Issue 1, 2019. February-March



The Patriarch's love of flowers, coupled with the generosity of Georgian emigres, has helped develop a professional cadre of landscapers and gardeners in Georgia.

Lika Jorjoliani

The Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Ilia II, has long had a penchant for flowers.

So much so that in 2006, the Institute of Decorative Horticulture and Ecology was founded by the Tbilisi Ecclesiastic Academy and Seminary with the support of the Patriarch himself. The institute is located next to Tbilisi's iconic Holy Trinity Cathedral, known in Georgian as Sameba, and offers three fields of study: gardening, floral design and landscaping.

The institute's website says its aim is to "train highly-qualified, environmentally-conscious specialists who are in demand, mobile and competitive." The Institute especially tries to help socially vulnerable segments of the population-including children from disadvantaged families, internally displaced persons, and the elderly.

It is the only such institution in the country, the Institute's Deputy Director Tekla Sikharulidze told "Since the Institute is completely unique in the country, I can say we've created an entire profession in Georgia. But we couldn't have done any of it without the American Friends of Georgia charity foundation, which was instrumental in the effort," she said.

The American Friends of Georgia Executive Director in Georgia Lena Kiladze told that the foundation's priority is to help people help themselves-that is, to give people skills to support themselves. That made the choice to aid in the creation of the Institute of Decorative Horticulture and Ecology an easy one.

"Charitable activity used to be a part of the culture in Europe, and in Georgia as well, in the 19th century . . . But in the Soviet period, this tradition was lost. One of the main targets of the activities of the American Friends of Georgia is the promotion of philanthropy. The government will not manage to overcome the social problems that exist in the state alone. All citizens and business organizations are socially responsible for this process," Kiladze said.

A Generation of Gardeners

The Institute's success has been clear: over half of its 300 graduates have found work as gardeners or professional landscapers, according to Sikharulidze.

Interest in the profession is also growing: she noted that there are 103 students registered at the faculty of gardening alone.

Tsira Okropiridze, a former actress, graduated in 2013, and now works as a landscape designer.

"I read about the Institute in a magazine article sometime in 2012. I didn't even think about it-I applied immediately, got in and studied in the faculty of landscaping. The college transformed me from a landscaping amateur into a professional," she said.

Okropiridze wasn't slow to get busy after graduating-she felt the institute had more than adequately prepared her for her career.

"Toward the end of our course, we were given classes in writing business plans. I jokingly put together a project for a rose garden. But once I'd written it, I promised myself to turn it into a reality that summer-which I did. I got a 1,200 square meter plot of land in Saguramo and called it Rose Art. It was 2016 when we had our first exhibition. It became an annual thing, and by 2018 it was already a rather large event-it was renamed 'A Rain of Roses,'" she recalled.

"We have different, talented people come out and perform music, display their art and speak about gardening-related topics and how to green-up areas, make them better suited for recreation and how to make public areas more pleasing to the eye."

"I don't make money off this exhibition-it is used for getting the word out there about our roses (the bulk of my income) and to spread awareness about landscaping and taking care of the green areas around us," she explained.

"In the future, I want to build an event hall in Saguramo, where ceremonies such as marriages can take place," she said.

"To become a professional in Georgia, you need to work hard and have the will to move forward. You can't look at your business as if it's a burden. It must give you pleasure, it should be an art. I'd like to thank the excellent teachers I've had at the institute who taught us how to work with colors, dendrology and landscaping. This college prepares excellent gardeners and designers."

From Student to Entrepreneur

David Ogbaidze is another graduate of the Institute. He, too, had an amateur background in gardening, but says the Institute has given him the professional tools and business know-how on how to promote himself and build a personal brand.

Ogbaidze entered the Institute in 2015, having found out about the opportunity from a local church he was helping with gardening.

"I studied gardening and decorating. When I graduated, I immediately got a gig as a private gardener. I've been working for four years now as a decorative gardener. I'd like to thank the Institute, because it gave me the tools I need and it put me on the right life path. Now, I work at the Institute itself and at the Natakhtari Airport as a decorator," he said.

"Gardening isn't very developed in Georgia, but the industry is slowly growing, and there are many jobs to be had. While many young people look at gardening as being not prestigious enough, that attitude is slowly changing. Sure, many of the people at the college were older than 40-50 years old, but the trade is slowly catching on amongst the younger generation, too.

Ultimately, many people and organizations need qualified gardeners-it's a well-paid and in-demand skill to have," he emphasized.

"I want to keep growing, and keep studying. For now, however, I am doing well. I work in about five different gardens, and make about 1,500 lari a month. I also have the opportunity to help my fellow gardeners-when I get jobs, I often call in my colleagues, and I'm able to pay them well. It's a skill that gives to me, and gives back to others as well," Ogbaidze said.