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Why Gardening? ‘It Helped Channel My Grief After I Lost My Dad’

Mayank Sharma started gardening to channel his grief after losing his father. Today, his terrace is a thriving ecosystem with veggies, fruits, creepers, and more.

Why Gardening? ‘It Helped Channel My Grief After I Lost My Dad’

Mayank Sharma’s apartment terrace in Delhi’s Vikas Puri is a cross between a forest, a garden and a passion project. Just as you think the place has revealed all its surprises, you turn a corner to find out you were wrong. 

Pumpkins, cherry tomatoes, beetroot and broccoli grace the garden patch that Mayank has spent the last decade nurturing. His creation seems almost like a rainbow, with green interspersing the riot of colours every now and then. A penchant for nature has always been in his DNA, he tells The Better India, adding that it was losing his father in 2015 that prompted him to embark on this green adventure.  

“We weren’t prepared to let go of my father or his memories. He had planted an aloe vera plant on the terrace the day before he passed away. As kids too, he was always growing okra and brinjal to educate us about how food is grown,” he says. 

The way Mayank saw it, he was faced with two choices: wallow in his grief and resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms or channel it into something productive. 

It is a no-brainer which path he chose and the thriving garden space is a testament to it. 

The ‘now or never’ moment 

While it does seem like Mayank perfected his green fingers in no time, he argues otherwise. There were multiple learning experiences, he points out. In retrospect, he made many mistakes while trying to get his plants to fruit, he says. 

“Take creepers like bottle gourd or bitter gourd for example. What I have now understood is that there is always a male and a female flower in the plant. So, even while the fruit is being borne on the female flower, there has to be a male flower for pollination to occur,” he explains. 

Mayank Sharma has cultivated a thriving terrace garden in his Delhi apartment.
Mayank Sharma has cultivated a thriving terrace garden in his Delhi apartment, Picture source: Mayank

To this, he adds, “You can make all the arrangements for bees and other pollinators to be attracted to the flowers. But don’t forget about the male flowers.” He terms the period between 2015 and 2020 as his biggest learning curve. It was only during the COVID-19 pandemic-induced lockdown that gardening went from being a passion project to Mayank’s way of life. 

“My daughter was born during this period and it got me thinking about how the air we breathe isn’t the best, and neither is the food we eat the healthiest. I began thinking deeply about the world we were bringing our kids into and decided to be better.” 

A corollary of that thought is the kitchen garden that Mayank has cultivated. Filled with every kind of local vegetable as well as seasonal produce, the garden he says is an example of a complete ecosystem. 

“All peels that are generated in the kitchen go into the compost bin. This compost then goes into the garden to nurture the plants, which ultimately grow into the food that we consume.” While Mayank does admit that picking his favourite greens is like picking a favourite child, he lets us in on a secret — “Vegetables are my forte.”  

A veggie interesting story 

If you are a gardening enthusiast looking to begin your journey, or even if you are a seasoned one, one cannot deny that monsoons are a challenging time. While Mayank’s garden seems the picture of health, he says every garden has rough days. 

The secret lies in knowing how to channel the weather to your plant’s advantage. This was what he learned at the outset of when he started cultivating vegetable plants

“Let’s be honest. You can have all the ornamental plants around you. But if we are speaking of an urban area where space is limited, the idea is to use the smallest of spaces well. That’s where vegetable plants come in,” he says. 

Not only are you cutting off the chemicals from your life — by consuming the vegetables you grow organically — but you’re also saving on costs. 

Here’s what Mayank recommends growing in the late summer/monsoons: 

1. Bottle gourd  

Mayank speaks of how creepers are the best bet for monsoon. “They love humid climes and rainwater is the best source of nitrogen for these plants. It increases their growth.” These vegetables are versatile and you can even start growing them right now, as they are said to be tolerant to high temperatures. The same applies to bitter gourd. 

2. Zucchini 

Often touted as an exotic vegetable, zucchini is abundant in carotenoids, fibre and potassium, making it a green that you want to add to your dietary palate. The summer squash pairs well with a number of other vegetables and ingredients and the recipes featuring it are endless. One pointer to keep in mind is that zucchini plants require at least five hours of sunlight and well-draining soil, both factors that go a long way to prevent root rot. 

3. Brinjal  

Love whipping up some fried brinjal in the monsoons? Mayank says growing the plants is equally exciting. A fact to know before you start growing brinjals is that they can survive in dry spells. But they thrive in moisture. Pro tip: Ensure your eggplants are well watered, receiving at least an inch of water every week. 

4. Pomegranates 

A gardener’s favourite plant, pomegranates do not require as much water as its counterparts. While you may take a while to spot the fruit of your efforts, it will all be worth it when you reap the rich red harvest. In addition to being a delicious fruit, pomegranates can be used in a multitude of recipes, juices and desserts. Rich in vitamins A, C, E and B-complex, the fruit is what you need to add to your daily intake. 

5. Guavas 

The litmus test of being desi is whether you enjoy guava with chilli and salt. This monsoon, enjoy the delicacy of your very own plant. All you need to do is soak guava seeds in water for 24 hours before placing them in moist soil. The fruits are rich in dietary fibre and have high levels of vitamin C, making them great for health. 

Edited by Padmashree Pande.

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