In a unique collaboration, the British Museum
and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (RBG Kew), will create an Indian-themed landscape on the Museum’s west lawn. It will mark the first of a series of specially commissioned projects in the forthcoming Indian Summer season, sponsored by HSBC. India Landscape will celebrate the two institutions’ shared vision to strengthen cultural understanding through a range of creative outlets, and support biodiversity conservation across the world. It follows on from the successful China Landscape created in 2008, and is the second of five planned partnerships. The Landscape also coincides with the 250th anniversary of the foundation of RBG Kew and the 250th anniversary of the British Museum opening to the public.
The wide diversity of plants from India gave RBG Kew’s designers of the India Landscape, Steve Ruddy and Richard Wilford, a challenge to emulate in a space of just a few hundred square metres.
This has been achieved by presenting a cross-section of the immensely diverse habitats of India. The Landscape will take visitors on a journey spanning the mountainous environment of the Himalayas, represented by a dramatic rock garden; through temperate woodland and ending with a sub-tropical zone centred on a pool filled with lotus flowers (Nelumbo). The Landscape will highlight the significance of plants use in Indian culture – as food, medicine and in trade – and the way plants such as chilli (native to South America) have travelled and become completely indigenised.
Plants featured in the India Landscape include:
Sarcococca hookeriana, a small evergreen shrub named for Kew’s second director, Joseph Hooker, who visited the Sikkim Himalaya in the late 1840s, introducing many new species of Rhododendron to Kew Gardens and other British gardens
The banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis), planted in Indian villages as a traditional shade tree
The peepul tree (Ficus religiosa), sacred to both Buddhists and Hindus and planted widely in Asian gardens, around shrines and at places of pilgrimage
Holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum) and marigolds (Tagetes patula), two plants widely cultivated in India and strongly associated with its religious culture and celebrations
The coconut palm (Cocos nucifera), mango (Mangifera indica) and the walnut tree (Juglans regia)
The scholar tree (Alstonia scholaris), so named because its wood was used to make the ‘slates’ or writing boards for school pupils