Bengaluru: An ex-techie, Mr Nataraja Upadhya, has grown a full-fledged urban forest on the terrace of his home in Banashankari in South Bengaluru. This jungle, called ‘Ashrama Gardens’ has more than 300 varieties of flora and fauna. It is a one-of-a-kind green space in the city
Son of a farmer, Mr Nataraja loved gardening from a young age. He helped his father in growing plants before he moved to the city to pursue a career in engineering. “When I was young, we nurtured a garden in our balcony and grew several varieties of plants in our apartment. I took care of these plants for 18 years along with my father,” Mr. Nataraja said.
He got the idea of gardening in the early summer of 2010 when the temperature was soaring in the city. Instead of setting up a water cooler to give some respite from the impending heat, he began planting saplings on the terrace. “It is because of this evergreen space, my house does not require a fan or a cooler during summer. However, because of the presence of a large variety of plant species, we experience chilliness during the winter,” he adds.
It has taken him five years to convert this jungle into a completely sustainable and vibrant ecosystem. “Initially, I started growing a few vegetables and fruits. As my terrace is 1500 sq. ft. in dimension, I can grow more plants and trees. I have grown trees in 55-litre drums. I have grown around 3000 plants and the forest has become a home to a variety of reptiles, butterflies, insects, and birds,” the 58-year-old engineer said.
On the number of drums used and the size of the trees grown, Mr Nataraja said: “All trees are medium-sized. They do not grow beyond 25 ft as the drums restrict their growth. I have used around 225 recycled drums to grow plants. Owing to the weight of these drums, the jungle weighs around 25 tonnes. My home can withstand up to 45 tonnes of weight.”
On the method used for growing plants, he said that all plants were grown in compost using suitable organic methods. “The weight of the drums has slightly come down after we adopted composting method of planting trees. By using this method, the soil quality has also improved”. He added that he never used any insecticide or pesticide to protect his plants as the insects in the food chain ensured that no infestation occurred, thereby keeping the plants healthy.
“I try to spend at least an hour daily on the terrace and nourish the trees with all basic needs. The maintenance cost of the jungle hasn’t gone beyond Rs 2000 a month in the last eight years,” said Mr Nataraja.
Mr Nataraja is active on various social media platforms. He has a YouTube channel in which he has documented the progress of the urban jungle and has shared his experience of creating this lush green forest. He also interacts regularly with other planters and nature lovers through his Facebook page and guides them on adopting efficient gardening techniques. He has started growing a few medicinal plants to help people in the neighbourhood. However, his initiative, ‘Billion Trees and Beyond,’ hasn’t made any progress since the last year owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I started this initiative in 2018 to encourage people to plant trees. In the last two years, people pledged to plant around 1.5 crore trees. However, this movement has come to a halt because of the pandemic. I am planning to hand over this campaign to a lover of greenery,” the retired techie said.
“Gardening is not rocket science. The experience I feel while planting a seed is highly enriching and rewarding. My body, mind, and spirit strengthen every day by looking at the biodiversity of my garden. I request everybody to develop the habit of planting a sapling every week. In this way, we can help to make this city a better place to live in.”
He believes that the rampant axing of trees owing to rapid urbanization has led to the rise in temperature of the city over the last few years, which has also been one of the primary reasons for climate change. According to him, the only way to fight against these global phenomena is to grow millions of trees in the coming years.
Mr Nataraja’s passion should inspire us to do our bit to make our world a better place to live.