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THE HISTORY OF OUR PLANET IN A BOTANICAL GARDEN

Well over half of the vast country of Saudi Arabia is desert. The Nefud desert in the north is linked to the Rub’ al-Khali desert in the south by the sand dunes of yet another desert, the Ad-Dahna.
In the centre, on a vast highland plateau just beyond the dunes, is the capital Riyadh. The Tropic of Cancer runs through Saudi Arabia and there is a prevailing desert climate, with temperatures ranging from 40°C to 50°C in summer and 5°C to 15°C in winter.
This is the setting for a daringly complex project to create a huge botanical garden just a stone’s throw from the capital. The project plans to conjure up a park of over 2,200,000 m² with plants from all over the world, including examples of extinct species and those that have survived evolution and climate shifts.
This unusual garden is intended as a gift from the city of Riyadh to the Saudi King Abdullah, and it will also represent a powerful tool for learning about, and understanding, the origins and consequences of climate change and the transformations the world’s ecosystems undergo. It will help think about the choices we will face in the future and how we can effectively foster sustainable development.
The heart of the park will be two intersecting  crescent moons housing various pre-historic ecosystems. It may seem strange today, but Saudi Arabia’s swathes of burning deserts were once covered millions and millions of years ago with vast stretches of Savannah-like grasslands enjoying abundant rainfall feeding a network of rivers which flowed all year round and harboured crocodiles and herbivorous dinosaurs.

THE PAGHERA TOUCH

Paghera reviewed the landscaping, together with some other aspects of the project, in its final stages of definition, and decided to soften the rather stark, regular lines of its original design. Looking beyond the rules establishing that the trees and plants are to be arranged in orderly rows and regular intervals, Paghera felt the importance of establishing a stronger link with the site and its surroundings, of respecting its original settings, and believed that the key lay in creating an oasis, one of the largest in the world.
The 4000-space car park, originally planned as a standard, open-air parking lot, was moved underground beneath an artificial dune overlooking the park. The 50 metre-high dune will house a luxury hotel, reminiscent in style to the desert castles that were once home to the aristocracy under the caliphs.
The hotel terraces will host restaurants organised under traditional Arab tents, evocative of Tuareg camps, with stunning views over the crescent moons and surrounding park. The dune itself will be surrounded by a sea of splendid flowering meadows planted with species from some of the harshest deserts in the world, most of them succulents, which are used to extreme climates and are able to withstand extremely high temperatures and long periods of drought.
Looking up, the park can also be admired from the air, via a 6 km-long system of air-conditioned cable cars offering a complete tour with stop off observation points.   
Set like a jewel as the centrepiece of the two crescent moons will be the Wadi Garden, created in the bed of an erstwhile stream whose waters have scoured a deep depression in the terrain. The river will be resurrected thanks to artificial rain and the recycling of rainwater and water from artisan wells. A system of oases will be created along the course of the river, providing pathways flanking a series of small lakes, waterfalls and luxuriant greenery, an earthly paradise in the desert to be enjoyed either on foot or using golf carts.
The huge garden will host a number of pavilions, which will be used together with the two crescent moons to showcase the plants, trees and flowers gathered from all four corners of the globe. Nearby are 150,000 m² of greenhouses where native species will be cultivated.
A 6450 m² aviary provides an opportunity to study and observe exotic species of birds in a tropical rainforest habitat, preserving an environment that is fast disappearing in other parts of the world thanks to indiscriminate logging. Then there is a butterfly garden of almost 5000 m², divided into two different habitats: an exotic habitat with tropical vegetation kept at a constant temperature of between 21°C and 29°C and another one with native butterflies, trees and bushes.
Among the other attractions is a physic garden, a pavilion exclusively for medicinal plants and herbs from all over the world, and a water garden with a study of water in all its forms, from ice to snow and steam. Lastly there is a maze garden with a large spherical fountain at its centre. Not far away is the seed bank which will stock seed from our planet’s plants and flowers.
This enchanted, futuristic botanical garden, constructed using cutting edge technologies from nothing in the middle of the desert, has all the potential to become both a valid scientific centre and a popular tourist attraction. A sort of green, eco-sustainable theme park where visitors can discover nature on a planetary level and find out how to safeguard our environment for future generations.







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