Dubai had almost no public green areas, few trees, lawns or private gardens. Sheikh Ahmed of Qatar's Palace Complex on Dubaiside adjacent to Al Maktoum Bridge was the only green "oasis". Not many trees and plants could survive in Dubai's saline sandy soil. Tamarisk Trees could but killed any plant growing around them. Almond Trees could provided they were constantly watered. Bougainvillea provided limited amounts of colour.
Gardeners turned to "Sweet Soil" to help them with their gardens. "Sweet Soil" was a less saline and acidic soil generally found in the garden town of Daid. Sweet Soil could be purchased locally but had to be transported from Daid. Gardeners used sweet soil to make small garden beds where plants could grow provided they were watered regularly. There was no guarantee of success. Over time sweet soil in these beds became contaminated by the surrounding sand so had to be constantly replenished.
Gardening required perseverance! It was frustrating and expensive. Many simply left nature to take its course believing what could grow would grow.
But that situation was to change!!
Sheikh Rashid had the foresight to build the Al Aweer Sewage Treatment Plant as part of Dubai's Master Plan developed in the late 1960s. By the early 1970s most of Dubai's living and working accommodation connected to this sewage system. This was a unique among Gulf Countries where communal cesspits were still the norm even for the increasing number of high rise buildings in those countries.
Dubai's rapidly growing population meant Al Aweer Sewage Treatment Plant processed increasing amounts of sewage. Its output of treated sewage and water increased in equal measure. The treated water was free of health risks but unsuitable for human consumption both from a taste point of view and public's perception of treated sewage water. Instead Dubai Municipality used this water to irrigate median strips on Dubai's newly constructed and upgraded roads and other public garden areas.
Mid 1970s: Jumeirah Beach Road with new median strip yet to be planted. Location Today: Next to Beach Centre Mall
Treated sewage resembled coal although it was coal with an odour! Dubai Municipality used this treated sewage as fertilizer, making it freely available to Dubai's Residents for their gardens. Sweet soil mixed with "home grown" fertilizer proved to be a fertile foundation for plants and trees.
Dubai Municipality began growing plants and trees in their new nursery, supplying these free of charge to Residents. As gardening in Dubai became easier more people grew more plants. Dubai began turning green!!
Mid 1970s: Jumeirah Beach Road Garden changed from being a Sand Pit to a developing "green" garden.
More gardens became "green" and there were now more gardens. Dubai Municipality was greening the road medians and roadsides as well as establishing public green areas such as Mushrif Park (1974). Note: Mushrif Park has Dubai's first and only public swimming pools. Dubai English Speaking School held its annual Swimming Gala there in the 1970s.
Dubai's gardens now needed constant attention. Neglect a garden and it would either become overgrown or return to a sand pit or both.
A Sheikh Ahmed Estate Villa's garden undergoing reclamation after a year's neglect by previous Tenant.
Many of Dubai's illegal immigrants came from farming communities in their homelands. They knew how to grow things - at least some of them did. Unable to get regular work, Dubai's growing number of gardens provided an opportunity for these illegal Immigrants to work unofficially. Knocking on a front door and asking if they could look after the garden was often enough to convince the Resident to pay a small monthly amount for their gardens to be watered and tended for a couple of hours each day. Competent "Gardeners" soon found they were looking after more than one garden as "recommendations" spread by word of mouth through the Community.
Gardening became a well paid occupation for illegal workers. Later they faced competition as businesses specialising in Garden Maintenance and Landscaping established.
In the 1980s, Ali Mustapha (a Bahraini) started building a complex of detached villas in Umm Sequeim, then considered to be "out of town". The complex completed in 1990. The final villa's address was Number One Al Wasl Street despite being the last of over 40 villas to be built and not being located on Al Wasl Road. Ali was proud of his development. He took a keen interest in his Tenants. Any Tenant keen to improve his garden immediately received an offer of free manure. No 1's Tenant accepted the offer. Soon chicken manure began arriving from Ali's Chicken Farm in Daid. Not one truck load but many. Flies found their own way to No 1 Al Wasl Road - in ever increasing numbers. Ali said the flies would disappear over time which they did - in several months' time. Ali's Chicken Manure worked wonders. Stick almost any plant into the ground and it would grow.
We planted these trees and palms because we liked them. We didn't expect them to produce fruit - they just looked good! We were surprised when both Paw Paw and bunches of Bananas appeared on our trees a couple of years or so later. We also had some coconuts but they never amounted to anything. The Paw Paws were enormous, well over a kilogramme each but didn't have much flavour. The bananas "disappeared" just as they were ready to be picked so we didn't get to taste them. We never thought tropical fruits would grow in Dubai's desert climate!
By the end of the 1990s, No 1 Al Wasl Road had a flourishing garden with Flame Trees offering a blaze of colour during the day and Jasmine scenting the hot, humid evenings.
By the mid 1980s, gardening was no longer just a leisure activity for Dubai's Residents. Gardening became big business as more and more green areas developed associated with the growing number of commercial premises. Later NPK fertiliser found its way to Dubai and became the "cure all" for lawns and gardens. Gardening also moved indoors with businesses providing plants for offices, hotels etc. and earning money through maintenance contracts.Retail outlets appeared with an increasing number of flower shops importing fresh flowers, garden centres servicing both commercial and consumer markets. Gardening in Dubai was now big business.
Garden Centre in Dubai as it is today.