The popularizing of Forest Garden-style terrace gardens in Tamil Nadu

The popularizing of Forest Garden-style terrace gardens in Tamil Nadu – an account shared by Mala with other NFGS members in Oct 2021

Mala generously shared her observations of how forest gardens were trending in India. She explained how her father had bought agricultural land some years ago, but found he didn’t have time enough to manage the land as well as his business in the city. So, he’d asked his neighbours for advice about the best trees and plants to grow on that land, with it’s red soils –  plants that would grow well, but not require regular maintenance other than watering. From this advice, he decided to grow teek trees, which make good building material. He sold the land after 15 years.  

Over this time, Mala noticed that growing edible gardens on terraces and balconies was becoming popular. That’s how it started. People living in, or close to cities, who were becoming concerned about the health hazards of consuming food grown with pesticides. They wanted healthy, pesticide-free food, so they started growing their own. They grew a variety of vegetables and seasonal fruits, as well as trees. These terrace food gardens began to look like forests gardens. Some people then also bought land outside the cities to grow food on.  

The message about ‘pesticide-free food’ was spread by newspapers who gave awards to people who grew rare/ unusual plants. Celebrities spread the message. Mala has seen messages about ‘pesticide-free food’ flash up on TV, in adverts, movies, and news bulletins. In these ways, people were hearing about the health disorders associated with pesticides. As well as the health benefits, people were also encouraged by the fact that growing their own could save money.  

So, why don’t we see the same message  – ‘eat pesticide-free food’ – spreading in the same way in the UK? Perhaps because pesticide use is more carefully regulated in the UK, so people are less alarmed by health issues. What message(s) could popularize forest garden-style food growing in the UK? Maybe something about the critical importance of soil health – of farming practices that look after our soils, rather than deplete them. NFGS has a keen following, but these are probably people who were already interested – the ‘low hanging fruit’! How can we reach the other 90%?  

These were just a few questions that arose from listening to Mala’s account of the popularizing of forest gardens in Tamil Nadu (southern India). We’re keen to hear more accounts of the development of forest gardens, and to see what we can learn from these accounts and how this learning can influence our NFGS strategy going forward.