Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Gardenias, roses and LTC

I am furious! Four years of nurturing my two gardenia trees have vanished into thin air. After caring for them, talking to them, caressing them, watching them grow and enjoying their blooms, the “gardener” chose to flood them – in my absence -- with blue fertilizing pellets that burned them.

My gardenias: From this...
... to this
The two gardenia shrubs were next to my front door. It was a pleasure to come back to their sweet scent in the evening and leave it behind first thing in the morning. They used to flower from early January right through May, when the desert heat finally starts pinching.

It is two months now since I tried reviving them, but it’s a losing battle so far. While I keep it up, I switched my attention to roses for the moment.

In our garden in Baghdad
Gardening is a big part of my life. It is a pleasure I take first from my grandmother, Teta Asma (see Love is blind… 28 January 2010) and from my mum, Vicky.

I only knew Teta Asma’s balcony in Beirut, but it was almost a garden. Her trademark was growing fuchsias – of all varieties and colors. She passed on the love for them to Vicky and I. I haven’t found any fuchsia plants in Dubai yet, but I’m always on the lookout. The fun in Teta’s balcony/garden was her pots. Not fancy ones, but anything available in the house or kitchen, especially big steel cans in which olives, oil, cheese and other mouneh (provisions) were stored in the old days.

Mum arranging lillies from our garden in La Marsa
I remember our garden in Baghdad, but especially loved the one in Tunis. We first lived in Sidi Bou Said and then moved to La Marsa, where the garden was huge. We had orange and lemon trees that yielded so much fruit that we filled a basket in front of the main gate for passersby to help themselves. There was also a vegetable patch and our strawberries were delicious.

Dusk watering was my favorite task. It was rewarding to watch nature come back to life after a sweltering day and see my efforts rewarded. In fact, there were so many flowers, that we were often late for school in the morning while waiting for my dad, Esa, to choose a flower for his boutonnière.

It was difficult to live in a flat when we moved back to Beirut in 1973. But Vicky quickly transformed our large balcony into a quasi-garden. When we left in 1990, all the neighbors were scrambling to get their share of that oasis.

When I arrived in London in 1985 and started looking for a flat, I realized how difficult it will be to find one with either a garden or a balcony. It was bingo, when I came across a flat on the fifth floor, with a balcony overlooking not only the Chelsea Physic Garden, but the Thames and Battersea Park as well.

It looked so beautiful after a few years, with fuchsias, petunias, roses, lavender, tomatoes, basil, mint, chives, bizzy lizzies… that I thought of opening it to the public – all two meters of it -- but didn’t think my landlady would approve!

My balcony, top right, overlooking the Physic Garden (via
The Chelsea Physic Garden on the Royal Hospital Road is London’s oldest botanical garden and a unique living museum. It was founded by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London in 1673 for its apprentices to study the medicinal qualities of plants. Throughout the 1700s it was one of the most important centers of botany and plant exchange in the world. The location was chosen as the proximity to the Thames created a warmer microclimate allowing the survival of many nonnative plants -- such as the largest outdoor fruiting olive tree in Britain (which I could see from my windows) - - and more importantly, to allow plants to survive harsh British winters.

I often thought of becoming a gardener and taking Physic Garden degree had it not been for the high cost of the two-year course.

Now, where was I? Yes, roses…

My new rose bush...
... and it's first flower
While going around the garden where I live in Dubai with my landlord last week, I noticed it featured some new roses. When he encouraged me to smell the flower, I was dazzled. I have never come across a rose with such an exquisite sweet, fruity fragrance. He promised to get me one to make up for the gardenia saga. Unfortunately, we don’t know what variety they are or their name, but never mind.

The last time I had roses in London, it was the Sharifa Asma Rose variety, hybridized and introduced by David Austin in 1989. My brother, Emile, surprised me with a bush in memory of Teta Asma, and because of our sister is also called Asma. It was a beautiful rosebush, a bit like a peony, with a musky, sweet and rosy scent that reminded of rosewater and essential oils.

I got my new rose last week and the first flower that bloomed is encouraging, although it is small. I look forward to seeing it grow. The gardener has strict orders to stay away from the rose pot.(More pictures here.)

While the battle goes on to revive the gardenias, they will share the love and tender care (LTC) with the roses.

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