There is simply no city to compare with the city of Lahore. Sure enough, we have all heard the jiyalas (enthusiasts) of Lahore say this often enough. Maybe they are not far wrong. Lahore may not be the best city in the world – but it probably is the best city in the Subcontinent of India.
This spring Lahore looked its finest yet – and to top it all off, a bit of the Keukenhof Gardens from the Netherlands came to visit us for spring. The Keukenhof Gardens have a display of tulips that are the envy of all Europe. On the 4th of this pat October, the “Baradari” area of the Lawrence Gardens or Bagh-e-Jinnah was cordoned off. The security staff would shoo away anyone who tried to snoop about. They said that the garden was being prepared for a special event organised by the Chief Minister of Punjab. Little did we know that the garden was being prepared for a rare treat that few could imagine. The beds for flowers were especially prepared along the walkways, large circles made around the trees and displays in the open lawns. A special mix of copra hair, rice ash, bhal and leaf compost was laid down. The height of each flower bed was determined to get the best possible visual impact. Parallel beds were prepared so that as soon as the tulips would wilt, the Ranunculus would bloom.
Parallel beds were prepared so that as soon as the tulips would wilt, the Ranunculus would bloom
Then a magnificent show of bulbous flowers was staged from the 4th of February onwards till the end of March. It turned out to be a riot of colour and form. The whole Baradari area became a display of a fantasy of flowers, seldom seen in such abundance outside the Keukenhof. To compliment the tulips and ranunculus, lilliums, the Dutch iris and gladiolas were planted. The first to bloom were the tulips, as the garden was declared open on the 4th of February. Each flower bed had its own colour and form. There were the regular red, blue, orange, pink and yellow tulips. Then there were the more exotic double Peony, flaming parrot and even an attempt at the Van Gogh variety. The quality of the flowers was top class – in every way as good as those in Europe.
“Why should they not be as good as the ones in Europe? The Europeans took them from here to start with,” pointed out Mrs. Nosheen Sarfraz – the person who made all this possible. She got a scholarship for a diploma in ornamental horticulture in California. This sparked her interest and she has been an avid gardener all her life. Her own garden is a delight and she is happy to share her knowledge and expertise without any thought of monetary compensation. She is on the board of the PHA and is held in high esteem by all those who make our city as beautiful as a bride.
These flowers were taken and developed by Europeans to decorate their gardens – whilst ours fell into decay
She tells me that the motifs painted in the Wazir Khan mosque in 1634 are of the iris and lotus flowers. She says that they are not stylised forms but a detailed painting of the flowers and the leaves. The painters were painting a real-life object – as is done today. The same recurs in the Taj Mahal as well. Surely these 17th-century artists had no photographs to paint from. So one must conclude that we had plenty of these beautiful flowers right here in our cities; and these were then taken and developed by Europeans to decorate their own gardens – whilst ours fell into decay.
The criticism often voiced is that we waste money on imported flowers. This is not correct. These are our own species, and as we develop our floriculture we will grow our own bulbs and varieties. Holland and Thailand export billions of dollars’ worth of flowers all over the world, including to poor countries like Pakistan. What is needed is better education and dissemination of the knowledge of horticulture through our educational and vocational institutions.
The Keukenhof Gardens in the Netherlands, not far from the Schiphol Airport, grow over 7 million tulips in an area of about 250 acres. The fields are beautifully landscaped and the garden is an unforgettable treat. I am sure hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on their maintenance and upkeep. Yet they attract billions of dollars in terms of tourist revenue and tulip exports.
The “Bulbous Show” was organised and financed by the Parks and Horticulture Authority (PHA) and the Department of Horticulture, duly orchestrated by Mrs. Nosheen Sarfraz. Mr. Tajammul was the project director and worked with great zeal and devotion. 80,000 bulbs of tulips, lillium, Glamour Gladiolus, Dutch Iris, Daffodils, Hyacinths, Paperwhites and Freesias were planted. The tulips and some of the other flowers bought from Stoop Bulbs of Holland cost quite a bit. 50 malis (gardeners) were put at the disposal of the team and carried out their instructions meticulously. It is because of their attention to detail that the venture succeeded beyond their own expectations. The malis got Rs10,000 each as a bonus and Tajammul Sahib and Nosheen Bibi got the applause of a grateful citizenry.
The cost was high, yet a fraction of what governments spend on their own publicity. This flower show has a far more dramatic and useful impact. People have a renewed interest in going to public parks. An old lady went up to Nosheen, to say that her lifelong desire to go to see the Keukenhof Gardens had been fulfilled.
The display demonstrated the exclamation “Lahore, Lahore ae” holds true in more ways than one. It pointed to the sophistication of its people and society.
I was a frequent visitor to the “Bulbous Show” and did not even once find anyone plucking the flowers or littering the flower beds. Almost all were struck by the beauty and splendour of the display and the majesty of the flowers. And all had their spirits uplifted!