Home plants not growing well ? A gardening consultant can help
Meet the gardening enthusiasts who love plants so much, they’re willing to help you grow a green patch or hone your green thumb for a feeUpdated: Feb 22, 2020, 17:01 IST
If your plants are like your children, the internet is never enough of a resource. It doesn’t know your terrarium. It can’t explain why your cactus is starting to lean so much to the left.
You have specific questions; you need someone who can get to know your plants and help you care for them. That’s where urban gardeners come in.
These are people with day jobs, social lives and college degrees, who happen to love plants so much that they’re willing to extend their care and expertise for a fee.
Typically, they’ll visit your home and help you set up a certain kind of plant family, or plan a garden, and care for the little ones as they grow.
In Bengaluru, content creator, Shruti Sunderraman, 28, has been an urban gardener for three years, operating mainly via her Twitter and Instagram handles (@sundermanbegins). She offers a six-month garden setup and care plan, a one-project plan or a one-time consultation. Charges start at Rs 300 to Rs 500 for a one-hour consultation, on site.
“A lot of people want to grow plants, but fear that it will be too expensive or too complicated. I just want to break down those myths that have grown around gardening,” she says.
She learnt from her mother, who has a green thumb, and her grandmother, who did too. On her own terrace garden, Sunderraman has a combination of bonsais, flowering and vegetables plants, and posts about her cat’s frequent incursions and how to recover from them.
Among her recent clients is Upaasna Rajaram, 27, an ad copywriter who reached out after four of her five plants died. “I wanted to start afresh and do it right. I wanted to select the right plants and source them from the right place as I’d been scammed by a few nurseries before,” she says.
Based on her budget, where she wanted to set up her plants and how much time she could devote to caring for them, Sunderraman chalked out a gardening plan for her: a mix of hardy indoor and outdoor plants, a watering chart for each and tips on how to decode watering cues you’re your plants. “It’s been a few months and they’ve been doing well so far,” Rajaram says.
In Mumbai, Abhijeet Barua, 38, quit his job as a business analyst a year ago to take up urban gardening full-time. “I always tell people, it’s a process. The most important thing is to be patient and keep trying,” he says. “You need to get to know what works best for your plant or garden.”
In the three years that he’s been offering his services, he’s helped set up flower gardens, ornamental gardens, herb gardens; balcony gardens and vertical gardens. He does monthly upkeep visits too. For help setting up a garden, he charges upwards of Rs 2,400; and it’s Rs 1,200 per visit for follow-ups.
“I have a Master’s in physics, but this is what I want to do,” Barua says. “I wanted to help others connect with nature. Gardening is a good place to start. But learning should be practical, that’s the only way you’ll remember what you’ve learnt.”
As a child, he learnt to garden from his grandmother, and pursued the hobby through books, conversations with fellow enthusiasts, and by maintaining his own garden, in which he grows vegetables, herbs and berries.
Navi Mumbai brand consultant, Pooja Kewalramani, 45, roped in Barua to help her set up a garden in her balcony, a year ago, and continues to consult him monthly.
Just the tips he gave her on fertiliser, she says, have saved her a lot of money. “He told me to soak a banana peel in water and use that water for the plants. Another time, my betel plant wasn’t doing well, so he told me to add some coffee powder to the pot and it made a huge difference,” she says. “When onion prices shot up, he told me to plant spring onions in the pot where I was growing guava and that’s how I learnt that crops like spring onion and garlic don’t mind sharing space.”
Kewalramani likes that these tips are tailored for her plants and their environment, something she feels would be missing at a gardening workshop.
Vandana Krishnamurthy, who has a PhD in botany and has spent years promoting urban farming, helps city dwellers access traditional farming knowledge.
She discontinued a career in research to engage in more action-oriented work and set up Urban Mali in 2017. The company has 40 malis on board — mainly individuals with farming backgrounds who have migrated to Bengaluru. Operating through its website, it helps city dwellers, who have no experience, set up and maintain gardens.
“People are conscious about the environment and want healthier lifestyles; so many want to set up gardens at home,” says Krishnamurthy. “But often, we don’t have the knowledge, skills or time to care for our plants properly. If you have an experienced hand to show you the ropes, it just gets that much more doable.”
Costs for help with setting up a garden start at Rs 6,000; fees for a monthly maintenance visit start at Rs 800.
- Buying the plant, then figuring out where to place it: Go about it the other way round. Pick the spot first. Check how much sunlight it gets. Buy a plant that environment will suit.
- Giving pride of place to the prettiest: When placing plants in balconies and windows, place sun-loving plants in the outermost row and ornamental plants behind this row (they need indirect sunlight and will benefit from the shadows cast by the other plants).
- Jumping the gun on fertiliser: Wait 20 days after bringing the plant home, before you fertilise. Let it adjust to its new environment. Depending on how it’s doing, dig up the top soil by an inch and mix a little fertiliser in, evenly. Too much and you could end up killing beneficial microorganisms in the soil.
- De-weeding too much: Pulling out weeds disturbs the soil around a plant. Schedule de-weeding once in 15 days and club it with fertilisation.
- Courtesy Shruti Sunderraman and Abhijeet Barua