Sustainable landscapes: The benefits of sourcing locally
Will Bennett, Founder of WILDEN Design, talks about gardens being culturally relevant and how thinking outside of the box can result in stunning designs and savings
When it comes to designing sustainable landscapes, at WILDEN Design the approach is to start with principles; I ask simply - what are we using and where does it come from? By keeping this as a North Star, I can help clients to better understand how their gardens are created, and together we can make decisions that are more sustainable for humans, our wallets, and our planet - these are the core ideas of smart living. The key to this is looking for plants and materials that are locally extracted, manufactured, fabricated, grown, and reclaimed in the UAE.
The savings, when sourcing locally, can include reductions in handling, shipping, duties and distribution costs when compared to imported goods. Moreover, a significant portion of money is remitted overseas when buying internationally. Money spent on locally sourced materials is more likely to stay local, benefitting those businesses involved along the way and being recirculated in the UAE's economy.
Sometimes, there can be an aversion to locally sourced materials because of a preconceived notion that techniques or materials do not match that seen elsewhere in the world. To that I say there is a brilliant range of local landscape materials that, when used correctly, give fantastic results and where this isn't possible, for example with timber, there are now advanced fabrication and post-processing facilities in the region that are capable of turning standard, imported materials into world class design elements. The secret is to think laterally and innovate constantly.
WILDEN's mission is to help close the loop of supply chains, so I think carefully about the local materials that are used. Even if a material is locally made, it doesn't make it inherently good or bad; instead we should consider its full lifecycle and what happens with it before and after it finds a home in a WILDEN garden. If it meets criteria such as local, ethically produced and reusable, I'm more likely to favour it, and I enjoy working with clients that are on the same wavelength.
It is encouraging to see a trend of clients being excited - even proud - to talk about their gardens being culturally relevant to the UAE because they are inherently made from local plants and materials. It's a fascinating shift in landscape design, because it has the power to make meaningful change and it supports the WILDEN vision; to connect people with nature.
I was fortunate to work with a client that believes in and practices sustainability themselves. Together, we've been bold and removed over 400sqm of their real lawn, because an area that large requires up to five cubic meters of water per day, which is staggering. The vision is to turn this into a naturalistic landscape filled with a mixed species of native planting from the UAE that will not only look rich and layered, but even regenerate the landscape and provide habitat opportunities for garden biodiversity like insects, birds, and butterflies. By using a layered approach to the planting, and combining it with new topography, we have created the perception of a much greener, verdant landscape whilst dramatically reducing the water required to sustain it. With the client we will compare their DEWA bills to see how smart living is benefitting them and the environment and we're confident of seeing a big cost saving on water after the new landscape is installed.
Since the clients are renting this villa, they wanted to have a low impact on the existing paving, which the landlord wanted to retain. To meet this creative challenge, compacted gravel will be laid over existing paving to create a finish which is sympathetic to the coastal garden style. A raised dining deck is being constructed with reclaimed timber from scaffolding boards; these are locally available and extremely durable, making them a smart choice for sustainable landscapes. Best of all, both the gravel and deck materials can be removed easily and re-used again in the future, and we really hope that they will!
What if a beautiful UAE garden could exist with almost no irrigation? It's one of the big, ambitious goals that WILDEN has - to make this 'holy grail' a reality in the future. In order to reach that goal, I am testing incremental improvements to a garden style which is inspired by the natural landscapes of the UAE. I want to harness an approach to planting design that is resilient to the climate now, and for how the climate may change in the future.
We're working on a garden in Dubai Hills with a client that is excited to use some of the UAE's most hardy plants and to see how much they can reduce the watering needs over time. When done correctly, this has the potential to lower DEWA bills by 70 per cent or more when compared with some widely used species. We're excited about this ongoing project and hope to start trying these principles more widely across a range of gardens soon.
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