Lalbagh Botanical Garden

January 13 – Bangalore
(written by Felicia Yu, photos by Aubree Pack, video by Raakel Toppila)

(As the Conservatory is to Longwood, so the Glass House is to Lalbagh. Over 120 years old, modeled after the Crystal Palace in London, the Glass House hosts twice-yearly flower shows that can pull over 50,000 visitors in a day.)

Founded in 1760 by the ruler of Mysore, Hyder Ali, Lalbagh was modeled after a Mughal garden at Sira, and each of its successive owners and overseers have added to it. Now at 240 acres in the heart of Bangalore, surrounded by congested city streets and city noise, Lalbagh is a welcome place to rest the eyes and ears (and nose).

(Posing with Dr. Krishnappa and one of the garden’s plant specialists who showed us around.)

The garden is managed by the horticulture department of the state of Karnataka. We met with the Deputy Director of Horticulture, Dr. Krishnappa, and then had a walking tour of key sights within Lalbagh accompanied by staff horticulturists.

(Giant and ancient: Ceiba pentandra, or White silk cotton tree, at over 200 years old.)

We had a thorough tour of the garden’s Horticulture Training Centre, where students and staff showed off the many vegetable, medicinal, and ornamental crops the students were growing themselves as part of their training. The ten-month training program prepares youths for professional gardening jobs, and the government provides their room and board along with a stipend while they complete the program.

(Snake gourds being trained to grow straight by the students of the Horticulture Training Centre.)

We were happy to learn that environmentally friendly practices were in place as much as possible throughout the garden, from the use of organic pest controls such as neem oil to the composting of fallen leaves. All their flower crops are grown on site or locally in Bangalore. They also make use of abundant local labor to maintain the garden—we watched workers pulling water hyacinths from the garden’s signature lake by hand, and planting whole lawns with plugs by hand.

Video Link: Lahbagh Lake – water hyacinth removal in action

(Lalbagh Lake, nearly clear of weedy water hyacinths after ten days of hand-pulling.)

The mild climate of Bangalore has made Lalbagh an ideal place to trial and introduce new species from around the world, especially for its former British superintendents wanting to try familiar European crops and exotic species which would fail in more arid or more tropical regions of India. The garden’s current collection of over 1,800 species from around the world includes giant, and in some cases ancient, specimens of Ceiba pentandra, Ficus benjamina (of all things), Araucaria cookii, and Mangifera indica (mangoes! Out of season, unfortunately).

(King of the Rock. Matt is standing on the “Lalbagh Rock,” a large outcrop of peninsular gneiss at the edge of the garden, topped by a 450-year-old structure called the Kempegowda tower, not pictured.)