The landscape design for the Shrimad Rajchandra Ashram, Dharampur emerges from the vision of Pujya Gurudevshri to make the site a green refuge that offers a habitat to many life forms other than human occupants. Additionally, the urbanization of Dharampur town, can find a counterbalance in the creation of a Permanent Green Lung with over 1 lakh trees and shrubs that generates ecological, biodiversity and climatic advantages.
The Ashram land is dated around 65 million years old and has seen many climatic changes, droughts and famines in the course of time, including the past hundred years. Based on correlation and research studies, the trees of the area were likely felled for wood and the land was heavily grazed, degrading it into a barren slope with seasonal grasses, low soil cover and a few thorny trees.
A heavily disturbed site with naturally degraded soils, poses many challenges to the afforestation plan. As a general principle, the planting project follows natural processes closely, starting with creating the right conditions for growth.
Key points in the soil improvement programme include:
1) Re-sloping cuts and fills to reduce erosion of soil surfaces before planting.
2) Reinforcing weak soils and slopes with coconut fibre and jute fibre mats in addition to grass mixes.
3) Applying a combination of rapid coverage shallow root grasses and slow growing deep-rooted grasses for systematic binding of weak soils on slope.
4) Using site-specific planting soil mixes to either hold irrigation water or drain excess water, depending on natural soil conditions across the site.
5) Bringing back and reinforcing native species.
6) Creating an improved microclimate using native plants so as to eventually make the site self-sustaining and thereby easy to grow ornamentals.
At most places, the selection of plants is determined by hidden factors like inherited soils, drought hardiness, suitability to the region, leaf litter, purpose of planting and infestation issues. Spiritual factors such as the avoidance of any regular pruning, attraction of insects, or the falling of flowers on pathways leading to them being tread upon by walkers have also been major challenges in plant palette selection. The use of plants with bulb-like roots is given preference in visually important areas due to their regenerating nature. Plants such as Kanchan trees and some varieties of Cassia have been mixed in the planting to sustain and improve nitrogen fixation processes.
The environment conservation team also identified ~108 species of native trees which were found in the ecosystem of the Dharampur- Valsad-Dang areas nearly 100 years ago. Several of these species, which were common just 30 years ago, were difficult to find. The plan entailed planting over ~108 such species of native trees, of which 75 have already been planted. The trees range from various fruiting trees like mango, jamun, chickoo, to flowering species like cassia siamea, bahuniapurpurea and also some forest species like terminaliabellerica, Haldina Cordifalia etc. For trees that were endangered/rare/lost in the region, seeds were sourced from similar ecosystems across India and propagated at site as a representative gene bank.