Gateway to the garden of hope


This is the story of 25-year-old, Umar sab Alla sab Nadaf, a trainee at the Association of People with Disability’s (APD), Horticultural Training Center at Kyalasanahalli, Hennur Road, Bengaluru.

“At the young age of eight, Umar sab met with an accident that injured his left eye. Due to the lack of proper and timely medical attention, young Umar sab was left with poor vision in both his eyes. Umar sab, who hails from Ron taluk in Gadag, joined APD’s 10-month horticultural training program at the Kyalasanahalli center. He has since graduated and is employed in a company in Bengaluru maintaining their garden. Umar sab’s sight might be blurred, but his vision isn’t”.

Then there is this poignant story of Nethravathi, who overcame all odds to become a shining example of the success of APD’s horticultural training program. Junjegowda, a young polio afflicted school drop-out, is today a garden assistant at the reputed Deccan International School in Bengaluru. You can read their full stories on APD’s website.

The first experiment:

Most people of her age would have long since retired by now, not N S Hema. She is constantly on the lookout for newer projects that could help transform the lives of young differentially abled boys and girls. Hema has been on this mission ever since she co-founded the Association of People with Disability (APD) in Bengaluru, way back in 1959, at the tender age of 21.

N S Hema, co-founder the Association of People with Disability (APD)

It was back in the 1970s that Hema began experimenting with the possibility of imparting horticultural training skills to the differently abled; this was at APD’s headquarters in Lingarajapuram, Bengaluru.

The Association of People with Disability (APD):

Founded in 1959, by N S Hema and a small group of like-minded individuals, The Association of People with Disability (APD), is a non-profit organization based out of Bangalore, which reaches out and rehabilitates under privileged people with disabilities. Their main aim is to create an inclusive society, where people with disabilities are accepted into the mainstream economy and social life. A culture where they can earn, live and sustain with dignity and respect. APD’s mission is

To meet individual needs, to create awareness; to promote acceptance and integration; to instill self-confidence, and to encourage self-reliance, for the benefit of People with Disability.

APD celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 2009 and this is what N S Hema, the co-founder of APD had to say in the You Tube video ‘APD Movie’

 50 years have gone just like that…it was a journey all of us played…Difficult at many times…and there were moments of happiness too…Disability is only in the mind.

You can watch Hema’s video here :

The Beginning:

The initial experiments of imparting horticultural training skills at APD’s headquarters in Lingarajapuram, provided the necessary impetus for Hema to think big. In 1982, APD received an Oxfam newsletter that spoke about a scheme in Frome, Somerset, England where horticulture was used as a therapy for people with disability. The article in the newsletter was written by Chris Underhill, the founder of Basic Needs and a global expert in the delivery of health and rehabilitation systems to very poor people.

On behalf of APD, Hema began to correspond with Chris, seeking his advice on the possibility of starting a horticultural training program here on the lines of the one in England. It was in early1983 that Peter Macfydian, also from Frome, England, visited APD’s headquarters in Bangalore. Trained as a gardener, Peter was working with disabled people and disability organizations both in Africa and India, imparting knowledge and expertise in using horticulture as a means of training people with disabilities. His visit energized the members at APD to chalk out a plan for  themselves.

In November the same year, a seminar on the need for providing horticultural training for the disabled was held at APD, from which emerged a draft plan, which would eventually crystallize into APD’s horticultural training program. By this time Hema had built a small team of dedicated volunteers and began to look for a sizeable plot of land in and around Bengaluru, where she could begin by setting up a residential horticultural training program for the differently abled. A task much easier said than done.

Hema began doing the rounds of various government departments trying to convince them of the need for a plot of land for her horticultural training program. Her efforts finally bore fruit when in 1986, the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA), allotted APD a one-acre plot of land in Jeevan Bhima Nagar, Bengaluru.

A Leap Forward:

The Jeevan Bhima Nagar Horticultural Training Center

Within a year, the Jeevan Bhima Nagar (JBN), residential horticultural training center was up and running. It had dormitories for the trainees, a kitchen, class rooms, green houses, horticultural implements, a small library, and teaching and office staff. This was possible thanks mainly to Hema, who with her charm and persuasive powers, succeeded in garnering funds for the project, both from within the country and from abroad.

The first batch of six differently-abled youth enrolled for a six-month residential training program. They were provided with both theoretical and hands-on horticultural training skills, which included – origins and nomenclature of plants, growing methods, potting, and transplanting, de-weeding and other horticultural skills. The trainees were taught mostly in their vernacular language.

In February 1988, this first batch graduated, and on the 12th of the same month, APD’s Jeevan Bhima Nagar, Horticultural Training Center was formally inaugurated. Hema’s untiring efforts had finally borne fruit. Not one to rest on her laurels, she came up with a brilliant idea.

Why not have a plant fair and invite the general public to come, see and buy plants grown and nurtured by the trainees? Thus began the Annual Plant Fair, an exhibition-cum-sale of ornamental, medicinal plants and herbs, cacti, indoor and outdoor varieties of plants, seeds, manure and horticultural implements.

The fair became a huge success, with the profits made, being ploughed back into the training programs. The fair attracts plants lovers from all over the city, proceeds of which are ploughed back into the training center

The Jeevan Bhima Nagar training center now offers a 10-month residential training program for both differently-abled boys and girls. The center which began in 1988, celebrated its silver jubilee in 2013.

APD’s Horticulture Training Center in Kylasanahalli

Looking Beyond:

The Kylasanahalli Horticultural Training Center

The one acre plot at Jevaan Bhima Nagar was beginning to look crowded; there was no place for expansion, only a handful of trainees could be accommodated. It was this that propelled Hema to look for an even bigger plot of land for her grandiose scheme to have a residential training center that could house around 50 trainees at a time. She envisioned a center that would be the best in the world, providing the trainees world-class facilities, with provision for further expansion.

Hema’s untiring efforts and dogged persistence paid off and in 2001, the Government of Karntaka, offered APD a five-acre plot of land in Kylasanahalli, off Hennur Road in Bengaluru. Thus began Hema’s long cherished dream of a bigger residential horticultural training center which would impart skills to young boys and girls with disabilities. In 2004, the construction of Horticultural Training Centre at Kyalasanahalli began and the Centre was inaugurated in 2006.

Training in progress

This huge project was partly funded by APD’s own limited resources and the rest came through donations by people from both within the country and abroad.

The eco-friendly Center was designed by a young American Architect who was visiting India. It has student dormitories, classrooms, green houses, and a community kitchen. The buildings blend with the surroundings and are constructed keeping in mind the conveniences of the students with physical disabilities. Also incorporated are solar street lights and a water harvesting system. The center is currently in the process of building a water treatment plant.

Once a garbage dumping site, APD’s residential horticultural training center for youngsters with disabilities at Kylasanahalli, is today transformed into a veritable green oasis, bustling with activity. Its 40-odd trainees grow and nurture plants with tender loving care and skills imparted to them by a dedicated band of qualified teachers and office staff.

The Center has cobbled walking pathways that run around the campus providing easy access. In the 10-month residential training program, trainees are taught the basics of both the theoretical and practical aspects of horticulture. The syllabus covers the basics of horticulture, such as growing plants from seeds and leaf cuttings, preparing the soil, watering the plants, plant transplantation, grafting, de-weeding, plant names, pruning, and every aspect of horticulture. The course also includes an internship and field trips.

Hema insisted that the trainees also learn basic cooking skills and lessons in hygiene and cleanliness, which would come handy when they venture into the outside world to lead independent lives. Both the Horticulture Training Centers provide complete gardening solutions from individual homes to corporate houses. These include terrace gardening, garden maintenance and plant rental services. They also offer assistance on plant selection, garden design and other plant and nursery needs. Plants, seeds and plant manure are also sold at these centers.

The horticultural training centers at Jeevan Bhima Nagar and Kylasanahalli, have their Annual Plant Fairs for the sale of plants grown and nurtured by trainees.

The Kylasanahalli campus has a greenhouse exclusively for Orchids. What began as an experiment in the 1970s with Hema planting the first seeds, and then setting up their first full-fledged horticultural training center at Jeeva Bhima Nagar, in 1988, to train boys and girls with disabilities in Horticultural skills has over the past 27-years proved that people with disability have abilities if they are provided with the right opportunities and given the skills required that will ensure their integration into society.

To date, over a 1,000 trainees have graduated with horticultural skills that they acquired during their training at APD’s Horticultural Training Centers in Jeeva Bhimanagar and Kylasanhalli.

N S Hema (extreme right) with the first batch of Women Trainees

Image source

Umar sab, Nethravathi, Junjegowda are just a handful of the many success stories of APD’s horticultural training program. There are others like them, who have gone on to secure jobs at some of the most reputed institutions and organizations in Bengaluru and elsewhere. A few of them are self-employed, while the others have gone back to the towns and villages they came from to assist their families in their agricultural lands.

It was one woman’s dream with a far-sighted vision that has been translated into reality, with the establishment of the two Horticultural Training Centers in Bengaluru.

In all her endeavors N S Hema has been supported by a large group of patrons and donors of APD, members of APD’s governing council and a dedicated team of volunteers plus a well-qualified team of teachers, at both the horticultural training centers.

Remember the Chinese proverb

If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.

N S Hema and her dedicated team from APD have done precisely that and much more. They have transformed the lives of hundreds of boys and girls with disabilities, by providing them skills that will bring them respect and dignity in society and a means of livelihood.

For the differently-abled, Hema has opened the Gateway to the garden of hope.

Note: You can visit APD’s Horticultural Training Centers for all your gardening needs. You can also reach Ganesh Hegde at for all your queries about the Horticulture Training Centre.


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