Green Fingers: Snigdha Agrawal

Petite, with an alabaster-like complexion, she was popularly known as the lady with green fingers. It was as if, she breathed life into the most unmalleable soil, reviving and creating it as the birthing ground for seeds, sown by her hands. Those hands created magic in an altogether inhospitable terrain and climate conditions, swinging from oppressive summers to shivering winters. With dogged persistence, she contacted and hired bullock carts having the forked hoe attachment, to rake up the dry infertile soil cover and have the rocks and pebbles pulled out. Thereby creating a fertile womb before impregnating it with the green embryos. Nourishing it with water, sunshine and manure, throughout its gestation period. Any Bungalow she moved into; her garden was the envy of neighbours. Her labour of love, she tended personally with an unmatched devotion. 

My earliest recall of her goes back to six and a half decades. For the sake of privacy, I will refer to her as ‘Auntie Bloom’ and her gardens ‘The Bloomfield’. She was seen pottering around in her Bloomfield, even under the high noon sun, uncoiling the hose pipe attached to a tap, and dragging it to the lawn and flower beds, unmindful of the scorching heat, the cold, or threatening storms. While the rest of the Aunties in the community took that much-earned afternoon summer siesta, Aunty Bloom’s priorities were different… unfailingly attending to her bloom, both the perennial and the seasonal varieties. Marigolds, and Sunflowers, seemed like the garden’s bulbs were switched on throughout the year. Winter saw the biggest Dahlias of brilliant hues, Chrysanthemums with their deeply lobed leaves and large flower heads, white, yellow and pink. One year she did a hybrid to get the wine-coloured ones. Unheard of back then without all the learning tools on e-cloud. 

She was a natural. A pro. A child of nature, communicating with her garden on a one-to-one basis. Out of curiosity, I once asked “Aunty I see you muttering to yourself. Has something upset you?”. “Arre! Beti, I talk to my flowers, grass, vegetable patches, and fruit trees. Sometimes even sing to them to get good yields, much the way we distract fussy kids with bogeyman stories to get them to eat. Plants are like babies. They too need fussing, patience and love, to grow and flourish”. I guess, she knew exactly what she was saying, as from the corner of my eyes, I noticed the Snapdragons nodding in agreement. So, that was her success story. 

An unbroken success story. Every year at the annual community flower show, her blooms won the first prize. For that, she worked hard to procure the best saplings, seeds and manure from a nearby nursery. Visits to the Kadiyam Nursery in Raniganj took up the better part of her day. One year, she surprised the judges with the first Black Rose blooms from Bloomfield. An impossible feat, they concurred considering the austere soil and climate. The Black Rose Blooms got a bunch of the colony ladies visiting her and Aunty Bloom, being the kind and gentle person she was, entertained them on her porch with chilled lemonade and slices of watermelon, garden-picked. More surprises were in store for them. Seeing the rose trellised archway, opening to the green lawns covered with pink rose blooms, had them let out loud sighs of appreciation. “Mrs Bloom, you rightly deserve the Championship Cup”, making her cheeks turn pink, a shade darker than the trellis blooms. 

By the time I had stepped into my teens, Aunty Bloom had pulled another rabbit out of her hat. Successfully growing strawberries in the chicken pen, simulating conditions conducive to their growth. When the tiny red fruit made its appearance, peeping from under the green leaves, Aunty Bloom was on cloud nine. She made the impossible possible. And there was no stopping her. Her next venture was growing Dasheri mangoes, a variety originating in Lucknow. The bonsai trees, bearing fruits nearly touching the soil. Sweet, fleshy with an unmatched flavour and aroma. During that mango season, we all had loosies. Nothing unusual with all the binge eating. Aunty had a remedy for that too. She advised us to chew on the Basil leaves, growing wild in the backyard garden.  

She always maintained a dedicated vegetable patch towards the rear end of her gardens. This patch was never left fallow. Tomatoes, cauliflower, cabbage, maize, turnips, radishes, and lettuce heads found their way into her kitchen. Now, Aunty Bloom, like a Master Chef, took it upon herself to test the quality of the vegetables she grew. Thus, she was seen pulling out carrots, beetroot, and radishes, washing off the mud sticking to the roots and biting into them to savour the taste and freshness, resembling a bunny rabbit on the move. Her favourite of course the plump white radishes. 

That Aunty Bloom had gut issues was not a secret. Excess intake of raw radish created a problem of different sorts. A sulfur-smelling cloud accompanied her on her munching sprees. Anyone caring to join got enveloped in that cloud and not spared of her advice to let go of the rising pressure. And that there was no need to follow what had been written in the books on etiquette to be followed by the genteel ladies in public places. Gosh! She was hilarious and kept us in splits with her wisecracks. That was the wild and witty side of her, few knew.

Following Uncle’s retirement from services, they moved to their native place where once again she resumed gardening in her sunset years. Many who visited the couple in their hometown, came back gushing about the new ‘Garden of Eden’, she had created. Nothing surprising. Nature’s Child, knew how to overcome all the odds thrown at her. 

Sitting in my balcony garden with potted plants, that have a mind of their own, I am often reminded of Aunty Bloom’s advice on gardening. Sadly, my talking or singing does not have the desired effect.

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