Dubai resident Varsha Jayesh lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Deira, but wakes up in a veritable jungle every day. Every nook and cranny in the IT executive’s home is filled with plants, of which she thinks she has more than 120.
“My plants are my babies and my friends. My day starts and ends with them,” Jayesh tells The National. Her mornings begin with the excitement of spotting new buds, observing the variegations in leaves, conversing with her plants and watering her indoor garden. This is filled with everything from tiny heart-shaped hanging glass holders with shoots of new plants and walls stacked with shelves of terracotta pots, to large glass cabinets doubling as greenhouses for tropical plants.
An avid collector of the Hoya carnosa species, Jayesh has 53 varieties of the flowering plants, as well as Syngoniums, Sansevierias, Philodendrons, rare Pink Princess, Adansonia variegated, Stephania erecta and other exotic greens in her 93-square-metre home.
Her indoor gardening journey, she says, started in 2015, during a low phase in her life. “It began as a way to divert my mind from the stress I was going through due to infertility treatments. It was my mum who gave me a bunch of vegetable seeds when I visited her in India,” she says. “In those days, we lived in a studio flat and had a solitary money plant. At first, I was a bit hesitant, but my mum kept reminding me, so I planted the seeds and harvested a small bunch of beans.”
The success of this first sprouting stint triggered a sense of excitement in Jayesh, who admits she may have gone a little overboard and filled her balcony to the brim with all sorts of plants almost overnight. Unfortunately, one and then a second harsh summer killed almost all her plants.
Finally, she came across the story of Summer Rayne Oakes, a New York resident who had more than 500 plants in her apartment. “That's when I shifted my focus from balcony gardening to growing my plants indoors,” she says.
After doing her research, Jayesh, who mostly works from home, started collecting and caring for a few rare plants, which she bought on social media. “I was more attracted to lush foliage than flowers, and began with a few varieties of Calatheas, also called prayer plants as they fold their leaves at night, then added a few peace lilies, some heart-shaped Philodendron micans and delicate turtle vines,” she says.
Jayesh became addicted to gardening, and spent hours surfing the internet for new plant varieties, as well as learning about soil, humidity quotient and lighting, plus tending to the plants she had already bought. “I forgot about my worries and instead delighted in learning about plants and taking care of them, such that it transformed my mental well-being,” she says.
Her garden remains an integral aspect of Jayesh’s life. She even moved homes and rented a bigger place to create more space for her plants. Over the years, after much trial and error, and losing a few precious plants along the way, she has put her heart into collecting Hoya plant varieties. A genus of more than 500 species of tropical plants found mostly in Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, India and Vietnam, Hoyas are easy to grow indoors and can go for weeks without water. They thrive in medium to bright indirect light and can be propagated easily from stem cuttings.
“My dream is to collect as many Hoya plant species as possible. My favourite foliage Hoyas are curtisii and rotundiflora. I have also had considerable success in the flowering varieties, Hoya sunrise and Hoya kanyakumariana,” says Jayesh, adding that she stalks plant sellers online to get her hands on more rare varieties. For the pot of Hoya curtisii hanging in the middle of her room, she says she had to wait for almost a year, while another was secured from a seller in Kochi, Kerala.
Waiting in the wings to be potted are four racks of empty plant holders, which she hopes to fill up soon with her favourite greens. Another wall indoors doubles as a propagation station, where several plant cuttings are in the stage of growing roots in tiny test tubes before being wrapped inside pots.
On her Instagram account, @urbanjungleUAE, Jayesh shares updates and plants reels with her 7,000 followers, as well as advice on tending to plants, and queries about fertilisers and soil quality. One of the most requested posts, she says, has been about her home-grown formula for a potting mix for indoor plants that she reveals is a concoction of soil, compost, charcoal, perlite and herbal powder.
Besides being therapeutic and eye-pleasing, Jayesh says creating her garden has come with a bundle of positive life lessons. “My plants have enriched my life. They have taught me the value of patience, hope and to never give up.”