IN BLOOM: A mock-up of the Indian garden


by LAUREN CODLING

AN INDIAN flower garden will make its debut at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show to mark the 70th anniversary of the British Council in India.

An array of Indian plants, such as a Himalayan blue poppy, the blue orchid and the
sacred lotus will feature in the garden. It is inspired by aspects of the subcontinent
such as cricket, and will feature hundreds of lanterns painted by children from the Jai
Vakeel School for Children in Need of Special Care in Mumbai.

Children from the Jai Vakeel school painting lanterns

Dr Swati Piramal, the vice-chairman of the Piramal Group, a leading pharmaceutical company that is in partnership with the British Council to commission the garden, met Eastern Eye at her home in Mayfair last week to discuss the initial ideas behind the
garden’s concept.

“The children painted their dreams onto the lanterns and even though they are disadvantaged or disabled, they painted themselves as lawyers or sportsmen or doctors,”
Dr Piramal explained. “Everyone has dreams and that is the theme of the garden; A Billion Dreams.”

The scientist, who hails from Mumbai, is working with award-winning designer Sarah Eberle to help exhibit the garden at the prestigious show in London in May (22-26).

Designer Sarah Eberle in Jaipur, India

Eberle travelled to India last month for the first time to see more of the country and
find inspiration for the design.

“My trip to India was quite fast and furious, but I guess I was most inspired by the work of the Pietra Dura artisans working in Jaipur,” Eberle told Eastern Eye. “The detail and beauty of the work they produce in the workshop is awe inspiring.

“As expected, I was inspired by the energy and colours of India.”

Dr Piramal has a passion for flower shows and has organised her own Mumbai-based show, the Revanta Royal Festival, for the past five years.

“What is interesting is how children react – they are completely engrossed in the flowers,”
she said. “I was quite shocked when so many people came to my own flower show as there is so much other entertainment out there, but the fact is, the mothers felt their children should learn about life, growing and getting close to the ground and learning about gardening.”

A leading figure in pharmaceuticals and healthcare, Dr Piramal cites her own interest in flowers as a scientific one.

“I looked at it from the scientific side – which medicines come from plants. It is called science of phytochemicals,” she explained.

“Running a pharmaceutical company, we try to discover medicine and drugs from plants, microbes, fungi, all kinds of things. I really have a scientific interest in botany, so it came from the other side, not from beauty or aesthetics or landscapes.”

Dr Swati Piramal

A leading theme within the Chelsea Flower Show Indian garden is cricket, which is revered like a religion among its fans in the country. The Himalayan blue poppy is especially important as it matches the colours of the Indian national cricket team.

The garden is partly inspired by the 2017 documentary film Sachin: A Billion Dreams about the life of the legendary cricket star Sachin Tendulkar.

“His journey is a metaphor for the hopes and dreams of every young Indian to wear the India blue jersey,” Eberle explained.

“The garden seeks to celebrate that aspiration. It expresses the energy and tradition and history of India, the dreams of its people while recognising the impact and importance of the UK influence on modern Indian life and culture.

“The garden works on many levels and hopefully the more you look, the more you
see,” she said.

On the importance of links to India, Eberle said she felt it was important to ensure elements within the garden truly represented the craft skills found there.

“Otherwise it becomes a western interpretation not a genuine article,” she said.

“The garden is a genuine UK-India project with craftsmen involved from both countries as is reflected in the work of the British Council India.”

Dr Piramal hopes those who come to view the garden can feel the links between the two nations.

“I want people to see and feel the cultural and historical links between the UK and India,” she said. “It’s a unique garden, a first of its kind.

“The blue poppy is a show stopper – to get that into a garden is not easy, but a challenge is not something that comes easily. You have to reach for the stars to show that.”