No matter how tough the going gets in Cairo – and, truly, it can require adamantine strength (as the yoga books say) to get through the day – the garden is both refuge and therapy. I really believe it calms, soothes and brings out the creative impulse in those who care to turn their full attention to it.
“In his highest development, man is not a hunter, but a gardener,” wrote Dr. Anna Kingsford more than 100 years ago. “The spirit of the Garden is incompatible with that of the Chase, and the inevitable tendency of moral, intellectual and aesthetic progress is to eradicate in man the desire to kill and to torment.”*
Putting aside the objection that in some respects a gardener cannot be squeamish – caterpillars gorging on the sweet basil plants and snails decapitating the baby fennel can hardly be welcomed, and some sort of action has to be taken – I am charmed by Dr. Kingsford’s observation.
Recently, the Jasmine Garden has expanded, with a small satellite garden on a certain balcony some distance away. Next, we have to get as much as possible planted during the coming ten days to take advantage of a) a waxing moon, and b) the last days of the traditionally named month of Amshir, before Baramhat sets in on March 10th. The latter is named for Montu, the ancient falcon-headed god of war, which doesn’t sound too promising to me. It brings high temperatures and sunshine, and indeed there is sometimes an unseasonal spike in the temperature towards the end of March or early in April.
But what’s this about expansion? When a new yoga studio opened up in the neighbourhood (congratulations to my daughter, Nadia!) we were presented with empty balconies crying out to be filled with greenery. Swinging into action immediately, I found a few geranium plants to spare, potted up some mint (Egyptian tea is a must: either red tea with mint leaves, or just plain mint leaves, usually taken with tons of sugar). Further pots are in preparation – cuttings of rosemary, offshoots of honeysuckle and thyme, sweet basil freshly sown etc etc. The fun of this is to source as much as we can from the ‘Mother Garden,’ prompting the gardener to find creative solutions to that most irresistible of all challenges: an empty space!
As the moon is now waxing, the next step in the garden is to plant beetroots, carrots and radishes in every available space among the pepper and aubergine seedlings; recently, we also added a few baby lettuces to the raised beds to replenish the supply. Other (repeat) sowings will be of salad leaves and rocket. This season’s herbs have been good with the exception of coriander and parsley, so more sowings of the latter are needed. There is nothing better in the vegetarian kitchen, to my way of thinking, than a plentiful crop of coriander leaves and seeds, and heaps of parsley.
Dominant colours at the moment are orange and yellow, thanks to the calendulas and nasturtiums; and blue, owing to the fact that the borage seeded itself all over the place last season. Interestingly, the bees have a distinct preference for the Egyptian basil blossom rather than the borage (although the latter was originally planted expressly for them, as we don’t use it in the kitchen). This probably explains the dark colour and heady taste of the very limited supply of honey we are getting just now.
Above: the fence dividing the ‘pleasure garden’ from the kitchen garden is full of colour. Hiding among the nasturtiums and calendula are petunias, sweet peas now emerging into the light and starting to climb, snap dragons and even a tomato plant that arrived unannounced. Gardening is such fun: you never know what you are going to find once the random seeds in the soil begin to germinate…
Below: borage – beautiful flowers, hideous leaves, uncertain use. Add them to the salad! urged Giacomo Castelvetro in his book “The Fruit, Herbs and Vegetables of Italy” published in 1614; exiled in England, he clearly pined for the food of his homeland, and no wonder!
Photos of the balcony at Bansuri Yoga to be posted: I have mislaid mine and will have to ask Nadia to supply some!
*Quoted in Ramachandra Guha’s biography of Gandhi: “Gandhi Before India” published by Allen Lane, London, 2013. Dr. Kingsford was truly a remarkable person – only the second Englishwoman to qualify as a doctor (in Paris: women were barred from training as doctors in England), she was a campaigning vegetarian and anti-vivisectionist, and also a supporter of women’s suffrage. Her ideas about diet clearly influenced Gandhi.