Plenty of room to bloom

Times of India online, August 15

As one enters the garden through the living room which is minimal to the point of being stark, one is hit instantaneously by the verdant visual feast outside.

Uncontrived would be the appropriate word to describe Ma Neelam’s garden where the natural elements – sun, breeze and water – flow without restraint. The home’s minimalist serenity is reflected in the garden which projects a Zen-like calm and has blooms like balsam, hibiscus, geranium, begonias, bougainvillaea, all in white and red, which reflect the architecture’s sparse colour palette.

Water and plants of varying textures create undulating patterns and provide a visual feat. “The moment I saw this house, I could visualise the garden, the marble sit-out, the mounds and masses of plants, the gazebo and the waterfall,” reveals Ma Neelam. And while instinct may have played an important role in the design of the garden, her many years of living in the Osho Ashram are also reflected in it and one is reminded of the landscaped Nalla Park.

Water, especially, plays an important role. “Osho always loved waterfalls and ponds. Besides, the meditative quality of the sound of flowing water reminds one of life constantly moving and eternally fleeting,” says the Ma introspectively. Her favourite place in the house is the comfortable couch in the living room from where she can get a direct view of the garden once the sliding doors are opened.

The waterfall is surrounded by tall bamboo palms, pampas grass and ferns. The rocks used in the waterfall are also of different shapes and sizes and the water meanders its way through the little vents and openings. The background is provided by morning glory and bougainvillaea.

The showstealer in the garden is the gazebo which Ma Neelam refers to as the ‘Smoking temple’. “No-one is allowed to smoke in the house, so we direct them to the gazebo,” says Ma Neelam. Made of teak wood, the gazebo has a plastic and chattai roof which is covered with morning glory. “The violet flowers impart a very soothing effect on the garden,” explains Ma Neelam. The gazebo is also a place where she meditates and gets in sync with her self.

Japanese influences in the asymmetrical garden are many. There is also a crazy path. Ma Neelam hasn’t endeavoured to discipline nature into tight hedges and weed-free patterns of obedient colour-coded flowers. Instead she has allowed nature to follow its own rules, because she has learnt to feel the nuances of each plant. There is an easy camaraderie in her verdant haven where monsteras, ribbon grass and ferns form the ground cover.

Some unusual elements in the garden are earthen pots with fresh flowers in them, little terracotta elements, healing crystals and hanging copper urns from which water trickles into a terracotta pot. Hanging diya battis create a mellow golden effect as does the solitary light in the pond.

Sunset is the most magical time in Ma Neelam’s garden. Metal and glass lanterns send rays of light which illuminate all 1,350 square feet. At 6.30 pm when the whole house is silent, Ma Neelam dances, meditates and rejoices in the garden. “It’s my way of thanking God for yet another beautiful day,” she says.

Ma Neelam’s garden may not have too much colour but it’s the ideal place for meditation.

“Every room in my house looks out into the garden. And as the early morning sunlight steams into my room through the big bay windows, it fills me with joy and tranquillity,” she says. “Amid the chanting of prayers, my daughter Deva Priya and I begin the day. Fellow travellers, we go forward on our quest.”

Indeed, Ma Neelam’s garden – narrow, broad, rocky or watery – epitomises life itself. “Life is not like a British garden, symmetrical and straightlined. It has its ups and downs, you know,” she concludes.

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