The world’s largest flower garden exists in a place you might not expect. It’s found not in the lush Tuileries of Paris or the Renaissance-era terraces at Villa d’Este in Tivoli, Italy, but in the desert outside Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Opened on Valentine’s Day 2013, the Dubai Miracle Garden is the world leader when it comes to enormous flower gardens, comprising 150 million individual flowers and blowing its nearest competitor, the tulip-based Keukenhof in the Netherlands and its 7 million blooms, out of the water. It's an entire theme park devoted to flowers, featuring peacocks, castles, windmills, houses, cars, a giant woman, and a replica of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, all made out of flowers. You even have to walk through a huge (fake) flower to get inside. At close to 2 million square feet, the complex also includes retail stores, a mosque, a floral clock, and the region’s first butterfly garden.
Being inside is a charming flavor of bizarre, like strolling through a Lewis Carroll book or a flower world in Super Mario Bros., if such things existed. Rainbow blossoms dazzle the eyes in every direction. Some of the more surreal displays include an upside-down flower house and a giant faucet (not made of flowers) suspended in mid-air, pouring water into a small lake. Romance also seems to be a major theme at the park—in keeping with its opening date—with heart-shaped archways and swans perched throughout. Not surprisingly, it’s a popular spot for wedding-related photo shoots.
The bulk of the floral displays stay the same year after year, although each fall—after the garden closes for the blistering hot Arabian summer—a handful of exhibits change. The park currently includes at least 45 different species of flower imported from around the globe, many of which are difficult to cultivate in the desert and rarely seen in the Middle East, such as geraniums, marigolds, calendulas, and petunias.
In addition to being the world’s largest garden in terms of flower count, the Dubai Miracle Garden also holds the current Guinness record for largest flower arrangement. That award was bestowed in December 2016 for a floral structure in the shape of an Airbus A380 that’s 230 feet long and includes more than 500,000 fresh flowers and plants, constructed over a frame built from recycled materials.
In addition to the large-scale floral sculptures, the Dubai Miracle Garden has a medicinal plant section and a fruits-and-veggies section. Guests are able to make their own salads and teas from the plants, with designated seating areas set up for this purpose. The idea is to educate guests on healthy, unprocessed, plant-based diets, as well as “mindful eating”—knowing what’s in your food and where the ingredients came from. (Perhaps the nearby ice cream and candy vendors are there in order to test visitors on their healthy-eating willpower.)
Aside from the enormous displays, the most impressive thing about the garden is that the whole operation is fed via recycled wastewater. The facility uses a unique drip irrigation system wherein the tubes run under the soil rather than alongside the plants on the surface, thereby helping to avoid evaporation—a major issue with above-ground drip irrigation systems. This subterranean method uses a fraction of the water and energy required in a conventional system—less than a tenth of a gallon of water is required to hydrate a plot that would usually need 2.5 or 3 gallons. That’s a big deal when your garden uses 200,000 gallons of water per day. When the garden opened, its landscapers, Akar Landscaping and Agriculture Company, told Gulfnews.com they wanted to show “it’s possible to green the desert through judicious re-use of waste water, through drip irrigation.”
Considering its location on the arid Arabian Peninsula, this is probably the cleverest—and possibly the only—way to make such a massive, fantastic oasis bloom in a place where water is in very short supply. And that is indeed miraculous.
All photos by Stephen Allan unless otherwise noted.