Deepa Mehta's garden was meant to be a country oasis, offering respite from the pressures of writing and directing films such as the spectacular Bollywood/Hollywood and her internationally acclaimed trilogy Fire, Earth and Water. But the 50-year-old, Toronto-based filmmaker quickly discovered that grandiose gardens come with diva-like demands. She took a break from preproduction on her next film, an adaptation of Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, to tell The Globe and Mail about coming down to earth.
Fire opens with a family sitting in a vast field of yellow flowers. What does that image represent?
Ah yes, those are mustard fields in bloom. They symbolize nurturing, a safe environment.
How often should you water? Can you bring a plant back to life?
Where do you garden?
We have a place near Brighton, Ont., that's about 17 acres with a small cottage. What attracted me to it when we bought it was that it already had a superb garden. I thought I wouldn't have to do anything but weed. Dream on! I had to learn on the job. I've become really intrigued by giant perennials. Keeping up a garden is hard, but to be stupid enough to go for giant perennials makes it all the more challenging.
What's the appeal of the giant perennial? Do you like a spectacle?
Like my movies? [Laughs.]Something big that cuts into the horizon and you can see from a distance is very appealing. In the city, smaller flowers would be fine.
Did you tend a garden growing up?
No, though my mum is very fond of gardening. To this day, I'll call her in New Delhi and even though we're in different zones, she can tell me what to plant. You know, she used to tell me that you're really getting old when you start gardening and like classical music.
When you're choosing plants, what do you go for: colour, texture, fragrance, yield?
Films take a long time to make, so I'm into instant gratification. What's going to bloom tomorrow and what's going to be the least painful to acquire and what's going to be beautiful - all those things. But instant gratification, always.
What's your favourite thing to do in the garden?
Watering the plants.
Why? Do you do it with a drink in your hand?
No gin and tonics while you work! It's just so slow and mindless, the way ironing is mindless, and you can think about other things while doing something good, nursing something. And it's very easy. Easy but essential.
Making a film is a collaborative effort. Do you have a gardening crew?
My friend Ratna is an amazing, amazing gardener. She taught me not only about the different varieties of perennials and how to plant things that will bloom in June, August and the fall, but also the idea of colour in the foliage, not just the flower. She's my gardening guru.
Do you have any secret weapons, like pouring Kool-Aid on your roses?
Lee Valley has all this stuff - gadgets and weeders. They're very impressive and I used to buy them, but I don't even use gloves now. I'm down to the real basics and it feels good. You could say no gloves makes it easier to feel the earth - that's very romantic, feeling the earth - but actually it's convenient and practical and I think the way it was meant to be.
How do you feel when you're in your garden?
There's something very beautiful about nursing things so they grow and the sense that you're helping something to survive to the next year, that what you're doing is not just going to end. It's like life, really.
Or making films.
If you do a good job, they stay around forever.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
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