Where gardens grow
Chennai-based Dr Kamala Selvaraj, a pioneer in fertility research in the South, comes to Kodaikanal every May. When I visit her home Raj Kamal, she is out in her vegetable garden. She tells me, “We grow potatoes, garlic, beetroot and beans.” The property, which she and her sisters inherited from their father, actor Gemini Ganesan, is famous for its prize-winning garden.
Kamala Selvaraj has been coming to Kodaikanal since she was three, and fondly remembers picnicking on the boat with curd rice and pulisadham in tiffin carriers. Gemini Ganesan bought the property with the house Red Lynch, from Englishman Hayward, who lived there into his 90s. Dr Selvaraj cups her hands and describes, “The marigolds were this large. My sister and I would hug each other across a delphinium. Mr Hayward had 250 rose plants, including green roses. We would count more than a 100 buds on every bush!”
Twelve years ago, when she built her home Raj Kamal on her share of plot, her passion for gardening was renewed. This year, for the 56th Horticultural Show, they won 39 prize cups for cut flowers. “It took me four years to bring the garden back to its original state. We have won for the third year in a row,” Dr Selvaraj says with delight.
Rooms with a view
C Subba Reddy, MD, Ceebros Property Development, has been coming to Kodaikanal since 1991. In 1995, he bought a plot where he built a summer home. This was demolished and rebuilt two years ago. Right on the edge facing the valley, the two-storey modernist house embraces the scenic ambience. Living, dining, sitting room and patio spaces seamlessly flow into each other. Wooden louvred windows and hardwood flooring enhance the warmth of the spaces. The ample use of glass, stone and wood aligns with the harmonious aesthetic of the Reddys. “My father and I worked closely with the architects, Meenakshi Srinivasan and Harshan Thomson,” says younger daughter Sruthi, architect and interior designer, who heads Ceebros DesignWorks. “We do not have a large garden, but we don’t miss it. This entire view is ours!”
The breathtaking panorama sweeps across the hillside; the city of Theni glimmers in the distant plains. Subba Reddy says, “Coming here in the month of May and spending time is the most relaxing thing to do. Read a book, enjoy the view and spend quality time with family and friends.”
From Hyderabad, Sakuntala and Radha Krishna moved to Canada in 1969. Driving around in Kodaikanal on vacation in 1984, Sakuntala voiced her wish aloud, “It would be nice if we could have a piece of land here.” Raja, their taxi driver, overheard this. Sakuntala says, “The very next day he brought us here and it was all settled immediately.” Their plot in Attuvampatti was then a pristine hillside with pear orchards.
Twelve years later in 1996, the Krishnas began to build their dream home. Sakuntala modestly says, “Our house is not extraordinary, but we put our heart and soul into it, so we love it.” A rocky pit at the rear of the plot was blasted for a rainwater-harvesting tank, which can hold 100,000 litres. The stone from the rock was used for outer walls.
Following the natural contours, the living room is at the ground level, the master bedroom one flight of stairs up, while the study sits on the mezzanine under a sloping Mangalore-tiled roof. Sakuntala transported carved stone pillars that she found in Karaikudi for the verandas. Since 2000, the retired couple divides their time between Kodaikanal and Toronto. The Krishnas concur, “The place seems to have adopted us. It’s a close-knit community that is a wonderful mix of local and international. You don’t have to put on airs — you can be who you are!”