It turns out there’s more to gardening in Qatar than bougainvillea and palm trees, you just need a little advice from the experts. Green Qatar – whose base is an appropriately green villa on Arab League Street – is where you’ll find the people with the horticultural know how. This organisation is working to green up and clean up the rest of the country.
Green Qatar has been at its present home for five years, but its annual ‘Clean and Green Qatar’ campaign has been going since 2000. It kicks off again this year from December until the end of March, encouraging everyone to get busy cleaning up beaches, planting trees and generally looking after the environment here.
Green Qatar’s director, Abdullah Al Kuwari, is passionate about getting everyone on board, from small children to company directors, ambassadors and government ministries.‘We want everyone to share with us in cleaning and greening Qatar,’ he says. Green Qatar is perhaps best known for its beach cleaning during the ‘Clean and Green Qatar’ campaigns, with regular photos in the local press of T-shirted teams of volunteers with mountains of rubbish-filled bin bags. Anyone can get a group of 15 to 20 colleagues or friends together and Green Qatar will help organise a trip to a safe beach in need of a good tidy up – and, sadly, there are quite a lot of them in need of a bit of TLC.
But the organisation is also working hard to educate children of the importance of not dropping litter in the first place – and of the joy of having trees, grass and plants around. ‘We tell them why plants are important to us – that they give us vital things for life like oxygen, and take away pollution,’ says Al Kuwari.
Every day school groups visit the centre. As Time Out chatted with Al Kuwari, a group of boys wearing new Qatar Green T-shirts over their thobes were on the lawn outside, learning about local plants. ‘We encourage schoolchildren not to damage trees or dig up plants. We want them to have a special relationship with green things,’ says Al Kuwari, who believes that involving children from a young age is the key. In a clever move, children get to plant their own little seedling in a pot and take it home. A few weeks later, they’re asked to send in photographs of their plants, and (green fingers crossed, they’ve survived) a thriving plant earns you a gift. Plants mean prizes at Green Qatar. ‘They have to look after it, and they learn that if you cut it, it will die; if you don’t give it water, it will die,’ informs Al Kuwari.
And children who come to the centre are trained and encouraged to be green ambassadors: to go back to their schools and educate their schoolmates to look after Qatar’s parks and gardens. ‘We want to get the children to see how gardens are special, to teach them to respect flowers and trees and look after them,’ adds Al Kuwari.
If they grow up to become really keen gardeners, then they could reap rewards in later years – perhaps winning a prize in the Green Qatar’s annual garden competition. Anyone can enter and there are prizes of up to QR30,000 for the best small, medium and large gardens in the seven municipalities. There’s a category for schools too. So, get down that garden centre and get planting.
But, you can only enter if you have irrigation. So, you need to build in a watering system, which is far more environmentally friendly that scooshing the hose over your garden twice a day. Mindful of how daunted expat gardeners from wetter climates can be when they come to Qatar (‘What can I plant, apart from cacti, which will survive here?’ being a common question), Green Qatar also offers a free garden design service for anyone. It will help with plans and suggest plants, trees and flowers which will thrive in the Qatar sun. ‘We are trying to change attitudes about gardens,’ Al Kuwari informs us.
With towering skyscrapers springing up all over the city, Al Kuwari says that Green Qatar has an important job to do in ensuring that the hot concrete is matched with cool green spaces, both public and private. But humans need trees and plants for psychological as well as scientific reasons. ‘It makes you feel better,’ he says. ‘You feel more relaxed when you look at the green grass and trees. It makes you feel calm – if you want to think, you need to look at something green.’
Green Qatar (483 8138; www.qgreen-clean.com)