Creating a garden oasis in the city
Her garden is an extension of her family. For someone who loved and was surrounded by plants and trees all her childhood, Lalan Prabhu credits her grandmother with instilling the love for plants, though she got to have her own garden after her marriage. “I actually got the huge 16 gunta plot tilled so that I could create my garden,” she says of her first house on the outskirts of Belagavi. But after 17 long years, the family shifted to their own house, right in the middle of the busy business area of the city where every inch is utilised for commercial purposes. But she didn’t lose hope. “We shifted the plants first and then moved in” is how she sums up the whole experience of shifting.
With no land available for a garden, she figured out that the terrace is all she had to house her plants. And lo and behold, what a superb place it has turned out to be. The terrace is home to hundreds of plants, growing with much aplomb in virtually any container. While most have found roots in proper pots and containers, quite a few actually find a place in cut oil cans, discarded shoes, bottles, polystyrene boxes, earthenware, old plastic tanks and even lids of large containers.
In 2004, Lalan created a special greenhouse for the plants that thrived in low sunlight, where she says the temperature is much lower than outside. This place also serves as an infirmary for sick plants that have dried in the sizzling sun. Managing sunlight is a challenge in gardening, for it is in more abundance than one would ask for, with all four sides open.
Large tanks, cut to precise ground levels, hold some of the most amazing shades of lotuses. A drum has turned the perfect place for a Gulmohar which flowers in the hot sun, at barely 5 feet height. The greenhouse is home to some precious orchids, grown in wide net cones to drain off excess water and begonias of all kinds.
A graduate in Biology, Lalan was an elected representative at the Belagavi City Corporation. But gardening is her passion, she says. According to her, sharing — be it information, plants or seeds, is key to developing one’s garden. She is, in fact, a member of several groups, both online and offline, including the Gardeners’ Club of Belagavi. One such group deals especially with heirloom seeds. This has given her access to some exotic plants and seeds, some even sent by avid gardeners from the US.
Lalan is more inclined towards flowers rather than vegetables, though she does occasionally grow drumstick, eggplant, spinach, beans, mint, a bountiful of tomatoes, exotic varieties of parsley and potatoes. There’s even the odd yam if you can spot it. But her garden is full of flowers of all imaginable colours and fragrances. When I visited her garden, the Indian crocus was wilting. This exotic flower, called bhui champa owing to its flower rising from the earth even before the leaves, wilts within a couple of days.
The Rangoon creeper was in full bloom and she was showing around the cosmos flowers that were in full glory of colours and patterns. There is a berry guava plant with unusual leaves, laden with guavas the size of berries. Plants like Ochna serrulata or the Mickey Mouse flower that resembles the cartoon character amaze the visitors.
Her collection of bonsai is also enviable, which she has grown herself, pruning the trees year after year. The bonsai include figs, peepal and many ficus variants. Lalan has gifted her plants to thousands of people and prides in seeing them flourish at all corners of the world. Since plants have a limited life span, she keeps the varieties alive by creating saplings and planting them again periodically.
Begonias, adenium, asters, bridal bouquet, chrysanthemums, lilies of all kinds, all adorn her garden. There are hosts of birds, butterflies, bees and insects frequenting her flourishing garden. So you also find bird feeders and water kept for the avians. Plants from different parts of the country (and world) happily coexist in her garden with birds, butterflies and insects.
A whole wall is decorated by a family friend, Amit Kolekar, who is a Warli painting artist. The wall houses several succulents of varied shapes and sizes. A jackfruit tree finds a place of pride along with a grafted avocado plant.
She hosts regular visits for gardeners, students and enthusiasts from Belagavi and elsewhere. Here is someone who finds solace in people and plants alike. May her tribe flourish just like her garden.