Luscious landscapes

What challenges do the region's landscaping maintenance companies face? Are they going green? And is irrigation really that important? FM Middle East finds out.

ANALYSIS, Facilities Management

What challenges do the region's landscaping maintenance companies face? Are they going green? And is irrigation really that important? FM Middle East finds out.

Over the next five years, US $16bn (AED 58.7bn) is expected to be spent on landscaping in the Middle East, says Eckhard Pruy, CEO, Epoc Messe Frankfurt.


Landscape designs are heading towards sustainability with a go green mentality.

"Projects such as Dubailand will require vast amounts of landscaping, as will of course the Palm Islands and the World projects. Add to this new golf courses and park facilities and it is not surprising that it is currently estimated that over US $16.34 billion is expected to be spent on gardens and landscaping in the next five years," confirms Pruy.


Picture perfect

Company name: TerraVerde LLC

Established: April 2004

Regional focus: UAE

What services do you provide: Soft scape, hard scape, irrigation, water features, swimming pools, lighting, maintenance, indoor plants and furniture and composite wood decking

Number of employees: 235

Current contracts: Sama Dubai labour accommodations, DIC labour accommodations, Jiwin Investments labour accommodations

Largest contract: La Casa labour accommodations US $1.2m (AED 4.5m)

Annual turnover: Projected 2008 - US $9.5 (AED 35m)

The images used to illustrate TerraVerde's landscaping work leave a lasting impression with design ranging from luscious green gardens, to simplistic, modern outdoor seating areas that reflects a contemporary design, with minimal maintenance.

Another company cautious of the environment, sustainability plays a part in its services.

"We always consider plants that will be suitable for the region when designing landscaping concepts to promote sustainability. We build around existing softscape in order to preserve existing vegetation," explains Reem Dabbas, marketing manager, TerraVerde.

The company always endeavours to use more organic solutions rather than chemical to help reduce the effect of the environment.


To recognise this growing market, Facilities Management Middle East has included a Landscaping Contractor of the Year Award in its inaugural Awards ceremony, which will take place in a matter of days (Monday 9 June), at the Grosvenor House Hotel in Dubai Marina.

As more and more developments start to take shape, the region is becoming greener.

According to Rehbein Environmental Solutions International, Dubai alone currently uses around 150 million gallons of water a day on irrigation.


Interior landscaping should be carried out post-completion to avoid risk to the plants.

This equates to 68% of the Emirate's water usage.

And water use isn't the only concern. Landscaping companies also face legislative challenges with the UAE imposing a ban on all plants that have natural soil on their roots.

But who combats these challenges and is still able to maintain an attractive, vibrant and lush landscape?

FM Middle East profiles just some of the region's landscape maintenance companies.


Enticing interiors

Company name: Planters Horticulture

Established: 1979

Sector focus: Airlines, auditors, banks, DIFC (Dubai International Financial Centre), government, hotels, offices, schools/universities and shopping centres

Services provision: Interior landscaping, decorative plant containers and maintenance

Number of employees: 85

Current contracts: Dubai Airport Freezone, Dubai Mall, Dubai Festival City


When considering landscaping, people and companies often revert to the exterior setting.

However, interior landscaping can help brighten an office, shopping mall or airport and some claim plants can help reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the air.

The most recently opened shopping mall in Dubai, Dubai Festival City, houses a number of palm trees to increase the aesthetics and also help create a relaxing and enjoyable shopping experience.


The key in this climate is to ensure the irrigation system is efficient and effective.

While it may look simple enough to plant a few shrubs or palm trees, Jonathan Pardoe, director, Planters Horticulture, says there are many challenges.

"The largest challenges facing interior landscapers is to get clients and contractors to understand the importance of waiting until the building is air-conditioned and dust free, before installing the plants," he explains.

Companies wanting to install the interior landscape before the building is finished, risk housing the plants in a dusty and harmful environment.

"This means the plants are in poor condition by the time of the opening and in bad cases, will struggle to get back to good health. With proper planning, this is avoidable and definitely preferable for both parties," adds Pardoe.


Specialist provider

Company name: Septech Emirates

Established: 1997

Sector focus and services provided in each area: Landscape and the environment, marine, mobile water services, precast concreate infrastructure and water and waste water

Number of employees: 367


They should remember that the landscape (interior and exterior) is the icing on the cake.

Get it wrong and all the money spend on the other finishes counts for nothing as the attention is always directed to the item(s) that looks wrong.

The amount of light within the building plays a crucial part in the preservation of the plants.

The more light there is, the larger the plant specimens can be.

For example, the Sharjah Botanical Museum is heavily condensed with numerous plants and shrubbery and aims to educate on the development of plants and according to its website, the complex relationship between humans and botany.

To help boost the region's indoor landscaping, Pardoe explains that due to all indigenous plants being unsuitable for indoor growth, preserved palms are provided.

"These are living palms that have been specially treated to preserve the foliage and bark so that they maintain their colour and realism."


Sustainable measures

Company name: Citiscape

Established: 2005

Regional focus: Middle East

What services do you provide: Landscape and irrigation construction, water feature construction, hard scape and paving construction, tiling solutions, production and trade of indoor and exotic plants, flower trading and distribution, operation and maintenance, production and trade of garden accessories and design, build and installation of shade structures

Number of employees: 1,600

Current contracts: Zaabeel Palace, Atlantis, The Palm, Al Raha Nursery, Meydan Holding Nursery, Saadiyat Island, Al Anbar, Low Cost Housing Phase 1 and Al Furjan Project


While this helps, Pardoe adds that the planters are the key to successful landscape maintenance.

"The most important tool of all is the technician who tends to the planting. This is why we spend a lot of time and effort in training out staff to make them the best in the industry. As a service-based business, our staffs are our ambassadors and our most important asset."

Established just 10 months ago in August 2007, Blakedown International Landscape originates from the United Kingdom where it operates its services throughout England, Scotland and Wales.

When asked how easy or difficult it is to maintain landscapes in this region, managing director Nicholas Barfoot, says an efficient irrigation system can make the process quite simple.

"Landscape maintenance in the UAE is fairly straightforward, as the plants and grass grow 24/7, unlike the UK with seasons and mass leaf falls in Autumn. The key in this climate is to ensure the irrigation system is efficient and effective, reducing wasting water," he explains.


New kid on the block (Blakedown)

Company name: Blakedown International Landscaping

Established: August 2007

Sector focus: Commercial and the large domestic market place, business parks, retail centres etc

Regional focus: Dubai and expanding into Abu Dhabi

What services do you provide: Hard and soft landscape contracting, grounds maintenance and design and build capabilities

Number of employees: 25 and are expanding rapidly to accommodate the fat growing workload

Current contracts: Ground maintenance of the infrastructure planting, grass, hedges, trees and palms at Dubai Investments Park (AED 12m rolling contract). Also, work at Medic City, Arabian Ranches and a shopping mall

Largest contract: US $122,500 (AED 450,000)

Annual turnover: Anticipated turnover for the first year is US $952,900 (AED 3.5m)


And he sees this as a growing trend among the landscaping community, along with the efficient use of electricity and the increase of recycled materials.

Environmental concerns are top of the agenda for Barfoot and his team.

Blakedown's website states, "every aspect of the work carried out by Blakedown is geared towards achieving a sustainable development, thus contributing to a lasting natural environment for future generations.

"As a landscaping company, we are continually looking at ways to recycle waste products and materials for future use in our industry, thereby reducing landfill dependency."

In a region that is now at the top of the waste per capita list, taking advantage of the area's natural resources while keeping it balanced ecologically is an encouraging and sustainable way to landscape.

Blakedown aims to:

Reduce motor transport whilst encouraging suppliers and contractors to do the same;

Minimise the use of natural resources by using environmentally friendly suppliers/products whenever possible;

Minimise emissions of CO2 and save energy where possible on its premises;

Reduce pollution to air, sea and land and also limit the amount of noise pollution on it sites.

Blakedown finds it difficult to source local materials due to the wide range of products it uses and the Middle East's lack of local resource.

But like Planters Horticulture, Barfoot says the most important aspect to successful landscaping is the people.

"We use a basic range of maintenance equipment, but the most important thing is the skilled staff. The people we employ go through a rigorous in-house landscape training programme."

Sustainability is currently an international buzz word, dominating construction conversation and developer's discussions.

And Citiscape believes this trend is now taking over the landscaping industry.

"Landscape designs are becoming more creative and heading towards sustainability and green building, with a go green mentality," explains Houssam Khouri, marketing and business development manager, Citiscape.

The ISO 9001:2000 certified company operates a number of environmentally friendly measures, including recycling and minimising waste.

And when asked what developers should think about when planning their landscaping environments, Khouri simply states, "two words. The environment".

Like other landscape companies, Citiscape also thinks there is a lack of professionally qualified staff.

"One of the biggest challenges the industry faces is the lack of a professional, qualified, trained workforce. Also, proper management is an issue along with a shortage of materials," he adds.

Golf is increasingly becoming a popular tourist attraction in the Middle East and with 359 playable days a year, warm temperatures and signature courses being opened, it's easy to see why.

Half of the region's courses are housed within residential communities, making them easily accessible.

The largest strain on these courses (and their maintenance teams) is keeping them green and attractive.

While this originates from the landscapes architect's design, once handed over the maintenance team need to ensure they are fully trained on the specifics.

For example, the greens need a certain amount of water every day and the grass needs to be cut to a specific length.

Bush, tree and shrubbery growth needs to be monitored and controlled.

One of the financial trends the region's courses are experiencing, is higher running costs.

These are associated with increased inflation and amplified water usage.

With another 20 courses earmarked for development within the next five years, irrigation is the key component to efficient water use and plays a helping hand in creating first-class courses.

"Developing a golf course is land intensive, water intensive, capital intensive and time consuming. Water is the most significant for the UAE and the solution hit upon by larger developments that include housing units and hotels, is to use grey water to irrigate the courses. The responsibility of the golf community in the world is to be environmentally sensitive and responsible and all developers that have been involved will share this responsibility," explains Caitlin lles, sales and marketing manager, Septech Emirates.

As a specialist maintenance company, Septech uses advanced sprinkler and irrigation technology that is monitored 24 hours a day and is able to detect weather conditions.

The company's landscape and environment division has constructed and commissioned the 18-hole signature golf course for Victory Heights, The Els Club.

It is currently negotiating the construction and facilities management packages for three other signature courses in the UAE and two non-signature courses in the GCC.

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