Special issue with the Sunday Magazine
Enchanted gardens : June 04, 2000
Ritusamhara in Bangalore
Freelance writer based in Bangalore.
Blessed with salubrious climate, fertile soil and copious rainfall, Bangalore has a rich heritage of spacious gardens, parks, tree-lined avenues and a multitude of flowering trees interspersed with canopy trees. One can see spectacular flowers in bloom throughout the year and each season is resplendent with a variety of flowers, multi-hued and fragrant, weaving patterns with lush foliage. This green legacy has earned for Bangalore the sobriquet "garden city".
The garden city also enjoys a year-long programmed show of sequentially blossoming trees (or Ritusamhara). It starts with the vivid splashes of the trumpet shaped jacarandas and the butter yellow blooms of the tabebuias in January/ February. In summer, Bangalore is ablaze with the vibrant red flowers of gulmohar and the pink cassias, which provide a welcome relief in the sweltering heat. Then follow the peltophorum with spikes of yellow flowers above its dense green foliage. Its copper coloured pods are equally elegant. Monsoon brings a glorious profusion of the blossoms of the yellow cassias, cassia siamea and cassia spectabilis. In October, Bangaloreans have a visual treat of the spathodias with their bell-shaped flowers. Besides these, one can observe myriads of flowering trees like the bottlebrush, the frangipani, the cannon ball, sampinge, pride of India, the bombax special and many more non-flowering trees.
The genesis of Bangalore's garden tradition can be traced back to our erstwhile Indian rulers like Hyder Ali, Tippu and British Bangalore's successive rulers - colonial and post independence jealously guarded the green heritage and even contributed their own share to the city's aesthetics and preserved the "greenness".
Bangalore has two spectacular parks - Lalbagh and Cubbon, several locality parks, innumerable bungalow gardens, boulevards and flowering traffic islands. It is this green lung that makes the city so special, providing breathing space for health freaks, nature enthusiasts, walkers and joggers.
Throughout history, people and gardens are closely linked and Lalbagh is a classic example of this. Started as a 40 - acre mango garden, Lalbagh became Hyder Ali's Royal Retreat. Later it was developed and enriched by his son, Tippu who initiated the trend of sending out plant-collecting delegations to many far-flung destinations and nurturing species. During the British era, Lalbagh prospered. Thanks to the unfailing efforts of dedicated British officials, Lalbagh witnessed an increase in acreage and plant species. Exotic plant species were exchanged between the Kew Garden of England and Lalbagh. Now sprawling over an area of 240 acres, Lalbagh is a garden par excellence with its exotic species of flora, shrubs and trees.
Krumbiegal, a German born botanist, deserves special mention for laying the foundation of the garden city and all the significant parks and gardens in the then princely state of Mysore. While conceiving and planning the city's gardens, Krumbiegal and his disciples Dr. H. Marigowda and Javaraya made flowering trees an internal part of the city's aesthetics.
Sir Mirza Ismail, the then Dewan completed the illustrious work initiated by Krumbiegal. He planted peltophorum in many roads and an avenue with champaks in Malleshwaram and called it Sampige Road. Among the Indian doyens of horticulture who made Bangalore beautiful, the name of Dr. H. Marigowda who headed the State Horticulture Department stands out. His pioneering efforts in setting up horticultural farms in every nook and corner of Karnataka and outstanding work on urban horticulture and landscaping, avenue tree culture, and aboriculture in making Bangalore a garden city is always remembered. Lakman Rao, ex-commissioner of Bangalore City Corporation is another Indian stalwart who took keen interest in laying out gardens and parks in the corporation area and also planting flowering and shade trees to beautify Bangalore. In this context, one has to pay a special tribute to Neginhaul, who spearheaded a tree - planting campaign in Bangalore during his tenure as Deputy Conservator of Forests.
Cubbon Park, the other lung of Bangalore, is a great boon to Bangaloreans who take a stroll under the tree canopies and beautiful tree avenues. Its vast stretches of green form an elegant backdrop for the public buildings like Attara Kacheri, the Seshadiri Iyer Memorial Library and the stately Vidhana Soudha. While rambling through the park, one can observe many exotic and indigenous flowering trees and the avians. Known after Sir Mark Cubbon, the celebrated Chief Commissioner of Mysore, the park was initially known as "Meades Park" after John Meade, the then acting commissioner of Mysore. Subsequently it was rechristened as Chamarajendra Park in 1927. With a view to controlling the air and noise pollution level the Horticultural Department is contemplating the regulation of movement of traffic in the Cubbon Park.
Sprawling over 240 acres, Cubbon Park includes the gardens of the Vidhana Soudha, Raj Bhavan and LRDE Musical fountain, the upkeep of which comes under the horticulture department. The Raj Bhavan gardens with its well manicured lawns, rows of royal palms, rose gardens, gravelled pathways, cisterns, pergolas and rare species of cookpine trees has a history dating back to one and half centuries. The present Raj Bhavan garden is what is left of a sprawling imperial garden known as "Residency Park". Earlier the garden was called the Commissioner's bungalow gardens.
The 19th Century Bangalore was a period of spacious bungalows with vast stretches of gardens and lawns, which evolved a culture of "Garden Parties". "It was Winston Churchill who first made an attribute to Bangalore as the garden city in his My Early Years" says Korah Chandy, the then Secretary and Municipal Commissioner of Bangalore Civil Station. According to Laeeq Futehally, "the real reason for Bangalore earning its reputation of garden city was not so much its formal garden as the number of trees on both public and private land. With its low bungalows set in large grounds and overhung by trees and with its tree - lined roads, an aerial view of the city would have been one of tree canopies with very little building or road showing through."
Even the Bangalore City Corporation and Bangalore Development Authority chipped in over the years to provide patches of green on the city's landscape. At present several locality parks, mini forests, boulevards, horticultural nurseries are maintained by them. "At BDA, we have launched an innovative project called Integrated Urban Environment Improvement Project (IUEIP) to develop environment management plans for four BDA layouts and some neighbouring areas" says Patalappa, Senior director, Horticulture, BDA.
But the scene is quite different at BCC. The existing parks and gardens need to be spruced up. A survey conducted by the Centre for Science and Technology Urban Research Centre reveals that there are 262 locality parks for a population of 65 lakhs, which means there is only one park for every 52,000. "80 per cent of the corporation parks don't qualify to be parks as they have become more like playgrounds" says Narendra K. V. of the Research Centre. "It is pathetic that the number of tree species in parks is only 16 and encroachments have gnawed into 9 per cent of the parks," laments Narendra.
The cutting down of trees for widening of roads and construction of fly-overs, dwindling of water table and tanks and shrinking of park spaces due to encroachment have all contributed to the receding greenery in Bangalore. Though many trees have been axed, many have been replaced by new ones. The saving grace is that many private institutions, public undertakings, five star hotels, resorts, corporate offices have infused urban greenery as a part of their structures by providing well-manicured gardens and elegant landscape grounds. They also maintain some of the traffic islands. Amidst the allegations and counter allegations, Bangaloreans can proudly proclaim that theirs is the only metropolis in India to have more than one tree per person.
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