Two new resources released this month will be a boon to local gardeners
Whenever I talk to local gardeners I'm met with the same complaint: there isn't enough information about locally available plants and gardening that takes regional conditions into consideration. This is a particular problem for horticultural novices - unsupported by retailers unwilling or unable to offer the advice needed to get them started.
Fortunately, October has seen the release of two new resources that should go some way to redressing this: Anne Love's Gardening in Oman and the UAE and the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council's online Plant Information Database.
Love trained as an agriculturist and has many years' experience as a gardener in the Middle East, including time in Syria and Oman, where she is active in the local horticultural association.
Her book is the first publication since Eric Moore's Gardening in the Middle East to address horticulture in the region from a practical perspective.
Aimed at hands-on gardeners, it has the kind of practical details that only a seasoned gardener could provide, including such gems as the role of night-time temperatures in successful propagation from seed, and the correct maintenance regimen for ensuring that bougainvillea blooms repeatedly.
It includes all the sections that you would expect from such a publication - on plant types, pests and propagation - but also lists seasonal jobs and activities in the garden, a salinity tolerance table, online resources and a gazetteer of key nurseries in the region, although primarily in Dubai.
In attempting to provide such a broad spectrum of useful information, Love's book shares many characteristics with the Plant Information Database that has been launched by Abu Dhabi's Urban Planning Council (UPC). With well over 1,000 plants listed, it would be churlish to expect the kind of in-depth advice that Love provides, but there are almost two hundred pages of plants that can be searched by a host of criteria including their flower colour, drought tolerance and shade requirements.
There are also lists of plants that are commonly available as well as native species that are far harder to come by.
The database is the brainchild of Kevin Reid, an associate planner in the environment team at the UPC. It's also very much a work in progress that will become more complete as information on the performance and suitability of plants becomes available from research organisations, growers, nurserymen, landscape contractors and designers working in the region.
Reid also hopes that, along with the landscape guidelines outlined by documents such as Estidama (the Abu Dhabi Government's vision for a more sustainable urban future) and organisations such as Abu Dhabi Municipality, the database will contribute to the wider debate over the use of native plant species and low-water-demand landscaping techniques.
Although it is a strategic body that focuses on large-scale urban development and the public realm, the UPC also has guidance for private homeowners and it's in this that its aspirations for more sustainable gardening are most clearly defined. The tips for the garden include using plants that agree with the UAE's climate, avoiding plant species that require large amounts of irrigation and are invasive, and selecting trees that bear edible fruit and nuts and also provide habitat for wildlife.
As well as publishing leaflets, the UPC is running one-hour workshops for villa owners aimed at introducing the concept of sustainability and showing how villas can be constructed and are run in accordance with Estidama.
Gardening in Oman and the UAE is available from Borders and Magrudy's, Dh80.
The UPC's online Plant Information Database can be found here.
More information on Estidama and training courses for villa owners (in Arabic) can be found here.