...School No.39. Fourteen thousand eight hundred seeds of Japanese quince. Three hundred and thirty potted Geranium plants. Fifteen pots of Justicia. Two hundred bulbs of Narcissus. In total, fifteen thousand three hundred and forty five seeds, flower bulbs and pots were donated to the school....On October 1st, 2018 the schools of the Taylak region received two thousand three hundred pots of more than thirty three types of plants, three thousand seeds of fan palms, wild onion flower, and more. A total of twenty four thousand seeds and potted plants. ...Donations to the Akdarya region. Twenty five \thousand eight hundred and forty seven pots and seeds. The list goes on.
We are in the company of Mukimjon Aripov, age 67. We are overwhelmed by the statistics he discloses: thousands and thousands of various plants have been donated to the community. We can hardly wrap our minds around everything he shares as we have never seen such a variety of plants in one location.
Mukimjon continues to present us with more and more paper folders. Each folder represents one year of work. Folders are aplenty. Each of the folders contains carefully preserved letters of gratitude from the community and a special system of tracking the "flower projects". The gardener closely tracks his unique professional duties.
For more than sixteen years, Mukimjon Aripov has been filling his hometown of Samarkand with flowers and plants. He hands them out to anyone interested, free of charge. To date, Mukimjon has donated more than 500 thousand plants.
If ever your taxi driver does not know the museum residence of Orif Gulhani, tell him it is located in the Hodja Ahror Vali neighborhood, right across from the "Rezidenciya" building. As it may be, this is one of the most unique and magical places in Uzbekistan. The last thing you would expect to see in this poet's house is a magnificent botanical garden.
The garden is home to about five hundred different plants, flowers, shrubs and trees, including those that are considered rare or endangered. The floral fragrance in the air is simply awe-inspiring. There is such an abundance of plants here: agave plants, pumpkins, pomegranates, cacti varieties; you can even spot a a real orange tree with its fragrant fruit. All of this is the handiwork of Mukimjon Aripov, the grandson of the renowned poet from Samarkand Orif Gulhani who lived from the end of 19th to the early half of 20th century.
No we do not mind the burden of our labor. A farmer, who is always ready To transform deserted lands, Never grow weary!
The Garden of Poets
The Orif Gulhani museum, which opened its doors in 1980, received an honorary title of "Samarkandi" commemorating what would have been Gulhani's 100th birthday. Sharaf Rashidov, who was an avid poet himself and regarded Gulhani as his mentor, was the man behind this initiative. But the garden was planted long before this event.
"The garden, endearingly nicknamed 'Boghi Gulhani', was originally started by my grandfather," shares Mukimjon. "The garden was well-known all across Uzbekistan. It was a meeting place for bright minds; in a way it turned into a social club of a sort.
"When my grandfather passed away, someone from the neighborhood had said: 'Now, the Gulhani Garden will turn into a desert. The son will not be able to manage it.' My father, Olimjon Aripov, heard this and it gave him strength. As I recall, he worked tirelessly day and night to save the garden."
Mukimjon's father went on to become a famous biologist and later earned the title of "Honorary Teacher of Uzbekistan". He kept up with the poetry, as well. "I owe my fascination with nature to him," says Mukimjon.
Until the man is tried by the burden of labor He will not be regarded a hero anywhere. He will not be a gardener unless he nurtures the flowers Whose beauty compares to that of the stars The flowers will not blossom, the buds will drop off, Unless you bow to the water thrice.
Olimjon Orifi (Aripov)
"When I was in fifth grade, I studied botany. Our teacher - Mr Djurayev - demonstrated nearly everything we were studying. Flowers, greenhouse structures etc. I remember it all. Nowadays it's not the same," laments Mukimjon. "I was inspired by my grandfather and father, by the lessons in school. I cannot fathom my life without flowers and trees," reflects Mukimjon.
Looking around the magnificence and diversity of this garden, one considers the incredible effort it took to make it happen. Mukimjon recounts the challenges he had to overcome. "For ten years, between 2007 and 2017, I really struggled. My family set up a schedule and took turns to help out. There were no resources to keep the greenhouse heated. My wife used to fret that I was neglecting caring for my own house in the name of saving all these plants.
As a result of his tireless efforts, Mukimjon was not only able to conserve all the plants, but greatly multiplied their numbers. The museum residence and the garden are open to the public. "I talk to the plants, pose my questions to them. It's sort of a conversation. In a way, I receive the answers I seek," shares the gardener.
After building up his own garden, Mukimjon Aripov did not stop there. He set on to have the entire Samarkand in bloom.
"My father started handing out potted plants to friends and acquaintances," recalls Mukimjon. "In the 90s, I used to work for the City Hall, and we would always struggle to find plants to beautify the city. So I came up with an idea to fill the city with flowers on my own, and my father backed me up.
I started handing out plants to the community. People started to come over and pick them up. I never denied anyone. The only thing I would ask is that people did not steal." "Feel free to take plants, but please do not steal," says Mukimjon.
Back in 2003, Mukimjon began donating large quantities of plants and flowers to the public during special community events. "Every year we host about 3-4 events in this garden," shares Mukimjon.
"These events are called 'The Flower Celebration' and are attended by schoolchildren and anyone who adores flowers. Musicians and poets perform. Biologists host information sessions for children on how to grow plants and care for them. At the end of the event, we hand out the flowers and plants to all the attendees." The biggest beneficiaries are local orphanages, kindergartens and schools.
And yet,more and more numbers... Mukimjon donated thousands and thousands of plants and flowers to his hometown of Samarkand. "As you are aware, each flower has its unique time line before it fully grows; so I plan what I am going to donate to the community three or even four years in advance," explains Mukimjon.
The gardener is eager to pull out more folders and share their contents with us. "In 2017 we donated four hundred potted plants to the bookshop 'Kitob Olami'. As an initiative to honor the city of Samarkand, anyone who purchased a book received a potted plant as a gift. This way I was trying to raise awareness about reading. Before the initiative, the bookstore was selling about 7300 a month, and after that, the sales went up to 11500."
Mukimjon came up with the concept "1+10". "What does it mean? you might ask. I gift you with one plant and in the span of a year you care for it, multiply it and share the next ten flowers with others. It is truly my only condition. However, I don't monitor people or enforce it as nothing good can come out of that."
"One must be brought up through education and raising awareness. With that in mind, we host different events in kindergartens and schools. It is not effective to just force people to do something; the love for nature needs to come from within. I hand out flowers to adults, but my primary focus is the children," says Mukimjon.
Mukimjon wants these events to evolve into a youth movement using the motto: "One student – one plant".
"How do I envision this? Students finish their last year of high school and during the closing school assembly, the graduating class passes on their potted plants to the students in elementary classes. What does this lead to? As every student interacts with the plants, they learn about nature." Mukimjon goes on to say that it also adds a sense of continuity between generations.
Many schools across the Samarkand, Akdarya and Taylak regions, as well as the city of Samarkand expressed willingness to support Mukimjon's initiative. "There are about eighty schools in Samarkand, each with about one thousand students. If we launch our initiative, then the city would have eighty thousands more flowers and plants than we do now! Later on we could get the county involved, and eventually the whole country." fantasizes Mukimjon.
Flowers of life
"Students need to be encouraged and incentivized. Those who are caring for the plants and flowers need to be emotionally and financially supported. Just imagine how many flowers would spread across the entire country," reflects Mukimjon.
...Year 2019...October 4th. School No. 9, the city of Samarkand. No less than twenty thousand plants, seeds, saplings and flower bulbs were handed out to the public …April 1st, 'Tulip Fest' More than one hundred people in attendance in the garden ...May 5th, 'Book Day'. More than two thousand five hundred grape saplings handed out to the community..."
We are accompanying Mukimjon to one of the local orphanage in Samarkand. He is well recognized and respected in the community. People hold the doors for us. One of the areas in the orphanage is filled with flowers and plants. All of them were donated by Mukimjon and are now taken care of by the children themselves. The "Young Gardener's Club" hosts its regular meetings in this space.
"The children absolutely love the plants. They are always eager to spend time here. Mukimjon's love for nature touched our hearts. Just recently, we all pitched in and purchased a Bougainvillea plant for this space," shares one of the employees at the orphanage.
"We've been living on this planet for 40 thousand years and are at the brink of destroying it completely. If only people trusted and treated each other with integrity, we could have taken down all the fences and replaced them with hedges. What do we have instead? Cement and concrete," reflects Mukimjon.
All of the costs associated with caring for the plants and donating them to the public are fully covered by Mukimjon himself. "I make a small profit from selling the plants in the garden. But that barely covers 10% of all the expenses. The rest is covered by my personal savings or contributions from my children. I do not need any benefactors, not at all. Neither do I need the aid from the government. I am quite self-sustained."
"I am usually a skeptic. But I was very impressed with what Mukimjon managed to accomplish. It's not commonplace that a man becomes a better human being as time passes. He truly adores nature; none of what he does is for fame or wealth. He simply can't go about it any other way," reflects deputy editor-in-chief of "Samarkand Gazette" Anastasiya Pavlenko.
Mukimjon does, however, want to reach out to the government with a request. It is absolutely not for a personal gain, but for the benefit of the community.
"My father had a dream. It was to start a botanical garden in Samarkand. He appealed to the government during the time of Soviet regime, but it never worked out. He used to always say: 'Children need to be familiarized with nature and plants, study it!' " shares Mukimjon.
"We have been trying to start a botanical garden in Samarkand for years now. I even went to speak on television, reached out to various newspapers. So far - nothing. The most realistic solution would be to start a garden on the campus of Samarkand State university. They already have a small garden; all we would need to do is make trails and treat the soil. The university administration will not be able to manage it on their own, we need the support of the city or the county." "Or maybe we can announce a crowd funding project!" contemplates Mukimjon.
"Do you see how many plants I have in this garden? I am willing to hand it all out. Free of charge, no strings attached. I am only going to leave myself one of each plant. A botanical garden in Samarkand - my one true wish," shares the Flower Whisperer.
Undeniably, such a magnificent city like Samarkand deserves its own botanical garden. It would even seem we don't have to look far to find whom to put in charge.
The Gardner's Dream
Come by foot, by land or air and visit Samarkand! You want to see a paradise - come visit Samarkand! There is no better place on earth, Than our blooming city. Come visit Samarkand! If you want to walk around a magnificent garden, Where birds sing, then come visit Samarkand!
If you want to hear the music of the city, Both karnay and sorna, come visit Samarkand! You want to meet wonderful people? Wait no more, come visit Samarkand! The domes so turquoise, the sky can't compete. Pack your valise, come visit Samarkand.
It was erected with the hands of kind masters. Do not forget that, too. Come visit Samarkand. The wisdom of the graying elder, the eagerness of the youth Do not compare it to anything, come visit Samarkand. Orifi maintains: there is no better city! Hurry! Come, come visit Samarkand!
Olimjon Orifi (Aripov)
Photo: Elyor Nematov Text: Nikita Makarenko English translation: Mariya Kontsepolskaya Web design: Elyor Nematov Unauthorized usage of photo, video and audio materials published by Gazeta.uz is stictly prohibited.