Al Ain is one of my favourite places in the UAE, so I was happy to have an excuse to visit one of the most amazing public gardens I have ever seen, right there on the outskirts of the city, overlooked by the craggy slopes of Jebel Hafeet.
Although the city is known for its lush greenery, Al Ain Paradise really is a miracle of irrigation, so much so that it has won the Guinness World Record for the most number of hanging flower baskets for the past two years. In fact, this year, the tally of baskets was a whopping 2,968.
Engineer Abdul Nasser Y Rahhal, general manager of Akar Landscaping Services and Agriculture, the company behind the garden, discusses the whole idea and concept of the project. "Firstly, when you say garden, what idea comes to your mind? What do you mean by garden? It can include plants, water fountains, playing equipment and sitting areas. And why do you visit the garden? To enjoy those components! I want to enjoy the sun, the shade or the grass. I want to play, I want to sit and I want to walk."
So the garden is for all to enjoy. But the main idea was to make it unique - a concept that has attracted over 400,000 visitors this year alone. "Why will you visit a garden in Al Ain if you live in Dubai or Abu Dhabi? Why will you come here if this garden is the same as the ones you have there? This garden is unique. That was the idea - I wanted to make this garden unique so it will attract visitors, it will force them to come."
And unique it certainly is. In addition to the display of living plants, which have to survive a season lasting seven months, there is an enormous pyramid decked out in petunias, a model of the Eiffel Tower, several intriguing sculptures, three flower-planted heart shapes spanning a wide walkway, enormous ceramic-glazed pots (filled with plants, naturally!) and a long bed of what Rahhal describes as "vertical landscaping".
"Also we have another idea for this garden: it has no fixed assets. So next year all the flowers you see in the photos, which you took this season will be completely changed. I will play with the flowers and change the types, the colours and the varieties - next season it will be totally different. So you will want to come again if you love what's on display this year. Every year it will look different," he smiles. "And by the way, the Chinese - you know how they are good at copying - copied us! But they used cut flowers. Here we are talking about living plants not cut flowers."
I am intrigued by several aspects of the design, but one in particular - those hearts. "Where did the idea for the hearts come from? From my brain!" Rahhal laughs. "The three heart arches are a simple idea (next season you will see even better things). They represent the three municipalities of Abu Dhabi (Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and the Western Region), and when you walk through them you see the photo of His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan President of the UAE, Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, the flag and a boat. It means the President and the country are in the hearts of the people living in this land. And the boat is a symbol of the country and the President is the captain, leading the nation."
So it's not just a unique oasis garden, but a tribute to the leaders of the UAE. I for one will be back next season to see the new-look garden. Roll on October!