Tranquil oasis of green

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…

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3 thoughts on “Tranquil oasis of green

  1. Silvia, how do you manage to have so much green, when you say you garden in a sustainable way; it must take huge quantities of water to keep even just the lawn growing. Your garden must be a joy for all the perfumed plants you grow.

  2. You ask a very good question. We try to manage the situation as sustainably as we can, irrigating only after dark or in the early morning, fixing leaks as soon as we spot them, running the irrigation for periods of time that are shorter than our neighbours do. I also supplement the system – but not for the lawn – using waste water from the kitchen. It is worth noting that irrigation is not necessary on a frequent basis for about half the year.
    But the bottom line is that a lawn is not an environmentally-friendly feature in a country like Egypt. We have reduced its extent (the garden behind the house is taken up with raised beds, with a fairly efficient drip irrigation system) and may well reduce it further – we would like some paved areas but have not found workmen to do them.
    When we first came, the irrigation system used grey water, but kept failing for lack of pressure, and the city’s water engineers could not solve the problem. I suspect that such systems are not favoured in Egypt: it’s easier to use mains water, and there is a pervasive lack of commitment to saving the resource, although successive governments have tried to educate the public.
    I think that our domestic garden falls between two stools – the area is big enough to need a fair amount of water, but not big enough to merit the investment of a properly working system of recycled water. However, if you have any suggestions for affordable and practical technology, I would love to learn more…

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