HISTORY of the KOHLI GARDEN

During my 1985 Expedition to Kashmir, I learnt of Mrs Urvashi Suri's plant to establish a small botanical garden at a higher elevation, between Tangmarg and Gulmarg, where some of the mountain plants, which cannot cope with the summer heat of Srinagar, could survive.  The garden was to honour her father, Prem Nath Kohli, founder of P.Kohli & Co. - very much a research scientists, rather than a nurseryman. B.O.Coventry, then the Conservator of forests in Kashmir (Author of the 3 Series 'Wild Flowers of Kashmir' - a 1920s and 1930s colour guide) had a large hut at Gulmarg where he kept a garden in the early 1930s, where he recorded the flowering and fruiting details of specimens he had transplanted from the wild, constituting an early version of ex-situ conservation.  The hut may well survive but the 'alpine' flowers are long gone (such species tend to be short-lived in cultivation; individual plants belonging to them tend to be so in the wild, living typically 2-4 years but keep going by existing in colonies).  See the end of this page for further details. Staff at the University of Kashmir involved with ex-situ conservation projects could learn from consulting his records.

Irises from Kashmir supplied by P.Kohli & Co., flowering in the sunny front section of the Kohli Memorial Himalayan Garden


Anyhow, accompanied by Magnus Ramsay, then Deputy Principal of the Threave School of Gardening, I offered what advice we could and following the death of P.N.Kohli early the following year.  Various sites were visited to consider their suitability and I began an Appeal to raise funds towards the garden.  It is always difficult to buy land as few in Kashmir (or any other parts of the Himalaya) wish to sell land.  Tragically, the project never materialised in the Himalaya, as Mrs Suri's husband was shot dead in front of her by militants in their home at Srinagar in 1989.  It naturally took some years to come to terms with what happened. I then suggested re-locating the botanical garden in the Kulu Valley, Himachal Pradesh, which was safe and quite a number of Kashmiris (Mrs Suri was Indian rather than Kashmiri in the specific sense, despite having been born there and lived almost all her life there) had moved across to set up handicraft businesses, following killings of foreigners had destroyed tourism. But it was not practical nor proper for a widow (or any Indian lady) to stay, unaccompanied.  Furthermore, her children had moved around India and one son to Australia, so would seldom be in a position to visit and she understood, as had been the case in Kashmir, gardeners only worked if she was around to supervise them.  This left me with a bright idea.  Why not establish the P.N.Kohli Memorial Himalayan Garden in my small town garden, especially after it had been featured on BBC Gardeners' World - it might be small but was thus more easily managed and had the not inconsiderable advantage, in terms of visits both for UK residents and foreign visitors of being located near to London (in fact only 7km from Heathrow).  What is wrong being the world's smallest botanical garden.  Given Chris' botanical and horticultural background along with the Himalayan Plant Association, he was in an ideal position to be the garden's curator - he can do almost everything a major botanical garden like Kew or Edinburgh can, albeit a fraction of the scale, even produce floras and guides to NW Himalayan floras - to a better standard than the main institutions.

A much slimmer Chris Chadwell minus the grey hair holding an Aquilegia on 'the mound' in the front section of his parents small town garden on the outskirts of Slough in the summer of 1983, prior to the Kashmir Botanical Expedition he was about to lead.  His father's front garden had consisted of just lawn, when they bought the house in 1980. A neighbour was having an extension built a couple of years later, so one day when his Dad was at work, Chris used a wheel-barrow to collect some of the bricks and rubble, which he dumped in the middle of the lawn.  His father nearly had a heart attack when he got home, demanding that Chris do something.  The thinking behind the bricks & rubble was to, with the aid of sand and grit, produce conditions of good 'drainage' (or more accurately, aeration), which would be advantageous when attempting to cultivate plants originating in the more arid parts of the Himalaya (the borderlands with Tibet). Chris had graduated in the summer of 1980, missing out on his graduation ceremony to join the University of Southampton's Ladakh Expedition.  After a short spell in the police, Chris became leader of a team surveying riverside vegetation in Wales 1982-3.  Earlier he had obtained plants from Langley Garden Centre, where he worked at weekends as a salesman, in their then 'Tree & Shrub' department as well as being a part-time jobbing gardener and volunteer numeracy tutor.

At this time the garden had hardly any Himalayan plants. He bought a birch tree from the 'Tree & Shrub' department of the garden centre he worked at, that was supposedly Betula jacquemontii but turned out to just be a white-barked form of a North American Betula - he has discovered over the following decades that a significant proportion of plants in cultivation under Himalayan names are impostors.  Gradually, Chris was able to replace all the non-Himalayan specimens in the garden with ones genuinely originating in the Himalaya.

Shortly after the 'mound' was first added to the front section of the garden, looking bare and open

Chris hard at work constructing a low wall as a barrier to local dogs and children, utilising concrete which he had broken up from a path in the back section of the garden.

Chris playing with our cat in the rear section of the garden.  Note the small garden shed, which remains - at one point used to prepare my Tutor-Marked-Assignments (it was very cold at times) as was too noisy in the house with young children. The basic glasshouse (with substantial concrete base) but up by my father, which was there when BBC Gardeners' World filmed in 1993.  There is no lawn in the garden anymore.

A gaudy large-flowered Clematis which was at the garden when my parents bought the house in 1980 when they moved from Stevenage in Herts.  By the late 1980s one or two Clematis introductions grew on the trellis and flowered but unfortunately succumbed to a disease - with a yellow exudation from the stems when cut.

Colourful front garden with irises in bloom, heathers & rhododendrons in the 'peat bed', then rockery subjects on the mound; prostrate junipers in the boundary wall at the bottom (front by the path).  Concrete drive-way prominent,  then Leyland Cypress and one specimen tree: Betula jacquemontii, as a boundary.  The plants were purchased at a discount from Langley garden Centre, where I worked as a salesman of trees, shrubs and house-plants at weekends (also a bar-man some evenings at the Gurkha Pub (appropriately named, though I did not visit Nepal until 1990), Iver - sadly it has retuned to its original name of the 'Red Lion'.  See image below as well.

No recollection I where I was being driven to - across the road is what was a secondary school when my parents arrived in 1980, then became as Annex of Langley College before lying unused for years.  Eventually became Langley Leisure Centre (and Swimming Pool). 

With my two youngest sons plus a school-friend - note the coloured Tibetan Prayer flags - an Open Day for the Garden about 2008


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Chris Chadwell on the mound of the front section of the garden in the early 1980s

Chris photographed for the local newspaper on the 'mound' in the front section of the garden


Occasions when Chris has opened the Kohli Memorial Himalayan to small groups for charity, charging a fee per person and having a plant sale

'Bhutanese Plants in Berkshire Gardens' [tour of Savill & Valley Gardens by John Bond, Keeper of the Gardens; tour Kohli Memorial Himalayan Garden] 1996


Comments