In Search of a Perfect Garden

Tahir Jahangir hoped to catch some of the glory of Lahore’s short spring before the advent of fierce summers

In Search of a Perfect Garden
what is a perfect garden ? This is a question that I have often asked myself and others; but never got a simple answer. Is it meant to shock and awe us with its perfect beauty? Or is it the improvement of a natural forest to artistic perfection? Is it the perfect symmetry of the formal gardens of Hampton Court? Or is it a meandering path through Saville Gardens in Windsor Castle with carefully planted hedges and flowering bushes leading to a central fountain court?

Lahore has many beautiful parks and over the years a lot of money has been spent on them. They make the city so much prettier and more habitable. They are also the lungs of the city. Much of the money spent is on concrete gates, arches, pavilions and platforms to euologise the grandeur of the ruler of the time. Yet a lot of money has also been spent on horticulture and landscaping: the art of beautifying a garden with flowers, trees and plants designed to produce a pleasing landscape. However, all the public parks were closed to the public at the end of March so I decided to visit the best private gardens in Lahore before the spring fell prey to the heat of April.

The “Tudor House” and its garden

My parents had often talked about a garden in Green Acres, a residential estate on the Raiwind Road. It was once a faraway road but is now just a 20-minute drive from Kalima Chowk past the Shaukat Khanum Hospital. The large plot belongs to Tanvir Sahib, a retired police officer who has laid out a magnificent garden around his house. A tastefully designed short and open wooden fence allows great views from the road. I had dragged along one of his neighbours Sardar Jahangir Khan – whose wife is also an avid gardener – for the viewing. To our good luck we were welcomed by the guard at the gate and waved in by the host, who, however, maintained his social distance!

The photographs show the magnificence of the garden. Laid out on perhaps five acres, it forms an L shape around the front of the house. The house is on raised ground , the lawn is at a lower level. All the flowers are planted around the lawn on raised beds. Each bed is of a complimentary colour with one or two species dominating. The sides of the lawn has a walkway and some shady spots for seating. The effect is of a picture postcard setting. The flower beds are interspersed by artefacts – like a wheel barrow overflowing with flowers, a small fountain surrounded by lilies, a rusting bicycle and even an ancient Volkswagen painted yellow and blue – jammed with flowers! The effect is charming and one could spend a whole afternoon soaking up the elegance of the garden; musing at the twists and turns of life and events under a Coronavirus lockdown. Tanvir sahib is normally a good host and keeps his lawn open to all visitors, and will serve them tea and biscuits. He offered us the same. The norms of Coronavirus-era behaviour kept us from accepting his hospitality.

The more recent private garden to capture Lahore’s attention is the “Tudor House” in Defence Phase 5. It belongs to a well known eye surgeon Dr Khalid Waheed, who has a passion for flowers. In the small space of possibly two kanals he has created a beautiful garden and an attractive-looking house. The house is like a Tudor-era structure with sloping roofs, wooden beams and rafters overlooking the magnificence of a collection of flowers that would be the envy of any professional gardner, anywhere in the world. Dr Khalid said that he works till late at night in the hospital but finds time during the day to plan and supervise the garden. He came out to greet us and points out the rare varieties. There is little of the lowly petunias, pansies and antraneums. All the flowers are expensive and delicate. There are lilliums, mathiolas, amaranthus, irises, ranunculus and hosts of others – each looking better than its neighbours. There is a narrow green lawn in the middle and long rows of banked flowers on either side. The colours and varieties are beautifully matched to present a rolling wave of beauty . There is a tall fountain at the back, adding the murmur of cascading water. Dr. Khalid explained that he had a huge reserve of flower pots in all varieties and colours. If any pot was off colour or beginning to wither – it would be replaced by another fresh one. He is lucky to have an empty plot next to his house which is full of thousands of flower pots of all varieties.

The better gardens of Lahore are like a beautifully dressed and elaborately made-up bride on her wedding day. All the blemishes have been made over – the strong points emphasized, and the weaker ones underplayed. The dress is magnificent and not a wrinkle or a crease is allowed to appear. A perfect presentation on a perfect day.

Unfortunately the spring in Lahore is so short that it is gone in weeks. The advent is in February and by the first week of April all the delicate fowers are wilting away. The hardier ones last till the end of April but May Day sees temperatures of 40C.

England has a long spring rolling into a cool summer. The gardens are at their best in April and May but do not wilt in June. Hampton Courts has elaborate formal gardens laid out at the back of the castle. A rectangle sloping down from the sides to the central fountain. Gravel paths are laid out in strict geometric rectangles with staircases going down to the centre. The flower beds are also rectangular and are beautifully coordinated with complimentary colours and shapes. The English genius for order and decorum is at its best. It is like a very formal official function.

The Savill Gardens are located in the forest around Windsor Castle. Designed by Eric Savill, it was dedicated to the public in 1952. It has a combination of formal areas and the typical English garden with flowering bushes and trees. The latter are beautifully interspersed with formal areas hedged in for privacy - from a party of two to a party of forty! There are huge beds of rare and lovely flowers, gravel paths, fountains, benches and grassy slopes.

My own house garden is a mixture of both the styles. I know fully well that I cannot hope to achieve the perfection of the Tudor House – so best to keep the flower beds in two areas with grass and herbacius borders to surround it. Whatever the results may seem to others, the gardner greets every new flower with joy that only creation can evoke!

The “perfect garden” is what appears perfect to your eye – be it a few plants or a veritable paradise. For sure Lahore has its fair share.