Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 4 April 2020

Plant swaps: why gardening enthusiasts in the UAE are exchanging shrubs

Green-fingered enthusiasts regularly come together to swap plants and gardening knowledge

Plant swaps allow members to share advice about tending to different species. Courtesy of Plants Club UAE
Plant swaps allow members to share advice about tending to different species. Courtesy of Plants Club UAE

Living in a concrete jungle gives some people the urge to seek out natural greenery as often as possible, while others turn to gardening, a bona fide outlet that promotes wellness. Tending to a tree, getting your hands dirty with soil or tracking the growth of a new plant are physically and mentally satisfying.

However, maintaining a flourishing garden is no mean feat, especially once the UAE’s hotter months hit. It’s the reason many enthusiasts in the region have realised the best way to help their gardens is to help each other. Enter plant swaps, events where nature lovers meet to share their knowledge, concerns and even their plants.

What are plant swaps?

Plant swaps are organised by members of various gardening groups on Facebook such as Plants Club, UAE, in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Participants are encouraged to show up at scheduled events with ­something they would like to share with other members of the community – from seeds and cuttings to potted plants and garden accessoriesto help people learn more about looking after a new plant they may take home.

Harly Sabater, a Filipino resident of Abu Dhabi who attended his first plant swap a year ago, now organises the events. “I have really enjoyed it since the first time I attended such a gathering,” he says. “I was surprised by how keen people were to share their plants and how interested they were to know what their neighbours were growing.”

Despite the fact plant swaps have been held in the country for some years now, Sabater says not many people know of them. “They may have heard about workshops and educational events, but plant swaps are a lot more informal,” he says. “I think it’s yet to really take off here.”

Events are usually held in the gardens of members’ homes, which lends the meetings a casual vibe. This is deliberate, says Pritti Bhattacharya, founder of Plants Club, UAE. “Often the person hosting wants others to see their garden,” she says. “There’s a lot of pride and happiness, and people share their experiences with different plants. After all, each plant comes with its own story and this inspires members.”

Sharing is caring

There are numerous other advantages to swapping plants with the local community, the most obvious being that it gives people a chance to learn how to tend to a plant they may not previously have owned. “We have a limited variety of plant types in the UAE, so the more people share cuttings, the more we are helping the region’s biodiversity,” says Bhattacharya. “It also allows us to exchange our experiences of growing a particular plant in a city.”

Cuttings and plants often change hands at the events. Courtesy of Harly Sabater
Cuttings and plants often change hands at the events. Courtesy of Harly Sabater

There are no hard and fast rules at the events. Some people bring a single potted plant, while others bring several different samples and concepts they want to share. Participants are not expected to return the plants, either. Plant people are very giving,” says Bhattacharya. “It’s about how much pleasure these plants can give another person.”

Distributing the cuttings of a plant that’s growing well is also an excellent way of preserving it because if some harm befalls your beloved flora, a strain of it lives on in another garden and you can always ask to be given a cutting back. “We are all emotionally attached to our plants,” says Bhattacharya. “When we give a part of the plant away, it’s like a blood bank – you know you can get it back when you’re in need.”

Nurturing new relations

The UAE’s green-thumbed community is small but active; the Abu Dhabi Gardening Group on Facebook has more than 1,700 members, and The Dubai Gardening Group has more than 4,000. These online groups are great sources of knowledge and information for the plant community, with members regularly posting queries on everything from composting to indoor gardening to hydroponics. A plant swap is simply a physical extension of the group, allowing members to meet those they have already been interacting with online. “We may interact with many people here in the UAE, but it’s not always easy to meet those with similar interests,” says Bhattacharya.

Gardening enthusiasts share knowledge and flora at a plant swap in Dubai. Courtesy of Plants Club UAE
Gardening enthusiasts share knowledge and flora at a plant swap in Dubai. Courtesy of Plants Club UAE

She says she hopes that such events will also inculcate a love of nature among youngsters. “After all, gardening is something we should all pursue. It feels good to get your hands dirty sometimes, and it teaches us how to grow in harmony with nature. When we’re gardening, it feels like we’re engaging with something bigger. It’s the best feeling in the world.”

Plants Club, UAE, plans to host its next event in April. More information can be found on the group’s Facebook page

Updated: March 18, 2020 07:57 PM

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