29 November 2023

Journalist Ismail Suder tells how his new hobby – “apartment gardening” – provides fresh organic greens… and helps him keep a calmer mind…

I grew up in the farmlands of the lush KZN sugar belt where we grew our own food in a large backyard that was always plump with fruits and vegetables of the season.

As a teenager, I recall helping my elder brother, Yusuf, to prepare raised beds for dhania, carrots, methi, radish and lettuce. And when the hard day’s work was done, I’d spend hours plucking and devouring sweet mulberries from the low branches, with dark juices trickling down the side of my lips and onto my shirt – grossly vampire style.

Summertime was always fun when I would climb our tall mango tree near the peripheral fence and relish the ripe fruit that was begging to be eaten. The ayah from Sura-ar Rahman comes to mind: ‘So which of the favors of your Lord would you deny?’

And who could forget the sun-kissed mealie field that was perfect to hide in whenever I tried to dodge primary school, only to be betrayed by the manic clucking of hens that would scurry as I tried to lay low between the stalks. Every time I tried dodging, I was always caught and unceremoniously dragged out kicking and screaming – and then frog-marched to class. Ah, I miss those days!

 When the inevitable time came to move to the concrete jungle of Durban to start work as a journalist at Natal Newspapers, I knew there was something missing – my backyard garden.


So, about six months ago, when I stumbled upon the idea of indoor gardening, I felt a sense of excitement at the thought of planting an array of crops in my 13th floor flat overlooking Durban’s beautiful bay. This included lining dozens of plastic pots on the 4m-long window-sill in my lounge and on my 7sqm open balcony. The uplifting memories of being amongst the greens came flooding back.

The first thing I planted was rare custard apples of the “Cherimoya” variety. Being a lover of that tropical fruit, I decided to germinate the seeds using the damp paper method, and voila! the seeds sprouted energetically, and before long, I had over 100 seedlings. I’ve had a few casualties, but after six months of slow growing, most of these moody plants are holding out – with some having reached up to 50cm tall. Hopefully, I might decide to send a few to the market to make way for a variety of other plants.

With the large number of plants hogging space, my lounge felt cramped. So I did the next best thing – I sold the lumbering leather lounge suite. I am a minimalist, so more open spaces suits me just fine.

With so many potted plants to care for, my daily morning routine is to do an inspection round to check the health of my precious plants with the same dexterity of a sergeant major.

Planting indoors comes with its own set of challenges. These includes lack of direct sunlight and swarms of little insects that can invade your home if you are not too careful, but for me, the joys of having an oxygen emitting-garden right in my flat certainly outweighs the negatives.

When faced with the pressures of work and the challenges of everyday life, experts will tell you that one of the best antidotes for stress and calmness of the mind is tending to your plants, be it in your large backyard or at your tiny apartment garden.

In my balcony overlooking the tranquil vistas of the bay and the rolling hills of the Bluff, I have also started a greening project to cover two sections of my balcony wall with a variety of hanging plants resembling a “mini forest” if you like. This might be a challenging task especially with the blustery winds in the bay area, but the possibilities are endless.

Sadly, my fragile lettuce plants in my open balcony didn’t do too well, but my dhania and methi crops – not forgetting my curry leaf tree – are growing wild. My two dozen bell pepper plants appear to be energized and beginning to flower, teasing me endlessly with the promise of fruit. Alhumdulilalh, I even have a few mango plants to remind me of the good old days of my former village garden.

As the first light of dawn casts a glistening shine on every new leaf, I think of Allah’s magnanimity and the endless bounties that HE has provided for our survival. SubahanAllah!

My indoor crops may not altogether replicate my backyard garden at my former farming village home, but it’s certainly helping to energise my body and soul.

You don’t need a huge plot of land or the perfect climate to grow salad vegetables or small fruit like strawberries – any tiny space will do. Even if you have a kitchen window sill with enough sunlight, you’re in the game to at least start a small herb garden growing basil, thyme, and mint.

It’s not surprising then to see many people living in apartments, duplexes and simplexes, taking a keen interest in growing organic greens in limited spaces.

With my green space taking shape, the only downside to all this is that I often get the neighbours knocking on my door: “Salaams…can I have a snip of dhania …”

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