Who says things can’t be green on both sides of the darn fence?

When I was a little girl, I had a thing for climbing trees. I realize I still do, when I see a juicy-looking tree and find myself automatically looking for footholds. Perhaps Enid Blyton had something to do with this, as most of her protagonists were expert tree-climbers, and I was very impressionable. The tomboy in me has died hard.

This is me and trees:

its branches just beckoned....what could I do?
ooh...footholds! (must climb)


But this post is not about trees so much as it is about plants in general. Of late, I find myself obsessed with the idea of growing things, inspired perhaps by a mild form of envy (if other people can have a green thumb, so can I!) but also due to exposure to a bunch of articles posted by my horticultural friends on Facebook, the most inspiring of which was this.

I have tried growing things in my balcony, but my attempts grew half-hearted over the summer months, as the hotness of the sun and the harshness of the winds prevented my plants from faring well, giving up on it altogether as way too much work with too few benefits. But the story of this guy in London growing food in pots in his balcony has succeeded in galvanising me into action once again. Container gardening, here I come! 😀

My experimentation with seeds began when I attended a flower show earlier this year and saw a guy selling them. That flower show was responsible for quite a few things actually.

1. I realized gardening can be quite a happening thing.

2. Fellow human beings and inhabitants of Karachi seemed really into it.

3. Aforementioned people actually succeeded in growing stuff in their homes.

Here’s a glimpse of the flower show:

huh....climbing this would be a cinch.

I ignored the orchids at the flower show altogether, as I didn’t relish the idea of watching them die in my not-quite-so-green-thumbed hands. I ignored the twisted, curly bamboos for the same reason. In fact, I walked out of the flower show without purchasing a single plant! (and this after spending at least 2 hours oohing and aahing over all the lusciousness). But like Jack in the fabled story (minus the admonishing mother), I found myself drawn to magic beans……

After buying a few packets, I walked out, went home, put the seeds in a drawer and promptly ignored them for several weeks. It required too much thought and the fear of failure was too high to actually go ahead and plant them. But one fine day (taking heart from horticultural Facebook friends, as well as my beloved aunt, a vegetable-growing diva, and also the new-found knowledge that crops CAN be grown in pots), I shed my horticultural chicken-shit-ness, donned my gloves and shady hat, picked up my spades, shovelled earth into pots and took the bull by the horns.

I planted cucumber, spinach, coriander, tomatoes, corn, chillies and basil that day. Out of these, spinach, coriander, basil and chillies proved very successful and I was overjoyed. The corn plants grew beautifully too, and I marvelled to see how the cobs grew like babies in a pregnant stem. Sadly, they died a stillborn death, the plants starting to wither after reaching the second trimester; and the tomato and cucumber plants grew madly, but never bore any fruit until they too withered away, as from an unconsummated marriage.

Feeling a bit defeated in my gardening ambitions, I abandoned them in favor of more fruitful pursuits. Like blogging. 😛

Then I came across that article about the London guy……

Happily, the rejuvenation in my ‘growing’ mood has coincided with sowing season. Not to be daunted by my earlier failures,I set to work once again (the old fiend-like determination setting in), and with a little bit of experience this time round, I set the ground for some serious crop-production. I lugged whatever pots I had, all shapes and sizes, filled with soil, from the downstairs courtyard into my balcony, a back-breaking and thigh-cramping job requiring multitudinous jogs up and down the kitchen stairs. No help whatsoever. Just me and my achy muscles.

I’m going to do things right this time….more focus….more vigilance. I got myself more magic beans too, and have planted capsicum, lettuce, strawberries, green beans, and am giving spinach, coriander, cucumber, tomatoes, chillies and corn another shot.

My sowing frenzy came to a screeching halt when I realized I had too many seeds and not enough pots. I DID acquire more (through some very sly and underhanded means, details of which are known by only a select and privileged few) [you know who you are guys], and continued the good work. This is how Project Balcony has shaped up so far:

(Six more pots have been added to this lot today. Will post an update to let you know how the plants are faring in a months time with some, hopefully, VERY much greener photos)

A labour of…erm…love.

I found myself questioning my motivations at the end of a day spent doing something generally regarded as a relaxing pastime.

It was (relatively) early Sunday morning that I was seized by a sudden urge to beautify my courtyard. To that end, a trip to the nearby plant nursery was deemed a necessary expedition, and once again I am struck by how willingly Huz lets himself be dragged along by my whims. The day promised to be a scorcher, and I’m sure his idea of a leisurely Sunday morning did not involve browsing a plant nursery in the sun. Yet, instead of perusing the delightful new Express Tribune spread out under the fan in the living room, he was to be found driving me to Lalazar….in other words, foliage heaven.

My goals were simple: I needed to add a few plants to my as yet nascent vegetable garden. Ideally, it would have been more fun to get the seeds so I could revel in the joys of germination, but the sheer convenience of the availability of half-grown plants in this teeming nursery easily pushed over my desire to grow from scratch.

the spinach i am growing from seed
and still growing..

My courtyard had a variety of aspirations, Thai, Italian, Mexican and Greek being amongst them, but after giving it a much needed makeover, however, it seems to have assumed an unassuming identity all its own. The main feature, if it can be called that, is a trellis made of bamboo, which affords a partial, dappled shade over half the courtyard. The idea was to train a few creepers over the top, which would eventually not only add a rustic, romantic and wild charm, but also mesh over the gaps in the bamboo and create a verdant shadiness underneath.

the bamboo trellis..

Fate has thus far conspired against me though, and the yellow-flowered Allamanda I have tried to proliferate refuses to cooperate, and keeps getting infested with those vile white bugs that feed on budding leaves and cause black rot.

a glimpse of the lone surviving Allamanda

So, it was time to look for a different creeper, and browsing through Lalazar, I chanced upon the one I was looking for. I don’t know what it’s called, but I have a nostalgic connection with it, as it reminds me of sunny childhood weekends spent happily with my cousin Sheroo. This creeper blooms with delicate long-stemmed flowers in shades of pink, which you can join together on their own to form chains of flowers…these can be looped together at varying lengths to form necklaces and bracelets, and a single stem can fit into its own flower to make a ring. We used to pick clumps of these hanging flowers, make lots of chains and adorn ourselves with them, pretending to be Hawaiian or something and I was delighted to find it, despite being warned by Sheroo that it attracts bees, and immediately asked the head gardener at the nursery to fish it out from the jungle of tangled creepers it was enmeshed in.

Huz and I walked triumphantly out of the nursery, having acquired some lovely citrus-fruiting lemon and tangerine pots, a couple of fragrant mint and curry-patta pots, the nostalgic creeper, a distinctly tropical frangipani and a typically subcontinental Flame of the forest a.k.a Gulmohar, the latter having been advised by my mother (presumably to indulge her own nostalgia)

The thing about buying plants from nurseries is that you need to re-pot them, as they invariably come in rather shabby, mossy-looking ones. Transplanting them into bigger containers also gives the roots more room to spread out, and the more comfortably anchored plant can then proceed to realise its full potential and grow bigger and stronger. Therefore, after the nursery visit, it became imperative to make our way to a ‘gamlay-wala’. These pot sellers can be found dotting the landscape especially near nurseries and they are open air enterprises, presenting the buyer with a cornucopia of pottery and clay-related decorative objects.

There is something earthy about clay pots, and I am drawn to them in their purest form, unadorned and unpainted. Choosing pots for re-planting is a pleasure, and I watched with satisfaction as the shopkeeper lugged and deposited two large and two medium sized pots into the boot of the car. These we happily drove home, and I smiled in anticipation, mentally rubbing my hands in glee, as I contemplated an afternoon of peaceful gardening.

Five hours later, I am covered in sweat and dirt. My hair has been whipped frizzy by the wind. My hands are sore and calloused from lifting and pulling and pushing and digging and my aching back is a painful reminder that I am no longer in my twenties. Yet, a lot of work has been done, almost entirely by me. Plants have been re-potted, dying plants uprooted and thrown out, the entire courtyard swept and re-arranged. Later, as the labours of the day manifest themselves in their full achiness, and I am forced to take painkillers and groan pathetically enough to induce Huz to give me a much-needed back massage, I wonder why I subject myself to these bouts of insanity. Anyone would pay a ‘maali’ to do the work for them and have a beautifully tended garden with absolutely none of the effort. Or, I could just stop trying to delude myself into believing I have a green thumb, and just….stop. Who needs greenery? Who needs to grow their own veggies? Who needs to learn more about compost? Why is it so important for me to have my own lemon tree, if it means watching out for caterpillars? I broke my own heart last week when I used bad judgment and tried transferring my cucumber seedlings into multiple pots and jeopardised their wonderful growth at my own hands.

the lone surviving cucumber seedling..

Perhaps the answer is sheer doggedness, and the stubborn desire to understand what makes plants tick. The madness lies, of course, in doing it without help, and without gloves, and with a tendency towards respiratory allergies. Despite everything, it was still an afternoon well spent, and when I lean out of a window that overlooks the courtyard, I do feel a twinge of pride and happiness at my unskilled yet passionate efforts. There’s no sappy ‘being at one with Nature’ feeling. I think I just like watching things grow. And I guess messing around with dirt is my thing. 🙂