Dr. Homi Bhabha: a lover of trees, gardens, and flowers

On October 31, 2009, I published a PTI Feature titled “Dr. Homi Bhabha: a lover of trees, gardens, and flowers.”  I thought I must reproduce it now.

The inspiration came from a facebook post from Dr. Manoj Sharma in response to the following  news item I reproduced:


The news revealed that paying farmers not to cut trees in Uganda helps fight climate change.

Dr. Sharma wrote that there is a plan to create highways to reach places of pilgrimage. He noted that it may cause the cutting down of deodar trees of hundreds of years of old.

Dr. Homi Bhabha’s love for trees is legendary. Please read the article:

PTI FEATURE  October 31, 2009

Dr. Homi Bhabha: a lover of trees, gardens, and flowers

By Dr. K.S.Parthasarathy

On October 30 this year Dr. Homi Bhabha’s birth centenary celebrations will conclude. I saw him only on a few occasions. Once I saw him getting down from his car, crossing the road and admonishing a man who was nonchalantly walking over a carefully laid out turf.

Bhabha spent a lot of time in Trombay. His contribution as a lover of trees, gardens, and flowers is legendary.

During June 1959, Dr. Bhabha spent two days in Cambridge in connection with the conferment of an honorary degree of Doctor of Science on him. On his return on July 2 he wrote thus to Nehru:

“I stayed in Cambridge at the Master’s Lodge in Trinity as the guest of Lord Adrian. This was evidently a particularly good year for roses. I have never seen the profusion of such roses, as was to be found in his garden at the back adjoining the river…I hope some of the scientific laboratories and establishments we are building today will have a beauty of their own, which will have its due effect on those who work there. I think both Trombay and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research will be architecturally, and botanically beautiful when they are completed…”

Every pillar, every brick in the laboratories, every blade of grass in the lush green undulating landscape at Trombay, has a story to tell.

The legacy of Dr. Bhabha is jealously guarded and preserved by his successors. During November 20 and 21, 2008, the Board of Research in Nuclear Sciences (BRNS), Department of Atomic Energy organized the Homi Bhabha Centenary National Symposium on Landscaping for Sustainable Development, jointly with the Bougainvillea Society of India, Indian Agricultural Research Institute. It was the first time that the Landscape and Cosmetic Maintenance Section, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) took the lead in organizing such a symposium. It provided an occasion for stocktaking by the delegates from BARC.

The old timers knew how Dr. Bhabha nurtured the gardens at the then Atomic Energy Establishment (AEET), Trombay. Shri N D Sharma, Controller, BARC reminded the audience that Dr. Bhabha, a great lover of flora and fauna created 2000 acres of space in Trombay.

“Dr. Bhabha’s love for nature was evident from the fact that in 1958, he set up a garden committee to develop and preserve the biodiversity of the region”, Shri Sharma revealed a not so well known historical detail.

“Due to the forest cover on BARC hills, the temperature drops leading to lesser energy requirements for air conditioners. Presently BARC has 100 acres of landscaped gardens”, Shri Sharma said.

Dr. Rakesh Tuli, Director, National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow, who inaugurated the symposium referred to the landscape in Anushaktinagar, Trombay as an oasis.

“This vast expanse is dotted with a large number of trees which are oxygen generators and the lungs of our society’, he said.The credit for developing the terrain in Trombay into its present state goes to Dr. Bhabha and his farsightedness.

Shri Chintamani Deshmukh, in his short and eminently readable biography of Bhabha, traced Bhabha’s family background which instilled in him the love of trees, flowers, and gardens right from his childhood.

“His initiation into this field, too, took place in the family library and with frequent

family trips to Bangalore, the garden city of India and, as in other areas of interests, he

cultivated it into a comprehensive viewpoint, with aesthetic, artistic, technical,

environmental and historical elements fused together seamlessly” Deshmukh wrote.

Deshmukh noted that he visited gardens wherever he went and made sketches and took photographs. According to the author, the French and the English gardens of the 18th century and the Mughal Gardens in India were his favorites. He was also well versed in the Italian, Japanese and Persian gardens.

“For him, landscaping was not a luxury, and he held that the garden was an  of site development in any establishment. He considered landscaping, the choice of plant material and its positioning a matter of artistic composition. Bhabha was particularly fond of the Palace Gardens of Versailles in France, where the beauty of Nature was tamed and controlled by the skillful hands of the French artists”, Deshmukh said

Bhabha could not tolerate cutting down trees as an inevitable fallout of development. Deshmukh revealed that he went out of his way to save trees, even going to the extent of changing plans. He transplanted many full-grown peepuls, banyan and Barringtonia trees where the new buildings were to come up. Expenses did not deter him.

“In AEET, the road alignment was changed to save a 100-year-old mango tree. In the new TIFR campus, a rain tree stood in the way of the approach road. It was not possible to change the road alignment, so the tree was transplanted elsewhere on the campus” Deshmukh observed.

He transplanted many full-grown peepuls, banyan and Barringtonia trees from locations in which the new buildings were to come up.

Deshmukh found out that he even went to the extent of saving trees which were to be cut down during road-widening activity of the municipal corporation.

“Bhabha started the era of transplanting big trees in our country” Deshmukh quoted S. D. Vaidya, formerly Superintendent, Parks and Gardens (and later Head, Landscape Architecture Section), AEET.

In the words of Vaidya, “His sensitive mind perceived the trees as living sculptures, giving a character of their own to the place where they stood ungrudgingly for generations”.

According to Deshmukh, Bhabha pioneered rose cultivation in Mumbai.

“It was believed impossible to grow roses in Mumbai. But with Bhabha’s initiative, AEET started to grow roses and in 1960, there were as many as 750 named varieties growing successfully in the Rose Garden.  No wonder Bhabha played a prominent role in the ‘Citizens’ Committee for Beautiful Bombay.”  Deshmukh quoted   Vaidya.

Unfortunately, unprecedented rain and consequent floods in Trombay damaged the rose garden.

Dr.  B P Pal formerly Director General, Indian Council of Agriculture, developed a variety of white roses aptly called Dr. Homi Bhabha Roses (one of 40, Dr. Pal created).

Dr. Homi Bhabha set high standards in every one of his activities. His successors have to try relentlessly to achieve them.

[ I made some minor editorial changes in the text]










About ksparthasarathy

I am a former Secretary of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. I am a former Raja Ramanna Fellow in the Department of Atomic Energy. Free lance journalism is my hobby
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One Response to Dr. Homi Bhabha: a lover of trees, gardens, and flowers

  1. Your article tells the story behind the beauty of the work place. The
    Gardens are beautifully maintained and the rose garden still attracts all like a magnet. The greenary is something that keeps the place so lively. I read a book which describes the medicinal plants too. Your article reminded again, the effort of the great visionary both as a lover of science and nature.


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