Air potato, egg fruit: A peek into Mr Blany’s terrace garden in Mangaluru

Blany D’Souza has been raising more than 200 varieties of fruits and vegetables for nearly 20 years on his 1,200 sq ft terrace garden in Mangaluru.
Air potato, egg fruit: A peek into Mr Blany’s terrace garden in Mangaluru
Air potato, egg fruit: A peek into Mr Blany’s terrace garden in Mangaluru
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August 2018. The Southwest monsoon has taken a brief break, and Blany D’Souza is busy at work on his terrace garden, trimming the existing gourds and checking out the nursery, where new saplings are taking root. Just before the monsoon hit, the roof of his 1,200 sq ft terrace garden near Monkey Stand in Mangaluru was covered by ridge and snake gourd and vast vines of ivy gourd. The occasional bunch of grapes added variety to the shades of green. Huge brinjal had been left over to ripen for seed collection and exotic fruit varieties were all set to bloom and later fruit.

53-year-old D’Souza is no stranger to the coastal city or to gardening groups on social media. The former income auditor in the hospitality business in Dubai (for six years), works magic in his terrace garden, aided in part by the fertile soil and the humid weather. Over the years, he has hosted many school groups and showed children how plants grow and how fruits and vegetables are harvested. He is also a gardening consultant, helping others reap the benefit of the wisdom gathered from the practice.

The monsoon months are a lean period for gourds. What thrives then are greens and some fruits. And, D’Souza has been raising more than 200 varieties for nearly 20 years now. His home is mostly self-sufficient when it comes to food. He has also used the ground space to plant taller trees and some shrubs.

As a child, D’Souza remembers skipping back from school, stopping everywhere he saw a spare sapling. It would be carefully pulled out with the root and planted at home. Bit by bit, the garden grew in size. Among the stars in his patch of green is an ivy gourd creeper that’s about 25 years old. It still yields generously. 

“At one stage, I was harvesting more than 150 kg every month for 10 years,” says D’Souza. However, after he diversified into teaching and consulting, the terrace garden is used more as a teaching tool and a sample of the possibilities of gardening.

The entrance arch to D’Souza’s family home is covered by grape vines. And, now, a month after the monsoon tapered off, he has about 15 kg of grapes ready to harvest. Some of it will be used at home, some distributed to family and friends.

Among the varieties in the garden are dragon fruit, blackberries, red-coloured black-eyed peas, avocado, peanut butter fruit, mulberry, mangoes, brinjal, lady’s finger, white chickoo, ash gourd, rambutan, star fruit, sweet tamarind, sweet kokum, jabuticaba or the Brazilian grape tree (a grape varietal that fruits from a shrub), guava, wood apples, jamun, orange, sweet lime, milky fruit, breadfruit, jackfruit and sweet-smelling cardamom. 

While the neelam mangoes are fruiting right now, he has two varieties of lady’s finger: naati bende or the native pale green variety that can grow a foot long, and the stocky mara bende, or tree okra, which can fruit for about five years. Then there is miracle fruit, which is truly magical; pop one in your mouth and you can experience a heightened sense of sweetness. 

He also has some samples of air potato, which grows above ground and on stalks. This can be cooked like the regular potato. There’s creamy eggfruit too, ideal for milkshakes or in a dessert fruit platter, and Abiu fruit from the Amazon. 

Air potato

Star fruit

Peanut Butter Fruit 

When they fruit, the photos are immediately uploaded on to Facebook page Grow Your Own Food, and the comments never stop. 

These exotic varieties reach him courtesy the kindness of friends and family, who bring him seeds or saplings wherever they spot them.

As we walk around, D’Souza’s dogs Pepsi and Bulbul bark along. Two geese, being raised to provide company for his mother Evelyn, also the model for his photographs, while cackling away.

He also has a vertical patch, where many creepers rise to the sky. “The garden might not look well organised, but I follow inter-cropping and this keeps the soil alive and nourished. This also helps school children see many varieties in one place.” 

However, when he designs gardens for others, he draws up an easy-to-maintain plan, which is also pleasing to the eye. 

D’Souza’s garden uses a mix of cocopeat and earth, allowing better aeration. All fallen leaves turn into mulch and fertilise the other plants. 

“And yes, I speak to my plants,” says D’Souza. “It really helps. They are like children, and thrive better when spoken to kindly.”

The gardening enthusiast says his garden is proof that one single person can work wonders with plants, provided he or she is fully invested in them. “I don’t really have any help. It’s just me, my plants, gardening equipment and lots of conversation,” concludes D’Souza.

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