THE GROWTH OF HISTORY
Have you ever followed the concept of hill stations of the 18th and 19th centuries, where governors and viceroys built their upland summer houses to escape the swelter of the tropical lowland coast?
Where the evenings were cool and the daytime temperatures were not unlike the difference you often feel between the coast and our Tablelands.
The idea of the hill stations as a respite from summer heat were also to trial new crops. Tea and coffee were among the first, as were many of the spices to be developed further as economic crops that could be traded. Also others like the alternative aibika that was and still is a good alternative to spinach and leafy greens.
Usually there was some order to what happened and each estate had its manager, who arranged the planting and programming of crops, trials and harvests.
These estates were significantly large areas that usually incorporated local villages and were fashioned on the old established English estates back in the Britain.
There were at least 80-100 established across the Indian subcontinent during the British Raj (many are now lavish hotels).
Others flourished in Malaya, China, Ceylon (as it was) and throughout the tropics of Asia and the West Indies.
It was much like an extension of the time where the lady of the house arranged the flower gardens and the man of the house grew a cornucopia of fresh vegetables.
In the feminine realm and with the help of appointed ‘garden assistants’, many of the mistresses or First Ladies of the Estate would indulge their passion for different and unusual ornamental plants.
Many of the michelias (or the tropical magnolias) were the result of the need for a wafting perfume that kicked in during gin-and- tonic time of an evening. Others developed new rose varieties and had them sent back home as their crops developed.
Their legacy after colonial rule was replaced by local government; many of the collections like the 20 or more varieties of rhododendron were originally bred at a hill station at Darjeeling. Horticulture was actively encouraged and refined for upland tropical climates.
Medicinal crops were also developed during the hill station era that included the ‘sal tree’ (shorea robusta), often seen in Singapore Botanic Gardens and which grew to a massive 30-plus metres. The resin was used as a disinfectant, astringent and medicine.
So, apart from comfort and indulgence and the delicacies of perfume gently assailing one’s olfactories at the appointed time of day, there were many other more useful items produced from the existence of the hill stations of the 18th century.