A Bank of Greens – More Importantly, Our Bank of Greens

The path to getting green fingers is a long, tortuous path, or so it would seem as you begin the journey, foraging in the aisles of your nearby garden centre.

As a child, I would give a hang for the new plants that arrived at home from time to time. They were kind of a given. Anyway, they were my mother’s department, her passion. I had more more pressing matters to deal with. When to meet a friend for sets of badminton; when to scuttle out and grab a scoop of ice cream with my group of friends at the nearby ice cream parlour that was the place to hang; where to hide that jar of berry pickle I stole from a cache of pickles that arrived home; how to sneak a book into the bathroom where I could read for hours uninterrupted before ma came knocking on the door … Such were the pursuits I was involved in.

But when the time came to pluck flowers, there was a solid pep in my step. I would pick fistfuls of shiuli, the aromatic night-flowering jasmine, to weave garlands for my parents’ beloved figurines of various gods and goddesses. There were gorgeous blooms of hibiscus to choose from, heavenly smelling jasmine and frangipani, purplish Madagascar Periwinkle that bloomed in abundance, white crepe jasmines, electric-blue butterfly peas. The memories of others have been blurred with the passing of the years.

There were the regular coconut and date trees, bananas, and neem trees, the last of which were the bane of my existence because my mother insisted on frying them up and made the entire family chew on those bitter leaves like our lives depended on the act of swallowing those god-awful leaves. Neem leaves, for the uninitiated, are numbingly bitter and linger in the mouth long after you have had them. However, they work miracles for the skin. Later, our collective misery was abated when my mother decided to grind them up, make tiny pellets to be dried in the sun. These pellets were to be taken orally daily.

But the show stealers for me were the tall eucalyptus trees, the susurrations of which mark the bulk of my summer holiday memories of idle prancing around the gardens, and the shower of pink bougainvillea that cascaded down the four levels of the balconies of our house with great glory. A day came when all three were felled. Great sadness reigned over the heart. The eucalyptus trees were hindering the growth of other plants around them. The main branch of the bougainvillea had grown so stout that it was digging into the railings, slowly corroding them. Still, how do you reconcile yourself to practical decisions when they collide with that sentimental part of you that will not abide by reason? Here was a lesson for life itself, it seems.

Yet, despite the tree hugging core of me, I had no experience of planting a single seed or sapling by myself.

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Seeds of radish in the left container waiting to germinate and a cherry tomato sapling on its right

The stirrings of this need for a kitchen garden came about when I started watching chefs and cookbook writers on the telly wander into their backyard gardens and pluck glossy veg and herbs while cooking. It tantalised the senses. What would it be like to harvest veg and herbs from our own little garden?

In all our years of marriage, Adi and I have been living in apartments, none of which came with balconies. This year however we moved to an apartment with an enviable balcony that looks out onto a green belt, which in turn spills on to the bay and the park. My fingers were itching, no matter that they have had zilch experience in the field of growing foliage of any kind.

The other day we made the trip to a gardening centre. Haranguing a helper there for information till he wanted to be nowhere near us. We came back home with a few saplings, pots to replant them in, and a few bags of garden soil, potting mix, plant food, perlite.

Things started unravelling remarkably as we started our research into the heart of the matter.

What kind of pots to buy, what kind of plants to plant, does the balcony receive full sun, partial sun, or is it completely in the shade, how to cage/stake nightshade plants, what is a potting mix, how to use garden soil, the functions of perlite. Dear god, our minds felt fuzzy. Here was an overload of information and the realisation that we needed way more soil and way bigger pots if we were to get anywhere with our saplings.

In all of this routing around for knowhow of how to get our plants going, we never checked on the most basic thing. Namely, the amount of sunlight which we receive. This, as it turns out, is for a measly number of three hours. Exactly half of what our nightshades and other plants need. Excellent. This means that apart from running around with the pots, mostly on Adi’s insistence, and repositioning them to catch the ebbing rays of the midday sun, we have decided to turn from relying on nature to the machinations of man. Now we await the arrival of lights to assist our plants in the essential journey of their growth (and while we wait, we whisper to them — anything to make them feel better about missing out on their food).

But as the sweet elderly gentleman at another gardening centre told us after he had listened carefully to our woes and doled out plentiful advice, “You know what, just go with it. You will know better than me by the end of it. You will know what to do as time goes. All you have got to do is, just do it.”

And thus we roll, with this process of going bold or going home.

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Training a beefsteak tomato sapling
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One’s gotta have lettuce in the garden
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Hallo you lovely Rosemary!
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Italian Parsley
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The lavender is taking baby steps towards small but fragrant blooms. Next to it is the corianderย  that has begun to sprout new leaves. It was deadbeat when we got the sapling.
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Meet the English Thyme
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And here’s a plump Basil to leave you with.

Published by

Arundhati Basu

The great affair in my life is to travel. I count myself immensely fortunate that my partner shares this passion. We are a team that likes to spend time planning and plotting out places to go. Destination check, flights check, accommodation check, cheesy grins check. Off we go.

54 thoughts on “A Bank of Greens – More Importantly, Our Bank of Greens

      1. I guess you could look at it that way. I always thought gardening was about creativity and intuition – not that I’ve ever done any! (Which just goes to show what I know!)

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      2. The devil is in the detail.
        The first evening of planting , Adi was second-guessing everything we had got because everyone has different theories of mixing soil and various other mixes. It was a touch alarming to think we had everything wrong. Now time shall deliver the verdict.
        P.S.: All my comments on your blog are vanishing into spam. Though I think I run the danger of repeating myself here. ๐Ÿ™‚ x

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  1. Looks like a wonderful start to your urban garden! Can’t wait to see the plump tomatoes when they are ripe. Did I ever mention that I once mistook a tomato plant for cannibis? So much for my knowledge of green things ๐Ÿ˜‰ – Neek

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    1. Hey you, how are you both? An urban garden is the answer to idle minds. Pray that we get those juicy beefsteaks which I cannot have enough of with salad.

      Haha, did you now? Mistake tomatoes for cannabis! Well I had no idea that they looked similar. I must go and look it up. ๐Ÿ˜› xx

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      1. We’re doing fine! Hope you are also and yes, it was a store for hydroponics and they had just legalized cannabis in California. I thought that the plant in the store window was showing how to grow it but then it started to grow little red things (tomatoes) that Lex pointed out to me. Yes, I am an idiot. BTW, the store has since become a church. Very strange.

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  2. It’s just an amazing feeling to seeing the saplings grow and especially when you harvest . Glad to hear you are enjoying your balcony gardening. The lettuce looks great and so do all the herbs .We did plant some bhindi and beans seeds and other saplings as well and a joy to see them grow.

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    1. Hey Nisha, it is an amazing feeling alright. We had wonder writ large on our faces when we spotted a tiny shoot of radish trying to pop its head through the soil. Thank you. We are excited about what lies around the corner. I would love bhindi! Maybe for next summer we shall keep it in mind. Do they grow well? xx

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      1. How nice , radish would be nice to grow. This is our first attempt with bhindi(okra) seeds Arundhati , will keep you posted .Right now tiny leaves have sprouted and it is nice to see them.

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      2. Ya I’ll be happy even if I get a few for my sambar ๐Ÿ™‚ NC weather being hot and humid might help I’m guessing .So far so good here more family time ,gardening,cooking an d walking .Hope you have been okay as well.

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  3. Wow they’re all looking good! I also have herbs in my balcony. And the other day, the gov’t here is encouraging to place lettuces too. Did you have to re-pot the tomato sampling from where you planted the seed?

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    1. Hello there, lovely! Merci. They do look pretty and healthy. Hoping they thrive. It is more for passion’s sake, this kitchen garden, and something to get us out of our heads. But it feels good.

      We did replant the tomatoes which we bought as saplings. Because we were a bit late to get seeds and wait for them to sprout.

      I bet your herbs are keeping your kitchen fragrant. I have sowed some lemon seeds and waiting for them to pop up too. xx

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      1. Hope so. I think it was the radish after all. Lemon seeds take time apparently. :-/ Yes, in some cases early spring is best for planting seeds. Those like radish grow easily so they say seeds are fine to go with. x

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  4. I’m not an accomplished gardener either, but we do have more sunny space than you. Too much sun can be a problem too…. I talk to mine and hope they are forgiving. ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

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    1. You are a plant whisperer too then. I think they must like the natter. The Portuguese sun is robust, I have no doubts on that front. These are the things one bungles up on when one has zilch experience. :-/ x

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  5. Haha, this reminds me of my recent veggie/herb gardening experience. It’s all a bit overwhelming isn’t it? My parents had green thumbs and produced so much wonderful produce, but I was never inclined that way. I’ve started out simple this yearโ€”just herbs and lettuce. So far so good, but I’m impatient and keep nipping at the basil. You look like you have things under control. Hope you get a good yield.

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    1. It’s certainly all we have on our minds, Caroline. Not a bad thing though. ๐Ÿ™‚ So, you are following in your parents’ footsteps eh? Lettuce and herbs sound grand. You possibly cannot go wrong there. And it is your solemn duty to keep plucking the basil for your kitchen. It would feel rather neglected otherwise.

      Thanks C. I do hope it is a fair yield. We have started using the herbs already and it is a dream realised. Sweet and important. x

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  6. The elderly gentleman is correct. Gardening is a process of trial and error. If all else fails, fall back on succulents! Still unable to follow you on WP and I have discovered a similar issue with a couple of other blogs. I have the WP boffins working on the issue.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hope they are able resolve it! Mine too says I do not follow bloggers who I see on my feed. The oddities of the business.

      I realise it too as we go about it, Sheree. Now the radishes have just started sprouting and don’t they look darling. We have done the radish dance already. xx

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      1. Tomatoes need sun, which I believe you must have plenty of in the next couple of months at least. You could give them another shot. I will look the other way. xx P.S.: Anyway, the sun is playing hooky here and I am a tad bit disgruntled. x

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  7. This post reminds me of merely an hour ago when I was looking at the flower pots that never bloom, the vanished strawberry plant that has produced nothing this year and the rest of the green mess that is our back garden. S said to me “we need somebody professional to sort this out!”. Nevertheless, it is a blessing to have that outdoor space. Interesting insight into your childhood too – I can only relate to the ice cream and I’d have to swap badminton for football ๐Ÿ™‚ .

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    1. Hello hello on this beautiful Sunday of fresh cool air and bright sunshine. Just watered our plants and fixed them up with some plant lights which we think are a bit dodgy. They are for indoor plants, which we are experimenting with outdoors! It looks all too sci-fi now.

      I think you guys will figure it out. What about replanting those that haven’t shown up?

      I bet it would be football for you. ๐Ÿ™‚ I had sessions of cricket thrown in when the cousins visited. On one of which a duce ball smacked me hard in the face too. Cheers.

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      1. Fresh warm air and sunshine here, as it has been for some time. I don’t think we have green fingers, but will do some watering a little later while we still can. Our local reservoirs are half empty already!

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    1. Hello V! Gracias. We have started snipping off the herbs already for garnishes. It is like being asked to choose between your children. ๐Ÿ˜› But I am eager for the lavender to bush up and for the lemon to sprout. The rest are flourishing and the cherry tomatoes have flowered too. Watching them keenly. xx

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    1. You have a good memory, Brianji. We do. Making way for fresh herbs to wash over our senses. Thank you for the comment and a thousand apologies for the delayed response. I have been hopelessly tardy at blogging. Hope you have been alright. Cheers!

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      1. No worry ma’amji. Time has been suspended worldwide for the past 4 months… ๐Ÿ˜‰
        Two important things right now: Health, and keeping one’s job/source of income…
        ๐Ÿ™๐Ÿป

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      2. LOL. Almost chatting. Yes, without being more materialistic than I am, income right now, can be preoccupying. The number of people out of a job worldwide is staggering. Stay safe in that too.

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      3. Absolutely. and from what I hear in India, millions lost their jobs and practically had to walk home back to the village. With many casualties along the way. A sad affair.

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      4. The labourers have had a hard time of it. Affairs have been managed so poorly by the govt. My mother has been keeping me updated about the awful proceedings. And it has been troubling enough. I cannot bear to share photos on social media of food and gloat over what I cooked or baked. Reality is harsh, Brianji.

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      5. It is. Zaroor. (Applies here?). You can always skip the food part. The rest is not your fault or responsability. It does confirm what I gather from all my friends (dost, dosti?) across the world: the total incompetence and cynicism of our “rulers”. Something will have to be done about it.

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