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Saturday, September 18, 2021

Qatar school’s pilot rooftop garden yields unexpected fruit

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ISLQ students at roof garden
ISLQ students at roof garden

Students at an international school in Doha have put their green thumbs to use by establishing an unshaded rooftop garden that has flourished over the past months.

The pilot project to grow food and flowers has been such a success that other schools are now being encouraged to try their hand at the idea, which unexpectedly bore fruit during Qatar’s fierce summer.

The four students, who attend International School of London Qatar, have spent months converting the roof of one of their school buildings into a green oasis, growing ornamental plants, flowers and even produce.

Melons growing in ISLQ roof garden
Melons growing in ISLQ roof garden

Established in May, the garden was fitted with a drip-feed irrigation system. Despite being left unattended for two months in the middle of the summer, it has produced at least five ripe watermelons and melons.

The team had focused mostly on growing ornamental plants and flowers, such as bougainvillea, which they knew would cope with the harsh climate.

But their homemade compost also contained some melon and watermelon seeds, which took root and started growing.

The Qatar Green Building Council (QGBC) is now encouraging other schools in the country to try to replicate a similar garden in their spare spaces.

Contest entry

The idea for the garden came from an entry to a competition run last fall by the QGBC Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy to come up with sustainable solutions to an environmental problem in Qatar.

Assisted by teacher Pilar Fernandez, the students won one of the top prizes in the contest. While the remit of the competition was only to design a scheme, the group decided to put the idea into action.

ISLQ roof garden
ISLQ roof garden

Rowena Parry (18), Pratyaksha Sinha (16), Kritant Dahoo (14) and Farhan Malhorta (18), who has since graduated, began spreading the word to the school community and were joined by around 50 fellow staff, students and parent volunteers in making the garden.

The Grand Hyatt Hotel donated plants while parents gave soil and other materials, and the rooftop garden was built over six weeks, students said.

Fernandez admits that it was a questionable time of year to start an outdoor garden in Qatar, adding:

“It was a challenge – the hot, summer months were just beginning – but we felt that we had everything in place and we had to do it then, otherwise we would just have wasted our time.”

Irrigation

To water the plants, the students fitted the garden with an automatic drip-feed irrigation system, which functioned for one minute, three times a day.

They also checked on the garden weekly, monitoring the plants’ growth.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

“The idea behind this garden was that it was to be self-sufficient, so we timed the irrigation system to water little but regularly,” Pratyaksha said.

The garden, which has no shade, was left unattended throughout the school’s eight-week summer holiday, until the new term began in September.

“I wasn’t sure what would have happened during this time, but when I checked, I was amazed – everything was growing well, and we had melons growing,” Fernandez said.

Engineers from Qatar Foundation’s QGBC recently visited the garden, advising the students on ways to further develop it, such as irrigating with recycled water emitted by air conditioning units.

Future plans

Now, the students are fundraising to extend the project across the rooftops of all their buildings, and to include more experimental plants, to see what will survive in Qatar’s climate.

QGBC is also keen to have other schools follow ISLQ’s example and establish their own gardens on rooftops or in spare grounds.

Qatar Green Business Council members at ISLQ
Qatar Green Business Council members at ISLQ

Dr. Alexander Amato, head of sustainability at QGBC, told Doha News: “This is an excellent, practical project for the school to have undertaken. When we visited, we advised them about condensate capture (from A/C units) and the possibility of other forms of recycled water which could be used in the future.

We would like to see other schools doing similar schemes in their own spaces.”

Speaking about his and his peers’ achievements, Kritant said:

“The roof garden has lots of benefits. As well as looking pretty, it produces more oxygen the plants help control temperature and humidity and they assist in seizing dust in the atmosphere.”

He added:

“Initially we thought the project would be hard to do, but in fact we had so many volunteers helping us and the garden itself was easy to maintain. If other schools in Qatar set up their own gardens, it would make the city a much greener place.”

Thoughts?

This article was edited to correctly reflect that the sustainability contest was run by the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, and not the Qatar Green Building Council.

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