Honey, I shrunk the trees

Ravindran’s bonsai garden at Padmanabhapuram  

A two-acre spot hosts them all. Sprawling banyans, lime and jade trees, various species of adenium, tamarind, bougainvillea, tropical pine, baobab (that’s said to have the biggest trunk in the plant kingdom), Ficus krishnae from whose leaves Krishna was believed to have eaten butter, casuarina, ficus, Brazilian rain tree, besides hundreds of other tropical and subtropical trees. Some of these miniature trees look windswept, some are twisted intriguingly, while others tower in stately grandeur — but all of them thrive as well as their normal-sized versions.

The man behind Nikki Bonsai Garden in Padmanabhapuram, Kanyakumari, is D. Ravindran, a lawyer-turned-businessman and a bonsai artist at heart. He was in Chennai recently to conduct a workshop, in association with Bodhi Bonsai and Women’s Christian College.

With over four decades of experience in this field, Ravindran has now raised around 2,000 bonsais including 35 species of ficus alone, and 80 species of other tropical and subtropical trees.

Creating his garden was a huge effort. The terrain was changed to suit bonsai cultivation. Varying ground levels, in addition to a winding stream, ponds and a waterfall, were created to make for a good display. A zen garden, an orchid garden and a penjing garden have been laid. The bonsai garden is part of the Japanese garden layout.

This section features plants in traditional bonsai styles as well as those Ravindran has developed personally. In fact, he has created casuarina bonsais in all styles.

Nevertheless, he has a soft corner for his first bonsai, a banyan that’s over 50 years old but just three feet tall and five feet wide. “I collected it from the hills near my hometown Nagercoil. It has been with me for the last 43 years. When I collected it, it was already around 10 years old,” he says.

Located close to the Padmanabhapuram palace, Ravindran’s two-acre garden is open to the public. As one of South India’s largest bonsai gardens, it has the potential to become a major tourist attraction as well as an educational experience for students, because bonsais retain and display the natural growth and maturity of trees, though in miniature form. “For me, bonsai began with a curiosity about plants; keeping huge trees in a tray intrigued me,” says Ravindran, adding, “Bonsai is a wonderful, lifelong activity that you can hand over to the next generation as an asset.”

In India, bonsai is still in its infancy, and Ravindran believes it deserves government support as much as the fine arts or orchid cultivation. “There is a huge market for bonsais in the world, and they enable people to connect with nature.”

Ravindran says that bonsai does not mean cruelty to plants, as many would imagine. “We don’t dwarf trees, we miniaturise them. By miniaturising them, we bring nature into homes and into our hands. Bonsai trees also mature and bear flowers and fruits.”

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Printable version | Sep 25, 2021 12:26:51 PM |

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