Green thumbs up!

Four enterprising and like-minded women are here to redefine your gardening experience. Hazeeda Vijayakumar talks to Shainika Murthy, Uma Shunmuganathan, Varsha Ramachandran and Swathi Nagarajan, about SPACES.

December 25, 2013 02:56 pm | Updated 02:56 pm IST - chennai:

The brains behind SPACES.

The brains behind SPACES.

SPACES was born out of a creative and social agenda. Fresh out of college and taking their baby steps in the corporate world, Shainika, Uma, Varsha and Swathi, formerly IT professionals, decided to follow their passion for gardening. Their desire and urge to make, perhaps a small, but significant difference to the city’s green cover brought forth SPACES, a gardening venture that is innovative, affordable and one might even say, revolutionary.

How did SPACES come to be?

Uma: Well, all of us have a common interest in gardening. We wanted to do something different with a social objective. Shainika and I wanted to learn more about gardening and would attend seminars and workshops, and take part in competitions. With a background in IT, I wanted to bring a technological aspect to gardening.

Swathi: I was actually bored with my job. It gets a little dull when all you’re doing is sitting in front of a system and working in shifts. I was introduced to Shainika by my uncle and we realised that both of us loved nature and gardening and wanted to do something along that line.

Shainika: We knew we had to cater to a crowd that wanted gardens at affordable rates. We gave away pamphlets, put up stalls and did some heavy promotion through Facebook and seminars. Once all of us were on board, it just happened.

How is SPACES different from other such businesses?

Shainika: Everyone can have a garden. Our aim is to provide our services, not to rich corporates, but to the middle class people, who want to create and maintain a space without spending too much, and keeps them in touch with nature. We do consultancy and give horticultural advice like what properties certain plants in their garden have, what plants go where etc. We give the customers a design idea, followed by a detailed description about what can be done. We have also worked with schools to develop herbal gardens and get children involved.

Uma: For us, more than a business, SPACES is an idea that inculcates the passion for gardening and plants and not simply about extravagant landscaping. We have learned a lot about organic farming and don’t encourage the use of pesticides. It’s all about making a greener space. It is evident that Chennai is losing its green cover rapidly. We only want to stress on the fact that people need to coexist with nature.

SPACES is an all-women team. Was that a deliberate decision?

Uma: No, not at all. We just happened to find one another at the right time and simply connect the dots. Anyone can join the team!

It is almost a year since you started out. What would you say was the highlight of SPACES so far?

Uma: Definitely the kitchen gardens! It is one of the most demanded services and we have done a couple of them. Every household now wants to have a kitchen garden and grow their own vegetables. These require a lot of maintenance and it is really rewarding to see people wanting to grow it on their own.

Tell us about the innovative techniques you use, namely hydroponics and aquaponics.

Shainika: Aquaponics and hydroponics is basically growing plants with just water. There is no soil involved. It is an ecosystem by itself. For people who already have fish tanks at home, it is easier to set up a plant grow tank above it. Water is circulated from the fish tank to the grow tank through a pump.

Fish waste gets accumulated in the grow tank and supplies the nutrients to the plants while the fish tank need not be cleaned at regular intervals. It is slightly expensive and not fully commercial as of now.

Uma: These are established concepts and Varsha is the one who is constantly experimenting and designing these techniques.

What are your long-term plans?

Uma: I don’t know if you would call it a long-term plan, but we want to encourage citizens to grow indigenous variety of plants. These plants are dying out as people try to grow exotic plants which may not survive Chennai’s weather. We have a lot of ideas in the pipeline. We want to be more than just a landscaping business.

Shainika: We are currently in the process of expanding. We have tie-ups with nurseries and are thinking of opening a retail outlet sometime soon.

Swathi: We haven’t thought that far ahead. But we intend to stick to it as long as possible.

What advice or tips would you give amateur gardening enthusiasts?

Just go ahead and do it!

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