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Green fingers: UAE family nurture an idyllic terrace garden

Abu Dhabi - Abu Dhabi based couple grow a veritable nature reserve.

Photos/Ryan Lim
Photos/Ryan Lim

Ashwani Kumar

Published: Thu 13 May 2021, 5:14 PM

Last updated: Sat 15 May 2021, 9:43 AM

Imagine waking up to chirping birds, buzzing bees, relaxing sound of waterfall amidst flourishing green plants and aromatic herbs. It’s a blissful feeling, isn’t it? Indian couple Shaju Jamaluddin and Dr Aysha Umma experience such idyllic scenes every morning at their villa in Abu Dhabi where they have created a lovely terrace garden in a natural ecosystem.

“We were inspired by the words of the UAE’s Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed, who said: ‘Give me agriculture and I will give you civilisation’. Following on those words, we have made this garden within our small terrace area. We also aimed to follow the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals,” said Jamaluddin while showing us around his terrace, which is a fine mixture of traditional garden, patio and landscaping ideas.

The long-time Abu Dhabi residents hail from the south Indian state of Kerala. Jamaluddin has been also managing a 150-year-old vast ancestral agricultural land and farm back in his native place of Alappuzha — a know-how that came handy while conceptualising his terrace garden with a natural old-world touch.

“We started work on this garden two years back. Till date, I have done everything with available resources, which isn’t new. We have used repurposed wood material into water wheel, windmill, wooden bridge, gazebo, ‘Diwaniya’ Majlis, wooden deck etc. I have also used old pallets from construction sites.”

And the tiny area of 45sqm is packed with pots of different shapes and sizes. Vegetables include tomato, green chili, potato, beet root, eggplant, broccoli, capsicum, drumstick, spinach, spring onion, garlic, ginger and turmeric. Then there are grapes, olive, orange, papaya, mulberry, passion fruit and lemon. The herb section features coriander, mint, rosemary, basil, curry leaf, sage and oregano.

“We now have some 70 to 80 different plants. It’s chemical-free and healthy. Most of them are on raised beds and thus help with water conservation. We have tried the vertical garden concept too. We are keeping the natural rhythm of nature. We have attracted birds, butterflies and bees to our garden. This fills the air with positive energy and helps us to provide a quality family life. Our garden is divided into different zones with names of important local places in the country,” said Jamaluddin pointing to name boards Masafi, Al Falah, Al Karama and Al Barakah. And there are some fancy name boards like the ‘Captain’s Corner’ with a chair and table, and ‘Lamp of Hope’ with traditional Arabic lamps.

The garden is the fruit of the family’s amazing team effort. While Jamaluddin is the brain behind planning, infrastructure and settings, Dr Aysha does the maintenance part, daughter Mehrin Fathima, a student, supports with writing Arabic calligraphy for name boards and son Farzeen Mohmed, a petroleum engineer, helps with design elements. It’s the family’s favourite hangout place and at times for dinner too.

“We have two bird nests with doves, and they have laid eggs now. We have a beehive. All have naturally settled. There is a Robin nested on a nearby tree,” said Dr Aysha, a medical practitioner, at a government hospital. “I work in the emergency ward. It is very stressful. So, after work, I re-energise myself while sitting in the garden. The sound of falling water is very soothing.”

The herbs and vegetables make it regularly to their dining table. “We use tomato, sweet melon, brinjal, okra, chilly and sweet potato. Just yesterday when we made chilly chicken, we got spring onion and herbs. I also make a special natural spiced butter milk,” she pointed out.

The garden also houses an experimental cultivation of basmati rice on an artificial small paddy field watered by bamboo canes.

“This could be the first of its kind in the UAE. The seeds were sown during National Day last year and now it’s ripe. So, this experiment has been successful. This shows basmati rice can be grown in arid and harsh conditions,” said Jamaluddin, a former employee with a state-owned oil company and currently running a firm in Ajman.

“I am here for 16 years. I previously worked in Oman and Bahrain too. I wish to bolster cultivation with more varieties. UAE nationals and residents can get involved in such activities and use available resources for creative cultivation. This way people here can get involved in food security initiatives of the UAE’s wise leadership. I would like to start a university here with courses in agricultural entrepreneurship and fisheries to achieve sustainable and food security goals,” he noted while flaunting a hollow tree trunk snared from a pavement while dropping his wife to the hospital.

“I will make this into a nice piece of woodwork. You don’t get such pieces,” Jamaluddin quipped.

And back home in Kerala, Jamaluddin is developing an integrated sustainable farming project.

“It is on my ancestral land. The farm project is based on permaculture farming, i.e., adopting and using only natural sources. With the project, I hope to promote among kids the message on reclaiming nature, biodiversity, green energy and water conservation. The farm will have an aquarium and pets. This will be a learning experience for children and youngsters,” Jamaluddin said.

The couple lives by the motto: inspire, innovate and make an impact.

“We want to inspire more people to do terrace gardening in a creative way and not just grow plants. Let this be a family affair, involve everyone and let’s innovate and inspire others,” the couple added.

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