I don’t remember to have looked twice at a flower or been fascinated by their beauty when I was young. It might be because in the brick, mortar, concrete and asphalt jungle part of Chennai I grew up, there weren’t many flowering plants and striking memories of flowers were mostly associated with temple deities. There were of course vendors with their flat cane baskets displaying bundles of stringed jasmine, marigold and kanakambaram on the main roads, in the evenings. Some women decked their hair with them adding colour and scent to the street scene, but they were fleeting sights.
Flowers breezed into my awareness when I was in mid twenties, from the books of the Mother at Connemara Library originally started by the British and later in free India developed into a multi-storeyed complex – next to National Art Gallery, a marvel in Indo-Sarcenic architecture – on Pantheon Road.
(National Art Gallery, Chennai – Image licensed by Creative commons)
My interest in flowers was born because the Mother said they expressed spiritual qualities and were prayers of the vegetal world. Instead of looking with a thinking mind noting each one’s uniqueness I understood that a flower is something to be experienced with a quiet mind. Even though there was garden space at the officer’s quarters I lived in Airforce and later at Chennai I never got to making a garden at home. When I came to Promesse community of auroville in 2002 there were only a few flowering plants, here and there. I planted plenty of bougainvilleas couple of years ago; many of them have now grown into riotously colourful plants and I like to continue to prune and water them occasionally, as the lone community gardener cannot care for all of them regularly.
Scouting some nurseries, not for the bougainvillea saplings as I grew them all at Promesse itself from cuttings taken from in and around auroville, I selected plants for a small home garden. Built a 4 feet high fence to keep the goats away and installed drip irrigation lines with the help of two of my students but the chief problem was non availability of affordable organic fertilizers; a mini truck (Tata Ace) load of cow manure bought for bougainvilleas had cost Rs. 1600/- and it was of substandard quality with plastic wrappers and other garbage in it. I found enriched compost, clean and packed, at the govt. botanical garden store at Puducherry, later. Surprisingly I never heard of any organic fertiliser availability in auroville and was wondering why something like vermicompost was not readily available. Garden hobbyists here would love to have it, I suppose. Googling showed highly encouraging information about it and at last, to my delight, I could get it in auroville itself.
My younger brother Prasad had started producing the ‘garden gold’, as vermicompost is described by some gardening enthusiasts, at Aurocreation, a unit in auroville. The compost looked clean like tea dust, felt soft and dry. I’ve seen that cow manure can harm the plants if applied excessively but I could apply vermicompost generously as it is said inadvertant excessive application is not harmful. The plants and flowers are doing fine and seem to even become brighter and healthier. Recent photos: