September 30, 2014

Lessons in Nurturing trees 2009-2014 - The First Year

I got an unique opportunity in 2009 when I was posted to the Kabini River Lodge, an unit of JLR. Besides, the obvious thrill of working at a great ecotourism hotspot, what got my immediate attention was the large area of the campus, all of 54 acres. I had just left my earlier job at Keystone Foundation where I did some work in nursery management and was keen to replicate and learn from these ideas.

Here, though, I was on my own. However, I had the support of my staff especially the gardening staff - specifically people like Shivannaji and Somannaji - two stalwarts in landscapes with more than 30 years of experience between the both of them.

And we started big. I remember now, the first 20 trees were planted opposite Cottages 7&8 in 2009, a few pongamias, a few cherries and a few other local species. Now, in 2014, they are all grown and big and thriving. Lessons learnt were vivid. Plant a tree, take care for a few months a work that can be discarded if it is planted in the right time, just before the onset of the monsoons. Take a little care during the first dry season, especially in the months of February and March and SEE THEM GROW like rockstars. All those 20 trees survived and they are thriving, though a few planted after another month did perish.

This were the first baby steps and a major shift from my earlier ideas on planting large numbers of trees and then hoping that a few survive. The ego involved in planting large number of trees had to be fought for a long time till we realised that even if we plant less trees and ensure that they survive - that is a bigger achievement than if we plant a large number of trees and can't see them through the next season. Thus the first monsoon passed in 2009....

I was itching to see more stuff done and around the same time, our resort in Bandipur wanted a lot of bamboos to be planted in the boundaries. We organised them from my old nursery at Sigur and the manager of Bandipur planted more than 200 of them. The pace was on and till this year i.e. 2014, I guess that individually at Kabini, we would have planted and ensured that more than 6000-8000 trees will grow big one day.

The turning point really came in 2010 when I went to Auroville and saw the magic of assisted gardening, you could call it non-interference with ecosystem functioning - whatever it is, Auroville proved without an element of doubt that whether you have an inch of soil to grow trees on or no water or regular tree cutters around - the duty of the tree grower is just that.... GROW TREES....

I remember going beserk after that August in 2010 and came back from Pondhicherry full of ideas on trees... All my old textbook nursery management ideas were thrown out of the window and came in fresh ideas of tree sustainability... Exciting years ahead in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013....