What Gardening Taught Me

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Life can be so similar to gardening, and plants to people. And after a year of intensive indoor urban gardening, I can’t seem to agree more. 

Since childhood I have always been fond of gardening and plants, having grown up in a house with a huge front and back gardens. The interest continued after being married into a family where my parents-in laws had super green fingers! Thereafter, I and my husband have been lucky to have beautiful gardens in all the Army accommodations that we stayed in, even winning garden competitions. However, we always had support and the plants had expert eyes (good ol’ gardeners) hovering over them to keep them hale and hearty. 

When we relocated to a new city leaving my in-law’s house, which came with a huge and beautiful garden, I began missing having a green patch of my own. So, there started my personal journey of starting a modest balcony garden on my own in our apartment two years ago. It continued at a steady, humdrum pace with a fair bunch of plants, when the COVID pandemic struck. It was then that I fully plunged into the school of urban gardening. All by myself, where I was the teacher and also the student! 

The interest soon became a full-blown obsession as I started buying, begging and stealing all that was green and alive. I spent a fortune buying plants, suffered several plant casualties and faced flak from my kids for turning the apartment into an urban jungle. My time now was exhausted watering, potting, trimming, misting, rotating, disinfecting, fertilising  plants, pinching dead leaves, bathing them for a fresh new look, carrying and tending to them like babies. 

More than a year has passed since then. As I look back over the year, I am gratified with the wealth of life lessons gleaned from gardening and my plants.  

I realised it’s not we who take care of plants but plants nourish us in equal measure and abundantly too.  A new plant, a fresh leaf, a baby bud, nursing an ailing plant back to life and surrounded by greenery nurtured  – all created a sense of calmness and peace in me. At times, plants, like books and music and all things creative, do save you.  

I discovered that plants like people had their own quirks, idiosyncrasies and I needed to accept it. While some plants were fussy and sensitive requiring constant attention, others were carefree and thrived on their joie de vivre. A few did not like being moved around and others died with over care and concern. And there were a couple who never survived no matter how many times I welcomed them home. 

Initially, I used to be heartbroken when plants, especially a few of my favourite ones nurtured with great care, perished or struggled to survive. It was agonising wondering what went wrong. But I made peace with it over time. That’s what the whole experience of gardening is all about, I fathomed. To enjoy and cherish what was there now, and to let go of something which was no more. 

Being an indoor plant parent is a slightly different business. In the sense that it is a full-time job. You are surround by the multitude of plants all around the house – in balconies, rooms, kitchen table and shelf tops and hanging from plant hangers. And there’s no way you can miss a droopy leaf or a hardened soil or a willowy plant by any chance. They are literally begging you to look at them! So, I potter around with a snip here, a mug of water there, a bit of misting and little bit of pruning and sunning. These efforts do help in keeping the plants healthy and cared for. Sometimes, the most mundane and tedious of tasks done regularly brings about the greatest change.  

I confess, in my overzealousness as a plant lover I went on a buying spree. My monthly expense on plants shot up with repeated trips to the local nurseries, online orders from nearly all plant suppliers. But at the same time, I had lost absolute interest in buying other stuff – clothes, shoes, bags, perfumes – in a post-pandemic world which not only assuaged by guilt but also filled me with relief for not adding up to all the material junk. It was definitely worth prioritising and investing in something which was not just natural and experiential but also filled you with joy and peace. 

Over the months, my research on indoor plants went up by several notches and I gained valuable insights on gardening and plants simply by learning on the go. I learnt which plants thrived well with little water and more light, which blossomed with a nip and about the ones which grew with little fuss. I learnt about plant families and what they loved, discovered the magic of different natural fertilisers, and gathered knowledge on growing skills. Sometimes, you learn somethings on your own and these become some of the best lessons of your life. 

Not unlike people, the growth of plants is also not linear. Or evidently visible. And in indoor plants you can literally observe the minute changes unfolding. The tiny nub of a new leaf in a monstera plant for example, takes its own time to unfurl into a gorgeous new leaf. While some plants produced frequent new leaves and flowers quickly, others took their time. And each species had its own season of growth. It was amazing beholding plants which hitherto lay dormant and unchanging for weeks, suddenly sprouting green stars of new leaves. The sheer pleasure of seeing a lone red and green and white caladium leaf springing up from the earth, when you thought that the plant was dead.  Patience, endurance, acceptance – I discovered were qualities which I had begun nurturing, along with the plants. 

Plants need a boost now and then, a bit of push and support to motivate them to flourish – a beam of light, a dose of fertilizer, a moss stick to lean on, trellis to climb, a change of soil, a new pot…they spruce up with renewed vigour. Like plants we all have our growth boosters – our mentors, friends, families, places, education, experiences, habits et al. – who/which inspire us to grow and blossom from time to time. 

Like people, plants too sometimes need that bit of extra care and attention – an encouraging pat, a pep talk, a gentle caress, a bit of fuss over wilting and unhappy looking plants. I am now cautious not to damage their leaves, bruise their twigs and always careful with the roots, for this where they begin. More often, a little more love always works. Reviving a struggling plant back to life lifts my spirits. When they don’t, well, I console myself that perhaps it was not meant to be. 

As I continue to learn, and grow along with my plants, an enduring message that they have bequeathed is – nothing is permanent. The ‘now’ is all that we have and cherishing the ‘nows’ is what keeps us going. Sometimes, one simply has to just give your best.  And leave it to rest. If you are rewarded, relish the joy. And if not, just let it go. And the most important lesson: Every day is charged with possibilities, second chances and rejuvenations. 

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