I was woken this morning by footsteps on our roof. Peering through the windows, I saw a huge ladder propped against the bougainvillea by our front door. The compound gardeners were at work. They were pruning, which in compound gardener terms actually means attacking wildly without plan or understanding. Wholesale plant slaughter, in other words.
Here are the before and after pictures of my bougainvillea....
It made me think how much I miss my Christchurch garden. I miss its quiet calm and the softness of the early morning sun on leaves and flowers. I miss the small primulas, the scented azaleas and pink roses outside my kitchen window.
Odd then, that I should now be living in a place that is so different, but whose name nevertheless means garden. I've read that Riyadh is named for the oasis and lush green palms that used to be here. Nowadays, roads full of fast cars and ugly high-rise buildings have taken their place.
There’s a pretence at planting along roadsides, perhaps reminiscent of the way Riyadh used to be. When I first arrived, I wondered about the city’s oddly bandaged palm trees that seemed to line every median strip.
I’ve learned now that this is an attempt to conserve moisture. It’s vital for any plant’s survival, especially when summer temperatures can soar to 50C. At another nearby intersection the ground is rock hard and the black plastic irrigation hoses have disintegrated in the intense heat.
Small petunia-like flowers are planted, but without water, they flower only briefly before dying. Ironically, I know that in a few days I’ll see gardeners planting more of the same. These too die will die, only to be replanted again It’s an endless and curiously pointless cycle. There's a plant souk, or market, not far from our home. Small open-ended tents overflow with plants and seedlings. Well-watered, they’re green and lush and a perfect foil to the dry dustiness of road and sky.
I persuaded my husband to stop one day so I could buy two red cyclamen that reminded me of home. Unfortunately neither survived, not in the relative coolness of our home, nor outside on the terrace. But I haven’t given up hope of gardening just yet. I have two small figs in pots on my kitchen windowsill, given to me by a friend who's just returned to the States. Perhaps they’ll grow big enough to transplant outside and maybe one day they’ll have fruit. As I walked around the compound this morning, I passed tall hollyhocks beside pink daisy-like flowers. Temporarily reprieved from the compound gardeners’ pruning shears, they moved benignly in the breeze.
I found myself thinking of the part in Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility where Marianne falls and twists her ankle. Both Colonel Brandon and Willoughby bring her flowers. However it's Willoughby’s small bunch of simple wild flowers that she prefers. Although I don’t like the reprobate Willoughby, I can't help thinking that his taste in flowers is closer to my Christchurch than my Riyadh garden. And that, I do like.