Lahore is historically known as a vibrant city which has a lot to offer to the locals and the tourists. It has always been a happening place and the hub of social, cultural and political activities. The historical monuments, the lush green gardens, the exquisite cuisine, the sufi shrines, the rich culture and its warm-hearted inhabitants are just a few attractions that bring people here in large numbers.
Though Lahore receives tourists with open arms throughout the year, the best time to visit the city is during the spring season. This is the time when the weather is ideal for outdoor activity, visits to parks, dining out — both at posh restaurants and roadside eateries — attending festivals and cultural activities, just sitting out in the open and enjoying the gentle breeze and pleasant sunshine, and what not. Even commuting on city roads from one place to the other is an experience worth remembering. One can feast one’s eyes on the landscape exhibiting amazing flower beds and patterns all the way and enjoy the shade of countless trees standing tall for ages.
The citizens are proud of all this and very touchy about its green areas and the trees dotting its landscape, especially those along the Canal Road and the famous Mall Rd. Any attempt at cutting the trees in the name of widening of roads invites severe criticism from the public and environmentalists, though this has not made a difference on most occasions. But one difference this resistance has made is that the government authorities have decided to plant 10 fruit trees against every tree that is cut down in the city.
People who return to the city after sometime are often surprised by the abundance of flower beds and formations they come across throughout the city. The green belts are also there and a bit larger in size in the newly developed areas. An explanation for this can be that the urban planners are giving priority to roadside plantation and following global best practices. But why is it so that no other major city is even close to Lahore in this context and why flowers of all types add beauty to its landscape throughout the year?
The ideal weather and the soil of Lahore make it highly suitable for planting flowers in spring, says Dr Muhammad Yaqoob, Director Horticulture, Parks and Horticulture Authority (PHA), Punjab. “Spring is reasonably long here and humidity levels are not high like those in Karachi which helps flowers to grow and live long. Besides, the quality of water used for irrigation purposes is quite good in Lahore.”
While the weather of Islamabad is also conducive for plantation, its soil is not as suitable because the city is located in a hilly area with rock structure underneath.
Comparing Lahore with Faisalabad, Yaqoob says that even though it is a big city with no dearth of resources, the irrigation water quality is not satisfactory.
He agrees that parks and roadside trees have been there since ages and the colonial rulers focused a lot on these, but the visibility increased a lot over the last 15-16 years.
The highly skilled and hardworking staff of PHA, says Yaqoob, knows better than any other department in the country on how to carry out sowing, weeding, topping, cropping, overall maintenance of plants and so on. “Their skills have developed over this period due to the exposure they have received.”
He says that areas surrounding Babu Sabu, Allama Iqbal Airport, Saggian Bridge, Niazi Chowk etc have been designed and landscaped with immense dedication and filled with heavy plantation.
No doubt PHA has been very active over the years but it has also been criticised for certain measures it took. The cutting of trees for widening of roads and maintenance of sewerage at Bagh-e-Jinnah (Lawrence Garden) was widely condemned.
PHA spokesman Javed Shaida has a justification. He says that the trees were cut because of unavoidable circumstances and replaced by 10 fruit plants against every tree which had to be removed.
Unfortunately, he adds, the lack of fruit trees in the city has forced birds to leave. Once these trees are back, the birds who were once native to Lahore will return. The authority has invited applications from individuals, local community groups, owners of shared properties etc who have open spaces in these areas. These locations will be visited and surveyed for free plantation of trees such as Shahtoot, Jamun, Conocorpus, Amaltas, Neem, Arjun. Molsri, Berry, Dharek and Pelican Bohri. The care and maintenance of the plants will be the responsibility of the successful applicants.
Shaida says flowers are planted in millions and the choice varies with the season. Rose, tuberose, gladiolus, marigold, narcissus, statice, petunia and pansy are some of the flowers familiar to the natives.
According to Shaida, at the moment petunia flowers can seen in abundance as these are the most “suitable” flowers in the season. Prior to petunia plantation, around 25 million marigolds were planted and many of these can still be seen in the city.
Amid myriad explanations regarding why Lahore is so full of flowers and trees, Mian Shakeel Ahmed, Director General, PHA, terms it mostly a matter of resolve. He says that the Punjab government has dedicated resources to the authority and given it a free hand to beautify Lahore.
The staff, he says, is highly skilled and translates the expertise attained over time into action. The authority earns its own revenue through contracts and billboard auctioning as well as received handsome grant from the government to carry out its activities.
Plantation, greenbelts and green spaces are also part of modern-day development. If these were not there, cities such as Lahore which have fast undergone development would look like concrete jungles.
He says no new development scheme which does not have a provision for green spaces is being passed these days.
Like every year, the city also braces for Jashn-e-Baharan (Spring Festival) which begins March 1. The organisers have dedicated several activities to the martyrs of Army Public School (APS) Peshawar attack. Activities exclude kite-flying but include flower shows, painting competitions, sufi poetry recitals, canal mela, women-only fairs, plantation drive, fireworks, dog show and city parade. Though the event is advertised in Lahore only, it is attended by a large number of people who come from other parts of the country.