Sunday, September 2, 2007

Reviewing ‘Gardening in the Middle East’, by Eric Moore

Gardens in the Middle East sound like an oxymoron, when one thinks of the searing heat, dehydrating winds and arid desert sands. But, such is the demand for this book that Gardening in the Middle East has gone into a new and revised edition.

Author Eric Moore, reminds his readers of the central place that gardens have historically occupied in Middle Eastern life and his mention of the Garden of Eden and the way that the three Abrahamic religions have all adopted the fertile garden as an image of prosperity, peace and paradise, augurs well for someone desiring green fingers on the Arabian Peninsula.

Eric Moore is a horticulturalist with extensive experience in gardening and landscaping in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Egypt and Jordan. His style is simple, clear, practical and thorough, without getting his readers lost in the undergrowth. He presumes no existing garden knowledge on behalf of his readers and he has a gift of instilling confidence as well as imparting useful information.

While written as a guide to gardening in the entire Middle Eastern region, Moore is swift to recognize the different climatic sub-regions and he differentiates these seven areas according to temperature, humidity, wind and rainfall. He keeps all these factors in mind when dealing with these four sections of the book:
1. What sort of garden do I want?
2. What plants are best suited to such a garden?
3. What climatic and soil conditions do I have to contend with?
4. How do I grow such plants in such conditions?

In the first part that describes the various garden types, there is an interesting feature on the designs of Islamic gardens and the different purposes for which Muslims develop and use their gardens.

This section also covers basic gardens, including the herb garden, even if this consists of a few pots on the patio. Moore lists the herbs that can best be grown in the Middle East and in what landscape situation.

Moore says, “Another book could be written describing how to grow vegetables in the Middle East—but that is another book.” It is hoped that Moore might fulfill this task. However, in the meantime, he lists an extensive range of vegetables that can be grown in this region, distinguishing between cool season and warm weather varieties. Food-producing trees are also described.

With clear, vivid pictures and easy to read tables Moore helps gardeners to choose the right plant, shrub or tree according to climatic zone, height, spread, flowering and ‘cleanliness’ (the amount of rubbish it drops). Names are given in English, Arabic where possible and the Latin botanical name. Realizing that much of the hands-on gardening is done by Pakistanis in the Middle East, a future edition might supply names also in Urdu.

The author challenges readers to think carefully about the selection of plants e.g. Is this tree to provide shade or to stand as a windbreak? Is my need in this place for ground cover, a creeper for a trellis, am I wanting a splash of colour for this corner, a fragrance that will please my nostrils when I am sitting on the patio at dusk or am I simply wanting something that will be low-maintenance and high endurance?

In the section devoted to explaining how to grow plants, special attention is given to distinctive Middle Eastern features that include the challenge of using indigenous soil, ascertaining the frequency of irrigation without over watering and the type of fertilizers needed by plants to provide extra nutrients. Without condescension, Moore provides reminders about the basics of propagating, planting, pruning and garden maintenance.

The book concludes with a plant encyclopedia that is primarily devoted to describing the plants commonly in use in Middle Eastern gardens and in landscaping. The pictures and information on the expected growth of these plants make this book a valuable resource for the seasoned gardener as well as for the novice. It is heartening to learn that there are nearly 350 plants of every type that can be successfully grown in the Middle East.

Eric Moore, Gardening in the Middle East (London: Stacey International, 2nd edit. 2005, first published 1986). This book is available from Magrudy’s Bookshops in the UAE at a cost of Dh 175.00.

Geoff Pound

Image: Front Cover of Gardening in the Middle East.