Forty years ago, now-retired banker Chandra Shekhar Sharma planted a bael tree in his courtyard. Being a lover of trees, plants, and the natural world, he kept up this practice, bringing new life into his house each year. Today, he has over 1,000 plants of almost 400 different varieties, and proudly calls his home a ‘greenhouse’.
A resident of Agra, he lives in a particularly congested area, and his home was his oasis. “I planted trees and put pots against all the walls of my house,” he tells The Better India. The thick greenery he has planted grows fruits and vegetables including pomegranate, lemon, and orange, and flowers like jasmines, roses, bougainvillaeas, and tulips. It invites birds like sparrows and hummingbirds, various insects, monkeys, and other wildlife.
“I love my plants and trees,” says Sharma, who feels a familial attachment to them. Most of his home is populated with lots of plants and water lilies growing in the water bodies around. Most of the outer walls of his home are covered in a vertical garden, a concept that’s gaining much traction these days. “The concept is becoming popular all over the world,” he adds.
When planting a new seed, he keeps certain things in mind, like where the sun’s rays will fall and which areas are shadowed. He’s mindful of Agra’s climate, soil, water levels and quality. Instead of growing plants that only bloom during the winter, he focuses on finding plants that will bloom for about eight or nine months of the year.
While he also has Japanese bonsai and other exotic plants, Sharma focuses mainly on plants that can grow easily in Agra’s hot climate. “You know how people say ‘we have a garden in our home’? I wanted to do something different. There’s a home in my garden,” he says.
He’s deeply passionate about this green family and spends each morning tending to these with care and attention to detail. Sharma has never had a gardener, always preferring to work on his own, trimming and maintaining the plants himself. He also prefers using a bucket and mug instead of watering them with a pipe, giving attention to each plant. “Every morning I wake up and feel like spending time with my plants. Other people exercise. For me, this is my workout.”
He also doesn’t use chemicals to aid the plants’ growth, relying instead on kitchen waste and cow dung.
Living in this home has brought Sharma and his family a variety of benefits, besides the fresh supply of fruits, vegetables, and flowers. There’s clean, fresh air with plenty of oxygen and the general air quality has improved. The walls stay cool and their dampness has been reduced. In the excruciatingly hot Agra climate, the temperatures inside his house is always around 4 to 5 degrees cooler.
Sharma also started sharing his knowledge with others. He has gone to about 50 houses, offering advice, teaching people about gardens and helping them install their own. “I want Agra to be beautiful,” he says. “Till we don’t plant trees, Agra’s temperature will keep on rising,” he adds.
Among the people he helped is Indu Balasaxena, who now has a vertical garden at home thanks to him. “He comes out to the market with us, guides us about which plants to buy and how to plant them,” says Balasaxena. Sharma helps her not just with ensuring the plants can live a long, healthy life, but also offers aesthetic tips so that the plants add a sense of beauty to her home. “He has a spectacular artistic view about which plants to grow where so that it stays alive the longest and look beautiful. He is my support,” she adds.
Like Sharma, Balasaxena also believes that vertical gardens should be adapted by every household all over the country, seeing it as a small step toward tackling the ongoing climate emergency. “Every house has a wall, so it’s not about space. Everyone has the time too, it’s about their inclination to act. Ten to 15 pots are manageable for anyone,” opines Balasaxena.
Having plants in and around one’s house is also about more than simply planting seeds. It’s about caring for them each day, giving them the attention they deserve, and taking care of their health, as Sharma has so expertly been doing for almost half a century now. “The government comes and puts more plants in public places. But each person needs to adopt three to four plants so they can be properly taken care of. Even Sharmaji is like that. He pays minute attention to small details. His work is inspiring and commendable,” says Balasaxena.
Edited by Yoshita Rao