Giver of Delight

... or Farhat Baksh, as the garden was first called, was the nucleus of Saharanpur's Botanic Garden, a 40 acre reserve that is described, somewhat sadly by JRank thus: Despite the destruction of most of its trees by troops during the Second World War the garden still exists, reasonably well maintained, but unlabeled and little visited, run as a horticultural research establishment.

This garden unexpectedly lived up to its original Persian name when Hugh Falconer cultivated tea in the herbarium here and set up plantations in Kumaon and Garhwal after its discovery as a wild plant in Assam, breaking the Chinese monopoly. One of the oldest existing gardens in India, dating back to before 1750, the garden was acquired by the East India Company in 1817. It grew slowly, collecting plants from all over north India, and became an important source for seeds for the British Empire- sending as much as 2000 pounds of seeds back to Kew Gardens in 1863, for instance.

The National History Museum, London, has a collection of over 300 drawings and watercolours of plants and flowers from the Saharanpur gardens (some of which are on the NHM website and are copied here). The collection is believed to have been prepared c. 1855 under the guidance of Deputy Surgeon-General William Jameson who was the Garden Superintendent from 1844 to 1875 [and] provides a remarkable record of some of the plants that were present in the Saharanpur Garden in the mid-nineteenth century. Unfortunately, there is no record of the various artists who contributed to this wonderful archive. Nor has it been shown in exhibition, which is a real pity.

Now known as the Horticultural Experiment and Training Centre, the Saharanpur Botanic Garden was the centre for the survey of northern Indian flora, and second only to the Calcutta Botanic Gardens in terms of national importance. There are over 150 botanic gardens in India, though, forming the Indian Botanical Gardens Network.

Like many public institutions in India the IBGN needs to be known better, both to fulfill its role more effectively and to be better appreciated by us all for the immense contribution that the botanic gardens have made to the economy- and for what they can do, given the importance of biodiversity at this time. The Saharanpur gardens are today (on some tourism websites) described as a suitable park for morning walks, a far cry from their original and somewhat more exploitative role when they were set up with the purpose of introducing and acclimatizing economically important plants!

The IBGN has admirable aims, to
  • Establish a network of botanic gardens in India effectively representing the breadth of gardens both geographically and administratively;
  • Encourage a greater collaboration and sharing of resources (database) and knowledge among the botanic gardens in India;
  • Encourage Indian botanic gardens to work cooperatively to conserve the flora of India;
  • Assist in the development of the role, facilities and activities of botanic gardens in India;
  • Provide a forum for policy development amongst botanic gardens in India;
  • Assist in the preparation and dissemination of guidelines and advice on best practice and information, and;
  • Represent the botanic garden community as appropriate amongst other communities nationally and internationally.
  • Facilitate exchange of information in India through website, Newsletter, etc.
  • Create awareness among public to adopt better garden management practices.

We do need to appreciate more fully that Indian botanic gardens are potentially excellent sites for the conservation of indigenous plants, including threatened flora and wild species of actual and potential economic importance (e.g. medicinal). Botanic gardens are especially relevant to the delivery of ex situ conservation programmes but also potentially major players in the reintroduction and rehabilitation of these plants in the wild. Botanic gardens also combine diverse roles in horticulture, public education and awareness raising, botanical research, policy development and other disciplines.

Setting up a useful website is not one of their goals, regrettably. But still, they do valuable work and deserve more support.