At Sankara Eye Centre, trees calm patients, keep them cool and break the monotony of a hospital

Five-and-a-half acres of black cotton soil and no water. That was in 1985. Today, more than a thousand birds flit about the hundreds of trees and shrubs at Sankara Eye Centre, Sivanandapuram, off Sathy Road. Mynahs, koels, sparrows, peacocks and crows fill the air with birdcall.

All this began with a borewell (that continues to supply copious water) and a hundred coconut saplings donated by well wishers. The coconut trees are in the periphery of the property.

Inside, the management decided to plant colourful avenue trees to break the monotony of a hospital. Rows of trees yielding red and yellow flowers provide the much-needed shade and make for a pleasant sight for those who look at the world with new eyes. Lining the roads are the ornamental bauhinia and oleander.

Behind the hospital, where the cottages, quarters and guest rooms are located, stand medicinal trees such as jamun, neem, cassia fistula, vaagai, iyal vaagai and pungan. The jamun trees are fruiting now. Bunches of purple-black sweet-tart fruits entice visitors. Many have fallen — purple patches on grey tar. Sometimes, patients with diabetes request the fruits, says K. Rajkumar, facility manager. He taps into his former avatar as a lecturer in TNAU to ensure the trees here thrive.

Nearby are some teak trees, planted when teak plantations were the rage.

The coconuts are used in the canteen where food is cooked for the patients, staff and guests. Milk, curd and buttermilk for the patients come from the 25 cows in the goshala. Their feed is also grown inside the campus. There’s a kitchen garden too — vendaikai, kathirikai, pudalangai, peerkangai and keerai grow here.

The trees shed a lot of leaves, and all of it goes back to fertilise the soil. Vermicompost is produced in-house and functioning rainwater harvesting systems ensure the water table is maintained, says Dr. R.V. Ramani, founder and managing trustee, Sankara Eye Care Institutions. Rajkumar says that all the water used is recycled inside. Now, plans are afoot to put in place a bio gas plant too.

The green space ensures that the hospital remains cool even in summer. Patients love to sit on the benches and take in the greenery. The only hitch is the bird droppings — they nearly form a patchwork white carpet. “The birds are important, and so we have made our peace with the droppings!” says Dr. Ramani.