This Leading Light inputted into the creation of a wonderful display for Kew Gardens’ special India season to celebrate the 2017 British Council UK-India year of culture. Bala Kompalli earnt the position of being responsible for giving pleasure to thousands of Kew’s visitors by years of study, hard work, and patience.
Visit Kew Gardens’ Orchid Festival and in the Princess of Wales conservatory you will see a huge floral Indian flag, animal figures made of flora, various colourful orchid displays, street scenes combined with fine Indian music and street sounds giving you a wonderful taste of Indian vibrant culture.
Bala Kompalli, Botanical Horticulturist in the Orchid unit, Tropical Nursery, helped make this.
She is involved in the daily care and culture of the oldest and one of the most diverse living orchid collections in the world. These orchids are from tropical and subtropical countries. Orchids have been cultivated at Kew for more than two centuries.
“These living collections of orchids at Kew are about 10,000 representing 5000 species, many of which are rare and endangered, explains Bala enthusiastically.
Born in Andhra Pradesh, Bala’s father worked in Indian Railways.
“Since I was young, I had an interest in plant sciences: I helped grow ornamental and vegetable crops at my parents’ place. We were a plant and nature loving family.
My maternal grandfather who was an engineer, lived and travelled in dense forest areas due to his work. He loved nature. He also used to maintain a wonderful little garden at his home where he used to order seeds from far off states like Maharashtra, Karnataka, adding as many new ornamentals to his collections as possible. He used to label them carefully and look after them well. I grew up listening to his love for nature. My mother and father encouraged me to take up Biology as my main subject during my Degree and Post graduation. She took a Masters Degree in Botany at Andhra University.
Developing her career was not easy, says Bala.
“Prior to moving to the UK, I was in pure science teaching botany and it took me at least six months of unpaid Internship at Kew to gain knowledge in horticulture- especially in Orchid cultivation and propagation. It’s a passion.”
Horticulture may be a relatively unusual subject to study; but Bala Kompalli feels it is gaining ground (no pun intended).
“Horticulture in India has a good future as people have time and money to invest in making their gardens look beautiful. Sectors of horticulture in India have wide scope in landscape management, ornamental production, professional floral arrangement and Sports turf grass science. Botanic gardens in India employ qualified horticulturists for the conservation of flora and public education.”
Still, she notes,
“From my over- a- decade experience here at Kew, I didn't see any local Indian applicants for studentships or volunteerships in horticultural courses.”
It’s not surprising then that Bala is the most experienced horticulturist (Orchid specialist) and the only Indian at Kew.
But there are loads of advantages, she comments. “The beautiful Kew gardens are my office and it is a pleasure to see the rewards of wonderful flowering orchids greeting me every day. I love training future horticulturists, sharing my knowledge and experience. I like meeting a diverse group of people from various fields of knowledge from all over the world and being part of their research.
My other duties include training students of horticulture at Kew in orchid care and culture and all other aspects of orchid conservation under glasshouse conditions. I am involved in the selection of the best orchid species in flower and sending them to the Princess of Wales Conservatory for public display every week, all year round. The Orchid unit is a hub of activity for research, conservation, and education as well as a visitor attraction.”
Bala has been involved in meetings during the planning and preparation of the current orchid festival. “Our display teams are the main teams in facing the challenge of getting all the orchids from abroad in time for the weather conditions, decorating them on all the pillars, structures, maintaining lot of volunteers and staff during the last two months.
My main role is to make sure that there is a continuous supply of good flowering orchids to the Princess of Wales conservatory, attending to the groups visiting behind the scenes to see our care and culture of orchids, giving my talks and late events during this festival period.
Our team’s biggest challenge during the making this show is getting everything on time, looking beautiful, reflecting the tastes and culture of India.”
Go to www.kew.org for more info.
The beautiful Kew Gardens are my office.” Horticulturist Bala Kompalli