The writer takes a walk through the lush green rooftop garden of Lionel Pereira in Thane, Maharashtra

Winner of two prestigious prizes in January 2020 for his exotic rooftop garden in Thane, Maharashtra, Lionel Pereira is literally on Cloud 9. He won prizes for rooftop garden in the Bungalow category both in the Thane Municipal Corporation horticultural contest as well as one hosted by NGO Paryavaran Dakshata Mandal together with the Rotary Club of Thane.

His passion started three years ago. His first floor had a sloping tin roof, so his first task was to put up pillars on the sides of his home to support another flat platform. On this, he lay a reasonably priced synthetic grass matting of Rs 110 per sq foot, and a lovely, soothing green expanse was soon in place. “You can do the same thing on a concrete terrace anywhere, so long as you have ample sun,” he says. “But if you are opting for natural grass, make sure your structure has a synthetic layer with waterproofing and is strong enough to hold a sand-mud layer that is at least two to three inches thick”. He counts himself lucky, for his synthetic grass serves his purpose well and is a million times less hassle-free to maintain than real grass. “All it needs is some brushing now and then in the opposite direction to its spikes,” he says. But do ensure that your roof has a slope to drain off the water as it is bound to get wet everyday as you water your potted plants.

Lionel’s next step was to procure some 20 to 30 plastic planters, each 13” in diameter, for his dream was to grow trees up on his terrace to recreate a mini forest. Seeing his beautiful trees, I asked him for his secret soil formula. “Normal mud, cocopeat, vermicompost and cowdung. Never fill up your pot completely with the soil. Fill up 80 per cent of your planter with this mix, then pack in dry leaves to cover up the roots of the plant.” The leaves, he explains are key to the health of your plant. They retain moisture, shield the plant’s roots from harsh sunlight and heat and allow a host of micro-organic activity that works on the leaves.  

“These leaves quickly turn into compost,” he explains. You can also add your kitchen vegetable peels. Just make sure that you don’t add acidic peels to it like lemon and orange peels. Cut into small bits, they turn into compost quickly and add nourishment to your plants and trees. “Keep covering them with dry leaves. The results are better that way,” he says.

How did he plan this beautiful rooftop garden? “What do you look for in a garden? Flowering plants for aesthetics, and lots of soothing shades of green. That’s good for your soul, mind and eyes,” he explains. “Next comes the senses and for them, you want things that are aromatic. Finally, comes taste, and I quickly began looking for trees that would bear fruit quickly. You can plant grafted trees that are available in all nurseries,” he says.

How much does a tree weigh, soil, planter and all? “I reckon each plant would be 60 to 70 kg. I have just about 20 large pots, but they make the place look cool, lush and inviting,” he replies.

“Growing trees and plants anywhere is a spiritual experience,” Lionel explains. “There is so much mental satisfaction in seeing a plant grow. It is something money cannot ever buy,” he says. “Growing trees is a big blessing. Nature is a part of God’s creations. It is like serving God. Plants talk to you in their own way and I know exactly how much water a plant needs. I know instinctively when it needs aeration or when it needs fertilizer or its dead parts are to be pruned. I spend 2 to 3 hours a day watering my plants. Up on the roof and down in my garden, I have close to 400 plants – guavas, mangoes, lemons and what not, besides tomatoes, periwinkles, chillies and capsicum.”

As I look around, I know instinctively what he means. Plants are like children. Delightful and always giving you so much joy. I look up at the terraces of other buildings who have this beautiful view, all for free. It’s a blessing really to oversee a patch of green, especially one as lush and bountiful as this one.  

To watch a video of Lionel’s beautiful gardenCLICK HERE