The Garden : a Therapeutic Space in Pandemic Times

For avid gardeners the lockdown provides abundant opportunities to grow vegetables that would be ready to eat in about two to four months such as lettuces of all kinds, mustard leaves (tyrso) which earlier used to be cultivated only in the winters but is now seen through the year in our local markets, coriander(dhania), parsley that grows profusely, celery (supposedly very high in iron content), jamyrdoh, mint (pudina), kale, rocket (Arugula), a slightly pungent leaf very good for salads etc. Then there are beans, cherry tomatoes, cabbage and cauliflower which one can grow during seasons.

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My garden is a good mix of flowers, fruits and vegetables. I grow them alongside because I believe that flowers and vegetables share the same genes. Besides flowers give colour to the otherwise endless sight of green. I have two peach trees which are laden with fruit right now. I have also grown two plum trees, a couple of avocado trees, a papaya tree, a guava tree and some orange and lemon trees which will take time to fruit. I have two pomegranate trees but it does not seem like they will bear fruit any time soon.

Mint basil

I also put in the seeds of apricots and a small tree about 3ft high is now growing but I don’t really know if it will bear fruit. Oh yes I also have two mango trees, one of which is now flowering. So in about 1200 sq ft of land, I think I have been able to fit in quite a good bit of plants, trees and shrubs like Azeleas, Camellia, the Japanese Oak and also some cedar trees.

Lettuce going to seed
Jalynshir – good to use with tungrymbai ( fermented beans) or potato salad
Jajew
Jalyniar – good with mashed potato but also good with just onion, chillies and salt
This is Rocket or Arugula – not a native of these hills
Plantago or Shkor Blang (goat ears). Nagas boil and eat this with rice. The Khasis mix it with onions, chillies an salt as a salad. It’s also a useful leaf to treat insect bites and is used as a medicinal plant to stop bleeding, and respiratory and stomach ailments
Jathang or dandelion – an effective medicinal plant

Like all tribals, the Khasis too can recognize a number of wild edibles such as ja-lynshir, ja-lyniar, jangew, jatira, jajew, jarain, ja-thang, shkor blang (plantago) etc which grow profusely during the monsoons. Incidentally plantago has many medicinal uses. The leaves can be crushed to treat insect bites, to stop bleeding, for respiratory ailments and what have you.

Some of these plants dot the garden and grow without needing any tending. Ja-lynshir and ja-lyniar are used as salads but in a different way unique to the Khasis. They are shredded and then mixed with finely cut onions and ginger (if one wishes to) and also green chillies and salt and mashed with the fingers. Jalynshir has a bitter taste and is very good if mixed with tungrymbai (a Khasi delicacy of fermented soya cooked over a long period with mustard oil, garlic, chilly powder and black sesame. Some people add small pieces of pork to the concoction. Tungrymbai is cooked over low heat for about three hours and it tastes divine).

The Khasi dinner table is incomplete without some leaf or the other that is either chewed raw or made into a salad. Lunch or dinner without at least one of the above leaves one with the feeling that something is missing from the palate.

I have heard many who claim to have many things growing in their garden but also have well manicured finger-nails. You may own a garden but might not be responsible for what grows in it because you have outsourced this task to a gardener. So you cannot claim to have grown anything and it does not make you a gardener. You can’t have those delicate nails and also be doing gardening. Gardening leaves its marks. On a hot sunny day you can turn a burnished red and your hands are always rough no matter what hand cream you use, including those that claim to work miracles. I take about two hours daily to weed, prune, rake and ensure that the roots of the plants are well looked after and the leaves are healthy. Every once in a while one also has to look for little pests that devour the leaves and cruelly kill them for the choice is between allowing the pest to thrive or your vegetables.

These white parsley flowers attract a lot of bees

As a gardener one is also a seed-gatherer. I have given Rocket seeds and different varieties of chilly seedlings to many friends but very few have got back to me to tell me how the plants are faring. From some I have got fresh and healthy rocket leaves when my own have not done too well. That’s the beauty of seed-sharing. We also share the vegetables when they have sprouted and grown.

Gardening is the most satisfying passion because you actually eat the fruit of your hands and feel happy that what you eat is organically grown. True, there are many heartbreaks too when unseasonal rains wash out your seedlings because you don’t have a poly-house and cannot invest in one.

To nourish the garden I usually buy about 6 cement bags full of cow-dung and use it twice a year. I also have my own way of making fertiliser from kitchen waste (vegetable and fruits peels).

Peaches ready for harvest

Every year when I harvest the peaches I brew them to make peach liqueur and store it to use the whole year round as an aperitif when guests and relatives come for dinner.

Who would have thought that the garden would actually offer me solace during these dark time of the pandemic. Whenever I feel that my heart is burdened with a million thoughts and those moments of desperation creep in, I immediately step out into the garden and touch the plants or do a bit of weeding and my mind is diverted to something more productive.

Truly the garden is a miraculously liberating space. I can never thank the Universe enough for this gift of space in a world where every landowner thinks that land equals buildings, leaving nothing for the earth to breathe. I believe in co-existence. The earth needs its space; we humans own nothing; whatever we have is a gift from the Universe. Lets us be grateful that it still cares for us and nurtures us with its munificence.

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Patricia Mukhim Written by:

Patricia Mukhim is an educationist, activist and journalist. She is currently the editor of The Shillong Times, Meghalaya’s oldest English language daily and a columnist for The Telegraph and The Statesman.

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