Will people pay to see flowers? Hasan Ali Saadi Palash of Rajshahi set out to answer this question in the beginning of this year when he set up Dreamers Garden on 3.26 hectares of land in Palashbari village of Godagari.
Right after crossing Damkurahat from Kashiadanga intersection of Rajshahi city, the garden is around eight to 10 kilometres away, lying right on the side of the road.
Inside it is a world transformed. Mango trees, for this was a mango orchard originally, line the roads, with some 370 local varieties present. Amid the trees, 20-25 different varieties of flowers are planted in tubs. There are tulips, gladiolus, petunias, celosias and much more. While some of the flower pots are on the ground, others hang gloriously from the branches of the mango trees. Some are hung on different sheds.
So far, 100 visitors on average have been coming daily to Dreamers Garden to see the different species of flowers. On weekly holidays, the numbers rise to 150-200 visitors.
The entrance fee per visitor is Tk50 and Palash says he made around Tk2 lakh last month from ticket sales.
"You do not have to pay money to see flowers in Golap Gram of Birulia in Savar or in the flower-rearing villages in Jashore region. I went there and saw the flowers for myself. But if you want to see flowers in my garden, you have to pay Tk50," he said proudly.
"I never thought it would be possible. I started this on an experimental basis," he added.
The garden has plenty of chairs and benches for visitors to relax, when they aren't busy taking pictures with the different blooms. There is also a pond, offering another refreshment for the eyes. A boat, decorated with flowers, sits atop the pond.
This correspondent talked to several visitors during a recent visit to the garden. People from various backgrounds – children, judges, teachers, bankers and physicians – were seen coming to the break for some much needed respite.
Zahid Hossain, an associate professor at the marketing department of Begum Rokeya University in Rangpur, said, "I am a son of Rajshahi. I have heard about the Dreamers Garden. So I hurried to the garden today after coming to Rajshahi on a weekly holiday. I love the environment here. I hope in the next two to three years, not only locals, but other tourists will also come to see the flowers," he said, adding this was a good opportunity to start agri-tourism in the region.
Kawsar Kamal, deputy general manager of the Bangladesh Bank Rajshahi branch, said he had come to see the tulips, but unfortunately those had wilted.
"Though I have not seen any tulips, I am fascinated by the place. Various exotic varieties of flowers can be seen. This idea seems very new to me," he said.
But Palash's journey so far hasn't been a fluke. He first bought 1,000 tulip bulbs from Gazipur and began cultivating the flowers in a separate shed. The tulips that took bloom did so through his dedication.
The tulips, the most popular attraction, adorned the garden till mid-January, after which temperatures rose and the flowers began to die off, Palash said.
The mango orchard, meanwhile, had been on this land for 18 years.
Palash took the garden on lease from his uncle seven years ago. After his uncle's death, Palash started growing mangoes with his partner, the current owner of the land Jubery Hassan, son of his uncle.
From there, he moved on to starting the flower garden. As Afzal remains busy with his job, Palash tends to the garden and manages the business.
He brought 20,000-25,000 seedlings from different parts of the country, mostly Bogura and Jashore. But many of those died as the weather in Rajshahi was not suitable.
"Flower cultivation in the Barind region is challenging. Growing flowers inside a mango orchard is even more challenging. I never thought it would be possible to grow flowers in a mango orchard. That is why I have cultivated flowers on a small scale," said Palash.
Although it is difficult, especially in the rainy season, Palash is planning to grow more flowers in the mango orchard throughout the year. He also plans to sell the seedlings when the time comes.