From every corner and crevice of Elsy Joseph’s little home blooms a flower or a vegetable

Elsy Joseph’s six-cent plot, wedged in the concrete commotion of Manorama Junction, is a little green oasis. On the land, which accommodates a tumble-down house, Elsy nurtures a humble vegetable garden. Showing the way through an uneven bed of rubble, where a proper room once stood, she explains, a bit sheepishly, that her plants have just yielded a fresh batch of produce. “You have come at the wrong time. Now they are just flowering,” she says. For weeks, she had made sambar every day, with the tomatoes, brinjal and snake gourd from her backyard.

Vegetable garden

On the available strips of soil, Elsy has a few plantains, a coconut tree and a mango tree. The rest of the space is taken up by plastic sacks of varying sizes bearing vegetable plants at different stages of growth. Elsy says she has not heard of “organic farming”. All she has is an experience of helping her father on his land long ago.

Ever since she moved to this house in Ernakulam as a young wife, Elsy has kept her passion for gardening alive. Even when her family fell upon rough times and her husband, a tailor, passed away, she treasured her love for gardening.

Financial constraints have never been a deterrent, she says. The functional part of her house now comprises the porch, a small drawing-cum-dining room, a kitchen and two bedrooms. The rest of the house has given away, with rooms without a roof and moss-covered walls. “The dream is to rebuild these rooms,” says 58-year-old Elsy, who lives with her son, Peter, an auto driver.

Spinach, bitter gourd, snake gourd, ribbed gourd (peechil), four-angled beans (chathura payar), drumstick, papaya and long beans form a large part of her garden. There is yam, colocasia, turmeric and ginger, too.

“There is almost every vegetable I need for the house here. I even get about 100 gm of turmeric powder,” she says. A lemon shrub bursts out of a pot. “It is yet to bear fruit,” she says. Elsy’s greatest regret is the lack of space. “If only I had more soil, I could have done so much more.” One part of the wall in the backyard is covered in an aromatic flourish of mint (pudina). She says the wild creeper yields about five to six big sacks a year.

A healthy bush of aadalodakam, a herb popularly used as medicine for cough in Ayurveda, also finds space. “I supply them to friends as medicine,” she says.

Maintenance

Elsy’s gardening tools consist of a hoe and a small shovel. She waters her plants twice a day during summer, but spends a lot of time in the garden. Elsy uses only cow-dung and ash as manure. Eggshells and tea waste are also good, especially for rose, she says. Elsy has converted an adjoining dilapidated room into a rose garden. The remaining space in the front yard and the sides of the house is consumed by a rash of red balsam. “It really requires no tending to. It grows and grows.”

Even the space on the compound wall has been used up by small pots bearing a crowded variety of bay leaf, betel leaves and pepper. The latest addition to her garden is two tender paddy saplings, planted in a pot. “Why not? I just wanted to try.”

Until about a year ago, her garden thrived on the terrace. “It was bad for the building and I had to shift it to the backyard,” she says. Elsy believes the move has not gone down well with her plants. “They were a lot happier up there. Here, they don’t get enough sunlight,” she rues.

Elsy has never once considered selling her produce. “It is a hobby. I just love my plants and I love gifting the vegetables to friends.”