Romancing the Plants

May 13, 2012, 11:04 IST | Rinky Kumar

A plant ensconced in an old kettle or peeping from an old gramophone record might look quirky but it can also save the environment. Meet Simrit Malhi, India's only permaculture designer and a self-confessed malliwalli, who likes to go green with a difference

As a child, Simrit Malhi would watch her grandmother and mother tend to plants with rapt attention. Later, she went to a beautiful boarding school that was set within 300 acres of nature. Clearly, she has had a long-standing relationship with nature since childhood and adolescence. Little doubt that today she is India’s first and only permaculture designer who creates sustainable landscapes that are easy to maintain and quick to yield through her venture S.E.E.D (Sustainable. Ecological. Exterior. Design). Malhi provides a range of services that can make your space (read rooftop gardens, balconies, residential complexes, spa and hotel, etc) sustainable by using rainwater harvesting or organic farming. The spunky 30 year-old also likes to add a dash of innovation to her work. So you have her serving plants in a vintage kettle, or decorating a boombox, old television sets and oil drums with organic plants.

A gramaphone record as part of the  Electric Garden at Bombay Electric to make plants look hip enough for people to take them home

Malhi started off working in the public relations division of a pharmaceutical firm. But after three years, she realised that nature was her calling. She says, “I was disillusioned with a system in which even medicine requires a marketing and PRteam. I felt that city life wasn’t conducive for me. A friend’s father is a pioneer in Biodynamic Organic farming India and has a 10-acre farm in Kerala. I quit my job and packed up to study under him. It was the best decision of my life.”

Simrit Malhi used a boombox

After training under him for six- seven months where she learnt that plants could be tended according to the changing moon cycles, she underwent a biodynamic course from Mysore. Later at an eco hotel in Goa, she learnt about landscaping, composting and water harvesting. It was only when she started assessing the eco-friendly levels of South Asian hotels while working with a Danish company that she developed an interest in permaculture and took up a course in Thailand.  Malhi explains, “After returning to India, I decided to set up S.E.E.D in August 2011, as I felt permaculture was necessary here. We have forgotten our traditional means of farming and started relying on pesticides. Permaculture means developing and designing any space to make it sustainable by using minimum resources. For instance: If you want to save your beetroot plant from being infested with insects, then you can grow a mint plant along with it so that they are fended off by it.” 

Malhi has designed terrace gardens and balconies and is in the process of doing up a boutique hotel in Himachal Pradesh. The 30 year-old, who shuttles between Goa and Mumbai and is interested in art, likes to infuse vitality into her works. “I feel that plants should look so good that they become conversation- starters. Though I used scrap to adorn a garden in my earliest project due to budget constraints, today I feel it looks cool.” Likewise, for the electric garden at Mumbai’s fashion and lifestyle store Bombay Electric, she decided to plant a tree inside a boombox. She explains, “I was inspired by the Guerilla Gardening and Upcycling movement in America. Guerilla gardeners convert an empty plot into a garden overnight. Inspired by graffiti and gardening within an urban landscape led me to use things that are thought to be ‘anti-nature’ — like televisions and music players. It also saves old electronic items from being dumped in landfills.”  In the future, Malhi wants to extend her base and work on farms in Kenya and South America. Clearly, the world is her oyster! 

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