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Travels and travails

I am about to go to London for a summer break. I’m not sure about this: is there ever a “good time” to leave a garden?

As usual, I’m overwhelmed by the feeling – or maybe the obsession – that now is a critical moment (as if nature couldn’t get along perfectly well without me). And here’s why:

i) We have barely got the irrigation system straight. We allowed 6 weeks to do the overhaul, or 4+ months if you count from our first attempt in the New Year. Between January and May we have got through 2 engineers and several assistants; now we have a watering system that my husband sorted out in the end, but we haven’t had enough time to test it thoroughly for potential bursts.

ii) Raised beds 3 and 4, partially rescued by drastic measures during the winter, are doing well. Crops coming on-stream are onions, cherry tomatoes, capsicums, French beans and herbs. What I thought were sweet basil seeds germinated as Egyptian basil; meanwhile, the sweet basil popped up among the onions! I am leaving the flat leaf parsley, dill, rocket, coriander and sage to flower and go to seed, in the hope that the beds will host a wealth of self-seeded food crops, and I’m happy to see that this is working well. The effects are untidy, but bountiful. So why choose to go off and leave the garden at this moment?

iii) Elsewhere, the grass and shrubs are growing like topsy and the vines like tipsy, as my husband says. As the gardeners disappeared after agreeing to cut the hedge but before doing the job, the Indian laurels are bursting out in all directions. What is it about our hedge, I wonder, that strikes such fear in people’s hearts? I feel myself in danger of becoming a laurel-obsessed, shears-wielding danger to the landscape.

From a yogic point of view I need to detach myself from the drama, or from my wild imaginings, and return to the core. The plants are doing exactly what they should be doing: growing. I appreciate it everywhere else; I need to breathe deeply and appreciate it here, too.

Recently, I made the round trip to Alexandria by train, travelling northwest through the Delta. It was harvest time: the wheat was being cut and, as far as I could see, threshed on site and bagged up for sale.

Travelling through the countryside, even though insulated from it by the train, gives a real sense of the pulse of life in Egypt since ancient times. In the Delta, broad vistas stretch as far as the eye can see, the flat land divided into strips where diverse crops are cultivated side-by-side. Just now, there’s golden wheat next to bright green sweetcorn, still young, next to the darker green foliage of potatoes, next to fresh green “berseem” or clover in flower, fodder for the animals and a natural fertiliser. Here and there, stands of palm trees or small orchards of citrus fruit break up the flat vistas; or wooden trellises, ready and waiting for climbing vines that will produce a crop not of grapes, but of loofahs, later in the summer.

Men and women are working in the fields, or taking a break in the shade of a tree or a rough shelter, to drink tea and chat. Animals – donkeys, water buffaloes, cattle and sheep – munch on the post-harvest gleanings. Dawn to dusk, day after day, the scene is repeated across the country in a natural cycle that we try to break at our peril. Go with the flow!

(The above photos were taken close to Cairo during a journey into the countryside in spring 2014, when the wheat was not yet ripe.)

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. It is never a good time for a gardener to take a holiday; well perhaps November and December. I hate leaving my irrigation on when I’m away – something always happens! Ours works from our well and if too much water is drawn it could break the pump, a nightmare as it is our only source of water. Have a great time in London. Are you going to Chelsea?

    May 11, 2016
  2. I enjoyed your post even though you have dilemmas to overcome. Good luck with the resolve. I hope we have good weather when you arrive in London, as we need more warmth. But finally with last weeks higher temperatures and lots of UK rain, growth is bursting through in a sudden rush.

    May 11, 2016
  3. Can’t wait to see the luxuriant growth in London. I may go to Kew rather than Chelsea as I am more interested in the breadth of Kew’s work with plants in general than in the more garden design-oriented show at Chelsea. Though I might be able to fit them both in… Yes, irrigation systems are nerve-wrackingly unreliable, I shall keep my fingers permanently crossed while away. Interestingly, the Egyptian government has just signed an MoU with the European Bank for Reconstruction & Development to fund major improvements in irrigation. I wonder if I could apply for a grant?!

    May 11, 2016

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