A giant, brightly coloured plastic butterfly with a chubby smiling face and yellow flower petals for hair welcomes visitors to the entrance of the first butterfly garden in the Middle East. Located next to the Dubai Miracle Garden, the Dubai Butterfly Garden is home to around 15,000 butterflies from around the world.
The nine domes of the site took six months to build, and the garden aims to be a natural year-round attraction for the city. Dr Ayman Ahmad, project manager of the Dubai Butterfly Garden, has been working on bringing this fluttery attraction to life. ‘We have the Miracle Garden, and that’s now one of the really famous gardens in the world, but we can’t have it open all through the year. We wanted to attract people during the summer and came to this idea of a butterfly garden. Offering the same theme of nature, plants and flowers, but indoors.’
Before entering the main garden, we walk through a gallery of artwork inspired by butterflies, including an impressive collage of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai, made from hundreds of butterflies in different colours. There’s also attractive decorative wall art, which is only sadly on display and not available to purchase, as there’s no gift shop set up yet.
Beaded curtains mark the entrance to the domes, which have a cool and breezy environment, abundant with plants and flowers. Trailing ivy hangs low from the ceiling, spiralling floral arrangements dangle overhead, while every path is lined with vibrant foliage. Initially overwhelmed by the full-on flora, and the recorded birdcalls playing on loop, we didn’t spot any butterflies on our visit until a pair whooshed past our head. Then, suddenly, they are everywhere, floating down from hanging trays of fruit and nectar, playfully chasing each other around the domes and dancing around the structure’s ceiling.
‘We have 32 different species at the garden,’ says Dr Ahmad. ‘Some of them are rare and beautiful like the Owl Eye, which is the biggest one we have. We have a hatching area and we receive all the butterflies as a pupa, and they hatch here inside the dome.’
The domes are bright and airy, with plenty of natural light coming in through the triangular windows. The temperature inside is tightly monitored.
‘The temperature is very important. Normally butterflies like to live in 28˚C, but here in the UAE the temperatures are high, so if we made it 28˚C inside the domes it would be difficult for visitors. We did a lot of studies and found that we could keep it at a constant 24˚C, which is good for the butterflies, the plants and flowers and also our visitors.’
We slowly and mindfully wander through the domes, careful not to accidentally step on butterflies that are resting on the floor. Here, visitors can interact with them, something that Dr Ahmad says sets the garden apart from some of its international counterparts. ‘We don’t have a problem with visitors touching the butterflies, but we teach people how to handle them. You can’t just go and catch or grab them, just hold your hand out and let them come to you. We allow people to touch and enjoy, but please don’t damage them or the plants. In other countries they don’t allow people to touch, but here we are happy to give people this option.’
In the middle of each dome are white, netted gazebos that visitors can sit in for an immersive butterfly experience, as dozens flap and fly around. On our visit, the butterflies were resting, so the guide shook the net to get them moving around. It’s a bit unsettling having so many butterflies in a small enclosed space, and some of them are so large that you can hear every bat of their wings.
The garden’s designers have tried to recreate natural elements within the steel structure, and in the second dome there’s a mini-waterfall, and the recorded bird sounds are complemented by the occasional squawk from the real parakeets, canaries and budgies in the cages dotted around.
Dr Ahmad confirms that there are already plans to expand the garden and create some more natural wonders in the city. ‘We plan to increase the size of the butterfly garden in the future, and we are planning to make a waterpark here – hopefully it will be open by next summer. We have the idea to make different types of gardens such as a bird garden, and a koi fish garden, but I can’t say when that will be, maybe by next year. We’re also doing a lot of work in the Miracle Gardens, which will re-open in November. We are changing the design of the garden and it will look very different, because we want people to come back to our gardens again and again.’
Dhs50. Open daily 9am-6pm. Next to Dubai Miracle Garden, Al Barsha South 3, www.dubaibutterflygarden.com (04 422 8902).