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India’s secret gardens

mumbai Updated: Jun 05, 2010 01:17 IST
Tasneem Nashrulla

“Only the very best for me,” says Oswald Martin, as he peels one for three-year-old granddaughter, Mahalia.

He’s gone bananas — the ones he grows at home, at the edge of Bangalore’s booming IT heartland.

Sixty-year-old Ozzy, as his friends call him, started growing his own vegetables and fruits as a hobby in 2000, when organic farming was not a buzzword.

His enthusiasm rubbed onto his wife, Marie (60), a teacher at The International School, Bangalore, who is setting up a herb nursery at their home.

She plans to grow thyme, basil, rosemary, parsley and other popular exotic and local herbs, and market them too.

Husband and wife have a clear division of labour. “Ozzy has to look after the vegetables and fruits. I look after the plants, herbs and flowers,” says Marie. “I am very clear about that.”

The Martins are a small — but growing — breed of city folk who grow food in their backyards.

“Fruits and vegetables are very expensive now. So growing our own helps a bit,” she says. “We still have to buy some vegetables from the market, but we save a couple of thousand every month by growing our own.”

But you don’t need a large backyard like the Martins’ to grow your own food.

You can do so in cramped Mumbai too.

Documentary filmmaker Faiza (28), a resident of the city’s crowded Andheri suburb, is experimenting with bitter gourd, brinjal and tomatoes, which she’s growing in flowerpots.

Homemaker Jyoti Bhave (39) grows her own vegetables in a small patch of land outside her ground-floor apartment in Chembur, another Mumbai suburb. While she has an all-year round supply of fresh mint leaves (pudina), basil (tulsi), and curry leaves (karipatta) sourced from her own backyard, she has also experimented with growing colocacia (arbi), cauliflower, lettuce, lemons and, yes, bananas.

“I started city farming because I was always fond of growing my own vegetables,” she says. “I cannot boast about reducing my carbon footprint significantly because I am yet to grow my own produce on a large scale.”

Preeti Patil (42), a catering officer with the Mumbai Port Trust, maintains a full-fledged terrace garden at her office quarters that uses the daily organic waste from staff kitchens as compost for 150 different varieties of fruits and vegetables.

“You’re using organic waste, you’re growing your own fresh produce and you’re saving money,” she says.