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!
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.
2022 and back to work!
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.
Why we need treescapes, not just landscapes, in the Middle-East
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pruning of Broadleaf Trees in the UAE
I have said elsewhere that the landscapes of Dubai and Abu Dhabi are growing (no pun intended) at an extraordinary rate and that the knowledge and skills needed to care for the landscapes as they mature are not keeping pace. This is especially true when it comes to trees.
Palm trees are familiar to the region as a crop tree; they are tough, easy to move without too much worry and of simple form which does not necessitate any complex pruning. Broadleaf trees however, demand more than the crude lopping they are so often subject to, especially in urban spaces where there are issues of health and safety. Bad pruning, but also lack of pruning can lead to dangerous conditions.
The following two pictures show dangers from no pruning care taken:
Often a tree’s lifespan and health are determined even before they are planted on a site. Many problems come from lack of formative pruning right at the nursery stage and roots may be damaged during lifting or potting on.
So many trees are off to a poor start before they are even planted but once they are, environmental factors will kick in. How well they are planted and irrigated will effect their health. Assuming they survive and grow (and the average life-span of a UK planted urban tree is less than 10 years) then they have to cope with the occasional pruning that they are given and the damage that this may cause.
We have to understand that trees never heal. They survive damage by a process of isolation, or compartmentalisation, whereby cells surrounding damage isolate this area from the remaining areas of the tree. Unfortunately, bad pruning tends to rip right through these natural defenses, opening up the tree to infection and decay. Key to this is understanding the correct and way to place cuts. Here’s how you DON’T do it:
All these abuses and bad practices can be seen anywhere in the world, even in the UK which has a thriving profession of arboriculture. Trees in hot climates are critical, however, to the health of people and the city overall. As the landscapes of our modern cities and mega-cities continue to grow, and the effects of climate change become more severe, we need to look after our trees – everywhere – to a much higher standard than our current levels.
Trees deserve our respect – and our thoughtful care. More, they deserve active and knowledgeable management and the correct level of arboricultural skill and care to ensure they thrive and serve us, and our built environments, as best they can. The more we give, the more we get back.
Baobabs, Tree Surveying and a Walk in the Park
On my latest visit to the UAE I had a number of tree-related experiences.
In Dubai, I met with James Palmer from WT Burden, to view the Baobab trees they import from Australia. These trees are succulents, so don’t possess the usual vascular system. As such, they are huge water storage tanks and can live uprooted for two years (I believe the biggest weighed 11 tonnes)! The trees in the picture were planted in January and are just now coming into leaf, as the season warms up. I will follow these closely as I’m intrigued about how well they will re-form a good crown shape.
I also got to have a fabulous green tea in the Four Season’s hotel, which was nearby. The landscaping there is sublime, with beautifully terraced stone walls and planters to the roadside boundary and a form of living wall with horizontal planters built into a curved wall.
In Abu Dhabi, I was commissioned to carry out a survey on a large tree, which is located on a site I cannot name. The tree itself is large and in gradual decline, so needs some help. Following a thorough inspection from the ground and also using a MEWP, I will return in the Autumn/Winter to oversee a crown reduction. It’s great to see such care and concern being placed on trees, they are the stuff of life!
I also got a chance to visit Umm Al Emarat Park (formerly Mushrif Central Park), to see it finished and to look for the trees I surveyed and made pruning recommendations on, back in 20 14. It is obviously now completely different, the trees I worked with had all been lifted and containerised for re-use in many different areas of the park. Saw some I could recognise though, like seeing old friends!
This shows a few of the trees in 2014 which had been lifted from the old park and saved for re-use. I surveyed each tree and made recommendations for pruning works, then trained the landscape crew in the correct pruning methods to carry out the works.
One of those trees (Ficus nitida) in its new home and looking happy.
I would like to have had more time there, and will visit again. I note an on-going need for aboricultural advice there to maintain the trees in the best of conditions…