Tag Archives: plants

Tending to Your Tulsi Can Provide Psychological Relief

Growing up in a South Kolkata apartment overlooking a busy street, Amartya would often see his mother, steal herself away from the daily household chores and spend a few moments in their tiny balcony, overgrown with an odd number of plants that she grew. From Tulsi (where she would unwaveringly light a lamp, come wind or hail), a crimson hibiscus, some speckled crotons, and the usual seasonal marigolds or rustic nameless carnations, Amartya’s mom had a special place in her heart, and her house for innumerable fauna — caressing their leaves, talking to them as they were her own children, coaxing them to bloom, against all odds.

Hibiscus flower

Even as a child, Amartya knew that those few moments his mom spent with her plants, as the evening sun settled in behind the neighbor’s house, was something special. Moments that gave her mom respite from daily conundrums and energized her to face all odds while raising a family of three children. Looking back, Amartya would be insanely jealous at his mom spending her time with her plants, but somewhere understood that it was something his mother needed. And as years went by, her love for plants grew on him like the tendrils of the creepers that his mom kept, tangled their way up the veranda grills.

Thus, when Amartya decided to shift to the US, triggered by memories of his mother, he quietly packed in saplings of his childhood plants into the oversized suitcase that carried his meager belongings as he ventured out to start afresh. And thankfully, for him, hibiscus, tulsi, and speckled crotons helped create an oasis of sorts, in his rented apartment in East Village.

In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Amartya, a confirmed bachelor, was confined within the walls of his apartment along with the foliage, comprising of a few other South Asian varieties of plants he had amassed over the last 5 years. And truth be told, he admits that they provided him with a respite from all the turbulent news he heard outside. Much like his mom, years ago, Amartya says he quickly steals away some time from his daily work and house schedule to tend to his plants, talk to them, and disappear from the harsh reality of present times.

In fact, with physical distancing measures to contain COVID-19 having included closing beaches, playgrounds, and parks, adding to the challenges to our mental health, experts, too, opine that having a slice of nature at home does support human well-being.

For those who are lucky enough to have a backyard, a 2017 study, presented in Preventive Medicine Reports suggests that gardening can offer benefits such as reductions in stress, anxiety, and depression apart from improving physical fitness. 

However, if one stays in an apartment, indoor gardening too has its own benefits. A volunteer, who participated in a study, published in Urban Ecosystems that highlighted the importance of nature in urban living said that having a small vegetable garden and flowers in pots makes him happy — a sentiment Amartya echoes, saying that seeing things grow in the city, even as everything around him is in disharmony is a beautiful and calming experience. 

Scientists find that tending to one’s garden helps suppress the sympathetic nervous system activity and diastolic blood pressure and promotes comfortable, soothed, and natural emotions.

Indoor microgreen garden

Experts have often hinted at the importance of nature in one’s mental and physical well-being, but it is only now that it holds even more truth as active interaction with indoor plants can reduce physiological and psychological stress compared with mental work.

While most people think houseplants are just a way to beautify an indoor space, having a few plants scattered around the home can also provide one with emotional wellbeing during the pandemic. Amartya, on his part, believes that apart from the scientific jargon associated with indoor plants, looking at those plants, not only evoke a sense of nostalgia, but watering, pruning, and caring for the vegetation helped him maintain his sanity even as everything familiar around him, suddenly dissipated into the unknown.


Umang Sharma is a media professional, avid reader, and film buff. His interests lie in making the world a better place through the power of the written word.


 

Tender Renewal of Spring

Spring has a charm, at once joyous and peaceful, almost unparalleled.

Over the last few weekends, gardens everywhere are coming alive with the tender palette of green and the skies put on their best shows of blues, indigo, saffron, and gold.

The birds that peek soon swell, open up in brilliant colors or earthy shades, greeting the sun and the wind, braving the rain, invite the bees and butterflies to dance around, hum and feed, and share. Cheery little hummingbirds join the dance, flitting and fleeting, lapping and tweeting, tiny arcs of sheen and energy, leaving us mesmerized as they find their nectar in the tiniest of flowers! 

Then there’s birdsong, tuneful, rhythmic, full-throated, right from announcing the arrival of dawn, singing for mates or for sheer joy, forming patterns in company, some bringing notes from other lands and seas and humbling with their graceful might!

The scents of the flowers vie with the riots of hues, some sweet, others emphatic, nonetheless unique to each, perhaps to woo the bees and butterflies.

And….. along come the critters that nourish the soil and garden, mostly at work unseen, at times wiggling and poking out of the rich, brown earth and looking surprisingly clean, smooth! Imagine if we’d had a dirt bath… how much of a wash it would take! There are the nifty hiders with legs aplenty, the husky rollers, the shelled footers who are so clever at their feeding, I almost want to leave them on the leaf or stem!

The nourishing clods, and grains, which with the added sun and rain create the magic of food as has churned on and been the source of energy for creatures large and small.

Vellai Pookkal (white flowers)

The freshness is intoxicating, never tiring, year after year. I wish I’d been keeping track of all that we’ve planted, thrived, liked, disliked over ever so many seasons – like the Algerian tangerine that I had the pleasure of going to a lesser-known nursery with our dear friend and children’s music teacher, Jane. I also learnt of the sprightly Peruvian lily from her, the leaves that have an earthy scent and flowers of happy colors.

More recently, our son planting and grafting fruit trees has given yet another purpose to our garden, with great variety and promise.

As the day moves on, the sun mercifully burns the fog, though the crisp mist and slight chill are refreshing to begin with. Soon the rays beat down on me, the jacket needs to be shed and sweat starts to bead up. I often realize only too late I’ve set out with no hat. I’m quite a mess… wind-blown hair, bronze tanning and sweaty trotting back and forth, clearing, planting, snipping, all the while being almost lost in the garden meditatively with great admiration for all things in nature!

At times it may not look a whole lot different, but the closer I look as the sun begins arcing down, the drier old branches are spread or out to compost, wilted flowers cleared, new plants or seeds in, some flowers, greens discovered, admired and my muscles, joints in a happy well-used tiredness! And certainly with hopes for seedlings to poke through!

Spring this year has a whole new meaning, one of gratitude, for the selfless frontline workers and scientists during this coronavirus pandemic, for loving families and friends, educators, food and farm workers and everyone who’ve been tirelessly adapting! It is one of hope and prayers for new, empathetic and well-reasoned beginnings!

Madhu Raghavan is a pediatrician who enjoys writing, exploring our great outdoors, gardening, and art as a pastime.

Growing Tropical Fruits in California?

Recently my friend Alex Silber had a “Climatic” encounter with a prospective customer who wanted to buy a papaya sapling in January.

Alex suggested re-considering because papaya saplings require full sun and warm weather to grow. But didn’t the board outside of his nursery say “Papaya Tree Nursery?” 

“Yes,” Alex mumbled under his breath. “Hmmm it should be read with a disclaimer, NOT in the WINTER.” His thoughts trailed on, “I really can’t write down everything on that board!” 

His troubles weren’t over, even though he tried to explain the vicissitudes of the cold weather on a little sapling, all the while struggling to maintain that charming smile of a perfect salesman.

The customer had a disarming argument which has divided scientists in our country in two camps: political and apolitical, and allowed the “politicians in denial” to win elections. 

“But isn’t the climate changing? We have bright sun in the month of January.” 

That’s when it dawned on Alex – the reason he chose to wear shorts on this winter morning in San Fernando Valley – Climate Change, darn it!

Lesson for salesmen: The customer is always right, and…. winter and shorts don’t go together!

But if you are serious about planting a Papaya sapling or any other tropical fruit tree, here is some advice on timing from Alex Silber:

  • When below and above ground, ambient temperatures drop below a threshold of approximately 52°F, the rate of growth for many tropical fruiting species significantly drops and active growth can temporarily stop altogether.
  • Many plants simply go to sleep, commonly referred to as a type of winter dormancy. However, for certain tropical species that lack of growth and vigor can make them vulnerable to the various soil-borne fungal pathogens so ubiquitous in most soils throughout California.
  • Taking that into consideration, I typically suggest waiting until March 1 at the earliest, to safely transplant tropical fruit trees such as mango, sapodilla (chiku/sapota) and yes, papaya.
  • I realize that when we experience relatively warm winter weather it can be easy to forget it is still winter (says the guy in shorts) so try not to let the weather fool you into planting the above mentioned during the winter months.
  • When transplanted properly, the rate of growth for papaya plants can be high reaching sexual maturity in just a few months.
  • I try to provide quality information to individuals who want to successfully grow either one tree or their own private, mini home orchard.
  • For the most part people seem appreciative of that help and I enjoy giving it willingly.

Vijay Rajvaidya is an avid gardener and he grew organic tomatoes, eggplants, green chiles, beans, cucumber, okra, squash and watermelon in his kitchen garden last summer. Vijay serves as Managing Director of India Currents Inc.