If you’ve booked a garden with us, chances are you’ve met Kala – she’s the friendly, efficient designer behind your beloved English garden or a Zen-infused sitout. She’s been with MySunnyBalcony for over six years now. She took some time out between designing new products and gardens to tell the MSB blog how things work…
What do you enjoy most about the design process?
I enjoy each and every part. Every garden is new. There’s a design touch or a value touch added to each and every space. Even if there are some standard designs, each space requires a special touch and personalisation.
Can you give an example of what you mean?
For example, with an English balcony that we just completed, we installed a fence to use as a privacy screen. To fit in with the English theme, we painted the screen white. The client then said that the balcony would look very sad without colours. So we installed colourful planters on them. These are the things are that you learn through the design process.
What is a typical implementation like?
The day starts at about 9 o’clock in the morning. There’s a good three hours of loading of all the products in our truck, and then depending on the site, 30 minutes to two hours of travelling! Once we arrive, we start unloading, transport all the material, and start planting the products. Each product will be matched to a particular plant, and a particular kind of soil, usually – red earth, cocopeat, and so on. We install all of it, clean up, water the plants, and leave. These implementations are typically complete within a day and do not take longer than three days unless they are big digs.
When you’re designing new products, where do you get ideas from?
We work on various materials – wrought iron, galvanized iron, wood, terracotta. We release new products every month, and typically focus on one material per month. For example, September was all about upcycled, in-house, jute-based pots and planters. We also draw inspiration from patterns from around the world – Asian, Italian, Art Deco, English, and Spanish.
Thank you, Kala!
What do you get when you sign up for a MySunnyBalcony garden? A whole lot, it turns out – from a design custom-made for your space to a smooth implementation to care and maintenance. Here’s a quick breakdown of it all.
The site visit
This is where it all starts. Give us a call, and we’ll set up a site visit for you. Our site visit team visits the space, gets a sense of the environmental conditions, light, and shade, takes measurements, and shoots photo and video for our design team’s reference.
To the drawing board
Next up, we get to work on the design, based on what you’d like – a Zen garden, a veggie patch, a cool European garden or a sprawling terrace growing fruits and herbs – the works.
Our design includes the garden’s color scheme, a garden design for each space, the products we’ll use, and a detailed itemized quote. If you change your mind or want something else, let us know and we’ll incorporate it!
Get an online consultation!
A quick way to skip the lifecycle of scheduling and coordinating site visits is to choose the online consultation route. Here, you can just email across pictures and measurements of your space, along with a little note on what you have in mind. Then we work on the design as usual.
This works even if you’re not based in Bangalore: we’ll advise you on which products we can ship across. We also suggest places you can buy plants: we research local nurseries that sells plants suitable to your environmental conditions.
Which products can be shipped?
Except in rare cases, we don’t ship fragile products, such as terracotta and mosaic. For outstation consultations, we design your garden using shippable items only. If the consignment is large, then we ship across terracotta or mosaic products by hiring a dedicated truck.
Preparing for implementation
Whichever route you take, we’ll take a little bit of time, from three to seven days, to get your products and plants customized to your preferred colours and design.
It’s go time!
Once we agree on a date for the implementation, our product coordinator takes over from the design team: we’ll prepare your space, plant saplings in their pots and planters with the appropriate soil, and install everything according to the design plan. Then we clean up, water the plants, and leave you to enjoy your new garden!
Care and maintenance
We want your garden to be taken care of well! So we’ve prepared a plant-care manual so that you can understand the type of plants you’re getting and the care instructions for each individual species.
After your garden is all set up, we offer a free visit to ensure that everything is going smoothly. You can ask us to maintain the garden, hire a gardener, or manage it yourself.
Keeping the possibility of rainwater coming into the house in mind, Shilpi Patel’s family decided to put the wall of their living room just inside the edge of the roof. To use the space, they added a narrow balcony as a design element.
This space in her 6th floor house overlooking Cunningham Road is where Shilpi decided to create a garden. She was looking for something that had lots of colour, pleasant to look at, low maintenance and added character to the space. She had grown plants there before, but now she wanted something more!
A nice bamboo fence, colorful box planters gave the space the look of a fenced in garden. Upcycled bottle lamps and mosaic tiled dragonflies added quirk, and movement to the garden.
The plants chosen were hardy and low maintenance. Within a few days though,it was noticed that the direct sunlight in the balcony were burning the plants. The MSB team replaced them with flowering plants that did well in direct sunlight. The space is bright, colourful and green.
As she looks out from her living room, Shilpi is happy that a safety design feature lead to a happy, green space!
Posted by admin | Filed under Gardening Tips
So have you planned your garden yet? With carefully selected seasonals that’ll bloom in a riot of colours and textures through the year? Awesome. Are you home during the day to enjoy all the nuancing? Thought as much. So basically, you’ll break your back nurturing a beautiful day-garden that looks like a set of dark blobs in the night, when you’re actually home to enjoy it.
What to do, what to do? Well I think you should get a job that’ll let you spend at least a few daylight hours in your garden. But I get it. What with your crazy deadlines, telecons and endless commutes, you’re probably home and ready to relax in your garden with your glass of.. err.. lassi, only well after dark. Let’s work with that then.
What can you detect in your garden, even at night? That’s right. Fragrance. When you don’t have much to see, choose plants that you can smell. Jasmines, Moonflowers, Night-queens, Clematis, Frangipani, Spider-Lilies, Gardenias… the list is endless in a tropical country like ours. But remember, they need their share of sunshine during the day. So don’t plant your jasmine in a shaded balcony and assume it’ll do well since it’s only going to bloom at night!
Now that you’ve got your fragrances sorted, it’s time to indulge another sense: sound. The quiet trickle of a small water feature in the corner can calm your space down in a matter of minutes. If you’re lucky enough, it might even attract a little frog and a cricket or two, to serenade you over the sound of the water!
I agree though, that it can still get a little creepy in a completely dark garden, even if you have things to hear and smell. How about some visual drama then? The eye can detect the colour white, even in fairly dark surroundings. So throw in some Spathiphylums, white Mussaendas and Bougainvilleas to brighten up the area, even if they aren’t fragrant. Even plants with variegated foliage like Starlight Ficuses, Crotons and Scheffleras can do the trick.
You could also consider some lighting options. There’s nothing as pretty as candle-lit lanterns around your garden, but they can get bothersome, especially in the wind and rain. Use low wattage bulbs in your balcony, or even some simple outdoor lights to backlight your plants dramatically in the dark. Don’t overdo it, or your garden will look hotel-like and impersonal. A little bit of darkness will lend an air of mystery, and in fact make your garden feel a lot larger!
You need at least one stunning night bloomer to be the centerpiece of your garden. My personal favourite is the spectacular Bethlehem Lily (Epiphyllum oxypetallum), sometimes called the Brahmakamal (not to be confused with the Himalayan variety). Incredibly easy to grow and propagate, its huge, headily fragrant blooms look straight from out of a sci-fi movie. Twice a year, just as it starts raining, you’ll see buds on its fleshy leaf-stems, that’ll swell to gigantic proportions over a week or so. When you see a small wisp of a petal peeking out of the bud, you know it’s about to bloom. Invite your friends over around midnight. And get those lassi glasses out: it’s going to be one awesome night garden party!
View this article as published in the Bangalore Mirror here
Posted by admin | Filed under Gardening Tips
Oh nice! You’ve repotted all your plants with a new batch of red soil that your gardener recommended, have you? One of the reasons why plants do rather well in our city is because of the red soil that this region is so famous for. As you can imagine, there’s not much of it to be had any more. The top soil covering the few patches of open land around the city has been scraped off too, and used indiscriminately in gardens and ground fills.
So where’s your red soil coming from? That’s right. From viable farmlands farther and farther away from home. And what’s happening to them? Well, with the top-soil gone, crops are becoming increasingly more expensive to sustain and produce. And whom does that have an effect on? Yes, you. “Oh God, how expensive these veggies have become these days ya.” Familiar?
Very good. Now, what shall we do about it? Living in a concrete jungle as we do, it’s almost impossible to avoid purchasing soil altogether, so let’s see what we can do to use as little of it as possible, yes?
First, get the soil that you already have, tested. If you don’t have a ground garden, test the nearest source of usable soil. Lalbagh has a great soil testing facility, but look up your directory and find a soil testing centre close to you. Your aim should be to figure out exactly what you need to add to the soil you already have, to make it usable.
Remember that Biology lesson in Class VII that you paid no attention to? No? Tsk tsk. Well here’s the short version: Your soil has to have a balance of organic matter, minerals, air and water. Home compost can easily provide the organic matter that your soil needs, while sand and cocopeat , sourced and used responsibly, are great soil aerators. Mix in just enough of these to get a nice, easy to work with texture, that doesn’t harden too much when dry.
Getting the right consistency of soil is easy enough to achieve. But it’s the mineral balance that usually determines how your plants will turn out, and this is what your soil test will reveal. Oh, so all you need to do is read the test report, rush out and buy the nutrients that the soil is deficient in, chuck them in, and Bob’s your uncle, right? Wrong. Who’s Bob anyway? The thing is, you can’t really get the soil composition absolutely right, ever. You don’t even need to. The soil conditions in each region are only meant to support certain plants, based on their natural mineral compositions and levels of acidity (pH). You should aim to create an ideal soil condition for plants that can be grown in the set of nutrients that your soil is already rich in, with as little tweaking as possible.
If you really must tweak, do it organically. Animal manure and compost should take care of most of your soil’s nutritive needs. But if your soil tests still reveal deficiencies, like in Nitrogen for example, you have to be a little more proactive. Biology lesson, Class VII again, remember? Plant beans. They have bacteria in their root nodules that fix atmospheric nitrates into the soil. Bone meal and eggshells take care of Phosphorus, Potassium and Calcium deficiencies. Careful though: too much Calcium and Phosphorus in the soil is worse than too little! Do a bit of online research and figure out the ideal amount. You’d be surprised at how little you actually need to do to get your soil upto scratch!
So no more indiscriminate soil buying, OK? And hopefully in a few years, no more weeping at the veggie prices either!
View the article as published in the Bangalore mirror, here
Posted by admin | Filed under Gardening Tips
“One packet Ganesh Bidi please”, cooed a well-turned-out lady in sunglasses, to the incredulous owner of a paan shop, as I was walking by. I whirled around in surprise, hoping to be the first to witness a new fad amongst Bangalore’s glitterati. “Not that it’s any of your business, but they’re for my plants”, she said frostily, when she saw my goggle-eyed, admiring expression.
“For your wha..?” I said, and then realized what an ingenious idea it was. She was going to make herself a tobacco spray. They’ve been used to control pest attacks from mites, beetles and caterpillars, for centuries. I never really bothered trying one on my own plants though. I always imagined it involved going to a tobacco market (wherever that was), buying tobacco by the quintal, distilling tobacco serum in a large..err.. distilling machine, and laughing insanely as I nuked the poor bugs in my garden with it. Needless to say, it seemed altogether too energy intensive a proposition.
As it turns out, making a super effective tobacco spray for your plants is far easier. Snip up 2-3 bidis (fine, you can use cigarettes too, if you’re that posh), dunk them in a litre of water for 24 hours and laugh insanely while spraying the decoction in the soil and under the plant’s leaves. Easy bidi.. err breezy.
Here’s another trick I use for aphid and thrip attacks that I’m sure the lady in sunglasses would approve of: The Booze Blaster. Remember that bottle of cheap stuff you’ve been stashing in your cabinet for years, because it was too foul to serve, even to a visiting alcoholic uncle? Well, drag it out, dribble a few drops of it onto a rag and gently wipe the infested parts of your plant down with it. Go back inside and drink a non-alcoholic beverage (we don’t want you going overboard now, do we?). When you’re back, you’ll see that all your critters have headed for the hills. What? They come from respectable families too, you know.
There are lots of other interesting things you can do to keep your pests at bay, just with stuff lying around at home. Salt water sprays (3 tsp of table salt to a litre of water), bump off spider-mites overnight. A 10cm ring of red chilli powder in the soil around bulbs like lilies and onions, gets rid of ants and maggots instantly.
While you’re at it, why not start a home composting unit of your own? All you really need is a bucket or any large container, preferably with a lid. Dunk all the organic waste from your home (vegetable peels, coffee grounds, used tea leaves, eggshells, bones and scraps) into it, and layer periodically with ripped up newspaper. Make sure the mix is damp but not soggy, and can breathe. Once your composter is full, give it a turn every few days. Within a couple of weeks, you’ll get a nice batch of nutritious, easy to use compost for your plants. It could be a messy (and smelly) proposition at first, but don’t give up; you’ll soon get the hang of it.
And the next time you see a gardener friend buying a packet of Bidis from the paan-shop, don’t act all surprised. They’re either broke or trying to be clever. Or in my case, both.
Read the article in the Bangalore Mirror here
Posted by admin | Filed under Gardening Tips
“What is this I say?” exclaimed a client in disappointment, when he saw his newly installed creeper trellis, meant to shield him from a nosy neighbor. “When it will grow, when it will cover, when I can able to drink my coffee in privacy?” “Relax”, I told him. “It’s the monsoon now, and before long, you’ll have more creeper than you can handle!” Sure enough, three months later, I got a call from a very happy sounding client, with reports of his creeper trellis doing very well indeed. The assortment of baby creepers we’d planted for him had grown and covered the entire trellis, and even flowered obligingly on his neighbour’s side, giving them something apart from his coffee cup to look into.
Well, that’s what creepers are meant to do. They’ve evolved to take the support of trees, rocks, abandoned buildings and meditating sadhus, to grow and seek the best spots to thrive in. That said, they won’t grow at all, if they don’t think the conditions are right. You need to figure them out before you plant a creeper.
First off, where’s your light source? Most flowering creepers like the sun. No sun, no creeper. So choose a spot that gets a lot of it, and in the direction that you want to view your creeper from. Otherwise, you’ll get the pleasure of viewing its woody stems, while it blooms in all its glory on the side that you can’t see.
Another annoying thing many creepers do is to grow and bloom on top of their supports, leaving bare legs all the way up to the top. Bougainvillea and Allamanda are notorious for doing this. Sometimes, you can get them to produce shoots lower down by pruning them on the top, but it’s a largely futile exercise. Easier yet, plonk a bench or a sculpture underneath and turn it into a lovely bower.
Next, remember, most creepers are seasonal: they have growth spurts and blooming seasons. Jasmines, Rangoon Creepers (Quisqualis), Passion Flowers (Passiflora) and Flame vines (Pysrostegia) are summer bloomers. Garlic vines (Cydista), Clerodendrons and Morning glories (Ipomoea indica) love the monsoon. Mysore’s spectacular Clockvines (Thunbergia mysorensis), famous for their unbelievably gorgeous chandelier-flowers, go bonkers in the winter. They really do bloom like clockwork, so if you want to impress a guest, your mother-in-law, for instance, plant a clockvine arbor and invite her over in December. She’ll immediately hand over her those gold bangles you’ve been eyeing for years without success.
Ah, but you don’t have sun. What to do, what to do. Well, there are some shade options to choose from. Moneyplants, Arrowhead vines (Syngonium) and the Hindu Rope Plant (Hoya) make good shade creepers. They may not be as visually spectacular, but they are honest, hardy and will stand by you through thick and thin, unlike the regular temperamental flowering beauties. Stand warned though, that shade creepers are sloooooow growers. Just let them be, they know what they need to do and will get there in good time.
Some parting words of advice. Be patient with your creepers. They often take an entire year to establish and start their growth or blooming cycles. Make sure they’re comfortably settled, don’t bother them too much, and oh.. don’t meditate next to them, especially in the monsoon. We all know what happened to those sadhus.
View this article in the Bangalore Mirror here
Nothing says posh better than a fine bit of turf, eh old chap? Picnic lunches on the grass, with tinned pineapple, thinly cut cucumber sandwiches, boiled eggs, lemonade… and once Enid Blyton leaves the building, gobi manchurian and chilli bajjis all around. Yes, quite.
But before you run and get yourself that lawn, you need to know what you’re doing. First of all, you really want a lawn that badly? Some avid gardeners call them green deserts, because they use up precious garden space that could otherwise be used to do so many interesting things. I tend to agree. Lawns need the best sunlit spots in your garden, and are notorious for being hungry, thirsty and in need of constant attention.
That said, lawns are easier to maintain in this city than most others. It’s just a matter of choosing the right type of grass for your space. Mexican and Bermuda grass do well in the sun, and even come in nice square patches of turf (called sods), that you can lay out and get an instant lawn with. Elephant grass, a broader-leaved but more natural looking variety, does better in the shade. If you have very little sunlight, I’d advise you not to attempt a lawn. My mother and I fight a never-ending battle with our scraggly lawn, because it’s shaded by large trees that don’t give it enough sun.
Red soil, vermicompost, sand and cocopeat in equal proportions usually make a good lawn mix for Bangalore! If your lawn’s going to be on your roof, make sure it’s properly waterproofed and sloped, before you embark on a lawn project. Stick a ‘Keep off the grass’ sign on your newly laid lawn for a month at least. It needs time to establish itself before it can take the weight of your heavy bottom bearing down upon it!
If, like me, you want to do more interesting things with the space you have, you should consider some ground cover options instead of grass. You may not be able to sit or run around on them, but they’ll look way more interesting than a poncy old lawn, and you’ll spend a lot less time and effort on getting them to look good.
Wandering Minstrel (Zebrina pendula), for example, grows fast and dense even in the shade and requires almost no maintenance or watering. Spider Grass (Chlorophytum), known for its oxygenating properties, does well in the shade too. Table-roses (Portulaca) love sunny spots, and obligingly bloom in a riot of colours every few months.
While we’re at it, why not do ground cover options that are actually of some use? The beautiful purple-and-silver leaves of the tincture plant (Hemigraphis colorata) can be used for minor scratches and bruises. Mint and creeping thyme make excellent ground covers too, and will provide your kitchen with a non-stop fresh supply of herbs all year.
My personal favourites are Rain lilies (Zephyranthus). They’re zero maintenance. Just plant the bulbs in a sunny spot and wait for them to do their thang. Every time it rains they’ll pop up and bloom all at once. A patch of rain lilies in bloom is a breathtaking sight. Plant them and you’ll feel what Wordsworth did when he met his daffodils, and you’ll never want a boring old lawn again!
View this article in the Bangalore Mirror here
Some friends who’d recently returned to India, asked me to design a flower garden for them that reminded them of their childhood home. “Ah, a Granny Garden! “ I thought to myself. Jasmines at the gate, a Tulsi by the door, a hibiscus hedge, beds of Kanakambara (Crossandra), Four o’clocks (Mirabilis), Bachelor-buttons (Gomphrena) and Spatikas (Barleria) , and pots of fragrant Chrysanthemums .. sigh!
The best part about Granny garden plants is that they are cheap and local. They’ve been in our gardens centuries before the advent of seed companies and there’s lots of know-how on how on how to take care of them. The trick however, is to make them look awesome. If you can’t do flowerbeds, group them together in potted clusters, instead of setting them out in a long line. If all you have is a balcony, jazz them up by planting them in railing planters or brightly coloured terra-cotta urns, and you’ll be surprised at how gorgeous they’ll start to look!
Maintaining granny garden plants is fairly easy too, but you need to get the basics right. Jasmines, for example, need lots of light and should only be grown in extra-large containers (45cm and higher). Tulsis, contrary to popular belief, need lots of sunlight too, and hate being overwatered. Hibiscuses do well in large planters as well, but are very susceptible to mealy bug attacks in Bangalore. Keep that spray can handy!
Kanakambara – a top favourite in the granny garden, comes in many hues. Oranges, reds, yellows and even blues (called the Neelambara – a shade loving variety). As a kid, I’d wait for the flowers to drop off and produce seed pods, that I’d put into a bowl of water. I’d watch in delight as they cracked open with loud pops and send the seeds flying out : their natural seed dispersal mechanism .
Chrysanthemums are slightly needier and need pruning after every blooming season. They sometimes die down as well, so you might want to replant some cuttings from the mother plants periodically. New, brilliantly coloured miniature versions are now seasonally available too. But though the fragrant pooja varieties still hold a special place in my heart.
The four o’ clock plant or the Myrabilis is one of the easiest seasonals to grow in your garden. Available in purple, yellow, white and a variety of colours in between, they are a delight to behold in the evenings. Their cute little black seeds, borne on pretty little calyxes, resemble handcrafted ear-studs. Get your kids to pick and dry them out for the next season’s planting.
The humble Bachelor Button (Gomphrena) happens to be my favourite in the series. Once they get started, they stay in bloom for months together. Their unapologetically purple flower heads never really dry out, but gracefully fall into the ground and produce baby Bachelors, all ready for the next season.
And there you have it! A low maintenance, old-fashioned, earth friendly garden, just the way your granny would have liked it!
Question of the week:
Dear Sriram, I have a Kakinada rose plant, akin to your Damask or Pannir rose I think. I dont know how to manage it,its growing wild and tall.Do I trim it to a bush or allow it to become a creeper ?
Dear Vinatha,Damask roses are, unfortunately, quite unwieldy. If you trim them down they’ll be ok, but won’t bloom as much. In my experience, letting them grow tall is the best way to get the maximum number of blooms out of them. The one I have, stubbornly refused to bloom until I let it grow upto 7 feet. Now I get quite a few blooms from it, although it’s potted.
View this article in the Bangalore mirror here
Posted by admin | Filed under Gardening Tips
This article is part of an ongoing gardening column in the Bangalore Mirror, by Sriram Aravamudan, one of MSB’s co-founders.
So what are you going to do with all the rain we’ve been getting lately? Think, think. Ahh, I see a bulb go off. Yes, a water garden. Picture yourself skipping down to your garden pond in a floral dress, pausing as you catch your reflection on its limpid surface, and smiling fondly at the goldfish as they dart about under the lily pads. Except, you’re a dude, all you have is a little balcony and you’ll probably fall off the parapet if you skip too hard.
Dont worry, nobody’s watching. If you don’t have the space for a pond, just get yourself a largeish container, some potter’s clay and a couple of water plants. What sort of container? Any sort, as long as it can hold water. An old bathtub, a cauldron, a cement tub, or a lovely terra-cotta urn: the larger the better, but smallish is ok too. What sort of plants? Well that depends.
Water lilies do quite well in containers at least a foot deep, the wider the better. But they need 4-6 hours of direct sunlight hitting them every day. You can either plant them directly in potter’s clay and compost at the bottom of the container, or in a shallow pot immersed in the container. Chuck in some guppy fish to keep the mosquitoes at bay, and you’ll soon have a bloom a day all through the season.
But remember, water lilies are the divas of the pond. They won’t bloom if they’re disturbed, or don’t have enough sunlight. Even then, for no apparent reason, they’ll suddenly discard their leaves and play dead for months, usually when the weather gets cold. I’ve now learnt to do to my own blue water lily, what I would to a brat that’s throwing a tantrum: just leave it alone. Come March, and it’ll put out little pads and charm its way back into my life all through summer.
But, if you don’t want to look at a bare water feature all winter, mix up the planting. Add in a bull-rush or some water lettuce to keep you company until your dormant diva decides to grace you with her presence again. But remember to keep some part of the surface clear for sunlight to percolate down to the lily roots!
If you don’t have direct sunlight in your garden area, don’t despair. Wetland plants like Pontederia, Papyrus, Umbrella palms and Duckweed do fabulously well in medium to low light conditions. The best part is, they don’t even need very deep containers to grow in! Duckweed tends to engulf the entire container in a matter of weeks, though. Just scoop out the excess duckweed and dunk it into your composter. It’ll make a nutritious feed for the rest of your garden.
Still-water gardens are great, but you don’t need to stop there. Rig up a pump and spout, place some potted water-friendly plants around, and you’ll have yourself a fantastic self-circulating water feature, all in your own little space!
As for the skipping about, you take a call. Just make sure the fire brigade’s around to catch you as you land.