Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Marari Beach : organic gardens by the sea

You know when you step onto a hot-pink petal strewn, leafy canopied path that you're in for a truly special time. The lush green grounds of the very eco-friendly Marari Beach resort do not disappoint!

I find myself delightedly following the greenery-soaked paths, pausing every so often to wonder at an unexpected lotus-pond here, fern-swathed trees there, butterflies and dragonflies everywhere!

A feeling that this place might just be THE one washes over me.
You know what I mean ... the one that you find yourself drawn to returning to time after time. Where the blend of fragrances from blooms all around merge with soft bird-calls and a hushed shushurr of waves and riffling palm leaves in the background.
I feel a contented sigh of peace rising up from my toes, reverberating through my whole body and escaping in a huge, happy smile. 'Hypnotic' doesn't even begin to cover it!

And then I hear about the resort's organic kitchen garden which grows not just veggies and fruits but even rice for their restaurant.
Paddy farming in a beach resort?! Any guesses just how fast I made my way there?

Meandering through a sunlit coconut grove en route, I'm so tempted to first take a quick dip in the clear blue waters of the Arabian Sea that I can see (and hear) just a few steps away. But I know full well that the 'quick dip' will invariably turn into a day-long one.
I have gardens to see!

The Urban Gardener | stone trough with hibiscus

A sun-kissed stone trough with bright red hibiscus floating languidly in it sets the tone for an exciting, yet so contradictorily, calming space. 

This is what I'd give an arm and both legs to see. I love the lush, luxuriant velvetty green of young paddy fields. Set it inside a beach resort and it's guaranteed love at first sight.
I'm told that Marari Beach has been experimenting with growing various varieties of rice. 'Pokkali rice' which is tolerant of saline conditions and is perfectly suited to coastal conditions, has been grown very successfully here.
Now they are growing 'Uma' (not in the picture), a variety that does not require to be cultivated in the usual water-flooded fields but grows very well on dry land. A definite advantage in times of water scarcity!

I love this little thatch-roofed space overlooking the paddy field and vegetable garden. What a great place to sit and day-dream while contemplating everything green and bountiful! I'm seriously considering having one in my own vegetable garden. 

In the meantime, the meditation shack (as I have named it) at Marari Beach and its surrounding vegetable garden is my happy space. And the perfect spot to pick up so many pointers.

The Urban Gardener | tapioca at Marari Beach

Raised beds of tapioca (cassava) cuttings just planted and waiting for the roots and leaves to kick in.
Tapioca is one of the favourite staples of coastal cuisine, especially in Kerala where it is paired with spicy fish or meat curries. 
It takes its time to be ready for harvest .... about 9 - 10 months ... and yes, the yield per plant is definitely worth the wait. Till then, the sight of the very decorative foliage makes it as pretty as any ornamental garden plant.

Now, take a look at some of the other crops that I found growing there. (Some of the photos suffer from too much mid-day sun hitting the lens. Please excuse that.)

The Urban Gardener | Beans at Marari Beach vegetable garden

The Urban Gardener | vegetable garden at Marari Beach

Managing garden beds becomes much more practical when lining the edges with coconut husk. Locally available in abundance, coconut husk not only keeps the soil in place but it also conserves moisture by slowing down evaporation. 
Then of course, there is the added advantage of the husk composting and adding to the biomass which is so lacking in sandy soils. 

Sandy coastal soil is not the most fertile or conducive for bountiful gardens. One very earth-friendly solution is to layer beds with fallen coconut leaves and other garden waste.
Composting leaves add to the fertility of the soil, while at the same time, manages the garden-waste disposal. Always a good idea for any garden in other places too.

Alleys and walkways become so much more interesting when festooned with ripening passionfruit.

A quick glimpse of the Butterfly Garden is like a colour-burst!
There are purple Gomphrenas, blood-red Ixoras, golden Cosmos and Marigolds, Pentas and ... oh! so many more.
This is a garden with a difference. All the plants grown here are those preferred by butterflies either as nectar plants or as host plants for their larvae (caterpillars).
Of course, it helps that most of them are loved by garden-happy folk too .

The mid-day sun was not very kind (understatement!) on my camera lens. I forgot to use the filters to mellow the glare. I had it in my camera bag but I was so carried away by the flowers and butterflies that I forgot to take it out... typical! 

Blue Porterweed aka Verbena Azul (Stachytarpheta cayennensis) will always bring in the butterflies by the hordes. And they are such a brilliant blue, aren't they?

Butterfly garden plant | The Urban Gardener

Dutchman's Pipe (Aristolchia indica) is the larval food of the Southern Birdwing, the largest butterfly that we have in India.
Other butterflies love this creeper too, including the Crimson Rose and Common Rose. The toxic properties of the plant help the caterpillars that eat it to ward off predators.
(Excuse the noon-day glare in this photo, please.)

A pool of water is an irresistible invitation to courting damselfly couples (dragonflies love it too). Especially when it is in the midst of dense foliage and relatively undisturbed by people. 
A floating frond of fern just adds to the romantic, slightly surreal mood, I think. 

The value of nectar plants in the garden is indescribable until you actually see the butterflies flock to them. I just had to share this photo  of Blue Tigers from Marari Beach's archives (with permission, of course!).

I know I haven't spoken about the Marari Beach resort's gorgeous garden-enveloped pool villas with their own private walled gardens and pools or their signature open-to-the-sky private garden-bathrooms which have now been copycat-ed by innumerable hotels up and down and across the country.
Or about the whole clutch of awards and accolades that CGH Earth has earned for tourism and environment conservation ( Marari Beach is just one of its several exquisite destination resorts).
Or about the many earth-friendly, sustainable practices that they've adopted and which are worth following, even if on a smaller scale. 
Or about the fabulous food. (It stands to reason, right? Freshest of ingredients, picked just minutes before cooking, is half the flavour won!)
Or about the wonderfully helpful staff who went out of their way to show me around the vegetable garden and to identify the plants and butterflies in the Butterfly Garden.
Or even about the gloriously beautiful location on one of India's most beautiful beaches with a wide swathe of golden sand and clear blue sea.
Or about .... oh, so much more!

The simple fact is that a gardener blogger's priorities are different. Show me a hot-pink petal-strewn path and I'll follow it anytime, anywhere. The rest will just have to wait!

By the way, if you'd like to know more, and especially, if you'd like to see all that I didn't get around to mentioning, just click the links below .


  1. Wow! What a slice of paradise. I am adding this place to my list of destinations. Everything I love in one spot. Maybe they are hiring gardeners...

    Interestingly, our North American Aristolochia is host to one of our larger butterflies. I wonder if there is a connection between this genus and it's reliant butterfly size.

    1. I think you would love it, Mark! Its a beautiful place and my pictures just don't do it justice :)

      What an interesting thought! Superfood for butterflies?

  2. Replies
    1. It's an absolutely gorgeous place, Amy!

  3. oh my! how beautiful - I just love the edging of coconut husk - I think I might try that in my veggie patch.

    1. Yes, that really is a great idea, isn't it? Conserves moisture and looks pretty too! :)

  4. I am not a resort person, but this sort of resort is different and wonderful with its diversity of plants. Yes there are certainly pointers to pick up and try out. Enchanted with the butterfly garden. Wonderfully presented again Sunita with your special talent to bring the beauty of a place and plants close.

    1. Thank you, so much!
      Yes, this is not one of those plasticky resorts , Trudi. It is more earth-friendly and sustainable. A pleasure to be in and to observe.

  5. How interesting to read about the different gardening methods and the tropical plants you have there. It is all very different from here in Scotland!

    1. Hi Nick! Yes, I can imagine just how different it must be. But I must say that Scotland is just as fascinating for me. I would love to visit and explore some day. Hopefully in 2018, when I have a trip planned to Ireland.


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