The only Arab American museum in the country is launching a new space to showcase an integral part of the community’s lush history and present.
Al-Hadiqa: AANM Heritage Garden is set to open this month at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn.
Most items that will be in the outdoor rooftop garden come from donations of seeds and cuttings, both from local plants that the Arab American community has adopted into its culture as well as those from the Middle East, such as Aleppo peppers, Syrian peas and za’atar.
“It’s very much in our genes and ourselves to plant and grow our food and garden, and be surrounded by beautiful nature as it is in the Middle East,” said Shatha Najim, the museum’s community historian.
As the museum collects seeds and cuttings, it also collects oral histories of what those plants mean to the community members sharing them. Visitors will be able to digitally explore Najim’s interviews and more information on the plants using QR codes included throughout the garden.
While planting is integrative to many cultures, parts of the Middle East are known for rich soil and wide biodiversity.
The desert lands in parts of the Middle East also feature plant diversity in hearty crops like dates, demonstrating the region’s lushness and resilience, Najim said. While some of the plant diversity has been lost in recent years due to climate change and war, the garden and its community stories illustrate memories of lush homelands.
The garden will also have native plants the community has adopted into its culture over time, said Fatima Al-Rasool, the museum’s public programming coordinator.
“Originally, we just wanted heirloom seeds — seeds that have passed down for generations — but that’s not possible sometimes,” Al-Rasool said. “Some Arab Americans have come here as refugees, so they might not have that connection to their homeland.”
About 90% of the plants will come from donations, Al-Rasool said. The garden will include additional plants the community identified as necessary for the exhibit but weren’t received through donations. Museum employees are growing the seedlings and plants indoors to get them ready for the rooftop. The museum received corporate funding for the project and partnered with the Garden Juju Collective, which consults on “edible streetscapes,” community gardens and more.
For plants that the museum will not be able to grow on the rooftop, Al-Rasool said there will be visual representations of them through sculptures and other art forms.
Al-Rasool said the garden is a long-term evolving project and will grow as gardens do — with time.
“The bare bones will be there (on opening night), and we’ll have representations of what we hope the next stages will be like,” she said. “People will be able to come back and see it grow.”
The rooftop space is as old as the museum, and until now, it’s been rented out for events, Al-Rasool said. The museum opened in 2005 and features a courtyard, library and auditorium.
“We see ourselves as a place where we can uplift the actual stories of Arab Americans,” she said. “Our heritage is something that we are proud of, but we also have roots here in America, and those two things combined is an identity that we are proud of and want to uplift.”
The garden opening is on June 17, starting at 6 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.
The garden will be open through summer, but Al-Rasool said the museum hopes to find ways to use the space during winter months.