Sheer indulgence

We came back from downtown Cairo last week not with a few books from my favourite store, nor stocks of organic food from the bio-shop, nor even gifts of locally made soaps, skin creams and cotton towels for family and friends overseas.

Rather, we had a boot full of plants, a bag of pepper and aubergine seedlings, and a pomegranate tree stretching almost from boot to windscreen. It was rather fun turning corners, negotiating roundabouts and getting through traffic on the flyover all the while holding on to the tree with love, trying to keep her steady.

The pomegranate is one of my favourite trees, not only for the bright green softness of the young leaves, nor the slightly whimsical form of the branches. I love them also for their luminous orange flowers, and for the strange beauty of the fruit.

We had spent a productive morning at Cairo’s Spring Flower Show. Armed with a list of items we needed, we were remarkably successful in tracking them all down, from traps to deal with fruit fly (to protect our guava crop) to bedding plants as gifts for relatives.

But there’s much more to the event than this. It’s sheer indulgence to take the time to wander round and enjoy the show, set in the once glorious – though now somewhat faded – former royal gardens in El-Urman Park, among splendid palms and a fascinating collection of conifers from around the world.

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Businesses represented were mostly from Cairo and the surrounding countryside. The breadth of items, covering everything from gardening equipment to seedlings, beekeeping paraphernalia to irrigation materials, was impressive and useful; normally we would have to travel all over to track them down.

Among the herbs were quantities of rosemary, thyme and oregano, but the selection was less extensive than last year. Seedlings, purchased by the plug, included aubergines, cabbages, capsicums, lettuces and tomatoes. I’m always interested in the packets of seeds: We usually buy basic seeds – coriander, dill, parsley, rocket – from a kind of general store or grocer’s shop, but more specialised seeds are harder to find. At the show, they come either commercially packaged or sorted into simple brown paper packets with handwritten labels:

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There were not so many fruit trees this year, as far as I could tell, but still there was a reasonable selection of citrus, mango, apple, peach, pear and so on. You can see bananas (which are not trees, but grasses) in the foreground here:

Fruit trees

But you have to be vigilant when you buy: Our pomegranate, lovely as she is, turned out to have been recently uprooted and placed in a suspiciously small container. At least it wasn’t an old tin formerly used for industrial glue or paint, which is common practice in Egypt! But this meant that the gardener had to be extra careful in easing her out of the pot and into the garden: More on this in a later post, as well as on the amazing cultural, historical and culinary story of the pomegranate tree.

 

 

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Walks on the not-so-wild side

We’ve spent a fun couple of days this weekend at the Spring Flower Show in downtown Cairo, pottering among the displays of flowers, looking at fruit trees, chatting to beekeepers – and trying to resist the temptation to add to our already crowded garden.

The show brings together nurseries and agricultural businesses, as well as suppliers of equipment, seeds and potting compost, from all over. If the flower displays are on the repetitive side (too many geraniums for my taste), it’s a great way to find out more about what works and what doesn’t here in Egypt, and where to get stock for the garden etc.

Oddly, there aren’t many garden design companies in the show, though one exception to this, from the upscale neighbourhood of Maadi, has an interesting, and unusual, display.

What makes the Cairo event so attractive, to my way of thinking, is the setting: the show is held over the road from Cairo University in the grand – if somewhat faded – El-Urman Gardens. Part of an ambitious scheme to create a fashionable European-style city by Egypt’s C19 rulers (Khedives), the gardens are filled with an amazing collection of conifers and exemplars of trees from across the world, from Australian kauris to Indian almonds to American swamp cypresses.

We wandered among colourful banks of flowers, some locally produced, some imported, testing the prices and looking out for a few we could take home. They make great gifts for family and friends: almost everyone we know has a balcony or small patch of garden, and they really appreciate a present of colourful and aromatic carnations, sweet williams or jasmine.

Thinner on the ground this year compared to 2015, I thought, were the fruit tree and kitchen garden sections, though the herbs were looking good and there were a few trays filled with veg seedlings such as lettuce, aubergine and celery. We resisted the temptation to buy a mulberry tree (one of my husband’s favourites, if only for his memories of boyhood escapades climbing them to feast off the sweet, sticky fruit). Just as well, they grow like topsy and have the kind of root systems we can’t accommodate!

Good to see some labels, though all were exclusively in Arabic: I’m not so sure about the vines, though, (above right), planted up in old industrial adhesives cans. Hardly the most sensitive of environments for the roots…

We came away with a modest haul, for once managing to stick to our plan – not something I normally manage when faced with temptation on this scale. As my husband went off to talk to the beekeepers, I even went round my favourite garden tools stall without buying a thing. Reformed character, or what!