Playing in dirt without being scolded by parents is the dream of many kids, but no parent will stop their kid if the activity is recreational — like gardening.
However, these days, the easily available entertainment outlets offered by video games, cable TV and the internet has given so many options to kids that they find outdoor games less interesting and less motivating. It is frightening if you lack motivation, but I still hope that through this article, many of you will find the motivation to do something recreational in the premises of your home. Gardening is the healthiest and most educational way to get your hands dirty.
‘Gardening’ has not been given much attention as an activity that teaches child practical learning, experimenting and sharing knowledge with each other. More importantly, gardening teaches nurturing when you see your plants growing; patience, when you see your plants protrude from the surface of the soil and getting taller and healthier with every passing day; and when fully bloomed, it gives you contentment and a sense of pride.
Whether you like leafy plants or flowery plants, every season has its own unique beauty. And it is never too late to start or get into the wonders of gardening. So, all those plant lovers who want to rejuvenate their interest, let’s explore the beauty of growing plants.
Find the right place
Gardening is not gender specific, so boys and girls buckle up and let’s start from scratch.
In order to grow something, you must look for the right spot in your house. Those living in a house or a bungalow may have some space, with already mature plants and flowerbeds, but to start your own, you should buy a couple of pots or ask your parents if they can allow you a dedicated small space where you can experiment and see your plants growing.
While those of you living in an apartment can benefit from your balconies or terraces, you can buy pots, soil and compost.
Know your interest!
Before starting, you must consider what interests you more — flowery plants, leafy ones, succulents or cacti, or the edible ones like vegetables and fruits.
Once clear, you can either buy fully-grown plants from the nursery or get the seeds. Thrill seekers can start from the leftovers of their kitchen. Yes! It’s very easy and more adventurous than buying from the nurseries. Seeds of fruits and vegetables used in the kitchen, such as coriander, tomatoes, chillies, papaya, etc., can easy be used to grow the plants of things.
I’m a nature lover, gardening has always fascinated me. I have tried growing a variety of plants like succulents, cactuses and also vegetables. I often take plant samples from different regions and try to plant them here in Karachi. Whether they grow or not, I always give a try. I have also tried my luck by putting the plants that grow in soil in water to see if they grew out any roots. And yes, some grew out roots, but many did not. You never forget the experience you get through trying new things.
Surround yourself with flowers!
Flowering plants look beautiful; they add to the beauty of the house as well as colours and fragrance. But not all flowering plants are evergreen, as most of them are seasonal.
Buy those which are evergreen, or at least don’t die off after one season. This will keep your home always green. For instance, some types of jasmine, periwinkle (sadabahar) or bougainvillea are a good choice.
Grow leafy greens
Leafy plants come in a variety of shapes, colours and sizes. Try to buy the ones which grow in shade as well; usually, there is little or no sunlight coming in the apartment balconies, (depends on the location). In such a case, the plants which grow in shade will keep growing. You can give them a place inside your house, too, like living room, in the kitchen as well. They will add to the beauty and also give out oxygen.
Add succulents and cacti to your list!
Succulents and cacti have their own beauty; some need no sunlight and grow easily inside the house, while some cannot survive without light.
Succulents and cactuses are two different species. Both have fleshy stems, branches and leaves which store water, making them survive even the harshest of the conditions.
Cactuses range from tall, thin to short, and they also store water, but they don’t have leaves like regular plants. Generally, people consider cactus and succulent as ‘one’, but they are different. Cactuses have small round cushion-like mounds of flesh from where spines, hair, leaves and flowers grow. These fleshy mounds are only present on cactus and not on all succulents (as very few succulents have). All cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cactuses.
A very famous species of succulent, i.e. aloe vera, is found in most of the households these days. The main reason behind its popularity is its health and medicinal benefits. If you have one, make sure you don’t water it regularly, it needs water only twice a week, if you overwater it, you will notice its thick leaves turning grey or purplish, this indicates stress in plants. Stop watering for a few days and notice its health restore.
Apart from that, if you have been taking good care of the aloe, it will grow lavishly and within a year or so, little aloes will grow side by side with the main plant. You can take the baby aloes slowly out, and plant them separately, but remember never to overwater them as they will die.
Experiment with water plants
Water plants look amazing. The most commonly found ‘money plant’, also called ‘pothos’, is something you can place everywhere in the house. Just cut a twig from the main plant and put inside the jar/bottle of water. It will start growing its roots very soon.
You can experiment with other leafy plants as well and see if they grow out roots. Some that grow roots will easily last in water for weeks but they will not propagate well.
Make your own kitchen garden
My favourite category is the edible plants. I love to see my vegetables grow. Growing garlic, tomatoes, chillies, onion, lemon, cucumber, bitter gourd, coriander and peppermint is very easy. I have successfully tried all of these, so I am writing from my own experience. I have planted all of these from my kitchen leftovers, so I will urge all the little gardeners to start from your own home.
For tomatoes, chillies, lemon and cucumber, you get the seeds right from them. There are two ways to germinate the seeds, either take the seeds out and put them neatly on a tissue paper and spray water on them; then, put the tissue paper inside a plastic bag, poke some holes on the plastic bag. This will allow the air to get inside and help germinate the seeds. In a few days, when the seeds grow out roots, put them in the soil and give little water.
The other way is to take the pulp of the tomato, cucumber or the green chillies out and put then it in the soil, the seeds will start germination in a few days. Remember, for bitter gourd and chillies you must wait for them to be completely ripe, which means when they turn red and soft.
If you think vegetables do not grow in pots, you are wrong. I have successfully tried growing all these vegetables in pots. Just keep in mind that most vegetables need ample sunlight, so you have to make sure that your plant gets a couple of hours of sunlight daily.
Vegetables like garlic cloves and onion are too easy to plant; whether you like to eat these or not. Plant the garlic clove or onion upside down in the soil. Within a couple of days, when the green shoots protrude from the soil, let them grow for at least seven to eight inches tall and then cut them, surprise your mum by presenting her your very own grown herbs.
For mint, use the stems, the ones which your mum has already used, with no leaves on them. Take only the healthy stems, put the stem one-inch deep inside the soil. Spray water. Within three days you will notice new leaves protruding from the mint stem. Try the same with coriander stems as well, or you can crush the coriander seeds with hands and then put them in the soil.
See kids, you can enjoy growing vegetables in your house, be it a garden or a pot. All they need is a little attention, and then you get rewarded by a sense of accomplishment when you see them grow.
Pots to consider
Always prefer clay pots or ceramic as they give natural environment to the roots and plants grow enormously in them as compared to the fibre or the plastic ones. Fibre and plastic tend to heat while clay and ceramic remain cooler and favourable to the roots.
So, kids never stop yourself from trying new things, and with gardening it’s obviously going to be fruitful!
Things to consider:
Watering the plants
For vegetables, always start from the small pots, when the plant grows out healthy, transfer it to bigger pot so that their roots get enough space to spread.
Plants placed directly under the sun need a lot of water because sunlight takes away all the moisture throughout the day. While plants in shade need less water as they keep their moisture intact for long, overwatering will make them droop gradually.
Succulents don’t need water every day. Water them twice or thrice weekly. Those which you have put in water need their water to be changed every week.
Look for the uninvited guests
Have you ever noticed the small plants with little leaves or maybe straight long leaves growing side by side with the main plant? These uninvited guests are called weeds, they take up all the nutrients from the soil, leaving very little for the actual crop/plant. If this happens with your plant, take them out immediately.
The yellow or brown tips of the plant’s leaves is a sign of stress, it indicates that your plant needs some light, or they have been watered very less or overwatered. Take actions accordingly. For the plants in shade, place them under sunlight for a couple of hours daily for a few days. The plant will get enough energy and light it needs to grow and then put it back in afterwards.
Some plants, especially the edible ones, smell so good that they invite birds. Birds like pigeons and sparrows don’t eat, however, they love tearing and plucking the plant out. My plants have been the victim of these birds many, many times, until I learned how to avoid their attack. Cover the plant with net, or any empty plastic bottle by poking a lot of holes on it.
Published in Dawn, Young World, July 31st, 2021