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Fri 2 Jul 2010 04:00 AM

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Greening the city

Good landscape design adds immense value to a project, not just in terms of resale value and monetary benefits, but also in terms of feel-good value.

Greening the city

Good landscape design adds immense value to a project, not just in terms of resale value and monetary benefits, but also in terms of feel-good value.

The landscape industry in this region is still very young, even though it has progressed quite a bit over the last decade. Greater variety is available not only in terms of plants but also in terms of maintenance and care products, such as sweet soil and fertilizer, which are crucial to maintaining the original design intent of the landscape.

But good design can only be achieved by quality contractors with a vision. Here in Dubai I think that the limited exposure that most contractors have to international design trends is reflected in the uniformity and similarity of their projects.

In LA, where I studied and worked for seven years, we had brilliantly proactive contractors with good creative minds who looked at unusual design elements as a challenge. Here in the UAE, contractors are resistant to trying new things and tend to look at the bottom line rather than the design. I think a big part of the reason for this is because most clients are not aware of what is possible and contractors like to take the easiest option in terms of availability of materials and plants etc, rather than spending more time sourcing unique, unusual elements.

I am sure that this will change as potential clients nowadays are more aware of landscape design trends than what they may have been even two years ago.

Unfortunately, there is quite a bit of division amongst the different components of the landscape industry. There is no single forum to help the designer, supplier, contractor and nursery owner to work together to create a unique landscape.

The same plants and paving materials are available from most vendors, so choice is limited. Most nurseries do not stock unique materials or plants. They have to be imported from other countries, making them more expensive and, as a result, attractive to fewer clients.

Another issue is that, culturally, here in Dubai clients tend to look at having things finished very quickly, and this is reflected in how we find the same materials, flora and fauna used again and again. Back in the US, gardens are very highly valued and there are countless government incentives provided to expand green space and build in an environmentally-responsible manner.

I think many people have preconceived notions that the UAE is a desert and not much can grow here. This is a misconception. With the proper care, many varieties of plants will do well here, including plants that thrive in the heat and arid Australian climate, as well as some Mediterranean plants that like prolonged heat.

Of course, water quality is a concern and is a direct result of water scarcity. Because natural rainwater is in very short supply, most of the water available for irrigation is TSE (treated sewage effluent), which is high in salt content. Combine poor sandy soils with poor quality water and you face a tough challenge in designing a lasting garden space.

Ultimately, an effective landscape design is a collaborative effort. Input from the client is very important in terms of what look they are going for, how they would like to use the space and how much work they are willing to put in once the garden has been planted. Client input helps shape each individual design and the functionality of the landscape, based on the client's lifestyle.

A good contractor is also a crucial element in the design as there is no point having a good design but failing to deliver the finished product. A good design requires an experienced team of professionals to convert design into reality. Last but not least, add a cup full of passion to the mix and you have a garden that will give you many years of happiness.

There is so much potential for exploration here. I think rooftop gardens and terrace gardens will be big future trends, and not just for high rises but for the individual villa as well. I also think that at some point, urban planners in this city are going to realise the importance of community gardens, where a certain percentage of land is completely reserved for green space, accessible to adjacent apartment buildings in the heart of the city. So don't be surprised if when flying into Dubai over the next few years, you see a lot more green from the sky.

Nazneen Sabavala is the director of landscape design at 3 Square Interiors.

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