If you are a plant enthusiast, chances are that you may have also gone through this dilemma: Should you grow the kochia (a plant that looks like a giant green powder puff; it has nothing but leaves) from seed, or from seedlings picked up from a nursery? Meera, a friend who moved to Delhi from her parents’ home in a small town, finds herself in this existentialist bind. She has grown up seeing her mother and the gardener labour over the winter annuals from October. “They’ would get all hot and bothered about which seeds they had and what they needed to buy, and about whether the weather was right to begin the first planting on 15 October,” she recalls. Then, while the winter ones did their little catwalk, it was time to work behind the scenes on summer annuals such as portulaca, zinnia and cosmos, gaillardia, gomphrena, kochia and celosia.
Today, Meera does not have the time to continue the family routine. She still visits gardening stores between October and December, picking up seeds and seedlings for her two balconies. But, it has never been the same. Weekend gardening is not quite enough to inspire young seedlings, and her success rates are very low. This year, for example, all her pansies wilted away.
She tried to grow hybrid petunias from seed and memorized the instructions on the packet. She tries to go the organic way and fears that could be one reason the petunias have been so slow to grow. While others were deadheading their blooms, Meera’s plants were just shedding leaves.
On the balcony of her neighbour’s house, though, seasonal plants come and go like a mini nursery. For some time, Meera wondered where they kept their extra tubs or where the home-nursery was. Then, she found out: Her neighbours have an arrangement with a local nursery that offers seasonal plants in bloom and takes away the ones from last season that have wilted. For a price, of course.
There are issues here that gardening enthusiasts continue to struggle with: Should you grow your plants from seed? Should you give your plants away once they are over with flowering? Do plants have any feelings? Should you get attached to your plants? And yet, in today’s age of tiny balconies and tinier pockets of free time, is there enough time and space to garden? Should you support hybrids so blatantly? And, what about the fact that many of these nurseries use chemical fertilizers to tempt the plants to grow and flower faster?
Each of us have to untangle the knots to the best of our knowledge, time, capability and conscience. Perhaps, the answer is to draw a mean somewhere and grow some of the easier ones yourself. Nasturtiums, for instance, are some of the least fussy among winter annuals. All they need is sunlight. Phlox isn’t too fussy, either. And, if you’re thinking of summer flowers, as you should be now that the mercury is climbing unpleasantly, gomphrena isn’t too choosy. Nor is vinca, the flower that grows wild, even clinging to water pipes for inspiration. If you want to add a mass of green to that, opt for the kochia. Of course, with memories of last summer’s still fresh for the Delhi gardener, go for it early. The plants need some tolerable weather for the first few weeks so they are old enough to bear the searing heat of May. I met a friend at a nursery last summer under unusual circumstances. “Bhaiyya!” wailed a bewildered voice, “I took 100 kochia from you last fortnight. Not even one survived!” The voice sounded familiar. So did the problem. I turned around to find my friend.
If you don’t have space for a nursery while you sit back and enjoy the last of the petunia, you may just have to go the way of Meera’s neighbour and find yourself a friendly neighbourhood nursery with an exchange programme.