Chris Chadwell paying tribute to Prem Nath Kohli at a commemorative event in Delhi
In 1935 the Royal Horticultural Society awarded its prestigious gold medal for collections of seeds and bulbs of highly ornamental Kashmir flowers, which had been sent from the Maharajah, to be grown in the gardens at Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace. Lord Wigram, Private Secretary to King
George V, commented, "His Highness must have enlisted the services of some very skilful and scientific botanist to make such a collection...." Whilst Thomas Hay, Superintendent of the Royal Parks & Gardens, observed that the collector, "has an eye for a good species and one that is likely to be appreciated as a garden plant".
That person was Prem Nath Kohli - Kashmir Forest department ranger turned horticulturist and conservationist. Kohli was appointed manager of His Highness Maharajah Hari Singh's private estates in 1946. He had earlier been been nominated to escort the then Vicerne (wife of the Viceroy),
Her Excellency Beatrix Stanley, during her visit to Kashmir - who was impressed both with his knowledge of botany and simple ways. In 1928 he established P.Kohli & Co. in Srinagar, Kashmir.
Sadly, it was not Kohli who was acknowledged or received the gold medal but the senior Forest Officer of the district where Kohli was based - even though this officer had little knowledge of Kashmir flora and resided in his office most of the time! Such was the way things operated in British India at that time. And one cannot blame either Wigram or Hay, as material reaching England, though in all probability carefully packed by Kohli himself, would not have had his name attached.
Despite meeting Kohli on a number of occasions, he never mentioned the matter, graciously accepting the situation. But when this was drawn to my attention by family members, I made inquiries and by the 1990s had accumulated sufficient independent evidence to confirm it was indeed Kohli who travelled extensively in Kashmir and Ladakh searching for garden-worthy plants on behalf of the Maharajah.
It was not appropriate to attempt to cancel a medal awarded more than 70 years ago. A senior former figure in the society looked into the matter and agreed that Kohli's efforts warranted considered for an award but the RHS do not give posthumous awards. As Kohli had passed away in 1986, it was too late.
However, when in 2003, the Himalayan Plant Association created a new award to be bestowed on those who have made a significant contribution to the study, cultivation or conservation of Himalayan flora, Kohli was the obvious candidate to be the first recipient, albeit posthumously. Upon reflection though, it seemed fitting that modest and unassuming Prem - a gentle man and true gentleman, would have preferred to honour others. Hence 'The Kohli Memorial Gold Medal' was created - each time it is awarded Prem Nath Kohli is remembered and respected. The way he conducted himself set a fine example for all his fellow countrymen and women to follow.
Take a look at the RECIPIENTS OF KOHLI MEMORIAL GOLD MEDAL section: https://sites.google.com/a/shpa.org.uk/main/recipients-kohli-memorial-gold-medals
KOHLI COMMEMORATIVE EVENT (New Delhi, India, 2009)
Photos: Vibha Dang
Display mounted by Chris Chadwell
Namaste for old friends
Lighting ceremonial flame
Biographical presentation about Kohli
Chris Chadwell, key-note speaker, representing the Himalayan Plant Association
Chris delivering 'Flowers Fit for a Maharajah' lecture (his first ever digital presentation)
Vote of thanks
Chris had brought copies of 'Wild Flowers of Kashmir' (Coventry, 1929), which were presented to each daughter of Kohli or their representatives