500 plants, including organic vegetables and orchids. He shares some tips on how he built his orchid collection on 15 cents of land.

Gardening was an easy choice as a post-retirement hobby for Viswambharan N K, whose ancestors had been into large scale farming. Even before he retired as a scientist from the Naval Physical and Oceanographic Laboratory (NPOL-DRDO), Thrikkakara, in 2015, this sexagenarian was collecting and growing many orchids at home.

For the 67-year-old, the pandemic arrived as a boon, as it gave him plenty of free time at hand. He earnestly immersed himself in vigorous gardening, mostly orchids and vegetables. Today, he grows over 1,500 plants on 15 cents of land, where he lives with his wife Jayamma.

“Since my family was into agriculture, I had this interest from childhood. It’s only now that I had time to completely get into it,” he tells The Better India. “The plants are spread across our surroundings and our terrace of our house. There is actually no space left here now. Four cents of the land around the house have been reserved for the garden.”

‘How I Built an Orchid Collection’: Retd DRDO Scientist With 1500+ Plants Shares Tips
The pink beauties from Viswambharan’s orchid garden.

Orchid: ‘Dancing girls’ and ‘miracle fruits’

What attracted the gardener to orchids? Beauty and the plant being low-maintenance, he says. “There’s no need to use pesticides on orchids, because pest attacks rarely happen. Also, based on varieties, the flowers can last anywhere between five days and three months,” he explains.

‘How I Built an Orchid Collection’: Retd DRDO Scientist With 1500+ Plants Shares Tips
Dancing in grace.

Viswambharan’s orchid collection includes all major types like cattleya, dendrobium, cymbidium, and vanda. Out of these, there are over 50 varieties of ‘dancing girls’ (impatiens bequaertii) too. Most of them are planted in hanging pots. “Only organic manure like neem, cow dung or urine are used in the process. Moreover, orchids require comparatively less maintenance. We don’t even have to water them daily,” he adds.

‘How I Built an Orchid Collection’: Retd DRDO Scientist With 1500+ Plants Shares Tips
There is even a a carnivores pitcher plant (right) here.

In addition to flowers, Viswambharan also produces vegetables and fruits needed for daily use. “We are almost self-sufficient now. I also love experimenting with new variants. These include blue coloured chillies (filius blue pepper) and violet or red ladies’ fingers,” he says. He also grows bitter gourd, brinjal, snake gourd, spinach, papaya, rambuttan, banana and guava.

‘How I Built an Orchid Collection’: Retd DRDO Scientist With 1500+ Plants Shares Tips
“Bitter gourd is our favourite.”

Another unique item in his garden is the ‘miracle fruit’ (synsepalum dulcificum). “If you have any sour item, even if it’s curd or tamarind, after eating this fruit, it will taste sweet. This effect lasts for about two hours,” he explains, his voice tinged with excitement. “The tree here is large and gives us fruits every year, which are popular among our family, friends and neighbours.”

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Most of these plants are collected from various houses or gardens. “Exotic orchid varieties are pretty expensive, but this has turned into a craze, and nothing matches the joy I feel when I see the blooming flowers.”

Viswambharan has put together a compost in order to fertilise all his plant babies. “I have never used any chemicals during farming and I believe that’s the reason behind my sound health even at this age,” he says.

‘How I Built an Orchid Collection’: Retd DRDO Scientist With 1500+ Plants Shares Tips
Viswambharan in his orchid heaven.

Viswambharan’s only advice to farming and gardening enthusiasts is to use organic manure. “If you are not in a position to prepare a compost at home, there are several options available in the market. It might be a little expensive, but not as much as your hospital bill will eventually be.”

Even as he grows thousands of plants, the gardener has never sold any. He lets people take seeds or saplings, but does not engage on a commercial basis. “These plants require utmost care and quality packing, as most sales happen online now. I am going to set foot into this space soon, because I understand there are many enthusiastic gardeners like me all over the world.”

Edited by Divya Sethu

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