Zahra Abdul Malik of Bahrain Garden Club (BGC) talks gardening in the desert and what makes the organisation a ‘must-join’ for those hoping to beautify their plot.
Given the choice between horticulture and dentistry, Zahra decided to study for a degree connected to her first love, plants, and it’s a decision that’s served her well taking her to a career in the Ministry of Agriculture and 30 years of involvement with BGC.
The club was actually established 45 years ago and in its heyday, in the 1990s, had more than 270 members. These days, that number is down to a more modest 100, but it’s an extremely active group of which Zahra has been chairwoman since 2010, having served in virtually every other position along the way.
She says: “Gardening in Bahrain is hard. And it’s not just hard, it’s expensive! The first thing I would tell people aiming to establish a garden here is don’t go by what you read on the Internet. Gardening is not like following a recipe, what you see on the Internet, even if it’s for hot climates, doesn’t take into account our soil and water – whether you are using well water, sweet water or municipality water.
“Also, our soil is not very hospitable, it’s sandy and has few or no nutrients and doesn’t have the capacity for holding water. Lots of plants like to grow in sandy soil but they need nutrients, so you need to research which fertiliser to use, otherwise you’re just wasting your time.
“Some places, such as the agricultural areas around Saar, do have better soil but they still need nutrients and I would recommend organic manure – camel, cow, chicken – which you can get from the garden centres. You could also get it from farms but it has to be decomposed.
“You will also find that some areas are infested with insects in the soil. The best way to get rid of them is through sun sterilisation. Cover the area with polythene [also available at garden centres] and within two weeks the soil will be sterilised. If you have weeds, you can do the same with black polythene. A couple of weeks and the weeds will be cleared. You can then remove the covering and add in your manure.”
During her years at the Ministry, Zahra was involved in research and development on soils and seeds and she uses her expertise to give lectures and workshops to help club members develop their own plots, from balconies to large gardens. Many other volunteers do likewise, making BGC an invaluable resource for the island’s gardening enthusiasts.
And, for those who are serious about horticulture, the club is the mainstay of the annual Bahrain International Garden Show at which next year’s theme will be compact gardens.
There is also the annual Garden Bazaar taking place on October 29, at which various garden centres and other organisations will display their wares.
Zahra concludes: “For anyone who’s interested in gardening in Bahrain, the best advice I can give is to join BGC where you’ll have access to lots of information, workshops and advice and a friendly network.
“Gardening in Bahrain is a lot of effort but it’s certainly rewarding.”