The origin and development of CSIR-NBRI to its present-day status and size, with a 25-hectare botanical garden, two laboratories complexes, a rich herbarium, a voluminous library, an 85-hectare experimental-cum-extension at Banthra and Aurawan make a fascinating story, set off against a colourful historical back ground, spanning three distinct eras.
> The Nawabi Era
The garden part of the NBRI encompasses within its limits the historical ‘Sikandar Bagh’, which was laid out around 1800 A.D., as a royal garden, by Nawab Saadat Ali Khan and was later improved upon by Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, the last king of Avadh, during the first half of the 19th century. It was, in fact, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah who named the garden as “Sikandar Bagh”, after one of his favourite queens, Sikander Mahal Begum. Measuring about 150 square metre and having a small pavilion in the middle, the garden must have been the venue of innumerable performances of the famous ‘Ras-lilas’, ‘Kathak’ dance, music and poetic ‘mehfils’ and other cultural activities for which the last Nawab was very well known.
The Sikander Bagh was, later, also the venue for a fierce battle during the uprising of 1857, when about 2000 freedom fighters, who had barricaded themselves in the garden, were killed in a vicious British attack. Articles like cannon balls, swords and shields, pieces of muskets and rifles, etc have been accidentally dug out of the garden over the years and are displayed in the NBRI Exposition. Presently the scars of cannon balls on the old walls of the garden, still remind one of that historic event.
> The British/State Government Era
After the establishment of the British rule in 1858, some additional land around the Sikander Bagh was also attached to it, a road was cut through it and it was officially renamed as the Government Horticultural Garden. Several well known British horticulturists, namely, Dr. J. Cameron, Dr. E. Bonavia, who wrote one of the early authoritative monographs on Citrus spp., and Mr. M. Ridley, successively occupied the position of the Superintendent of this Garden, which gradually became a centre of horticultural activities, such as, the establishment of the Oudh Agri-Horticultural Society, organization of flower shows, supply and exchange of plants, setting up of flower nurseries, etc., in North India. Several fruit orchards, a flower nursery and lawns were added to the Garden, which was also maintained as a public park.
> The CSIR Era
From the very time it was taken over by the CSIR, the NBG was envisaged to be a combination of a botanic garden and an applied botanical research laboratory. However, the course of events over the years has totally changed the very complexion of the organization. It was renamed as the National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI) in October 1978. The R & D effort of the NBRI is now geared to the exploration, introduction, conservation, propagation, protection, genetic upgrading and utilization of native and exotic plant wealth of India, with particular reference to non-traditional economic plants and ornamentals, leading to identification and development of production technologies for new plant resources of commercial value.