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(ARCHIVE) VOL. XXII NO. 19, January 16-31, 2013
Senior citizens develop an arboretum
By S. Viswanathan

Until two years ago Yerrangadu, 100 km south of Chennai, near the east coast, was a little-known village. This stretch of barren land with little vegetation is now the home of an arboretum.

It is a good example of conservation of biodiversity and of rearing hundreds of species of plants and trees little known in the area.

In the US, an arboretum housing hundreds of trees and plants is a familiar picnic spot in many cities and many have evolved as focal areas for nature education and research.

I had the privilege of watching the evolution of this arboretum over the last three years. The Cambridge-educated senior advocate C. Ramakrishna, who has been transforming the villages around Illeedu and Vennangupet into lush orchards, had a small arboretum of a few dozen exotic trees in Illeedu. He was deeply impressed by the much larger number of such exotic trees grown by another illustrious son of that area, the centenarian Muthumalla Reddy. The exotic trees included decades-old mahogany, redwood, etc.

Ramakrishna, deeply involved in the social amelioration of the area, was keen to develop a unique farm with exotic trees and to leave this for posterity. He had earlier donated land for the National Agro Foundation's training centre.

K.P. Geethakrishnan, former Finance Secretary and former Executive Director, IMF, who has been closely associated with the Salim Ali Foundation, joined hands with CR to work on this dream project. He involved Dr. V.S. Vijayan of the Foundation and his wife Lalitha in planning the arboretum. His four-decade-old service as a civil servant was a big help in involving senior officials of the Tamil Nadu Government, including C.K. Sridharan, then Chief Conservator of Forests.

CR set apart 14 acres of land in Yerrangadu for the arboretum and also committed the required resources for developing it. Vijayan and his team, assisted by experts from the Forest Department led by Jain Allauddin, and K.S. Devadoss and KPG, worked to a detailed plan, beginning with mapping the region and selecting the species, planting and watering. CR spent liberally on constructing three large wells to ensure a copious supply of water. The soil was analysed, corrected for deficiencies, enriched with needed nutrients and linked by a network of drip irrigation pipes.

Tree saplings were identified and collected from nurseries in Sikkim, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Coimbatore, Pondicherry, Thrissur, Tiruvananthapuram, and other places. The trees were planted in rows to plans made by KPG. Smaller trees were planted in the front, medium-size trees behind them and the largest trees at the extreme back, to ensure visibility.

I remember the trials and tribulations all of them went through. Saplings transported over long distances suffered damage. A few also died, unable to cope with the pit conditions. These were replaced in quick time. Today, the arboretum has 320 species. KPG also looked out for star trees, i.e. trees for each one of the 29 birth stars (e.g. Ashwini, Bharani, and so on). Today, the arboretum has 854 plants.

CR has also planted in adjoining plots hundreds of fruit trees.

V.S. Vijayan describes Yerrangadu as the first private arboretum. Senior civil servant B. Vijayaraghavan expresses the hope that this will mark the beginning of public-private participation in more such arboretums.

CR mentions creation of a separate trust for managing the arboretum under the chairmanship of Vanita Ramani and setting apart around Rs.12 lakh annually for the maintenance.

To think that septuagenarians and octogenarians could spend so much effort, resources and energy on creating a project for the education and enjoyment of posterity! – (Courtesy: Industrial Economist).

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In this Issue

More money for tourism
A tinder box waiting to explode
Senior citizens develop an arboretum
Discovering Trichy's Madras connections
Desecrating a memorial to courage
The man behind City's National Art Gallery
The tales of 3 newsmakers
An early scam in Madras

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan
Dates for your Diary


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