Even in the contractor’s nurseries, the standard of care does not reach the level that the design landscape architect may expect
image: Edward Flaherty
You may wonder what it’s like to work in the cradle of Western Civilization—the trading posts between the East and West, the Middle East and North Africa, and, for millennia, primarily a landscape of traders.
But first, we’ll start with something you may be more familiar with. Large nurseries like Monrovia, Keeline Wilcox and ValleyCrest often have rows upon rows of trees, shrubs and ground covers, each properly pruned, grown to near perfection and available in seemingly unlimited quantities in any size you want. Selecting plants there is the same as going down the breakfast cereal aisle in a large American grocery store—huge selections, multiple sizes of each, in massive quantities. Just like cereal boxes, the plants in these nurseries are labelled, well displayed, properly set out and all uniformly healthy. That sophistication and mastery of horticultural and logistics processes—integral to plant growth—is a spectacular achievement that some landscape architects never fully appreciate—until they worked with the pirate landscape contractors of the Middle East.
In the Western Region of Saudi Arabia in the early 1980s, a large new town was under construction and street trees were part of the infrastructure work. That was the first time some landscape architects had seen—on a competitively bid, huge project scale—plants being grown in used, empty tin cans. Always rusting, the cans rarely even had drainage holes and were always stacked cheek-by-jowl to save on land rental costs. Plants were hand watered seemingly by chance. Pruning equipment? Just never around.
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