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  • Writer's pictureJeanne McRight

Going native: Jitendra Chaudari's plan to help save the planet

Updated: Apr 30, 2021

Can anyone spare a cutting from their trillium plant?

If so, Jitendra Chaudhari would love it for his boulevard garden on Bristol Road East. Jitendra has been looking for a trillium plant, but no nursery he's visited stocks them. Why not? he asks. It's Ontario's emblem and a lovely native plant.

Planting the boulevard garden was a family effort. Photo by Jitendra Chaudhari, 2020.

He might plant it in his planned backyard garden instead, where there is a bit more shade, but wherever it grows it will be loved and well cared for by a man who's made it his mission to embrace native plants and to promote biodiversity in his adopted country.

Jitendra and his wife, Deepa, married in India in 1997 and came to Canada in 2002.

"Just the two of us, and four bags," Jitendra says with his infectious laugh. He wasn't a gardener when he arrived here, but the soil, so to speak, had been well prepared. His grandfather was a life-long farmer, and although his father's job moved the family all over the country they had one large vegetable garden. "We grew mangoes and loofah and tomatoes and all kinds of Indian vegetables," he says.

Just as important were the influences of a particular friend, and Jitendra's innate curiosity. "When I was young I was keen to acquire general knowledge, and I learned the capitals of all the countries and all of India's state flowers and flags and birds and animals. In university, one of my friends was getting his doctorate in biodiversity so I heard a lot about saving the planet, and about plants and insects. Okay, I said to myself, I have to do something like that."

The next influence was, strangely enough, a garden on the road to the Parliament buildings in Ottawa. Jitendra spotted it after he'd left his full-time job and become a freelance consultant in human resources--work that takes him all over North America--and had a contract with the federal government.

"This garden had the plants of all the provinces. They were beautiful and I thought it was time to grow something like that. Up until then Deepa and I had been like everyone else--we got our flowers at Home Depot." Again he laughs his infectious laugh.

A newspaper story about Jeanne McRight's trip to City Hall to fight for her native-plant garden on the boulevard in front of the family house was the next step. "I said to Deepa, here's a couple who are doing something great and their neighbour is objecting to their initiative. She wanted to do something good for nature and the neighbour didn't like it because of the bees? It made no sense to me."

A couple of summers ago came the turning point: Jitendra and Deepa went to a garden show at the Riverwood Conservancy and saw the Blooming Boulevards sign over a booth. "I thought, that sounds familiar," he says. "We stopped and the woman was telling another person about planting a native garden and getting a free plant. I signed up right away! Then I found out it was a whole garden of plants!"

And he laughs again.

Because it was August, Jitendra and Deepa had to wait until last spring to plant their boulevard garden, which totals about 200 square feet in two beds on either side of their driveway. He and his son Ditanshu, 17, removed the grass and dug the soil with a pickaxe, then amended it with a five inch-layer of compost, sheep and cow manure.

After planting one of the garden beds. Photo by Jitendra Chaudhari, 2020.

"Jeanne told us we didn't need to add anything, but I think that treatment was what got us early bloom and lots of flowers. Jeanne supplied about 60 plants and I bought more, and we ended up with about 150--columbine, black-eyed Susan, coreopsis, pearly everlasting, yarrow, asters, giant hyssop....."

The whole family tended the garden and revelled in its beauty. The kids learned more about nature and how it works. "My younger son, Yoshi--he's 11--loves to watch the birds and I said to him we'll get plenty of them, including my favourite, the hummingbirds. But guess what? We haven't had one."

From freshly planted to full-bloom. All photos by Jitendra Chaudhari, 2020.

Last fall Jitendra was named BB's first Garden Steward of the Year. "I don't know why I got that," he says. "Maybe because none of our plants died. Maybe it was because we had such early bloom, and lots of bees and butterflies. Maybe it was just because I followed orders and planted the way I was supposed to."

Another ripple of laughter.

This spring Jitendra volunteered to propagate plants from seeds, and religiously followed instructions again. He was supplied with trays and inserts, racks to hold the trays, seeds, soil, labels, grow lights, cables, a timer, everything he needed. He set it up in late February and planted in March, and after thinning he now has 144 plants.

"I didn't how to do any of this. In my part of India you don't start seeds indoors--it's so warm everything just grows outside," he says, "but Jeanne had Zoom meetings where she showed us how to plant the seeds and then how to thin the seedlings. She was very clear and very meticulous, and I ended up with 100 percent results again. Maybe it was because I started thinning early--if a section had too many little seedlings, I'd carefully move a couple to another section where nothing had germinated. Now they're all growing bigger in paper cups."

Jitendra Chaudhari tending to native seedlings for Blooming Boulevards.

Jitendra has influenced at least a half dozen of his friends and neighbours to start boulevard gardens and he passes the word along to his business contacts whenever he has a chance, especially those with lawns, however small, in front of their buildings. Maybe one garden won't influence biodiversity, but a whole block of them would attract many birds and insects.

"It's a social responsibility," he says. "And I'm ready to spread the word. When I'm out in the garden and people pass by on their evening walk I'll jump up and tell them all about Blooming Boulevards and native plants.

"If you don't want to hear it, just don't make eye contact."

And guess what? He laughs again.


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