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International Workshop Series- Connecting with Nature, Srilanka

If you lose a relationship with nature, you lose a relationship with humanity – Krishnamurti. Studies have shown that being in nature, living near nature, or even viewing nature in paintings and videos can have positive impacts on our brains, bodies, feelings, thought processes, and social interactions. There are many ways of connecting with nature and one of them is through plants.

So watch this workshop on “Connecting with Nature” with our speaker Savandhi Silva from Sri Lanka, where she explained how connecting with nature through plants is beneficial and important for us. Savandhi is a student of Environmental studies at York University, Canada. She founded the Instagram platform @livingwithnaturesl earlier this year with the aim of encouraging Sri Lankan people to live in harmony with Nature.

Savandhi and her ways of connecting with plants:

“Hello, everyone. Welcome to another international workshop by TAOS. Today we have with us, Miss Savandhi. She is a student, and today she’ll talk about how we can connect with nature through plants. So, let’s get started,” said Zehra.

“Hello, all. In the present day, a lot of us are getting disconnected from nature. Our lives were supposed to be connected with nature, but the current developmental world is certainly doing otherwise.  A lot of forces from the developed world are pulling us away from nature. At one point in time, people used to find the answers to their problems in nature- be it medicines, food, or any other sphere. I want people to go back to having that bond with nature. Today, my main topic is going to be connecting with nature through plants. I’ll introduce you to a bit about connecting with nature. It is about thinking about nature as if it is close to you, much like a friend. I have heard indigenous people not having a term for nature or land because they say it is an integral part of everything. There are many different ways in which you can connect with nature. I’ll give an example. When you are traveling, you’ll choose cycling or walking instead of taking the car. That is how you are connected to nature. Connecting with nature is used to define things like sustainable living, reducing, reusing, recycling, and other concepts, which sounds like you need to give a lot of effort. If you take nature like a friend, it would come naturally to you, and you’ll find effortlessness in these tasks. There are a lot of problems like human health issues, climate change, natural disasters, etc., which we create by creating the separation from nature. Connecting with nature won’t just help nature itself; it will help you as an individual. 

Now, I will move on to connecting with nature through plants. Just being involved in planting isn’t equal to connecting with nature. Just digging up soil, and letting them grow isn’t how you’ll get connected to nature. You need to be emotionally attached to the process. It is quite similar to caring for yourself or caring for a pet. So, one of my first tips is, to get to know your plant intuitively, and check on it often; take less of a mechanical approach toward it. Secondly, many people go on to consider the benefits of growing plants, such as growing vegetables for the sake of consumption, we are focussed on that one benefit it needs to have. Think of a plant instead of what it means as a greater whole, in different aspects like what kinds of birds, and butterflies come to this plant, what sort of medicinal values it has, etc. If you are actually able to take up this integrated approach, you’ll soon find that much of what you need is actually present in your garden itself. Recently, my mother, who is also into gardening, made a welcome drink out of the fruits of a plant called emberaela that we have in our garden. This fruit also helps in preventing diabetes. People in my generation might not be having this integrated knowledge about nature. To get to know a plant, you have to move out of the conventional use of the plant. Boiling the leaves of this plant, and drinking the water can help cancer patients. Another example is that of olives. We make pickles from it here. Traditionally, women used to grind it and used that paste on their hair for a more natural hair,” said Savanti.

“Indeed, we have used olive oil for the purpose,” said Zehra.

“Yeah. There are so many other plants which are having so many different benefits that we are unaware of,” said Savanti.

“Do you plant any specific category of plants?”

“Not really. I find out different uses of plants, and if I find any aligning with my interests, I plant it. I recently found out about a plant called gardenia. It is good for sleep if you have it indoors. So, I have it planted in my room.”

“What kinds of plants do you like to grow mostly?”

“I do not have a preference. Sometimes, medicinal, other times fruit ones, etc.”

“So, how did you get into gardening?”

“I got into it during covid. There wasn’t much happening, so I started trying out things. I started with marigold, and that got me into more aspects of gardening.”

“So, from do you get your plants? You buy them all, or propagate them?”

“During covid, with everything being shut, I started out by propagating actually. We get seeds from other plants in my garden, or sometimes we get it from people, etc,” said Savanti.

“People have big gardens in Sri Lanka, or do they have balcony gardens?”

“Most of them have big gardens. Balcony gardens are more common towards capital urbanized areas of the country.”

“In India, we live in apartments mostly, and thus people go for balcony gardens. Is it the same in Sri Lanka?”

“It is something we might be moving towards, but many people live in the houses of their ancestors which is why they have access to a greater amount of space. So, they are able to go for bigger gardens than balcony ones.”

“You want to share something more about your plants?”

“I have told you about olives, onions, etc. Now, here I have a Cinnamon plant. It is used as a spice sometimes here. It is one of the famous export crops. I also have curry leaves which are a commonly used spice in Sri Lanka. The plant is very versatile, as it is medicinal also. It cancels out toxins in food,” said Savanti.

“We even use it as a hair tonic,” said Zehra.

“Yeah, so that plant is very beneficial indeed. I use experimental stuff on my plants actually, there is no specific way that I use them. We compost our food in the backyard. Using compost soil does much of what a fertilizer would do. It helps the plant grow. For bigger plants, I planted it in a container and then transplanted them. It aids the growth of the plant when you first plant it in a container. Depending on the plant, we use products like egg shells, rice water, banana peels, etc., as fertilizers. For pest control, we try to use homemade stuff, like ashes from the fireplace. It keeps snails and caterpillars away. In fact, marigold is said to keep pests away. Using insecticides at home will reduce the nutrition in plants, and it will also affect not targeted species such as birds and butterflies. So, try to use them as less as possible,” said Savanti.

“So, what are some commonly grown plants in Sri Lanka?”

“Such includes coconut, mango, banana, papaya, etc.”

“Do people grow succulents there, like cactus?”

“Yeah, people do. Cacti is actually used as a decorative plant.”

Okay. That was a very interesting session Savandhi. Thank you for joining us today.”