x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Vandals force Al Ain garden closure

Al Ain Paradise Garden, which holds the Guinness World Record for the most hanging baskets, has been closed to the public to protect it from destructive visitors.

Paradise Gardens  has been hit with vandals who pick the flowers from the hanging pots.
Paradise Gardens has been hit with vandals who pick the flowers from the hanging pots.

AL AIN // A major tourist draw that holds a Guinness World Record for the most hanging baskets has been shut down after its creator grew tired of the parade of thoughtless visitors who trampled on leaves, plucked blooms and even stole entire plants.

Al Ain Paradise Garden's twinkling lights were darkened earlier this week while staff at Akar Landscaping, the company that built and designed the garden, implemented new security measures to protect its contents from vandals.

Abdelnasser Rahhal, the Jordanian who designed the garden and who is part-owner of the landscaping company, said he did not know what motivated visitors to be so destructive.

"You know, in some cases it could simply be that when a couple go to the garden the husband picks a flower and gives it to his wife as a romantic gesture that they think is harmless," he said. "But when someone uproots an entire plant and it simply disappears, I can only assume that it was taken from here to be planted in someone's garden."

The gardens opened in March last year in a 7,000 square metre space on Nahyan Al Awal Street at the Zakher roundabout. According to the official Guinness count, it features 2,426 plants that were imported from countries around the world, including Italy, Uganda, the US and Japan. The company spent about Dh5 million to build it and had seen it suffer "constant damage" ever since, even from well-meaning visitors, said Mr Rahhal.

"It takes months for the flowers to grow and as soon as they begin to show, people start picking them before the stalk has fully bloomed," he said. "I remember a little boy accompanied by his parents stepping on the flowers while they looked on. They just let him walk freely without any consideration for the fact that someone worked long and hard to create a beautiful space for all to enjoy."

Residents this week were left wondering what had happened to the eye-catching attraction, which was normally lit with spotlights and featured a dazzling 10-metre-high replica of the Eiffel Tower.

Nayef Hamad, a 22-year-old engineering student at UAE University, said: "I jog three times a week, from the zoo roundabout to the Zakher roundabout, and take a break at Paradise Gardens before heading back to the university campus in Falaj Hazaa [District]."

"I look for the flickering lights of the Eiffel Tower from a distance and when I see them, I know I don't have far to go. I was surprised when I saw that the lights were out. I didn't know why." Upon learning why the garden had been closed, Mr Hamad said he was disappointed. "This is supposed to be something for everyone to enjoy, and it's for free," he said. "I don't understand why people have to be selfish and ruin it for everyone else. It's sad and disappointing. Someone should be held accountable for this." The law does not allow inspectors to fine people for damage to public parks, said Ali Hamad al Mehairi, the Al Ain Municipality's community services division manager for the Central District of Al Ain, who oversees all public parks and gardens. "All we can do is politely ask people to refrain from doing anything that damages the parks and gardens," Mr al Mehairi said. "But today, the Municipality's community services division is meeting with the relevant authorities to discuss empowering our inspectors to fine offenders. Although we prefer to deliver the message in a more friendly way other than levying fines, we are sometimes left with no choice." Engineer Rahhal said that Al Ain Paradise would be boarded up next week while his team took measures to prevent members of the public from being able to cause any more damage. "The planters will be raised to 180cm off the ground and slanted walls will be built to keep visitors from reaching the planters," Mr Rahhal said. "I will be hiring security guards and installing cameras to monitor things, and will be printing up brochures explaining what went into creating this space and how visitors can help preserve it by asking them not to pick the flowers and not to litter. Once the new measures are in place it will be reopened." Mr Rahhal said it could take longer than a month for Al Ain Paradise to be reopened.

ealghalib@thenational.ae