A spot of green on a summer day

By TheHindu on 29 May 2017 | read

Yes, the sun is beating down relentlessly, but you can still raise plants that please the eye. The techniques of gardening might differ — but they all work towards one goal: keeping the terrace green. A happy effect is that the temperature in the immediate vicinity comes down by two to three degrees. Here’s how you can use organic techniques and hydroponics to raise greens, vegetables, fruits, and even water lilies that add colour and cheer to your home.

For some time now, this has become a buzzword of sorts — a technique that allows you to raise a patch of green within city limits, even in small spaces, without using soil. At farmers’ markets, there is a hydroponics display, where plants grow in a nutrient-rich solution, in a near-sterile space. But, did you know that hydroponics as a concept was spoken about centuries ago? Mint was first cultivated using this system. Later, thanks to technological advancement, melons, tomatoes, leafy greens and other vegetables were also raised.

In Chennai, Future Farms is among the companies promoting hydroponics. Navin Dorai, chief marketing officer, says the biggest advantage of hydroponics, is that the food produced is clean and pesticide-free. “We have complete control over the system. Eventually, at some stage, it is possible to create customised food — with low potassium or any other mineral.” The plant gets as much nourishment as it needs, and the system helps keep soil- and air-borne diseases at bay, he adds. Those using hydroponic systems have spoken about a cooling effect in the building, says Dorai.

What you can plant in Chennai: Lettuce, leafy greens, herbs, short plants, tomato, bell peppers, broccoli.

Cost: From Rs. 999 for a beginners’ kit to Rs. 45,000 for raising 160 plants in a 50 sq ft vertical tower.

In searing Wallajah, near Vellore, where the sun rules over the morning sky, Akila Krithivasan raises water lilies. Not one or two, but nearly 40 varieties that lend colour to her garden and fill the atmosphere with birdsong. “I have blooms in my garden through the year, but even in a city like Chennai, water lilies thrive from February to October. They love the sun,” says Krithivasan, 52. She has been raising lilies for about seven years.

Lilies grow in any space you provide, she says. From a ceramic bowl and a tiny pot to a pond-like structure, they find a way to bloom. “It’s actually a lesson in living life well,” she says. The flowers are a determined lot; they push against the water and rise to the surface to bloom.

Krithivasan also conducts regular workshops in the city, where she teaches people the difference between the lotus and lily, and why one must raise lilies, even in small balconies. Top among her reasons is the colour they spread. “It’s cooling for the eyes and the environment. The water does not evaporate fast; so, it cools down the immediate environment. Introduce fish such as mollies and guppies and they take care of algae and mosquito larvae. Most importantly, they grow without the use of chemicals. So, when birds swoop down for water, they get chemical-free water.”

Cost: Rs. 1,000 for a basic kit, including tub, soil, organic manure and plant.

To contact Akila, visit www.facebook.com/akilasplantsplatterpalette

Terrace gardens are a growing passion in Chennai, and the number of converts is only increasing. The reasons might be many, but this summer, the cooling properties of terrace gardens are a huge selling point. S Veeralakshmi, who has helped over 200 people set up terrace gardens, and has a 1,000 sq ft garden herself, says that the entire building experiences the benefits of plants on the terrace. “I’d say we experience a nearly 30% reduction in heat after setting up the garden,” says Veeralakshmi, who raises fruits and vegetables such as pomegranate, guava, lemon, banana, mango and chiku. “Some of them are lush plants that lend good canopy.”

Noted terrace gardening proponent Alladi Mahadevan pegs the temperature difference at 2 to 3%. “Plus, we must understand that summer is when plenty of vegetables grow well. This is the time to raise short-term crops such as greens, which taste best when harvested fresh and cooked,” he says. If you have space, plant banyan, ficus or neem for their shade-giving properties; if not, go in for trees such as Singapore cherry (Muntingia Calabura) and Gliricidia Sepium, gourds (bottle gourd, ridgegourd and bittergourd) that spread well, and flowers that grow as creepers, such as kodimalli or manoranjitham. The vast canopy of Singapore cherry also draws in birds and fruit bats in droves. Plus, there are the delicious berries to partake of.