There are gardens for every personality type — from large sustainable ones to edible landscapes that comfortably feed a family of four, indoor ones that satisfy one’s love for greens, and aquascapes that inspire you to pull out all your creative stops. Take a look at what a few passionate gardeners in Dubai are growing. It just goes to prove that where gardeners will, there gardens thrive.

Don’t be surprised if their work sends you rushing out spade and water can in hand!

The Edible Garden, Eda Ozturk Davasligil

Anyone walking past Eda Davasligil’s villa in Dubai Hills is likely to notice bunches of tomatoes hanging from an arch. Beside it is a wooden planter with kale, spring onions and courgettes. A little away, beside the garage is a basil bush in full burst, seeds rising up and out from among the leaves. A fledgling pomegranate sapling behind it, bears small greenish brown fruit. A hibiscus roselle and a lemon tree look on.

So does Eda’s black tumbler composter.

And this is just for starters to Eda’s edible garden.

For the Turkish industrial engineer turned yoga teacher turned health coach, edible landscaping has over the last three years become a way of life. Rather than relegate vegetables to a patch, Eda has used her engineering background to plan and optimize every square foot of her outdoor living area and surround her home with organic produce for her family of four.

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“We don’t buy vegetables during the season, around 9 months,” she says, declaring with justified pride that she grows more than 90 varieties of organic vegetables and fruit. “This garden is never empty. I always plan two months in advance, so that the minute one crop is over, I’ve already planted another one and it’s ready to go in.”

It wasn’t always like this. “Many failures lie behind all this bounty,” says Eda. “I started out with red tomatoes and a few peppers back in my old villa in JVT. When I moved in here it was just sand.”

Her interest, coupled with an aim that her family eat healthy, has brought her to the point where she now hosts workshops and counsels others on how to start an edible garden. She also has a very happening Instagram page, the aim being to inspire others to follow suit. “The first thing is the soil,” she says, readily offering tips for those who may be interested. “Good quality organic soil will take care of half your issues. So, I’d encourage everyone to start composting. We all have kitchen scraps that sadly end up in landfills; we can use them to make soil full of nutrients.”

Eda herself does three types of composting — the traditional composting using a tumbler; vermicompost and Bokashi bins that take in meat and fish scraps too.

Eda also uses heirloom seeds. These are seeds that have been passed down through the generations, are not genetically modified or hybrid varieties. The seed her crop produces is saved for the next season, making the process sustainable. “I grow cucumbers even in June and everyone asks me how,” says Eda. “This is because it’s my fourth year with this cucumber. I saved all my seeds, planted them, grew them and once again collected all the seeds for the next season. They’ve now adapted to the heat, so that they produce even in the peak of summer. It’s really different from buying seeds from the store and planting them.”

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Besides, composting Eda also lays emphasis on ensuring that her garden is biodiverse. “Each type of pest is interested in a certain crop. But when you plant another crop next to it, such as basil next to tomato, it deters these pests. So, I plant Sage, Marigold. The biodiversity is the reason I have very minor issues with pests. And it also attracts beneficial insects such as lady bugs, butterflies and bees.”

Even when Eda notices an infestation of aphids, for instance, she doesn’t rush to get out her sprayer bottle of neem oil. The aphids form a lady bug’s meal, and so the one begets the other. “Everything is connected. Under the soil as above the soil,” says Eda. “If you keep the soil clean by using composted soil and by not using pesticides and synthetic fertilisers, then the microbes and the micro-organisms in the soil are happy, resulting in healthy roots. This in turn leads to healthy leaves and abundant crop.”

Just one tip: “Pay attention to the soil first and foremost. I encourage everyone to start composting.”

The Sustainable Garden, Juhaina Al Fardan

Back in 2016, Juhaina Al Fardan decided on taking a more sustainable approach to gardening, a hobby that had brought her immense pleasure even when she was a 10-year-old growing a tamarind tree in her father’s home.

First thing, she had her lawn dug up. “Maintaining it was terrible. We had to put chemicals; it consumed too much water, and the areas under trees would develop patches,” says the Emirati ex-banker and retired senior HR consultant.

Juhaina went on to redesign her garden, putting in gravelled walkways and a pergola for her daughter’s imminent wedding.

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“The trees in my garden are either fruit or vegetable bearing – Moringa, Indian Almond, Loganberries, lemon trees, Star Gooseberry, Mango, Rose Apple, Java Plum, Tamarind, Glueberries, Manilla tamarind and local mulberries.” Under their shade and bordering the walkways grow Aloe Vera, Cacti, three types of Agave, varieties of Snake plants, the Yucca and the Euphorbia milii or Crown of Thorns and prickly pear cacti.

“These are oxygen producers and are not only planted for their aesthetics, but also because they are slow growth, drought-tolerant, disease- and pest-tolerant and great for hot countries with very low rainfall,” Juhaina explains.

“Most of the flowers I plant, are seasonals that help attract pollinators and bees to my garden. This is crucial to the continuity of my garden, and to save the local bee population,” she adds.

With summer fast approaching, Juhaina will soon begin covering shrubs with netting and potting extra saplings for donations
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Next door to Juhaina’s home in Al Barsha is her cousin’s vacant property and here she has an extensive kitchen garden with radish, lemon and mulberry trees, an assortment of herbs including lemon grass and mint, sugarcane, the ubiquitous tomato and even peanuts.

Juhaina is keen on sharing her expertise and all her extra plants with the wider community. A member of several gardening groups on Facebook, she says: “Very often we get people new to the country, posting messages of where to start in this challenging weather. All of us are quick to tell them to start with plants and seeds that we have and to build their garden whether it is indoors, balcony, hydroponics, container gardening etc as they go along. These novice gardeners eventually help pass their experience and re-gift their bounty to others.”

Juhaina notes that the requests for membership to their Facebook group “tripled” in the past two-and-half years. “It’s obvious that people are finding solace, peace, comfort and joy in gardening in these distressing times.”

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With summer fast approaching, Juhaina will soon begin covering shrubs with netting and potting extra saplings for donations. “Over the years I’ve adopted the method of plant reduction before the summer as it gives existing plants ample space to spread its roots and get stronger. This way, they don’t need to compete for water and nutrition too much, as the heat is already taking such a big toll on them. I pot what I pull out and donate them. And by winter, all the gaps are full.”

Just one tip: “Place a shade in your garden by April-end; don’t wait for mid-summer as that is already too late and the damage to your plants has already been done. And repot in cooler weather, so the plants don’t suffer transfer shock. And never transplant your plants from pots into the earth in summer as the ground is too hot and can kill your plants.”

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