Small is beautiful here

GARDENING

Small is beautiful here

MINIATURE WORLD The bonsai garden. DH photos/ S K Dinesh

In these image-conscious times, even trees have stylists. Wandering around Rajalatchmi Sathyanarayan’s lovely garden in Bangalore’s Jayanagar 7th Block, anyone would be charmed by the shapely banyans, peepuls and bougainvillea, the driftwood and the pebbles.

The banyans are properly gnarled and knotty; the bougainvillea is a riot of colour, and they are all in miniature, for Rajalatchmi is a bonsai enthusiast, who discovered her passion for bonsai after idly picking up an old newspaper that flew her way on a windy afternoon 28 years ago.

“That piece of paper had an article on bonsai and I was hooked. Eager to learn more, I was directed to a nursery that a Southern Railways officer called Madappa had nurtured on Old Madras Road. He was an encyclopaedia on gardening and bonsai, in particular,” she says, recalling how she learnt to prune hardy ficus plants despite sore and bleeding fingers.

Start with ficus

“A beginner will find working with ficus varieties easy because they are hardy, and very forgiving of a learner’s gaffes,” she remarks.

Flame of the  ForestFrom coaxing woody ficus trees into form and shape to working with delicate junipers, she has come a long way.

She’s taught the art of bonsai to young people in Basavanagudi; her plants have found shelf space at the erstwhile Bombay Store on MG Road; and her Chinese Pepper plant, which currently occupies pride of place in her garden, is earning admiring glances from one and all.

She’s quick to credit the support and advice she’s been getting from the Bangalore Bonsai Club and its 100 + members, who meet every month, near the Indira Gandhi Musical Fountain at Cubbon Park, and organise lecture-demonstrations on the subject, and to well-stocked nurseries on Mysore Road and in Siddapura, Jayanagar 1st Block. And she’s grateful that she lives in Bangalore, “where the weather is ideal for all kinds of plants — flowering or fruit-bearing”.

Rajalatchmi says she’s always loved plants, recalling the time when Bangalore was full of flowering trees and housewives plucked flowers for the evening ‘puja’  instead of going to the flower seller and paying good money for them.

 “The trees are going,” she observes ruefully, having watched huge trees in her locality give way to the Bangalore Metro rail project. “Very soon, children in cities will not know what a banyan tree or a neem tree looks like.”

According to the silver-haired lady with a sunshine smile, shrinking space, mushrooming apartments and vanishing gardens make bonsai specially relevant in these lean and mean times.

 Chinese pepper plant and JadeShe recommends bonsai as a hobby for the young (“it teaches the virtue of patience”) and the elderly (“the hours simply fly”).

“Gardening makes you forget all your cares. It gives you a purpose in life as you nurture plants and watch them grow,” she adds. She spends hours pruning and wiring her plants, repotting and watering, but with a twinkle in her eyes, she says: “the trick is not to make it look hard!”

That explains why her small counter at the annual United Charities Bazaar in Bangalore, a Christmas gala, is full of curious kids, who are fascinated by the tiny plant holders and the tinier plants in them.

“I warn them that it’s a lot of hard work. Bonsai call for an investment not just of money, but also of time and effort as the plants must be fertilised, pruned, repotted and watched for worm infestation.

“Another practical problem is keeping the miniature beauties away from marauding monkeys that seem to infest neighbourhoods now that their habitats have been axed,” she says.

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