Meet Will Bennett, founder of WILDEN Design, whose aim is to save the planet one garden at a time! As a landscape architect Will is passionate about creating attractive, contemporary outdoor spaces, and his business has a unique ethos at the centre of it — to create gardens that could also regenerate natural environments and to inspire a positive action against climate change. We speak to Will to find out more…
What inspired you to launch WILDEN Design?
There is a growing movement to live more sustainably and I notice from my own experiences that for most people this lifestyle has to start at home. I asked myself: “What’s the bigger cause and grand vision behind the work that I do as a landscape architect?”. I realized that every garden, yard, patio and even balcony has the potential to connect people with nature, and in doing so it creates a thriving natural habitat for people to enjoy and cherish. And it doesn’t matter what the scale is — whether it’s ten people or ten thousand — if someone hears my message and is inspired to create a beautiful garden that encourages biodiversity, reduces waste and has a positive climate change impact, then that’s my goal achieved.
What’s your message to people in the UAE?
If we all start to take care of the little piece of the planet that we call home, this behaviour will snowball into helping to conserve and improve the wider world around us. Whether you live in a built-up community like mine (in The Greens) or if you have acres of land, you can create a thriving, biodiverse and sustainable garden.
One of my goals is to create a community of sustainable garden owners across the UAE — both a social and physical network – where natural corridors of wildlife can be helped link together. I’d love for people to look at their gardens and think that it’s part of a movement that is bigger than themselves; a sustainable space where you can start to affect change in turn create a culture that wishes to and mitigate the impact of climate change.
Explain the innovative digital design journey WILDEN Design takes clients on…
I take clients on a seamless digital design experience through my website www.wildendesign.com. As a landscape architect, I have designed a lot of projects, from small gardens to mega projects and masterplans and the same questions always arise with each client: How much will the design cost? What will I get for my money? What will it look like? What is the quality like? I answer all these questions upfront and offer design packages that people can choose from with fixed prices – to allow complete transparency upfront. Customers will receive a bespoke landscape design according to their brief and budget or they can choose from a range of thematic gardens that will be customised to their plot. For example, clients can go for a Santorini style or a UAE style of garden, and they’ll receive plans, renderings, and even night-time views. All this is created digitally so they can take the plans and implement them themselves, they can work with their own contractors, or I can lead the next step and give the design to our partnering contractors.
The UAE landscape is arid and desert-like; what are the challenges you face by landscaping indigenously?
When people think of desert landscapes they think of empty sand and cacti, so desert-inspired garden could look quite sparse and uninviting if it’s not done properly. What we do at WILDEN Design is to take the desert as inspiration but make it attractive, contemporary and functional. If you know the right plants, then it’s possible to create a garden that’s appropriate to our environment and make it look lush green or even colourful. And if such gardens are designed using local materials and plants, it will look impressive and won’t cost the earth (in more ways than one).
You source materials locally, tell us more…
I always think, why do people struggle to create a tropical garden that belongs in a lush, rainy place like Bali, or have a football field of grass which needs so much water? When instead you can use natural gravel and lots of green plants that are more appropriate to the UAE, and best of all, reduce your water bills. Clients always love it when they realise their water bills could go down by 50%! I source a lot of materials like stone and gravel from the northern Emirates, which costs less than importing stone and helps limit the carbon footprint of a project. – The below images are renders of Home Club ME Founder, Rhiannon Downie garden, designed by WILDEN.
What are good starting points people can consider if they want to landscape their garden with sustainability in mind?
- Materials that are locally sourced are a great solution. With the Al Hajar Mountains just a few hundred kilometres away, gravel from Oman is certainly a good starting point. You can acquire gravel in four or five different colours and various sizes quite easily. Crushed gravel is great for fine gravel paths, and you can create a really compact ground with this, which is perfect for placing garden furniture on, so it’s really practical. Plus, the cost of gravel compared to paving is a third of the cost. But if you want high-quality outdoor paving such as marble, don’t look overseas — Oman has a lot of marble options in different colours.
- We are also starting to see more local manufacturers in the UAE. In Ras Al-Khaimah there are local manufacturers of porcelain tile, concrete tile, and cement tiles, that come in almost any finish and are very high quality. They also make patterned tiles (E.G., in a Moroccan pattern), which is popular and it’s great that you can bring in these design-led features and source them locally. These choices are not just carbon-friendly and economical, but you are supporting local business in the UAE, and this should be encouraged.
- If you are looking for materials that do need to be imported, like wood, I encourage you to look for materials that are more sustainable, like bamboo and timber from certified sustainable sources. Bamboo works well for decking and structural elements. Bamboo is fashionable because it’s really strong and it’s renewable; it grows back quickly, so it’s much better than importing teak from a cleared rainforest – please don’t do this!
What sun-loving plant species do you recommend for gardens in the UAE?
The native or naturalised plant species I recommend include:
- Leptadenia Pyrotechnica: The Bedouins used to use this species to start fires, hence its nickname of fire bush! Be aware that it can grow very big.
- Cyperus Conglomeratus: This is a native sedge and survives on the slopes of sand dunes with practically no water. I’m currently experimenting with this as I think it could be ideal in a garden setting and will save on water, once it’s commercially available.
- Sporobolus Spicatus: This is an easy, low-spreading grass with low maintenance and provides great habitat for insects.
- Aerva Javanica: A lovely, white flowering bush which used to be used to stuff pillows and camel’s saddles. It’s really soft, that why they call it ‘desert cotton’!
- Ghaf Tree (Prosopis): The Ghaf tree is the national tree of the UAE and looks a bit like a willow because of how its branches hang. It’s amazing in any garden and is pretty much indestructible because of how well adapted it is to the desert.
Species that are climate-adapted to the UAE include:
- Yucca Rostrata
- Tecoma Stans
- Vitex Agnus-Castus
- Tamarix Aphylla
- Agave Americana
There are many species to choose from nowadays. I’m always happy to share my favourite plants with anyone so just drop me an email and ask!
Thanks Will! To enquire about your very own WILDEN Design garden makeover, click here or visit the www.wildendesign.com website for more information, don’t forget to quote HOME CLUB ME when enquiring for 10% off all design packages. You can view WILDEN Designs Home Club ME profile here. We would love to see your WILDEN design makeover posts, don’t forget to tag us on instagram @Homeclubme.