Emperor Babur’s Nocturnal Garden
Emperor Babur built a nocturnal garden adjacent to the Taj Mahal, worthy of one of Scheherezade’s stories.
Emperor Babur, a descendent of Genghis Khan, did not like the heat in India. So he had a complex of gardens full of fountains built next to the Taj Mahal. He described it in his writings:
I always thought that the main problem in India was that there was not enough running water. In all inhabitable places it should be possible to build water wheels, to make water run and plan geometrical spaces… Although close to Agra there was no adequate place, we had to work with the space that we had. We began with a large well that fed the baths. And then the piece of land with the tamarinds and the octagonal pond were converted into the great pond and patio. Then we built the pool in front of the stone building and the corridor. Then the private garden and the annexes, and after that the baths. And then in the unpleasant and unharmonious India, gardens were introduced with a marvelous regularity and geometry.
In those paradisiacal gardens built by Babur there is one that is perhaps the most seductive of all: the nocturnal garden, of which it is said that there dwelled tortoises with sails on their shells.
At night, animals and humans depend less on sight and more on other senses to orient themselves. As in one of Scheherezade’s stories, we can imagine a garden at night, in silence except for the sound of flowing water and the insects that fly over it. One must become accustomed to the dark in order to walk in it, and perhaps do so on a night of a full moon so that the light is reflected on the flowers (almost all nocturnal flowers are white, to better reflect the moonlight).
In that enchanting garden, aromas predominate. Nocturnal flowers have stronger scents to better attract bats, moths, beetles and other nighttime insects. Some of the flowers with the most exquisite scents only open at night.
If we wish to recreate that garden today we could plant angel’s trumpet, (Brugmansia arborea), Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda), woodland tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris), honeysuckle (loniceras), wallflower, evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) and night-blooming jasmine (cestrum nocturnum). We could arrive at sunset, see how the flowers open as the sun goes down. It would be a summer garden for those who, like emperor Babur, prefer to stroll around under the moon.
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