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The garden is often described as an extra room and if you're lucky enough to live in a house that has one, you'll understand the pleasure of spending time in it. Gardens can be a delight for the senses and help to relax, away from the stress of daily life. But not all gardens live up to this idyllic image and in the UAE, homeowners must battle with the rigours of the unforgiving climate to create their own little paradise.
Your garden's design depends on many things, one of the most important being what you intend to use it for. You also need to consider its size, shape and orientation towards the sun as well as soil conditions and the planting scheme. There are many companies that will plan your garden, but it helps to have some idea.
Kamelia Bin Zaal, Creative Director of Al Barari Firm Management and owner of landscape design company Second Nature, says, ''Your garden is an extension of your home, so think about how you want to use it. Usually, it has multiple functions, whether it is for children to play in, entertaining, growing vegetables, swimming or even dining.
''You need to consider what style of garden you want - minimalist or tropical? Do you want to reduce water consumption? This will make a difference to the plants you choose. Moreover, if you have young children, some plants can be poisonous if ingested. Where you plant certain species will make a difference to whether it thrives or not as well - for example, in semishade, full sun, or exposed to the wind. Always think about shade and whether you want trees to provide it or a planned structure. Your garden should invite you to enjoy the outdoors.''
Give hard landscaping serious thought- this generally means pathways, driveways, patios, rockeries and decking areas. It's important to plan them first as everything else will depend on where they are placed.
It's best to work around a preferred scheme, which can be traditional or contemporary, and a reflection of the architectural style of your home.
The next big question is whether you want to install a swimming pool. In this part of the world, it's considered essential in any garden.
First, consider whether you have the space for a decent-sized pool. If your garden won't accommodate a large, rectangular pool, there are other options available, such as a training pool (long and narrow) or a lagoon-style pool (curved and sinuous). Also think about whether you want to incorporate features such as a Jacuzzi in the design.
Be aware that a pool will raise humidity levels and create a micro-climate of its own, which could raise the temperature in your garden. You will also have to factor in maintenance costs and ask yourself whether you need it to be heated/cooled, depending on the season, which will incur additional costs. And, finally, safety is paramount when it comes to children and swimming pools - make sure that you can easily fence it off to avoid accidents.
Water features in gardens have always been an essential requirement, not only for a sense of tranquility but also to cool the surrounding air with moving water. Water features can include fountains, ponds, waterfalls or streams and can be ornate or simple.
Patios and decks
Whether it's open or covered, close to the house, adjacent to the pool or set in a shady comer, a patio is essential to a garden. Traditional patios have stone or marble flooring, which stay cool on warm days. However, in recent years, the wooden deck style patio has become more popular because it's softer on the feet and cheaper and easier to lay. Decking is also ideal for use next to the pool and will provide a modern feel to your outdoor space.
In this climate, it's tempting to eat outdoors whenever possible. No wonder the barbecue is so popular in Dubai. There is a vast range of barbecues available, from the simple and portable to the permanent and stylish. If you have the space, consider an outdoor kitchen, which will let you to entertain in style in the comfort of your garden.
Fire features are also growing in popularity as people spend more time relaxing in their gardens. These can provide a focal point in any style or size of garden and, on cooler nights, will provide welcome warmth.
Gardens can look stunning at night with careful use of innovative lighting. Think about uplighters at the base of a palm tree, for example, which will throw its textured trunk into sharp relief. Swimming pools can look beautiful at night as the water throws illuminated ripples onto nearby surfaces. Even a simple strand of fairy lights woven into a fence can cast a magical glow in the dark.
If you haven't got any trees in your garden, pergolas or gazebos are ideal especially when they have plants growing on top of them. Cabanas are another option. If your budget doesn't stretch to any of these, there's always the trusty sun umbrella.
The right furniture
Garden furniture can be simple or extravagant, depending on which way you go. Either way, ensure what you buy is robust enough to survive the extreme climate, that it isn't too big or too small and, most importantly, that it's comfortable to use.
With suitable planting schemes and clever irrigation, gardens can turn into verdant retreats. Use plants that have adapted to the desert such as succulents and cacti. Agave, Yucca, sedum and aloe are water-retaining plants, great in arid conditions.
At the end of it all, the trick is to find a design company that can interpret your dreams and turn them into a lush, stylish reality.
Tips and tricks
• Solar lanterns are ideal for a desert garden as they absorb an abundance of sunshine during the day.
• Make sure that all the timber you use in the garden is FSC-certified. This guarantees that the timber has been sustainably grown and harvested.
• Avoid metal furniture, which soak up heat and make it impossible to sit down without burning your skin. Stick to natural materials such as FSC-certified wood and rattan or bamboo.
• Choose light-coloured paving materials, which will reflect the heat of the sun - you'll lower the overall temperature of your garden and keep the area cool.
• Instead of a traditional lawn (expensive and very thirsty) try one of the New Gen artificial grass lawns, which are soft to the touch, never wither and die and don't require regular mowing!
• In general, the greener your garden, the cooler and more refreshing it will be, so plant lots of plants both for their foliage, flowers and delicious fruit and vegetables.
• Only use organic products in your garden - they're less harmful to children and pets. In particular, avoid pesticides that contain neonicotinoids, which are leading to a serious decline in the world's bee population.
• If you have young children about, be careful about using sharp needled cacti or succulents in your garden.
Click on Growing and maintaining a garden and learn how to create the garden of your dreams
Source: Ruth Khan, Special to Property Weekly