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The man behind the garden city

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This year flags off the 150 birth anniversary of the German horticulturist J.H. Krumbiegel whose green intervention in India is said to have helped some of the princely states go greener with aesthetic and functional variety introduced to gardens and horticulture in India. It was not just Mysuru that gained the name ‘City of Gardens’. Bengaluru earned the sobriquet ‘Garden City’ because of his interventions. It was during the Maharaja’s rule that Krumbiegel was recognised and brought over from the Kew Gardens of London to Baroda by the royals there in 1893, but in a few years’ time, he stepped on to Karnataka soil and made Bengaluru his home. When he died here in 1956, Maharaja Jayachamaraja Wadiyar insisted his mortal remains be buried at the Methodist Burial Ground on Langford Road under his favourite African Tulip Tree with a saying “Whatever he touched he adorned.”

In the beginning of the 1900s India is said to have seen most princely states competing to showcase the best of plants, animals in zoos, and landscapes. According to garden and urban architecture enthusiasts, only the last two centuries had gradually turned Bengaluru into a land of green as it was predominantly rocky terrain. Britishers had started off with their horticultural experimentations here with samples of plants and seedlings exchanged globally in fair trade as part of their Economic Botany that Krumbiegel was a master at. He continued the trade at Lalbagh which was chosen as the centre for seed research and trading, even as he took over as the Superintendent of Government Gardens in 1908.

Apart from all the green activities of colour parade with regard to flowering trees and plants, tree avenues with landscaping and introducing India to the best of English vegetables, what was Krumbiegel’s background that made him extend a potent green persona to the cities he was associated with?

H.P. Sumangala, Scientist, Ornamental Crops, Indian Institute of Horticultural Research, shares some of Krumbiegel’s unknown facets from her first-hand collection of material on the German horticulturist, as part of her Herrenhausen-Research-Fellowship tour in 2014, when she visited Lohmen, Krumbiegel’s birthplace, and other parts of Germany.

Excerpts of the interview …

Your Fellowship took you to Krumbiegel’s birthplace. What are Indo-German commonalities and public spaces there that have helped Krumbiegel simulate the designer elements here?

Krumbiegel being the ‘garden bridge’ between the two countries, we have some remarkable features of European gardens stamped here too. Avenue plantations and Gundu topu at several places here (trees planted in circular pattern), and one of the oldest garden in Berlin, Sansucci, with terraces and fountains bear similarity with Brindavan Gardens laid out by Krumbiegel, along with the added fountains.

What is the interesting background of Krumbiegel that you have researched and collected?

Gustav Herrman Krumbeigel was born at Lohmen to Fürchtegott Friedrich Krumbiegel and Anna Emilie Wendton December 18, 1865. Although his father was a restaurateur, Krumbeigel is said to have had an overpowering influence with the visual appeal of the gardens of Pillnitz laid out by landscape architect Peter Joseph Linne. As a boy he took the gardeners’ apprentice at the Royal gardens at Pillnitz where he specialised in landscape and ornamental gardening and later joined the Agricultural and Fruit Department of the Schwerin Royal Garden in the capital of Mecklenburg. In 1885, Krumbiegel entered the service of a private garden at Hamburg, where in addition to landscape gardening, he specialised in the raising of rare plants until 1887.

Even with the Imperial Botanical Garden at Berlin offering him a job, Krumbiegel’s passion for learning more on horticulture made him enrol at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, in London, while his penchant to have his English improved made him enter Hyde Park too.

Kew always remained on top for its comprehensive collection of plants, its well-stocked library of books on botany, horticulture and kindred sciences, its courses that touch upon varied branches of horticulture, and the care and cultivation of the plant kingdom that Krumbiegel was completely exposed to. His horticulture addiction helped him become part of the Kew faculty, while bagging prizes for his essays on the subject. It was just a matter of time before Krumbiegel was made a member of the editorial committee of Kew Guild Journal, and as the sub-foreman of the Propagating Department at Kew he dealt with varied seeds, especially of the economic plants from all parts of the world where they were tested, germinated and distributed to the British Colonies.

As a scientist at IIHR, what according to you were his propagation methodologies that we are benefitting from?

His interests were not confined to gardening alone. They also sought an outlet in architecture and town planning. Fountains, bridges and pavilions were conjured up in elegant taste to complete delightful landscape pictures.

His knowledge of the geography of plant life, of the economic and meteorological value of plants, of the colour scheme in gardening and his practical genius in evolving picturesque effects, soon transformed the personal properties of the Gaekwads at Bombay and Ootacamund. During his stay at Baroda, Krumbiegel made elaborate improvements and it is this popularity he gained that increased his demand in other States like Kapurtala and Cooch Behar.

And the fruit additions?

Apple cultivation was given a boost during his period. One variety which has found much favour with the local fruit gardeners is the ‘Rome Beauty’. More than a lakh plants of this variety were imported and supplied to orchard enthusiasts, while a number of varieties of apples were grafted and tested out. He introduced apple, grape and citrus fruits, figs and pomegranates from Australia and Poona. Blackberry and strawberry were also imported from Australia and grown in the fruit nursery, raspberry was got from Paris, and litchi from Saharanpore, apart from hundreds of other varieties.


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