A white haze hangs outside the window of my third-story apartment in Delhi. It is smog, produced by all the firecrackers people burst on Diwali. The air has turned toxic.
A day after the festival of lights, smog had reduced visibility to 200 meters. Some of my family members have latched on to steroids to be able to breathe easy and several others are sneezing and coughing. I have fortified my home with an air purifier, but it has been glowing red, denoting unsafe levels of particulate matter. When I walk into my local pharmacy, the chemist is busy telling a customer they have run out of face masks. Another customer is making enquiries about air purifiers. I want to tell him they won’t do much good now.
I have another plan up my sleeve though.
On a friend’s suggestion, I had recently watched a TED Talk episode pointing out how three plant varieties can produce the entire supply of fresh air needed by a home or an office. Now, more than ever, I want to lay my hands on them – without stepping into the dirty air outside.
Can Nurserylive – one of India’s largest online plant nurseries that stocks more than 6,000 units of plants, seeds, and garden accessories – help me?
I turn to the website and a burst of color greets me on the home page – pictures of flowers, bulbs, and even a potted lemon plant. I head for their Top 10 section, then to the subcategory of Best Air Filtering by NASA, and it is here that I find what I’m looking for.
Turns out, like me many other Indians have also been scouting for these online. For instance, the Sansevieria trifasciata Zeylanica, also known as ‘mother-in-law’s tongue’ or the ‘snake plant’, has been booked 778 times in the last 90 days. This section also has the money plant. The third variety, areca palm, is tucked away in the Top 10 Air Purifier section.
“We know that no single nursery or a couple of nurseries can hold 6,000 plants at one stock. Searching for a favorite plant is also a challenge. Therefore, we need to take the help of digital platforms and aggregation models,” Nandu Singh, co-founder of Nurserylive, tells Tech in Asia.
The Pune-based #startup has processed over 61,000 orders to date. It sources from numerous nurseries in a city that still has a reputation for being green and enjoys salubrious weather.
Let a hundred flowers bloom
It was the love of green spaces that prompted Nandu and his wife Nidhi Singh to take the gardening idea beyond home. Both are former IT professionals – he was with Infosys while she was with Tata Consultancy Services. “Both of us have had a strong affinity for gardening since childhood,” he says.
The founders estimate that around 35 million people are directly or indirectly interested in horticulture and urban gardening in India (a figure that is based on the social preferences of their users and search engine trends).
“Nurseries are either shutting down or moving to the outskirts of the city – couriering is the only option left. So we have to evolve online models of plant shopping,” says Nandu.
They went live with the website two years ago.
Nurserylive lets you order not just plants, seeds, and bulbs, but also pebbles, pots, and other gardening accessories. They deliver around 3,000 plants daily. “Indoor plants, fruit plants, medicinal plants, and fragrant plants are toppers,” says Nandu.
The majority of these orders are from individuals, and 12 cities constitute nearly 57 percent of their demand, led by Bangalore, Mumbai, and Delhi.
Space is a constraint for gardening in cities, but people harbor an inherent love for nature. Hence a host of urban gardening options are coming up. At a recent crafts fair in Delhi, I found a stall by gardening store Putush. Not only was it selling decorative potted plants but also distributing a pamphlet on “The NASA Guide to Air-filtering Houseplants.”
Scroll down Facebook any day, and you are bound to come across some beautiful ads by sites like Ugaoo and MyBageecha, which can show you how to grow a garden on your wall or put glass bottles to good use as planters.
“There are multiple ways of plant furnishing now,” says Nandu. “Modern vertical gardens are evolving at a rapid pace. A lot of startups are also working on electronic time-based watering systems, self-watering planters, and small scale hydroponic systems.”
But it can’t be easy taking what is essentially an offline activity online.
“The plant is a perishable commodity, and we cannot stock it. Many of the plants are seasonal. Hence, we have to work with multiple nurseries for the same plants,” says Nandu.
Transportation is another challenge as plants are live creatures and cannot survive a transit of more than four to five days.(Interestingly many of the plants stocked by Delhi nurseries are brought in trucks from cities like Pune and Dehradun that have year-round good weather.)
Do climate variations in India pose a big challenge? “Very true, it’s our biggest challenge,” says Nandu. “The next version of our online shopping cart will take care of that. As of now, we rely on judgement during an order,” says Nandu.
They also have multiple online forums to educate customers. Nurserylive’s Wiki, for instance, is for sharing gardening related information. The company’s blog lets customers and gardening enthusiasts blog about gardening experiences and recommendations.
The prices charged by Nurserylive are on the higher side (it includes a shipping charge of US$1.2). For instance, the easily available money plant costs US$4.5. The snake plant – available in a Delhi nursery for US$1 – is sold by the startup for double the price. “Currently the pricing catalogue is on the higher side,” admits Nandu. “But customers are willing to acquire their favorite plant with higher pricing as well.”
A person on the chat window of Nurserylive also tells me if a plant is found damaged on delivery, it is replaced by the startup free of cost.
But after-sales support is a challenge. Once a purchase is done, they send letters to users.
Many write to them or use the live chat, which is open for 8 hours daily (except Sunday).
Here too Nurserylive has a move or two coming up. “We are planning to enter gardening, plant-scaping, and landscaping services by the year end. This will help our customers with gardening support at home.”
This is a good time for online and offline nurseries as the winter season is about to set in, which means great weather for gardening in Delhi. I will soon find myself gazing at the riotous colors of petunias, poinsettias, and chrysanthemums in the verandas of homes. Yes, I will go for those too. But indoors I am going to have my own little haven of green leafy beauties that are not just a sight to behold but also a feast for my lungs.