The colourful royal garden in Rashtrapati Bhavan—the President’s office and house
“And Spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere;
And each flower and herb on Earth's dark breast
rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.”
--Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Sensitive Plant
Birds chirped, ducks waddled behind a fence, as we walked past the herb garden, impatient to see the hues spread across 15-acres of the Mughal Garden in Rashtrapati Bhavan. Almost running past the musical garden, we went up the steps and were wonderstruck by the riot of colours—pinks, reds, oranges, yellows, greens, purples. The water flowing from the fountains sang a song and birds danced their way over the flowers and the water.
The Mughal Garden was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens for Lady Harding in 1917. But the formal planting was done in 1928-1929. Director of Horticulture William Mustoe worked with Lutyens on the design and the planting. The layout is a combination of the the Mughal and British garden designs. Divided into main, long and circular gardens, they have canals, multi-level terraces and flowering shrubs along with European flowerbeds, lawns and privet hedges.
We walked on the red stone pathway, accompanied by an escort, gazing at the rows of roses, tulips, dahlias, marigolds. The garden is home to more than 150 varieties of roses, informed Shamshunabi, the senior gardener, who worked there for over 20 years. He was born on the Rashtrapati Bhavan premises; his father also worked there as a gardener for 37 years. Telling tales from his father’s time, he said that the then President Dr Zakir Husain loved the garden and took great interest in the planting and the variety.” The herb garden and musical fountain were installed during late President Dr APJ Kalam’s tenure.
Two channels running North to South and two running East to West divide the garden into a grid of squares. There are six lotus-shaped fountains at the crossings of these channels. There are two big lawns–the central one being square and the East lawn adjacent to the building is oblong. The grass, ‘doob’ for these lawns was originally brought from Belvedere Estate in Kolkata.
The entire turf of the lawn is removed once in a year before the monsoons, new soil is spread and the grass grows back in three weeks. Planting is done twice a year, but this is the best time of the year. “We feel so good to see the flowers, the OSD decides on the varieties and where the flowers are to be planted. A proper plan is made and the colours and size of the variety are kept in mind,” said Shamshunabi. “In this season flocks of birds also visit us.” The walls shine golden-orange with the Golden Showers creepers. Also adding a tinge of pink and blue to these oranges were the Sweet Peas. Moulsri or Bakul trees were planted along the channels and on the periphery of the two main lawns and pruned to look like mushrooms. This tree has been mentioned in the plays of Sanskrit dramatist and poet Kalidasa (5th century) and by Mughal court historian Abul Fazl in Ain-in-Akbari (16th century document).
Moving out the main garden, we walked to the long or purdah garden, which actually should be called the rose garden. There are 16 square beds of roses enclosed in 12 feet high walls. Glowing with pride, Shamshunabi pointed out the blue roses, which were just beginning to bloom. There are more than 175 gardeners maintaining the grounds of the Bhavan. And the names of the roses are a tickler—Just Joey, Queen Elizabeth, Christian Dior, Kiss of Fire, Macho Man, Monte Zuma and Scentimental! There are many more, of course.
There is a red sandstone pergola in the centre over the central pavement which is covered with rose creepers, petrea, bougainvillea and grape vines. Along the walls are the China Orange trees; the flowers of which looks like a small orange hanging from the round tree. At the end is the circular garden, also called the sunken or butterfly garden. A fountain in the centre and steps of flower beds with exotic creepers on the walls make you feel as if have stepped into paradise.
This terraced bowl has fragrant varieties such as stock, verbena, mignonette, with tall Dahlias planted along the periphery. Jasmines lean on the circular enclosure. Walking out of this paradise, we looked at the collection of bonsais. But the heady fragrance and the colourful vista lingered on.
This article appeared in the February 2009 issue of Swagat, Air India’s in-flight magazine (now defunct), where I worked as Deputy Editor then. The Mughal Garden open for public for a few weeks in spring annually. Entry is free but there is a restriction on the number of people allowed. Online booking is available.
Please share about the famous gardens in your region. And do follow us to stay connected.