x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

At the Mina Port plant souq, business is blooming

Barely visible from the road, hidden behind a tall, dense wall of foliage, an oasis filled with possibilities beckons the capital's plant lovers.

The Plant Souq at Mina Zayed is a lush green oasis on the edge of Abu Dhabi.
The Plant Souq at Mina Zayed is a lush green oasis on the edge of Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // As the sun sets, Nashad Pallipuzhai is rearranging his plants. "We don't know what will happen in the future," he says, "but we do know there is nothing like this anywhere else in Abu Dhabi."

Mr Pallipuzhai's brother, Zubair, owns Amsterdam Garden Flowers in the plant souq. When the shop opened 14 years ago, he recalls, it was one of only two in the souq. Now there are 28. The shops themselves are barely visible from the road, hidden behind a tall, dense wall of foliage. It is a little oasis amid the concrete and tarmac of Mina Zayed. "We have everything here," Mr Pallipuzhai says, gesturing at the rows of trees, shrubs and flowers. "Anybody who has a plant in their house probably got it here."

For the market, it is still early in the season; during the hot months most people are cocooned in their air-conditioned homes, and pay little attention to their gardens. Slowly it is picking up, but still, hardly any of the customers are on foot. "It is still too hot. Instead, they drive up and down the street with their window down, hoping to see something they want." Mohammad Manof, another stallholder, stands patiently between the red and white rose bushes and the blossom-heavy sandalwood trees, waiting for customers.

"Right now, we are not in the busy season," says Mr Manouf, 22, from India, who has been left in charge of running al Hosn Flowers. "People are not thinking about the outdoors and their gardens. In September, we see people after sunset. That is when they come out." Even then, he fears, the economic crisis will have diverted people's enthusiasm - and wallets - away from tending to their gardens. Further along stands Shahid, offering a "special price" on his stock. "Most of my customers are either expatriates from Europe or else they are professional gardeners," he says. "They come here and know what they want and for how much."

That and the slowdown have combined to make for tougher haggling. "People will fight to save a few dirhams now but they still know what they want and when it comes to their gardens, they will spend that little bit more for better plants." Although most of his plants are originally from India, Thailand or the Netherlands, they have often been cultivated from cuttings in the UAE. "It helps keep the prices down."

The economy is not the only problem hanging over the souq. According to the Abu Dhabi 2030 Structural Framework Plan, the land it stands on, next to the fish market and close to the dhow pier, is zoned as residential. For now, though, the customers come. An Emirati woman is searching for a house-warming gift. "I'll know when I see it," she says. "When I see it, I will then have to get a good price."

Scott Mayson, 42, a British legal consultant, moved to Abu Dhabi recently and is looking for some greenery in his life. "I was told this was the best place to get some plants," he said. "I knew before I moved here that all of life's comforts were here, including plants - but I didn't think there would be such a variety." He considers a lemon tree before his eyes settle on a small papaya tree. Eventually, though, indecision gets the better of him. "I'll come back next week," he says.

Most do, Mr Pallipuzhai says. "We have the best range down here. Why would they want to go anywhere else?" @Email:eharnan@thenational.ae