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Nursing plants through a century

Sir M. Visvesvaraya was one of its clients as were the Maharajas of Mysore and Travancore. Obalappa and Sons has been in the horticulture business since 1885, reports RANJINI RAO.

Obalappa nursery: a lineage of plants — Photos: V. Sreenivasa Murthy .

WHAT CAN be more fulfilling than being known as one of the pioneers in greening and landscaping in the Garden City? The honour goes to M. Obalappa and Sons, established in 1885, one of the oldest merchants dealing with plants and seeds.

The proprietor, Vasuki D. Soumendra, says: "My great-grandfather actually used to sell liquor. He then thought it would do harm to his children and grandchildren; hence the transition to the plant business. I belong to the fourth generation of the Obalappa lineage and our growth has been phenomenal since our humble inception."

The Obalappas actually owned a part of Lalbagh before the British acquired their share to expand the garden. They then moved across the street to where their office stands today — a small, inconspicuous small building on the busy Lalbagh Road. The family has had farms in several locations in the City. However, it has had to move several times, thanks to the City's unbridled expansion, with the urban jungle overwhelming their green niches. Today, their farm is located on Hosur Road and one cannot miss it even while travelling at high speed. The list of patrons of Obalappa and Sons starts right with Sir M. Visvesvaraya and includes the Maharajas of Mysore and Travancore.

The concern also played a major role in the afforestation of the Tirumala Hills, Tirupati, about two decades ago. The current generation, represented by Mr. Vasuki, an industrial production engineer, got into the family business in 1994 "by choice", as he puts it. With his family background in horticulture, he wanted to venture into new areas of gardening and into floriculture. Unfortunately, stringent government policies forced him to stop the flower business in 1998. Despite that streak of misfortune, the concern has managed to gain ground in the sphere of gardening.

Apart from landscaping some of the major industrial sites in the City like Wheel and Axle Plant, Escorts, TVS, and Ashok Leyland, it has been exporting select plants and seeds to the Middle East and Europe for the past 30 years. "The most popular Indian plants that are in great demand abroad are our varieties of flowers and palms," says Mr. Vasuki.

"The availability of vast expanses of land to cultivate and nurture many plants as well as the climatic conditions that are conducive for the same, will help us stay on par with the rest of the world. We intend to go to other parts of the world too, as we do to go beyond Bangalore itself, in India. And we are in the process of going online as well," he adds.

It is not just factories that benefit from the Obalappas' green fingers. Those who want lovely foliage inside their homes and their little home gardens are also welcome to shop here. Twenty-five skilled gardeners work day and night to beautify homes and offices. The current projects include those by builders Gopalan Enterprises, a part of the KSCA Club House, Electro Link in Electronics City as well as the traffic islands dotted all over the City. Extra hands are hired on a need-based situation.

"We have never advertised or made brochures; one reason being that we have far too many varieties to list out on a piece of paper. We deal with indoor plants, ornamental plants, avenue trees, fruit yielding varieties, and also an exotic range of flowering plants and several kinds of seeds. Moreover, people really prefer to come and choose the plants they like to have. A hundred years is quite some time to be selling plants, and people just know us by name!" In its more than a century of business, Obalappa and Sons have participated in the SIFA (South Indian Flower Association) flower show only once, in 1997. Like those steeped in the best of traditions, these much sought-after nurserymen remain unassuming and media shy. Obalappa and Sons is a member of the Nurserymen's Co-operative Society in Lalbagh.

It has never thought of its contemporaries as competitors, as "the market is huge and everyone cannot always have all the varieties of plants and seeds.

We sometimes procure certain plants and seeds on a mutual exchange basis from other nurseries," says Mr. Vasuki.

The next time you see some neat landscaping at a traffic island, it could be the work of green fingers that have a history going back to more than 100 years.

Obalappa and Sons can be contacted at 131, Lal Bagh Road, Ph: 229 0406.

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