Trends in Urban Gardening

A detailed report on the current trends in urban gardening.


Sneha R


Bangalore, which was once known as the garden city is slowly losing its charm and turning into a concrete jungle. With urbanisation gripping on to the city and owing to a huge inflow of people, the city has lost its greenery. A study by an IISc professor says that the city's green cover has come down alarmingly from 68 per cent in 1973 to 6 per cent in 2017. The green cover is expected to dip even further to 3 per cent by 2020. Lalbagh and Cubbon Park remain to be the city's only lung spaces left. With increasing pollution levels and chemical filled food, is it not time that the Bangaloreans realised the need for a healthier environment?

The city is now witnessing a trend: people are drifting slowly towards gardening-- growing plants with multiple uses. Though there are space and time constraints, technological advancements and innovations have provided new ways and means to overcome all of them. With the introduction of various gardening techniques, it is no more a tough task to have a garden of your own. Added on to this, a number of companies now cater to the needs of such enthusiasts by providing customisable plans. Gardening is becoming one of the popular hobbies amongst the urban crowd and serves many other purposes as well.

We explore the various options available for gardening enthusiasts and how Bangaloreans have successfully adopted gardening in their lifestyle.

History of gardening

Gardening is no new idea, gardens have been in existence for a long time. However, gardens have evolved over time, and urban gardening is the new trend. Gardens also stand as a representation of the art and culture of that period of time.

The oldest type of garden was known as "forest garden" of the pre-historic times. Once edible plants and trees were discovered, people started cultivating them in groups and this came to be known as food gardening. In the gradual process of families improving their immediate environment, useful tree and vine species were identified, protected, and improved while undesirable species were eliminated. This medieval practice was based purely on the need for food, and no ornamental gardens existed. Eventually, people started growing herbs and gardens with visual appeal and they were started by the wealthier sections of the society.

Enclosing outdoor space for a garden started in 10,000 BC. However, there is no clear conclusion as to which was the first garden. But historians imagine the first enclosure was a type of barrier for excluding animals and marauders. Garden construction and design was a primary precursor to landscape architecture, and it began in West Asia, eventually spreading westward into Greece, Spain, Germany, France, and Britain. Later, as civilizations developed, wealthy people started growing gardens for aesthetic purposes. Egyptian tomb paintings of the 16th century BC are some of the earliest physical evidence of ornamental horticulture and landscape design; they depict lotus ponds surrounded by symmetrical rows of acacias and palms. Another ancient tradition is of Persia: Darius the Great was said to have had a "paradise garden" and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were renowned as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Ancient Indian scriptures also have a mention of a number of gardens in India. Buddhist accounts mention bamboo grove which was gifted by King Bimbisara to Buddha. In medieval India, courtyard gardens are also essential elements of Mughal and Rajput palaces.

Gardening industry has evolved over time to witness various types of gardening to suit the needs and keep up with the ever-changing environment. Various gardening styles have been in practice-- from Mesoamerican gardens and Mesopotamian gardens to contemporary gardens and naturalistic habitat gardens.  

Driving factors

Gardening has always been a work of art. It is not a simple task of just sowing seeds and watering them. There is so much more to gardening. Though it is a tough task to maintain a garden, many of them hold on to it for the sense of happiness and benefits it provides. There are many others who start off gardening as a fancy hobby and fail to continue it. However, the interests of the gardeners are diverse.

"I grow garden for the sheer happiness and joy that it gives me," said Ms. Sandhya, a retired bank employee. A large number of people derive a sense of satisfaction and happiness just by walking around their garden. The plants and the greenery are their concern rather than the yield or other benefits.

There is another group of people who have taken up gardening recently, "After seeing the pollution levels and the ill effects that follow, I felt having greenery around me is the need of the hour," said Mr. Prajwal who insists on having indoor plants both in his office and in his house. Many such people now have started growing indoor plants which act as natural air purifiers.

"I used to buy organic vegetables and believed that they were the best to eat. Eventually, I realised that I could not depend or trust any of the vendors and I ventured out to growing vegetables on my own," said Ms. Jayalakshmi who grows almost all the vegetables she requires. With an increase in awareness, people are more health conscious these days. For such people, growing their own organic vegetables is the healthiest way of living.

Gardening and plants are also effective stress busters for many others. It is a break from their daily routine and busy schedule. Nature is the best stress reliever and for people living in concrete jungles, a garden is the only way to connect with nature and spend some time with themselves amidst the bustle of the city life.

"Our clients also ask us for specially designed gardens, to enhance the beauty of their houses," said Mr.Puneeth, founder, The Plant Boutique. Gardens add life to a house and are visually appealing. Thus, many of them prefer to have a garden as a part of interior designing of the house. Adding to this, many restaurants prefer to have a garden within their premises to add to the ambience of the hotel. Nowadays, many big companies and offices have also started growing indoor plants which add colour and brighten the work environment.

A small group of people adopt gardening to grow medicinal plants as well. Many plants are believed to carry medicinal values. Tulsi, Basil, Parsley, and Lemon Balm are a few of the well-known medicinal plants grown in urban gardens.

Whatever could be the driving factor, the fact remains that urban gardening is slowly gaining popularity and attracting people. Gardening services could be the next booming industry.

Live vertically? Grow vertically!

Why should space constraint stop us from cherishing the happiness of having a garden? Well, since many of the Bangaloreans now live in a calculated amount of space, it is very difficult for them to have a typical garden. In such cases, where the space available is limited, vertical gardens are one of the best solutions.

"We study the area and if there is very less ground space available, we suggest a vertical garden," said Ms. Sukanya, Proprieter, Teckgreen. Vertical gardening is a gardening technique wherein the plants are grown on a vertical panel attached to the wall or otherwise. The panel could work as a medium to hold a number of small pots or can also be used to hold soil and fertilisers on which plants can directly be grown. The latter technique could also be used directly on walls and in that case the technique is termed as 'green wall'.

"I was bought up in Shimoga, amidst greenery. After shifting to Bangalore, I wanted to have at least a small garden. But I had no space to have a full-fledged garden. That is when I searched for alternatives and found that vertical gardens serve my need aptly," said Swati, who grows nearly 430 plants in her vertical garden.

These vertical gardens can be set up both inside and outside the building. Many of the offices now prefer a vertical garden inside, since it not only adds aesthetics but also improves air flow inside. A number of restaurants have also installed vertical garden structures in their lobby area and balcony as it acts as a decoration and is eco friendly.

One need not always stick to the traditional vertical garden. One can create their own vertical gardens with simple ideas using wooden planks and small pots or metal bars and boxes.

However, vertical gardens are not restricted only to small areas. Many big buildings with vast walls could also adopt vertical garden technique to improve the ambience as well as air quality.

The selection of plants to be grown also plays an important role in having a good vertical garden. Ferns are one of the best choices since they are easy to grow and also cover a lot of area. Bromeliads could also be suitable owing to their shallow roots and less space utilisation. Succulents and Crotons could be other options for a vertical garden.

These vertical gardens need to have a well-planned irrigation system. Also, maintenance is very much necessary since plants have to be pruned and dead leaves removed at regular intervals.

Grow a terrace garden

Gardening is never restricted to a backyard or front yard. Gardening enthusiasts are now using every little free space available to bring up a garden of their own. Roof tops and balconies are the most frequently used spaces to grow an urban garden.

Many of them create an elevated space with a well-made mud platform (raised beds) to grow plants of their choice, many others prefer to grow in traditional old pots.

Terrace gardens serve many purposes, including yield of organic vegetables, fruits , or flowers; fresh air; and an aesthetic beauty to the terrace. "People usually prefer to grow vegetables on their roof tops and decorative aesthetic plants in their balconies," said Ms.Sukanya, Proprietor, Teckgarden. The most important thing to keep in mind when planning a terrace garden is to calculate the load the roof can bear and water proofing the roof to avoid weakening it. For a simple garden, one could use a tarpaulin sheet to water proof. There are many other techniques to make sure that the garden does not weaken the whole building structure.

However, people with a larger space wish to create a more interesting plan for their terrace and add multiple elements. "Planning a garden on the roof top is an interesting concept by itself and works similar to planning a house. With innovations in the field of gardening, there is a huge set of options available for people," said Mr. Puneeth, founder of The Plant Boutique. Vertical gardens, potted plants and elevated mud platforms are combined in a planned manner to design a terrace garden. Based on the space, many other elements such as creepers, artificial water ponds, and sit-out areas can also be planned.

That was all for people who wish to have a planned garden. But there are many others who have successfully developed a terrace garden using traditional methods. "I plan the space according to my vegetable needs and arrange pots in rows. I can arrange nearly 750 pots in my terrace and get a good yield out of it," said Ms. Jayalakshmi, who is a proud owner of a garden that yields five varieties of vegetables and more than five varieties of flowers. Many of these traditional gardens are grown using mud pots or large containers. Waste generated in the kitchen acts as compost and it just requires watering and maintenance at regular intervals of time.

Growing a terrace garden is not a very tough task and one can do it all by themselves. Mud pots or containers can be used as the base. All the other requirements such as mud, seeds, and fertilisers can be bought from the nursery. "Almost half of my vegetable requirements are grown in my garden," said Ms Vasantha, who believes organic food is the way forward.

Based on the requirement, almost all the plants can be grown on a terrace garden owing to availability of open space and sunlight. However, balcony gardens could be a little different. Usually balcony gardens are grown using pots. Decorative and flowering plants such as marigold, heliotope, hydrangea, and many more are the most suitable ones to grow in a balcony. Balcony and terrace gardens can be coloured up using hanging pots. Hanging pots save space as well as add to the aesthetic value of the place.

Front yard gardens: A case study

"Nothing can match the joy of picking fresh vegetables directly from the garden and cooking them," said Ms. Jayalakshmi. A front yard garden could help meet the vegetable needs of an entire family.

If you can afford to have some ground space dedicated to gardening, frontyard and backyard gardens are the best options. These gardens should be planned according to the space and sunlight. "I plan my flowering plants on the contour where I get 50 per cent sunlight. All the other fruit and vegetable plants are grown on the other side where complete sunlight is available," explains Jayalakshmi. If you intend to grow plants seriously, it takes a lot of efforts and dedication. Maintaining a full-fledged garden is no easy task. Apart from watering them, you will have to monitor them for diseases and also take care of the fertilising needs.

"If you keep a plant in shade during its flowering season, there is no chance of it flowering at all," she says, stressing the need to plan the placement of different plants. She also shifts plants to make sure that the right plant gets the right amount of sunlight.

As far as the space utilisation is concerned, she has a dedicated part of her garden, which she uses on a rotation for all the seasonal vegetables. She uses every single inch around her house, including the narrow three-foot- wide spaces in the sides. "If you connect with the plants, you get to know its requirements easily. I spend so much time here, but still never feel that it is a hectic chore," she said.

She grows almost all the vegetables needed for her family and with a good yield, there is always surplus. Speaking about her harvest, she said, "One harvest of tomatoes yields more than 25 kg and I pluck more than 300 lemons, every harvest season. Papayas, guavas are all in excess for my family. I keep in mind the requirement of my family and plant the proportionate number of plants. I have no need to buy any vegetables from outside." Many of her plants yield so much that even after sharing them with family and friends, there is a lot left. She uses all the excessive tomatoes and lemons to prepare pickles and the papaya are used to prepare tutti-frutti. Not just commonly used vegetables and fruits, she grows many other essentials as well. From turmeric to pepper, she has it all. She prepares her own turmeric powder and also prepares Gulkhand from rose petals. "Since, all of us in my family are foodies, I also try various recipes from the unique vegetables I grow," she added.

Not just well-known and easily available vegetables, she also grows vegetables which are GI (Geographical Index) tagged. "Mattu gulla", and "Heddur gulla" are a few of the GI tagged vegetables she grows. Eifel tower, Moonstone, Gladiator are of the many rose varieties she grows. Five varieties of hibiscus, seven varieties of brinjal, and many more add to the diversity.

Ms. Jayalakshmi is a resident of Uttarahalli, Bangalore. She was born and brought up in Chickkaballapur district(70 km from Bangalore) and she said, the love her father had for plants is what she has imbibed. "Though we lived in Chickkaballapur, my dad used to bring us to Lalbagh for every flower show and when we went back, the car trunk would be filled with plants," she reminisced. Having studied Botany, she feels she can connect with plants, and the garden has become a significant part of her life.

No space outside? Grow plants indoors

Ever wondered how we survive even amidst such high pollution levels? Plants and greenery are our natural air purifiers and help refresh the air, reducing the toxins. Indoor plants have been in use since many years. Though they do add to the ambience of the place, indoor plants are preferred for their contribution to air purification.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration(NASA), in collaboration with Associated Landscape Contractors of America(ALCA), conducted a "Clean air study" to research ways to clean the air in space. Its results suggested that, in addition to absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen through photosynthesis, certain common indoor plants may also provide a natural way of removing toxic agents such as benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene from the air. The study further suggested that efficient air cleaning is accomplished with at least one plant in100 square feet of space. This study encouraged many others to conduct studies regarding usage of such plants and the outcome was a mixed result for homes and offices.

"People come to us with a list of plants suggested by NASA and there is a huge demand for it," said Ms. Sukanya. The plants suggested by NASA include English ivy, Spider plant, Peace lily, Chinese evergreen Bamboo palm , Variegated snake plant, and Heartleaf philodendron. "After seeing these pollution levels and the ill effects, I felt having greenery around me is the need of the hour," said Mr. Prajwal. There are many other indoor plants which are used for decorative purpose as well. Indoor plants are easy to maintain and need very little care. Ornamental indoor plants include Areca Palm, Indian Basil and many more. Indoor plants can also be selected based on the interior design and style one opts for: Minimalist style-- Snake plant; Modern-- Bird of Paradise; Boho look-- Cacti. "I include indoor plants in my office mainly because they add to the ambience and are easy to maintain," said Mr.Raghu, who runs a consulting company.

Grow your own food

A survey conducted by Cumbria garden centre revealed that 86 per cent of parents would like their children to spend more time interacting with nature and away from technology. However, lack of gardening skills amongst parents is hindering this, as 40 per cent of them explained that they did not involve their children in gardening because they did not feel confident in their abilities. It is a similar situation here in Bangalore.

"I once asked a kid, 'how do you get tomatoes?' and he calmly answered 'From the supermarket!' That is when I realised how the kids of this generation are moving away from our roots," said Mr. Sunil, founder of Swayam Krishi. People from big cities have an urge to show their kids the agricultural backbone of our country. But lack of space and urbanisation have tied up their hands. For such enthusiasts, Swayam Krishi serves as a platform to get back to their roots and spend some time away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Also, it helps people to get into a practice of eating healthy food, as they grow their own food.

How many times have you felt that you could grow a great yield provided you had a little space and some help? That is exactly what Swayam Krishi offers. Urban gardeners who look forward to take their gardening to next level or anyone who wishes to experience the joy of cultivating their own food can use this platform. It rents out land at a price of Rs 2 per sqft. You can choose to rent land of dimension as small as 500 square feet to as big as one acre. However, minimum period of rent is four months as farming is a process which takes time and you cannot expect immediate results. The farmland which is located near Bannerghatta is not very far from the city and is easily accessible. Once you rent out the dimension of land you wish to cultivate for, you are given a list of plants you can grow. Sunil and team help you out with the infrastructure and other resources required. Once you sow the seeds and leave, the team also takes care of watering and maintaining the plants. You can visit your garden/farm whenever you feel like and relax there for some time. Plants start yielding crops after about four weeks and the gardeners get to pick their yield themselves.

Swayam Krishi, with the tagline, "Making organic affordable", is spread across five acres of land in Laxmipura, near Bannerghatta. The land is well-maintained and the team caters to the needs of all the gardeners. "At least one of our team members accompanies the urban gardeners and provide them support when they are here," said Sunil. Most of their gardeners wish to grow vegetables while a few of them opt for flowers. They also set up a farmers' market where the customers can sell their yield. If you get to go well with your neighbours, you could also get into a barter system and exchange your yield with them to obtain a diverse collection of vegetables and flowers.

Swayam Krishi is an initiative to revive the significance of self-farming in this fast-paced world. Their goal is to make it convenient for everyone to grow their own food organically and in a cost-effective manner. At present, Sunil has a client base of 160 people and looks forward to grow at an even pace. Urban gardeners can now use such platforms to grow their own healthy food and cherish the happiness of spending time away from the monotonous city life. It is also an opportunity to experience a completely different lifestyle and be a part of it.

Gardening and technology

"It is so easy to grow a garden!" exclaimed Swathi, when asked about how she was able to successfully bring up a garden. With the advent of technology, gardening has witnessed a great change. There is so much information easily available that one could just start growing a garden without any help. Also, there are a number of videos which provide practical guidance as to how to go about with gardening. An increased inclination towards gardening has also created common interest groups which provide a platform to connect with people and give/take suggestions with respect to gardening. A number of facebook pages, countless number of blogs, and many youtube channels dedicated to gardening prove the potential and demand of the industry.

Not just information, there have been technological advancements and innovations in the field of gardening itself. There was a time when people were worried about watering and maintaining plants when they were planning any travel. However, time has now changed and there are automatic irrigation systems installed across the gardens. Not just irrigation, even fertilising the plant is just a click away. Vertical garden concept by itself is an example of innovation in gardening industry. Added to this, a number of online markets sell all the gardening requirements and one can get everything delivered to their doorstep. It is not a manual herculean task anymore and this ease has encouraged many more to give in to gardening.

Entrepreneurs who see the potential in the industry have set up a number of startups which now provide gardening services and help anyone interested to have a garden irrespective of the space available and amount of time and energy they wish to spend on it.

There are many apps and websites which provide help and knowledge required. In future, research says one could monitor a plant's health remotely. Considering various factors such as pH level, fertiliser quantity, the plants health can be determined and monitored using automated tools.

Moving ahead-- heard of soil-less plants?

Can we grow plants without soil? Seems to be a funny question, right? But with the recent advancements in the gardening industry, soil-less plants are no more a myth. Gardening industry is growing at a fast pace and there have been innovations and technological advances to make the process easier as well as to minimise the utilization of resources.

Hydroponics is a technological process where one can grow plants in water or sand, rather than soil. This is done using mineral nutrient solutions in a water solvent. Hydroponic technology comes with a number of benefits. "In hydroponics, roots of the plant have constant access to an unlimited supply of water. This solves the problem of over-watering or under-watering the plants. Also, the amount of nutrients the plant needs and other elements are controlled, providing a conducive environment for plants to grow," said Ms. Sukanya. Studies have also shown that hydroponics could give a better yield and is predicted to be the future of farming.

Aquaculture has been in practice for quite a while now. However, aquaculture could very well be combined with hydroponics technology. This combination of aquaculture and Hydroponics in a symbiotic environment is called Aquaponics. In such a system, water from the aquaculture environment is fed to a hydroponic system which in-turn utilises it as a nutrient. Excretions from the animals being raised accumulates in the water and they are further broken down to form the nutrient base, before feeding it to the Hydroponic system.

Further to add on to it, Anthroponics combines elements of Hydroponics and aquaculture, but uses human waste like urine as the source of nutrients for the cultivated plants.

How beautiful the vegetable garnishing in restaurants look! Thought about how the greens could be so small in size? Such vegetables are now cultivated using a technology and are known as microgreens. Microgreens are vegetable greens harvested just after the cotyledon leaves have developed. Research shows that they are more nutritive than their counterparts. They range in size from one to three inches including the stem and leaves. "Many people who come to us are now drifting towards microgreens. It is easy to grow vegetables this way as the time it takes from seeding to harvest is very less (approximately 15 days).

While Hydroponics and related methodologies have changed the way the plants are being grown, the base used to grow plants have also changed. Times have changed from when mud pots and plastic pots were the only options to alternatives such as coir pots and micro fibre pots. Also, ceramic pots are used to give an aesthetic sense. Eco friendly coir pots are durable as well as have a visual appeal.

Plants are now one of the most popular gifting options as well. People believe in gifting plants to encourage others to grow their own plants. A number of innovative ideas for plant-gifting have come up. These include designer pots and ceramic pots with creative designs.

Conclusion: is urban gardening the need of the hour?

Gardening industry is expected to witness a spending of over $49.3 billion by 2023, says a study. This number shows us how the urban society is moving towards gardening and the potential of growth. With such a fast-paced development, there is no doubt that this could be one of the job-creating industries and a contributor to the economy.

A study conducted in 2015 by the United Nations predicted that the world population will grow to 9.6 billion by 2050. Such a huge increase in population would in-turn mean that food production should also increase proportionately. There is a need to grow more, to feed the increasing population. Some estimates show that 70 per cent more food will be needed. But with 80 per cent of cultivable land already in use and the rapid urbanisation set to continue, the challenge of producing more food in a sustainable way will become even more pressing (as said by www.foodprocessing-technology.com). It is important that we realise this need and adopt gardening technologies that help to match such a need. Also, it is time that the urban population realised the need to grow, be it a small garden or a spacious one.

According to a research, half of the world's population lives in cities, and the number is expected to rise to 70% by 2050. With increased number of people moving towards cities, deforestation and loss in natural resources are obvious. We have already observed depletion in ground water levels and loss in soil fertility. In such a scenario, we need to realise how important urban gardens are, for us to survive in the future. It is also important that we pass on a clean environment for the future generations to come, and contribute to sustainable growth.

Air pollution levels have been another major concern at this point of time. Air pollution is one of the major risk factors and the number of deaths owing to it has increased drastically. With industries engulfing the cities, there is an increased need to adopt urban gardening, to fight back air pollution.

It all comes down to the fact that urban gardening is the need of the hour. With such a wide range of options available, we encourage all of you to grow some greenery around you, for your own good and for the good of society. Go green-- Grow green!

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