Published: 29th June 2020
Garden Up: How this IISc alumnus became a YouTuber to explain the science behind urban gardening
With over 700,000 subscribers on YouTube and more than 135,000 followers on Instagram, Ekta's page Garden Up is any plant lover's safe haven. We find out more
You may come across a plethora of videos and blogs speaking about having a garden at home, which plants are good for you and what are their properties, however, YouTuber Dr Ekta Chaudhary's videos take it a notch higher — her videos tell you the science behind it. Hailing from Haryana, Ekta has a PhD in Ecology from IISc Bengaluru and so the urban gardener backs up her tips with scientific studies that make her videos stand out.
With over 700,000 subscribers on YouTube and more than 135,000 followers on Instagram, Ekta's page Garden Up is any plant lover's happy place. From a 750 sqft apartment in Mumbai, Ekta with her knowledgable videos has helped elevate urban gardening from just a mere hobby for the retired generation to an exciting new activity among the Indian youth. With her science-backed expert tips on organic gardening, aesthetic videos and interactive narrative, the full-time entrepreneur from being a dedicated academician, Ekta tells us how she turned her life around just through her love for plants.
"I don't think there was any age or a particular stage in my life when I got more inclined towards plants, I think it was always part of the growing up in the 90s. Having gardens and plants around was a regular thing unlike today when it seems to have become a luxury. When I was younger we had a lot of plants back home — outdoor and indoor. It's much later that I realised they could help with our mental well-being so much, help me feel more peaceful and calm," says Ekta.
She completed her Bachelor’s degree in Life Sciences from Delhi and had then moved to Dehradun to pursue her Master’s in Environmental Science from the Forest Research Institute. Following which she moved to IISc Bengaluru to pursue her PhD. That's when her connection with plants grew stronger as she began growing a few inside her hostel room. Around that time, in 2017, Ekta began making videos of gardening as a hobby, explaining tips and tricks of urban gardening and the science behind every step.
"In 2017, when I started Garden Up, it was the final stage of my PhD — writing papers, research and analysis — it was basically a desk job as I was done with my fieldwork in Mudumalai, a tiger reserve in Tamil Nadu. When I went back to Bengaluru to analyse my data and write my papers, I was really bored. That's when I thought of having a couple of plants. I hated being indoors, as I have always been an outdoor person. I brought in a couple of plants at first but there were several challenges — pest, insects and so I was trying to deal with those. I started reading up online like anyone else. Then I quickly realised how I could be of more help to people who want to grow plants given my research background. I could actually explain the why and how of gardening, planting saplings, etc in the form of storytelling that's easier to understand for a layman. That's how Garden Up was born and It was a weekend thing for me at that time and it helped me find solace," explains Ekta.
After completing her PhD in 2019, Ekta settled in Mumbai where she focused solely on expanding Garden Up to make it the go-to space for any kind of urban gardening queries and requirements. "I think if you tell people a story with the why and how of it, the logic behind why they are doing something, they tend to remember better and are able to understand. If you recall our science textbooks, practical books from our childhood — steps of doing a project or performing an experiment would make it easier for us to understand. I don't feel gardening is hard but explaining the logic behind something always seems to connect better," Ekta says elaborating on why her channel is different the numerous others.
Encouraged by the success of her YouTube videos over the last two years, Ekta has also set up a shop named Garden Up, which sells aesthetically pleasing, sustainable garden decor specially handcrafted by women artisans across Mumbai and its suburbs. "The store was set up in the latter half of 2019. The inspiration for that was along with having plants people might also want to display them in a better way. The decor is an integral part of gardening, especially for indoor plants. When I began looking for options, I saw a lot of brands or companies have products but most of them are China made. Aesthetics of it was not very pleasing to me and that's when I looked up artisans who were working on similar products — made in India, sustainable. We began collaborating with them and started mostly working with women. We also work with women entrepreneurs, small businesses all over India. I want to help people to grow their home garden but in style," Ekta quips.
Ekta currently has an operating team of five people for Garden Up. The dedicated digital content creator also conducts online and offline workshops on urban gardening across India for corporates and schools. Speaking about how she uses her time wisely, "I have set two days to handle the content of Garden Up — I eat, breath, think all the time for those two days — script, how I want to package it, how to tell a story in a more interesting manner and then shoot it. For the rest of the week, I do the other work and manage the store."
Ekta says the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown have been a nightmare for her venture but a blessing for content creators. "As a content creator, I feel the lockdown has brought more attention to gardening, we see that in numbers, people's interest in growing something by themselves has definitely increased. As for the Garden Up store, it has affected sales. We have been unable to bring in raw materials. We were set to launch eight more products last month, we still haven't begun manufacturing. But there's not much to complain though, I am hoping for better times to come," she adds.
For first-timers opting to grow a home garden, Ekta has a couple of tips. "For beginners who are bringing in a plant for the first time, you don't know what to do, how to go about it — it is ok to accept failure, plants might die. People who are a pro at it also lose plants, certain things are not in our hands. Have patience, it's a process of trial and error. Start with plants that are easier to grow, that gives you confidence such as money plants, easy edibles like mint or Okhra, marigold. These are plants that do not require pollination and pollination can make things complicated. Gradually you can shift to cucumber, bitter gourd, watermelon etc," she concludes.