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Stephen Allan

See a Massive Flower Garden in the Dubai Desert

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Stephen Allan

The world’s largest flower garden exists in a place you might not expect. It’s found not in the lush Tuileries of Paris or the Renaissance-era terraces at Villa d’Este in Tivoli, Italy, but in the desert outside Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Opened on Valentine’s Day 2013, the Dubai Miracle Garden is the world leader when it comes to enormous flower gardens, comprising 150 million individual flowers and blowing its nearest competitor, the tulip-based Keukenhof in the Netherlands and its 7 million blooms, out of the water. It's an entire theme park devoted to flowers, featuring peacocks, castles, windmills, houses, cars, a giant woman, and a replica of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, all made out of flowers. You even have to walk through a huge (fake) flower to get inside. At close to 2 million square feet, the complex also includes retail stores, a mosque, a floral clock, and the region’s first butterfly garden.


Being inside is a charming flavor of bizarre, like strolling through a Lewis Carroll book or a flower world in Super Mario Bros., if such things existed. Rainbow blossoms dazzle the eyes in every direction. Some of the more surreal displays include an upside-down flower house and a giant faucet (not made of flowers) suspended in mid-air, pouring water into a small lake. Romance also seems to be a major theme at the park—in keeping with its opening date—with heart-shaped archways and swans perched throughout. Not surprisingly, it’s a popular spot for wedding-related photo shoots.

The bulk of the floral displays stay the same year after year, although each fall—after the garden closes for the blistering hot Arabian summer—a handful of exhibits change. The park currently includes at least 45 different species of flower imported from around the globe, many of which are difficult to cultivate in the desert and rarely seen in the Middle East, such as geraniums, marigolds, calendulas, and petunias.

In addition to being the world’s largest garden in terms of flower count, the Dubai Miracle Garden also holds the current Guinness record for largest flower arrangement. That award was bestowed in December 2016 for a floral structure in the shape of an Airbus A380 that’s 230 feet long and includes more than 500,000 fresh flowers and plants, constructed over a frame built from recycled materials.

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In addition to the large-scale floral sculptures, the Dubai Miracle Garden has a medicinal plant section and a fruits-and-veggies section. Guests are able to make their own salads and teas from the plants, with designated seating areas set up for this purpose. The idea is to educate guests on healthy, unprocessed, plant-based diets, as well as “mindful eating”—knowing what’s in your food and where the ingredients came from. (Perhaps the nearby ice cream and candy vendors are there in order to test visitors on their healthy-eating willpower.)

Aside from the enormous displays, the most impressive thing about the garden is that the whole operation is fed via recycled wastewater. The facility uses a unique drip irrigation system wherein the tubes run under the soil rather than alongside the plants on the surface, thereby helping to avoid evaporation—a major issue with above-ground drip irrigation systems. This subterranean method uses a fraction of the water and energy required in a conventional system—less than a tenth of a gallon of water is required to hydrate a plot that would usually need 2.5 or 3 gallons. That’s a big deal when your garden uses 200,000 gallons of water per day. When the garden opened, its landscapers, Akar Landscaping and Agriculture Company, told Gulfnews.com they wanted to show “it’s possible to green the desert through judicious re-use of waste water, through drip irrigation.”

Considering its location on the arid Arabian Peninsula, this is probably the cleverest—and possibly the only—way to make such a massive, fantastic oasis bloom in a place where water is in very short supply. And that is indeed miraculous.

 
 
 
 
 

All photos by Stephen Allan unless otherwise noted.

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5 Trouble-Shooting Tips to Keep Your House Plant Alive
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Maybe you’ve heard that houseplants can help improve indoor air quality. Perhaps you’ve read that looking at plants can help you focus. Or maybe you just really like how that ficus looks in your living room. But buying a plant and keeping it alive are two different things, and the answer to your botanical woes isn’t always “don't forget to water it.”

Here are five green-thumb tips to make sure your plant stays as leafy green as it was the day you bought it.

1. DON’T OVER-WATER.

You don’t want to neglect your plant, but it’s easy to go overboard with the watering can, and that can be just as harmful as forgetting to water your plant for weeks. A watering schedule can help you keep track of whether or not your plants need attention, but you shouldn’t water just because it’s Sunday and that’s when you usually do it. Before you go to water your plant baby, make sure it actually needs it.

Your plant’s water needs will vary based on the type of plant, its location, how old it is, and plenty of other factors, but there are a few rules of thumb that can put you on the right track. Lift the pot. If it’s heavy, that means that the soil is full of water. If it’s light, it’s dry. Dig a finger into the soil around its roots, making sure to feel beneath the surface. Still damp? Hold off. Dry? Grab the H2O.

If you really struggle to strike the right balance between too much and too little water, consider a smart plant system. And regardless of how often you water, make sure to use a pot with good drainage to prevent root rot.

2. WATCH THE TEMPERATURE.

Be aware of where your plant is situated in the room, and whether there might be any temperature extremes there. Is your fern sitting right above the radiator? Is your peony subject to a cold draft? Is your rosemary plant stuck leaning against a window during a snowstorm?

As a rule, most houseplants can handle temperatures between 58°F and 86°F, according to a bulletin from the University of Georgia. The ideal range is between 70°F and 80°F during the day, and between 65°F and 70°F at night. Below 50°F, sensitive plants can suffer damage to their leaves. However, as with most plant advice, it depends on the species—tropical plants usually do well in higher temperatures, and some other plants are happier in colder rooms.

If your sad-looking plant is sitting in the middle of a cold draft or right next to the heater, consider moving it to a different spot, or at least a few inches away. If it’s near the window, you can also draft-proof the window.

3. MAINTAIN HUMIDITY.

Be mindful of the kind of ecosystem that your plant comes from, and know that keeping it happy means more than just finding the right amount of sun. A tropical plant like an orchid won’t thrive in dry desert air. According to the Biology Department at Kenyon College in Ohio, a dried-out plant will look faded and wilting. You can immerse it in water to help it bounce back quickly. (Warning, though: A plant that’s getting too much moisture can look that way, too.)

If your home gets dry—say, when you have the heater on full blast in the winter or the AC on constantly during the summer—you’ll need to find a way to keep your plant refreshed. Your can buy a humidifier, or create a humidity tray by placing the pot on a tray of pebbles soaked in water. The plant will soak up the humidity as the water under the pebbles evaporates. You can also get a spray bottle and mist your tropical plants periodically with water. (But don't mist your fuzzy-leafed plants.)

Not sure how humid your house is? You can get a humidity gauge (known as a hydrometer) for less than $10 on Amazon.

4. LOOK OUT FOR BUGS.

Even if you do all of the above correctly, you can still struggle to keep a plant healthy due to infestations. Keep an eye out for common pests like spider mites, which will leave brown or yellow spots on leaves or make the plant’s color dull. If you discover these tiny mites (you may need to use a magnifying glass), wash your plant immediately with water to knock off as many mites as possible. Wash the plant with an insecticidal soap, too, but make sure the label says it’s effective for mites.

5. DON’T DISCOUNT THE POT.

Healthy plants often outgrow their homes. if you notice that there are roots coming out the drainage holes at the bottom of your pot, or that water sits on the surface of the soil for a long time before draining down, or that your plant’s roots are coming up out of the soil, it’s time to upgrade to a bigger pot. Signs of a “root bound” plant whose root system is too big for its container can also include wilting, yellowed leaves, and stunted plant growth.

No matter what the size of your plant, it’s good to repot it once in a while, since the nutrients in the soil deplete over time. Repotting creates a fresh nutritional start and can help perk up unhappy plants.

If your plant looks unhealthy and you're still stumped, try consulting the website of a university horticulture department for other signs of plant distress and potential solutions.

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5 Smart Gardening Devices to Turn Your Thumb Green
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Just because you are a little absentminded about your houseplants doesn’t mean you can’t be a gardener. In the 21st century, there are plenty of smart tech solutions to care for your plants. Here are five technological tools to keep your plants alive, no matter how terrible a plant parent you are:

1. HELLOPLANT; $26

A blue sensor is placed in a pot of purple flowers next to a phone with the HelloPlant app open.
HelloPlant

Helloplant, a new Kickstarter project, is a sensor that you insert into the soil of your pot to keep tabs on your houseplant. The associated smartphone app will ping you if the Wi-Fi-connected sensor detects that your plant is drying out, and it can tell you where the plant is getting light. The recommendations are customized based on what kind of plant you label it as in the app. Best of all, it’s cheaper than other smart gardening solutions, coming in at just under $26 per sensor.

Find it: Kickstarter

2. PARROT POT; $90

Parrot’s smart pots use embedded sensors to monitor and tend to your plants whether you’re home or not. They are self-watering, preventing you from under-watering or over-watering your delicate houseplants. You can go on vacation for up to a month and the Parrot Pot will take care of your precious basil plant for you. The four sensors measure light, temperature, moisture, and fertilizer levels and send the information to your phone so that you can analyze how your plant is doing. It’s the perfect assistant for someone who wants to develop a green thumb but isn’t quite sure how to start.

Find it: Amazon

3. GROWTH

Three plants in white GROWTH planters are placed on the floor.
Studio Ayaskan

With GROWTH, you never have to worry about your plants outgrowing their pots. The origami-like containers can expand so your growing plant has more room as it gets bigger. Created by the London-based design shop Studio Ayaskan, the white pots will give your apartment a minimal, modern vibe. The pots are not widely available yet, sadly. The studio recommends you subscribe to its newsletter to get an alert when they go on sale.

4. PLANTLINK SENSOR; $70

A white sensor is hidden within the leaves of a potted plant.
PlantLink

PlantLink is another smart sensor that you can insert into your potting soil to detect the moisture level of your plant’s environment. Based on the type of plant, the device will text, email, or send a push alert to your smartphone to tell you when it needs to be watered. PlantLink also makes a smart valve that you hook up to your sprinklers to automatically water your plants. It has its own solar panel and can be programmed to water your plants based on changes in the weather.

Find it: Amazon

5. THE NANOFARM; $350

Three Nanofarm boxes filled with herbs sit next to each other on a wooden table.
Replantable

If you’re serious about your indoor gardening operation, consider Replantable's Nanofarm, a Kickstarter-backed tabletop produce system that requires zero oversight. You set it up once and wait for your food to grow. It works using Replantable’s Plant Pads, all-in-one seed and nutrient sheets that come in a number of different herb and salad-green varieties. For the Nanofarm, you just fill the tray inside with water, put in a Plant Pad, and close the door until your basil or butter lettuce is ready to harvest.

Find it: Replantable

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