My quest to find a gardening workshop began as I decided to dive into the next item on my super ambitious ‘30 things I want to do after graduation’ list. And when I came across the website for ‘Under The Tree’, I have to admit I was in love. Anusha Babbar, the proprietor, is perched on a rock and alongside is a hand written letter for her readers. The page looks so magical and suddenly, the idea of gardening or urban farming didn't seem all that daunting.
Anusha has been part of the horticulture industry for over a decade; she has assisted her grandfather, proprietor of Green Grower Nursery, attained a Diploma in Horticulture from University of Melbourne and also worked at her family farm in Karjat.She says the idea to start her own business came to her when she was diagnosed with Dengue and had a self proclaimed Eureka moment in full Bollywood style. It dawned on her she was hoarding knowledge and wanted to change people's mindset about urban farming. This was the birth of 'Under The Tree', a garden design and landscape consultancy based in Khar that offers various gardening workshops ranging from basic gardening to growing your own vegetables in a city. As we chat over coffee, she gleams with joy when she says ‘Under the Tree’ celebrated its 1st birthday on February 1. Here are some excerpts from our chat. What are you trying to achieve through Under The Tree? We are trying to promote holistic gardening. Every little creature has a purpose and a role to play in the backyard ecology of your garden. The bugs on your plants are somebody else’s food and there is a whole life cycle that exists. Therefore, the most important thing is diversity rather than getting into monoculture. Through Under The Tree, I want to open people's minds towards the intricate workings of Mother Nature. Why do you feel that urban farming is important? People in cities are so disconnected from nature. We must give importance to it because without nature, we wouldn't be here. Also, there are many benefits from working with plants. You can eat healthy and derive satisfaction from growing your own food. Watching the whole process of growing plants unfold before your eyes, is extremely beautiful. Gardening is also meditative, makes you stop, observe and learn. The popular saying goes, stop and smell the roses, and this is exactly what this is about. Do you think that people’s idea towards gardening or urban farming has changed? Yes, awareness has increased but at the same time we want things at super speed. Well, plants are not going to cater to your needs. We need to understand the process and effort that goes into growing just a small bunch of basil. People in Mumbai have small flats and balconies and can have only four to five pots at a time. So, it would hardly take some time to maintain an urban farm. You have to water them, use a good fertilizer and give them affection. I just think that more than anything else, we are just afraid of getting their hands dirty. Any popular myths you encountered while training? Well, people always want to grow herbs and plants like lavender and thyme, which don’t grow in this weather. Instead, substitute them for Indian herbs like lemongrass, coriander, curry leaves and various mints. Another thing is only one citronella plant will not repel mosquitoes. It’s the essential oils from the plant that keep them away, so you'll need a field of plants. Finally, for new gardeners (like me), could you name a few plants that are easy to tend to? Start with perennial plants since they last forever like lemongrass or aloe vera. They will survive in less or a lot of sunlight and they like a lot of water. Water them once a day until the soil is evenly moist. More adventurous people can grow a tomato plant. Dry 5-6 seeds in sunlight, plant them in a pot and remember each germinated seed can grow to be 5-feet tall. You can try some spinach or coriander, but should definitely learn how to maintain them.