My grandfather loved to garden, and although I do not have any pictures of him, whenever I think of him, I picture him bent over and tending to his beloved gladioli, bougainvillea, and roses. While my just-divorced father was trying to figure out how to raise my brother and I, since my mother had run off to England with a new husband, we had the good fortune to be deposited in the care of my grandparents. Home, for the next three years, was a spacious bungalow surrounded woods of banyan trees on one side, and an enormous verandah facing deep flower beds on the other.
Bangalore, where they lived, was known as the “garden capital of India” in those days, and my grandfather was devoted to creating a garden worthy of those standards. Although he had several gardeners to instruct about where to dig and how to plant, Nana reserved the important jobs of pruning and thinning for himself. Also, he was the only one allowed to decide which blossoms could be cut, and where to place those flowers indoors. Nana never seemed to find a vase when he came into the house with flowers from his garden, so he made do with whatever was on hand: a brass pot to show off lotus blooms, a copper kettle to arrange bougainvillea, an empty bottle of oil for his tall gladioli. This habit drove my grandmother mad, but I loved the way he always seemed to match the most improbable kitchen vessel in which to best display his flowers. It was a lesson I’ve lived out in every home I’ve had.
I was too young for my grandfather to impart any gardening knowledge, but not so young as to not notice the way he loved shaping a space into one of visual delight. He didn’t mind having me tag along on his garden chores; quite frankly, I think he was so lost in his craft that he forgot that I was present at all. And that was what I enjoyed the most: seeing how it was possible to lose oneself in the act of tending to a garden, in the act of doing something one loved.
I did not inherit my grandfather’s green thumb, and I’ve known more failures than successes in tending to my own gardens. But, I did inherit his need to create with all that grows, to look at space and imagine what could grow. And I think of him as I garden in a climate so different from his in sultry Bangalore. He would be pleased, I think, to know that his silent little gardening shadow grew up to plant and cherish gardens of her own.