Kohima: If you happen to visit Pezangunuo Kerho's house at Bayavu in Kohima town, chances are that you will be mesmerised by a variety of sizes, colours and textures that her terrace garden has to offer. In fact, it is hard not to fall in love with some of the miniature beauties from her prized collection.
The best part about them is that even if you don’t have much space, you can definitely fit these plants in your home.
Meet the new-age 'green-preneur' from Nagaland, who swears by her succulents and cacti as much as her love for growing plants. Popularly known as Azai, Kerho is a trendsetter and a winner of the Hornbill Cactus and Succulent competition for three consecutive years -- 2016, 2017 and 2018.
With a degree in fashion designing, Azai is now into growing plants full-time, with an envious collection and a full-time business of miniature plants.
“This is the turning point. One day, I happened to visit a friend of mine and she had a small collection of cacti and succulents. It was a very small but cute collection. That was the first time I saw all these tiny miniature, adorable succulents. That’s what I wanted, though. I said: Oh My God this is so awesome. And then I wanted to have my own collection,” says the 37-year-old 'grower'.
Obviously, it was not just the admiration, there were days of hard work and perseverance which led to Greenhouse Enterprise, Azai's home-grown floriculture venture.
"Up to 95% of our plants are homegrown. Four hardworking and dedicated Naga girls assist me from Monday to Saturday beginning as early as 10 am and wrapping up at 4 pm," says Azai, who earlier worked in the garments sector before turning her passion into a full-time business venture.
At present, Azai is catering to clients from the neighbouring Northeastern states as well as from other parts of the country and her immediate plan is to take the business to a bigger scale to meet the demands of the growing market.
Spread over three units, Azai gladly mentions that 50% of her efforts go into the home terrace where she begins her day with a cup of tea and gets swayed by the “beauties”, sometimes even forgetting to eat food. She also runs a commercial outlet in the main town of Kohima city, where “most customers drop by and pick their selection”, and a plant nursery in Aradura (south of Kohima) where “propagations are done”.
While she endorses her produce through social media, regular customers are linked through a ‘WhatsApp’ group where she regularly updates about her goodies.
Elaborating further on her revenue model, Azai says most of the time her monthly income crosses a lakh, but sometimes goes up to Rs 5-6 lakh, "sometimes less". Although some of her plants are priced as high as Rs 7,000 each, the adorable ones start at just Rs 50.
Well, Azai is not alone in the business of growing. There are several other women in Nagaland who have made flower nurseries a part of their lives.
Mary Kulnu and Kikruhenuo Solo, also based in Kohima, are some of these examples -- women entrepreneurs who are trying to make it big in the floriculture business.
For Kulnu, it was her passion for floriculture that got her started. "I tried with a few plants and when I realised that I could sell them, my interest grew more. My little garden is on the terrace. It’s a business run by me and my sisters, so we do all the work ourselves. We don’t have any employees," says the Master's degree holder in commerce.
"For saplings like petunia and snapdragons, I buy the seeds, saw and transplant them myselves. For others, like orchids, I source them from all over the country," she adds.
Kulnu's terrace nursery is packed with a wide variety of plants ranging from succulents and cacti to orchids and trees with prices ranging from Rs 10 to as much as Rs 7,000, "depending on the uniqueness of the plants".
“As for my income, we have recently started into the business full-time. So, profits will come in a while," she explains.
Acknowledging that “every flower has its own beauty”, Kulnu finds it hard to pick a particular favourite. “It varies from season to season. At the moment, I'm getting my hands on 'the peony', which I have been longing for, and this is making me happy," she adds.
For Kikruhenuo Solo, it was her love for gardening, which began at a very tender age, that made her foray into gardening full-time. She hasn’t stopped experimenting ever since.
"At first, I started it as a part-time venture. But after a year, I started devoting my full time into. On a single day, I spend about 3-4 hours daily with my plants. Sometimes, it takes more than that depending on the workload," says Solo, who runs a commercial outlet called 'Buds and Blooms Florist' in Kohima with a flower nursery on her home terrace.
Both Kulnu and Solo cater to outstation as well as local clients. With their nursery packed with a variety of plants ranging from succulents and cacti to orchids and flowers, their businesses are slowly but steadily blooming as they plan to make their initiatives bigger in near future.
"I try to keep varieties of plants so that if a client comes to my nursery, at least they’ll find something they like," Kulnu says. "I have bigger plans to expand the initiative and intend to open a well-stabled nursery," adds Solo.
Like any other profession, this line of work is also not easy. It requires a lot of patience, hard work, energy and, most importantly, resources to begin with.
"There are a lot of risks involved since we deal with perishable goods, especially when we order flowers from outside or sending flowers. Under some circumstances, they may get damaged in transit," Kulnu explains.
But come what may, they have indeed remained positive and that is what made them grow. "Anybody can grow, it doesn’t require a scientist to grow plants," offers Azai, giving a message to budding growers.
"If you have a keen interest in gardening, go pick up your trowels and start planting. Happy gardening," adds Solo.