Residential gardening burst on the scene during the pandemic bringing in its wake a reality check. Top gardening trends of 2022 in Kerala
In the last two years, Viswanbharan N.K., a retired scientist from DRDO, has grown and nurtured a whopping 1000 plants at his home in Kakkanad, Kochi. During the pandemic, he found time to build an orchid collection. “It’s beautiful to see the flowers; the blooms last for two to three months,” he says.
Preetha S. also found time to return to her hobby: gardening. Last year not only did she manage to grow a neat lawn but also to identify traditional plants, make compost from kitchen waste, learn re-potting and pruning and hone her gardening skills.
For Sunil Joseph, proprietor of Kochi’s St. James’s Nursery, the pandemic time was a “a boom for us”, as the number of new customers increased and sales zoomed after March 2020. Sunil, who grows plants at three farms close to Kochi and retails them from the city, saw a 100 % increase in sales.
“The last two years have given people time to attend to their gardens and indulge in the hobby,” says Jacob Varghese, Professor of Botany at Bharat Mata College, Kochi, and an author of books on gardening. He adds that people have taken refuge in Nature.
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But there has also been a flip side, says J.M. Jacob, founder, Miniature Gardening Expertise Society of India. According to him, the last 22 months have seen the rise and fall of many gardening trends. While many may have gained, others have incurred financial loss.
“The need for essential vegetables boosted kitchen gardening and the need for revenue attracted many to begin gardening as a part-time income source. Young students, working professionals and housewives took to gardening as a residential business. Encouraged by the proliferation in instant blooms and plants, they invested money and quickly took to online marketing only to find that there were too many players. It has been a bitter-sweet experience for many,” he says.
According to Jacob, the extended lock down in the first phase resulted in a shortage of plants and supplies at many horticultural nurseries. The restriction on international flights also led to new cultivar varieties coming through grey channels, like smuggling. The second wave in 2021 witnessed a decline of many gardening trends that emerged in 2020, especially in the aquatic gardening segment.
The challenge in 2022 will be to sustain the business and look for new ways of marketing. Jacob offers the example of landscape services that began offering EMI-based balcony and terrace gardening services to attract more customers.
Here are top trends for 2022 in Kerala:
Online gardening business and services
The year will narrow down the margin of online and offline sales, as thousands of gardening businesses and small hobbyists launched private online stores. Gardening communities like the Kerala Garden Business Hub and Chedi Vyaparikal have started trade and wholesale platforms.
Many multi-vendor e-commerce gardening stores are emerging and numerous gardening experts are offering workshops and consultations online. Apart from popular YouTube channels, there are also paid workshops on social media platforms. Many residential gardeners too have shifted to branded label sale concepts and offer gift coupons and vouchers. For instance Shyju P Salam, of Kottayam, who started Adenium4U, launched an exclusive mobile-based app for adenium sales with over 200 varieties.
‘Our garden’ concept
A concept of ‘our garden’ came about during this period in which a group of like-minded gardeners share their garden space, or hire plots or premises suitable for gardening. “A crowd-funded or rather community-funded group shares both the cost of buying new exotic plants and knowledge,” says Jacob.
The year saw a fascination with the art of training perennial plants by pruning their leaves and maintaining clearly defined geometric or fanciful forms. Though practitioners are few, nurseries are importing customised orders. Justine Thomas currently has around 50 plants of different shapes and sizes at his nursery in Muringoor, Chalakudy. Topiary is his hobby and passion, says the design engineer who worked in West Asia for two decades and returned to Kerala in 2017.
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He began by making geometrical-shaped topiaries with Malpighia, a small-leafed short shrub that is ideal for bonsai and topiary. He adds that the Conocarpus, a multi-trunk mangrove species, is the cheapest in India. Justine creates shapes like spheres, cones, lollipops and multi-headed forms. He is currently working on animal-shaped topiaries: a horse and an elephant. Another off-beat creation is the word ‘Welcome’.
“There’s no limit to the shapes and designs one can create, especially with Malpighia,” says Justine adding that it is an expensive hobby. The ball-shaped topiaries range from one foot to four feet diameter, while the cones are between four and seven feet. His works retail for between ₹1500 to ₹25,000. More than hotels and public spaces, Justine finds individuals interested in this new garden practice.
“The indoor garden has moved from the courtyard or balcony into the rooms,” says Jacob Varghese who finds interior designers using boxes filled with indoor plants to separate sections of a room into separate spaces. “Even the newly formed home office is given a green partition,” he says. A popular area to place plants in houses is under the staircases and in areas with natural sunlight.
“The modular panel garden arrangement in interiors and balconies became popular during this time,” agrees Jacob adding that people today change entire plants in a short span of time “due to the trend of showcasing photos and videos on social media.” Architects and interior decorators have replaced earlier local nurseries in handling balcony or outdoor landscaping.
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Also popular are 3D printed miniature garden figurines and pots, new die-cut mould of fibre garden pots. Sabin Thomas and Antony Raju manufacture these at their unit in Muvattupuzha. “It is decorative, durable an fit for indoor planting,”says Sabin who retails to wholesalers. A three inch pot costs ₹30 while an eight inch pot comes ₹350. “ These are new in the field but are sadly replacing village pottery and handmade pots,” states Jacob. Revolving trellis and tower rack planter shelves that rotate to change plants or get sunlight are popular in balconies.
New varieties of water plants
“The trend for water plants developed during the pandemic,” says Varghese.
Mary Sheeba, who runs My Dreams nursery in Puthencruz, is flooded with orders for small water plants like the water poppy, double flowering arrowhead, Mexican sword, yellow water lily and the lotus. She has more than 75 varieties and retails them for anywhere between ₹100 to ₹1500. Mary entered the water plants segment during the pandemic and finds a proliferation of the plants in just over a year.
“Kerala’s weather is most suited for water plants,” she says, adding, “The conventional water plants that require large troughs and tubs are not needed for these small varieties. Some of them can be grown in bowls and make eye-catching centre pieces.” While Mary supplies to local nurseries, she is surprised by the increased interest from individuals.
A rush for air-purifying plants gripped the entire world after the first wave of COVID-19 when doctors stressed the importance of good ventilation and fresh air. After NASA identified the snake plant (one from a list of 20) as an air purifying green, it became a rage. Prices shot up and the ideal table-top dwarf variety sold for as much as ₹300. “The longer green and yellow variety is cheaper but is still costlier than it used to be,” says Varghese adding that the genus, Sansevieria comes in 22 varieties and removes pollutant gases from the air.
Other popular varieties are Peace Lily, Boston Fern, Money Plant, Spider Plant, Aloe and the Lucky Bamboo. He explains, “These plants not only absorb carbon dioxide through the pores on the underside of the leaves but also absorb pollutants like Xylene, Toluene and Benzene, which are emitted from wall paints and emulsion. and even from simple activities like lighting a candle, use of photocopier. Also, indoor plants grow in low light densities and continue to manufacture food, thus releasing oxygen. According to NASA, a 100 square feet room requires four fully grown plants to purify the space. With families confined in rooms and proved an affordable alternative to expensive air-purifying machines.
New grass for lawns
The last two years have seen the introduction of a new variety of grass for lawns. Earlier the most common were Mexican grass and the hardy Buffalo grass. Now, Pearl Grass, a new variant of Buffalo grass that grows and spreads faster, is in demand. “Since it does not grow high enough to be mowed, it involves less maintenance making it an attractive alternative,” says florist Sona Shelley who grows and retails Pearl Grass from her garden in Perumbavoor. “Pearl Grass is dark green and bright and prefers shade.” Sona also grows another variety, called Mondo, which is a slow grower. Sona sells roughly 90 to 100 trays every two months at ₹150 a tray, mainly to landscape artistes.
Wild native garden style
The wild native garden style, where the garden has more natural appeal with everything on ground soil and very little in pots, also became popular. “This has a wild jungle garden feels. The followers of this retro style find modern gardening a mechanical display of plants in colourful pots, stacked like an array of school kids in uniform,” says Jacob who sees this return to Nature approach as a possible fallout of the pandemic.