The Dubai Garden Centre has launched a Plant Summer Camp

Selina Denman finds out how the Dubai Garden Centre can help your plants survive your absence this summer.

Dubai Garden Centre in Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National
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In a cordoned-off area on the mezzanine floor of the Dubai Garden Centre, rows of houseplants are settling into their new surroundings.

These specimens are participants in the company’s first-ever Plant Summer Camp, which is, quite frankly, a brilliant scheme. Residents who are busy travelling over the summer months are being invited to drop off their indoor plants at the Dubai Garden Centre on Sheikh Zayed Road, where they will be carefully tended to until their owners are ready to pick them up again. The service, which is completely free of charge, is something that a growing number of customers have been requesting over the years, explains Karen Mascarenhas, organiser at the Dubai Garden Centre.

“More and more people had been asking for a service like this. If they are going away for an extended period of time, or if they have people staying in their homes in their ­absence, it’s one less thing to worry about. It just makes life easier for them. We finally ­decided this would be the year that we would start offering this service. We reached out to people via social media and received a really good response. People were like: ‘Finally.’”

The camp started on June 25 and after its first weekend in operation, 23 plants had been placed under the care of the garden centre team, with many more expected before the initiative comes to a close on August 30. Each customer can bring in a maximum of three plants, and each plant must measure less than 1.25 metres in height. “We’re trying to accommodate as many people as possible,” explains Mascarenhas.

There is no limit to how long the plants can stay in their ­temporary home and all species are welcome – only those that are visibly unhealthy will be sent away. “If they are obviously sick, we won’t accept them, because we don’t want to infect any of the other plants in the camp. If there are obvious signs – like white spots all over the leaves – we won’t accept them.

“But if we look at them and they look healthy, but just need a little bit of help or care, then we’ll offer that,” says Mascarenhas, pointing to a sad-looking croton plant with wilting, red-hued leaves, sitting in the corner. “Plants like that just need a little bit of special attention.”

The beauty of the camp is that it doubles as a clinic. All plants are received at a ­dedicated counter on the ground floor, before being transported upstairs, vetted thoroughly and placed in optimal conditions.

“We look at what is going on with the plant and decide where it should be placed – whether it needs to be closer to the sunlight or completely out of the sun, because different plants obviously have very different requirements. We have chosen to place our summer camp in a space that’s away from the window as plants that are positioned too close to windows can often get a yellow stain on their leaves because they are getting too much sunlight. They also have the right amount of ventilation and we make sure that the temperature is optimum, around 23 degrees.”

It’s a carefully audited system – charts hang at the end of each shelving unit, reminiscent of those used by doctors to ­monitor their patients.

“We know exactly when each plant was watered, who watered it and when it next needs to be watered,” says Mascarenhas. “The plants are constantly being looked after.”

If needs be, the specimens will even be repotted, placed in larger containers or given more nutrient-rich soil. “Sometimes we feel that the soil is a bit too dry so we repot the plants, or we feel like the plants require larger pots and the customer hasn’t realised. So we repot them and inform the customer when they come in, in case they want to buy a bigger pot. Sometimes the plants show signs that people might not notice – pots starting to get small cracks where the roots are trying to break through, for example.”

The Summer Camp is another example of how the Dubai ­Garden Centre has evolved into so much more than a plant shop in recent years. A recent cat- adoption day, organised by the Dubai-based Bin Kitty ­Collective, is an example of how the centre has been transformed into a community space where children and adults, green-fingered or not, can while away the day.

There’s an ever-growing roster of services and products being offered under the centre’s ever-­expanding roof – from a second-­hand bookstore, bicycle shop and in-house tailor, to a cafe, flower shop, and printing and design facility. You can pick up everything from a hydroponic lettuce to fishing equipment, not to mention every imaginable kind of indoor and outdoor plant, gardening accessories and a wide range of outdoor ­furniture.

“We attract great people,” says Mascarenhas. “And we welcome everybody.”