BANGALORE: Nurseries in the city are disappearing, thanks to real estate pressure and the challenges of running a business with slim margins. Traditional nurseries, which have been around for at least a century, are turning into plots for apartments.
"It is a hard life. Water and electricity are a problem," says Imran, a gardener from Bihar, who runs a nursery at Banashankari 3rd Stage. His turnover is `500-600 a day.
Even a decade ago, Bangaloreans could visit a nursery in the neighbourhood and buy plants and saplings of many varieties, enclosed in clay pots or plastic covers.
But homes now have no space for gardens, and people looking to beautify their gardens are becoming rarer by the day.
Queen Elizabeth, during her visit to the city in the late 1950s, had described the Siddapur-Lalbagh area as 'Little Holland,' impressed by the large number of nurseries there.
"Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan, after Lal Bagh was built, brought in members of the Thigala community, who were adept at gardening. The community settled down in Siddapura, and cultivated nurseries in the area," said Govind, vice-president of the Nurserymen's Co-operative Society, a part of the Department of Horticulture.
The business of trading in plants and seedlings was centered around Lal Bagh during 1930-40. Dr M H Marigowda, regarded as the father of horticulture in India, set up the society in 1964 to ensure unity in the unorganised Thigala community. However, when Bangalore started to grow, the nurseries in Siddapura started shrinking, and the Thigala families started to break up.
Some members of the community moved to the outer fringes of the city and set up small nurseries at Dodballapur, Devanahalli, and along Mysore Road and Kanakapura Road.
"Their incomes were being squeezed, and the nurseries soon began to die out as they were not profitable," Govind explained to City Express.
Community members have sold their land to property developers, and houses and apartment complexes have come up in place of nurseries in Siddapura.
"The next generation wants to get into better-paying jobs," he said.
Asked why smaller nursery owners were not allowed to sell their produce at Lal Bagh, secretary R Prashanth said a by-law bars them.
"It states a nursery owner must possess at least a quarter of an acre in an urban area or half an acre a rural area to be registered," he said.
The existing nurseries do not qualify. "We can't register them. Also, many of them buy plants from bigger nurseries and sell them, and have no knowledge of running a nursery. We want to promote genuine nurserymen," he said.
The society has about 300 registered nurserymen, of whom 80 per cent are in and around Bangalore. The membership was double, at 600, in 2004-05.
According to Prashanth, the needs of nurserymen have largely been neglected by the government. "If taken up on a large scale, profits can be made," he said.
The government addresses the concerns of small farmers and agriculturists, while nursery owners have been given a raw deal. There is no scheme for the welfare of nurserymen, he said.
High taxes are levied on import of seedlings. Water and power are charged at commercial rates. "We have submitted several memorandums to the government, seeking a reduction in power rates and the establishment of district-level centres, but nothing has happened," he rued.
The nurserymen apprised Governor Vajubhai Vala of their problems during his visit to their recent flower show. "He has promised to look into them. We are waiting in hope," he said.