The Green Thumb has been studiously designing and maintaining traffic island gardens all over the city since over three decades. S Kumar Shah, its proprietor, leading designer and landscape artist, feels that such islands are a must in a concrete jungle where tired drivers need a breath of fresh of air to continue their journey among traffic jams.
While driving through Nariman Point or Haji Ali, how often have you looked and wondered at the beautiful traffic islands that give your tired eyes the much needed succour? Have you wondered who designs them? Or, maintains them? These small islands of greenery and flowers not only give respite to drivers and vehicle owners, but also absorb the harmful fumes of vehicles. Hence, it becomes all the more difficult to maintain them.
S Kumar Shah, leading designer and landscape artist, the brain behind these gardens, has bagged five top awards this year round too for maintaining some of the city’s best traffic islands. His company, The Green Thumb, has been winning the annual open garden awards of Tree Authority and Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) for several years in a row now for, besides designing and maintaining traffic islands, he maintains factory and terrace gardens too. This year the leading landscape designing and garden maintaining firm won the first prize (above 200sqm category) for the design and maintenance of the CEAT traffic island at Nariman Point adopted by CEAT Ltd and the second prize (below 200sqm category) for the Haji Ali traffic island adopted by Britannia Industries. The first prize for the best maintained traffic island for The National Society of Friends of Trees also was bagged by The Green Thumb for CEAT’s traffic island at Nariman Point. This island also won the Landscape along Foot-path award for The Green Thumb.
Shah launched The Green Thumb three decades ago. “The car drivers/owners glance at these traffic islands just for a few seconds while driving,” he says. “And it is my endeavour to give their tired eyes relief, peace and happiness in those few seconds, for a calm mind will always lead to safe and better driving.” So the ornamental plants, flowers, well planned design, topiary, grass, etc. – all have to be just in the right proportion. “Traffic island gardens not only provide vital oxygen but also visual relief from the clutter of cars and concrete.”
It all began 35 years ago when he ran a small nursery. Then, three years later, he was invited by A M Qazi, Director, Asian Cables of the Goenka Group (now taken over by the CEAT of RPG Group) to improve a triangular island opposite the Oberoi Towers. And over two decades later, Shah still maintains that CEAT garden. That is an introduction in itself to his work. The island has a sculpture of a rhino made of scrap.
When 26 years ago, the Corporate Director of Britannia had called Shah to maintain an island, Shah had said: “We will be a little costly but we will deliver a unique island.” He still maintains the Britannia traffic island. “In those days, Haji Ali’s garden used to be one big circle but over the years, it has been divided into three triangles.” He has been maintaining the extremely busy Haji Ali Garden since years. The neat rows of colourful flowers, the lush green grass bed and the bamboo topiaries have stood their own ground despite the harmful vehicular fumes.
“The challenges we face are that of seeking permissions – from Traffic Police Department and the MCGM,” he says. The Green Thumb decides the design of these islands as per the location, junction points, signals, surrounding visuals and the traffic pattern among other things. The plants cannot be more than three to four feet high as taller plants would block the drivers’ view. Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd, ONGC, CIDCO, the Orchid Hotel and Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation are some of his clients.
“My main concern is that as a landscape artist I have to keep in mind how my design would look after a few years as changes keep taking place,” says Shah. He uses various styles like Japanese and Oriental and incorporates various features and forms as suitable to the concept, location and utility.
Regular sweeping, mowing, pruning, topiary, spraying of pesticides and feeding of fertilisers, watering and hoeing are many regular activities that go into giving our tired eyes that much needed calmness to be able to proceed on our journey amidst honking and traffic jams.