THE INDIAN EDIT - NITASHA MANCHANDA
Nitasha Manchanda is a genetic scientist, a mother, a wife, a gardener and the creator and host of a podcast series entitled The Indian Edit – exploring the inspiring lives of women of the Indian diaspora – living everywhere from Boston, where Nitasha now makes her home, to Germany, Canada, and even returned to India. For Nitasha, that is building (and growing) a creative bridge back to India. Listen in!
Subtitled, conversations with innovators in design, culture and entrepreneurship, The Indian Edit launched in May of 2018.
Nitasha grew up near the Western Ghats – a mountain range running parallel to India’s west coast, which are a Unesco world heritage. Nitasha and I first connected over our love of gardening online, and when we first met in person, When I was speaking at Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum at a conference in March 2020, Natasha handed me a beautiful book entitled Hidden Kingdom Fantastical Plants of the Western Ghats. These mountains are older than the Himalayas and they are home to some of the country’s and therefore the world’s most remarkable plant lives, with Flora characteristic of the Paleotropical period.
The book’s four authors note that while this book is a tribute to the Western Ghats it is also a call to look deeper around you in cities towns villages parks gardens in jungles for the nature of plants that is often hidden in plain sight everywhere we are. The book is dedicated “To: Seeing with New Eyes”.
Some episodes of The Indian Edit are more plant rich than others, such as Nitasha’s conversation with photographer Christine Chitnis about her decade in the making book Patterns of India, a Journey through Color, Textiles, and the Vibrancy of Rajasthan featuring the photographs of her travels to the Indian continent with her husband, a second generation of the Indian diaspora, and their young children. Christine has long been taken by color and texture becoming a dedicated knitter at 10 years old, and in her adulthood she became a natural fiber dyer out of the abundance of her garden. This lens is brought to bear on her creation of the Patterns of India and how she shares it forward with readers. For Christine, the patterns of India are deeply rooted in the plants and seasons of India - based on a very specific natural history-based vocabulary of colors found within the culture: sandstone, marigold, rose, ivory, royal blue. This is the vocabulary on which the way Christine sees and appreciates the world is based, on which her plant-based textile dying is based, and to which her photographic eye is always drawn.
In Nitasha‘s conversation with Sana Javeri Kadri, founder of the Diaspora Company spice traders, Sana depicts how in 2016 when the turmeric latte trend had exploded she had a hunch that the turmeric being provided for these wildly popular drinks was not being sourced well or grown well or compensating the farmers well, which inspired her to found her company. In their conversation, Sana shares that she has been unusually drawn to the flavors and textures of a diversity of foods and her very first drawing as a very young child was that of a germinating seed because this is where she was told food began. As Natasha notes it’s no exaggeration to say that Sana has single-handedly brought the inequities in the global supply spice chain to the attention of leading US chefs food magazine editors, and consumers. The episode is entitled Decolonizing the Spice Trade.
Nitasha‘s podcast, The Indian Edit, does not focus on plant life, and yet her love of gardening and plant life in all of its expressions and human relations is very much enfolded in the conversations she hosts as a result of of how she sees the world. While the podcast is not plant focused, as a gardener herself - from a family of scientists (including a beloved botanist aunt) and gardeners - Nitasha‘s perspective as host of the The Indian Edit is a beautiful illustration of how we all - from spice company founders, to sari designers, to photographers - take the vocabulary of our landscapes and plants of origin into the rest of our lives with us, no matter where we go.
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JOIN US again next week, when we’re celebrating the 200th birthday of Frederick Law Olmstead and his long legacy on the public greenspaces of the United States in conversation with Dede Petri, executive Director of the National Association of Olmsted Parks and John Rowden, director of the Audubon Society’s Plants for Birds program. The two are both working on the Olmsted200 celebrations going on around the US this year and around Olmsted’s 200th birthday itself – April 26th. Listen in!
Cultivating Place is made possible in part by listeners like you and by generous support from the California Native Plant Society, on a mission to save California’s native plants and places using both head and heart. CNPS brings together science, education, conservation, and gardening to power the native plant movement. California is a biodiversity hotspot and CNPS is working to save the plants that make it so.
For more information on their programs and membership, please visit https://www.cnps.org/
For more information on SAGING THE WORLD: cnps.org/conservation/white-sage
Thinking out loud this week:
Just one year ago in March of 2021 the U.S. Senate passed Senate Resolution 109, declaring April 2021 as "National Native Plant Month." Native plants are adapted to local conditions and occur naturally in a particular place without human intervention.
Here in California, the third week of April has been designated as Native plant week for the last 12 years -
The California Floristic Province is a world biodiversity hotspot as defined by Conservation International, due to an unusually high concentration of endemic plants: approximately 8,000 plant species in the geographic region, and over 3,400 taxa limited to the CFP proper, as well as having lost over 70% of its primary vegetation. A biodiversity hotspot contains irreplaceable areas to the plants and animals that live there. Among these unique regions, almost every one of them is subject to their exclusive species being at greater risk from the impact of humans. The greatest threat to this area is wilderness destruction caused by large commercial farming industries and the heavy expansion of urban areas. Conservation International proposed a strategy in 1998, to focus more specifically on areas of the California Floristic Province that contained the most human impact in order to lower the threat to the region. The issues that are causing the most threats to this province include but are not limited to population pressures, loss of habitat, unsustainable resource use, and introduced non-native species.
Did you get that about California? 70% of its primary vegetation has been destroyed by conversion of one kind or another…
We can grow so much better than that – we know it and I know we are in fact growing in that direction – guests on cultivating place bring this home to us every single week.
One of the aspects of Nitasha’s garden story that I love, beyond the recognition that our garden pasts and garden cultures travel with us, is that it’s a lovely example of how and why plants come to live in our gardens, or in our homes.
In this exact moment in time we’re of course hearing so much about how and why it is important to plant natives to our own regions in our gardens. And honestly this has never been more important environmentally. But in this exact global moment in terms of social, economic and public health - it is also immensely helpful if our gardens can offer us emotional and psychological respite, offer us economic boosts in the way of access to healthy food, and offer us cultural pride and sense of self.
I’m a big fan of Doug Tallamy and Homegrown National Park’s ideal proportions concept in which our gardens are 60 – 75 % ecologically functional native plants - offering
environmental refuge and respite for plants, for wildlife, allowing for appropriate and very modest water use and no chemical use at all if possible. This formula then allows for 25 – 40% of your gardened time, space, and budget to toward beloved fruits and vegs, to culturally or personally significant ornamentals of great seasonal beauty and structure – like the many plants of Indian origin in Nitasha’s garden and kitchen. I think of this like dessert – right, it’s a fabulous end to your best healthy meals, while dessert is not unhealthy itself, it is significantly smaller than the main meal. And fully enjoyed as such.
I also like the approach of many of the Western gardeners in my book with Caitlin Atkinson Under Western Skies, wherein gardeners who had relocated to the west still gardened with some of their favorite plants from previous gardens and lives, but they also took the time to find really good native alternatives to their old standbys. I recall Virginia Cave from Phoenix, AZ saying that while she could no longer grow birch trees, which she had loved in her New York and Vermont gardens, she could grow palo blanco trees, which had the same lovely white-barked effect in the garden. She could no longer reasonably grow hydrangeas without an irresponsible use of both water and fertilizer, but she could grow gorgeous cuphea.
If you are looking for more information on fabulous native plants – as good ecological, edible or ornamental replacements for your water, fertilizer, and maintenance greedy non-natives – check out recommended lists from groups such as The California Native Plant Society, from the Xerces Society, based in Portland, from Denver Botanic Garden, from Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, from the several Ohio Native Plant Societies or the Midwest Native Plant Society, which hosts an annual conference, from the HomegrownNationalPark website or from the Native Plant Trust based in Massachusetts, from Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center in Texas, or the Florida Native Plant Society.
I have links to all of these in this week’s show notes under the podcast tab at cultivatingplace.com If you can’t find a source for such good lists or plants where you garden – send me a note Cultivatingplace@gmail.com and I will be happy to steer you in the right direction.
Remember when I asked you all to send me in your native plant loving gardens and place stories or shout outs? Well, I am asking again and am beginning to share some of what has come in already:
Emily of the Marram Collaborative is out there growing her landscape and students with native plant love and knowledge, so too is Joan Brandwein tender of what she calls the Comohabitat a .16 acre urban residential lot in Saint Paul, Minnesota to which she has added more than 60 species of Minnesota Native plants in the last 10 years.
What about you? Where are you and what native plants are you growing in? Send me a note by email Cultivatingplace@gmail.com or leave me a comment on Instagram @cultivating_Place and I will include you and your native plant loving place in next week’s earth day Round Up of Native Plant Garden Love!
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