Saturday, May 19, 2007


Predictably, the railway crossing is shut and the perfect drive from the city to the village suddenly seems like any drive through the city after all. Except of course, for the ultra pink pipe shaped papads hanging perilously from the roof of a tumbledown paan shop, a bullock cart parked next to you, a bunch of punctual milkmen somehow managing to slide under the poles and the dying engine of a vikram. The papads do look less delectable than the butter bhuttas with extra lemon but the express train chugs past before one can make eye contact with the little boy running about selling snacks.

It’s a smooth drive all the way to Phulwari, you may even spot the occasional herd of blue bulls feasting in the fields that line the Sultanpur road. You will also cross two bazaars and the ‘Gajaria’ farm before reaching village Khurdai and asking the most seemingly intelligent onlooker where the “Phoolon wala farm” is. All fingers point straight down the road. The drive to destination “Phulwari” is especially exciting for anyone who loves their plants. This nursery nestled in the outskirts of Lucknow, is a haven for those who enjoy variety and quality in their flora.

As you drive into the gates of the nursery, which is also called ‘Mansarovar’, rows of poplar and eucalyptus trees welcome you .The greenhouse to your left looks inviting with its rows of neatly potted plants, each one of them ready to be carried away while the farmhouse opposite it looks straight out of the movies. Sixty eight year old Jagdish Hansraj smiles saying, “Any problems finding the way?” not today one beams! His better half, Sharda is busy supervising the cleaning up of the nursery. “It’s not easy looking after over five hundred plants!” she laughs, nodding her head in disapproval as one of the gardeners attempts to align her pots of gerberas.

A quick walk around the nursery with Sharda, who lovingly points at each plant tracing it’s origins “Those are my adeniums, they’ve come all the way from Kalimpong”. The wooden benches housing the pots are a riot of bright pink tropical flowers. “Who says you can’t have flowers in summer?” Jagdish wonders as he admires a thumbergia creeper with tiny orange and blue flowers. Sitting next to a line of bonsais, he says “Now this here is a pomegranate bonsai and that is Brazilian rain tree”. Each looks more exotic than the other, however what catches one’s eye are the fuchsias. They look magical with their fairy like velvety flowers, drooping like bell dresses in shades of purple, red, pink and fuchsias. “Those are from Kashmir, you must look at the purple and red fuchsia”, says Sharda, walking towards the farmhouse. Sitting pretty on a wooden table is her favourite fuchsia. Another interesting little shrub growing in the garden is a “Rose Tree”, one of the special plants offered at the Phulwari.

“I wanted to make Phulwari a one stop shop in gardening,” says Jagdish, who is considered a pioneer and visionary amongst floriculturists. He is known to bring something unique to every flower show, one of the few who make an effort to travel across the country to collect new varieties.

While walking through the nursery and the rows of large pots filled with lotuses, he laments the lack of an organized flower culture in Lucknow, “In South India, flowers are a part of life, the man of the house buys jasmine and offers half at the temple and brings back half for his wife. The entire business of selling and buying flowers is an organized and an all year round affair, people aren’t averse to buying and experimenting with new varieties.” He says that but in Lucknow there are few people who want a plant that costs more than twenty five rupees.

Settling at the table under a lime tree, he continues “Lucknow’s plant business is in a poor state, there is no concrete market or designated space to sell plants, in stead they are reduced to selling by the roadside and that too on a temporary basis”. Kaiser, their five year old black Labrador barks as Sharda returns with special atta biscuits and talks about their four daughters, “ Our eldest, Anita is a teacher at Muscat, Deepa is currently helping us with the nursery while she is posted as a professor at a central university here, while Neelu and Parul are married and working.”

Life at a farm after the years spent in the middle of city, running the “Mansarovar Study Circle”, is a welcome change. The Hansrajs spend their days tending to the individual needs of every plant in their nursery and running a poultry farm, with their daughters visiting every week the farm is abuzz with activity, especially in summer when Sharda makes ice-cream for the village market. As one leaves the farm with a pomegranate bonsai the warm couple wave goodbye while Kaiser bounds after white herons in a field full of gladioli.