The Sustainable future of Landscaping

Landscape Sustainability is an often heard and repeated word. Yet it’s time to delve into this highly used word and try and figure out what it means to the Landscaping sector within the region. UAE has witnessed tremendous growth – and with it some stunning landscaping. Anywhere else in the world, the mere thought of growing plants in a hot and dry desert environment would not have been palatable. Yet urban designers have made a brave attempt to keep pace with the demands of tourists and residents alike. Nurturing and maintaining greenery in a region which experiences searing summer temperatures, scarce rainfall and vast amounts of direct sunlight, coupled with salty ground and high saline water tables is a tough feat.

In a bid to transform UAE, significant investments have been made in landscaping and horticultural projects. However, successful urban landscape planning does require vast amounts of irrigation water daily to ensure that landscapes are built and maintained to perfection. This in turn involves heavy usage and wastage of water and many other precious resources. Another important part is the cost involved in landscaping, which is many times overlooked in the excitement of seeing things green. Thus, it is important that all urban planners, developers, environmental specialists and landscape architects renew their methodologies and practices to employ smart, sustainable, innovative and cost-effective landscaping techniques. desert INK a landscape design firm based in Dubai is one of the few, possibly the only company, that has a mission to include sustainable and inclusive designs wherever possible. Such new brave attempts are what is needed.

Now landscape designs have evolved to include xeriscaping, water conservation and plant palettes to make landscaping more sustainable. There is a broad understanding in protecting the environment particularly with regards to fertilizers and pesticides – inorganic to organic, reduction in the use of lawn grass in areas and replacement of petrol and diesel equipment with more sustainable electric machinery. People are now beginning to realize the financial as well as environmental benefits of sustainable landscaping.

“Nature compatible” is the word gaining ground, and xeriscaping is an ingenious way of achieving it. Infact my latest talk on Dubai Eye the business talk show, centered around xeriscaping. Xeriscaping is derived from the Greek word xerox, meaning dry. It refers to the creative use of landscaping and gardening to reduce or eliminate the need for supplemental water from irrigation. It is designed especially for areas that are susceptible to draught or properties that want to practice water conservation.

Deciding the plant palette is an important component of xeriscaping. The use of native plants, shrubs and trees offers sustainable and effective landscape solutions. Native species are resilient, beautiful, and have reduced water needs. Although people consider native plants as being sparse and scruffy, but that is their beauty, a beauty not found elsewhere. These plants are born to thrive on very little while other ornamental plants generally used in building grand landscapes are barely surviving in the arid condition of this region. They require much more water and maintenance, thus increasing the cost of the landscape plan.

In cases where the landscape design requires the use of attractive tropical plants, the practice of Xeriscaping allows you to do so too, but with certain measures such as grouping plants with similar water requirements together. Segregating “thirsty” plants from those that require less water, will help save unnecessary watering for plants that do not require it. This will not only save water and money, but it can also save the plants, since many a plant is killed through over watering.

Another common element in xeriscape landscaping is the reduction of lawn grass areas, as lawn grass is often one of the worst offenders against water conservation. It is necessary for landscape designers to reduce the use of lawn grass in areas that are not accessed for play or recreation and replacing it with the use of low growing native groundcover species that require less maintenance and use less water, but still provide a ‘green look’. Smart irrigation systems are also gaining great value. Most of the existing systems are time based. Introducing irrigation systems, which are based on plant needs such as soil moisture, transpiration from drying wind and other weather conditions, will help reduce a lot of wastage of important resources.

The shift to sustainable landscaping encourages recycling green waste for use as mulch, compost and soil amelioration. Composting turns green waste into a range of high quality, natural soil conditioning products and potting mixes used in landscaping, horticulture and agriculture. These products take green waste back to earth, enriching the soil and helping to grow greener pastures. Recyclable green waste includes grass clippings, weeds, hedge trimmings, branches, leaves, floral decorations etc.

A sustainable and green landscape is an important component in every city’s architecture and urbanization as it contributes to a healthy living environment. These days, clients work within parameters that are both cost effective as well as environmentally conscious. In quality, they want reliability and world class standards. This has pushed landscape designers to raise the bar and focus on formulating inclusive designs adapted for the region, rather than focusing on superfluous and random designs that are at odds with the climate and culture of the region. Are we ready?