In the heat of summer, our garden is an oasis of tranquillity, a restful haven away from the madness of Cairo’s stressful daily life and the mayhem of its streets. As I cut the back hedge I come across a beautiful praying mantis, superb in her bright green camouflage, moving sedately through a basil bush. While trimming overgrown grass near the biggest basil, I find the bees moving purposefully around the water pots we leave out for them in hot weather. And when I go to collect tomatoes and herbs for our salad bowl, I disturb any number of moths and other insects busy among the raised beds with their islands of mint, chives and thyme in bloom.
The main theme of this season is uncontrolled growth. The herbaceous border is massed with greenery, with banks of white plumbago backing up the young frangipani tree, and an eye-catching mix of red hibiscus and white bougainvillea rising through the hedge at the front end of the border. Although the roses do really well at the start of the season, producing beautiful flowers in abundance, they never manage to maintain such generosity, but simply overgrow in height and produce poor quality blooms with little perfume. So I need to get the measure of these lovely shrubs, and keep them going right through the summer.
Working near the pergola one evening, though, I was drawn by the scent of jasmine. Cascading through the hedge and over the pergola, this lovely climber fills the warm night air with its heady perfume – and leaves a scattering of white stars across the lawn as the flowers fall from above. At the back of the garden, the jasmine has grown so long it is entwined in the satsuma tree.
It has been a month of hard work, trimming the hedge, cutting grass, tidying edges and keeping the honeysuckle in some sort of order. The hedge is the greatest challenge but, given the dire situation we were in a year ago when we discovered just how overgrown it had become, I am determined to watch it carefully. To my astonishment, I have discovered the basil at the top of the hedge – that is, growing to a height of approximately three metres!
I’m only part-way round the hedge: the rest has to wait for the gardeners who may – or may not – materialise and return to work now that Ramadan is over. Of all the challenges we face in caring for a garden in Egypt, the gardeners are perhaps the most intractable.
There’s also the sheer craftiness of nature: a branch of the Indian laurels fell to the ground just out of reach last summer. A few months later, I discovered it had taken root and started to grow where it landed, for all the world as if nothing had happened. More recently, a piece of bougainvillea, supposedly dried up and dead, and used as a support for legumes in raised bed 4, turned out to be growing quite happily; meanwhile, the mange-tout had died. Plants always have the last word…