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Lavender blues

There’s a strange and unexpected lack of colour in the garden. Normally, we would have  some kind of a show of roses, but not so this summer, and I’ve heard other people comment on the shabby roses in their gardens too. It seems to be a bad year.

When we lived in the Arabian Gulf, there were always colourful vincas (Catharanthus rosea) to fall back on, thriving in summer with glossy green leaves and flowers from white to purple-red providing splashes of colour all around. We had several in the garden here in New Cairo, but most of them have disappeared.

Lavender  8.16

Lavender is a good border plant for well-drained and poor soil, and one of my favourites. But our record has been patchy. Positioned in full sun in light soil, the plants have tended to do well for a few months and then to die off. Others were left in pots, which meant I could move them about, but they didn’t do much better. The latest trial, two plants bought from the Spring Flower Show at El-Urman Gardens, identity unknown as there were no labels, are doing marginally better. I’ve re-potted them and taken them up to the top balcony. No sign of any flowers – lavenders very rarely produce any in my experience in Egypt – but the leaves are an attractive silvery-green colour and wonderfully aromatic. That’s a lot to be grateful for.


Then we have the jasmines. Best of all is the “yasmeen balady”, J. officinale,  with its long trailing stems and bursts of delicate pink buds opening to starry white flowers. Climbing above the Jasmine Gate and over the pergola, and cascading down the full height of the hedge in several places, it spreads a delicious perfume around the garden, especially at sunset. Every day, the lawn is sprinkled with the star dust of fallen blooms – so beautiful!

Other species, such as J. sambac or Arabian jasmine, are more compact shrubs bearing single or double white blooms that are even more intensely perfumed.  We have them all around the garden. Whenever I catch their rich scent, I’m reminded of days gone by when flower sellers used to dart among the traffic in Cairo’s busiest streets carrying necklaces of the fresh flowers for sale.

There’s another (query) jasmine in a pot in the front garden, also sourced from El-Urman Gardens, identity unknown. It bore jasmine-like flowers earlier in the summer… it needs to climb, but haven’t found a spot for it yet.

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However, there are still bright flashes of colour here and there. As you know, the hibiscus are among my great favourites and we have them in red, pink (including doubles), orange and yellow. There are also two groups of cannas, C. indica, one with brilliant red, and one with flaming orange, spikes, and elegant, variegated leaves. They make quite a show.

The great thing about the cannas is their ability to put on the show right at the back of the border, against the dark green of the Indian laurels (Ficus nitida). It’s not a position much accepted by other plants, which tend to dislike having their back to a wall of laurels, but these are happy to fill in!

With plumbago doing a great job of filling in the middle, swamping everything else and even rising to my sort of height by climbing in among the hibiscus, it’s the front of the herbaceous borders that is proving most tricky to fill in. Dianthus are not doing well (lack of water, perhaps, or poor soil conditions); the dwarf roses flower intermittently only; smaller bedding plants such as pansies and petunias do not survive the summer heat.

To remedy the situation, we called at a nursery in the densely built-up and – from a gardener’s perspective – unpromising suburb of Madinat Nasr recently and stocked up on more of the vinca plants. Below left is one of the survivors from our existing stock; next to it, the new intake, to be transplanted to the border. Popularly known as Madagascar periwinkles, the plants are great fillers, if disappointingly without scent. But, it seems that at this time of the year, either we have colour and no scent, or we have scent and no colour…

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