1908: Kashmir’s Residency Garden

After remaining engaged with Great Game for a long time, Lt Colonel Sir Francis Edward Younghusband (May 31 1863 – July 31, 1942) was appointed as British Resident in Kashmir for three years from 1906. Perpetually in love with Kashmir, Younghusband has written extensively on the Valley. In this brief essay, he has captured the beauty of the garden that Kashmir now calls, the Emporium Garden. He lived in the Residency Garden and was personally involved in its upkeep.

The old Kashmir Emporium building in the erstwhile Residency Garden Srinagar.

Among the beauties of Kashmir, the Residency Garden must surely not be omitted. The Maharaja has provided for the Residency one of the most charming houses in India – a regular English country house. And successive Residents, in my case aided by Mr Harrison and Major Wigram, have striven to make the garden worthy of the country and the house. Here grows in perfection every English flower. The wide lawns are as soft and green as any English lawn. All the English fruits- pears, apples, peaches, apricots, plums, greengages, cherries, walnuts, mulberries, gooseberries, currants, raspberries, and strawberries – grow to perfection and in prodigious quantities; and the magnificent chenar and innumerable birds add a special charm of their own.

Perhaps a record of the cycle of the birds and flowers will give an idea not only of the beauties of the garden but of the climate of the valley.

The Spring

Early in March, the garden beauties begin to develop. The turf is then still quite brown and the trees leafless, but on March 8th, when I returned to Srinagar, violets, pansies, wall-flowers, narcissus, crocuses, and daisies were all in flower. Daffodils, hyacinths, stock and a few carnations were in bud. Columbine and larkspur leaves were sprouting. Peas and broad beans sown in November were a few inches high.

And of the trees, willow leaf buds were just – bursting and showing a tinge of fresh light-yellow green, and one apricot tree was nearly bursting into blossom. Of birds there were thrushes, minas, bulbuls, sparrows, crows, kites, blue-tits, hoopoes, and starlings; and of butterflies, a few tortoiseshells and cabbage-whites.

The maximum temperature in the shade was 55° and in the sun 104°, and the minimum temperature was 31°.

Wisteria plant in bloom in Residency Garden Srinagar. It was the home to British resident for most of the Dogra rule in Kashmir.

On March 17th the willow trees had acquired a distinct tinge of green, as also had the grass, wild hyacinths (blue-bells) and yellow crocuses were well out. The maximum temperature was 68° in the shade and 110° in the sun, and the minimum was 32°.

On the same day in the previous year, the maximum was 56° and the minimum 35°, and four days later there was snow.

By March 20th the apricot blossoms were in full bloom. Willow trees were in half-leaf, garden hyacinths, daffodils, crown imperials, and English primroses were just beginning to bloom; and greengages were in blossom.

By the end of March, the maximum temperature had reached 75° in the shade and 125° in the sun, while the minimum stood at 40°. This, however, was an exceptionally warm March.

By April Ist the garden was exquisitely beautiful. The willows were now well out and in all the charm of fresh young spring foliage. Apricots and peach trees formed little clouds of delicate pink and white dotted lightly over the garden, and not too dense to hide the glories of the snowy mountains in the background. The tall pear trees were nearly in full bloom. A few of the pinky-white apple blossoms were just appearing.

The May leaves were showing a tinge of green. Chenar leaves were just appearing. The mulberry leaf buds were beginning to burst. Catkins were hanging from the poplars. Rose leaves were fully out. The grass had nearly turned from brown to green. Iris’s buds were showing a tinge of purple.

Hyacinths were well out, and Crown Imperials and daffodils in full bloom.

On April 8rd the first of the pretty little wild tulips, striped white and pink, appeared, and on the following day, the first of the large dark purple irises and two or three large white irises came into bloom. Heavy rain fell, and on the 5th the grass was entirely green. On that day the pears were in full blossom. Two of the magnificent scarlet Kashmir tulips, which are a joy to any garden, came into blossom, and two English tulips also came out. Rosebuds were beginning to form.

The maximum temperature was 59° and the minimum 42°, On April 7th the first columbine came into bloom, and on the 9th the first shrike appeared.

This is an entry to the Kashmir Arts Emporium in Srinagar that is housed in Residency Garden.

Now followed a deluge of rain. On the 12th 24 inches fell. By the morning of the 18th 14-65 inches had fallen since January Ist, in comparison with a normal fall of 10:6 inches. And, most unexpected of all, on the night of 12th-18th snow fell! The maximum temperature was only 50° and the minimum 83°. In a single night all the lovely delicate peach blossoms, the crowning glory of the Kashmir spring, were withered up, and for the moment we seemed plunged back once more to winter.

But April 15th was one of Kashmir’s most lovely days. The poplars were now in fresh light foliage. May was in full leaf. Irises were plentiful. Several columbines were in bloom.

Both the Kashmir and English tulips were well out; and the strawberries were in blossom. On this day, too, I saw a flight of green parrots with long yellow tails in the garden.

The first rose bloomed on April 17th, a white climber whose name I do not know, growing on the south verandah. The previous year the first did not appear till the 26th.

May came into bloom on April 24th, and on the 25th a scarlet poppy and a white peony blossomed. For some days then the weather had been exceptionally warm, the maximum rising to 80° in the shade and 129° in the sun, and the minimum to 51°.

The first golden oriole appeared on the 26th – the same date as that on which it appeared the year before. The golden orioles have a glorious deep, liquid, flute-like note which thrills through the whole garden. Two or three pairs always settle there, and all day long their brilliant yellow plumage is seen flashing from tree to tree.

Three days later another brilliant visitant appears, the paradise fly-catcher. He has not the beautiful note of the golden oriole, nor such striking plumage. But he has exceedingly graceful form and movements. He has a very long, wavy, ribbony tail, like a paradise bird, and the two or three pairs of them which yearly settle in the garden may be seen at any hour undulating through the foliage or darting swiftly out to catch their prey.

In Summer

By May Ist the magnificent chenar trees were in full leaf. Mulberry, horse-chestnut, and walnut were also well in leaf. The roses were coming into bloom — numerous Maréchal Neil and a beautiful single pink rose—the Sinica anemone— a few of Fortune’s yellow, and many tea roses.

The May trees were in full blossom. The bank on the south side of the garden was a mass of dark purple and white irises, and of an evening when the sunlight glancing low along its length caused each flower to stand out in separate state, became a blaze of glory. Another beauty of this season were bushes of what is generally known as Indian May, with long slender stalks bent gracefully downward like a waterfall of snowy flowers. Stock was in full bloom. Pansies were out in masses. Both the English and Kashmir lilac were in blossom, and the columbines were in perfection. I had had out from Barr & Sons a number of varieties, and the success was remarkable. The Kashmir soil and climate seem to suit columbines, and varieties from every part of the world, deep purple, light mauve, white, mauve and white, pink and red of many different graceful forms, came up luxuriantly. They were one of the successes which gladden an amateur gardener’s heart.

The maximum in the shade was 60°, in the sun 122°, and the minimum 48°.

The first strawberries ripened a week later. The first horse chestnuts came into blossom on May 10th, and on that date, the single pink rose, sinica anemone, on the trellis at the end of the garden, was in full bloom and of wondrous beauty; a summer house covered with Fortune’s yellow was a dream of golden loveliness; I picked the first bloom of some English roses which a kind friend had sent out, and which had been planted in a special rose garden I had made for them—William Shean, Mrs Ed Mauley, Mrs WJ Grant, and Carmine Pillar; and we had our first plateful of strawberries.

A light mauve iris, a native of Kashmir, now came into bloom; geraniums and some lovely varieties of Shirley poppy which I had obtained from Mr Luther Burbank, the famous plant-breeder of California, began to blossom; and roses of every variety came rapidly on till the garden became a blaze of colour.

The first of some remarkably beautiful delphiniums—some a deep blue, some sky blue, and some opalescent—which I had also obtained from Luther Burbank appeared in bloom on May 17th.

A spell of hot weather now set in, and on May 21st the maximum temperature rose to 84° in the shade and 134° in the sun, and the minimum to 54°.

By May 25th the roses were at their maximum of beauty. The sweetly-scented and delicately-coloured La France roses were at perfection. Rich bushes of General Jacqueminot, of John Hopper, of the pink rose of Kashmir, and of many other kinds whose names I do not know, formed great masses of colour against the soft green leaves and the plentiful foliage of the chenar trees, William Alan

Richardson climbed over the trellises. The Shirley poppies gave every deep or delicate shade of red and pink. Sweet peas were in full bloom, and of them also I had had a marvellous variety from England. Pinks and carnations were coming rapidly on. A mauve and yellow iris had appeared.

Luther Burbank’s delphiniums formed welcome patches of real true blues in the herbaceous border round the lawn. The light and graceful gyp-sophylis and phlox were in bloom; gladioli were just coming out; and the horse-chestnut trees were all in gorgeous blossom.

Early in June the gladioli, Canterbury bells, pinks, sweet-Williams, and foxgloves were in full bloom, and the sweet-William especially gave masses of beautiful and varied colour. The temperature now rose to 88° in the shade and 185° in the sun, and the minimum to 54°. On June 10th, carnations, phlox, and Eschscholtzia were in full bloom. And by June 15th, though many of the best roses had passed over, two beautiful climbers which I had obtained from home, Dorothy Perkins and Lady Gay, were in full blossom, and the delicate pink and graceful form of the latter were especially lovely. Geraniums and fuchsias were now fully out, and masses of tall hollyhocks in many different shades of colour were most effective. A few cannas and some lilies also came into bloom,

By the end of June, apricots were ripe. Petunias and dahlias were out, and a few columbines still remained in bloom. The temperature had now gone up to 94° in the shade and Wee in the sun, and the minimum to 62°; and early in July it rose to 97° in the shade, which is about as hot as it ever becomes in the valley.

In Autumn

On returning to Srinagar on September 7th I found the bed of scarlet salvias giving brilliant patches of colour and most effectively lighting up the garden. The autumn crop of roses was beginning, though the blooms were not so fine as

the spring crop. Geraniums, fuchsias, asters, cannas, zinnias, gaillardia, and verbena were in abundance; stock and phlox were still out, and the hibiscus bushes were in full bloom. Burbank’s delphiniums were also having a light second bloom. The maximum in the shade was 81° and in the sun 128°, and the minimum 52°. The rainfall to date from January 1st was 27-4 inches in comparison with a normal fall of 21:7 inches.

Sir Francis E Younghusband, a 1937 portrait

By the beginning of October cosmos was blooming luxuriantly. Christmas roses were in full blossom, and the first chrysanthemum appeared. During the month these blossomed in great beauty and became the chief attraction in the garden. Towards the end of the month and beginning of November, the great chenar trees gradually assumed the gorgeous autumn colouring. The Virginian creeper on the porch turned to every rich hue of red and purple. Then the glories of the garden slowly faded. The leaves fell from the trees. The frost turned the turf brown.

In Winter

On December Ist there were still a few brave remnants of the summer splendour—a few tea roses, stocks, phlox, wallflower, chrysanthemums, carnations, petunias, gaillardia, nasturtiums, salvia, snapdragons, and one or two violets. But the temperature was now 25° at night, and the maximum in the day only 54°, and these flowers soon disappeared, and the only consolation left was the clearer view of the mountains which the absence of foliage on the trees allowed. Thus ends the story of a garden’s glory.

(The passages were excerpted from Kashmir painted by Major E Molyneux and described by Sir Francis Younghusband. The book was published by A And C Black, London in 1908.)

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