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Wonder forest Miyawaki at Kotturpuram

Geeta Padmanaban

A message was posted in a WhatsApp group meant for airing public grievances. “The Miyawaki forest next to Kotturpuram MRTS railway station is coming out so well,” wrote Meera Ravikumar, a local resident. “I too noticed it,” added Dr. Babu, co-founder, Nizhal, an organisation that promotes/protects trees. “It has been cared for well with a full-time watchman and a regular watering.” Not long ago, this place was filled with construction rubble and tough garbage. Greenery was a distant dream.

I spoke to Dr.Alby John Varghese, IAS, RDC- South, GCC, the man behind the ‘miracle’. “This Miyawaki experiment has already been carried out in Thoothukudi where I was working before. Its success in replacing garbage with plants spurred us on to try it in Kotturpuram,” he said. Yes, this method of greening urban areas is cost-intensive, and demands a lot of effort, he agreed, “But ultimately this will be a self-sustaining urban ecosystem comprising trees, shrubs, herbs, creepers – short, medium and tall plants that form a canopy.”

What is the Miyawaki method? “It makes for a dense forest in small areas,” said a tree expert. You can plant 2000 trees of all kinds in half-an-acre, side-by-side, helping water conservation. Plants have different growth rates, and bloom in different seasons. So, when they are put together, the forest has flowers and fruits in all seasons and invites birds and insects throughout the year.

The in-house gardener Pencilayya beamed with pride as he showed me around the half-acre lushness. He isn’t sure why the plants are clustered with very little space between but is mega pleased with the result. “We dug three-and-a-half-feet of rubble and filled the area with topsoil. What you see here is the solid waste from Perungudi, red earth, and silt from storm-water drains. Then employees from the IT park and students planted the saplings,” he said. He explained how large trees stand within two-and-a-half feet of one another, how panchalam, punnai, neem, nellikkai, ashoka, poovarasu, maramalli, teak, pungai, eluppai, puli and sappotta share space with sevvazhai, hibiscus, arali, adathodai and assorted herbs. Medicinal plants like thoothuvalai and vettiver are thriving because they grow well in shade, he said. Ah, the forest is composite and inclusive.

“Forest areas are shrinking”, said S. Ramachandran of Easy Forest, consultant to this project, “These mixed forests can be grown in small areas in cities. They attract birds of all varieties, clean up ambient air, and improve humidity. The flowering plants attract bees, trees provide fruits and places for nesting, sticks for nests.” He has heard of the criticism that trees in the Miyawaki method aren’t allowed to grow to their potential. “That happens in any dense forest,” he said. “Trees 15, 10, 5 feet tall, and the shrubs and plants around unite to stay safer in a storm. They learn to coexist. The Kotturpuram park shows how a 20000-foot area of rubble can be transformed quickly and efficiently into a spot of green.”

Nizhal has other concerns as well. Is that the right spot? Will the growth obstruct visibility in the turning? Being close to habitation, will it attract trash? Will the trees withstand strong winds? When it was being developed, some others had asked for recreational space, a waiting area for passengers.

“I am not an expert to comment on the pros and cons of the Miyawaki method,” said Meera, “But changing the rubble-filled urban OSR spaces into green ones is more than welcome.” She adds a note of caution, “Introducing this method shouldn’t be an excuse to damage the natural vegetation in the city in the name of ‘developmental’ activities.”

Sun, species, or space – everyone agrees that the forest has seen astonishing growth. “Such care is appreciable and should be given to all green spaces,” said Dr. Babu. It is an experiment, he conceded and is willing to wait to see if it meets the purposes for which it was created.

Contact S. Ramachandran, Easy Forest at 87543 03296, 80567 14520; E-mail: easyforestoffice@gmail.com

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