The annual Spring Flower Show, a landmark spring festivity for Cairenes, opened at Orman Garden in Giza on 18 March. This year’s show marks its 82nd edition, and is open for 45 days, the longest ever period for the show. The show started off as a one-week event held under the auspices of King Fuad I, who was Egypt’s monarch from 1922 to 1936, to show off the flowers cultivated in his royal gardens.
This year’s show hosts 150 exhibitors, 20 more than last year, on a flower bed area that increased from last year’s 22,000 sq. m. to 28,000. Minister of Agriculture and Land Reclamation, Abdel-Moneim al-Banna, opened the show.
Several bodies affiliated to the Ministry of Agriculture are taking part in this year’s show, among them the Agrarian Reform Authority (ARA), public gardens and research institutes such as Zahriya Garden, the Qanater Arboretum Gardens, the Basateen Research Centre and the Plant Pathology Research Institute.
Burst of colour
“Through a plan for the coming three years, Egypt is endeavouring to increase production of flowers and ornamental plants at a rate of 20 per cent, depending on great experience of flower growers,” Mr Banna said as he opened the fair.
“We are also about to establish the first Egyptian exchange for marketing ornamental plants and flowers, to promote marketing these crops on a competitive level worldwide. This,” he said, “should increase Egypt’s exports and bring in much-needed hard currency.”
Visitors entering the garden are greeted with an outburst of colour from a an amazing flower arrangement—flower arrangements improve year after year—that is a real joy for the senses. Large spaces are dedicated to the display of trees and plants arranged together in a hardscape design with artificial rock waterfalls.
The combination of hardscapes and landscapes present examples of pleasing paving, plant and flower designs suitable for areas ranging from resorts and private villas to custom-designed mini-gardens with miniature artificial rock waterfalls for small indoor spaces. Other outdoor decorative items on display include statues or statuettes of swans, birds and animals.
The number of pet shop booths also increased this year, offering cats, small dogs and aquariums that include not only the traditional glass fish tank but also ponds containing various types of goldfish. Other booths offer agricultural supplies which include, for the first time, garden seeds and plants from strawberries to cabbages and apricot to lemon trees, with leaflets giving guidelines for cultivation.
Room for embroidery and furniture
Taking part in the Spring Flower Show for the first time is the training department of the ARA. However, it came as a surprise to find displayed in their booth such diverse accessories as crocheted clothes and wooden and paper products side by side with vegetables and soft fruit. Asked about these items, Atef Said Abdel-Hameed, general training manager at ARA, told Watani that it was the ARA’s first time at the Flower Show. “All the items displayed in our booth are produced by the training centres affiliated to the authority,” he said. “Although these centres have existed for a long time in Helwan, Gharbiya and Fayoum governorates, we never had an outlet to sell the products made by our trainees. These three centres aim to provide basic training and illiteracy classes to female school drop-outs, and the girls are trained in sewing, embroidery, beading and accessory-making. When I was appointed training manager I was told there was a marketing problem, and I suggested that we have a permanent outlet at the ARA premises in Doqqi, Giza. This year I thought it would be a good idea to expand our market and sell our products at the Spring Flower Show.”
Also on display in the ARA booth are pieces of wooden furniture such as closets, beds and tables produced by the young men’s training centres in al-Marg, in Cairo governorate; Nag Hamadi in Qena governorate; and Kafr al-Sheikh and Beni Sweif governorates. ARA also runs a training centre in Maamoura, Alexandria governorate; this centre was established in 1963 on an area of 13 feddans and includes metalwork and carpentry workshops in addition to training programmes for agricultural mechanisation.
Plant your rooftop
Rooftop agriculture is ARA’s most recent project, and several products in this genre are displayed in their booth.
“The project was initiated ten years ago by the Agricultural Research Centre, and we began by planting the rooftop of the ARA building,” Dr Abdel-Hameed said. “The project was a success and we focused on planting green and leafy vegetables which are used to prepare a hearty salad. These include rocket, parsley, dill, red cabbage and iceberg lettuce. We now offer a one-month rooftop agriculture training course. Everybody is encouraged to enrol, and students learn to plant their own rooftop garden. We can later help them market their products.”
From saplings to cacti
Emad Abdel-Moneim is the deputy director of the Orman Garden. He says this year’s show has seen an increase in the display of fruit and ornamental tree saplings such a chamaedorea palms, citrus and apricots. The show also includes seedlings and cuttings of outdoor ornamental plants that require natural sunlight, such as geranium, gazania, bougainvillea and euphorbia, as well as plants suitable for interior spaces such as epipremnum (devil’s ivy), gardenia, dracaena and cordyline.
“Another feature of this year’s show is the presence of aromatic plants, especially Saudi and Syrian mint, basil, roses and jasmines,” Mr Abdel-Moneim says. “These plants are sold at symbolic prices; they are easy to care for and live for a long time.”
Cacti have been attracting increasing attention at the show for many years, especially now that so many species display a multitude of flowers in vivid colours. Many people find it hard to believe that such beautiful flowers belong to the cactus family, especially plants such as opuntia (including cactus fig) and mammillaria.
We asked Mr Abdel-Moneim about the extensive damage done to Orman Garden by members of the Muslim Brotherhood during their August 2013 sit-in in Nahda Square where the Orman Garden is located, also about the bamboo they had uprooted back then. “The Armed Forces have replaced the ones that were destroyed, even bringing in bamboo of better quality. They also repaired the herbarium and the external gates of the garden which were also destroyed during the MB sit-in,” Mr Abdel-Moneim said.
The Orman Gar
den was founded in 1873 by Khedive Ismail, who wished to emulate the great gardens of Europe so fashionable at the time. He aimed to cover the needs of all the royal palaces for fruit and flowers at the time, and brought in exotic species from all over the world, some of them quite rare. The gardens were laid out by French landscape designers under the supervision of De la Chevalerie. The Egyptian supervisor was the royal gardener Ibrahim Hamouda.
In 1917 the gardens were handed over to the Ministry of Agriculture. At that time they flanked the Zoological Gardens and covered an area of 58 feddans, but in 1939 this was reduced to 28 feddans (one feddan is approximately 4,200 sq. m) to make way for the new Sharae al-Gamaa (University Street). One of the garden walls borders Nahda Square.
The Orman Gardens are often denoted ‘the mother of gardens’. They contain at least a thousand plant species, including native aquatic plants such as the lotus and papyrus which are no longer grown in Egypt but which grow in an artificial lake in Orman.
The Spring Flower Fair every year was a time when the garden sparkled in glorious colour of flowering plants. Flower growers as well as garden and landscape designers would take part in the fair, and Orman would bask in a splendid scene of lush greenery, exotic blooms, mini waterfalls, rock gardens, majestic cacti, sensitive illumination; all the makings of a miniature paradise. The artificial pond would boast the pride of the fair: the blue lotus flowers floating in their green leaves along the water amid the papyrus; the birds and duck finding sweet refuge there and singing their voices out.
Bring your own snacks
Not all is well now with the Orman Garden, however. Although the section dedicated to the Flower Show is well-maintained, the rest of the green space is neglected and run-down. The soil is eroded and the vast area which used to be a green lawn has disappeared. The old benches made of marble and wood, which date from the time the garden first opened in the late 19th century, are broken-down and consequently there is no suitable place for families to sit and enjoy the surrounding beauty.
A landmark of the garden has always been the lotus pond and the wooden bridge that spans it. Unfortunately, the once-beautiful pond now looks now more like a swamp choked with all sorts of solid waste such as old trees, plastic bags and food cans. Although this used to be the time of the year when beautiful white and bluish lotus flowers with their large, oval green leaves floated on the pond, surrounded by ducks that added an extra touch of nature to the garden, none of these are to be seen now.
When we asked the keepers of the garden about the state of the pond and the disappearance of the lotus flowers, they said that this year’s show had opened earlier than usual and that the flowers were expected to bloom later.
Another drawback of this year’s show is that the only cafeteria, which overlooks the pond, is very expensive despite the fact that this is a public garden. An average family wishing to sit in the only place available to enjoy a light snack will have to fork out a large sum of money for the experience. Visitors are therefore advised to bring their own refreshments.
23 April 2017