Thottakaaran Vignesh promotes urban gardening in Chennai

Thottakaaran’s terrace gardening project.

Chennai: It always puzzled 22-year-old Vignesh Mani why people were ready to uproot trees but not plant them. Every time he saw agricultural lands being converted into real estate plots and buildings coming up there in no time, he felt saddened.

Though a BCA grad, he was not interested in pursuing a career in an MNC but wanted to opt for something else, or rather what his heart called out for. His four years of experience as a volunteer in several NGOs pushed him to do something good for society. That is when the concept of gardening came up and he founded Thottakaaran.

Sharing one of the incidents that made him offer environmental services, Vignesh says, “Tree plantation does not have the same reach as a traffic awareness campaign or painting activity would do. We cannot find space in the city to plant saplings as the city, by itself, is overcrowded with buildings. Whenever we set out to identify places, it would either be in Tambaram or Tiruvallur. As both the neighbourhoods are located on the city’s borders, not many volunteers turn up. To feed interest and grow plants in their home in whatever limited space we have, I started promoting gardening.”

“It was daunting when I realised that people are no longer interested either in planting trees or having gardens. To begin with, growing a tree might be an arduous task but not gardening. Though it is not a trend, I wanted to introduce people to agriculture or growing whatever they need, I’d say in a gradual way,” adds the Nerkundram youth.

This one-and-a-half-month-old venture has already got some good response. “I started out with ‘plant gifts’ that attract folks of this generation. People can gift their friends succulents that can be comfortably accommodated on their office desk. It does not require any extra care, which is why it has found acceptance.”

Vignesh Mani

As part of Thottakaaran, Vignesh does vertical gardening, terrace gardening, farm set-ups, tree plantation and maintenance.

Explaining what interests people, he adds, “Vertical gardening does not require a large space and attracts quite a lot of people. It can be comfortably set up even in a small space with or without sunlight. Different plants can be grown depending on the amount of sunlight the place receives.”

In addition, he attends horticulture classes that help him get strong technically and seeks suggestions from experts in the field.

He reaches out to school and college students to teach the importance of coexisting with Nature and not to destroy the environment and lead a self-serving life.

“Tree plantation in educational institutions and taking terrace gardening to them is what I want to do. They must know where the tomatoes and spinach they eat come from; start growing them by themselves; be self-sufficient and do their bit to save the environment,” he says.

Bhavani Prabhakar