For city folks, it would appear that there’s no shortage of things to complain about—from the lack of space in the city, to the lack of sunlight and the lack of water. And let’s not forget those elusive little pockets of greenery that are always under threat. When greening your space, be utilitarian and make sure there is absolutely no wastage of space, as every square foot matters.
My moment of revelation
Innovation is the driving force of nature and, as immortalised in Jurassic Park, ‘life will find a way’. Plants in the wild don’t grow in a particular place. They just grow haphazardly in every nook and cranny. While on a trek up north, I was walking through some dense forests when I happened to have a sort of ‘eureka’ moment... plants in jungles adapted to their environment, thriving in the limited space they could find that hadn’t already been claimed by some other form of vegetation.
When I got back to work, I found myself with a client whose penchant for cleanliness appeared to be at odds with her desire for indoor gardening! Her stipulation that there should be no pots on her floor or mud in her house might seem obsessive, but was justifiably so, as her daughter was allergic to dust. This posed quite a challenge, but we found a solution—inverted gardening!
Inverted gardening is the art of growing plants upside down, with the roots to the sky and shoots to the ground. Using the Japanese art form called Kokedama [gardening without using a pot] we made these beautiful upside down planters using peat moss, perlite, laterite and coco peat. What we discovered during the process blew our minds!
The perks of inverted gardening
If pests and blight are wrecking your plants, it might be time to turn your garden on its head. When dealing with overhead plantations there is a reduced risk of rotting or attacks from pests. No longer will you have to cage, stake or weed your plants or battle cutworms and other ruinous critters to put fresh tomatoes on the table. And, there are other advantages to growing plants upside down:
- You don’t have to till the soil
- There is no need to support or to stake plants
- You can grow a wide variety of vegetables
- Watering is much easier, and the plants are more vigorous
- What’s most enticing is that there’s no weeding at all!
What you need to do to get started
You can buy pricey containers that are meant specifically for the inverted growing technique, but if you don’t want to dig too deep into your pocket, you can use a simple method we figured out at the nursery—the trick is to get the rootball right. Make a cricket ball-sized rootball with perlite and coco peat; tie a string tightly around the root and then use a moss sheet to encase the rootball of your plant. Tie it together and place the rootball very carefully in a pot. Pull the string through the base of the pot and you can now suspend it in a nice sunny spot in your balcony. Over the years, I worked with several plants and I found that some plants adapted better than others. Here is what I learned:
Plants best suited to inverted gardening
Heirloom, Beefsteak or Cherry, the tomato is a popular plant because it is easy to grow. Cherry tomatoes are a good choice and flourish in this type of container because of their small size.
Pole and bush beans thrive in upside-down containers. However ensure that you
water them adequately and place them in a sunny area.
Bell peppers and hot peppers are good choices for an inverted garden. Hang them in a sunny spot and keep them well watered.
Choose smaller pickling cucumbers as they are easier to grow upside-down. Bush cucumbers are not a good choice and don’t do well in inverted containers.
The small varieties of eggplant grow nicely and are easy to manage in an inverted pot.
These tubers grow fantastically and the size of the tubers are considerably larger than that of the ones grown on the ground.
Home grown herbs aren’t just fashionable, but they’re coveted by most health enthusiasts and culinary experts. There are numerous herbs like basil, parsley, rosemary, oregano and mint among others that thrive with this method of gardening.
Non-edible ornamental plants
There are loads of ornamental plants that make quite a statement when used with the inverted gardening technique. A few favourites include:
Commonly known as the Moth orchid, these are excellent ornamental plants that can perk up any space. Keep in mind that over-watering can kill them.
Pony tail palms
These grow well in a temperate climate, but cannot withstand the cold and should be placed indoors. When repotting the plant, ensure that it keeps all its roots. To maintain its original shape, do not snip the ends of the leaves.
These are evergreen perennials and they have rosette-forming, brilliantly-coloured flowers. They are epiphytes, which means they absorb moisture and nutrients from the air.
This is a commonly cultivated houseplant. It needs to be repotted every second spring. Pruning will keep the leaves more arrow-shaped and make the plant bushy in appearance.
In India it is called the Nau Bajiya or the 9 o’clock flower since it is in full bloom at nine in the morning. It is a small plant that requires almost no attention to help it grow. It has vibrant flowers that can brighten up any room.
The pitcher plant
Pitcher plants are intriguing plants to grow and make great conversation starters. They need ample sunlight and moisture. Most pitcher plants are carnivorous and will help you keep pesky insects away.
The agave is most commonly confused with the cacti or aloe family; though it looks similar to each of these plants, it belongs to neither family. Agave is a desert plant, so it doesn’t require constant watering. However, some species of agave have sap that can irritate the skin and most agave have thorns that can cause injury.
Caring for your inverted plants
Hang your upside-down plants in a sunny location and water them well, making sure that water reaches the bottom of the root ball. The water should in fact run out of the bottom. Watering requirements for your upside-down garden will usually vary depending on the plant species and local climate. In most places, especially during periods of hot, dry weather, your upside-garden will require watering on a daily basis, if not more frequently. Make sure you take out the dry leaves and prune any shoots growing out of shape at least once a month. Liquid fertilisers such as vermiwash are useful, but should only be used annually. Make it a point to redo the root balls once every two years for the ideal growth of your inverted plants.
Who is this for
As your plants grow, you may notice them reaching upward towards the sunlight. This is completely normal and will eventually cease as the plants get larger or begin bearing fruit. While the entire process may seem a bit whacky and outside of normal methods, but upside-down gardening is a great way to enjoy beautiful flowers and tasty vegetables, without the inconveniences of traditional gardening. What’s more, it doesn’t take up a whole lot of space, making this the perfect alternative for urban gardeners and others having little ground space. Upside-down gardening also provides the additional benefit of having your plants at eye level, eliminating the need for bending or stooping, whether you’re watering or harvesting.
These inverted pieces add great aesthetic value to your surroundings, making them perfect as centre pieces or displays at exhibitions. Businesses often use them to give the workplace an earthy and yet modern décor, while doctors often display such inverted pieces in their waiting rooms to create a soothing environment. No matter how inverted pieces are used, they lend both practical and aesthetic value to your habitat.
This was first published in the December 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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