#4 Gustav Herman Krumbiegel – the man who made Bangalore bloom

The man who designed Lalbagh is fourth on our list of Bangalore’s Global Icons. The last assignment of 90 year old Gustav Herman Krumbiegel for the Indian Government was to landscape the Raj Ghat memorial gardens for Mahatma Gandhi

Every city needs its lung spaces, pockets where the air is pure and there’s greenery and flowers. Bangalore used to be called the Garden City, a title that is now claimed by two other cities in India – Chandigarh and Mysore. However, Bangalore will always remain the city where the flowers bloomed first, thanks to Gustav Herman Krumbiegal.

The great granddaughter of Gustav Herman Krumbiegel – the man who designed Lalbagh, Bangalore’s beautiful garden in South Bangalore – Alyia Phelps-Gardin was in Bangalore and Mysore recently to immerse her mother’s ashes at Srirangapatna, a place the family originally from Germany calls home.

Gustav Herman Krumbiegel

Aliya says that when her feet touch Indian soil, “I know I’m home. I can feel Great grandfather’s breath in the wind.” Whenever she is in India, she wears the Gandaberunda bracelet given to her grandmother Hilda Krumbiegel by Maharaja Krishnaraja Wadeyar on the occasion of her 18th birthday in 1915. 

Twenty-six year old Gustav Krumbiegel arrived in India at the bequest of Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III, the ruler of Vadodara, to build a garden for Vadodara in Gujarat. Sayaji Baug also known as Kamati Baug was commissioned in 1879 as a gift to the people of Vadodara. The park is situated on the banks of the River Vishwamitri, near a village called Kamatipura. The park is spread over 113 acres and is the largest park in Western India, home to 98 species of trees.

Aliya says Krumbiegel designed his way across northern India with over 50 gardens tea and coffee plantations “Apart from Kamati Baug, he has to credit the estates of Ooty, the palaces and towns in Kerala and also for the transforming the rocky terrain of Bangalore into a Garden City, for which he became known as a the Architect of Bangalore.”  

A Freemason, Krumbiegel was born on December 18, 1865 in Lohmen near Dresden in Germany. After studying in Willsdorf and Dresden and a horticulture apprenticeship at King’s Garden in Pillnitz specializing in landscape horticulture and architecture, Krumbiegel worked at the Agricultural and Fruit Department of Schwerin Royal Gardens, Mecklenburg and a private garden in Hamburg where he gained vital experience in cultivating vegetables, fruits and plant species. 

Moving to London he worked at Hyde Park while learning about town planning, horticulture, architecture and horticulture at South Kensington University. His skills were recognized at the Plant Propagation Department of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew between 1888 and 1883. “Due to his distinct abilities, my great grandfather was referred to Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad who needed a keen and capable horticulturist. Moving to Baroda in Gujarat, he created orchids and gardens for the kingdom and enhanced the beauty of the rulers, personal estates at Woodstock in Ooty and Bombay,” says Aliya.

His fiancé joined him a year and they were married in Bombay and all his children were born in India.

Krumbiegel’s spectacular ability with gardens and his horticultural output impressed Krishnaraja Wadeyar, the Maharaja of Mysore. A close associate of Gaekwad persuaded him to send Krumbiegel to Mysore, a place he feel deeply in love with.  

He began work in Mysore State in 1908 as the Superintendent of Government Gardens, a prestigious position. His responsibilities included maintaining various public gardens including Bangalore’s Lalbagh and Cubbon Park, Mysore Curzon Park and the Mysore Maharaja’s personal estates, viz. Madhuvana orchard in Mysore and Fern Hill Palace Garden in Ooty.

Aliya says that the following two decades, Krumbiegel also became Superintendent of the Government Museum, Chairman of Mysore Horticulture Society, Director of Agriculture, a economic tourist and a consulting architect. In 1912, he established the Horticulture School in Mysore State, a first of its kind in India. 

Most of Krumbiegel’s writing were given by his wife to the Karnataka State. These include two booklets – ‘A Note on the Development of Horticulture in Mysore and The Organization of the Department of Horticulture and Botany, 1920’ and ‘The Administrative Report of the Government Gardens Department for the year 1927-28’.

 “These are the most detailed accounts of horticulture in colonial India and envisioned a beneficial industry. Krumbiegel built a fumigator in Lalbagh to treat all incoming and outgoing plants with hydrocyanic acid gas. His era saw periodicals, journals and dried plants added to the Lalbagh library and he improved landscapes for many hospitals, educational institutions, guest houses, and military and railway offices,” says Aliya.

As a botanist, Krumbiegel was a true economic botanist and urban designer. “He worked with the physical form of the city and the people. From designing carpet planting so there were flowers for every season and the beautiful boulevard of the old Bangalore streets, the parks, open spaces all are credited to him.” Aliya says she always thinks of him when she sees pictures on social media of tabebuira bloom in bursts of yellow and pink, the jacaranda tree, the gulmohars and the cassias.

The Krishnaraja Sagar (Brindavan Garden) Dam site in Mysore was converted into terraced gardens similar to the Shalimar Gardens, Srinagar. According to S. V. Hittalmani, Krumbiegel is credited with the laying of around 30 gardens and parks in Mysore and Bangalore including the Brindavan gardens.

“He established parks and gardens in Mysore and Bangalore and other important towns and cities of the state. He had a number of gardens beautified, such as those in Bangalore Central College, Kumara Krupa Park, Victoria Hospital and Mysore Government house, Jumma Masjid and Lalitha Mahal.”

Krumbiegel also put lampposts, parapet walls, opened a restaurant, widened paths, designed fountains, flower beds, nurseries, lawns etc. in Lalbagh and Cubbon Park. The elevation of Bruhath Bangalore Cooperation building and offices was designed by him in 1927. 

Aliya says her great grandfather encouraged commercial floriculture and horticulture by conducting Flower Shows in Lalbagh as Director of Horticulture (1928–1932). “He supported large scale growth of hibiscus, rose, marigold, champak, petunia, chrysanthemum, dalia and other varieties. He also fashioned the Mysore Horticultural Society after the Agra Horticultural Society in 1912 and started the biennial Lalbagh Flower Shows by developing the glass house as a permanent venue and awarded rolling shields.” 

Farmers and others across the Karnataka State relying on commercial crops like rubber, timber, fibers etc. referred to publications and reference materials on economics and horticultural topics, began trials on new types of fruits and vegetables. The Bureau of Economic Botany opened in 1911, promoting cultivation.  “Great grandfather introduced flowering plants from abroad into Lalbagh. He also brought cabbage, cauliflower, carrot, beetroot, lettuce and celery into the kingdom of Mysore and Ooty after 1925. And he succeeded in growing the Rome Beauty Apple in and around Bangalore, profitably,” says Aliya. 

Krumbiegel believed in the economics of biology. “The works of the horticultural department does not begin and end with sweeping lawns, roads and planting a few flower beds but the development of its economic scientific and educational work. Botanical Gardens should be maintained not only for the purpose of advancing the study of native and other plants but also for turning the varied resources of the vegetable kingdom to useful and commercial ends,” he said on Horticulture in Mysore.

Krumbiegel shared a beautiful friendship with the Maharaja of Mysore. He was known as the Maharaja’s gardener and the Royal would protect him when the “British saw an enemy in every German,” says Aliya.  He was the only man given the privilege of a handshake with the Maharaja,was a trusted associate of all the royals. Wadeyar commissioned a painting and a bust of Krumbeigel which is housed in the royal Mysore Palace. His relationship with erstwhile state lasted until his passing away on Feb 8, 1956.

Aliya says India was place which he made his home, and “Great grandfather was fiercely vocal for independence for India from the British which always went against him when dealing with the British Raj.” Aliya is particular that people understand that Krumbiegel did not work for the British Raj and was passionately in love with India.

From his letters she says one can see that he cared deeply for his adopted country. “He was never an employee, maybe belonged more to the inner circle. I have many pressed palm Christmas and festival cards from many Maharajahs. I have a solid silver cigar box from Col Plowden thanking him for his care of the residency gardens in Bangalore.”  

 Krumbiegel would cycle with his daughter around Bangalore. Aliya herself has cycled from Bangalore to Mysore a few years ago. “When my feet touch Bangalore I know I’m home. I always head to Lalbagh West gate and stand at the entrance just for a minute and breathe. Cubbon Park is my next stop. I cannot wait for my grandchildren to see Lalbagh and Cubbon Park,” says Aliya. 

Her philosophy is much the same as Krumbiegel’s – “We need to love all our spaces and care for them. Any ugly space can be transformed with care love and attention. We just have to care for every space not just our own.” 

Aliya has helped prevent the building of ugly big commercial complexes in Mysore. An architect herself, she says we need to think about, “Will every ‘improvement’ to India’s infrastructure require us to give up more and more Heritage buildings and Heritage trees’. 

“There will be no chance to renovate or to save historic sites and trees once they are gone. And we can never be certain what will be valued in the future. This reality brings to light the importance of locating and saving buildings of historic significance – because once a piece of history is destroyed, it is lost forever. The local governments in India seem to be on a bulldozing spree, targeting all historic buildings and trees. This has happened because there’s little protection given to heritage buildings or trees in India,” says Aliya.

“Even existing laws often aren’t enforced. The Central government has moved to amend the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act that previously prohibited building activity within 100 metres from the limits of a monument. The reason given was that it was impacting various public works and developmental projects of the Central Government. The cabinet has allowed for government-funded infrastructure projects to be constructed near historic monuments and even permitted historical buildings to disappear overnight. All this will do is ring the death knell for many of India’s treasured monuments. Do you think tourists will come to shop in another faceless mall which most of them have already on their doorsteps? All these developments are just ruining India’s history and heritage, which has been shaped by many religions and cultures. We have to and must preserve the monuments and showcase them to the next generation. The contributions and achievements of our ancestors worldwide are important,” says Aliya

Aliya says she is only an interloper in Bengaluru but the apple doesn’t seem to have fallen far from the tree. “I do however have his passion for trees and my profession is also architecture. It’s very important for me to try and protect his legacy for future generations of Bengaluru and indeed my grandchildren. I would not be a true Krumbiegel descendent if I did not try and get involved with any campaign to protect Bangalore’s trees and Heritage.” She hopes to launch the GHK Public Park awards and maybe even ward awards soon. 

The works of the horticultural department does not began and end with sweeping lawns ,roads and planting a few flower beds but the development of its economic scientific and educational work
Botanical Gardens should be maintained not only for the purpose of advancing the study of native and other plants but also for turning the varied resources of the vegetable kingdom to useful and commercial ends

Gustav Herman Krumbiegel

In her words, “we need to care to make the past the pesent.”

The Christian Cemetery in Langford Town houses Krumbiegel’s simple gravestone under an African tulip tree, one of his favourite species. The words on his tombstone read –

Whatever he touched he adorned.

Gustav Herman Krumbiegel

German by birth 

But his heart belonged to India 

18-12-1865   08-02-1956

The text of Gustav Herman Krumbiegel’s letter at the meeting of the Mysore economic conference in August 1927 :

I have nothing but admiration for the able way in which Sir M Visvesvaraya has expanded his case for industries in dealing with the question of industry in relation to agriculture. However I feel that not only the statement that ‘too many people are dependent on Agriculture’ is questionable but also that by implication the paramount importance of out agriculture has been negated.

I believe I am right in saying that 90% of the people who read the article would go away with the impression that our immediate need is the development of industries as against the development of agriculture.

I most emphatically say that the opposite is the case and that a highly developed and prosperous agriculture is essential as the only sound basis upon which a successful industrial development can be built.
In the very countries quoted i.e. the USA and Sweden to which Germany might be added the higher income from industries is unquestionably due to the high development of the agriculture and it should be borne in mind that those countries spend annually enormous sums on further improvements so as to maintain a high efficiency in order to meet the ever increasing demand which is made on it for the support of industries.

I am not at all sure that the higher income from industries is a criteria of the prosperity and happiness of the people in any country or is the goal to strive for.

To my mind it is by no means a mixed blessing for do we not hear laments on all sides of industrial enslavement of the people of crowding together in unsanitary tenements of insufficient earnings to meet the higher cost of living and buying the bare necessities of life, of the tragedies of child labour in factories, etc etc. May providence protect our beautiful state from such conditions.

The most highly industrialised country is perhaps the United Kingdom and we all know how very nearly the difficulty of getting food stuffs lead to a national catastrophe.

In the case of Sweden we must remember that the excess income from industry is largely due to its exceptional water power and extensive forests agriculture is still the mainstay. In Canada the figures quoted shows that the income from agriculture is still above those derived from industries. This proves that a country with facilities for agriculture logically develops agriculture to form a solid base for industries subsequently. In the ready supply to the population of foodstuffs at normal costs and in the supply of raw materials which otherwise would have to be imported at high costs.

If we had statistics of the road born traffic as have of the railborne it would probably show that import of agricultural produce is fairly covered by export but even so we have barely touched the fringe of the possibilities of improving food stuff while the immense potential of growing crops such as fibre wrappers oil and fat producing plants, tanning bark, drugs etc all of which are of much importance for the development of suitable successful industry remain practically unexplored.

Therefore seeing the deplorable conditions of our raiyats and recognising the imperative and national need of improving agriculture I ask is it right or wise to spend further large sums which after all is money collected from the raiyats on uncertain industries and therefore continue to deny agriculture its logical development.

I have no desire to belittle in anyway the industrial measures proposed and if large sums of reserve cash were available no objection need perhaps be urged but situated as we are I fear that if we ignore the need of agriculture development as a prior fundamental condition our vision of industrial prosperity may turn out to be castles in the air.

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