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A Botanic Garden in an Historic City of India: Patiala's Role in Botanic Garden Conservation

Volume 2 Number 10 - June 1998

Parshotam Kumar

Patiala and the Punjab

The historic city of Patiala in northern India contains the Botanic Gardens of the University of the Punjab. The Garden has a conservation role to fulfil in response to the loss of natural plant cover within the Punjab and the District of Patiala, and a similar loss of historic amenity planting within the City of Patiala itself.

The District of Patiala lies in the State of Punjab, at about 230 m above sea-level (30º20'N, 74º52'E). The average annual rainfall is 660 mm; temperatures vary between 14.5ºC in January and 33.2ºC in June with sunshine on about 80% of days in the year. The average daily relative humidity reaches a maximum of 82% in January and February, declining to 51-55% from April to June.

The District has 1,419 villages but is being rapidly urbanised; 35 of these villages were absorbed into urban areas in a single decade. The forested area of Patiala District is only 3.6% of its total area, and in Punjab State as a whole it is only 5.6%. The total area of the Patiala District is 458,000 ha, with 12,000 ha of forest and 10,000 ha of barren land. A total of 53,000 ha of land in the District is used for non-agricultural purposes, and there is only about 1,000 ha of woodlands.

The area in the District used for crops is about 390,000 ha, with the majority (336,000 ha) raising more than one crop a year. About 4,500 ha are planted with fruit trees. Of the total land area, 367,000 ha is under irrigation. There are only 136 km of protected forest to give fresh air to the population of over 200,000 population of the District.

The City of Patiala

Patiala was once known throughout south east Asia as the 'City of Gardens', but during the last five decades these have been neglected or converted into housing complexes or other facilities.

These included the huge Moti Bagh Garden with its rare architecture of terraces and landscaping which now houses the National Institute of Sports, and its lush green plantation was converted into playing fields in the 1960s. These gardens and arboreta were rich in trees species often introduced from Australia by the previous rulers of the State of Patiala and grew for over 100 years in Patiala State. The avenues of the public roads in and around Patiala City used to constitute a 'green belt' around Patiala before the 1950s. The avenues included rare varieties of Inga dulcis and there was a five km long avenue of trees on both sides of the road between the Baradari Gardens and Moti Bagh forest.

Another garden, the 100 acre Chotti Baradari Gardens contained several groves of rare exotic and endemic trees together with varieties of rare mangoes and guavas. The Bhapur and Yadvindra Gardens of these Gardens have been converted into residential complexes, although the gardens still contain a few rare and exotic species, a reminder of its vanished past.

The main Baradari Garden is a fascinating example of nineteenth century landscaping. It includes a botanic garden, an ornamental garden, a rock garden, fountains, a greenhouse, Rajindera Park and a flower nursery The Garden has a fine underground network of pipes for irrigation and fountains, but it has not been used for the last few decades. It has a picturesque greenhouse, which after that in the Royal Botanic Garden, Calcutta has no equal. It has nine roofs (Kalas) with a higher central roof and 22 fountains. It is constructed of vulcanised steel wire on poles with thirty-two sprinklers fitted to the roofs. It has attractive paved paths with a line of four fountains in between the two paths on four sides of the greenhouse. There is large marble fountain in the centre with four marble benches giving the greenhouse a 'drawing room' look. There are five tombs, each with a fountain in the Persian style. The greenhouse contains more than 100 varieties of Himalayan ferns, Caladium spp., crotons, palms, orchids, Dracaena spp., and Gloxinia spp. Also present are species of Aphelandra, Aralia, Asparagus, Aspidistra, Begonia rex, Beloperone, Bryophyllum, Olinia, Canna, Coleus, Cycas circinalis, arum lily, iris lily and Justicia.

The Punjab University Botanic Garden

A botanic garden was established on the campus of the Punjabi University, six kilometres north-east of this historic city in 1972. The area of the Garden is about 30 acres.

The Garden was established for education and research. It has an arboretum with a rich collection, both of exotics and of endangered tree species endemic to the Punjab and Western Himalayas. The Garden also contains a bamboo garden with a collection of bamboos mainly from the Himalayas. It also includes a large collection of Bougainvillea, a cactus house, a tropical house, cactus and canna gardens, conifer collections, an undisturbed natural forest area with endemic species, an indoor garden, two greenhouses, a succulent garden, and a rosarium. The Garden's plantings include specimens of Saraca asoca, the tree under which Buddha was born, planted by Prof M.S. Swaminathan (of the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, Madras and former President of IUCN - The World Conservation Union) in 1982 and Mother Teresa in 1985.

The Garden has a total of 147 tree species, 126 shrubs, 43 climbers, 23 types of gymnosperm, 78 types of cactus and succulents, a total of about 468 perennial species.

This year the Garden has launched an 'Eco-friendly tree plantation system'. It envisages planting rare, endemic and endangered tree species, carrying out ex situ conservation by raising seedlings, and motivating people to plant tree saplings in their compounds. It will also encourage institutions to plant 'green belts' of long-term and short-term tree plantations and noise- and dust-absorbing vegetation around their grounds.