When Cairo bursts into flower….
This weekend – that is, Thursday and Friday according to our system – has been a gardener’s delight. Thursday in particular, as I was out and about in Heliopolis: the old Korba district, El-Shams Club and the streets near the airport. The trees have declared spring is here: Bombax malabaricum (above left) and the coral tree, Erythrina coralloides (right), are bedecked in spectacular red flowers, joyful responses to the warmth in the air.
I’ve never photographed the coral tree before, partly because I don’t find too many good specimens in the neighbourhoods I know. By contrast, B. malabaricum – the red silk cotton tree – is quite a favourite. Both trees tend to flower before the leaves appear, but, whereas E. coralloides is fairly small and compact, the red silk cotton towers up to 25 m in height, may sprawl in ungainly fashion, and produces spectacular, waxy, orange to red blooms that may be 20 cm across when you spread the petals out a bit.
Taking a walk through the Club and passing through an arched promenade of Indian laurels (Ficus nitida), visual feast turned into heavenly perfume: Bitter orange, Citrus aurantium, in full bloom, its heady aroma among the loveliest of essential oils, neroli.
I turned into the plant nursery at the back of the Club – an area I’ve only recently discovered, as full of delights as it is of surprises – and nearly fell over sideways when I discovered sweet peas growing close to clouds of glorious bedding plants. There among the snapdragons, “balady” or non-hybrid petunias, calendulas and zinnias, looking for all the world as if they are quite accustomed to growing in Egypt, several sweet peas were apparently waiting to be transplanted to sunny spots in the Club’s grounds. Or not, as the case may be, since the gardeners told me they have trouble with kids spoiling their work. Maybe the nursery is the safest place for all these lovely plants!
I have a thing about sweet peas. At the start of every year, I envisage a row of these lovely climbers along the green fence, blessing the late spring breezes with the sweetness of their fragile flowers. I always plant them too late – and then watch as they wilt and sizzle in the summer heat, fading to sad and crisp skeletons before I’ve gathered even a handful of flowers. It seems I’ve just made the same mistake, as I have only just soaked the seeds and popped them into pots and – desperately – straight into the bed. The odd thing is, I’ve never seen them growing anywhere in Egypt before, and I wonder what they are doing displaying their rare beauty in a corner of the Shams Club, without even a frame to climb on.
Further on, there’s an even more intensive nursery area: rectangular beds of cuttings and young plants, each bed defined by a ridge of soil to demarcate it from the neighbouring ones and to facilitate basin irrigation. Not my chosen way of watering, but it seems to work:
Against the wall, a spectacular bank of bougainvillea obscures the ugly brick structure – but it’s not so tall that it can hide the dense urban sprawl over the road.
I’ve come to the conclusion spring must have arrived many days ago, and I somehow missed it, possibly because New Cairo is at a higher altitude than Heliopolis and more subject to chill winds. Then again, Friday turned out to be different and the chill wind returned to Heliopolis, blowing blossoms in all directions.
For previous posts about B. malabaricum, neroli et al see: