Getting to the Garden
Despite the fact that just under a quarter of AUC's New Cairo campus is made up of gardens, many AUCians don't know much about the space.
According to Tarek Atia, AUC's new campus loyalty director in the Office of Management and Transformation, many AUCians don’t even know that the gardens exist.
“It may be the best garden in Cairo,” Atia exclaimed. “Every time I come here I notice that the garden is such an amazing place, but it's not very well known.”
Atia's mandate is to transform AUC New Cairo into a "living campus," with greater engagement from the entire AUC community including students, staff, faculty, visitors and the neighborhood at large. A new garden initiative is one of the many projects he is working on.
“The whole idea was to accelerate the process of people finding out about the garden,” Atia explained. “The best way to get people to use this resource is to know that is there.”
Fruits of Labor
One of the new activations in the garden campaign is signage.
Now, when you walk among the flora and fauna, you will encounter a smattering of signs, giving reader’s interesting information about the garden such as how certain trees are used, what the harvest seasons for the garden’s fruits are and more.
“We want people to understand the philosophical basis of the garden,” explained Atia.
The signs also encourage engagement with the outdoor space, suggesting mindfulness techniques and giving visitors tips on how the garden can be used to relax and recharge. For instance, one sign instructs viewers to “unplug,” giving themselves some time to relax in the space undisturbed by technology.
AUC has also started expanding its garden tours. While in the past the campus hosted a number of tours in the garden, the new initiative aims to move toward more specialized integrative garden walks.
One of these new specialized experiences is the aroma tour. This walk teaches the audience about the scents suffusing the garden — from hints of lemongrass and sweet basil to the alluring odors of jasmine and rose. The tour helps participants understand how carefully the garden was planned by its designers, taking wind patterns and the seasons into account to create a pleasant blend of aromas for the enjoyment of the garden’s enthusiasts.
Atia is hoping that in the future, AUC’s student ambassadors will be able to give these aroma tours and other more specialized walks to anyone in the AUC community who signs up.
Sharing the Harvest
Earlier this month, AUC brought its students freshly squeezed fruit juice straight from the garden, distributed in select locations all around campus.
This was one of the first new initiatives of the garden campaign to kickoff.
Providing the community with flesh flavors including a tasty orange and a sweet grapefruit juice, the campaign was a big hit, with nearly 1500 bottles distributed.
“The juice you are drinking is from the tree you are looking at. I don’t think any other place in the world could claim that,” Atia stated.
What else can the community expect going forward? According to Atia, a tentative long-term plan is to sell the garden’s harvest, sharing its bounty with the wider community. As part of this initiative, every time there are fruits or veggies in season available, a personalized canvas bag would be filled and delivered to the member. This activation would allow the community to benefit from the fruits and vegetables produced by the garden when they are in season.
Atia also envisions more AUCians taking advantage of the garden in general, perhaps in the form of more classroom time outdoors, yoga activations in the space or something as simple as a walk through the foliage between lectures.
These garden initiatives were a team effort. Mohamed Radwan, graphic designer created the logo. Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, acting executive director of operations in the Office of Facilities and Operations and his team are part of the garden initiative team as well.
The juice activation involved Wafaa Sadek Amin, senior director of University Food Services, who arranged the juicing process with the vendor; Formula Onederful, which contributed juicing and bottles; and The Center for Applied Research on the Environment and Sustainability, which supplied the fridge.
Tawheid Fahmi, associate director for landscape and grounds in the Office of Facilities and Operations and his team are the ones who maintain the garden on a day-to-day basis.
Hanan Abdel-Meguid, vice president for Management and Transformation, directed and led the project.
A Not-So-Secret Space
The garden was a very well-thought-out creation — from the paths that wind through glades of trees and clusters of shrubbery to the types of plants selected for incorporation into the desert environment.
The main 20-acre garden that extends from Gate 1 by the University’s Center for the Arts to the edges of the AUC Athletic Center was designed by Maher Stino, the leading landscape designer of the world-famous Al-Azhar Park. The garden's fruits and vegetables are harvested for the benefit of AUC's community, with over 754 citrus trees, 115 mango trees, 147 olive trees, 1127 date palm trees and 32 grape vines on the campus.
It is also a hub of sustainability on campus — the landscape engineers and staff that run the space are constantly conducting experiments to determine the best approaches for water and pest management in the space, focusing on how to increase the yield and quality of the garden’s plants and flowers.
I look out at the garden as I work, emerging shimmering in shades of green and color as spring begins to show its bloom. The sun dims over it in a startling red, lighting the leaves of the palm trees aflame.
The garden is more than a beautiful space — it is a resource for AUCians to relax, to learn, to unplug and to appreciate nature. It is a source of food and a source of pride for the University.
Keep your eyes out for the garden activations as they continue, and make sure to take some time to walk through the gardens yourself when you get the chance!
Check out more initiatives here.