As the summer heat seemed to break recently, I was starting to get excited about sowing the new season’s crops in the raised beds. Now there’s a spike in the temperature, I realize I was running ahead of myself.
The farmer’s year in Egypt, part of the rhythm of life since time immemorial, counsels patience. This month, the only thing baby lettuce and spinach will do is shrivel up in the heat. So we planted a small patch of “gargeya” (rocket, Eruca vesicaria) and resolved to spend quality time preparing the soil.
Still, sourcing seeds and plants is fun – and it’s curious how it works here.
You can go to Bab El-Khalq in downtown Cairo, useful for agricultural supplies and seeds by the kilo, but too chemicals-heavy for my liking.
Another source is the local “a’atar” shop, which stocks spices that may also be used as traditional remedies (e.g.cinnamon and ginger for colds, sage to boost the brain cells), food flavourings, and seeds. We dropped by the old-style spice store in Midan El-Gami’a, Heliopolis – where the shopkeeper packaged and weighed our order of dill (Anethum graveolens) seeds:
Across the road, we found “ba’adoonis” (flat-leaf parsley, Petroselinum ?) and something else (“figl”) which will remain a mystery until it germinates, in a more up-to-date version of the spice shop:
For plants – but not usually for seeds or garden equipment – you can go to any one of myriad nurseries all around town. The Ismailiya Road on the north eastern edge of Cairo has them in all shapes and sizes.
If only they could be persuaded not to plant citrus saplings in old cans! It’s practically impossible to separate plant from container; on occasion, you would think they are glued in – which may be the case, as I have once or twice found plants in old glue cans. I’ve had to buy heavy-duty metal cutters to deal with this unnerving aspect of transplantation.
Otherwise, Cairo has all manner of drive-thru nurseries: these impromptu displays of all sorts of plants large and small are to be found kerb-side on roads, busy corners and even roundabouts.
This is the mini-nursery I often drop by, in one of my favourite corners of Heliopolis. It’s tiny but quite well stocked in the busy season, and anything the nurseryman doesn’t have he will try and have sent over from the mother ship in Giza.
Nearer to home, we have plenty of roundabout nurseries. Most of these have sprung up over the past year or so: perhaps a good indication of the entrepreneurial spirit of Egyptians in difficult times. This one is just round the corner:
With plants ranging from cycads – among the world’s most ancient – to frangipani (Plumeria rubra) to yucca (Y. aliofolia), the display nestles beneath a sign of the times: the Egyptian national flag, with the words “Tahiya Misr” – “Long Live Egypt.”