Video: Landscaping evolving to set new standards in Dubai
Desert Group at forefront of 'greening the UAE'; reliability, innovation key factors
Countless studies have proven that talking to plants helps them to grow better, however, Michael Mascarenhas, group CEO of Desert Group, says that if you are going to talk to your plants, then you should also be prepared to listen to them.
"If you want a leadership lesson, try taking care of a plant. Horticulture, by itself, is a very hard, tedious, and arduous pursuit. However, it is also a very rewarding activity because it brings with it a feeling of calmness, and it teaches you about patience, adaptability and resilience. So, I would encourage everyone to talk to plants," he said.
Speaking to Khaleej Times in an exclusive interview, Mascarenhas looked back on how the Desert Group has been at the forefront of "greening the UAE".
"Most of the plants that you see in Dubai, and the UAE, would have come from our nurseries. Several of the most iconic locations across Dubai such as Madinat Jumeirah, Bab Al Shams, Bluewaters, the Jumeirah Golf Estates, and the recently opened Dubai Hills Golf Course, all bear our stamp. In addition to these five-star properties, we have also worked on several municipalities and green belts," he said.
The group currently has eight divisions ranging from landscape design, construction, and maintenance, to swimming pools, water features, and golf course design and construction. With a portfolio consisting of more than 650 species of plants ranging from succulents, ornamentals, vines, trees, shrubs, turf, ground cover, and hedges, the group has been working with both large developers and operators, as well as small household clients.
"Lots of hospitality companies want to work with us because of two reasons - reliability and innovation. We always get the work done in a time frame that is agreed upon, and we are always bringing in new skills to solve problems that arise," Mascarenhas said.
While the bulk of the group's projects consist of large hospitality vendors and housing communities, the group is always eager to work with smaller clients that bring a unique proposition and offering to the table. "We are not shy about taking projects that are small in size because it gives us a chance to work with clients that are truly passionate about horticulture. If there is a new plant palette that a client needs then they can talk to us and we will do our best to bring them a solution."
While the group has added several success stories to its name, Mascarenhas noted that there have been challenges along the way.
"We have noticed in many instances that landscaping is seen almost as an afterthought," he said.
"If you bring in landscaping during the initial design stage of the project, then concepts such as sustainability really get a chance to shine. In addition, you end up with lower building and maintenance costs. Landscaping has to be an integral part of the early design process. Several of our clients have realised this, and the trend is shifting to developers reaching out to us during the early planning phases to talk about plant adaptability, designs and palette."
He added: "Life cycle costs are very critical in this region because you have to remember that water is scarce, specialised labour is scarce, and there is inflation at the end of the day. This is true for any project regardless of size. We have to work as partners with our clients to ensure that they understand all these aspects. I would love for our company to be known as a knowledge-based company."
Regional, international expansion eyed
Dubai-based Desert Group has big plans lined up for both Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, Mascarenhas revealed.
"We have been working in Saudi Arabia for the past 12 years, where we are known as the turf care specialist because of our work on their football fields," he said. "Now we want to expand our sectoral offerings in the golf sector, as well as in the landscape construction and maintenance sector."
The group also has plans for Pakistan, where it is currently constructing a Nick Faldo golf course. Located in the Defence Housing Authority Multan, the Rumanza Golf Course has a completion date of December 2020, and is a key component of the Pakistani government's vision of attracting business and leisure tourism to the country.
"Golf course construction, especially a high-end project such as this, requires a specilised team. This project is on an international scale that will allow us to showcase our expertise in the golf sector. Not only are we responsible for the construction of the project, but also training a local workforce with the skills needed to maintain the course. It is a long-term commitment that we have been honoured to make. We would love to be in Pakistan for many more projects in the near and long-term future," Mascarenhas said.
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