I grew up climbing trees and running around gardens. That is a Bangalore I have always known,” says 39-year-old Mamtha Rajesh. Two years ago, not satisfied with the few potted plants that decorated her apartment, Rajesh sought professional help.
With the help of Bangalore-based MySunnyBalcony, which helps set up gardens in homes and offices, she converted her balcony into a garden. “It gives me a place for my me-time,” says Rajesh. She says watering plants is akin to meditation. Rajesh’s 9x5ft garden is the best replacement she could find for her large childhood garden. “When we first got it, our family of four had several dinners here.”
Gardens are embedded in the biography of Bangalore. Long before it earned the title of Garden City after Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV ordered the planning of public gardens in 1927, it had lush greenery. Some Bangaloreans believe the city owes it to the British. Though Bangalore’s trophy garden, Lalbagh Botanical Gardens, was created during the time of Hyder Ali in 1760, the colonizers established the culture of gardening for pleasure. “Right from the day that the Lalbagh garden was formed, it was the centre of plant introduction, testing and trials and acclimatization of foreign species,” says S.V. Hittalmani, additional director, department of horticulture, government of Karnataka.
The secret corners: Mamtha Rajesh’s balcony garden is where she unwinds every morning. Courtesy MySunnyBalcony
Given the city’s weather and soil conditions, residents took to gardening like fish to water. “I would say Bangalore owes its reputation as the Garden City not just to the public gardens that the city had, but to the fact that almost every house in the city had a garden,” says B. Narayan Vishwanath, an expert in organic terrace farming. Vishwanath says that during the 1970s, the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) allotted plot sizes that could accommodate a villa and a garden. “But even if people had a small piece of land, say, a small independent house in a 30x40ft plot, they would have some pots,” he says.
It’s an inheritance that slipped from Bangaloreans around a decade ago, when the city burst at the seams with new construction. The pace of the city, once a retired person’s paradise, quickened once it became the IT capital. “From the year 2005, it was as if the city suddenly began to see reason to panic, suddenly people were registering for gardening classes,” says Vishwanath, who has been working to promote the idea of terrace gardening since 1995. But from toying with potted ornamental plants on terraces, people have begun to grow vegetables and greens on these.
The gardening carnival Oota from your Thota, which in Kannada means food from your garden, was organized twice in 2011 by the Garden City Farmers Trust (GCFT), Bangalore, spearheaded by Vishwanath. It helps potential gardeners with tools, seeds, soils and most importantly, information and encouragement to create more vegetable gardens.
Vishwanath, who has written a book titled A Handbook of Organic Terrace Gardening, has so far trained 6,000 people in various classes and workshops on urban gardening and also moderates a group on Facebook that allows people to post their gardening queries. “When the group started two years ago, I had to answer all the queries. Now the members with experience share and provide answers that are perhaps more relevant than mine,” he says.
B.N. Vishwanath experiments with various ways to farm on a terrace. Ramesh HS/Mint
While independent houses with gardens still exist, the balcony and terrace garden is a relatively new phenomenon, says Vijaya Raman, who started My Terrace Garden three and a half years ago to help firms and individuals plan and set up gardens. “A lot of people who have had a few pots come asking for more elaborate gardens and want to understand their plants,” says Raman, who also offers maintenance solutions.
Reena Chengappa, who co-founded MySunnyBalcony with three others three years ago, says their timing was perfect. “Had we started 10 years ago, we wouldn’t have survived. It is now that everybody is so keen on growing their organic vegetables, herbs and having their own personal patch of green,” says Chengappa. She says garden plans are being incorporated in the design blueprints of homes and apartments, for which many people ask for decorative plants mixed with some herbs and small vegetable plants. Chengappa charges upwards of Rs 10,000 to create a small space with potted plants, a water feature and a few wall accessories.
When planning the design of her new home, Thenmozhi Venugopal, a home-maker, thought of the garden even before she began to consult with an interior designer for the house plan. Having lived her first two years in Bangalore in an apartment that allowed space for a few pots, the prospect of having free space for a garden in the house was exciting. “At first, the idea was to have some space for plants in front of the house, but after consulting with MySunnyBalcony, we are now planning for some in the front, a strip of decorative plants near the kitchen in the back and also some on the terrace,” says Venugopal.
Both Raman and Chengappa, who have a passion for gardening and have impressive personal gardens, received part of their training from a horticulture training programme organized by the Association of People with Disability (APD). The programmes are spearheaded by horticulturist Ganesh Hegde, who has so far trained more than 1,600 people in full-time, certified courses. “We started mainly with the aim of providing a vocational training course for people with disabilities from the low-income strata. Gardening also proves to be therapeutic and helps our students focus and better their motor skills,” says Hegde.
Receiving requests from the general public for gardening classes, APD now holds classes in basic gardening, identification of plants and herbs, over weekends. “But it’s not just gardening, they want to grow their own vegetables and herbs, and in this class, people go back to the basics,” he says.
Design elements in balcony gardens help make the space more attractive. Courtesy MySunnyBalcony
While those who are apprehensive about their gardening abilities opt for classes, more people just go to the nursery run by the organization to pick up ready potted plants. “Serious gardeners grow from the seed stage. We have at least 20-25 visitors every day who pick up plants from us,” says Hegde. The department of horticulture maintains that Bangalore currently has more than 500 active nurseries, and the number is growing.
The Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) is organizing the second edition of the Green Landscape Summit, which works to help builders and those in the construction industry create greener buildings with more space allotted to landscapes, on 19 and 20 January in Bangalore. Chandrashekar Hariharan, chairman of the summit and executive chairman, Bangalore-based BCIL Zed Habitats, which builds eco-friendly buildings, says few builders see green as a need—that has to change. “As a policy, we already set apart up to 30% of the space for landscaping, this apart from other open areas,” says N. Kishore, manager, landscape, Brigade Enterprises Ltd, a Bangalore-based builder, who will be participating in the summit.
While facilities like rainwater harvesting are a requirement of the state government, a leafy patch and the desire to reclaim the city’s original title is a Bangalorean’s demand.