The annual flower show is sorely missed
The annual flower show is sorely missed (Photo: Mythily Kannan)

Kodaikanal’s Annual Flower Show: A No-Show Again

The annual event, held in Bryant Park, is one of the major attractions of the Kodai Summer Festival. The show starts by the third week of May and culminates in prize distributions—from best gardens and lawns, to flower arrangements and vegetables. The flower show alone attracts more than 1 lakh tourists each year. With Kodaikanal in lockdown mode again, the Flower Show is cancelled this year—for the second year in succession.

In 2019, Kodaikanal witnessed its first dip in tourists after the Kodaikanal Municipal authorities sealed a number of commercial buildings, cottages and hotels, leading to a shortage of rooms which  in turn drove the prices up several fold. In previous years, the town witnessed a steady rise in tourism; 65 lakh tourists visited Kodaikanal in 2016, 68 lakh in 2017 (3 lakh tourists to Bryant Park in April–May) and 75 lakh in 2018. In fact, in April–May alone of 2013, the revenue collected by Bryant Park crossed a crore for the first time in five decades of its operation.

Come mid-May each year, the gardeners of Kodaikanal are in a state of nervous excitement. For months now, they have been preparing for the Flower Show. With careful planning, the gardens will be ready―not just for the show, but also for owners of the many holiday homes, who visit each summer.

There is  a riot of colors―the brilliant jewel tones of dahlias, zinnias, marigolds, and poppies, and the pastel hues of hollyhocks, delphiniums, larkspur, sweet peas and cosmos, bordered with shrubs of alyssum, dianthus and verbena. Most gardens have displays with pots of petunia, pansies, impatiens and phlox and a few have exotic plants like orchids, peonies and African violets that were nurtured in greenhouses. Hill vegetables like broccoli, zucchini, purple cabbage and brussel sprouts are grown for the season along with staples like carrots, beets and cauliflowers. The star of most large gardens is the formal rose garden with a medley of rose bushes in different hues. And there was always something new from the gardening world each year―a brilliant display of stately alliums or tulips, the rare plants and bulbs procured from nurseries abroad.  

Though many gardens predictably win year after year, sometimes surprise entries win. ‘Best Lawn’ or ‘Best Large Garden’ might go to a new contender, and the previous year’s winner will strive harder.

As with any event, there are rumours of foul play―whispers that the unusual blooms for the ‘cut flower’ category were bought from a florist in Bangalore, and of the humongous prize-winning zucchini reportedly plumped up with a mysterious ingredient. Someone was always trying to poach a gardener and there were always gardeners on the prowl for seeds and cuttings of a new exotic plant. There were also bloopers―one year, the ancient copper birch tree in Red Lynch, the actor Gemini Ganesan’s house, won the ‘Rare Specimen’ prize, which was announced as ‘First prize for the ‘COPPER BITCH’.

Yet there were also exchanges of tips and tricks, and the camaraderie of garden enthusiasts. Visitors admired the range of flowers and vegetables grown in the gardens and farms of Kodaikanal. Bryant Park displayed their tiered beds of colourful annuals, sloping lawns and glasshouses filled with an assortment of plants.

Flowers displayed at the Annual Flower Show (Photo: Mythily Kannan)

Y Paulraj―one of Kodaikanal’s prominent gardeners says, ‘This year too, we have been working as before―following the same routine. Vegetable and flower seeds were sown, transplanted, and the flowers are all blooming on time, though a bit damaged by the heavy rain this month. We thought everything would be normal this year.’ Paulraj, who has set up some of Kodaikanal’s most iconic prize-winning gardens, is disappointed. For this is a time of validation, when gardeners like him are rewarded, not just with certificates and cups for his gardens, but also the recognition of his peers and employers.

This year would have been a special year―the 60th Annual Flower Show, and an occasion for celebration. But in a broader perspective, even as life comes to a standstill here and around the country, the many creations of the natural world continue to flourish. For nature stays on track, and all over Kodaikanal and the surrounding hills, the brilliant floral show is still on.

Lathika George

Lathika George is a writer, landscape designer and organic gardener. She is the author of Mother Earth, Sister Seed and The Suriani Kitchen, and has written for Mint Lounge, Conde Nast Traveller, Architectural Digest and Food 52. She had gardening columns in the Business Standard and The Hindu. She lives in Pachamarathodai.

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