Today, I intend to introduce a teacher-couple and their successful Miyawaki model to you. When I went to Japan to meet Prof. Miyawaki, I visited a place called Hadano to see a Shinto temple there. It was the priest of that temple who took me to Prof. Miyawaki. When I reached there, it was 1 o’ clock in the afternoon, and it had rained just then. There I saw a forest that Prof. Miyawaki had planted in 1983. So, when I went there in 2019, it was more than 25 years old. It was designed in odd, curvy shapes but what attracted my attention was the natural ambience of the place. Nothing had been done to the soil. When it rained, a small brook flowed along that area, making babbling sounds. As Nature- worship is part of their religion, they had planted a lot of trees all around the Shinto temple, covering two acres or more of land.

It is the same feeling I get here in this housing plot in Thiruvananthapuram which was bought with a building permit and converted into a forest. Generally speaking, it is rare to find people who invest so much money on a plot and create a forest there. The advantage this couple have is that this plot is hardly 50 feet from their house. But after spending Rs 50 lakhs on a plot, they have made a Miyawaki forest. I would not have believed it if I had not seen it with my own eyes. This is a splendid place and the Miyawaki forest here is more beautiful and more natural-looking than the ones I have created. Let us find out what motivated them into making such a forest.

I got a plot with house permit until 2024. But even as I bought this, I had a desire to make a forest here. You would have seen the plot where our house is. We don’t have much space to grow plants and trees there. We love the shade that kaavus offer, and the ambience around it. In the beginning, we tried to plant trees in a small area on the left side. Your videos helped us a lot. We followed your concept (though not the methodology) of clumping the saplings close to one another, and doing it in small spots. We noticed good growth, and then used up the rest of the space for the forest.

This area has an advantage. There is a lot of water below the soil here.

Water flows here. That is helpful in the growth of plants.

This area was a field earlier. So, there is no shortage of water. What you see is the growth of three years.

It is not the number of years but the natural appearance of the forest you have planted them here that is impressive. You have all kinds of plants – water plants, medicinal plants, all kinds of trees. I saw only a couple of exotic varieties that need to be removed . . .

I came to know of it only after you mentioned it, sir.

That is because there are a couple of plots close by which are lying untouched. The creepers must have come from there. They can create a few problems.

Madam, your house is in Pathanamthitta, isn’t it?

Yes, at Omalloor.

That place is like this one, isn’t it?

Yes. There are fields . . .

And the annual fair that sells farm produce . . .

Yes, that is very famous. Also, the bull race . . . There are plenty of trees and kaavus. My mother’s place is Niranam, where every plot has two or three ponds. The ambience there is really unique. It was fun to be there every summer vacation. My brother and my sister were very much older than I. So, I was practically left to myself all the time. I played under the trees, plucking leaves and fruits, and I grew fond of them.

Your husband’s compound too is full of trees . . .

There were only two or three trees. We planted the rest. We had only the mango tree. We wanted to have a tropical garden. That is almost a forest there. Plenty of birds come there and build nests. Evens quirrels have made their nests. It is a pleasure to wake up in the morning to the sounds of all these birds. It is almost like meditation.

Living close to Nature, you mean . . .

When you planted these trees here, the water may not have been like this. It was simply full of sunlight.

You saw in the pictures, didn’t you, sir? There was practically nothing.

Indeed. Almost like a reclaimed land.

Yes, and we made it into this.

And to make it happen, how many hours did you toil?

Those were the times of Corona. I bought this piece of land in February. In March we had the lockdown. I was at home for six to seven months. As this plot is close to my house, I could take good care of it in the initial period. That was one advantage of Corona. Had it not happened, I would not have been able to do it so well.

Maybe you should name it ‘Corona’ garden!

In those days, we did not have the solar. So, we had to draw water from the well. That’s why you see the buckets there. I worked really hard in the initial stage.

Usually, when trees are planted by us, the whole design looks artificial. But this one looks very natural. When anyone comes here, it looks as if this piece of forest was brought from somewhere, and placed right in the middle of the town. There are buildings all around, and this forest sits right in the middle. You intended to have it like this?

That is because we intensely desired it. And this was a labour of love. If any plant wilted, we felt sad. If a fish died, we became sorrowful. We even buried them. Maybe because of so much love, it turned out to be so beautiful.

You shouldn’t be so emotional about it. There is the law of Nature according to which one becomes the food of another. If a crab comes here, it will eat up the fish. I had bought a lot of fish from Vellayani, and raised them but all of them were eaten by a crab. At first, I thought the fish were attacking and consuming one another. But one day, I happened to see a crab capturing a carp.

We see storks coming here. They don’t catch the big fish but the small ones. We tell ourselves they too have to live . . .

That is part of the ecosystem.

Yet when we see dead fish, it fills us with sadness.

As for the trees, soon you will have more trees here than you planted. Bats will come and deposit seeds. You have a pathway too . . .

Yes, I visualized and designed it.

I opposed it initially because the Miyawaki model was not like this . . .

Whatever we do, we must do it thoroughly, because it must make us happy. Only then will we be able to enter every part of it. When we do Miyawaki forests, we have provision for pathways. But they have to be kept tidy so that if any small creature appears, we won’t feel frightened.

Yes, since I keep the pathway clean, there are no problems.

You are lucky for another reason – the easy availability of water. You don’t have to make any special effort. The roots will go in search of water and find out for themselves.

When the well was dug, we didn’t have to go deep. The water table was high.

Hereafter, even in summer, you won’t have to water the plants and trees. They will survive on their own. The falling of leaves is a very natural phenomenon. New leaves will sprout with the next rain. There is a limit to our preserving things. At one point, we have to let go. One suggestion I have is: you could train passion fruit climbers up a couple of trees.

We had a lot of them earlier.

They wilt after the fruiting season, don’t they?

Yes. The advantage about the passion fruit climber is that it will sprout on its own, and dry up after it produces fruits. It doesn’t destroy the tree on which it grows.

We had so many passion fruits during the COVID season that people got fed up of eating them . . .

It has two advantages. One, we will get the fruits. Two, it will attract bats and squirrels, and they will bring seeds to our plot. In my plot, I had a freshwater mangrove or ______. It sprouted from a seed dropped by a bat from somewhere near the lakeside. There are many seeds that won’t sprout if we sow them. I have a Strychnine tree in my plot. I had sowed its seeds but none of them put out shoots. But when they get wet in rainwater and reach some place, the micro-climate of that area will prove to be favourable, and the seed will sprout. Then, we can pot it. When small creatures drop the seeds, there is some engineering involved in it. So, the seed may land in the best possible place. If we let things be, plants will grow on their own.

There is a calloused fig there, near the well. We picked it up along with its roots from Vithura. Someone had uprooted it and left it there, in front of the school compound. It was fairly big. But as I come in the school van, I could bring it here. Initially, all its leaves were eaten by a worm. We didn’t do anything about it. But later, new leaves sprouted.

When the eggs hatch, there will be a lot of larvae or worms, but when they eat up all the leaves, they will get exposed, birds will notice them, and that will take care of the problem.

Yes. We don’t do anything else.

We watered them but added no manure.

At the time of planting, we added some cow dung powder . . .

This is the result of three years of labour, isn’t it? That they have grown so well is a big achievement. This is a model that can be followed by all. Not many are able to create this kind of natural ambience. There is a place to sit here. There is electricity, water. So, this plot has been converted into a beautiful garden. Congratulations to both of you.

When we were at Vithura, that was a good source. On our way back, we used to get a lot of plants. We would stop our car and pick up saplings.

Do you give colocasia leaves to your fish?

Yes. But they eat only a few varieties. The native one, actually. Not any other.

Mine eat all.

That may be because the species of fish is different here.

Instead of putting full leaves, break them into bits and put them in the water.

The variety that the fish eat is found in large quantities in the other plot. So, we are able to feed them.

Where do you get cow dung from?

There is a temple nearby. Besides, one of our neighbours grows cows. We get saw dust from a mill nearby.

Saw dust can create problems. You may add wood shavings to the soil. But saw dust may attract fungus whereas wood shavings do not carry that threat. Do you have the Portia tree?

I stuck a small twig, and it sprouted. At first, it didn’t though!

Do you spend time here?

On most days, on my way, I come here, give the fish food, spend five minutes and leave. I get back home only by 7.30 pm. So, I don’t get time in the evening. On Sundays, I come here.

There is the concept of Shinrin-yoku or forest bathing, like sun bathing. When we walk through the forest, we get positive energy, our stress levels come down. Actually, technocrats are advised to take walks through forests. That may not be possible always. There should be a forest in the vicinity and one has to have access to it. If we have spaces like this, walking here in the mornings will make us fresh.

Yes, this place gives us a feeling of pure pleasure. The sight of even a small flower is a matter of joy.

You must document the insects that come here. In my plot, in five years’ time, I could document nearly 300 varieties of insects. If you plant some flowering plants, many more insects will come.

Earlier we had a lot of flowers.

Our native variety of jungle geranium is a good plant for attracting insects. It doesn’t need much sunlight, and will flower in the shade too.

There is an Asoka tree too.

But this is not the flowering season.

Thunbergias are also good. Has anyone been inspired by your example to make gardens?

A gentleman who’s constructing a house close by – he hails from Kollam – has put up a garden. He said he got the idea from our plot. A couple of others also sought us out for advice.

A man from Mavelikkara came here recently. He is hugely impressed by our effort. He is from Dubai, and every time he comes down, he pays close attention to this plot.

The shelter you’ve created here is very attractive. I’m glad you didn’t go for a concrete structure. This will easy stay for the next five years.

This idea was given by Suresh, the gardener at the Secretariat.

How much did it cost?

Rs 35,000. Not for the platform. But for the bamboo work.

Do you have a Talipot palm? I can give you one.

I hope all of you have had a good look at this garden. You get the feeling of having gone back 40 years back, to a village in Kerala. This is right in the middle of the city, at Vattiyoorkkavu, five kilometres from Thampanoor railway station. The couple should be congratulated for creating such an atmosphere here. So many pe0ple might have discouraged them. So many people might have asked them why they were wasting such a prime piece of land. But they have survived all such queries, and accomplished this much. Those of you who wish to see it may contact them. There is only one problem. They are available only on Sundays. If you make a personal visit to this place, you will be inspired by their example to have at least a garden around your house. I’m deeply obliged to them because they have created a wonderful Miyawaki model. They deserve our appreciation.