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Nature a soothing companion

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N J Ravi Chander
British horticulturist Gertrude Jekyll once said that the love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies. Gardening has always been one of my favourite pastimes, and I must count myself lucky to be born in an era when Bengaluru had parks, gardens and empty spaces galore, earning it the moniker’ Garden City’.
There were umpteen mango and guava orchards, vineyards, and jackfruit, jamun and tamarind groves. We seldom shopped for fruits, as friendly neighbours would share the bounty from their gardens. Each season brought in new fruits, and we gorged on them to our heart’s content, but the mango, the ‘king of fruits, always stole a march over the others.
Gardening was a family activity, and our late father M N Jayaraman taught us the finer points of raising plants when we were still young and playful. “Water them, keep them happy, and the rewards would flow,” he would counsel us. He manufactured his compost in the simplest possible way. He would dig up a small pit with the aid of a pickaxe and shovel. He would then fill it up to the brim with dry leaves and wet waste and finally top it with mud. And presto these would be transformed into rich manure a few weeks later!
We would be pleased as punch when a seed germinated, or a cutting developed fresh green shoots. We did not discard the dry twigs and coconut shells and piled these up in a corner to fuel the water boiler. My father would source exotic plants from nurseries, friends and relatives, and his collection of plants and trees grew over the years.
The evening primrose, night queen, spatika and jasmine not only gave off a heavenly aroma but also lent a splash of colour to the flowerbeds. Dad devoted precious hours tending and watering them. He also raised rare fruit trees like mulberry, citron, passion fruit and rose apple. We dressed the cactus that grew in the pots with empty eggshells to make them look gorgeous.
A carpet of dark caterpillars wrapped itself around the drumstick tree during the monsoon. My brothers and I would maintain a safe distance from the prickly creatures as dad went about torching them with a stick, one end of which had a cloth dipped in kerosene. We would give the heap of dead caterpillars a quiet burial. The small green and white gate, low tiled front roof and whitewashed masonry lent a charming touch to the little garden.
The growing-up years were also a time for indulging in a little mischief. My brothers and I would go around, knocking down mangoes with a catapult, stone or stick from the neighbours’ gardens and then do the disappearing act. Fruits that intruded into our compound would be pocketed and devoured, much to the owner’s chagrin on the other side of the wall.
Many gardens that existed during our childhood days have vanished and in their place stands a jungle of glass, metal and concrete. We dearly miss the Bengaluru of yore!
(The author is a former banker who has taken to writing as a past time. He is a regular contributor to Kashmir Vision besides other national and regional publications)


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