“It was a fair orchard, full of trees and fruit and vines and greenery. A Sufi there sat with eyes closed, his head upon his knee, sunk deep in meditation mystical……. What is all beauty in the world? The image, like quivering boughs reflected in a stream, of that eternal Orchard which abides unwithered in the hearts of Perfect Men”
Words from the medieval Sufi poet Rumi that span the external world of “symbol” (the ancient Indians would have called it “Maya”) and the deepest interior world of mystical experience. He uses words brimming with natural imagery. The colours and produce of the orchard, trees reflected in water: such images speak to us any time, any place, and across the centuries.
My dedication to creating a garden in New Cairo, Egypt, came from a sense that, after years in the Arabian (Persian) Gulf, I had become disconnected from the natural world. For sure there were gardens in the towns, and the odd oasis in the desert, but it was difficult to feel much connection to them. Away from nature, I felt I had lost my bearings.
Returning to Egypt in 2011 just after the January 25th “Revolution” we encountered a country on the brink. Now, our home was a new house outside the capital city, surrounded by a plot of land filled with sand and builders’ rubble. To establish and cultivate a garden in a sustainable way on this land became my passion – almost an “idee fixe”. Perhaps it was a way of leaving behind the chaos and reconnecting with the essential rhythms of nature, as well as protecting our health by eating organic, home- produced, fresh fruit and veg.
The challenges multiplied, from poor soil to irrigation disasters and from mis-identified fruit trees (a “satsuma” that turned out to be a kumquat!) to infestations of bugs. The theory of good organic practice is one thing; the temptation to cheat – just a tiny bit – can be hard to resist. On the whole, we stuck with the plan, and the garden developed well: Herbaceous borders, fruit tree plot and kitchen garden with a gem of a herb bed. After a while we added bees, with the hives on the roof, and since then we have been almost self-sufficient in honey, “polyfloral” and wonderfully tasty.
My blog is a way to write about our experiences and, more widely, of nature, gardens and heritage in Egypt. In ancient times a land of savannah and richly diverse wildlife, with a river valley and delta of exceptional fertility, Egypt today is mostly desert beyond the Nile valley. However, there is increasing activity to reclaim land and cultivate fresh areas, in order to feed a rapidly expanding population that is approaching 100 million. Within these limits there is extraordinary natural beauty and interest: at once rich and mysterious, historic and spiritual, Egypt is here for the exploring.
“Yalla beena!” – “Let’s go!”