Feeding a gardening column is a great way to catch up with kindred souls. It gave me an official excuse to set off on the coldest day of the season, to Faridabad (part of the National Capital Region, or NCR) looking for a garden that someone had told me about.
All the way there, through miles of dust clouds and choked traffic, I wondered why I was taking the trouble. But some things, said my guide Pragya Nair of Plantex nursery in New Delhi (a plant rental company), are worth going a long way for. We wound our way through a residential colony and suddenly there we were—at Shell Jhanb’s temple to gardening.
Landscaped and planned to the last detail, this is a great example of shared joy. A piece of government land that had been neglected for years, Jhanb began planting on it about 10 years ago as a tribute to his parents. Today, it has been transformed into a community space, skirted by sculpted hedges and a green arch. Inside, there’s a veritable sea of flowers, from thousands of chrysanthemums in all shapes, sizes and colours to about 75 dwarf poinsettias in full bloom. “Flowers are my life,” he confesses.
The garden has one of the best cactus and succulent collections in the NCR, if not in the country. Most were picked up on Jhanb’s visits to Bangkok. He even has the insect-eater plant. Though a walking encyclopaedia on gardening who offers advice as freely as he does this patch of unusual ‘green’ hospitality, he says there are some things he is still learning about. A placard asks visitors to help identify some plants that are as yet unknown to him.
Shell Jhanb’s temple to gardening is a public space. (Photograph: Benita Sen)
Different areas of the plot are differently tended. A stacked flower bed has brilliant primulas from Nainital that are already in bloom. I remember seeing them on the coldest days in Darjeeling, and wonder how Jhanb has got them going so early. Under a few tall trees is a miniature tropical rainforest with orchids, ferns , ornamentals and even an Air Plant, tillandsia, a plant that grows in air.
Gigantic ornamental cups and teapots have been turned into miniature gardens. Amid appropriate garden furniture lies a miniature Japanese garden.
One of the nice things about visiting this public space is that you have a sincere, eager guide in Jhanb who is ready to share gardening tips—soil composition being one. He uses a lot of vermicompost and places a lump of Okhla fertilizer (primarily organic manure, available at local nurseries) in each pot for the minerals to percolate with each watering.
This garden grows and evolves every day. Jhanb changes and rearranges plants all the time and has started a bonsai collection. “Watch this space next year,” he laughs. And at no time do you forget that this is a public space: just beyond the green forest patch, demarcated by only a couple of sagging bamboos, is the neighbourhood presswala’s cart.
Little wonder that visitors pour in even on foggy December mornings and settle down to sing bhajans and participate in holy readings or just to savour the space. Apart from Jhanb’s personal security guards at his home across the road, there is no one to watch over this garden—“Just positive energy,” he says.
Every municipality should take a lesson or two from this example.