With temperatures between 15 and 45 degrees Celsius, and humidity reaching almost 100 per cent at times, it can be difficult for plant life to survive in the UAE. To accommodate these desert extremes, year-round gardens must be very well-planned.

"The main considerations in the UAE are the intense heat in summer and the lack of rainfall," says Ben Haberfield, a garden designer from Grow Gardens in Dubai. Sunil Sawlani, managing director of Royal Gardenscape, Dubai agrees. "The harsh conditions of extreme heat and sunlight during the summer season mean extra care and maintenance are required," he says.

Considering the micro-climate

When designing a desert garden, Jeremy Spencer, landscape manager at Orient Irrigation Services in Dubai, believes it is important to consider the micro-climate of the site, as well as the environmental climate. "This helps with the design of the layout for greenery," he says. "Factors such as shade, wind funnelling and reflected light are all important when considering your plant selection." Haberfield believes a garden's orientation and situation should be at the forefront of any garden designer's mind.

"[Orientation] determines which part of your garden gets sun and which gets shade," he says. "This affects how you will lay out particular aspects of your garden. Location is also important — a garden should reflect to some degree the environment, landscape and architecture around it."
For residents who want to enjoy the leisure benefits of a garden — with minimal maintenance — beneficial landscaping can be used. This environmentally friendly technique utilises native vegetation, which is adapted to the climate and soil conditions.

When planning to use beneficial landscaping, Spencer says homeowners should do some research to choose plants that will suit the micro-climate of their garden. "A lot of homeowners like to use date palms (phoenix dactylifera)
because they have an immediate impact," he says.
According to Haberfield there are many plants that can thrive in a desert climate. "Pennisetum setaceum, a billowing ornamental grass with a white plume, and plumeria obtusa, an ornamental flowering shrub with beautifully scented flowers, can be used to great effect," he says. "To provide a shaded area in a garden, conocarpus erectus,
a fast-growing tree, can be planted."

Many of the most desirable properties in the UAE are in close proximity to the coast. For gardens in a beach-front property, the salty nature of the air must be considered when choosing greenery. "There are several plants suited to these conditions, such as scaevola, carpobrotus and coccoloba," says Spencer. "For lawns, paspalum is generally recognised
as being salt tolerant."

Sun and wind

Another factor to consider when planting in coastal gardens is wind exposure. "Plants that are best suited to a coastline property will be both salt and wind tolerant," says Haberfield. "These include nerium oleander, conocarpus erectus, and adenium obesum." The defining feature of the desert climate, however, is scorching heat.

With summer temperatures exceeding 45 degrees Celsius, irrigation is a major concern for many gardeners. "Home owners generally tend to underestimate the cost of maintaining a garden. It is important to implement a proper after-care regime so the garden can reach its
full potential," says Spencer. "To keep a garden
in pristine condition, an irrigation system
is needed. This adds considerable expense
to the cost of landscaping a UAE garden, compared to landscaping in climates with
higher rainfall where irrigation is not required."
Haberfield advocates the installation of
an automated irrigation system.

"Drip irrigation is better than sprinkler systems because less water is lost to evaporation, and the water is delivered directly to the base of the plant," he says. "But the best system to use is an under ground soaker hose system. The hoses deliver the water directly to the root system, without any water loss through evaporation."

Bringing costs down

According to Spencer, it can be very
expensive to irrigate grassy areas and
lawns, even if sprinkler systems are used
in favour of costlier techniques.

"To bring costs down, plants requiring less water can
be used to cover large areas," he says. "Gardens can also be designed to include materials such as gravel, wood or paving to minimise the amount of lawn." In a desert garden, using hard landscaping features such as gravel areas, decking
or paving stones can be both cost-effective and environmentally friendly.

Sawlani believes these types of features can enhance a desert garden. "In many gardens, hard landscaping can be used to add colour and allure in the garden," he says.

"By using a design that incorporates
a balance of paving and greenery, the garden will be easy to maintain and everlasting."

Upcoming trade shows
• Garden and Landscaping Middle East May 17-19, Dubai International Exhibition Centre. For more information visit www.messefrankfurtme.com/garden/site
• Gulf Landscaping, November 2009 Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre. For information visit www.gulflandscaping.com/
• International Plants Expo Middle East, March 3-5, Airport Expo Dubai. For further information visit www.ipm-dubai.com