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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

The blooms and butterflies at Dubai’s Miracle Garden will leave you all aflutter

As you enter the lush garden, your senses are dazzled by a psychedelic mirage of flowers. A staggering 60 million of them have been planted on frames to create lifelike structures creating a 72,000-square-metre horticultural wonderland.
The Dubai Miracle Garden. Satish Kumar / The National
The Dubai Miracle Garden. Satish Kumar / The National

Creating the world’s largest natural flower garden in the middle of the desert might seem like an impossible undertaking. But the UAE likes a challenge, and Dubai Miracle Garden has managed to prove it can be done.

It is located in Al ­Barsha South, which was even farther “out in the desert” when the garden was created in 2011 but is mostly now a sprawl of construction.

As you enter the lush garden, your senses are dazzled by a psychedelic mirage of flowers. A staggering 60 million of them have been planted on frames to create lifelike structures creating a 72,000-square-metre horticultural wonderland.

Imagine if Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory was set in an ­English country garden, and given the added trappings of a Katy Perry music video – then you might come close to the feel of the Miracle Garden.

This season’s giant floral structures include peacocks, ostriches, cars, a box of popcorn, a boat, a castle, the houses of a village, a clock, a pink bow hat, and a model of the Burj Khalifa. And of course, no floral setting would be complete without the occasional cheeky garden gnome.

The advantage of the Miracle Garden over competing tourist attractions is that it gets completely revamped each year. It closes for six months in the summer, during which time the withering annual flowers are sent to the fertiliser factory and recycled as organic fertiliser for Dubai Municipality. Then new saplings are nurtured, and the garden reopens in ­November with entirely new displays of blooming masterpieces.

This coming November, Abdel Naser Rahhal, the garden’s Jordanian co-founder and creator. promises a high-tech twist: rotating flowers.

“We have a pioneering design that no one in the world has ever done before with ­flowers,” he says. “We will instal machines in the ground that will make the displays move, to change the designs automatically. It will be something amazing.”

Finding plants tough enough to survive the arid desert climate is a process of trial and error, he explains.

“Because of the temperature extremes, our roses didn’t give continuous blooming,” he says.

“And this year, geraniums across the world have been hit by a bacterial ­disease.”

Up to 45 varieties of flowers can be found in the garden – the most common of which are petunias, marigolds and verbenas – cared for by a team of almost 200 gardeners. The ­garden probably rivals the view from the top of the Burj Khalifa for being the most photographed spot in Dubai – the experience feels like kitsch pop culture at its wackiest.

Dubai Butterfly Garden is part of the same complex but ­requires a separate ticket. This indoor attraction is open all year round. Each of its four ­giant climate-controlled domes contains 15,000 ­exotic ­butterflies from countries all over the world, including the ­Philippines, Thailand and Costa Rica. It gives visitors a rare chance to ponder the marvels of Mother Nature, in a ­delightfully peaceful setting.

The domes also contain 120 species of tropical plants and ponds with large koi fish.

The blue morpho butterflies are the highlight for most visitors, says garden manager Jonah ­Fabalena.

“People always love it when they open up, so you can see the brilliant jet-blue colour in their wings,” she adds.

Fabalena explains that each breed of butterfly has its own unique character.

“The blue morphos are very territorial – they chase other butterflies away from their females,” she says. “The leaf butterfly stays very still, pretending to be a leaf, and the black-and-white ones are called paper kite butterflies, ­because they’re very slow flyers.”

The garden closes at 7pm but it is worth staying until the Sun sets to see the owl butterflies, with their large eye-like wing ­patterns, become more active.

You can also request a visit to the hatching room, where ­various pupas are kept in cases until they hatch, after which they spend their full seven- to 21-day life cycle in the domes.

• Dubai Butterfly Garden opens at 9am, last entry is at 6pm; tickets cost Dh50. Dubai Miracle Garden is open 9am to 9pm on weekdays, and until 11pm on weekends; tickets cost Dh40 for adults, Dh30 for children, free for ages 2 years and under.

artslife@thenational.ae

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