How we made Bengaluru a flower power: City’s constant gardener

A sprightly 86, not much can keep L. Hanumaiah away from his gardens for too long. The former director of the horticulture department, Hanumaiah's life is a slice of history. He recalls the glory days of Dr M.H. Marigowda, the varieties of fruit and flowers that flooded the city and how Bengaluru took ornamental horticulture to the rest of the country. Long since retired, he tells Abilash Mariswamy about his fight to preserve horticultural land and of the visionaries who made Bengaluru the City Beautiful

The late South African president, Nelson Mandela once remarked, “There is no passion to be found playing small, in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” And when someone finds his passion and keeps at it for a life-time, there can be no greater satisfaction. Take 86-year-old L. Hanumaiah, whose  passion for horticulture has translated into an energetic and zestful life despite his advancing years.  A former director of the state’s horticulture department, which he first joined  in the sixties, he has been passionate about what he does for decades and has remained involved in its propagation even after retirement. 

“It’s my passion for horticulture that keeps me involved in all related activity even now,” beams Mr Hanumaiah.  Being a horticulturist it is but natural that he should be proud of his association with the city’s famous botanical garden, Lalbagh. Created by Bengaluru’s founder, Nadaprabhu Kempegowda  over 34 acres, it eventually expanded to cover 40 acres and then 120 acres when the British ruled India. But it  was only under Dr. M.H. Marigowda, the former director of the horticulture department, that the garden doubled its space to cover 240 acres, he recalls. His pride in Dr Marigowda’s achievement has a more personal element to it as he joined the department under him and has tried to emulate the great man in his own career. “It was under Marigowda’s leadership that new varieties of flowers and vegetables were introduced in Lalbagh. In fact, we introduced 300 varieties of grapes alone. Karnataka stands number one in horticulture because of Marigowda’s contribution,” he says admiringly.

The addition of new varieties of flowers and vegetables helped Lalbagh gain recognition around the country and it was soon being adopted as a model in Delhi too, he adds. “Earlier the concept of ornamental horticulture was confined to only two cities, Mysuru and Bengaluru. But then Delhi too went in for it,” the octogenarian recounts. As Lalbagh began to gain popularity, it started to get more visitors. “It was in 1912 that the first flower show was organised at the Lalbagh Botanical Garden, but only a few like scientists and horticulturists attended it those years. It was considered prestigious to attend the show,” he reminisces, drawing a comparison to what the flower show has become today. Organised twice a year with the involvement of over 600 private organizers and industries, it is an entirely different event now, he notes.  

“During our time importance was given to the plants, the technologies and the landscape, but now the concept of the show revolves around diversity. The original objective centred around research, education and extension, but this has changed," he says, unable to hide his unhappiness at the turn of events. From Panyadahundi village near Chamarajnagara district, Mr Hanumaiah had his early education in a government school and went on to do his B.Sc. in Natural Sciences from the St. Phelomena College in Mysuru and M.Sc. from the State University of America. It was through his uncle that he  met Dr Marigowda, who encouraged him to do his Ph.D, which he did from the University of Ellina. It was in 1976 when he was the joint director of the department, that the state went in for 108 different schemes like horticulture farms and nurseries in different districts. “Although I am retired now,  I remain involved and continue to fight against  privatisation of 18,000 acres of horticulture land, night tourism in Lalbagh and such matters,” he smiles. 

Naturally inclined to preserving greenery in the face of the current assault on it for the sake of development, Mr Hanmaiah stresses that horticulture is as important as air or water and keeps the world and its people healthy. “In the past there was a lot of space available, but now there is hardly any left for plants to grow.  However, using terrace or vertical gardens we can still find room for them. It is important in these times of rapid urbanisation that we don’t lose more  of our green cover  and do our bit  to preserve it,” he concludes.


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