It’s hard to believe Manu Goel and her family moved into their present four-storey house in Delhi’s Chittaranjan Park – known for its predominantly Bengali culture and rosogollas – just a year ago.
Today, her terrace garden – which she began growing as soon as she moved in – supplies all the vegetables the family could ever use in their own kitchen, plus more to make pickles and distribute to friends and family.
Co-founder of Novarch Architects, a firm that specialises in industrial architecture which she runs with her husband Nishant Goel, Manu’s love for nature goes back to her childhood in Bareilly where she was born, and Dehradun where she lived with her uncle’s family while completing middle school.
“They had expansive litchi farms and a dairy, and grew vegetables. I remember playing in those farmlands with my cousins. The air was unpolluted, the food was fresh and clean. It was a healthy, unspoilt upbringing,” recalls the 41-year-old architect and mother of two.
After competing her Bachelor’s and Master’s in environmental planning from the prestigious CEPT University Ahmedabad, Manu worked the development sector before she won the Chevening Scholarship to study urban environment in the UK.
After her wedding, the Goels set up their home and business in Delhi. Naturally, Manu’s own propensity towards spaces that promote sustainability and well-being had a hand to play in the way she designed her own home.
Manu strongly recommends you grow food plants in your terrace garden and not merely decorative greens. “This helps you create a different connect with your food, your whole approach to your cooking and nutrition changes. You value your food more, as you realise how long it took to grow and how much you had to tend to it. You are also more grateful for your blessings,” she says.
She also advises waterproofing the entire terrace before starting work on the garden.
Manu’s rooftop garden has taken some time and planning, but the benefits have greatly outweighed the efforts. “First of all, Delhi’s summer heat can be overbearing for flat-owners who live on the top floor of a building. But in our case, the apartment is always cool due to the earth insulation,” says Manu.
Secondly, the garden has created an ecosystem with its own micro-climate that attracts birds, butterflies, bees, snails, grasshoppers and so on, who have a symbiotic relationship with the garden, helping it grow effortlessly.
She also composts all the garden waste, and pumps it back as manure. “Every season, we plant new crops,” she explains as she counts off a long list of vegetables: “Mint, spearmint, basil, tomato, three types of aubergine, capsicum, gourd, lemons, baby corn, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, bitter gourd, moringa, lemongrass, chives, dill, rocket leaves, curry leaves, fenugreek, spinach, beans…” She breaks off laughing. “And more.”
Manu’s children, age 10 and 13, have also had a huge lesson in life and gardening in the process. They love making little signboards for each plant, and whoop in joy each time a new plant comes to fruit.
“There’s a certain window during childhood when this connect is possible; after that, kids become urbanised and disconnected from such activities,” Manu opines. The green cover also gives the family ample privacy for putting up an inflatable pool or having get-together with friends.
Their kitchen life is more exciting too, as the family has become more experimental with vegetables and proud of their homegrown produce.
They also have a great place to sit and watch the sky put on its daily show at dusk and dawn. “The clouds go by, birds come and hang around, there’s always a cool breeze up here,” says Manu, spreading her arms wide open. “It’s my piece of sky.”
First published in eShe’s September 2019 issue.