1. Success Story

From Sugarcane to Roses, This Award-Winning Gardener Grows Over 500 Plants on Her Terrace

The gardening guru behind Youtube's 'Mad Gardener', Visakhapatnam's Madhavi Guttikonda has earned 559k followers with her tips on organic farming, natural fertilizers, and terrace gardening.

Shruti Kandwal
Madhavi Guttikonda in her garden
Madhavi Guttikonda in her garden

"When I was a little girl, biology captivated me. But I didn't realize how joyful harvesting your own food is until I started observing how my aunts and grandmothers carefully selected fresh vegetables from their home gardens and fields and prepared it for meals on the same day," says Madhavi Guttikonda (43), a gardener who manages up to 500 plants out of her two-storeyed terrace garden in Visakhapatnam.

Over the past ten years, Madhavi has successfully grown a variety of flowers, fruits, and vegetables. In addition, she has established organic farming as a household name in Andhra Pradesh by uploading over 300 instructional videos to her YouTube channel, "Mad Garden," which currently has 5,59,000 subscribers.

"About 25 years ago, not long after I got married, I started gardening. I grew mostly floral species and ornamental plants when we previously resided in a rented apartment. My focus didn't change to raising my own food seven years ago. Now, my kitchen gets enough to produce from my garden to last at least four weekdays,” Madhavi told media.

"I didn't have much confidence in my abilities when I started 'Mad Gardener' in 2018, and the only goal was to share my experiences. However, as the first Telugu channel to feature horticulture, we were able to attract a huge audience in just one month. People sent comments pushing me to publish as frequently as possible on all of my social media accounts. I'm now able to claim with pride that I've motivated thousands of people to start gardening. Although some of them may be limited by time and space, they nonetheless say that they love watching my videos. They share how their dream house would have a terrace garden like mine,” she adds.

Grows seasonal crops

Madhavi says her specialty is growing seasonal crops with a short harvest cycle, such as capsicum, tomato, cauliflower, chilly, potatoes, cabbage, and heirloom types of gourds and beans. She does have a particular area in her garden for flowering trees like roses, hibiscus, and chrysanthemums. Her 1,800-square-foot green haven also includes bananas, sugarcane, mulberries, sweet limes, cherries, dragon fruit, papaya, and papaya.

She adds that she frequently distributes half of her harvest to her domestic workers, friends, and neighbors. "I also cultivate my turmeric, as well as veggies like carrots, radish, beetroots, and mushrooms that are rarely available in my neighborhood," she says.

"I've never considered selling my food to store owners, and I doubt I ever will. Sharing your crop with people you know and hearing them praise its flavor and texture is a different kind of delight. We frequently replace material affections for this kind of sentiment, but would you give people the product you paid for? She asks.

According to Madhavi, her son and daughter created a YouTube channel for her. "They used to help me shoot and edit my videos in the beginning, but I eventually learned to do it all by myself," she explains.

"My terrace garden draws new viewers to my channel, yet they are unable to leave after viewing just one video. They can always go watch those because I frequently share stories and ideas that I’ve previously covered. I've been warned I explain the techniques a little too excitedly," she chuckles. “However, I want to spread the idea that gardening is actually very simple and that everyone can do it.”

"I won't carry out research before filming the video and claim my expertise if I'm cultivating a new vegetable. I publish my observations and encourage readers to leave comments with their own insights, which they always do.” She continues, “thus there is always that personal connection.”

Videos on organic farming

While the majority of Madhavi's videos are "how-tos" on organic farming techniques for growing various crops, Madhavi also provides advice on how to use natural fertilizers and manage pests.

“I have been planting around half of my vegetables over compost bins for the past two years. To do this, I fill the bin to the brim with soil, dried leaves, and twigs, then put leftover vegetable and fruit scraps on top. If done correctly, this not only nourishes the plant but also helps in the combat against fruit flies, maggots, and other dangerous insects, the expert claims. Although I occasionally use store-bought manure and Epsom salt, compost contains the majority of the micronutrients that plants require.”

She continues, "I used to buy the seeds locally, but I've been storing and using the seeds from my own plants for a while now and have completely stopped buying them. I occasionally receive seeds from followers of rare and exotic plants, giving me the ability to study their development and inform them of my experiences.”

Only the rooted varieties of onion, garlic, and ginger are usually purchased by Madhavi because they need more room to be grown underground for at least nine months.

She laughs when you point out that it's unusual to produce fruits like sugarcane and dragon fruit at home. “All you actually need is a stem from an established plant, making them some of the simplest things to grow in a container. However, I don't plant them frequently because they only bloom once a year and produce about 20 fruits per cycle," she says.

“But even when I'm not taking care of my garden, I prefer to spend as much time there as I can. Plants don't expect anything from you and can't communicate their concerns, but I think they can sense us, and this [extra care] can help them grow more," she adds.

Madhavi used to post at least four videos a week, but after receiving an autoimmune disease diagnosis last year, she had to put gardening on hold.

"Then, in November 2020, my father passed away, and I went two weeks without publishing a video. I was suddenly swamped with comments on YouTube and Instagram. People used to call me by my name, express concern for me, and repeatedly check in to see if I was having any issues. I eventually revealed my struggles, and everyone was really supportive. Then I understood how welcoming and helpful my community is,” she says.

While the money from a YouTube channel varies according to the number of uploads and the number of views they receive, income from all the videos on "Mad Gardener" allows Madhavi to make at least one lakh rupees per month, according to her. As per the parents who wrote to Madhavi, some kids, as young as 10, have been motivated by her videos to start gardening.

She also received recognition last month from an esteemed publication that educates farmers on cutting-edge organic farming techniques, in the field of terrace gardening.

"Getting an award from the Vice President of India was such an honor. But for me, the highlight of the evening was getting to stand next to other state farmers. What we produce in terrace gardens or little settings is insignificant to what they consistently achieve,” says Madhavi.

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