The Accidental Gardener - gardening for wellbeing.

I love the sound of - The Accidental Gardener! Makes me feel elevated from a layperson who does not know the ABCs of gardening to one who reaped the fruits of success.

Well to be honest, it was more of a 'what to do with a ‘free giveaway’ pack of chilli seeds'. This story dates to the beautiful summer of 2018, when the world looked completely different from our present day. The sun shone brightly over the colourful wildflowers, the ever so resilient phoenix-like poppies, chirping birds and the quacking ducks with their cute ducklings. Those were the days when everything and everybody looked happy as if they had the world at their feet. There was not a care in the world on the faces of humans.

In one of them days, the foodie in us, took us to a popular celebrity chef restaurant serving Mexican cuisine, and at the end of the meal we happily accepted their offer of this special, Mexican chilli seed pack. The first thought that came to my mind was to throw it away in the bin as soon as I stepped into my cool and calm abode. I am no fan of any clutter lying around my house(?), so why should this useless pack of seeds sit idly, collecting dust? But on the contrary, I was very reluctant to do so when I reached home. I felt as if I’ll be throwing away 10 tiny babies who were helpless and under my mercy! I felt my heartstrings being pulled just as a new-born baby would do to any warm-blooded human!

So, one fine day towards the end of the summer season, these chilli seeds were planted into small ‘Mexican’ design earthen pots with a nutrient rich potted mix. This is where the amateur gardener in me, made a mistake and I’ll tell you why, later. The little saplings sprout up and grew to be healthy looking bushy plants in the nice warmth and cosiness of our home. Meanwhile, the colours of the outside world were changing rapidly. The once lush green trees and grass were showing hues of red, golden, and brown. The ground appeared as if someone had laid a soft brown carpet, the sun always seemed to be in a hurry to go to bed and humans were starting to resemble penguins and polar bears with extra layers of fur coat on them. On one of these chilly, dull afternoons I parted ways with 5 of my young saplings to get them happily housed in my friend/neighbour’s garden. The rest 5 plants were transplanted individually to bigger earthen pots. Oh, they seemed so happy! Or so I thought. Once in their happy places, they shot up into handsome looking chilli plants like it was no one else’s business! Over the next few weeks, I saw them covered in snowy bursts of white blooms that made me overjoyed. This is when reality dawned. My flowers were simply dropping off the plants.

Young pepper plant ready to be transplanted

They were perfect, healthy, and beautiful stars but they would refuse to stick to the stem and most importantly they never came to fruition! I scoured gardening blogs, watched endless tutorials, “phone a friended” my family and friends and reached the conclusion that, nature needs help too… Didn’t you know that you cannot grow chilli inside the house, it needs a little help from the outside ‘buzzing’ world of bees and wasps and butterflies etcetera, etcetera?! Now, you must be wondering why on earth did I not place them outside, you have every right to think so. Well, you see… after autumn, comes winter and with winter comes frost, temperature drops, and the English winter makes you forget that there was ever an English summer! So, placing these wonderful young plants in the cold harsh winter was out of question. I tried pollinating the flowers artificially by diligently following a couple of you tube gardening experts, but to my utter dismay, nothing worked.

Regardless of them not bearing any fruits, I still loved them and took care of them throughout the winter, shielding them from the harsh elements of nature. One thing is for sure, from this experience, I would say I emerged as a much more well-informed gardener, who now loves container/pot gardening. It is not too different in many ways from how we would plant in the ground, yet it is so different in many other ways. In the beginning, whenever I got frustrated with my plants, I would cry out in despair and complain to my fellow human beings in the house about these wretched plants needing more love and care than babies! I do not remember, ever worrying about plants dying/wilting because of being over or under watered, water collecting at the bottom of the soil, thinking of the sun, shade, rain, and the wind…phew. We have an open balcony, so it becomes more difficult to protect them during those heavy rains. But despite these hurdles and frustrations, I didn’t give up and the more it challenged me, the more I wanted to make it a success. After all, I am the daughter of a mother who loved gardening, be it flowers or vegetables.

Potato plant in a bag

Our front garden and the kitchen garden at the back of our childhood home never was left barren. We saw mum growing all sorts of flowers and vegetables and we used to enjoy the fruits of her labour all year round! Although I am not as lucky as my mum to have acres of soil to play around with, I am lucky to have a balcony. I love it and it is my vantage point from where I can see the world around me. It is also my place of solace and dreams and the ultimate place to have our cosy evening drinks or a crunchy family snacks over a good banter during those balmy mornings and sultry evenings! Now the start of this decade has been nothing like usual and everybody has tried to make the most out of it as much as they can. This came as a boon for my new love of pot gardening and I delved into it without hesitating. My heart sings when I see my peppers, potatoes, parsleys, and bulbs of onions growing stronger by the day. To add dash of colour to all the greenery, I love planting flowers too; be it my Lavandula, the hydrangeas, dahlias, chrysanthemums or my calla lilies, they all bring life to my balcony and colour into my world. And not to mention my ever so loyal Yucca plant that has been with us for nearly 4 years and has survived through all the ups and downs

Important points to consider while Pot/ Container Gardening

There are few learnings that I took from my few years of container gardening which are:

Gosh...Sweet peppers!

1. Be in Love: Yes, I mean truly, if you do not love pots, plants, dirt or nurturing then probably it isn’t the best idea to go forward with. Even in containers you will still have to shovel dirt, water them every day, sometimes even twice a day, feed them at the right time, prune them and protect them from the elements.

2. Location: It is important to place the pots or containers in the right places where the plants will happily grow. It will depend on whether the plant requires a lot of sun or is a shade loving one. If your balcony is south facing like mine, then it will be wise to grow plants that need at least six hours of sunlight a day. If you plant shade loving varieties, you may have to plan for providing shade in the balcony. Ideally, choose a sheltered spot e.g. against a wall to protect them from strong winds. Ensure the pots are fixed securely. You may grow herbs in pots and place them on the windowsill with plenty sunlight.

A hydroponic Bengal gram plant growing in a plastic tub!

3. Container: The container should be large enough to ensure that the plant has enough room to grow and adequate drainage. Choose your favourite shape and colour. Go for the traditional terracotta, wooden or plastic pots or be environmentally friendly and creative by recycling your unused pots, pans, or buckets. If they are of the right size and has drainage and has your desired aesthetics, it doesn’t really matter what you choose as your container.

4. Compost: Choosing the right compost is so important in pot gardening. I use the multipurpose compost from our local garden centre, if you make your own compost, go for it, probably you are already! Nothing like a home-made compost! The multipurpose composts are light weight, rich in nutrients and retains moisture. Avoid using garden soil as they are heavy and are likely to contain weed seeds.

5. Watering: Now this is one of the trickiest one to control, at least that is what I’ve found in my 3 years of container gardening. Plants growing in containers will need watering more often as they do not have access to much moisture than those in the ground. During the hot days of summer, the compost can dry out very quickly hence slow but thorough watering, both in the morning and evening is particularly important. Ensure that the water soaks through the compost to the plant’s roots.

6. Feeding: Just as water, plants in containers have limited access to nutrients in the soil. Hence it is necessary to feed them regularly with either solid or liquid plant feed. I find liquid feed easier as there is low risk of overfeeding the plants. Follow the feed producer’s instruction on how to dilute and prepare the feed. In general, feeding is required once every two weeks which increases to weekly when the plant has rapid growth phase.

7. Pest control: Look out for those pesky little pests – aphids are the worst offenders. These are tiny bugs, usually green in colour. I normally use a home-made insecticide, a mix of alcohol, water, and liquid soap. Neem oil is good too.

8. Garden tools: If you decide to dive into having your own little patio or balcony garden then it is not too late! Although autumn is round the corner, it is the best time to plant those bulbs for lilies, irises, tulips making them ready to flower next spring! Why not go-ahead full steam! Get yourself the tools you will need for container gardening. The basic tools to begin with are a soil scoop for shovelling soil, trowel, a hand cultivator, a pruner, a pair of gloves and a watering can.

9. Patience: ‘Patience is a virtue and perseverance pays’ are what I learnt from my experience as a novice gardener.

Benefits of having pot garden

Apart from the aesthetics and of course the privilege of being able to grow some of my own veggies there are many additional benefits of having a container/pot garden.

Fresh green or colourful foliage automatically lifts my mood at any given time or day! I can feel the weather every morning or late afternoons, as I must be out tending my green friends. It definitely has a massive positive impact on my wellbeing, especially during these rough times.

My dear sonny knows where his veggies come from and a plant’s life cycle. Atleast, now I am doubly sure he won't be one of them who thinks that potato chips/crisps grow on trees!

There is a lot of excitement amongst my family & friends about my pot/container garden and it is a popular topic of discussion whenever we speak.

Hydroponics growing in recycled plastic tubs!

I would suggest anyone on any given day to have some live greens in their homes, be it indoors or outdoors. If you do not have an outdoor space, you may try growing potted plants on the windowsill and if you do not want to muck about with dirt, there is an option of growing plants without soil using a method called ‘Hydroponics. At the end of the day, I get a sense of fulfilment and accomplishment.

We will definitely put a blog post on hydroponics so do tune in if you are interested! Until then keep Gardening for Wellbeing!

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