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One man at one – Jetwing Warwick Gardens

One man at one – Jetwing Warwick Gardens

By Juliet Coombe

As you walk round the garden in front of Jetwing Warwick Garden House for the first time, like many others before and after, you will be first struck with the indescribably beautiful view of the surrounding country and distant high hills, with the endless shades of domesticated and wild greens, dashes of colour here and there, a range of wonderful trees of all sizes and ages, and random but manicured tea and coffee plant areas dotted all around the hills. As your gaze moves closer to home you become aware of the extraordinary position this property holds relative to the humanity around you and are transported back to a time when the plantation owner or manager who occupied the same spot you are standing on right now would perhaps have been scanning his surroundings for signs of any activity that might threaten the existence of the plantation.

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Even closer to home you become aware of the wide array of amazing things that are being grown for the house itself. There are around 19 different fruits, 23 different vegetables, 15 different herbs and a number of scattered beehives currently in production. Also there are 13 species of butterfly, 4 species of dragonfly, 4 species of frog, including one the smallest in the Sri Lanka at half a centimetre so it can get insects between the pebbles, and 47 species of bird.

And now sitting cross-legged on the grass under an 80 year old Eucalyptus tree, partly hollowed out by a lightning strike, I have the honour of talking about all this with estate Bungalow manager Mohammed Faris, the man to go to if you want to build your own ecosystem. Faris combines an extraordinary humbleness with an equally extraordinary knowledge of and authority over his surroundings. He would probably take issue with the latter statement but it is true that he would not have achieved the enormous transformation of this once abandoned thirty acres of hillside without commanding great respect from those around him and not through the common perception of command but through the subtle understanding of humanity, inspiration, a deep passion and unparalleled dedication and discipline. “I don’t feel like I have a job,” he says with a beautiful smile after I have asked him about the hours he spends on nurturing and maintaining the property. He gets up every single day of the year at 5 am to walk the perimeter of the property and then settle down to the myriad of tasks that need to be done to keep this slice of paradise a living heaven, haven, tranquil bliss, Eden or whatever other words, just words that you would want to describe this dream location. He then ‘works’ literally tirelessly, as he seems to exist in an amazing state of health, not looking a day over 30, for the rest of the day until at the earliest 9 pm but as often as not until 1 am in the morning. How? There is not a single aspect of life that he doesn’t embrace and nurture, and he knows that the essence of success lies in the inspiration and motivation of those around him and this extends to counselling the local community, once ravaged though still challenged by alcohol abuse, to bring down the agrochemical-assisted yearly suicide rate of 10/12 people to zero, support building a temple, sponsoring the yearly festivals and a mosque, the Buddhist temple and Catholic Church. Empowering them by setting them up with bank accounts and IDs, and improving general health by setting up a vaccination programme for the local village of some 85 families and providing work for 5 in the house and 11 on the estate, paying them well and thereby passing on some of the wealth of the hotel. And how does he get them all to agree to regular injections and the like? “I invite them up here for tea and a chat” he beams, testament to his highly developed interpersonal skills, or should I drop the silly management speak and say ‘his great way with people’. The health programme is enhanced with local remedies using home grown herbs such as ginger and coriander for colds and coughs, mint rosemary and thyme for stomach upsets and hot water with bees honey for sore throats, all prepared lovingly with freshly picked herbs from the garden a few yards away.

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Its all about systems working within and between other systems in a matrix management, whoops there it is again, type of way, no let’s say in a ‘streams flowing into rivers and deltas’ type of way. So here we see bacteria used to break down cooking grease, cow urine being used for fertilising high nitrogen crops, the house’s grey water being filtered through an open tank of fish over a special weed bed for fertilising the garden, dry and wet waste being separated for feeding the cows and manuring the vegetables, sewage going to the local council for further processing into usable manures, potash from the various fireplaces in the house and local lime for neutralising the highly acidic soils, marigolds and cigarette butts for warding off insect pests, using granite from the hills, pine needles, hay and mud for rebuilding the house, roads, sheds, steps and pathways, and glass bottles going to Jetwing St Andrews for recycling and plastic bottles being sent to the local ayurvedic doctor. Now I try to be clever, asking “won’t the plastic contaminate the remedy?” the quick answer “no, the remedies must be used within one week in ayurvedic practice, giving no time for contamination to occur with these bottles, which after all are designed to hold drinking water for considerable lengths of time”. Faris is currently planning to reinstall hydro electric to the property, using the old dilapidated channels and falls, which should provide all the electrical needs of the house with any surplus being channelled to the village. Another such project among the multitude of creative ideas includes the building of a biogas plant that will use manure. All these projects can be linked together as part of the cycles of life at Warwick Gardens and have also been made possible through the visionary hotelier, Hiran Cooray, who has created so many unique spaces around Sri Lanka by investing in the countries greatest assets, its entrepreneurial people. Faris has worked with mother nature from childhood and Warwick Gardens some 13 years, using his academic qualifications in Forestry, Wildlife conservation, rangeland management of ecosystems and animal biology . And don’t let’s forget that he is also the plumber and electrician for the house, in the spare time that he doesn’t have.

So if you want to be exceptionally well looked after in an oasis for the soul, want to pick your own vegetables and herbs, want to eat the freshest tastiest food, want to be proud of your light carbon footprint, want to hang out with the locals, want to create your own sustainable ecosystem at home, and want to meet a true visionary then there is no better place to come to than Jetwing Warwick Gardens.