Sejal Nagjee. Courtesy of Milestone
Sejal Nagjee. Courtesy of Milestone

Sejal Nagjee, the gardening guru with an eye for open space



It's not quite the answer I was expecting. I ask Sejal Nagjee, founder and chief designer of the Dubai-based Milestone Gardens and Interiors, about her career so far. "I used to be a professional table tennis player," she answers. "I played table tennis for India for 17 years."

It was only once she retired from the sport in her early thirties that Nagjee developed a taste for design. "I took a sabbatical, which was a very torturous period for me because I didn't know who I was, what to do and how to pass the time if I wasn't connected to sport anymore. So I just started taking some classes."

She enrolled in an interior design course - and hated it. "My mum was a fine artist and my sister is an interior and graphic designer so I had a huge passion for the subject. I had read a lot about it so when I joined the course I found it to be very basic," she recalls.

Next, she took a course in Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement. "I started taking exams with the Ohara School of Ikebana in Japan and ended up studying the subject for seven years. I also studied bonsai for four years. Along with that, I launched a company called Pure Joy in Mumbai and started manufacturing floral artefacts."

Nagjee then spent time in London honing her business skills and studying western floral art, but it is the simple, sculptural forms of Ikebana that have turned out to be her true passion.

"Ikebana is a very minimal art and works with very few materials. You might just have three flowers and two leaves and two twigs and a holder and a tray. So how do you put those minimal materials together in a very sculptural form?

"With western floral art, you will put a lot of different kinds of flowers and colours together. I like simplicity, minimalism and space. I don't like things that are overly done, so Ikebana really appealed to me."

And how about those irksome bonsai trees? I wonder if Nagjee, who has studied the Japanese art form for four years,  has any fail-safe tips for keeping them alive? "Bonsais require special training and care," she says. "It takes years of experience to work with bonsai. You have to keep removing the soil, repotting and fertilising regularly. It has to be your hobby. It can't be your gardener's hobby."

In 2003, Nagjee and her family moved to the UAE. She started out in floristry but always wanted to be more than a "simple florist who sells a bouquet for Dh50 and that's that". So she began working with big hotels, creating statement floral arrangements for their public areas, and founded Milestone.

The company has since evolved to offer a full-service offering, with a landscape division that also designs and builds swimming pools, water features, hardscapes, exterior lighting and irrigation systems. There is also a carpentry factory that makes gazebos, pergolas, outdoor fencing and outdoor decking, an interiors division and an accessories unit that sells fresh and artificial plants.

With more than 300 residential projects under her belt, Nagjee says that, in her experience, people in the UAE tend to underutilise their outdoor spaces. "Here, gardens are huge, so to minimise on costs, people end up putting in a huge amount of grass. They feel like they've spent a lot of money on their interiors, so they try to save on the garden."

Instead of introducing seating areas, shade structures and water features, people opt for a large grassy expanse that ends up being "a moneymaking machine for the municipality, which is reflected every month in your DEWA bill".

Instead, Nagjee recommends that garden owners dedicate at least 60 per cent of their outdoor space to "hardscaping", which could include pools, seating and barbecue areas, and play areas for children.

"When you have that hardscaping, you start to utilise your garden properly, which means you are not paying for a chunk of land that never gets used."

It is also important to consider the relationship between your interiors and exteriors, says Nagjee, who often finds herself in homes where there is a tangible disconnect between indoor and outdoor spaces.

"You should connect colour schemes and styles. Think about which doors lead out where and what you will you see from certain windows. If you love standing in the kitchen and looking out, there's no point putting an ugly shed right outside the kitchen window. This extends to room layouts. What's your view from the sofa, for example?"

Plant selection is also important when it comes to creating an attractive, sustainable garden. Don't be lured by the transient beauty of seasonal flowers, Nagjee warns. "A lot of people are enchanted by seasonal flowers because they think they make their gardens look pretty. But there are so many plants that are perennial, and I feel like a garden looks nice when it is green and colourful throughout the year. Only use seasonal flowers to enhance certain pots."

For fragrant flowers, Nagjee recommends gardenia or various types of jasmine; if you're looking for colourful flowers, opt for bougainvillaea, ixora or canna.

Ultimately, with any garden, a little forward planning can go a long way, Nagjee maintains. Even if you cannot afford to introduce all of the features that you want in one go, create a design that is adaptable and will allow you to add elements as you go along.

"Ask yourself, 'How else can I utilise my garden'. If you have a garden, use it tactically. Otherwise, why bother living in a villa; you can live in an apartment and save yourself a lot of money."

MATCH INFO

Burnley 1 (Brady 89')

Manchester City 4 (Jesus 24', 50', Rodri 68', Mahrez 87')

Abu Dhabi GP starting grid

1 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)

2 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)

3 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)

4 Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)

5 Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull)

6 Max Verstappen (Red Bull)

7 Romain Grosjean (Haas)

8 Charles Leclerc (Sauber)

9 Esteban Ocon (Force India)

10 Nico Hulkenberg (Renault)

11 Carlos Sainz (Renault)

12 Marcus Ericsson (Sauber)

13 Kevin Magnussen (Haas)

14 Sergio Perez (Force India)

15 Fernando Alonso (McLaren)

16 Brendon Hartley (Toro Rosso)

17 Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso)

18 Stoffe Vandoorne (McLaren)

19 Sergey Sirotkin (Williams)

20 Lance Stroll (Williams)

Where to submit a sample

Volunteers of all ages can submit DNA samples at centres across Abu Dhabi, including: Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre+(Adnec), Biogenix Labs in Masdar City, NMC Royal Hospital in Khalifa City, NMC Royal Medical Centre, Abu Dhabi, NMC Royal Women's Hospital, Bareen International Hospital, Al Towayya in Al Ain, NMC Specialty Hospital, Al Ain

BULKWHIZ PROFILE

Date started: February 2017

Founders: Amira Rashad (CEO), Yusuf Saber (CTO), Mahmoud Sayedahmed (adviser), Reda Bouraoui (adviser)

Based: Dubai, UAE

Sector: E-commerce 

Size: 50 employees

Funding: approximately $6m

Investors: Beco Capital, Enabling Future and Wain in the UAE; China's MSA Capital; 500 Startups; Faith Capital and Savour Ventures in Kuwait

Types of fraud

Phishing: Fraudsters send an unsolicited email that appears to be from a financial institution or online retailer. The hoax email requests that you provide sensitive information, often by clicking on to a link leading to a fake website.

Smishing: The SMS equivalent of phishing. Fraudsters falsify the telephone number through “text spoofing,” so that it appears to be a genuine text from the bank.

Vishing: The telephone equivalent of phishing and smishing. Fraudsters may pose as bank staff, police or government officials. They may persuade the consumer to transfer money or divulge personal information.

SIM swap: Fraudsters duplicate the SIM of your mobile number without your knowledge or authorisation, allowing them to conduct financial transactions with your bank.

Identity theft: Someone illegally obtains your confidential information, through various ways, such as theft of your wallet, bank and utility bill statements, computer intrusion and social networks.

Prize scams: Fraudsters claiming to be authorised representatives from well-known organisations (such as Etisalat, du, Dubai Shopping Festival, Expo2020, Lulu Hypermarket etc) contact victims to tell them they have won a cash prize and request them to share confidential banking details to transfer the prize money.

* Nada El Sawy

Company profile

Name: Infinite8

Based: Dubai

Launch year: 2017

Number of employees: 90

Sector: Online gaming industry

Funding: $1.2m from a UAE angel investor

RESULTS

West Asia Premiership

Thursday
Jebel Ali Dragons 13-34 Dubai Exiles

Friday
Dubai Knights Eagles 16-27 Dubai Tigers

Draw:

Group A: Egypt, DR Congo, Uganda, Zimbabwe

Group B: Nigeria, Guinea, Madagascar, Burundi

Group C: Senegal, Algeria, Kenya, Tanzania

Group D: Morocco, Ivory Coast, South Africa, Namibia

Group E: Tunisia, Mali, Mauritania, Angola

Group F: Cameroon, Ghana, Benin, Guinea-Bissau

EMIRATES'S REVISED A350 DEPLOYMENT SCHEDULE

Edinburgh: November 4 (unchanged)

Bahrain: November 15 (from September 15); second daily service from January 1

Kuwait: November 15 (from September 16)

Mumbai: January 1 (from October 27)

Ahmedabad: January 1 (from October 27)

Colombo: January 2 (from January 1)

Muscat: March 1 (from December 1)

Lyon: March 1 (from December 1)

Bologna: March 1 (from December 1)

Source: Emirates

The Roundup : No Way Out

Director: Lee Sang-yong
Stars: Don Lee, Lee Jun-hyuk, Munetaka Aoki
Rating: 3/5

THE SPECS

Engine: 4-cylinder 2.5-litre / 2-litre turbo
Power: 188hp / 248hp
Torque: 244Nm / 370Nm
Transmission: 7-speed auto
On sale: now
Price: From Dh110,000

The Bio

Name: Lynn Davison

Profession: History teacher at Al Yasmina Academy, Abu Dhabi

Children: She has one son, Casey, 28

Hometown: Pontefract, West Yorkshire in the UK

Favourite book: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Favourite Author: CJ Sansom

Favourite holiday destination: Bali

Favourite food: A Sunday roast

UAE athletes heading to Paris 2024

Equestrian

Abdullah Humaid Al Muhairi, Abdullah Al Marri, Omar Al Marzooqi, Salem Al Suwaidi, and Ali Al Karbi (four to be selected).

Judo
Men: Narmandakh Bayanmunkh (66kg), Nugzari Tatalashvili (81kg), Aram Grigorian (90kg), Dzhafar Kostoev (100kg), Magomedomar Magomedomarov (+100kg); women's Khorloodoi Bishrelt (52kg).

Cycling
Safia Al Sayegh (women's road race).

Swimming

Men: Yousef Rashid Al Matroushi (100m freestyle); women: Maha Abdullah Al Shehi (200m freestyle).

Athletics

Maryam Mohammed Al Farsi (women's 100 metres).


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