Surveying trees… again!

Trees in Dubai

I’m always happy when I get to survey trees on a site. I will be out next week (February 6th) and working on a large redevelopment site, surveying existing trees for retention and moving. Can’t say more, but do contact me if you have a project I can help on!

Delonix regia, showing good healing from previous pruning, but with some staining from bacterial wetwood.

A look back at Trees in 2022

On this last day of the year, it’s wet and dull outside here in the UK, so I thought I’d look back at some of the amazing trees I’ve had the privilege to encounter this year whilst visiting and working in the UAE. Some of these I have worked directly with, surveying them as part of a project or site improvement, some I have merely observed and been taken in by their beauty and form.

I’m going to let the pictures and captions speak for themselves, and I look forward to more encounters with trees in 2023.

An amazing banyan tree, Ficus benghalensis, which I surveyed in Dubai.
Neem tree, Azadirachta indica in flower, Abu Dhabi
Tecomella undulata at Al Ittidhad park, Dubai. Native to the region and much under-used.
Portia tree, Thespesia populnea on Abu Dhabi Corniche

Bismarkia nobilis, bismark palm. These just recently planted, Dubai.
Flowers of frangipani, Plumera obtusa, Yas Island, Abu Dhabi
Grey mangrove, Avicennia marina, Abu Dhabi
Eucalyptus camaldulensis, Qasr al Hosn, Abu Dhabi. I managed a major crown reduction on this tree in 2018, it has regrown nicely
Prosopis juliflora, spontaneous generation on a brownfield site, Abu Dhabi (see other blog posts on this site)
Tecoma stans, World Expo Dubai
Roots of Moringa olefera, Dubai
Peltophorum pterocarpum, private grounds, Dubai
Tabebuia argentea, Yas Island, Abu Dhabi

2022 and back to work!

Trees in Dubai

It’s been a strange two years for all of us, with travel being difficult or impossible, for all the obvious reasons.  Whilst Covid has not gone away and we keep a wary eye on the Omicron variant, the world is more open now.

Good news, and it means I can travel again!  I am once again available to consult on trees and landscapes.  It requires a larger project with a fair number of trees (usually) for a visit to be viable.  Smaller projects or individual trees can then be consulted on when I have a visit booked.

So, hoping to visit in the early months of 2022… do contact me if you have a project to discuss!

Covid and travel restrictions

Due to the on-going Covid 19 pandemic I will not be travelling to the UAE (or anywhere) during the winter season of 2020/21.  I am available to carry out remote design or consultancy for certain things, although there are limits to what can be done in this way.

Trees are complex things, and don’t always give up their secrets easily, but when considering what needs to be done, there are tell-tale signs to look for.  I can often spot these remotely if provided with good quality pictures and video.

I can remotely advise on the design, selection and placement of trees and other landscape elements.

What is harder is working with contractors to ensure that they know how to prune correctly – most, unfortunately, do not and the majority of inquiries I get are on this subject.  In the past, I have worked to train contractors in the correct use of tools and pruning techniques, but this is only viable on larger projects.

I am happy to work with you remotely as far as is possible!  Please contact me by email, phone or WhatsApp to discuss your needs.

Tree Consultancy Dubai

Surveying trees in Dubai

If you need help or advice with your trees, I will be visiting Dubai for the week of February 23rd, advising on trees for private and commercial clients.  If you have a tree you need help with, or a developments project with trees involved, I have a few appointments available.

I can advise on:

  • Pruning requirements
  • General health of trees
  • Root issues
  • Planting and irrigation
  • Health & Safety
  • Tree selection for planting
  • The design of “treescapes”

Please do get in touch!

Why we need treescapes, not just landscapes, in the Middle-East

Landscapes are all about creating micro-climate, or would be, if designed for that goal. Why is this important and what do I mean? Almost all life is contained in a thin crust of soil, a wedge of atmospheric gases, and water. Plants are the principal medium that interacts with and regulates all three. Absolutely nothing else does this as well, or at all; think about it. The way we organise our plants in our urban landscape will determine how well this interaction occurs, how successful it is. Yet I have never heard of a single project that has been developed with this understanding and this goal in mind. With climate change, we urgently need to re-think the way we design our landscapes, and why we design them. Whilst all the human-centric design reasons will always hold true, we need to layer into our thinking this new understanding of how plants interact. To build new ecologies, new ecosystems, we have to design for plants to actually function, rather than just look nice. For when they do this, our environment literally comes alive. More importantly, they might just, if done on sufficient scale, save us from ourselves. When I use the word treescapes, I don’t just mean trees and grass; we’ve had that for years in the form of parks, and in their traditional form, they’ve done little for us. No, our designs need to build up layers of living material – biomass, for with biomass comes moisture entrapment, shade, food for insects, etc. Think of it in terms of height and depth of microclimate. How much depth is there in a stretch of irrigated grass, maybe 50mm above ground, 200mm below? No species variation, so what we have is little more than a green desert, albeit one that can hold bit a of moisture. Trees in paved streets are also less able to generate micro-climate, but they are a bit of an exception, as they provide shade for people to walk under. Where width allows, even here we should layer our planting.
Trees in grass lose most of their microclimate
Trees in grass lose most of their microclimate and ecology. Traditional design fails us here.
If we replace that grass with a range of groundcover plants – not a monoculture – you begin to get a little more variation; different root structures and depth, different foliage shapes, height, form and flower. More variety, more microclimate, more food source, more ecology. Looks good too. Next we add shrubs and suddenly we are into an new realm, that of woody plants (I’m being simplistic here, many groundcovers are of course woody). Shrubs create three-dimensional space with their frameworks, within which micro-worlds reside. Deciduous plants shed their leaves, as do evergreens, and this begins to build leaf litter – mulch. Don’t tidy it up! We need ecologies in that soil, and microbes need food. Our obsession with tidyness has a lot to answer for. Suddenly, we have height in our micro-climate, three-dimensional form. We humans (for we scale everything according to our own height and perception) can walk amongst these plants, take part, interact. Our microclimate is now two metres high, maybe more. But something is missing and it’s still too hot…
Here we have (in Umm al Emarat park, Abu Dhabi) the beginings of an true microclimate. This is a treescape.
Here we have (in Umm al Emarat park, Abu Dhabi) the beginings of a true microclimate. This is a treescape.
Trees! Now we have a game changer and our micro-environment just became vast, in relative terms, maybe up to 30 metres, though 10-20m may be more average. We now have true diversity of shape, height, leaf, flower and roots. We have shade! Under trees it may be 10°C cooler and we love it. Plants love it too. Moisture now gets retained within the human habitable zone, fungi and microbes thrive in soils, insects and birds abound. This is our urban jungle and we need it. The planet needs it. This tiny sliver of crust we live on can be rich, abundant, in every climate and every place, if we put our minds to it, if we have the will. And when the planet becomes searing, creating livable environments with trees of any type, may be the only thing that keeps us alive, unless we become troglodytes.
This is the next level of landscape design, the new challenge; creating future ecologies and environments that matter, that keep us cool, that give us resources and soothe our souls. We will create new (novel) ecologies that fit the changing environment, trans-migrating parts of ecologies that once lived elswhere. In that place they may be dying out, as might your local ecology. If they now fit where you live, that’s where they need to be. In turn, that place of origin may itself need to adapt and change. In all things and all places, we need microclimate, shade and soil. Are you up for it? I am!

Planting Design in the Middle-East

Planting design in the Middle-East

The other side of work I undertake in the Middle-East region is planting design, for creating new landscapes always brings me a special joy.  When they are in public spaces, I love the chance it gives to interact with many people in place, over time and hopefully, enhance their experience of that place.  In the public realm, what that place is, is being questioned and challenged in the light of urbanisation and climate change.  Ecology and environment are driving design as never before.

Excess Irrigation in a Dubai housing area

Excess Irrigation in a Dubai housing areaMy most pressing concern I have is how to improve on irrigation  techniques, which are traditionally massed  surface drip lines onto marginally improved sand.  This is inefficient and wasteful and I shall be looking for solutions, especially the use of moisture retention mediums and sub-surface irrigation.  I believe most watering of landscapes in arid climates could be cut by half, just by more efficient application and retention, in the right place.  The picture above shows  typical wastage in a Dubai suburban landscape.

Whilst urban planting requires urban plants, I will also be looking at the use of more climate-adaptive species, which I think is important in an era of climate crisis; the Middle-East is going to struggle to cope with every degree of temperature increase.  The use of more desert-adapted planting is not new, and not applicable everywhere but I believe there is much scope for experimentation and new thinking.

The power and the beauty
The power and the beauty

For me, planting design is about building communities, layering types of plants together in harmonious associations that fit.  I don’t mind grouping plants together that come from different geographical regions, but they have to come from a similar ecological niche.  Such design is so much more than just nice foliage contrasts and I believe the results can be subtle, but profound.

Landscape must, of course, fit our purpose but I believe we tend to pursue this end to the exclusion of everything else.  Nature is the basis of landscape, and so too is ecology, ecosystem and planet.  We should not divorce our landscapes from this reality; rather, they should always seek to remind us of these connections.  So yes, in town centres and urban streets, we have our eco-bling landscapes; vibrant places, exotic, heady, purfumed, exciting.  Nature at it’s most unbelievably flamboyant (cue pic: delonix, the flamboyant tree).  Elsewhere, we need more grounded landscapes, more real, more connected to place.

Delonix regia, the flamboyant tree
Delonix regia, the flamboyant tree

I love this tree, it is everything I have described above, pure eco-bling.  Yet it is not appropriate everywhere and because it has become a part of the standard landscape palette, I belive it is overused, and used in places where other species would be more appropriate.   I think there are many trees and shrubs that could be used in the region that haven’t been tried yet, from East Africa, for example.  The climate there may be less harsh and more varied but it is not so remote or different as that of some exotics imported from sub-tropical climates (the Delonix mentioned above is from Madagascar, again not too dissimilar).

I think planting design in the Middle-East faces a whole new range of challenges and opportunities.  The changing climate will force new thinking, to match the new development and the new understanding that is emerging of our intimate relationship with nature.  I’m hoping to contribute towards that new expression and understanding.

Tree Surgery to a Mature Tree in Abu Dhabi

I recently supervised a major crown reduction on an over-mature Eucalyptus on an historic site in Abu Dhabi. 

I had surveyed the tree last year and made a recommendation to carry out a substantial crown reduction, due to the declining vigour of the tree and the close proximity to people and buildings.

We used a MEWP (mobile elevating work platform) to access the tree and do works to the lower areas of the crown.  The top branches were removed by use of the site crane, which could lift substantial sections of the tree and bring them safely to the ground.  I have some great video’s which I may post at a later time.

Tree Surgery to an old eucalyptus, Abu Dhabi
Tree Surgery to an old eucalyptus, Abu Dhabi

Needless to say, this type of work needs a skilled arborist and crew to carry out, which we used.  If you have complicated tree works that need carrying out, do get in touch…

Lighting Fixtures in Trees

On my last few trips to Dubai, I have been noticing a lot of trees with lighting installed in them.  Whilst these can create stunning effects at night, the correct methods of installation and maintenance are essential for the long-term well-being of the tree.  We have to put the needs of the tree first – if the light effects are more important, then just don’t use a tree!  Much of what I have seen – and this applies world-wide, not just in the UAE (I have seen equally bad wiring in the UK, Chicago, etc.) – is messy and very likely to cause long-term damage to the tree, if it doesn’t kill it entirely.

Incorrect attachment of electric cables to a tree
Incorrect attachment of electric cables to a tree. Cable or zip trees around the circumference may kill the tree, or will become overgrown by new cambial growth.  Excess cable coiled at the bottom is not needed – a light fixed at 10m high stays at that height.

We have to reconcile the fact that trees expand in girth year on year (including palms, though in a different way) through what is termed secondary growth. All this growth happens in the region just under the bark in the cambial layers and produces new meristematic tissue. Damage or restrict this layer and it effects the whole health of the tree.  Cable ties are like a choke collar to a tree; as it grows it gets choked.  Many trees will solve this by growing over such a restriction but this can leave the wood vulnerable to infection and mechanical stress.  Likewise, light mounting brackets screwed directly onto a tree become overgrown and are again a source of potential infection.

messy cabling in trees
This is a mess; transformers should be left on the ground and cabling should be neat and minimal, again, without girdling ties

If the aim of lighting is to create an aesthetic effect, it should not be at the expense of the trees aesthetic, nor of it’s health.  I can’t imagine that the lights above look very good at night, although i wasn’t there to see them on.

There is a correct way to do all this and keep the tree in good health (as far as any interference can be healthy).  If you have such a project, either existing or potential, please contact me to discuss assistance in achieving best practice.