Meet Dr Thomas Jose, the man with the green thumb

Dr Thomas Jose is the winner in the Our Gardens of the Year Competition 2022 , UK, in the People's Choice category: Special Arrangement

Dr Thomas Jose's garden outside his home in the UK is alive with the sweet sound of birds chirping. Japanese maple trees stand tall amid the carefully designed landscape. Butterflies flutter by and bees buzz around the fresh flowers. This garden is the pride and joy of Thomas. He set it up himself-a result of almost a decade of his work-and it has won in the Our Gardens of the Year Competition 2022 , UK, in the People's Choice category.

Thomas Jose mother sowed the seeds of his passion for gardening: Special Arrangement

Hailing from Thodupuzha, Thomas did his schooling at The Lawrence School, Lovedale and graduation at Kasturba Medical College, Mangalore. He moved to the UK 20 years ago is now a general physician practising in Lincolnshire. His wife Shalini is also a doctor and they three children - Neha, Rahul and Rohaan. Here is an excerpt from an e-interview of Thomas Jose with Onmanorama.

How did your interest in gardening come about?
I think my mother sowed the seeds of my passion for gardening. She won the best large garden in Idukki district in a competition held in 1987. We would help her out doing small jobs in the garden, as children. After settling down as a doctor and when my children had grown beyond the toddling age, my attention turned to beautifying my house and it’s surroundings.

I’ve always been able to appreciate good landscapes, and in particular, trees. I’ve awed at the might of the giant sequoias of California and the Indian Banyan trees. The 750 acre campus at school had many beautiful European trees that the British planted and Ooty botanical gardens very likely made a massive imprint in my mind. So trees were my first passion within the hobby.

A portion of Thomas Jose's garden : Special Arrangement

How did the garden that won the award take shape?
As I read and studied more and visited show gardens and flower shows, I felt that most beautiful small garden trees were Japanese maples. These are small trees usually no more than 20 feet tall and have coloured leaves in spring and autumn. The naturally artistic tiering of their branches gives a dreamy feeling of being in Japan. I researched these trees and over the years, amassed a collection of about 220 varieties, some of which I had to import from other European countries. I bought them young as larger specimen cost a fortune. Now they have grown into spectacular specimen and I suppose my garden would count as a fair ‘investment'.

I placed the trees in a way that they will be appreciated from different vantage points, especially the house windows and from the sunroom and outdoor seating areas. I then began studying about other plants to accompany these trees. I installed a self- irrigation system to water the plants. I also prune the trees to shape. All of this took a fair amount of hard work

Thomas has a collection of 220 varieties of Japanese maples in his garden: Special Arrangement

How did you feel when you won the Best Garden Award?
I have to keep reminding myself about the fact that this happened. It’s beyond belief. Over the 9 short years I’ve been gardening, it became apparent that my garden was comparable to the gardens I was seeing in magazines and at flower shows. There were 3200 gardens entered in the 2021 garden competition from all over the UK. I was thrilled to make the shortlist of the 8 best gardens before I won through a public vote to decide the best garden out of these.

It was great boost to my confidence and I feel a measured pride in the achievement. It is not often that non-Europeans are seen in garden competitions and shows here.

What are the benefits of gardening to our health?
Good quality research has shown that gardening has a positive effect on depression and anxiety disorder in particular. Doctors in some parts of the UK can prescribe gardening to patients and free sessions will be given to them by the National Health service. Being out in the open, fresh air elevates the mood. The physical activity required to develop and maintain a garden helps burn calories and hence contributes to weight control. Overall, use of the body’s joints and muscles keeps them in good health and if gardening is a regular activity, it can improve cardio-respiratory health too.

There were 3200 gardens entered in the 2021 garden competition from all over the UK: Special Arrangement

What do you think we should do to preserve the environment in Kerala?
The demand for land for housing and other uses for human comfort is on the rise. This means, the need to preserve green spaces is even more relevant. Rather than cutting down mature trees, we can try the technique of ‘raising the canopy’ (cutting the lower branches neatly so only the trunk occupies land space).

Plants around the house enhance the appearance of one’s house and locality. It allows for refuge for desirable birds and animals. Kerala in particular is a green and pleasant land, being in the favourable side of the Western Ghats, for the monsoons. But we should not take our green belts for granted and reckless town and city expansion will be of great detriment in the future.

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