Gardening isn’t just a hobby for D Ravindran. He proudly claims that he has created the largest bonsai garden in South India, with over 4000 plants and over 1000 bonsai trees!
Although he started out as a lawyer, he began gardening in the 1970s, and it quickly became his life’s passion.
When he heard about the Japanese art of bonsai, where trees are meticulously clipped, pruned, and grown in small containers, he became enamoured with the idea and began to experiment with trees in India, trying to replicate designs he had seen.
“My first tree was a banyan. I didn’t know much about the art, so I was just following my instinct and experimenting to try and create a bonsai,” recalls Ravindran.
Four years later, he bought a book, called “Bonsai Miniature Potted Trees,” by Kyuzo Murata and it paved the way for him to refine his craft.
Ravindran slowly started gaining recognition for his trees, as he began showcasing them in local horticultural festivals. After his efforts were appreciated, he decided to open his own garden, named Nikki Bonsai in 1990. However, a career breakthrough occurred only in 1993, when he won first prize at a flower show in Trivandrum for his display of 75 bonsai plants!
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“Until that time, I was self-taught. As people started noticing my work, I began to experiment even more. My first workshop with master, Susumu Nakamura, in 1994, was the first time I received any formal education in the art of bonsai. I became eager to learn more, and started attending workshops conducted by various masters,” he says.
Since then, Ravindran has been no stranger to success. His plants have been met with critical acclaim both domestically and in international bonsai clubs and federations. In 2006, he was elected the president of the Kerala Bonsai Association, and was the recipient of the Iwasaki Award for his Bodhi tree among many other honours!
Today, Nikki Bonsai, located near the Padmanabhapuram Palace of Tamil Nadu, is home to both indigenous and foreign plants, including peepal, banyan, and bougainvillaea! Ravindran continues to experiment, adding new plants to his repertoire.
“I try to use trees from India, as well as abroad, to see which work best for bonsai. Not all trees can become bonsais. They must have certain characteristics. When I find a tree, I begin researching its background and natural history, and when I find certain trees that work, I share my findings with others,” he explains.
His garden is frequented by bonsai enthusiasts, some who come to learn from the master, and others who simply enjoy and appreciate the art.
“I started conducting workshops, sharing with others how I approach the art. I have travelled to many places including Japan and Indonesia, teaching groups of people who are interested in how they can turn their local plants into bonsai,” he adds.
Ravindran now works with more than 35 species of ficus and nearly 80 species of tropical and subtropical trees. His favourites include the Casuarina equisetifolia, Portulacaria afra, and the bougainvillaea.
He concludes by saying, “I’ve learned a lot, but there is still so much that I don’t know. I keep learning, trying new things, and continue to hone my craft.”