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From left: Syeda Noaman, Syed Noaman, Syeda Farzeen, Tabinda Noaman and Syeda Nabeeha on their balcony. Image Credit: Antonin Kelian Kallouche/Gulf News

Dubai: One does not need a palatial mansion or a sprawling garden to be happy. A little green patch in an apartment can be as much a source of joy like a big garden.

Using the lockdown time creatively, a couple created a beautiful bower in their long balcony space and have about 40 fruit, flowers and vegetable plants growing there. Every evening, as the little girls play on the swing set up in the balcony, the couple sit and enjoy their evening cup of tea and causal chitchat and laughter with the family. They call it the ‘green me’ time.

Pleasure and pride

Meet Tabinda and Syed Noaman, Pakistani expatriates and parents of three daughters, who worked with pleasure and pride to invest in their balcony in their seventh floor apartment at Al Nahda, Sharjah and have created a little patch of green for themselves.

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Tabinda and Syed Noaman's garden in the balcony of their seventh-floor apartment in Al Nahda, Sharjah. Image Credit: Antonin Kelian Kallouche/Gulf News

Describing their labour of love, Tabinda told Gulf News: “We just moved into the apartment early this year as the pandemic started. We had no idea what was happening. But when work from home started, I had to set down my business ‘Nozeen’s Innovation=’ where I conducted training for pastry chefs.”

However, she did not let the decision of closure dampen her spirit and decided to get creative with her balcony. “My mother and grandmother grew a variety of things in our home in Karachi. My father-in-law also grew plants in his garden. So as a couple we loved gardens and were passionate about making it happen in our balcony as this was a new apartment we had moved in. We had loved the huge open balcony and were keen to transform it into a green oasis,” said Tabinda.

Building a balcony garden, pot by pot

Initially, Syed decided to lay out the artificial grass. Once this was done, the couple began driving around Dubai to spot cheaper plant nurseries and found one in Al Khawaneej. “We started with flowering plants. We planted jasmine and followed it up with ixoras, roses and other flowers. Every morning it is such a pleasure to walk around and smell the glorious roses, jasmine and other flowers. Just makes my day,” said Tabinda

Soon other fruit and vegetables too made their way. “We have some 35 pots and have grown some vegetables with seeds, bought some saplings like in the case of strawberries. Now, we are growing okra, eggplant, cilantro, basil, tomatoes, strawberries, spinach, radish, fenugreek and several more flowers and shrubs. We just harvested a batch of lemons and I feel so proud to make lemon juice from home-made lemons,” said Tabinda, who thinks their investment of Dh1,500 in their green patch has really paid off volumes in terms of yields and the pleasure it provides them.

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Tabinda and Syeda Noaman on their balcony. Image Credit: Antonin Kelian Kallouche/Gulf News

Teaching children about miracles

The Noamans not only find gardening a de-stressing activity but they are also happy to educate their little daughters — nine-year-old Syeda Farzeen, six-year-old Syeda Nabiha and 1.8-year-old Syeda Elliana. “Nurturing a plant from seed to sapling and finally harvesting the fruits of labour is a lengthy procedure. From choosing the pot to potting soil, the amount of water and sunlight the plant needs and caring for it, is all very important. We are happy for our daughters to learn these important lessons. Now they are so involved. My oldest daughter Farzeen was having honeydew lemon and she threw the seeds in one of the pots with potting soil. Now we have a sturdy honeydew vine growing, Nabiha was having oranges and put the seeds into the soil and we have an orange tree! It is really fascinating for the kids to watch this,” explained Tabinda who has also inspired her neighbours to initiate their balcony gardens.

The challenge now for the Noamans is to preserve and nurture the garden all year round, even through the harsh summers. “It would be pity to watch any of lush green plants die in the heat. Syed is determined to conserve them and is working on covering them with nets during the summers, keeping the balcony cool with an extra sunshade for which he is talking to the building management. We want the garden to survive through the summer,” said Tabinda, who is a member of a gardening group and often posts inspiring pictures for other amateur gardeners.

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Tabinda said: "We started with flowering plants. We planted jasmine and followed it up with ixoras, roses and other flowers." Image Credit: Antonin Kelian Kallouche/Gulf News

Tabinda’s top five tips to have a great balcony garden:

1. Select the right type of soil and pot. You can do your research on the internet about the type of soil required for a particular plant. The gardeners at the nursery we go to in Al Khawaneej are also very helpful. They guide us as we buy our potting soil from them.

2. Select the right type of fertiliser. There are several types of fertiliser available in the market, you need to research which one is good for vegetable, fruits and flowers as per their need.

3. Monitor the health of plant consistently and spray the plant with natural pesticides like neem oil and salt water. The key to nurturing your plants is understanding it well, just like each child is different, the water, wind and sun needs of each plant is different. I would recommend reading on the plant you intend to grow and understanding what will truly nourish it.

4. Prune and trim the plants periodically. Treat your plants like kids they need your attention. Beautify them beautiful by clearing out the dead leaves, digging the soil and turning it a bit to allow oxygen to go through the soil.

5. Choose natural, organic fertiliser for your plants such as rice water, eggshells, banana peel and water of onion peels.

One useful tip: flowers need more acidic soil, so if you are fertilising the natural way, either a carbonated drink, eno, yoghurt or lemon juice diluted with water.

Use natural fertilisers. For instance, fertilise the vegetables with water from washing rice grains or onion peel. I once cut the top and bottom bit of okra, soaked them in water for a while and used that water for the plants. The results were amazing.