A nurturer by nature, Romina Borawake is loath to let any visitor to her Springs villa leave without at least a three-course, home-cooked meal and a chat covering everything from work and the weather to general well-being, as this writer has discovered. Now the mum-of-two, who works as a senior manager at a Dubai bank, has turned what used to be a passionate pastime in gardening into a fledgling business.
The philosophy behind Rome’s Rooted Nature, which had its first brush with the outside world at the Ripe Market last week, is to offer succulents – hardy plants that can grow in arid conditions – in “little pots of joy you can enjoy no matter the heat or your lifestyle”. And, Borawake says she’s had it with the impersonal and recycled-gift concept, and wanted to provide her own little solution to ensure nobody would ever be stuck for choice again.
“There are only so many perfumes you can use and serving trays you can stock,” she says with a laugh. “Plants make for such ideal presents – they are more personal, attractive and bring so much positivity to a space. When I’m sitting at my desk for 10 hours straight, the small pots I’ve put together for the office keep me going.”
Borawake is also in the process of propagating her own succulents, which do not need to be grown from the root, but can be multiplied from the leaves themselves. “I have three leaves that I’m currently propagating, and it’s a real thrill to see them growing bud by bud. It is, of course, far easier – and less heartbreaking when things don’t work out – to deal with the ornamentation of succulents, by combining them with other suitable plants and accessories, but I want to give propagation a shot to add to my own experience.”
The decorative aspect can be endlesslessy creative, both in terms of plant combinations and appealing accessories. “Succulents mostly come in shades of greens, browns and earthy purples, so I make the arrangements more vivid with the help of other plants, as well as knick-knacks such as blue and red crystals, shiny pebbles and pastel-hued stones, and miniature figurines. There’s so much you can do with containers, too – from crystal-ball terrariums and glass bowls, to pots shaped like hanging gardens, watering cans, vases, and even ashtrays and spare glassware, there is no limit,” says Borawake. “For example, I did one called Buddha’s Abode, with a mix of flowering echeveria and fittonia succulents, the jade plant, which is considered good luck, natural-coloured stones and a golden Buddha statuette, in a handmade ceramic pot with rose detailing.”
Borawake even managed to divert her young son’s attention away from his many screens and sports, and help her with one of the arrangements; he surprised her by creating an uber-bright one all by himself a few days later. She says this gave her the idea to approach schools in the near future, and conduct sessions taking children through the basics of planting, research, the importance of being mindful of the environment, and tapping into their creative side by putting together colourful arrangements.
However, she stresses that when buying a succulent, you shouldn’t only look to its aesthetic appeal. The funky-looking cup or casserole doubling as a plant pot may suit your space or your personality perfectly, but if it’s bereft of a proper drainage system, its contents won’t remain healthy or bug-free for very long.
“If you come across a succulent that’s been set in a pot without the draining hole, or if want to create your own combination of plants in such a vessel, make sure there’s a base layer of gravel. In the case of additional moisture because of weekly watering or humidity, the excess water will seep into the gravel and the roots of your plants will remain dry.”
She adds: “Succulents also need soil that does not retain moisture, so use a dry soil mix – I make a perlite mix with volcanic rock, soil and street sand, plus nutrients. Water these plants once a week and they are very happy.”
And that may well be where the true appeal of succulents lies. The sturdy desert plants require very little by way of maintenance. They thrive well under the sun as well as indoors, require only sporadic pruning and need very little water – even once every 10 days should suffice – making them the ideal choice for time-poor urbanites or those who travel a lot. While some varieties, such as haworthias and gasteraloes, prefer to remain inside so long as there’s plenty of light, most will survive the UAE summers. A general rule of thumb is that the greener varieties are likely to thrive indoors, while orange and purple ones prefer an outdoor setting.
They’ll need a little more water during the summer growing season and less during the dormant winter phase, but in general, the soil needs to be completely dry to the touch before a top-up, and if you forget for even up to two weeks, they’ll draw moisture from early-morning dew.
To this Borawake adds: “These may not need daily care and watering like most other houseplants, but, like any living thing, succulents need a human touch and some basic looking-after. Don’t keep them unprotected if it’s baking outdoors, bring them into the house. I find that a combination of sunlight, fresh air and air conditioning works best. If the leaves are looking shabby, wipe them down and keep them clean. Grooming is good both for the plant’s health, as well as the look and feel of your living and working space.”
The garden in her own villa is filled with not only the succulents she intends to sell, but also scores of potted bougainvillaea, gardenias, geraniums and hibiscus, as well as vegetables, from tomatoes, potatoes and okra to chillies, coriander, thyme and sage. Although she’s very hands-on and spends much of her spare time among her pots, Borawake has a gardener who comes in six times a week to help with the cleaning, watering, composting and shifting about of the larger specimens, all essential to manage the green health of such a sprawling space.
“Even if I were in an apartment, though,” concludes Borawake, “I would still find a way to have loads of pots in my balcony or indoors. When it comes to having plants in your life, it’s about the passion, not the place.”
Rome’s Rooted Nature will be in-stall at the Ripe Market at the Times Square Centre in Dubai on Saturday, April 28, from 9am to 3pm; and at the Ripe Pop-Up Market in Dubai Festival City on May 11