A garden of one's own...

A garden of one's own...

A soft-hearted, gentle woman, firmly rooted in traditional family values and a healthy lifestyle, Dr Mythri Shankar has nurtured her enthusiasm for healthy eating by fervently promoting organic farming. She is leading from the front by cultivating a garden that is completely organic in nature.

If you have begun rolling your eyes by now and started to say, “who has the time,” hold on till you hear about Mythri’s schedule. A doctor by profession, she is also a renowned women’s health activist and entrepreneur. She holds regular workshops and talks about various health issues, including those on bone health, especially for women.

She has a number of feathers in her cap in the field of nuclear medicine, having worked in prestigious institutions like UCLA, Cedars Sinai, Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, Charles R Drew University of Medical Sciences, University of Texas, Harvard Medical School etc and has contributed significantly to the field.

Currently settled in Bengaluru, she heads the division of nuclear medicine at Apollo Hospitals and is actively involved in academic activities and research projects. This may be a bit too much for some people. But for that perfect start to her day, she enjoys her early morning cup of green tea made with a concoction of various medicinal plants from — where else, but her own garden.

A fine plan
Dr Mythri has a very systematic way of organising her garden. There are separate designated areas for various types of plants. Herbs lie close to the kitchen and include varieties like the holy basil, rosemary, mint, coriander, lemongrass, chives, curry leaves etc.

A green patch houses leafy vegetables and medicinal plants like spinach, amaranthus, insulin plant, basale, doddapatre, bramhi, amrutaballi and others.

There is an exclusive area for flowers used for puja, namely rose, jasmine, dahlia, hibiscus, chrysanthemum, sugandharaja etc. This area also has sacred plants like tulsi, maraga and dhavana. The latest addition to her garden is the red-yellow gerbera, which looks like haldi-kumkum on a puja platter!

As for keeping pests away, she has flowers like marigold and cosmos scattered throughout the garden, particularly in close proximity to the vegetables. For root vegetables like carrot, potato, onion or beets, which need softer soil, she uses a higher amount of cocopeat.

Small bamboo stakes hold some climbers and add stability to ease harvesting. Shaded areas of the garden are saved for seed germination, since small plants cannot tolerate harsh sunlight.

Dr Mythri has utilised the basic concept that different plants have different needs and that different ways of composting help nourish the soil better in an organic and non-synthetic way. She is also a great advocate of conserving and recycling.

As she says, “Ours is a zero-waste home. We recycle almost everything. Vegetable scraps are composted and I have introduced earthworms in that area, which produce rich vermicompost. Bokashi (a fancy Japanese way of making a compost activator) may be a little tedious for beginners, but it helps in quicker composting. Jeevamruta is a microorganism-rich concoction made in our backyard regularly using cow dung.” Her garden is well-equipped with basic infrastructure like drip irrigation and water harvesting.
She looks forward to her daily “morning rounds” in the garden and never fails to find some surprise in the form of a new seed, which has germinated into a seedling or a new fruit peeking from below the leaves. “There are female and male flowers, those which turn into fruit or vegetable,” she quips.

Hidden perks
She also has photographed almost a dozen varieties of butterflies in her garden. Dr Mythri earnestly feels that this versatile subject having multiple facets can lead in different directions and is not merely a hobby, but an art form. It leads to healthy eating by growing your own organic vegetables, making new friends, sharing seeds, harvest and knowledge. And you can also resort to photography to document what has been grown and the visitors, like birds, butterflies and bees.

Dr Mythri says that tending the garden is a great exercise and it also stimulates the synthesis of Vitamin D in the body. As the founder trustee of Osteoporosis Foundation India, she emphasises the importance of Vitamin D, which plays an integral part in calcium metabolism and bone health.

She has many useful tips for gardening enthusiasts — like growing what you like to eat, to start small and then scale up gradually, and to stick to a basic composting regime to keep things simple. She advises them to go for perennials than annuals to
enjoy coloured flowers year-round, to invest in good gardening supplies and infrastructure and of course, to go organic and avoid artificial fertilisers and harmful pesticides. She recommends soaking seeds in water overnight before sowing for better germination rate, spreading mulch around the plant beds to prevent weeds from growing and conserving water.

“Plan ahead and get organised by taking a lot of pictures. This helps to go back and remember what was sown where and when. Also start with greens and basic vegetables like chilli, tomato and beans as they are the easiest to grow,” she says.

Lately, Dr Mythri has harvested sesame seeds, which are a great source of calcium and are extensively consumed during the Sank-ranti season. She remembers her delight, when her regular vegetable vendor recalled her television interview on the importance of calcium in diet and asked her if she didn’t want to buy ladies finger, which she had said was very rich in calcium. She laughingly says that she has stopped buying it from him now, as she is growing it herself, in her own backyard.

She hopes that a day might come when she would be able to reach a level of sustainability where there is no need to buy vegetables and greens from the market. As a mother and wife, nothing could be more fulfilling than providing healthy, nutritious, fresh and chemical-free meals grown naturally, she reckons.

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