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Posts tagged ‘rosemary’

The Blues… and the Greens

For the past couple of months – bar a short trip to London to visit our two delightful little diversions* – I’ve been working hard in the garden. In winter time in Egypt it’s all go if only to catch up with everything you couldn’t get done in summer with the heat, exhaustion, holidays and so on!

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Empire of the herbs

I have been empire-building.

What started with a need to rehabilitate raised bed 2, and therefore move a rather lovely rosemary and a struggling sage, mutated over the winter into a case of near-herbal overreach.

After digging out the two plants with as near tender loving care as I could manage, in contrast to the usual approach among Egypt’s gardeners (i.e. smash and grab), I placed them in an ill-prepared spot in full sun at the side of the house. And waited.

Not content with the two plants, I removed a bit of lawn and added an oregano seedling and a touch of chives. And waited a bit more.

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Next came a small and straggly thyme from the raised bed dedicated to herbs (last photo above); I had thought it was a seedling, but, as I went to dig it out, found it was a layered branch of the mother plant. It didn’t seem to mind the dis/re-location.

You may wonder why the new bed. What’s so special about herbs that I’d risk another battle with rampant rosemary, woody sage infested with mealy bugs, leggy thyme and seedy oregano? Not to mention chives that develop the prettiest of flower heads and then seed themselves absolutely all over.

The answer is, I cherish them for their extraordinary qualities. Herbs fill in gaps in the lower hedge where other plants fear to root (rosemary, basil). They add interest to borders (basil, dill, fennel, dianthus). They give food for our bees and other pollinators (rosemary, lavender, thyme, borage). They are food for us too, whether in our cooking, our salads or our honey. Their flowers may be technically insignificant, but they range from pretty white (thyme) to unusual blue (borage) and stunning purple (lavender); and you have only to brush against the leaves on a hot day to release a whole cloud of amazing scent that rises on the currents of air, filling the atmosphere with the heady perfume of essential oils filled with beneficial compounds. What’s not to like?

So through the winter I have worked with the gardener to dig up turf – expertly turned with the fas or adze, a tool used since ancient times. It can be wielded with as much refined precision as brute strength, depending on the need of the moment. We expanded the bed outwards, and then found it taking on a life of its own as it crept northwards along the side of the house.

Out went the bees’ water jar, for the duration, and in went more plants: zaatar or Lebanese thyme, dianthus, a baby sage. I managed (somehow!) to leave space between them: Close planting has been a bit of a problem in other parts of the garden, and I’ve learned my lesson, I hope.

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I’ve struck a deal with the lavender. She stays in her pot so long as she is flowering, since to be full of blooms is a generous and unusual gesture among the lavenders I’ve grown in Egypt. I’ll only transplant her into the bed when she is ready. Nearby, there’s now another, smaller lavender (L. spica, grown from seed brought from Italy); fingers crossed that she will thrive. And a gift from nature, a self-seeded plant that may be a rock rose – I am not sure – undoubtedly the descendant of plants popped into the border last year.

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The bees have their water pot back in situ. This was timely: as the temperatures has risen recently, their need for water has become more urgent.

What is needed now is to add more variety to the existing space, rather than dig out more of the lawn. Attempts to grow melissa (lemon balm) have failed – sigh! I wish I could grow this lovely herb, “the elixir of life” according to Paracelsus, a wonderful aid to work on the anahata (heart) chakra. Hyssop also refused to germinate, and the Thai basil is shrivelling up in the sun. Worst of all, I forgot to make sure we have sweet basil, a terrible omission that must never be repeated: For now, we are senza basilico, the ultimate horror for a family of pasta-lovers!


Boris redux

Or: an epilogue to the drama

Last time I wrote about Boris and the rosemary, I concluded that he was a has-been and she merited rehabilitation. I no longer referred to them as one and the same. This was in late June, in Rehabilitating the rosemary

You may remember that Rosemarinus officinalis had a habit of growing out of control, dominating one corner of the garden and overpowering lesser flora by sheer, towering ambition.

By the end of June, we had come to an accommodation of sorts. The Boris genie was back in his box, as it were, and the rosemary had command of her plot. In fact, I felt I owed her some respect.

A further drastic reshaping of the herb in September seemed to do the trick nicely. Afterwards, rosemary kept her shape, flowered generously, attracted bees and other pollinators, and produced richly scented shoots full of essential oil. In short, she did everything a herb is supposed to do.

But: Cave Rosmarinum! Beware of jumping to conclusions, say I (not an exact translation).

Come October, the Boris inside the bush broke out once again… Absolutely irrepressible, the unkempt giant of the corner with the thatch going every which way made a storming comeback. Thus was Elizabeth David’s warning shown to be true: “A treacherous herb”, said she.

With inexhaustible energy and a blindness to the inappropriateness of taking over the whole plot, the herb is once more occupying more than a fair share of space and light. I do believe she/he is larger than ever, robust in the extreme and impervious to everything around – even to the presence of a superb lemon/orange tree with the strength of continents in its genetic heritage.

So this may not be an epilogue. It may be only the second act in a very long and unnerving soap opera: eerie in the extreme.

Parallel universe: On the cover of the British satirical magazine “Private Eye” last summer: Theresa May curtseying to HM Queen Elizabeth II. HM: “How low can you go?” May: “Well, I’ve appointed Boris as Foreign Minister.”