Priya Mascarenhas bungalow in Bengaluru© HELLO! India

What Goes Behind Building And Maintaining A Tropical Paradise In Bengaluru?

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Shraddha Chowdhury

Silverend, a stately colonial bungalow in Bengaluru’s Richards Town, is an impressive one-storey property that takes us back in time. Wooden-beam, high ceilings, tiled roofs, and everything about the décor tells a tale of an era gone by.

The 136-year-old heritage property that once belonged to the British is the ancestral home of the Mascarenhas family. There’s a classic beauty that abounds throughout this home, but the highlight of Silverend today is the verdant tropical garden that surrounds the half-acre plot — all the labour and love of Priya Mascarenhas.

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“Passion for gardening is in my DNA,” says Mascarenhas, on how she developed her green thumb. “I’m a coffee planter’s daughter, surrounded by greenery since birth. I learnt early on that one can build the most beautiful house, but if you don’t have a garden to enhance it, the house will look flat.”

Priya Mascarenhas bungalow in Bengaluru©HELLO! India

Mascarenhas and her husband moved into the 10,000-sqft heritage home in 1973. Since then, they’ve renovated the place just once, retaining much of the aesthetics of the period bungalow. A hotelier by profession with a background in sales and marketing, she didn’t always have such an ardent interest in all things gardening. It was a trip to a “beautiful hotel in Singapore in the 70s” that changed everything, and Mascarenhas found her calling.

“I can never forget that moment. From my window, I could see tropical plants, beautifully spread. I think that was the day it struck me. I knew then that this was exactly what would suit Silverend.”

There’s more to Silverend’s lush greenery. Mascarenhas found that her younger daughter, Champa, who’s a special needs child, loved engaging herself in the garden. So she got waterfalls added to the place, which Champa immensely enjoys and uses for hydrotherapy even today.

Priya Mascarenhas bungalow waterfall©HELLO! India

The garden now has waterfalls, fountains, statues of Buddhas, a gazebo and even a Japanese bridge, all transcending one to a parallel universe in the urban jungle that is Bengaluru. And it was all Mascarenhas’ vision. While she did bring in horticulturists initially to help with her project, their ideas didn’t align with her taste. “They were too stiff and wanted well-manicured lawns. I couldn’t bear that. They were very commercialised and wanted ready-made nurseries. They were not for me… All my plants flow into each other. There’s an order, but it’s not stiff.”

Over the years, she took advice from friends and gardeners to transform her grounds into what it is today, believing that one “needs to be humble in gardening, like cooking”. “If you think you know everything, you can’t grow. But if you listen to what others have to say, there are so many tips that can help you be a better gardener. What is important is hard work, discipline and love for the plants. I raised the bar by taking tips from everybody.”

Before she got her hands on the halfacre property, it was near barren, barring a few fruit trees. Today, the Silverend grounds have around 25 fruit trees, including mango, chikoo, breadfruit, strawberries, custard apple and hog plums.

“Some were planted by my fatherin-law. The mangoes we get are all of great quality. We just had a feast!” laughs Mascarenhas, who tends to enough exotic plants and flowers to ‘There’s an order to how the plants flow into each other in the garden, but it’s not stiff,’ says Priya, who takes pride in the pink ginger lilies she brought home from Hawaii make any nursery owner green with envy (pun intended).

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From variegated ferns, marigolds and exoras, to pink and white ginger lilies, Monsteras, philodendrons, head horn fern, a number of flowerbeds, asparagus, anthurium, dracaena, orchids, petunias… it’s a long list! However, her signature plant is definitely the heliconia, she says: “My love for heliconias developed from my travels to the East — to Singapore right up to Japan. I found heliconias very exotic. They just had a look about them...” Several of the flowers in the garden have wonderful anecdotes attached that make them even more special — like the tale of how Mascarenhas acquired her ginger lilies.

“I was staying at an Oberoi hotel when I travelled to Hawaii, where I spotted these beautiful pink ginger lilies. I knew I just had to have them. My husband was flabbergasted, but I refused to leave without them!” Priya shares. “Then I got my white ginger lilies from a lady in Barbados, irking my husband again. Today, these ginger lilies leave me with lovely stories to tell.”

Priya Mascarenhas bungalow garden©HELLO! India

Mascarenhas can’t help but chuckle when I ask her about what goes into maintaining her garden and home. She makes rounds of the grounds every morning with her staff. This is when she rearranges the pots, re-pots the ones she feels requires it, removes the dry leaves and changes arrangements, giving the place a fresh look every other day. “Some plants that are older may need to be replaced. Some need more manure, and some may need to be moved away from the sun. Some that aren’t blooming need spray manure so they can bloom…,” Priya shares, clueing us in on all the hard work that goes into the tropical paradise.

When asked about her family’s involvement, she cheekily shares that her husband only spends the money. “He won’t be able to answer any questions about the plants!” she laughs. “But he appreciates how I made the garden what it is.” Priya’s elder daughter Nisha “inherited the madness”, as she puts it. “Nisha has the most exotic garden at her coffee estate in Chikmagalur. She helped me a lot with me hellocia collection. She has about 45 types of them.”

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Over the years, her green thumb has won a number of coveted awards. The dense foliage that greets visitors at Silverend won her two awards in the garden contest every year for the past 38 years! One on Independence Day and one on Republic Day. These were in addition to many others she has won for the best tropical ornamental garden. “I’ve had to keep all my awards in our guesthouse at the end of the driveway [on the Silverend property]. They collect too much dust! At least my grandchildren will know that their grandma did something worthwhile,” she says, clearly proud of how she transformed the land.

Photography: Krishanu Chatterjee Awards & Accolades

This story has been adapted for the website from a story that was originally published in Hello! India’s July 2022 issue. Get your hands on the latest issue right here!