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The Red and the Black

It seems I’ve underestimated the earthworm population. This week, the more I dig the more worms I find, whereas in the four years to date I reckon I’ve found a total of no more than 10. What’s more, the soil is looking better: it’s acquiring a darker color and, while nicely friable, it’s nothing like the lifeless sand we began with. Take a look at the back garden in 2009  and you’ll get the picture:


The Ancient Egyptians called the Nile Valley “Kemet” (the “Black Land”) in reference to the dark and fertile soil brought down by the river into the valley and delta during the annual inundation, which happened in August. The rest of the country – rocky hills and escarpments and desert – was “Deshret” or the “Red Land”.

What we had in the garden at hand-over from the company that built our villa was definitely the red stuff. Pure and simple.

Not so pure, actually. The garden was covered with turf from fence to fence, and there were six ficus trees (F. nitida) placed in random spots around the perimeter, plus two yuccas (Y. aliofolia). What we didn’t see was all the stuff underneath the surface: paving stones, iron bars, bits of plastic, tin and tile. Lucky trees!

So we whacked in some extra ficus trees to close up the hedge, and placed plants wherever we could get them in, just to get the “earth” going. These were:

Lantana (L. camara)- not a good idea, the mealy bugs moved in almost immediately.

Hibiscus (H. rosa-sinensis)- struggled for lack of water until we returned for good in 2011.

Bougainvillea (B. spectabilis)- so traumatized by the planting out process as they were torn out of the tin cans they had been planted in, only one survived.

Arabian jasmine (Jasminum sambac) is a fairly compact bush with single or double flowers, the double  not unlike those of the Gardenia. We put these near the front gate, and prayed.

Basil – not the sweet variety, but the headier Middle Eastern sort (Ocimum ?), much beloved by bees. Not even lack of regular water and neglect by the company’s gardeners in our absence could defeat these hardy types.

Geranium (Pelargonium hortorum)- the ultimate “grow anywhere, survive anything” plants, one did spectacularly well, positioned right by a drain.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) – leading the way in the field of herbs.

Water, of course, was quite another story…

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