Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 August 2019

Is this the way to give UAE residents lush lawns all year round?

Real grass that stays green all year long is an option now available thanks to Abu Dhabi landscaping company True Turf

Frederik Langenhoven and his son Marius , right, with Omar Al Hosani, centre. Victor Besa / The National 
Frederik Langenhoven and his son Marius , right, with Omar Al Hosani, centre. Victor Besa / The National 

It has to be one of the best feelings in the world: kicking off your shoes to feel cool grass beneath your feet. Yet, many of us have learnt to live without that pleasure, what with the desert climate and all. And ­anyone who has tried to install real grass at home will know the ­frustration of watching it turn brown and die once the summer heat hits, if not sooner.

Yet, golf courses are able to retain their greens year on year, something Omar Al Hosani wondered about as he watched his father struggle to keep the grass green at their villa. “What is the golf course doing?” thought Al ­Hosani, 30, the co-owner of Abu Dhabi landscaping company True Turf, which launched late last year. “What is the magic?”

Turns out it’s all about the type of grass and having the right ­knowledge to care for it – a code the owners of True Turf say they’ve cracked. Al Hosani, an electrical engineer, has teamed up with South African father-son duo Frederik and Marius Langenhoven to bring lush lawns to UAE residents, which they promise will thrive 365 days of the year.

Marius, 29, arrived in Abu Dhabi six years ago to start one of the first CrossFit programmes in the ­capital, in Khalifa City. After moving into ­consulting, he met Al Hosani and helped him set up a home gym. Meanwhile, Frederik, 50, a qualified mechanic-turned-­greenskeeper, amassed an encyclopaedic know­ledge of grass while working at top courses in South Africa, including setting up the Jack Nicklaus-designed St Francis Links in St Francis Bay. He arrived in the UAE a year ago ahead of the recent opening of the Dubai Hills Golf Club.

The secret to getting lush grass

“Everybody uses fake grass, because they’ve tried and tested real grass, and it doesn’t work. The reason is poor management,” he says, sitting on the edges of the Yas Links Golf Course. “There’s no reason that your own residential lawn can’t be a success. I mean, look behind you at this beautiful, lush golf course.”

The feel, the smell, the aliveness, the connection between you and the real grass, you know, it’s priceless.

Omar Al Hosani, co-founder, True Turf

Bermuda has traditionally been the residential grass of choice in the UAE, but it is unsuited to the climate. Golf courses, on the other hand, have found success with a newer warm-weather variety called Paspalum, which actually grows best in the summer heat and is adapted to cope with salt. This is the strain that the trio behind True Turf want to furnish residents with.

“It’s really starting to pick up now, because people are starting to see the difference between the two,” says Marius. “Even someone who doesn’t know how to take care of grass will see that Bermuda dies or goes completely brown in summer, while Paspalum stays.”

How it works

True Turf now hopes to revive ­interest in real grass across the ­country, in both new residents and those like Al Hosani’s father, who “tried every solution ­possible” and then gave up. The first thing True Turf does is remove rubbish and sand, and install a soil base. That includes mixing in the right amount of sand, nutrients, fertilisers and soil amendments, a secret recipe – one-part gypsum is all they will reveal – that is all-natural. “Basically, what we’re trying to do is eliminate the high pH, the acidity level and the salt,” says Marius.

They then dig trenches for an ­automatic irrigation system and install it, then lay down squares of sod grown at a facility outside Ras Al Khaimah. Left alone and irrigated properly, the lawn is ready within days. Costs vary depending on the type of garden and what needs to be done. As an example, installing a 100-square-metre lawn will cost roughly Dh8,000 to Dh10,000, ­depending on variables.

The key is maintenance. True Turf offers basic packages from Dh400 for a 100-square-metre lawn, which ­includes mowing, edging and ­trimming. Additional services – dealing with pests, or dry patches, for example – come on a per-charge basis. A premium package, which costs from Dh600, covers everything. That includes special techniques such as verti-cutting, which involves cutting down into the soil to de-thatch the plant, and creating small punctures to aerate the soil and roots, a process called hollow tining.

All this grass does require is a lot of water, however. At the peak of ­summer, the True Turf irrigation system will use between eight and 12 litres of water per square metre daily, says Marius. For those with lawns of 100 square metres, that would result in a water bill that is roughly Dh250 higher in summer, and about Dh150 higher in winter.

Fake vs real grass

Costs aside, there are environ­mental concerns over water use, which is why many people turn to fake grass. Fake varieties are often viewed as an environmentally ­friendly alternative, but degradation as a result of the UAE’s summer heat renders many of them toxic. Tests in the United States on grass made from nylon or a nylon-polyethylene blend showed fibres contained enough levels of lead to be a public health concern, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The situation is exacerbated by exposure to the elements, the CDC says. Fake grass also requires a concrete foundation, to which it is glued, explains Marius. Not only does the grass degrade in the sun, but it ­retains heat and collects pet hair, as well as dirt and dust.

The other alternative is to pave or tile gardens, but that further limits exposure to the greenery. “When it’s that concrete, it feels like a prison ­almost, because you’ve got your walls on the outside and concrete ­flooring,” says Marius. “With natural grass you can actually enjoy it in the evening.”

'We are trying to be approachable'

Paspalum grass absorbs heat, sunlight, dust and the dirt, he says. “Everything becomes part of the soil again. I’m not saying it’s going to drop the temperature of your garden, but it’s not going to be like an oven.”

For me, as a local, I really want my country to be green. I know it’s so hard for a desert. Most of us travel for summer holidays just to see a green mountain – we can’t have it here. That’s what I thought before. But this is doable.

Omar Al Hosani

There is also no comparison between fake grass and the real thing, says Al Hosani. “The feel, the smell, the aliveness, the connection between you and the real grass – it’s priceless,” he says. “You don’t want your kids to be playing with a carpet in the yard. This is the feeling with fake grass.”

True Turf also offers other ­landscaping services, and is ­developing indoor and outdoor plant packages for apartment-dwellers, too. “We are trying to be approachable, as much as we can, to individuals, because the landscaping companies here that I faced are, unfortunately, after the big deals,” says Al Hosani.

He adds that True Turf plans to adapt its approach as new ­technology becomes available, particularly ­as a result of ongoing research into making desert sand a more workable kind of soil. “For me, as a local, I really want my country to be green,” says Al Hosani. “I know it’s so hard for a desert. Most of us travel for summer holidays just to see a green mountain – we can’t have it here. That’s what I thought before. But this is doable.”

Updated: February 1, 2019 03:07 PM

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