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Volume 13, Number 1January 1962

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The Greenest of Thumbs

A Qatif nurseryman has that very special touch that makes the desert bloom.

Abdul Wahab Mansour al-Moallam is well aware that it takes more than luck to grow a garden in Saudi Arabia. He confesses, in fact, that chance had little place in the successful cultivation of the flowers and trees that grace his plot of land near the palm-rich Qatif Oasis beside the Persian Gulf. He should know. He is the first individual to operate a blossoming nursery in the peninsula kingdom, and his venture is paying off.

Some of his scarlet poinciana may be seen as far away as Abqaiq, the oil-producing hub miles across the open desert. Jasmine from his beds finds its way up to Ras Tanura, the refinery site on the Gulf. Dhahran, the town where the Arabian American Oil Company has its headquarters and where Abdul Wahab himself got his first job with Aramco 20 years ago, is familiar with the trumpet-shaped blossoms of his bignonia and his delicately petaled hibiscus. He cultivates these and a score more flower genera. Trees, such as eucalyptus, pomegranate, banyan and pipal, he also pampers into luxuriant maturity.

With the technical assistance provided by Aramco to farmers of the Eastern Province, Abdul Wahab is helping to prove that even inhospitable soil given the right irrigation and unflagging care can be made to bloom. It can make tiny seeds and cuttings sprout into flowers and trees never before planted in it.

Now an experienced horticulturist, Abdul Wahab remembers the times not so long ago when the province of his ancestors was dominated by a single agricultural product—the date palm. In recent years diversification has expanded to embrace not only other crops but flowers and shrubs once alien to Saudi Arabia.

Abdul Wahab's business is as neatly organized as his beds of bougainvillea. He has contracts with Aramco to supply most of its trees, flowers and shrubs. He also has a following of private customers.

Early each morning, Abdul Wahab calls at the Landscaping and Gardening Office in Dhahran, his Ford truck glowing like a floral kaleidoscope. Then he drives to Abqaiq and then back to Ras Tanura to deliver the orders from those two districts.

The little farm that this former Aramco employee owns is protected from the north by a thick palm-frond windbreak. In addition to his nursery he grows paying crops in easily irrigated sections. His alfalfa is for the livestock.

Visitors are always welcome to inspect the nursery. Abdul Wahab gives directions on how to get there in the fluent English he learned during his two decades with Aramco. "Follow the Dhahran-Ras Tanura highway. Opposite the sign pointing to Saihat, my sign hangs near the gasoline station."

Many Aramco people do stop in. They like to pick out their own flowers. And they say that just being in that little oasis of green and color is a rare pleasure.

The skills Abdul Wahab mastered with Aramco are standing him in good stead. Having tended many of the gardens in the oil towns, this experience paved the way for the business he has built up today.

The secret of his success? The industrious nurseryman will explain himself: "One per cent green thumb against 99 per cent hard work."

This article appeared on pages 20-21 of the January 1962 print edition of Saudi Aramco World.

Check the Public Affairs Digital Image Archive for January 1962 images.