A little off the beaten track, adjacent to Humayun’s Tomb and next to a busy railway station is Sundar Nursery. Typically, one would expect to go there to buy plants but the 70-acre urban oasis is nowhere close to an ordinary nursery. This garden complex is replete with old trees and dotted with monuments dating back to the Mughal era. And it’s after years of conservation work, the nursery, originally known as Azim Bagh, is back to its magnificent self.
The revival of Sundar Nursery was taken up in 2007. Most of the land was hidden beneath tonnes of debris. The work of landscaping the nursery, along with restoration of 13 monuments, was taken up in 2009 by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) in partnership with CPWD.
The nursery was established by the British in 1913 to grow and develop plans for the new city of Delhi. It was taken over by the CPWD in 1945. At present, it houses the largest collection of tree species found in the capital, including some rare ones.
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The focus is also on developing a wide range of habitats within the nursery. It is fast becoming a fascinating site for birdwatching. Officials said the project aims at ecological restoration too.
“The landscape master plan was developed by architect M Shaheer and includes zones for a variety of functions. It has an exclusive zone for ground nesting birds such as peafowl. The complex used to be a key bird habitat till the 1970s, but large-scale dumping of construction waste ruined the area. Our aim was to redevelop it with native flora and fauna. At present, the nursery has 1,800 large trees now mapped on a GIS system. Additionally , 5,000 tree saplings of over 200 native species have been planted. These species are mostly fruit-bearing and have been planted to attract more birds,“ said an official.
To develop it as a microcosm of Delhi, efforts are on to replicate the ridge biodiversity, along with khadar (riverine), bangar (alluvial) and dabar (marshy) zones. And since birds have started returning to the nursery , one can spot the black kite, grey hornbills, woodpeckers, yellow-footed green pigeons, spotted owlet, Indian roller, white-throated kingfisher, Eurasian hoopoe, Indian grey hornbill, brown-headed barbet, coppersmith barbet, Hume’s leaf warbler, common tailorbird, oriental white eye and green bee eater.
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Cormorants and painted storks–with their habitat at nearby Delhi zoo–too frequent the nursery even though many major water bodies are yet to be developed.“Water bodies are being developed to attract more birds. The earth embankments along the water bodies are already seeing kingfishers. In addition to that, densely planted zones have been established for ground nesting birds such as peafowl and francolin. These will provide a habitat secure from stray dogs,“ the official said.
Currently, AKTC has 77 species of birds, including ultramarine flycatcher and Eurasian golden oriole, on record in the Sundar Nursery area.