Before I tell you about the horticultural society on Cathedral road, Chennai, I am going to give you some unnecessary history. I know nothing about gardening and I am not a great enthusiast either, but I can admire a nice garden. My dad is an avid gardener, spends a large part of his evening watering the plants and plucking jasmine flowers before heading to the clinic. Many mistake him for the gardener of the house (like in Thillumullu). He has been gardening since he was very young. His very first garden was in the open courtyard (dhallam) of our street-house in George Town. He’d lug horse manure from Everest Hotel on a cycle for his dear plants. Many sethjis would borrow my dad’s plants during festival time to decorate their shops. So one weekend when my husband suddenly decided that he wanted to have a mango tree in the garden (he has sudden cravings and he has to get it done somehow), we asked our in-house gardener – my dad for advice and he told us about the horticultural society.
We went there on a hot Sunday afternoon, you really don’t have much choice. They have very odd, extremely short working hours (sounds like a government setup) 10 am-12 pm and 2 pm – 4 pm or something along those lines. Tuesday is a holiday.
I am not sure if you can take pictures here, there was no sign that indicated as such but there was a board that said “No Cellphone”. Now this place is definitely government and definitely old. The horticultural society is on Cathedral road right opposite the new park, just a short distance from Gemini flyover. The horticultural society is massive. Sitting in the centre of the city, it is a sprawling place which has a wonderful old world charm to it (like those good old typewriters or rosewood writing desks). If you like the articles in Hindu Metroplus about olden days Madras, if you like Muthiah’s columns, you’ll like this place.
The driveway curves around a lovely fountain leading to the portico and the office building very like the colonial bungalows. The gardens stretch out from behind the office building in all directions. I am not sure I saw the whole place. The gardens are not laid out in any particular fashion, there are saplings or potted plants kept all over the place amidst the society’s own rambling gardens. There are some really huge magnificent trees (don’t know what trees, I told you I can only admire) which must have been around for a century or more. Amidst this lush greenery are a few statues of Krishna or Ganesha (a style distinctly reminiscent of olden days, we had a Krishna statue in my grandparent’s house). They sell a large variety of flowering plants, tree saplings (includes the hybrid varieties that start bearing fruit very early), bonsai plants, creepers, seeds, gardening equipment, manure and tools and all at very, very reasonable rates. We bought quite a few mango saplings, bougainvillea plants, hibiscus, kanakambaram, jasmine, dogrose, those little pink/violet flowers that have no fragrance but look very beautiful in hanging pots or flower boxes and some gardening equipment.
I am surprised it is not crowded. I suspect it’s the timing. Who would risk the heat to walk around a garden when you can so easily go to an air-conditioned mall, park your car for a few hundred bucks, climb the elevator (malls switch off elevators these days to save power) and fight for a table at the food court and then triumphantly eat at the table while those in line silently curse you and plonk their huge shopping bags on your foot.
If you like old buildings, if you enjoy greenery, if you want to feel old Madras, go here. If you want a good bargain on your plants, go here, it’s a no-brainer.