Growing plants is now viewed as a stressful job, and hence not many get their hands into it. Despite all the messy work and effort you get yourself into to grow a plant, have you wondered how it feels watching life sprout from a tiny seed that you’ve nurtured yourself.
I’m not an expert in this field, but I’ve seen my mother be so nurturing to her plants; she treats them like her own children, and it’s a sight to behold. However, in these pandemic times, we have no idea where or how to begin this enchanting move of growing plants. But don’t worry, Shangkari Rethinalingam will accompany you on this journey.
The 26-year-old from Kuala Lumpur is the founder of Mighty Pots, an online plant store, and she has a great love for plants. She is not only a young woman who runs this online store, but she is also a student in her final year at the University of Malaya. Her educational background is in the field of Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL).
Shangkari‘s area of study and passion are on opposite ends of the spectrum. She did, interestingly, tell Varnam a lot about her passion and how she got involved with Mighty Pots. So let’s get started!
Varnam: When did you start this online plant store, and what was your initial motivation for doing so?
Shangkari: I started this plant store about a little over a year ago. I started gardening during the very first lockdown in March 2020. My initial drive towards starting just came from a spark of thought and some encouragement from my friends. I’ve always been a very curious person on how things grow and how long it takes and so on. So, I would even try planting seeds of fruits and vegetables that I consume and I get very thrilled when it sprouts and that is the story of how Mighty Pots was born. I named it Mighty Pots because I am a fan of Superman and I wanted something that resonates with a superhero and plants, so Mighty Pots to the rescue of plants.
Varnam: Where do you grow your plants, and who helps you care for these lovely plants?
Shangkari: During my initial days I used to do them all by myself, the growing, repotting, delivery and all. After sometime my parents and my siblings came in to help me every now and then especially during bazaars, deliveries, repotting and so on. Most of my plants are homegrown from cuttings and seeds. Some of my plants and seeds are also obtained from mass growing flower orchards all around Malaysia, China and Australia as well. Currently I have a small store set up just to keep the plants safe.
Varnam: Have you always had a special fondness for plants?
Shangkari: Yes, I have always had fondness towards plants and agriculture because I love to see plants grow, bear fruits, flowers, vegetables and there is so much satisfaction in it. It makes you feel like you’ve done something good. I lost my grandmother almost the same time when I started Mighty Pots. My grandmother Mdm Krishnamah, was one of the reasons for my love for greens. Ever since I was kid, I would accompany my grandmother to the nursery buying back flowers, pots and bags of sand and spending hours helping her in the garden. I have fond memories of her bringing back seeds from overseas trying to plant here and mostly it would grow. This was also a kind of a tribute to my late grandmother and I hope she is happy looking at all these greens from above.
Varnam: Is there anyone or anything that inspired you to start this online store?
Shangkari: The major reason I wanted to start an online plant store is because as a plant lover I understand sometimes buying a plant can be a very tedious job. Most plants come in a poly bag and buyers need to repot them on the later part and any error during the repotting could result in the plant dying on the later part. Besides that, I also wanted to give a good plant experience for first time plant buyers especially those living away from their family or even newly married couples.
Generally, plant sellers sell plants, explain to buyers about watering and etc and it often stops with that. At Mighty Pots we wanted to give an extra hand in terms of helping plant buyers growing the plant and teaching them all about the plant. By opening an online plant store users can choose their plant accordingly to place and order and most times what they choose is exactly what they receive. When we can buy cars, houses, clothes, home appliances online, why not digitise a nursery.
Varnam: What distinguishes your online plant store from the rest?
Shangkari: Having a good product knowledge is not only good for the seller but for a buyer too. All plants may look green and come with leaves but most plants have different functions and benefits. We at Mighty Pots are different because we don’t just sell plants but we sell an experience in whole. Just like when you buy a phone, you’re well informed on its camera quality and etc. Likewise, when you purchase a plant, we educate you on its benefits. For instance, an English Ivy plant is good to purify the air in your surroundings, and absorbs chemicals.
On the other hand, Holy Basil or commonly known as Tulasi is good to keep mosquitos, even snakes away from your home. Apart from that, we often enquire about our “Plantastics” on their surroundings so we can advise them whether the plant they intend to buy is suitable or otherwise. This is mainly because some plants just can’t survive in certain conditions and we are very mindful when it comes to recommending plants to parents with young kids and also pets at home because some plants are toxic and not pet friendly. Buying them will only make new plant buyers think that they don’t do well with plants. Therefore, to avoid such situations, we always prefer asking a few sets of regular questions before going with their order.
Varnam: What kind of fertilisers are you using to grow the plants?
Shangkari: Nature has got it all for us. Using what it has given us is an amazing fertiliser for the plants. I generally use things like rice water, coffee grounds, banana peels, vegetable peels and crushed egg shells. The 3 main nutrients a plant needs is Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium. Most of our home waste contains these 3 nutrients and reusing them will not only help us reduce food waste but also gives the plant good nutrients which are not chemically produced. Apart from that, using Chicken Manure is also a great natural fertiliser for your plants. On the other hand, plants’ vibrant colours attract pests sometimes. To combat this, I use a mixture of ingredients like neem oil, vinegar, baking soda and spray them on the plants.
Varnam: You mentioned that all of your plants come with a QR code that users can use to identify their plant care details. How did you come up with this concept, and how well does it work for your customers?
Shangkari: The whole concept of using QR Code for my plants was created because I had some prior knowledge about it through a few of my lectures in university, so I thought why not combine and implement it with my plant business as my goal was to digitalise the plant business. The concept does work well with my new gen customers, however to make it easier for those who aren’t familiar with the QR Code concept we usually send them guides on their DM’s regarding the plant care and fertilising methods. Besides that, we also consult our Plantastics, if their plant isn’t thriving well on what they can do
Varnam: What is the best-selling plant in your store and why?
Shangkari: In general, since we have both indoor and outdoor plants. Our Roses, Sunflowers, Petunias, Periwinkles are our outdoor best sellers. On the other hand, English Ivys, Monsteras, Jawa Palms, Fiddle Leaf figs, Anthuriums are our selling babies. Mainly because our plants are locally bred and does not come from the Highlands. Therefore, they are more adaptable to the local weather conditions and more resistant towards sickness and etc. This generally makes the plant long lasting and ever growing in your home.
Varnam: What advice would you give to first-timers who purchase plants from you and which plant do you suggest for them?
Shangkari: If you are keen to venture into gardening as a hobby with no experience. I strongly recommend you to start small with easy maintenance indoor plants like Sansevieria, Fiddle Leaf and Ivy’s to help you build your confidence and gradually start having some flowering plants that don’t require much attention like Globe Amarnath’s, Periwinkles, Bougainvillea. Once you think you’re doing good at this level then you can level up to tricky plants like Roses, Sunflowers, Zinnias and more. I suggest this to all my Plantastics, mainly because gardening is a process and I don’t want them to feel like they are bad at it in the beginning itself.
Varnam: What are your future plans in expanding your business, particularly in terms of encouraging more Indians to cultivate their own edible plants, gardens, and vertical farming?
Shangkari: In the near future, we are looking forward to expanding and opening up a store and venture into the smart farming concept. Apart from that, I believe that agriculture has an amazing future because it is sustainable, mentally relaxing, profitable and a great choice for a greener tomorrow. Indians are believed to be involved in agriculture for decades. We’re known for having small gardens within our homes and we grow vegetables, herbs for our consumption.
Our grandparents rarely discard any food waste, instead they prefer using it as fertiliser for plants. I think it is time we restart practicing these habits and I totally understand that space is an issue, hence we are trying to implement vertical farming which saves space and provides you with good yield. Buying racks with slightly broader gaps are a great choice to start off vertical farming within your home premises. So far, herbs like mint, basil, betel leaf, chili, pak choy, spinach and more can be planted in high rise residential condominiums and it will be suitable for them to produce enough for a family to consume. We have a lot of plans to introduce to the millennials and Gen Z in the near future.
Isn’t that all very interesting and enlightening? Believe me, I was not expecting this much information when I posed these questions, and Shangkari provided us with the most insightful answers she could.
Having said that, are you considering purchasing one or two plants upon the Mighty Pots founder’s advice? If you intend to, check out her Instagram page here and grab yourself her lovely plants! You will not be disappointed for being surrounded by nature as you have grown the plant yourself, its you baby!