The 'Royal Connection'

Prem Nath Kohli was a MODEST, UNASSUMING and exceptionally HONEST man.  I know that even the slightest suggestion that he ever conducted himself in a dishonourable way, would have caused great heart-ache for him - as it does for me.  So I shall do my best to defend his honour - for without him, my Himalayan travels would have ended back in 1983, following my Kashmir Botanical Expedition that year. Thus Chadwell Seeds would not have been established in the Autumn of 1984.  Whilst a teenager, Kohli travelled to Jammu to escort his elder sister, who had moved into the palaces to teach English to Her Highness the Maharani of Kashmir (wife of the Maharajah) - Kashmir being a Princely State during the time of the British raj.  Their father had become a 'sanyassi' (ascetic), the financial strain making Prem give up his studies. In 1914 he was appointed tutor to the young nephew of the Maharani.  Practical by nature, young Prem taught the boy by taking him out, using the "play way" method, earning him the nickname of 'Khadawa Master" (the Playway Teacher).  The Maharani could see Prem was most interested in the Flora and Fauna of the State, keeping this in view, she nominated him to study at the Imperial Forest College, Dehra Dun on the 1919-21 Ranger's Course; he got distinction both in studies and sport.  He submitted the best herbarium - whereas only one hundred specimens were required, he submitted two hundred.  He was the recipient of the R.C. Milward Medal for best student from Jammu & Kashmir and gold medals for Marathon, Mile and Half-mile races......  Hardly the foundations of a dishonourable man....  Perhaps an apology will be forthcoming one day from those making the false allegations?  Sadly, that it not how things work nowadays.  Kohli was a GENTLE man and a GENTLEMAN - such people are few and far between these days.....

An audio/video clip of Kohli during 2nd Kohli Commemorative Event in Delhi, 2009

It is worth mentioning that the first serious PLANT HUNTING to be undertaken in Kashmir was on behalf of British ROYALTY.  Wigram, Private Secretary to King George V, was passionate about Himalayan plants.  Prior to that time, plant introductions into cultivation in the West were very much on a piece-mail basis, with individual European visitors collecting a few seeds here and there, resulting in a few Himalayan plants reaching our gardens, mostly in the 19th century - primarily from the Hill-Stations the British 'repaired' to, escaping the heat of the Indian plains (Nepal and Bhutan were closed to foreigners at that time).  This is how e.g. CLEMATIS MONTANA is thought to have first been introduced into British Gardens by Countess Amherst, wife of Governor-General of India (1823-28) - most likely from Shimla, where it still grows abundantly to this day and how ANEMONE VITIFOLIA (one of the parents of the well-known 'Japanese Anemones' - not that either parent are natives of Japan) was first introduced.

ANEMONE VITIFOLIA photographed in the Himalaya - one of the parents of so-called 'Japanese' Anemones

By the 1930s and 1940s, Ludlow & Sherriff, undertook plant exploration, utilising local collectors, see: https://sites.google.com/a/shpa.org.uk/main/what-is-involved-in-a-modern-day-plant-hunting-expedition.  Wigram approached the MAHARAJAH of KASHMIR and the KING of NEPAL, in the 1920s, such that during this decade and into the 1930s, collectors were sent out to search for SEED and BULBS of ornamental plants for the gardens at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.  The seed (and sometimes roots & bulbs)  were dispatched to Thomas Hay, Superintendent of the Royal Parks & Gardens, then based in Regent's Park.  He later wrote about the most notable introductions from Kashmir and Nepal within 'FLOWERS FOR THE CONNOISSEUR' (see below).  When Wigram, then a LORD, moved on from his post with the King, he took charge of the grounds of WINDSOR CASTLE; within the MOAT GARDEN in the 1930s were a fine selection of his favourites from Kashmir - which were more suited to cultivation close to London (many introductions from Nepal do better further north in the UK).

Garter Day,  Windsor Castle - the procession goes past the MOAT GARDEN


Prem Nath Kohli, originally a ranger for the Kashmir Forest Department, established P.Kohli & Co., in 1928.  He was also a photo-journalist, reporting on major events and unusual weather for Indian newspapers and magazines such as 'Illustrated Weekly of India' plus British publications like 'The Field', 'Weekly Scotsman' and 'Edinburgh Evening News'.  He went to Edinburgh (Scotland) in the early 1930s, accompanying his ailing brother (with a brain tumour).  He wrote about Kashmir plants in journals as well.  The response to the photographs he helped introduce into the Royal Parks and Gardens Gardens, produced so many requests for the Royal authorities to exhibit those plants, that they were compelled to send a telegram to the Jammu & Kashmir Government, reading "STOP P.N.Kohli from writing articles in foreign papers".

P.N.Kohli


Despite being far junior, to the several senior officers from the Forest and Agricultural Departments, it was P.N.Kohli alone who, for his unparalleled knowledge of local flora, was nominated by His Late Highness Maharaja Hari Singh to show wild flora of Kashmir to the the Vicerene (the wife of the Viceroy of India), Her Excellency Beatrix Stanley, whose knowledge of flora was such that she became Editor of the 'New Flora and Sylva' in England.  She was thoroughly impressed by Kohli's knowledge of local botany.

Due to the rare and beautiful fruits and flowers grown in his own house at Baramulla combined with his knowledge of horticulture that His Late Highness Maharaja Hari Singh, who had been a connoisseur of good flowers and fruits himself, appointed P.N.Kohli as manager of his Jammu and Kashmir Private Estates on June 6th 1946.  He had so much confidence in Kohli's loyalty and honesty that he gave him Power of Attorney for his entire property.

It was during the visit of Lord Mountbatten to Srinagar in June, 1946 and the visit of the Maharaja's personal friends, Mr & Mrs Stileman, that both the Maharajah and his close friend, Sardar Effindi, marvelled at the capacity of Kohli to make gardens beautfiful as well as create lovely flower arrangements inside the palaces.

For his vast knowledge of plants, Kohli was nominated as member of the Floriculture Committee of Indian Council of Agricultural Research in the 1950s.  This honour hardly suggests a nurserymen who conducted himself in a dishonourable fashion!

Kohli had been more of a research scholar (as has Chris Chadwell) than a businessman all through.  He would maintain diaries, collect specimens, study the natural habitats of the wild plants and cultivate them under varied conditions.  Being a keen observer, he would walk through forests, rather than ride a horse with even minute details not escaping his notice.  He would take their pictures or press the specimens for his herbarium (he lost 5000 negatives and a vast herbarium during a raid on his home in Barmamulla in 1947, when both India and Pakistan claimed Kashmir as their own - the herbarium was by far the best that existed in Kashmir at that time).

In the 1980s, one of his daughters planned to establishea small botanical garden in the hills near Gulmarg in his honour, to grow species from higher elevations in the Himalaya, which could not cope with the hot, dry summers in Srinagar, where P.Kohli & Co., nurseries were (which I was consulted about during my expeditions to Kashmir).  Suitable land had been selected but the terrible killing of a family member in Kashmir meant this never materialised - nor will it be possible now.  Kohli's daughter, who took over, when he died, is now almost blind and there is nobody to carry on - not that there is a business left to carry on, anyhow.

Gold Medal awarded by The ROYAL HORTICULTURAL SOCIETY

Initially, it was thought that it MUST have been a European Resident, surely B.O.Coventry (Conservator of Forests in Kashmir) who was responsible for the collection of seeds, bulbs and roots of GARDEN-WORTHY plants collected on behalf of the Maharajah of Kashmir, which produced plants which found their way into the ROYAL parks and gardens. But how could it have been, given his senior duties, exceptional plant photographer, amateur botanist (albeit to a professional standard)  and author of the Three Series 'Wild Flowers of Kashmir'?  When Hay realised it was a LOCAL, he took the unusual (if not unprecedented) step of ensuring that The Royal Horticultural Society awarded a GOLD MEDAL for this person's efforts; the trouble was that the material was sent to the UK with the name of the Divisional Forest Officer for Baramulla, under whom Kohli worked.  So this person, Chand, wrongly got the MEDAL and the HONOUR - yet he spent most of his time in his office!  Similarly, if one reads about the introduction of PRIMULA CLARKEI, it is Chand who is credited, NOT P.N.Kohli.  Kohli himself, whom I met several times in 1983 & 1985, never complained, yet was able to describe in detail where HE found this rare primula..... I subsequently checked and found letters written by Coventry confirming how a colony of this primula was located by Kohli, on the route taken by travellers into Kashmir in the past.  Pressed specimens of this primula were first collected by C.B.Clarke (a contributor to Hooker's 'Flora of British India' in the 19th Century.

In The April 1935 Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society, T.Hay, M.V.O., V.M.H. wrote about SOME PLANTS OF KASHMIR, ".. have all had their share in making many of the plants of Kashmir long known to us, but we have become acquainted with them of late years in increasing numbers, owing to the enthusiasm and activities of ........ YET IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN KOHLI named...., a gentleman who has a unique knowledge of the flora of his native country, a knowledge probably unsurpassed by any other resident in Kashmir, native or European.

This officer has roamed the country collecting seed and plants and has first-hand acquaintance with the alpine and herbaceous flora of the country, having seen most of the treasures of Kashmir growing in their native habitats.  He also has an eye for a good species and one that is likely to be appreciated as a garden plant.  The best proof of this is seen in the large numbers of plants collected by him that have been honoured by the Royal Horticultural Society's Floral Committee.  In appreciation of his services he was given the Gold Medal of the Society in 1933.

To him we are indebted for such plants as ADONIS CHRYSOCYATHUS, ACONITUM CORDATUM, NEPETA NERVOSA, ANEMONE TETRASEPALA, CAMPANULA ARGYROTRICHA, CAMPANULA ALSONOIDES, SCABIOSA SPECIOSA, PHLOMIS CASHMIRIANA, MERTENSIA MOLTKOIDES, COLCHICUM LUTEUM, LILIUM POLYPHYLLUM, PARAQUILEGIA GRANDIFLORA, MECONOPSIS ACULEATA...... PRIMULA INAYATII, PRIMULA CLARKEI, GENTIANA KURROO, ALLARDIA TOMENTOSA, ALLARDIA GLABRA, ERITRICHIUM STRICTUM, LINDELOFIA LONGFILORA, GENTIANA MOORCROFTIANA, TROLLIUS ACAULIS, MORINA COULTERIANA, CALTHA PALUSTRIS VAR. ALBA, CORYDALIS CASHMERIANA.

Display staged by Chris Chadwell at 2nd Kohli Commemorative Event in Delhi, 2009


At the 1st Kohli Commemorative Event in 2003,  I was able to read out a letter written by a former Director-General of the Royal Horticultural Society to all those honouring the distinguished horticulturist, botanist & plant collector Prem Nath Kohli:

"His exploration in the Himalaya and the many introductions of horticultural & botanical merit & scientific interest have greatly benefitted gardeners & botanists in many parts of the world particularly in the UK, where his great ability, talents & scholarship were recognised by the Floral Committee of the Royal Horticultural Society by the award of a Gold Medal in 1933 (though Kohli never received this, his senior officer, who  seldom ventured far from his office, took the medal and credit internationally).  Kohli also helped botanical research by sending herbarium specimens to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kw and was instrumental in collecting plant material at the request of King George V's Private Secretary.  Many of the species such as PRIMULA CLARKEI were sent from HIS collections in the Kashmir Himalaya to Britain and are still grown there today.

His contribution to botany & horticulture might well have been recognised further by the award of the RHS Veitch Gold Medal which was under consideration due to the recommendation from Chris Chadwell & the Himalayan Plant Association.  Sadly he passed away before this could be finalised.  It would have been a much deserved tribute to a great collector & plant enthusiast but regrettably this award cannot be given posthumously.

Plants for the Connoiseur 

Thomas Hay describes quite a number of Kashmir species in this book, published by Putnam (London) in 1938.  We have Kohli to thank but his name gets no mention in the book, instead the seed was sent by the Maharajah of Kashmir (though clearly he would not have collected them himself): ACONITUM CORDATUM, ADONIS CHRYSOCYATHUS, ANEMONE FALCONERI, ANEMONE TERASEPALA, ARENARIA FOLIOSA (now named MINUARTIA KASHMIRICA), CAMPANULA ALSONOIDES, CAMPANULA ARGYROTRICHA, CYPRIPEDIUM CORDIGERUM, ERITRICHIUM STRICTUM, GENTIANA CACHEMIRICA, GENTIANA KURROO, JURINEA  MACROCEPHALA, NEPETA  NERVOSA, PRIMULA  REPTANS, SCABIOSA  SPECIOSA.

Early PLANT HUNTING IN NEPAL

Hay also wrote about some introductions of gentians, meconopsis and primulas thanks to the good offices of the King of Nepal.  Seems like things were done much better in the past.  Did the collection of these plants in any way harm the environment of the Himalaya?  No, No, No.  Has the opportunity to grow these Himalaya species, improve knowledge on their cultivation?  Yes.  Was Chris Chadwell able to utilise such knowledge and EXPERTISE to advise on 'The Cultivation of Medicinal Plants for Traditional Medicine Project' in Bhutan in the 1990s?  Yes!  Should there have been MORE projects like this, in other parts of the Himalaya? Yes.....

INSTEAD, ever-increasing, stricter rules & regulations, will DETER involvement of specialist gardeners in the UK and West in general.  This will do NOTHING to help PROTECT and CONSERVE Himalayan flora - IN FACT IT WILL DAMAGE GENUINE ATTEMPTS to SAVE PLANTS FROM THE REAL DANGERS.




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