The author moved from Mumbai to verdant Goa a few years ago, and began growing a few herbs and plants in her sun-drenched balcony. Soon, gardening became her favourite new health-giving hobby giving her endless joy
My Mom had green fingers. Her garden was full of blooming red roses, fragrant mogras and bougainvillea that lined the compound walls. As children, we would sit out in the balcony and admire the pink flowers, which we called ice-cream flowers, soft, pink, and flurry like strawberry ice cream. To-date, I don’t know the real name of those delicious looking flowers. Not because I cannot find out, but because I don’t want to dilute the memory of those days by knowing their real name.
When I moved from Mumbai to Goa, I thought I would never get used to living a life away from the hustle and bustle of the well-connected city. A city that never sleeps or ever dies, no matter what wrath it faces. I hated the pollution and the traffic, but living in Mumbai was like second nature to me and I will always love that city, no matter what.
In Goa, I was lucky to have a living room that opened out into a terrace.
Yet initially, I was upset because though the terrace had a beautiful view that overlooked the swimming pool, hills and a river in the distance, it was so sunny that it burned your skin and you could not sit out during the day. And when it rained, it poured so heavily that again, sitting out was impossible.
That is when I decided to be more positive and utilise the bright sunlight, which the terrace provided for free and grow my own herbs and vegetables. Memories of Mom and her green fingers inspired me to grow plants out on the terrace.
I love cooking with basil, garlic, and pepper, so obviously, basil was the first plant I started out with. I picked up saplings of Italian and Thai basil at a local nursery. I nurtured them and was amazed at how quickly they grew. Today, my terrace thrives on basil. I just have to walk out into the terrace and pick a fresh supply whenever I want.
Slowly, my confidence grew and I started growing several other types of herbs.
I realised that like any pursuit, gardening is no rocket science. All it needs is a bit of patience, and a bit of love. And of course, a careful blend of good soil: fifty per cent of garden soil, with a blend of vermicompost and coco peat in equal measure making up the rest. The secret of a healthy garden is that you need to be able to speak to your plants for them to grow.
My morning cup of tea is brewed from the fresh supply of my own home grown terrace garden: freshly crushed ginger, lemon grass, tulsi, peppermint, and turmeric, the fragrance enhanced with cardamom, cinnamon. The last two, unfortunately, not home grown, yet!
I also enjoy cooking Thai food. However, Thai ingredients are expensive and not always easily available, so what better way than to grow your own? After searching every nursery in Goa, I finally managed to get hold of a Kaffir lime tree. I paid an exorbitant price for it, but what the heck! No Thai curry or rice is complete without the exotic aroma that Kaffir lime lends to the dish.
To complete the ingredients needed for the red and green Thai curry dish, Birds eye red chillies, galangal, Thai lemon grass, and Thai basil, all found a place in my terrace garden.
I scouted for bush green peppers, because the creepers I felt would crowd my balcony and restrict the view to the pool and hills. My dishes with fresh green pepper together with ample roughly crushed black pepper, green garlic, and fresh basil have never tasted so good.
Believe me, it is a great feeling to be able to reach out into your own organically grown fresh produce, to turn out a healthy meal.
Today, my terrace boasts of spring onions, garlic, Malabar spinach, green, red and yellow capsicums, baby and big tomatoes, mint, curry leaves, three varieties of basil, kaffir lime, lemon grass, green pepper, galangal, turmeric, and more.
I even managed to grow watermelons on my terrace. But the poor things could not grow to their full size and so they stayed as baby watermelons. However, it was such a great feeling that I have decided to try my hand at growing my own vegetables next: aubergine, ladyfingers, spinach, red amaranth, mustard greens, coriander, methi….
That, in fact, is my next step towards self-sufficiency. Maybe, I will get adventurous and try out micro greens and fruits too, soon.
I will feel blessed, if I can inspire even one person to cultivate an organic garden and harvest its fresh produce.
I have a few decorative plants and flowering plants like roses, bougainvillea, hibiscus, and dahlias, too. But these are very few compared to the herbs and other kitchen plants that you can not only grow, but also relish.
Gardening was not something I had ever dreamed I would enjoy so much in my life. But it has made my life so much richer. It is also healing and invigorating and every time you watch a plant grow, you feel as if you are nurturing a growing child. The feeling is so fulfilling.
Cora Bhatia is a trained fashion designer, with 30-plus years’ experience in the international market. She is also a writer and freelance copyeditor and lives in Goa.