I have a small garden, a place in the sky five floors up that keeps me sane even though Margaret Atwood said something to the effect that gardening is an irrational act. I suppose she’s right when so many frugal apartment dwellers have shamed me with eye-rolls about the need for a garden. Those of us who go through the hardships of losing plants and hauling compost in the concrete jungle know that it is a need. Plants, soil, bees and even earthworms seem to be replacements for chemicals missing from apartment brain, an undiagnosed condition that too many of us suffer in silence.
A particular plant becomes the object of our affection and takes over the garden. But this devotion can lead to monoculture, bringing with it an absence of variety that only pests love, jeopardising a garden’s eco-system. Monoculture imperils the organic method, even the semi-organic method that I follow.
A devastating Indian summer this year produced a terrible drought in the hinterlands around Pune where I live. The unseasonably high temperatures brought a plague of mealybugs to my sky-high garden. The cotton-covered, plump little voracious vampires never tired and they multiplied ceaselessly in the scalding summer heat and my garden’s hibiscus culture. On cooler summer mornings, the winged forms of a white pest, I once thought these were immature mealybugs, would take to the air flying off to parasitise yet more plants. Despite many thorough once-overs, brushing them off all reachable plant parts, they would reappear a few hours later relentlessly polka-dotting all those just-cleaned plants, irrevocably mutilating the leaves on which they fed.
Imagine this. His name was not Gregor. It was Johann, the name his parents had given him. The Mendels were farmers who wanted their son to take over their farm. But Johann Mendel was depressed because what he wanted from life his family could never understand. He was sensitive and liked the quiet. Left to himself in his own private world, he was free to ponder the mysteries hidden in his parents’ garden and the wider cultivated world of their farm. He read, studied and saw minute things in the plants that no one thought important enough to notice. To others he was strange, his interests and studies wasteful, costly and unprofitable. The strain of breaking away from the people he loved so much, the people who couldn’t understand him, proved too much. He had to break down and remake himself again to find his own path in life as a scientist.