Keeping alive a floral tradition

"I am so glad I share a blooming passion with Tipu Sultan!" exclaims one of Bangalore’s top florists Dr Norma Prabhu, while browsing through the blossoms at the city’s Republic Day Flower Show 2013 in Lalbagh. A homeopathic doctor, Norma also devotes a lot of time to her flower retail outlet Simply Elegant and is a well-known name when it comes to marriage hall decorations across Bangalore. Her beautiful arrangements are partly fed with flowers that she farms herself. And just as her regal idol over 200 years earlier, she harbours an overwhelming affinity for flowers and a widespread knowledge of myriad varieties.

To Paris with Love: A Rose-and-orchid tribute to the Eiffel Tower. Pic: Jatin Prabhu

"Unfortunately, I don’t have enough space to pander to my limitless floral desires," Dr Prabhu adds, "But dear Tipu and his successors, who kept Lalbagh flourishing, have more than compensated."

History will confirm that this aesthetically-inclined royal brigade did just that. Although his father Haider Ali planted the first seeds and saplings at Lalbagh, Bangalore’s Botanical Gardens, it was actually Tipu who expanded its borders. Indeed, the Sultan procured an elaborately composite bouquet from within his own domain as well as from West Asia and even Africa. Even before the British usurped Tipu’s kingdom in 1799, Lalbagh already boasted about 1,500 different species of flowers.

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The rulers from Ol’ Blighty, who were themselves avid gardeners, built on Tipu’s visually-arresting heritage, by adding the majestic-looking Glass House and instituting the annual Flower Show. Well over a century old, the show is a cherished tradition today that Dr. Norma and droves of other florists, city residents, botanists, ecologists, landscapers, environmentalists and enthusiasts are proud to be a part of.

"I wanted my child to see these plants and feel one with them," says Brinda Gowda, while holding up her curious 18-month-old Seema to a better view of the stalks, buds and blooms on display. "In fact, I feel plants and children are similar – they are delicate, need lots of loving care and glow!" added the housewife from Jayanagar. Little Seema’s eyes grew wider as she craned her neck to see the show’s central piece: a 35-foot-tall floral tribute to the Eiffel Tower.

This arresting imitation of Paris’ most famed attraction reportedly took a whopping 2.5 lakh roses and no less than 10,000 orchids to be completed! But while this pseudo-monument along with the surrounding potted assortment of natural colours, textures and designs appeared to dazzle most visitors, some weren’t too impressed.

"What a waste of good roses on the Eiffel!" complained, Ramnaresh Aiyer, a retired litigant from Malleshwaram. "They could have been thriving in any of the gardens here, instead of dying on this abomination!"

However, despite the fact that some flowers were evidently fading, love certainly seemed to be ever-blooming, going by the surfeit of happy couples being photographed against the decorative backdrops.

Thanks to the BBMP’s Kannada-centric signage, the names of many of the flowers on display eluded me. From my limited knowledge of flowers, however, I daresay I was able to recognize marigolds, pansies, daffodils and chrysanthemums among the splendid array. Among the eye-catchers was a complex-looking velvety exhibit, which a Latin-lettered tag identified as Cockscomb. Then my eyes fell upon the notorious Poppy.

"These flowers stem from the same plant which are used to extract opium and heroin from," confirmed Abbas Ali, a horticulturist standing beside me. Ali also pointed to a sample of the crocus flower, adding that it is from this that one derives saffron (spice). Then pointing to a bee that seemed besotted by one flower, he added "Bees’ vision make even flowers we find ordinary appear attractive and vibrant to them."

Before moving on, Ali shared one more nugget of floral knowledge with me – that rose buds are actually edible! "I’ll keep that in mind if I’m ever hungry in a rose garden," I thought, as I bade him goodbye.

As I made my way out of the Glass House, I noticed an intriguing set of plants. After gawking at an unusual composition of cacti among them, my eyes fell upon a bunch of small specimens with greenish, waxy, thick leaves. These items were quite spectacularly shaped just like flowers! Maybe passe to the qualified botanist and perhaps something I have come across before, but these little creatures nevertheless had me spellbound for a while.

Seeing me out of the Flower Show complex were two parallel rows of horticultural, gardening and related stalls, with a range of wares to choose from. Everything from new-age hose-pipes, to ornate jute bags, to trinkets and pendants, to DVDs of agricultural documentaries, found takers. But the one stall that took the cake in my opinion was that of Indusherbs. This privately-owned establishment, founded and run by Ravindra, specialises in raising aromatic and medicinal varieties of plants.

While I was impressed by his speciality of sita-ashoka, ‘the gynaecological panacea’ plant, what really caught my attention was a strange contraption called the "self-watering plant unit". This was a water-filled mini-matka, topping a 3-foot-tall synthetic cylinder with leafy plant-stems emerging from holes around it.

Ravindra proceeded to explain that the water permeates through the clay container and down into the soil, which in turn nourishes the shoots. Thus, this little gizmo makes it unnecessary for any human hand to water the plant daily. "It is the same principle by which the water from our lakes, tanks and reservoirs replenish the surrounding soil and keep the landscape above nice and green," he explained. The man who has currently been put in charge of maintaining Uttarahalli Lake on Bangalore’s outskirts is evidently a creative environmentalist!

As I reluctantly exited the festival of flowers and plants, I felt that the Lalbagh flower show was truly keeping alive a legacy that could redeem developments in the rest of the city. Indeed, it is beautifully-manicured, verdant precincts such as this that would make Bangalore worthy of the pseudonym Garden City. The city can boast of a moderate climate the year around and already possesses flora belonging to widely diverse landscapes – from the tundra to the desert. It must be encouraged to spawn and nurture its ‘green’ visage. After all, plants, trees and flowers are indispensable sons of our soil. The Lalbagh flower show is but a small nursery, which one hopes will expand into a full-fledged ‘university’ some day!

About Jatin Prabhu 0 Articles
Jatin Prabhu, a former television journalist, occasionally leads Bangalore City heritage tours while also persuing literary and other creative interests.

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