Monday, June 05, 2023 | Dhu al-Qaadah 15, 1444 H
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Our desert oasis: Our garden of Eden


Having lived in Oman for more than a decade, I can reveal that one of the most refreshing, revitalising aspects of living in the interior of the Sultanate of Oman, in sleepy Birkat al Mouz, near Nizwa, was... wait for it... enjoying our garden.

I know what many of you are thinking. Garden? In Oman? In Nizwa? Yes, I know... green fingers and all that doesn’t really ‘spring’ to mind when you think of the hinterland and its environs does it? But honestly, whether it was just Lena and I, family and friends, or visitors, our garden always retained its revitalising perspective. I can’t imagine how many evenings we, would sit outside under the gazebo, gazing with pride upon our garden, our little riot of colorful chaos, that ran the length of our house down one side.

When we moved into our rented home, the yard was paved, except for the garden area on the side of the house, that had a date palm in the corner, and was otherwise, pretty much just an expanse of stones with a plumbed garden tap. Lena, whose mantra about plants is that they “just want to grow'', set me to work making it happen. I wasn’t keen at first, but her enthusiasm was infectious, I guess.

First, I had to dig out a substantial number of rocks and blocks, construction detritus much of it, and get some depth for whatever we put in the garden to grow. After a few days it dawned on me that I would need some dirt, or soil, and I was at my wits end trying to figure out where, as the garden centres in Muscat had plenty of mulch and soil additives, but no soil.

Then, driving home from work one afternoon, lo and behold, there appeared in front of me a little Toyota truck, so overloaded with dirt it looked like an overloaded cartoon truck. Chuckling to myself, I followed the truck all of 500 metres before it stopped at the local Omanoil filling station. With the help of the attendants there, I found that while this truckload was destined elsewhere, they would bring me a load of the same soil the next day, and sure enough, they were as good as their word. I was happy, I had my dirt, and they were happy, tucking away a handful of rials.

A weekend of backbreaking toil followed as I lost count of the wheelbarrow loads of soil I shovelled, wheeled into the yard, tipped and spread on the ‘garden.’ Though it was just a barren expanse, it didn’t stay that way for long, as Lena found some lovely pink and red Bougainvillea in the Muscat nurseries. She also found where someone had thrown some Aloe Vera over their fence and ‘saved’ them, got some Desert Rose offcuts and Yucca, and grew an amazing Drumstick tree from a seedling. She tried for even more colour with Petunias of many colours, but the extreme weather conditions were too challenging for those little babies. She tried herbs, but they too were scorned by the weather.

I even created an automatic watering system to make the garden more easy-care than work. The piece-de-resistance though, was that original Royal Palm which every year after, gave us an increasing crop of dates. Interestingly, subsequently published research at Essex University, has demonstrated the benefits of ‘green exercise’ on well-being and mental health, with reductions in stress and depression, increases in self-esteem, mood and well-being reported in children, adolescents, adults, the vulnerable and disadvantaged. I believe them! Now I know what some of you will say. “It doesn’t sound much'', or, “our garden was much bigger'', or “much better'', or “more colourful,” and you probably wouldn’t be wrong. But it was more about what that garden meant to us. Ours, was our desert oasis, our ‘Garden of Eden.’

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