Green fingers go virtual

Local garden enthusiasts take to social media to sell plants & spread greenery

The concretisation of the hill city has led to depleting green cover but many Shillongites have managed to hold on to the tradition of backyard gardens, which add life to the dull urban frame. For those earnest gardeners — digging, pruning and nurturing their gardens — the plant shops in local markets and the numerous nurseries on the outskirts have been a constant source of joie de vivre.

But with the pandemic and months of lockdown, life changed drastically. With most of the markets remaining shut, the plant shops in the city had to remain closed for months. While some took to mobile shops, bringing their collection to the city in vans and taxis, some plant lovers took the opportunity to explore the social media platform for selling a variety of plants from their collection.

Aastha Rana, a 17-year-old student, started the happyhomes.potsandplants page on Instagram last December. She not only sells plants but ceramic jardinieres too.
“But I have been inconsistent as I have studies. I take orders only from within the city,” says the teenager. That does not change the fact that Rana is a passionate gardener.

Many citizens, like Rana, started Instagram pages — Enbee’s Nature Confetti, shilling.plant.shop, crazilyintoplants, Winett’s Garden, happyhomes.potsandplants, plant.parenthood, project_arcadia, houseplants_meghalaya, among others — before or during the lockdown to not only showcase their flourishing gardens but also help other plant lovers get access to the treasure trove. While some specialise in terrariums, or plant aquariums, and succulents, others sell all varieties.

Enboklang Chyne has been gardening since childhood and learnt the basics of gardening from his mother. Last December, he started Enbee’s Nature Confetti after his terrariums started getting popular among friends and relatives.

“In 2016, I started building my first closed terrarium. It was very simple and nothing more than adding pebbles, soil and plants was required. It did survive for about three months before it was consumed by fungus. I did not know much about it and how to maintain it. It was from there that I started looking and doing my research on it from books and online. I think YouTube helped me a lot in building terrariums,” says the 26-year-old plant enthusiast from Mawlai Iewrynghep. He too depends on online shops for miniature plants.

“Initially, I was doing it for fun and pleasure. I started distributing them among friends as gifts. It was not long after I received orders from others that I started uploading pictures of terrariums on my personal Instagram page. That’s when it all started, opening a new Instagram account, getting orders and so on. It was my friends who encouraged me to do so… It is all thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ for giving me this opportunity and talent or I could not have done any of this,” he adds.

Chyne, who is also into art, feels a hearty combination of art and gardening can create wonders. His collection of terrariums is testimony to that. He also sells common house plants.

For sisters Evandalyne Lamare and Rida Joan Lamare, shillong.plant.shop was a platform to spread the love for plants. “When there are plants around us, we feel happy and de-stressed. They have therapeutic qualities. It is our love for gardening that prompted us to start the online venture,” says Evandalyne.

The Lamare sisters started the online plant shop last year with house plants. Now, they have expanded to other varieties and even sell soil mix for gardens and indoor plants. The duo have another page named crazilyintoplants. They started work in 2013 with an online venture called Shillong Fashion Centre to financially support their single mother. Their business nous bloomed with the green venture.
Evandalyne says their shop has been delivering plants to all parts of India and “this has helped us gain expertise in packaging”.

“So far, none of the plants sent outside of Meghalaya got damaged,” says the 29-year-old entrepreneur, who travels to other northeastern states, like Arunachal Pradesh, to collect and sell plants and saplings.

“During the lockdown, many people took to gardening and started decorating their houses with indoor plants. There was a craze. In fact, many people have told me that these patches of green around them helped them cope with depression and lockdown blues,” she adds.

For many, like 52-year-old S. Suhting, it is the sheer joy of sharing the love that they nurture at home and sales are secondary. In the myriad hues and the seasonal blooms, they find utmost happiness.

“I have a small garden at home. I have a job too, so I do not get much time to focus on selling plants. I do get a few customers and I sell from my collection of succulents,” says Suhting, whose Instagram page yourshillongplantlady has photographs of indoor and flowering plants as well as succulents.

Melari War of project_arcadia started the venture before the lockdown last year. “It all started with gardening as a hobby. I mainly sell succulents because they are easy to grow and nurture,” says the 28-year-old garden enthusiast, adding that the prices vary between Rs 400-700 depending on the size and quality of the flower pots.

There are many plant lovers in other districts who are exploring the virtual arena to share the fruits of their hard work in the garden. D Sun of Ladweitang in Nongstoin, who runs the sun_flowerhouse page, has a stunning collection of cactuses. She not only sells cactuses and seasonal flowers but also makes customised bouquets and wreaths for various occasions. “I have a nursery at home and have just started supplying plants to Shillong as well as other parts of the state. My son delivers the plants. Sometimes, when I visit the city, I do it too,” says Sun.

Rocky soil in my garden

Gardening is a difficult task and so is selling plants online. The crucial problem, feels War, is promoting the social media page.

The business is fraught with challenges. There is always an element of uncertainty as several new virtual ventures are coming up in the same sector. Fund and logistics remain perennial problems.

“We are getting orders from abroad but we do not have the infrastructure for the right packaging. We had approached the Agriculture and Horticulture department, but…” Evandalyne leaves the sentence unfinished. The disappointment is not unfounded at a time when there is so much hue and cry over self-employment and entrepreneurship in the state.

“We need a polyhouse from the government that is taking time. But we are under process. We also need some loan and for that we do not have much idea about entrepreneur schemes,” she adds.

For Chyne, it is the meticulous process of creating a terrarium. “I am doing this all by myself and it takes me one week to finish one product (for a large-sized terrarium). It is time consuming as building a terrarium needs high concentration, especially when it is small in size. But as an environmental engineer, I am trying my best to work and find new ideas using environment-friendly products as much as I can,” he says.
Rana finds it difficult to deliver plants in time as “sometimes Google maps too show wrong direction”.

“If the buyer lives somewhere far away it is difficult for me to deliver because I do it myself and it is hard to find the places sometimes,” she says.

Despite the problems, the local plant lovers continue with the toiling and are sure of coming up roses. Not only that, some of them have novel ideas to turn Shillong into a garden city. “This will make it a better place to live in. Why do we need a mall at Barik Point? Instead, we can have something like the Gardens by the Bay in Singapore. Imagine how wonderful the city would look with all the hues and green,” Evandalyne makes a wish.

~ NM

(Photos sourced)