By Preeti Takle
Entering the garden, I see my true nature. In its reflection, my heart is at peace. – Thich Naht Hahn
As a child I grew up surrounded by the last remnants of wilderness on the outskirts of bustling Mumbai. I grew up loving the many wild creatures around me, as well as the guava, chikoo and amla trees that grew in abundance. I tramped around among the trees, picked and ate the fruits when hungry, and watched the birds go about their business. I felt happy and at peace with the world.
After I grew up, it was this feeling I missed most during adulthood. And thus began my foray into gardening.
If you look around your neighbourhood, you will find almost all window sills and balconies have a few plants growing in pots. Why do you think people attempt to keep plants at home? It is simply because all of us have a deep connection with nature and this is the easiest way to bring nature into our homes. For me, too, gardening began with the need to go back to my roots. For without trees and plants I could not exist… we could not exist!
Community garden with complimentary plants. Photo: Preeti Takle
It is now well known that there is an underground web that connects plants and trees to each other in a forest. Even though the trees are unable to move, the fungal network (mycorrhiza) that connects the roots of these trees, carries messages back and forth between them. Trees exchange nutrition through this network and take special care to pass on extra nutrients to young growing plants! Trees also warn each other of impending disease or threats.
But, when we grow plants in a pot, they are isolated; separated from their friends with whom they cannot communicate. In order to create a sense of togetherness for my plants, I began to grow plants in large containers so that I could grow many plants that compliment each other or like each other together. For example, I grow tomatoes with basil, parsley, and garlic together. These plants thrive in each other’s company!
As I learnt these things, I became aware of what I was planting, where I was planting and with whom I was planting. This made me realise that plants are just like us. They too need food, water, air, sunshine, and the company of good friends. I became friends with my plants, and I could see them thrive in my company.
Vegetable harvest from the garden. Photo: Preeti Takle
Over the years, gardening has given me one big learning – how to live in the present and be more mindful of my surroundings. Whenever I walk into my garden, I feel like I am among friends I know well. I feel that the garden is a reflection of me and the beauty of nature. I feel reconnected with nature.
I also learned so many important virtues. I learnt patience while watching the seeds grow into plants and bear flowers and fruits. The bees, butterflies and birds came back to the garden to rest, feed, and drink. Some even built nests and I happily gave the chicks the space to grow. The magic of nature was everywhere. It feels like I am a part of this gigantic family where we were all looking out for each other.
The more love I poured into my garden the more it gave back to me in the form of flowers, fruits and vegetables. Gardening helped me to focus on the task at hand. I learnt to prioritise my tasks and set realistic expectations of myself. I learnt to be a team player where my friends and I worked in the garden together in companionship.
I now suggest to everyone to grow your own forest gardens. Spend time with your plants and talk to them kindly. They will love your company as much as you love theirs.
Gardening with friends. Photo: Preeti Takle
Preeti Takle is a gardener and educator at heart. She heads the ECCEd programme at the Lodha Institute of Teacher Education and is the Mumbai Coordinator for Sanctuary’s Kids for Tigers programme.