A thick canopy of trees shield the entrance of Saroja Thiyagarajan’s home, which is located in the corner of Anna Nagar B Sector, Chennai.
The first thing one notices when entering her abode is the magnificent facade of the building covered with branches, and blush-tinted jungle geranium—one of her first flowering plants.
Then, the lotus pond with colourful fish and white water lilies (Nymphaea nouchali) at the entrance, welcome you. From unique varieties of hibiscus and adenium decorating the garden area, to the repurposed planters from jars and mugs hanging from the veranda grills, every corner is a feast for the eyes.
It is a beautiful result of 16 years of hard work and patience. And it all began, almost 60 years ago when she came to Chennai after her wedding.
“I was 16 years old when I was married and moved to Chennai with my husband. At the time we were staying near the ICF (Integral Coach Factory) colony, and in the limited space there, I managed to grow small potted plants. From that to more than 500 plants in this house, has been quite a journey,” says 80-year-old Saroja to The Better India.
The Garden Queen of Anna Nagar, Chennai
Born in Keezh Velur, near Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu, Saroja shares how she developed a green thumb over the years.
“I grew up in a family that was always rooted in the soil, quite literally. So, the love for agriculture and all things green runs in my genes. Plus, I had a tuition teacher who believed that awareness about the environment was crucial for a complete education, so, he would regularly engage me in gardening. I think that’s how my interest grew into a passion, so strong that it sort of defines who I am today,” says the octogenarian.
Over the years, the passion grew, and her husband began to get more involved.
“Post-retirement, he wanted me to take it up seriously. Every month, we would allocate a set amount of money for the plants. I wanted to keep growing and learning more about plants. And that is why I started to have a yearly garden party to share, discuss and spread more awareness about urban gardening,” adds the Chennai resident.
Today, she is among the well-known gardening experts in the area, and a prominent member of Organic Terrace Gardening (OTG), a group consisting of organic gardening enthusiasts, which was formed almost a decade ago with the intent of spreading valuable information about organic techniques of farming and gardening.
“I never feel lonely because of my plants”
Saroja mentions that she has over 100 varieties of adenium, 10 varieties of vegetables and greens, bonsais, roses and 20 varieties of hibiscus plants.
A sight of nature’s bounty, every time students and sometimes even teachers from neighbourhood schools come to collect fallen hibiscus flowers for Botany classes; she makes sure they come inside and have a tour of the green home. She has also set up a composting section in her house which uses wet waste and garden waste to make organic manure for the plants.
“Telling and educating people about plants continues to excite me,” she exclaims. In 2015, Saroja was awarded the Tamil Nadu Horticulture Department award for her contribution to gardening. Later in 2019 as well, she received the Lakshmi Organic Award at the Anna University.
“My husband passed away in 2012, and all my children are now living in different parts of the country. But, I never feel lonely because of my plants. I know they will always be there for me,” she concludes, with a smile.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)