SOFT AURA OF GREEN OASIS
A botanical garden is perhaps the most beautiful attraction of any city, if it has a designated area for such a place in its geography. Green areas amid highways and skyscrapers, stone, metal and glass of modern architecture are indeed a land of the heart's desire where one can hide from the hustle and bustle, where Nature seems to be hugging and enfolding us with beauty and peace.
On October 1 this year, the Ashgabat Botanical Garden, the country's oldest research organization, will enter its nineties and celebrate this very respectable date as a renewed and young garden exuding the aroma of various plants. The green park, which is so loved by Ashgabat dwellers, reopened at a grand ceremony in May following a major reconstruction, and this day marked the start of the new life of the botanical garden. In 2019, the botanical garden became part of the S.A. Niyazov Agricultural University, and its revival began in the same year.
However, let's go 90 years back, when the scientific community of the leading biological institutes of the young country designed a project to lay out the Ashgabat Botanical Garden in a natural style, in which parts of oasis and desert would intermingle. At the same time, a tree breeding nursery was established with seedlings coming from the Nikitsky and Tbilisi Botanical Gardens. In 1932, a museum of living plants grew up in the garden, broken down into geographical areas of the arboretum. In 1938, the botanical garden was given the status of research and cultural-educational institution.
The garden is located in the historical part of the Turkmen capital. At the beginning of the last century, its future territory was closely adjacent to the picturesque, flowering arboretum Keshi Garden, whose name eloquently explains the choice of location of the ecopark. An alley of old thuja lives in the garden since that time. These conifers are one of the attractions of the botanical garden, as they were planted even before its foundation. As of today, biologists estimate that the evergreen old-timers are a hundred-year old or possibly slightly older.
The major overhaul of the shady green oasis lasted only for one year, and city dwellers really missed their garden all this time - its winding pathways, its giant oaks and pine trees, walnut groves and linden alleys, its water pools with goldfish, blooming lotuses and water lilies, autumn chrysanthemums and spring hyacinths, daffodils and fiery yellow tulips. In a word, every native of Ashgabat sees and feels the botanical garden differently. For me, it remains a garden of my childhood, when on the way home from school we would ran to visit it, and it was always incredibly generous. It treated us to nuts in the fall and berries in the summer, gave us acorns and cones for handicrafts, leaves and flowers for the herbarium, but above all, it gave us the beauty of a piece of wildlife, and this fact excited the children's imagination, gave rise to fabulous images, taught to see, love and understand the living charm of everything growing on earth. After all, the garden collection boasts species of flora from almost every part of the world.
And here we stand again at the entrance to the old but renovated garden. Wide open new gates let us into the world of plants and shady coolness. And air! This special air of the botanical garden, filled with a magical mixture of essential oils of conifers, the moisture of water pools and aroma of flowers remained the same.
The garden occupies 18.5 hectares, of which 12 belong to the arboretum. The arboretum is divided into 8 geographical zones, including East Asia (China, Japan, Korea, the Far East) Central Asia, Europe, the Mediterranean, Crimea, the Caucasus, Asia Minor, North America, as well as ecological areas of local flora (mountain, sand, tugai). The garden staff can spend hours talking about their green pets, especially about rare ones like Ginkgo Biloba. This relict tree, a "living fossil", has existed on the earth for about 300 million years, and it does not belong to any of the plant species existing on the earth today. The dinosaur's contemporary, Ginkgo, belongs to an endangered species, and here it affectionately rustles with its semicircle leaves, as if whispering to visitors the stories of bygone years passed to it genetically from his ancestors.
The collection of tropical and subtropical plants can be found in the greenhouse. There one can see the richness and originality of the flora of the southern semi-desert and desert regions of the globe. The central part of the greenhouse presents a kind of elevation where plants reproduce the landscapes of the deserts of Mexico and the African continent. The collection prides itself on the specimens of the Canary and date palms that have been bearing fruits for about 15 years now. There is an agro-technology for growing subtropical fruit plants. Subtropics plants such as dwarf fruit banana and melon tree (papaya) successfully grow for several years now in the panel breeding greenhouse of the Botanical Garden. In greenhouse conditions, these herbaceous and semi-herbaceous plants overbear.
"Thanks to the major overhaul of the garden we got the opportunity to make a complete inventory of cultures growing in the garden, that is, to put all geographical areas in order," says Gulzara Bazarova, head of the bio-humanities department and the seed bank and our guide. "For example, we cleared each thematic area from self-sown plants brought in by wind, for example, from the Caucasus to Japan area. Now each geographical area is located in the natural habitat specific to this area. Our water pools have been restored, plantings have been rejuvenated and the base of the gallery has been laid down and will soon be covered with curly roses. It will be very beautiful! New concrete pathways and tracks are surely convenient not only for our guests, but also for daily work in the garden, because every plant needs attention. We have to bring fertilizers for every plant, add soil and protect them from the cold. When the tracks were unpaved, it was not easy to get deep into the garden in rainy weather, especially with a laden trolley. Now the tracks have been laid conveniently for work."
We follow the pathways that now clearly take visitors to the areas they want to reach. We turn to the alleys of Turkmen juniper, oak, linden, go around the newly merged territory of the rose garden and plots with fruit trees, we pass by bamboo thickets, colorful flower beds, alpine hills, and finally, a little tired, we sit down on a bench near one of six water pools. The man-made water pools have always been a center of attraction for vacationers. Their water surface is covered with blooming water lilies and lotuses, and what could be more pleasant for the eye and for the soul! Now the area adjacent to the water pools features carved summerhouses for relaxation, pigeons and even a playground for kids.
We also have first visitors. The romantic atmosphere of the botanical garden lushly blooming at this time of the year provides the backdrop for the family photo shoot of the newlyweds Mengli and Dovlet Hadzhievs. "There are many beautiful places in Ashgabat, where you can take pictures," says Dovlet, "but there is a special aura of happiness and peace in the garden, so we came here."
A young grandmother with her grandson sat on the bench nearby. "I am very happy to come back to our botanical garden," says Ashgabat dweller Olga Bazhina. "I am so excited about it! It got even better - tall, spacious. Upgrading made it only more convenient for visitors and the atmosphere of peace, comfort and beauty remained the same. And this is the most important thing. I used to come here with my children many years ago, now I came with a younger grandson. He is here for the first time, everything is interesting for him, and it is impossible to talk him into leaving, and I also don't want to leave this little paradise. It is very good that we preserve the traditions of this oldest beautiful biopark with its unique atmosphere."
The Ashgabat Botanical Garden now operates as a research institute. Having been incorporated into the Agricultural University, part of its territory has also become a laboratory where students test their agro-technical knowledge in practice. They say this natural touch with the soil, plants, not only helps in their studies but also gives them a sense of relationship with the world flora.
At the same time, walking under the green arch of this tent, looking at the amazing flowering compositions, collection of plant exotics, we don't even think that this beauty is the result of many years of work of several generations of scientists fanatically dedicated to their work. Serving Nature, they put their heart and soul into the work. That is why the aura of the garden shines with kindness and happiness.