He couldn’t find Indian veggies in Australia. Now Vishwanath shares gardening tips with thousands

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jul3,2024
Key Points
  • Vishwanath Nidagal from Perth runs an online group with over 22,000 members, where he shares tips for growing Indian ingredients in Australia.
  • Many migrants face challenges in acquiring herbs, spices and vegetables common in their homelands.
  • For some migrants, maintaining a home garden is a way of staying connected to their cultures.
When Vishwanath Nidagal arrived in Australia in the 1980s, he said he found it challenging to cook the traditional South Indian meals he missed.
The vegetables native to his home region in India just weren’t readily available, the 78-year-old from Perth said.

“Like all migrants, I craved my traditional Indian food. I searched for vegetables we used to cook with back in India, but they were nowhere to be found. In fact, I was almost living on potatoes and lettuce for some time,” he told SBS Hindi.


Vishwanath Nidagal with homegrown jackfruit. Credit: Supplied

As a vegetarian, Nidagal said it was difficult adjusting to a “meat-centric” country.

“Back in the ’80s and 90s, even finding basmati rice was hard,” he said.

But I took it as a challenge to cultivate these plants in my large back yard. Initially, I knew only a few basic gardening techniques, but over time, I developed more skills by connecting with a local nursery here in Perth.

Vishwanath Nidagal

“This helped me learn when and which plants or seeds to grow according to the Australian climate.

“I also legally sourced many plants and seeds from Queensland, where most of them, except banana, were found.”


Images of Vishwanath Nidagal’s house.

Over time, Nidagal said his back yard was brimming with produce: black plums, mangoes, snake gourds, jackfruit, bottle gourds, eggplants, bitter gourds, and even a jasmine flower plant, which he sourced from England and paid a “hefty” quarantine fee for.

Gardening in Australia

A few years back Nidagal started running a Facebook page called which now has over 22,000 members.

“I stopped gardening a few years ago, but then many people started asking me how to grow Indian plants in Australia’s conditions, so I started sharing my knowledge with them,” he said.


Vegetables and fruit from Vishwanath Nidagal’s back yard. Credit: Supplied

“Some very common questions that people ask me is where to buy these plants or seeds, the best times to grow them, and which insecticide and soil to use.”

He said he also often consulted with the regarding quarantine-related issues if sourcing any exotic plants from other states or overseas.
“It’s important to follow your state’s regulations, so I often contact the department via email or phone to gather information about these plants. Sometimes, if the clearance process for those plants is too complex, I decide not to source them,” he said.
Australia’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry encourages importers to refer to the government’s online biosecurity import database, , to determine whether plant material is allowed to be brought into the country.

“The importation of live plants (nursery stock) and seed for sowing has the potential to introduce a range of biosecurity risks to Australia, including exotic pathogens, pests and weeds,” a department spokesperson told SBS Hindi.


Jasmine flowers grown by Vishwanath Nidagal. Credit: Supplied

A range of import conditions may then be applied, and importers must confirm that they can comply with the conditions.

“All permitted plants and seeds must be labelled by their scientific name (genus and species) and not by common name,” the spokesperson said.
“Additional measures that can apply include requirements for an import permit, phytosanitary certification, testing, treatments, biosecurity inspection on arrival, and growth in a post-entry quarantine facility.

“Importing non-permitted plant material or failing to comply with import conditions for permitted plants may result in export or destruction on arrival in Australia, and depending on the circumstances penalties and prosecution under biosecurity legislation may apply.”

‘I craved traditional food’

Like Nidagal, Geeta Pradeep said she missed the taste of home after migrating to Australia almost 16 years ago.

“I craved traditional food so much that I used to visit Bunnings and show them pictures of vegetables and fruits which I wanted to grow in my back yard since they were not (readily) available in the markets,” the Melbourne resident said.


Geeta Pradeep (left) grows holy basil (tulsi), tomatoes and curry leaves in her back yard. Credit: Supplied

“This (gardening) has been a way for us to fulfil our traditional food cravings. It not only helps us maintain a connection with our homeland but also allow us to share our heritage foods with others here.”

Echoing similar sentiments, Indira Laisram, also in Melbourne, shared how she enjoyed cultivating the vegetables she ate and grew up with in Northeast India.

“I grow herbs such as fish wort, sawtooth coriander, and u-morok (naga chilli, one of the hottest chillies in the world). Fortunately, I found some of these herbs at Bunnings, and others were given to me by friends in Sydney, likely sourced from my Asian friends,” she said.


Melbourne-based Indira Laisram (right) and the chillies from her garden.

“The hot summers in Australia are great for growing chillies. The overall weather is suitable for these plants, and I feel fortunate in that sense.”

But not all her desired Indian plants were available here, she said.

“I am still looking for yongchak, also known as stinky beans or petai in some Asian languages. It is used for dishes like eromba (a side dish prepared with fermented fish) and a Manipuri salad called singju,” Laisram added.

The growing visibility of the diaspora

As per the latest Census, India has emerged as the third-largest country of birth for Australian residents, after Australia and England.
Observers like Surjeet Dhanji, a researcher at the Australia India Institute at the University of Melbourne, highlight the ways immigrants from South Asian countries contribute significantly to Australia’s multicultural fabric.
“Since 2000, Indians have increasingly asserted their presence in Australia by growing their own green herbs such as curry leaves, coriander and holy basil,” Dhanji said.

“This trend arises from the pleasure of having these herbs at hand, the cost-effectiveness compared to purchasing them, and the convenience it offers, in addition to the pleasure of using known herbs for curries.”

Surjeetdhanji (2).PNG

Surjeet Dhanji is a researcher at the Australia India Institute. Credit: Supplied

She said there was now increased awareness of the Indian community among the wider Australian population.

“Earlier Indian migrants to Australia had the choice of either using Keen’s curry powder to substitute for turmeric or alerting incoming migrants to come with their own spices,” Dhanji said.
“Now of course, the fast-growing Indian diaspora has encouraged demand for fresh turmeric, curry leaves, holy basil and other herbs, which are abundantly available, though expensive. So the back yard is often a solution.”
Dhanji added the cultivation of Indian herbs, spices and vegetables was often a reflection of a “migrant journey”.
“This practice helps (migrants) stay connected to their culture, while introducing Australians to Indian-heritage food, which is now rapidly gaining popularity in Australia,” she said.
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Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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