Pat Lea

A Personal Garden

By Pat Lea, Garden Editor, Chattanooga Times Free Press
Prem Chopra has traveled far to reach Tennessee, and from his beginnings in India, to his position at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, he has been a keen observer of life and the world. “I have enjoyed all aspects of my surroundings,” he says, “From the people to the plants and animals, all things teach different lessons, and I have enjoyed learning from every aspect of life.” “My own garden has been a journey and it has helped me to understand much about how to deal with all sorts of problems. The lessons that you learn in the garden apply to every other question and problem in your life.”

He readily agrees that his lot on Signal Mountain was something of a challenge, because as he says, “Like many folks in the hilly areas of Tennessee, my lot is on a steep incline from the front yard to the back and it could have been an impossible situation.” “In the front yard we felt that the slope was the perfect site for natural plantings that flowed with the contours of the ground. We also wanted to be sure that the birds and animals had suitable nesting spots, because they make the garden lively.”

“But my wife and I decided to take advantage of the precipitous drop in the back, that some might feel was a big problem, and use it as the base for a waterfall that would emphasize the drop instead of trying to disguise it. I built the arbor like gateway to invite people into the garden and then positioned the waterfall so that it cascades down along the side of the path. It is very dramatic and because you can see it from the deck it adds to our enjoyment whether we are in the garden or just looking at it.”

Chopra has written a book called “The Purpose and Meaning of Life? If I had Known…..” and he says, “my garden and the lessons that it is still teaching me have informed parts of the book. The book may be based on ancient eastern knowledge as well as modern western knowledge but the solutions are as current as today and the ways that you understand and solve problems in the garden are the same solutions that will work in other areas of your life.” He laughs heartily as he points to the ferocious cascade of the fountain, “You see, here is an example of ‘Go with the flow’ that solves a problem and provides an artistic experience at the same time.”

He says, “In the same way that I wrote my book, using the lessons that I learned from knowledge and first hand experience, I approached all the problems of the garden and the site. For example, near the front door, we left the trees so that they would hold the soil and prevent erosion. This was a necessity. But, for beauty and interest, we underplanted shade tolerant azaleas and mountain plants along with annuals like impatiens, so that there be something interesting to see all year round.” His plan works because, as you approach the front door, the feeling of being in a magical woodland is created by these well fertilized and healthy plants. He also believes in creating special places for meditation and repose because as he says, “If you listen carefully to nature you will learn a lot.”

He recounts a very special present that he created for his wife. Near the front door there is a small stone bench next to a very musical, small, rock waterfall and fountain. It creates a lovely picture as you approach the front door. He says, “This was a gift for my wife. “I had heard that for twenty-fifth wedding anniversaries people give diamonds, so I created this diamond shaped fountain and I turned the stones so that each one makes a different sound and it is very musical.” “The stones represent the solidity of our relationship and the water the everchanging energy of life, and the music comes from the two together. Then I added the small sitting stone so that my wife could enjoy her diamond fountain while relaxing and I gave it to her for our anniversary.” “I hope that it is something that she can enjoy every day and so can our visitors and even the birds in the garden.”

He says, “Over the years the garden has taught me that you must look very carefully at the ground, and the plants, and the sky to create a setting that will bring peace and joy. You must take into account the needs of the plants, you can’t force plants to grow or flower, you can’t demand results.” He continues, “You must learn to put them in the right place, and you should create a healthful setting and they will do it by themselves. They will more than reward your effort, they will surprise you with their energy and beauty.”

PREM CHOPRA’S TIPS FOR A GREAT GARDEN IN A DIFFICULT SPOT: First? Learn and Observe – Take your time and really get to know your Location. You must know your soil conditions and water and sunlight conditions You must learn the right kinds of plants to use in each area so that they can easily grow and flower You must be observant? Look for and don’t be afraid to recognize problems and mistakes You must analyze and then correct problems and mistakes quickly. Learn to nurture your plants and soil and they will work for you.