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Flora's Empire

Flora's Empire: British Gardens in India

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 440
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    Flora's Empire
    Book Description:

    Like their penchant for clubs, cricket, and hunting, the planting of English gardens by the British in India reflected an understandable need on the part of expatriates to replicate home as much as possible in an alien environment. In Flora's Empire, Eugenia W. Herbert argues that more than simple nostalgia or homesickness lay at the root of this "garden imperialism," however. Drawing on a wealth of period illustrations and personal accounts, many of them little known, she traces the significance of gardens in the long history of British relations with the subcontinent. To British eyes, she demonstrates, India was an untamed land that needed the visible stamp of civilization that gardens in their many guises could convey. Colonial gardens changed over time, from the "garden houses" of eighteenth-century nabobs modeled on English country estates to the herbaceous borders, gravel walks, and well-trimmed lawns of Victorian civil servants. As the British extended their rule, they found that hill stations like Simla offered an ideal retreat from the unbearable heat of the plains and a place to coax English flowers into bloom. Furthermore, India was part of the global network of botanical exploration and collecting that gathered up the world's plants for transport to great imperial centers such as Kew. And it is through colonial gardens that one may track the evolution of imperial ideas of governance. Every Government House and Residency was carefully landscaped to reflect current ideals of an ordered society. At Independence in 1947 the British left behind a lasting legacy in their gardens, one still reflected in the design of parks and information technology campuses and in the horticultural practices of home gardeners who continue to send away to England for seeds.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0505-3
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Cowslips and Lotuses
    (pp. 1-16)

    When britons arrived in India in the opening years of the seventeenth century, they found the subcontinent awash with flowers. But the flowers were different, their wanton abundance unsettling. Absent were the cowslips and daisies of British meadows and hillsides, in their place strange exotics such as jasmine and lotus. First encounters with alien lands tend to focus on nature, what is reassuringly familiar and what is unfamiliar or even repellent. Nature, however, is rarely left untouched. How it is conceptualized and managed in the form of gardens and man-made landscapes are very much matters of history and culture. The...


    • CHAPTER 1 From Garden House to Bungalow, Nabobs to Heaven-Born
      (pp. 19-61)

      Surveying his newly won domains in northern India, Zahirrudin Muhammad Babur was appalled. Descendant of Tamurlane and, more distantly, of Genghis Khan, the victor of Panipat (1526) would have preferred to rule Samarkand; instead he had to settle for the dusty vastnesses of Hindustan. In the few years left to him Babur set about putting the stamp of civilization on the Gangetic plain, creating not palaces and forts and cities but gardens, introducing “marvelously regular and geometric gardens” in “unpleasant and inharmonious India.”¹ The Mughal ruler was neither the first nor the last invader to look upon the Indian landscape...

    • CHAPTER 2 Calcutta and the Gardens of Barrackpore
      (pp. 62-96)

      Barrackpore, in former times the country retreat of the governor-general of India, lies some fifteen miles upriver from Calcutta. A short distance, one would think, but enough to guarantee a respite from the sweltering heat that descended on the capital of British India for much of the year. Its gigantic trees, luxuriant shrubbery, and gentle lawn sloping down to the river’s edge held the promise of shade and fresh breezes, even a hint of home in a distant land. Like the name of the place itself (referring to the nearby cantonment of soldiers), the garden was a hybrid, both Indian...

    • CHAPTER 3 Over the Hills and Far Away: The Hill Stations of India
      (pp. 97-136)

      India was not for the fainthearted. Those who arrived in the cool season were agreeably surprised by the sunshine and pleasant temperatures, such a contrast to the Stygian gloom of British winters. But all three presidency towns—Madras, Calcutta, and Bombay—were low, swampy, and pestilential. For much of the year the heat was well-nigh unbearable; even the monsoons did little to moderate it, adding only an enervating humidity and rampant mold. Flowers and people alike wilted after the first freshness of dawn, and life was lived from sunrise to sunset in the semidarkness of shuttered rooms. for the first...


    • CHAPTER 4 Eastward in Eden: Botanical Imperialism and Imperialists
      (pp. 139-180)

      In 1760 Haidar Ali, soldier of fortune and de facto ruler of Mysore, ordered the creation of a botanical garden in Bangalore, the first in India. He gave it the common name of Lal Bagh, or “red garden,” for its abundance of roses and other red flowers. Inspired by the French gardens in Pondicherry and even more by the Mughal garden in newly conquered Sira, he wanted a similar retreat of his own. Like its Mughal models, it consisted of a series of square parterres intersected by paths lined with fruit trees. Cypresses framed rose bushes and flowerbeds. A small...

      (pp. None)
    • CHAPTER 5 Gardens of Memory
      (pp. 181-196)

      Lucknow was a city renowned for its oriental extravagance, not to say decadence. To Victorian England it symbolized all that was wrong with India and all, as they came increasingly to believe, that they could set right. Lucknow and the surrounding province of Awadh (Oudh or Oude in contemporary British spelling) had been tributary to the Mughal emperor but gradually asserted its independence as Mughal power declined. The British preferred to maintain Awadh as a convenient buffer between their holdings in Bengal and the tumultuous kingdoms of the hinterland rather than to conquer it outright, counting on their Resident to...

    • CHAPTER 6 The Taj and the Raj: Restoring the Taj Mahal
      (pp. 197-226)

      Lord curzon served as viceroy of India from 1899 to 1905. One of the accomplishments of which he was proudest was the preservation and restoration of India’s ancient monuments during his watch and with his active participation. And of none was he prouder than those in Agra—first and foremost, his beloved Taj Mahal (see Pl. 16). “If I had never done anything else in India, I have written my name here [in Agra],” he declared in 1905, “and the letters are a living joy.”¹ Today’s visitors to the Taj are apt to be so transfixed by the mausoleum itself...

    • CHAPTER 7 Imperial Delhi: City of Gardens
      (pp. 227-256)

      Gazing out upon Delhi in 1838, fanny Parks beheld a vast panorama of gardens, pavilions, mosques, and burial places. But the “once magnificent city” was now “nothing more than a heap of ruins.”¹ When the British became masters of Delhi in the opening years of the nineteenth century, they had found it a city of gardens and a city of ruins, the two often intertwined. The plains were dotted with crumbling walls of palaces and tombs, often cannibalized by later conquerors, and even more with the faded, weed-infested gardens in which earlier kings, nobles, and saints had once taken their...

    • CHAPTER 8 Imperial New Delhi: The Garden City
      (pp. 257-284)

      As a child growing up in New Delhi in the 1930s, Patwant Singh could not have asked for more. “The magnificent sweep of this imperial city which the British were building, with a passion which matched that of India’s Mughal rulers, was heaven-sent for us.” He recalls the “gracious vistas of King’s Way . . . with its broad well-cut lawns and lines of trees extending as far as the eye could see.” Much as he and his playmates loved watching the pageantry, their greatest joy was climbing the trees along the wide boulevard for the succulent fruits of jamun...

    • CHAPTER 9 The Legacy
      (pp. 285-302)

      The english garden legacy put down roots in India long before that nation achieved independence in 1947. In 1843 Baron von Orlich noted that the rajah of Bhurtpore, installed and educated by East India Company officials, had laid out “an uncommonly pleasant villa, surrounded by four small flower-gardens . . . solely for the use of the English who visit him.” Other rajahs followed his lead, no doubt aware that this was a good way to curry favor with their rulers but perhaps intrigued also by exotic motifs, as Lucknow’s rulers had been. Maharaja Sayajirao III brought over a gardener...

    • CONCLUSION: Garden Imperialism
      (pp. 303-314)

      Thus far the focus of this book has been on the life and afterlife of British colonial gardens in India. now it is time to put them in a larger context and try to tease out what they may tell us about British imperialism itself.

      A passion for gardens was by no means limited to India or to the British. Rival powers, such as the French and Dutch, put their own stamp on their imperial landscapes, but none did so on the scale or with such lasting effect as the British. They created botanical gardens that doubled as public parks...

    (pp. 315-318)
  8. NOTES
    (pp. 319-352)
    (pp. 353-372)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 373-380)
    (pp. 381-382)