All about terrace gardening by an elderly plant lover in the city

Terrace gardening is a joy forever for the 80 year old Dr Raj K Srivastava. He prepares fertilizers, waters hundreds of plants, pots and prunes them by himself. He shares some of his secrets

All about terrace gardening by an elderly plant lover in the city
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Syed Wajid

Gardening not only gives pleasure and connects one to nature but also relieves one from mental stress one is confronted with in big towns. It is a task daunting enough to pursue and maintain gardening in a city like Delhi, which runs on a fast-paced track amidst concrete jungles. Many Delhiites woke up to the call and turned to going green during the lockdown and air quality too improved exponentially. It stayed for some months; AQI has begun to deteriorate again.

The rooftop plantation is a brilliant idea to combat stress and pulmonary ailments. Besides, organic vegetables and hand-grown fruits are what people have become conscious about. When battling the blues of metropolitan city, one can refresh oneself by sitting in fresh air of the garden on the terrace. The terrace garden is not very expensive except for the fact the bunch of gardeners selling plants in every lane are extortionately expensive; they comfortably dupe their innocent clients in the name of fertilizers and pesticides. But the city has many shops and nurseries where the solution to the problems pertaining to buying seeds, manures, pots, pesticides, consultation, other gardening paraphernalia and even hiring a wallet- friendly maali is readily available.

Terrace gardening is a joy forever for the 80 year old Dr Raj K Srivastava. He has fine green fingers, prepares fertilizers, waters hundreds of plants, pots and prunes them by himself. The enthused Raj on the terrace of his flat in IPEX, east Delhi maintains four different sections comprising herbal, vegetable, flower and bonsai plants. He gives some tips about creating and maintaining greenery at home. It is not very expensive but needs time to nurture, Dr Raj elaborates on varied aspects of gardening lounging on his terrace garden in full bloom.

When did you develop this hobby?

I kind of started it decades ago. Prior to coming to Delhi in 1963, I was exposed to a bit of gardening at my home in Kanpur. In Delhi I was inspired by well-kept gardens of the Civil Lines, particularly the gardens of Delhi University, St. Stephen’s College, Roshanara Bagh Club ,of Rouse Avenue and around Bungalow  zone of New Delhi. I also saw that many local residents were keen gardeners. Incidentally, Dr Zakir Hussain was one of them. However, I was unable to indulge in my passion for gardening because I had no space.

What is the appropriate time to water plants both in summer and winter?

The basic need of all plants is water, but some plants need more of it while hardy plants require less water to thrive. As a rule of thumb, plants should preferably be watered in the evening or early in the  morning to enable plants to retain moisture for several hours.

What should be the frequency of watering plants in both the seasons?

Frequency of watering depends on the nature of plants. Several plants  require less watering such as roses, bougainvilleas, adeniums, succulents and cacti, while most flowering shrubs and bushy foliage plants need plenty of water such as  phlox, brachychiton, cineraria, dianthus, aster, alyssum, antirrhinum, gazenia, pansy, petunia, stocks, candy tuft, larkspur, salvia etc.

What do you suggest the common medicine or pesticide that helps ward off bugs and insects destroying leaves and flowers ?

Personally, I avoid inorganic pesticides. For most common garden pests I use diluted neem oil spray or sprinkle boric powder over infected plants ; in case of mealy bugs  and aphids, I spread broken, dry red chilly seeds near the plant root and apply garlic paste above plant root. Chemical pesticide like bavistin can be used but in a highly diluted formulation and that too only in the evening before watering the plants.

Which is the best fertilizer recommended to be used for outdoor plants?

Best possible fertilizer for plants is compost of kitchen and garden waste and neem leaves. It  can be supplemented by vermicompost, cocopeat and neem compost. Delhi Administration has an outlet for it near Kingsway Camp Police Lines.

Can you tell us about some of the indoor plants?

All kinds of palms and ferns, coleus, monstera, dieffenbachia, dracaena, and many varieties of succulents can be kept indoors

Can the plants be tended without hiring a gardener?

Yes, you can be the gardener for yourself. It needs commitment and time. Turning over soil, timely fertilizing, transferring and shifting of plants with care are necessary.

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