The Garden Guide

Book: C.M Villiers Stuart Gardens of the Great Mughals
Chapter: Chapter 3 The Gardens of the Taj Mahal

Mughal planting design

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The various gay parterres mentioned by Bernier have all been swept away, excepting only the stone-bordered, star-shaped beds along the canals, which are now laid out in grass. The cypress avenues have been replanted, but one looks round the garden in vain for that favourite motive which so many forms of Moslem art borrowed from garden-craft, the symbolic mixed avenues of cypress and flowering tree. Palms have recently been planted round the central raised tank and its fountain parterre. At present they look heavy and stumpy, but in the future, when they tower with their graceful heads above the cypress trees, they will mark the centre of the gardens, without obstructing the view of the monument; their slender stems repeating the idea of the graceful detached minarets at the four corners of the Taj platform. And in this famous Indian garden these four areca-nut palms opposite the four corners of the tank would combine this artistic purpose with the old Hindu symbolism of the marriage of the fruit trees-one of which was usually a palm- by the well. Jahangir, in his Memoirs, mentions an avenue of areca-nut palms in one of Babar's gardens at Agra which had grown ninety feet high. The gardens of Akbar's tomb at Sikandrah were planted with cypress, wild-pine, plane, and supari (areca-nut palm). Another garden made by Jahangir's directions at Sehrind he describes thus: 'On entering the garden I found myself immediately in a covered avenue (pergola), planted on each side with scarlet roses, and beyond them arose groves of cypress, fir, plane, and evergreens variously disposed.... Passing through these we entered what was in reality the garden, which now exhibited a variegated parterre ornamented with flowers of the utmost brilliancy of colours and of the choicest kinds.' Akbar (1556-1605) was keenly interested in horticulture, though garden building and design do not seem to have had for him the attraction they had for his grandfather Babar or his son Jahangir. The Ain-i-Akbari gives in detail the principal plants and flowers of the time. 'His Majesty looks upon plants as one of the greatest gifts of the Creator, and pays much attention to them. The horticulturists of Iran and Turan have, therefore, settled here, and the cultivation of the trees is in a flourishing state.' In Babar's garden at Agra, named by him the 'Flower Scatterer,' thousands of pine-apples were produced yearly. One wonders if the red-flowered oleanders flourished there, 'the particularly fine red kanirs' which Babar found in a garden at Gwalior and transplanted with such care to his new gardens at Agra.