Never mind what the textbooks teach you, life has its own lessons. I have learnt over the years that the fall season isn’t as simple as flipping the calendar to October or November. It isn’t just about autumn, either.
If you get a chance to travel through our countryside, you will notice that plants have their own in-built calendar that refuses to be pigeonholed into any human-defined season!
Have you seen that for the past month or so, your plants have been turning various shades of green and brown? Unless they are evergreens, plants shed their leaves quite noticeably, once a year. The shedding continues for months as each plant sheds according to its own calendar.
A friend loved her lawn spick and span, and would despair every time the wind blew leaves and flowers down. Bougainvillea, in particular, caused her great anguish, showering the lawn with flowers that are, in reality, coloured leaves packed around the little white flower.
One Christmas, her neighbour walked in with a gift: a potted bougainvillea. Our friend gulped in guilt. “Do you want me to chop the plants off from your side?” she asked. The neighbour looked shocked. “Please don’t!” she requested, “That’s why I’ve brought you another bougainvillea. You grow the plants and I enjoy the shower!”
There’s much more you can do with leaves and flowers. You can compost them, for instance. If all the waste our cities generate can be put to good use, India will always remain one of the most fertile countries. Add to this the fact that about 85% of garbage from an Indian home is kitchen waste, and you have a gold mine at home.
If you have space at ground level, dig a small pit a couple of feet deep. Throw in the leaves and some soil to help the leaves degrade faster. A fistful of ‘gobar khaad’ (cow dung manure) and a sprinkling of water will help the process along faster.
For years, I wasn’t too sure if the same process would work in a balcony garden till Radhika Anand of Plantology, famous for her terrariums, took me around her balcony gardens. She was composting leaves on her balcony, much the same as we had been doing on ground. Choose a deep flowerpot. Radhika taught me to go in for something pretty, rather than an old, sad-looking one. Line it with crocks, about an inch high, to block the opening at the bottom. Your composting tub is on! All the leaves that we sweep can up go into it. If the leaves are too large, chop them into pieces so that they disintegrate faster. Get it going with a thin layer of soil and organic manure, and sprinkle some water over the layers. Cover the tub with a fitting lid. Place a pretty planter on top and no one will guess what’s cooking below! Repeat the soil treatment every few weeks and turn the stuff around each time so that it composts evenly. The results are ready in just three or four months, depending on the weather. Your plants will love you for this chemical-free tonic! So will the municipality, since you are reducing the burden of garbage considerably.