Gardening with Mrs Lakshmi

Mrs Lakshmi Raghavan was born in Malayankulam village, in the Kanchipuram district and grew up in a large joint family. She moved to Chennai after her marriage and has been in Ashok Nagar for the last few decades. Her daughter lives in Toronto and both mom and daughter love gardening, a hobby that makes her feel more connected to her daughter. Mrs Lakshmi has been associated with Prayojana since March 2020 when the Covid related lockdown was announced. In her conversations with Prayojana, her zest for plants and gardening always shone through. Here’s an excerpt of Anupama’s interaction with her on what keeps her raring to go!

Love your garden! So when did you start gardening?

Mrs Lakshmi (with a twinkle in her eyes): Ever since I was 5 years old, I remember being fascinated by the tiny light pink and violet flowers that bloomed on different kinds of spinach (pasalai keerai). I also loved the tiny yellow flowers of Tribulus terrestris (nerinju mulu), whose seeds have thorns on 3 sides, like a star. As a child, I would keep some flowers in each hand while playing. In fact, I would eagerly wait to water the plants!

How did you learn? Someone must have guided you, right?

Mrs Lakshmi: (Being nostalgic) My father (appa) and elder sister (akka) taught me a lot. Actually everyone in the family was interested in plants, I lived in a village where life was very much one with nature. During October and November (aippasi maasam), all of us had to have a bath in the river by 5 am. We would walk 1-1.5 km, take dip in the Palaar river and wash our clothes. On our way to the river and back home, we would discuss all the plants and trees we saw. There were many citron (narthangai), coconut, mango and tamarind trees, paddy, groundnut and sugarcane fields and gardens adjoining houses along the way. It was a pleasant time and those were happy days!

Is that why you have a garden? Does it cheer you up?

Mrs Lakshmi: It gives me peace of mind and makes me wonder at the miracle of life. I also get some physical exercise that's incorporated into daily activities. Humans need plants with them to live. Plants and humans go hand in hand, a garden goes along with man always. You can grow plants in a tiny space. even in a little water bottle!

Am curious to know what’s growing in your garden currently!

Mrs Lakshmi (enthusiastically): Well, there are almond, night-flowering jasmine (parijata) & sacred fig (peepal) trees. I also have mango, sapota, pomegranate, gooseberry (nelikkai), turmeric (manjal), ginger (inji), rose and 3 jasmine varieties (nithyamalli, jaathimalli and gundumalli) in my garden. Don’t miss the creeper, white & orange ixora (vrikshi), sessile joyweed (ponnanganni keerai) and Cuban Oregano (karpooravalli) – they are special to me!

Does it tire you out? Do you have help?

Mrs Lakshmi: Yes, I find it tiring to sweep the dry leaves, bend and prepare soil. I used to have a maid who would help with the garden. Beyond that, I enjoy every bit of it.

What challenges do you face? Has the lockdown affected your gardening?

Mrs Lakshmi: A bandicoot (perichalli) had made it difficult to grow ponnagannni and karpooravalli! I had to hide them and try growing them in different places and hope it would not find the little saplings! And my maid does not come any more as she moved to her village when the first lockdown was announced. I also could not get seeds to plant at the right time.

Is the next generation interested in this hobby?

Mrs Lakshmi: Yes! My daughter, who's in Canada, loves gardening and has a backyard garden with many plants including tomatoes, mint, manju mandarom (medicinal plant with yellow, white, violet flowers), jasmine, roses. In winter she brings them all in. Sometimes, deer wander in and eat some plants! So you see, her challenges are occasionally different from mine! (with a grin).
It also makes me so happy to read about youngsters showing interest in and getting into agriculture, combining parcels of land and creating agricultural communities and agro-forests.

That’s great! Any advice for aspiring gardeners?

Mrs Lakshmi: Gardening is a must! Everyone should grow plants even if you have a small house. All you need is some soil, time and interest. Tulasi, methi, coriander, keerai - are easy to grow in a small space. If you have more space, grow flowers. And if you’re lucky and space is not an issue, grow trees. They don't need much care but give us so much.

About the Author

-Anupama Sarma

Interactions with Prayojana members are a part and parcel of Anupama’s life and she enjoys every bit of it. Conversations like these are a window into a world gone by, as well as a glimpse of human resilience and passion for life.

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