“There is a butterfly in the garden, yellow and bright!” she was breathless with excitement and exhilaration. I ran out with her to the small patch outside our new ground floor apartment in the heart of New Delhi. A small yellow butterfly was floating around a patch of red flowers that had recently bloomed. I watched as my twenty four year old daughter watched the butterfly with the wonder of a child. This was the first time in her life that she was seeing a butterfly in a natural setting, and not in some garden or preserve.
In sprawling metros like Delhi, over the years concrete has outpaced the trees and greenery. Along with sparrows and other birds, butterflies too have disappeared. Living in apartments that hang in space, surrounded by other such structures, we had lost touch with the grandeur and life begetting power of a garden. A few months ago, we shifted to a ground floor apartment, which has a small patch of green on the side. It has a huge Neem tree in front and a mango one behind. Initially, I was the only one who took an interest in procuring seeds to plant a few vegetable and flowers in the small patch. As the plants began to sprout, I found my daughter spending time in the evenings hunched over the saplings inspecting them closely. The progress of the plants soon became a discussion point on the dining table. The day the first okra appeared it was cause for celebration.
When I had been a child we had lived in houses with kitchen gardens, and for me it was like reliving my childhood days. For my daughter, it was her first brush with the smells and potential of the earth at close quarters. The garden engages her, whets her curiosity and she looks forward to eat any fresh vegetable that blooms.
Far away, in another corner of the globe, my nephew who worked in Urbana Champaign, USA till last month had also experimented with a closer relationship with the earth. In the small University City, he and a group of friends got together and rented community gardening plots from the city parks department. The twelve of them traveled together for the first planting, but later usually went separately. They were ambitious in their endeavors, planting things like corn, cilantro, peas, zucchini, lettuce, brussel sprouts etc. However, they had to learn like farmers do early on that crops require a lot of patience and looking after, much like children. As he laments, they barely enjoyed any of the produce they had planted. However, he did learn how much effort, time and energy it takes to get the earth to yield anything for human consumption. The community farming was as much a social engagement as it was a brush with nature.
My friend in Singapore keeps many pots with herbs in the balcony of her small apartment. She regularly sends me photographs of her small potted garden.
If you type ‘benefits of gardening’ on the net, it throws up more than 3,50,000 results in less than a second. From mental health to physical well-being, gardening is known to be a beneficial activity. Whether a sprawling community farm, a small patch of green or a splash of green in pots – engaging with nature is a happy experience.
For me, the small garden has been a learning ground for my urban, caged in concrete child. The flowers, vegetables, the dying plants, the blooming ones, the color of the grass, and the lone butterfly fluttering have established a rapport with her. Often I find her in the garden, busy on her phone, while bending over a newly sprouted sapling!
While I relive my childhood, she makes friends with the earth, and from fluttering butterflies, to squirrels, the lone stray cat that comes over sometimes, the garden teems with life. What wonders a small patch of earth holds, it makes me wonder!