A Bouquet for the SIBA Campus Garden

An American professor once said that what struck him most as he entered the SIBA campus was the clean unpolluted air. This, of course, is due to the fact that SIBA (SriLanka International Buddhist Academy) is not situated in an industrialized area with traffic and factories belching noxious gases but in the open, fresh, countryside. Another thing that visitors see as they enter the campus is the attractively laid out garden. It is not too artificially manicured but blends with the surrounding rugged, rustic landscape. What meets the eye at first sight is a riot of colour. Bougainvillaea of all shades, purple, mauve, magenta, flaming orange,pastel pink, white and the deep sunny colours of cannas interspersing the greenery of grass and leaves. The hilly terrain lends itself to landscaping in an imaginative, manner. What is surprising here is that the campus nestles well and truly in the dry zone. Thus, there is no wet, mid montane climate to nurture luxuriant semi-tropical plant life. What is grown is grown with hard labour and an affinity with the earth. Though only 8 kilometers from Kandy and surrounded by spectacular mountain ranges, the valley of Pallekele is dry for most parts of the year. The doyen of the team of three gardeners managing the campus grounds is Mr. D.G.Dharmapala. He keeps the place alive with a rich variety of colour and the dry soil blooming defiantly in spite of cruel bouts of drought. The smiling gnome of a man has an artist’s palette of colours built into his creative gardening mind.

He has worked in the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens for sixteen years, and thereafter for two years at Hakgala and after that for ten years at the prestigious Presdent’s House in Kandy. He has been working in the SIBA campus for only one year and two months. The remarkable transformation of the landscape, did not happen overnight by the wave of a wand. Originally the land was in wilderness and it had to be cleared and weeded. Mr. Dharmapala is undaunted by water cuts during months of drought. He arrives every morning by six at which time, mercifully, the main pipeline has a generous flow of water. So he busies himself watering the campus flower beds, area by area, either lugging buckets full of water or with a hose pipe. Most of the flowering plants he has put down with experienced “green fingers” are foreign varieties from India and Thailand. There are plenty of jasmines, though, both the local and foreign varieties. The best testimony to his genius and hard work is the campus garden itself.