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Doha diary: Gardeners' hour

Wednesday November 1, 2006

Autumn is beginning to cast its long shadow in Qatar, and Don Christopher turns his attention to the garden, where green things are propagating in spite of the heat

The villa housing our office has a mature garden of date palms, vines, olives, cactuses, frangipani, mulberry, aloe and some large succulents, as well as basil plants, huge as rosemary bushes, and great sharp bladed purple leaves which seem to grow everywhere. The morning I arrived the palms were heavy with dates, that soon ripened and are now all gone. There are still trays of them in the shops. On the Corniche there are seven kilometers of municipal date palms; in the last few weeks you could see (mainly Indian) workers knocking them to the ground with long sticks and collecting them. The shop ones I bought were half ripe ? literally, they are half sticky brown, half firm yellow-gold, like two-tone toffees. They ripen quickly in the fridge.

The garden seems lovelier each day. Both first thing and in the evening (sundown at 5pm now) it seems to steam from copious watering, like the temperate house at Kew. The cactuses positively glow, the basil bushes are in dusky flower and there are fat unripe limes and oranges. The huge palm fronds against the dark blue night sky make me think of my father in the wartime western desert. The creeper on one wall (opposite the aquarium, behind where the portakabins are being erected) has suddenly burst into flower, almost identical to the colour of the Michaelmas daisies back home in Leigh-on-Sea a couple of weeks ago, but in a great cascade, twenty feet high. There?s more and more blossom everywhere as Autumn advances.

Apart from date palms, little edible seems to grow here and most fruit and veg is flown in. First apricots (mishmish) from Lebanon and Syria, then nectarines, now peaches and ? from yesterday ? plums, dark purple with a whiteish blush and some with a little resin seeping out, perfectly ripe, exactly the same (except for lack of wasps) as in my parent?s garden fifty years ago. There are local tomatoes ? large, misshapen, delicious, a little like Italian red pears ? and French beans, a bit lumpy like the ones I grew in the allotment back home, some still with sandy mud on them. In the last week or so large floury locally grown Egyptian potatoes have appeared in the shops. They cook perfectly in their skins, and taste as though already buttered. I?ve got some round the chicken tonight.

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