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May 2, 2020

COVID-19: How Gardening Helps Us

Since the third week of March, we have been in lock down in India. Among other things,  I have developed a more intimate relationship with soil and my plants.

The winter flowers have gone to seed and have to be uprooted. Ramu, the maali or gardener who comes to tend to them three times a week, is also on lock down and not coming. So, I decided I would have to do it. Getting back on my feet after a leg surgery, it was a bit of a daunting task – lifting pots, standing for long periods of time while, removing, turning the soil, adding the homemade compost etc.

With April, comes the hot weather. The winter flowers and plants are dying out. The rocket and lettuce have to be pulled out and the planters prepared for summer vegetables. The soil has to be turned and aired. We make compost from our kitchen vegetable and fruit peels.

But I told myself I can do this. I dug out the seed collection from a couple of years and went through them and picked out what I could plant for the summer. I found several varieties of spinach, peas, onions, coriander and a packet of drumsticks/moringa.

The rocket, lettuce and some flowers were going to seed. I collected the seed pods and removed the seeds from the rocket strands. I have never collected seeds, and this felt good. I read up on the internet how to dry and preserve them. Each part of the process – cutting, trimming, drying and removing the pods from the seeds – have been rewarding. Last week I collected seeds of the scarlet sage and plan to plant it later this year.

I drew sketches in my notebooks and made a calendar of what I had planted.

I have been around gardens all my life. Growing up my parents planted flowers, fruit trees and vegetable patches in our very large yard. When I moved to the US in the early 1970s, I kept a garden wherever I could.  Moving to Italy in the mid 1980s and I had small terraces. I grew flowers only. No room for vegetables.

Back in India in 1990, I started keeping a garden again. When I say ‘I’, I really mean the maalli or gardener, who is contracted on a part time basis to come by and plants seeds, water the plants and make sure they don’t die. I simply enjoyed his work (almost all maalis are male).

During these Delhi years when we moved houses three times, we were adopted by a plant man named Farmod who brought plants on his bicycle. We got rather attached to him and him to us. Till today he surprises us by cycling over with a cart full of plants every now and then, at the crack of dawn, literally.

When my husband, son and I moved into the house we built and live in almost 16 years ago I was clear I wanted spaces for a garden – flowers, plants and vegetables.  And we did.  Our current maali, Ramu has been with us since 2004, with the exception of about a year.

Over the last decade I realised I needed to invest more time and energy in the garden. Choosing plants, when to plant, from seed, transfer to larger pots, when to harvest, etc. Ramu knows a good about certain flowers and vegetables. It is the exotic species he has difficulty with (like herbs). So, I took over the management of these-buying them and taking care of them and slowly sharing my knowledge with him.

Thanks to the lock down I have returned to the soil, have re-established my connection with plant and flower life. I am happy about this and every day, with childish delight I look at the saplings as they raise their little heads out of the soil, seeking the sun.  I feel good, calm and productive during the long days of lock down and social distancing.

I am pleased I don’t have to distance myself from nature.

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