Our Story


For forty years we have been observing how habitats and species of this mountain biome can be nurtured to health from conditions of devastation. It is clear to us that forests and grasslands and other habitats of the Western Ghats can return.

Our story is a simple one. There are two strands to it: a why and a how.

Briefly, the Sanctuary is a small community that nurtures rainforest beings.

This requires first of all: a living rainforest (living habitat). There can be no rainforest beings - plants, animals and fungi - without an actual rainforest, be it large or small. Furthermore, there can be no sweet water, rain or cloud, without primary rainforest (primary habitat).

Second, because rainforests have been so horrifically and massively destroyed, it is those very same rainforest beings that can help to heal decimated areas around standing forest, so that the whole forest can grow outwards again.

Forests need their beings. Beings need their forests. Our work, as ecosystem gardeners, forest restorers, plant protectors and educators, draws its inspiration from this conversation between living beings and their environments, and the fact that they are inseparable. Moreover, gardening, anywhere in the world where it is practiced as a conversation, works with the seemingly dual nature of life: its fragility and its resilience.

Third, there can be no human life without the forests of the planet. There can be no atmosphere or biosphere or hydrocycle or steady state climate without the great forests of this earth. Despite this incontrovertible fact, more forests have been destroyed than ever before, since the dawn of the new millennium. Soon there will be no forests if human beings continue with their destructive ways.

This is where people like us come in: gardeners. Because of what we have seen (on a very small scale), forests can return - in fact they do return. But they will do so only if certain conditions are met and only with the right kind of help. This is critical: with the right kind of help, the whole forest, and all its beings, grows outwards again.

We are gardeners who have worked for forty years in the Western Ghat mountains, protecting primary forest on a small piece of land, and restoring bit by bit, adjacent areas that had been completely devastated, to forest cover. Where there used to be one or two species of exotic crop plants, or barren hillside, there are now several hundred plant species growing in abundance. In fact there are over two thousand species growing here, an example of how a small part of the biosphere can be nurtured with a magnificent diversity of native plants.

Over time, this place has become a sanctuary for plants.

Plant sanctuaries are uncommon. In India they are rare. But they are growing in number. That there need be any is evidence of a colossal tragedy.

Most of the forests in India have been cleared. The Western Ghats have been shaved of almost all their forests, of all their natural habitats. Left behind are fragments, refugia. Soon these will be destroyed. Industrial plantations, dams, thermal power stations, resorts, expanding settlements, cell phone towers, waterparks, mines, landgrabs and housing colonies will clear the last remaining ones.

Still, 245 million humans depend on the rivers that come from these mountains. And the rivers depend on these forests. And the forests need their plants. Without plants (trees clothed in epiphytes, grasslands at high elevations) monsoon clouds will not release their moisture. Without plants, water will not sink into the land to feed the rivers and aquifers, nor will the local convectional thundershowers form.

Our work is a response to this ongoing and irreparable damage inflicted by the modern industrial culture, with its relentless and toxic methods, on the natural world. Despite people's movements and conservation actions, and the laws made, the fact is, plants are being annihilated, day by day by a slew of compounded colliding factors.

Three decades ago, we recognized that the extinction of precious mountain plants was well on its way. Three decades ago we recognized the vital connection between plants and the health of environments, between vegetation and water and the integrity of the biosphere.

What began as a desperate search-and-rescue operation of specific plants (individual plants over and above species), became simultaneously a miraculous process of regeneration: of community, habitat, spring water, myriad microclimates and abundant wildlife, in other words, complexity and diversity at different scales. The plants we rescued, welcomed in and nurtured have grown forth and multiplied. Others are coming in by themselves. Barren areas are getting clothed. The vibrant flush of evergreen rainforest rich with trees, epiphytes, shrubs, climbers, tubers and herbs is spreading out. Robust plants conspire with each other to create varied and specialized niches for the more tender plants, in time creating a marvelous web of rainforest life where once it had been completely destroyed.

All this on a very small piece of land, sixty acres in size.

The point, however, is this: rainforest beings don't come back easily, whether you have a small piece of land or large. What matters most is the quality and expanse of the nearest stretch of forest, the condition of land you are working with, what you do with it and how you do it. Rainforest beings are fussy and incredibly shy. We need to assure them of many things to make them feel secure. We need to pledge ourselves to a life of cooperation and learning. We need to listen closely to their preferences. We need to learn to respond to them. We need to live and work together with them, be part of their efforts, their strategies.

That they are here in such numbers and in such awesome diversity is living testimony of what is possible. For the human members of this community, there has been a rediscovery of our undeniable alliance with the rest of nature, an alliance that has been lost, broken and destroyed in most areas of the planet.

Now, in addition to the Sanctuary, there are other places involved in such efforts. As part of our original mission, on behalf of forests whose edges are under assault and lands that have been repeatedly trashed elsewhere, the Sanctuary is participating in a web of protection and healing across the planet. Scientists and environmentalists like to refer to this as "restoration ecology". We prefer the term "gardening". We are all gardeners in service to forests.

The reason why, at the Sanctuary, we use the term "gardening" is that it conveys a set of practices and techniques, an array of sensibilities, attunements and strategies that are very useful for assisting wild nature, and for allying with living beings to reverse the disastrous effects of depletion and destruction.

Indeed, a peculiar revolution has been happening amongst gardeners and in some gardens in different parts of the world, which turns the whole purpose of gardening 180 degrees back to the wild. The very same tools accompanied by an entirely different set of sensibilities are now indispensable to achieving something very different: a living planet.

Gardeners, who look to the wild for their metaphors, their guidance and their goals, are in fact indispensable to the global cause of ecological restoration.

To us at the Sanctuary, and to all our friends and others who share our concerns, there is no doubt that ecological holocaust is upon us. Ecosystems are collapsed or collapsing the world over. Species are dying at unprecedented rates from the global impact of industrial civilization. The effects of this devastation will be long lasting-no one knows for how long.

The death of entire species and the death of ecosystems are inextricably linked: there can be no community without its members. And the death of ecosystems goes is linked to the lethal disruption of global hydrospheric, atmospheric and biospheric processes.

While the most urgent and important task is to cease destroying natural ecosystems, it is also imperative to heal and restore trashed ecosystems. This is the important work of ecosystem gardeners.

Increasingly more and more gardeners and gardens (though not nearly enough) are recognizing the desperate need for this, and how gardening can actually be re-invented and re-deployed to turn wastelands and destroyed areas into environments rich with species, and to enhance and repair or restore broken and trashed environments in ways that bring back whole system processes as well as the many beings which are inseparable from these processes.

It's clear to us why we need to join hands with the plants.

Our existence and the existence of everyone we know depends on them.

What kind of world do we want?

A world full of flowers and forests, or a world full of machines? The two are surely incompatible at the current pace of technological escalation. Besides without flowers there can be no machines. Without living beings, without plants and animals and soil and rocks and rivers and humans, nothing is possible, including the economy.

Who will give us air and water and food? A corporation? Or the plants of the planet?

What would happen if we were to join together to make more and more and more room for them, to roll up the asphalt for them, to turn tea and sugar and tobacco plantations over to them, to halt the 45-ton tractors as they rip the Amazon to shreds? What would happen? Plants so want to work. They are at it all the time. Give them the support, and they will show you a world that is still possible, a world that is hugging us all the time, that's in the wind and the river and the plants and the animals of this planet, our home.

There is so much for all of us to do.

The plants are working ever so hard. They work harder than the mightiest governments on Earth. They give us free food and water. Think of it, we are the only ones who pay for food and water. Everyone else gets it for free. They are laughing at us as we slave our way to live, when they are continually filling the earth with life and love and water and beauty.

Whom shall we serve? Plants or machines?

The plants of the Sanctuary say, "Join us!"