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Blissful days and bottled scent

What a blissful Friday this has been!

It began with a journey to Heliopolis for meditation, a smooth run along empty streets at 6 in the morning in spite of patches of dense fog on the way.

The meditation was good, the fog lifted, the sky turned a radiant blue. So we celebrated Mother’s Day in our favourite restaurant in Korba, an old part of Heliopolis notable for arabesque architecture, and well-designed gardens I can only dream of creating in our modern outpost. The Coptic fast for Easter being in full swing there were falafel, salad and tahina sauce for breakfast, a nutritious way to start the day. Later, chai latte in one of the area’s fast-growing number of bijou coffee shops perhaps spoiled the effect, but, after all, it was a special occasion.

The afternoon was devoted to re-charging the spiritual batteries (again!) in the garden. Much of this was more-or-less standing on my head at the back of the herbaceous border firstly assessing the status of the irrigation system, which turned out to be nil – it isn’t working. And secondly, gauging the extent of damage by pests. This was even more sobering; while trimming plants, collecting leaves and turning over the soil, I gathered up enough snails to – well, I wonder what? Sink the Titanic?

This led me to reflect that snails don’t seem to have any natural predators in Egypt, so I assume they must be an introduced species. If only we had the song thrush here – quite apart from its taste for the pests, this Pavarotti of the bird kingdom with its incomparable voice is one of the few “things from home” that I still miss in the Middle East.

Sunday being, officially, the first day of spring, we have made a point of collecting a generous helping of garden produce to mark the occasion. Mostly, it’s a variation on a theme of green just now:
Produce cropped 3:14
In the basket are lettuce, young celery, rocket, rosemary, sage, thyme, chives, marjoram, mint, fennel leaves, and nasturtium leaves and flowers – all good for the salad bowl or the stock pot.

Meanwhile, in one raised bed there’s a play of leaf shapes and colours with spinach, bronze fennel, rosemary and nasturtiums close together:
spinach etc cropped 3:14
Further along, the coriander is flowering and the parsley struggling: we’ll hope for a better crop from the second sowing made last week.

One thing I would love to be able to do is to bottle up some scent, to share the beautiful perfume of the spring garden in New Cairo. The carnations – or, I think, more accurately the pinks – are beginning to flower, and the numerous buds promise lots more. Their perfume is the sweetest of the season, with the possible exception of a dramatically lovely wisteria discovered yesterday, hiding like a jewel in a country garden outside Cairo: more on that later.
pinks final cropped 3:14
Going back to the birds, what puzzles me this spring is their absence. We have the usual warblers, bulbuls, sparrows, doves, hoopoes, and the odd hawk, curlew and pied wagtail; but the numbers are clearly down. There used to be a little owl among our regular visitors; now, she has disappeared.

Among the passage migrants, my favourites – the European bee-eaters – haven’t arrived. This is worrying: we missed them almost entirely last autumn. Brightly coloured in shades of green, turquoise and orange, the visitors cause havoc among our precious bees. Still, I always feel it’s worth it: To see these delightful little creatures soaring and wheeling overhead, catching insects on the wing as they fill up on fuel before setting off on the next stage of their long journey north, or south, is in a way miraculous. If only I could persuade them to develop a taste for snails…

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