In the middle of Tecom you’ll now find a rooftop garden that’s focuses on producing local and organic produce.

On top of a hotel in Tecom – Time Oak to be exact – you’ll now find an urban garden. The project is all about growing fruit, veg and herbs and promoting local, organic and sustainable ways of thinking.

The group behind it, Slow Food Dubai, planted its roots in the region back in 2013, but this is the first rooftop garden. What’s On sat down with Laura Allais-Mare, South African expat and the founder of Slow Food Dubai to get the low down on keeping a garden in the centre of the city….

slow-food-gardenThe garden 

Where did the idea for the Urban Garden stem from? Given Dubai’s urban context, and the perceived impossibility of growing food in this environment, setting up an urban rooftop garden is proof that one can ‘grow your own’. Time Hotel’s director of F&B, Bernard Fantoli, came up with the suggestion of making use of the garden space at Time Hotels. That’s how it started. From a sandy patch to what we have today.

What is the aim of the rooftop garden? The garden is a testament of just how easy it is to grow food and herbs in the UAE from October to April or May successfully. From May until September, we regard this as the same as the winter one deals with in the far northern hemisphere.

Urban GardenA young volunteer

Is there a message behind it? The message is that urban rooftop gardens are great community projects to bring people from all walks of life together.

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Have you faced any difficulties growing in the Dubai climate? We look to nature for guidance, we don’t try to manipulate the plants and the weather. We work in synergy with the natural environment. We grow plants that can deal with the heat (ample water available) and we treat for pests with organic pest control methods.

What do you find particularly easy to grow in the Dubai climate? Basil, mint, lemon grass, tomatoes, Cuban oregano, sweet potatoes, chilies, pumpkin, cucumbers… and the list goes on.

 Urban GardenHands at work

Any tips for Dubai gardeners? Don’t just use potting soil. Mix in sweet red sand 50/50 and good organic compost. Joining a good gardening club helps too.

How long ago did you start this project? We started propagating seeds in late September 2015 and the first seedlings were planted in the garden in late October 2015.

What are you planning to do with the produce from the urban garden? The hotel uses some of the produce, and some is shared with the volunteers. 

Would you eventually like to expand the Urban Garden project? We would love to see these gardens all over the city. However, Slow Food Dubai is not in a position to fund or sponsor Urban Gardens. We just offer a consulting and landscaping service. Time Hotels has funded the entire project. 

What other projects are Slow Food Dubai involved in? The Balcony and Urban Gardening Group of the UAE. BUGGS. Find more about that here.

How can people get involved in your work in Dubai? They’d have to sign up and join Slow Food Dubai, which can be done here at the volunteer page.

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Photos: Supplied