Once you are hooked on to nature, you can’t get enough of it, says Nandini Rane, 59, a textile designer who is in the midst of a six-month course on nursery and garden maintenance at University of Mumbai.
Rane began with a four-weekend tree appreciation course at the university in 2004, then another in 2009. “The more I learned, the more I found myself wanting to learn more,” she says.
Rane is among a growing number of Mumbaiites turning to short-term courses to learn about Mumbai’s disappearing green cover and to better protect and nurture their own plants.
In fact, to meet growing demand, the university’s Department of Extra-Mural Studies, which conducts three courses — nursery and garden maintenance, landscape design and taxonomy — is planning a fourth, a course in rooftop gardening.
The university’s are not the only courses seeing increased interest.
The Bombay Natural History Society’s year-long botany course is finding more takers too.
Among those signing up are Mumbaiites who also own land in their native villages or are keen to invest in rural plots. Ramesh Ghangale, a dental hygienist, used the lessons he learned at the university’s gardening course to improve his garden at home and to improve yield in his family’s grape orchards near Nashik.
“I learnt to inspect soil and pick the right fertilisers. Apart from growing vegetables and herbal plants at home in Thane, I have also made changes in our grape orchards,” he says.
Handicrafts entrepreneur Neeta Gandhi, 42, also signed up, looking to learn about how to best use land. “We were considering buying a plot in coastal Maharashtra. After my gardening course, I am now doing the landscaping course so I can manage the plot myself,” she says.
The fact that these courses are open to everyone helps draw students too, says Mugdha Karnik, director of the extramural studies department.
“Anyone who is interested can join, so we have students aged 17 to 60,” says Karnik. “They are from different walks of life, but are all passionate about plants and bring a wonderful range of opinions and experiences to the class.”
Many of these green students now have exotic plants and homegrown vegetables and are more invested in conservation and green efforts, says Karnik.