CHENNAI : Lying in the heart of the city is professor Merita Shantharaj’s 500 sq ft garden. An artistically orchestrated array of croutons, succulents, cacti, creepers, ferns and flowers reflect the soul of a well-travelled botanist. Her stacked Spanish gardens, rows of bonsai trees, handmade Arabic lamps and adorable Norwegian garden gnomes speak volumes of her adventures across Europe and Asia.
“Maintaining a garden is like keeping a white elephant. It requires an immense amount of time, energy and effort, but it is rewarding. Especially so in the early mornings when one can hear the chirping of cuckoos,” says Shantharaj. This 44-year-old garden was initially tended to by her mother-in-law, and was apparently a paradise in its self with a fish pond and a wide variety of roses.
Twenty years ago, Shantharaj took on taking care of the garden. Hailing from Mysuru, she brought with her a box full of saplings from her mother’s farm, which she used to further beautify her sanctum. She spends at least an hour each day watering and manuring the plants. Weekly cleaning takes up almost half her day, and re-potting can take up as much as two-three weeks every three months.
However, she is reluctant to hire help. “It is almost as if the plants can recognise me. So I owe it to them. I make time no matter how busy my schedule gets, even if it’s 11pm at night. I am, in fact, reluctant to take up a full-time job so that I can give more time to my garden,” she says.
The Spanish guest lecturer of BU, BCU, Mount Carmel College and Christ College adds, “Nonetheless, my mother and sister-in-law are nice enough to take care of my garden when I’m travelling.” She finds herself most attached to the Singaporean Cherry tree that she planted soon after the birth of her only daughter. “This very tree has taught Neeharika (her daughter) to value and respect nature. I once threw a fit when my husband cut off a branch,” she confesses.
Her garden is the highlight of her neighbourhood during her annual Christmas parties.
“You must see the pots all dressed up in red woolen coats. The guests, in fact, prefer to walk in through the lawn to see the lights put up on the branches,” she excitedly says.