Sunday, 8 March 2009

Rhoda Gardens of Cairo, 1848

The Rhoda Gardens are situated on a long island which divides the Nile at Cairo, and upon the end of which the celebrated Nilo-meter is placed. The first thing which strikes you on entering them is the want of Exotics. All Eastern gardens are, yon know, mere collections of the common and more ornamental native plants, arranged in straight lines to suit an Eastern taste, and crowded together to produce shade and masses of green to rest the eye upon; hence the Rhoda Gardens are disappointing at first sight, for they present neither the extreme variety of our English botanic or pleasure gardens, nor the perfectly artificial and formal luxuriance of Shoobra.

Rhoda is, however, really and truly the Dropmore of Egypt, and it is quite marvellons what has been done in the way of introducing exotic trees, under difficulties such as no other Botanic garden ever had to surmount. St. Petersburg may shut out her frosts, and Calcutta moderate her heats; but no human ingenuity can counteract the inundation of the Nile at one season, or fend off the hot blast from the desert at the succeeding one. Even the cold at Cairo is sometimes very trying to vegetation, especially at nights, so that the plants have to contend with every disadvantage.

I had but a very few minutes to spent at Rhoda, during which Mr. Traill kindly took me round part of the gardens, and pointed out what was of most interest. With the box of cuttings from Kew he was much pleased; all appeared in excellent condition, though, alas, few of them have even a chance of succeeding. I did not perceive any definite plan or arrangement in the gardens: the first object here, as everywhere in the East, is shade, and it is afforded by a profusion of the trees common about Cairo, and mentioned above. The walks were generally bordered by hedges (of Lawsonia or Parkinsonia, and sometimes Myrtles, whilst Rosemary takes the place of Box. Sixty acres are laid out in walks, thus bordered by hedges or trees, inclosing square or variously-formed areas, among which many interesting trees of all countries have been planted, with various success. The Passionflower trailed luxuriantly and flowers abundantly. A fine little Banyan tree also thrives, at the expense of much labour and ingenuity on Mr. Traill's part, who brings pots of water to the branches, so arranged that the roots dipped into them. All the genus Ficus do well, as do Mahogany, Logwood, Casuarina, Sapindus Saponaria, many Acaciae, Pittospora, Eugenia, and other Myrtacea. Of shrubby things which throve, I observed Turnera, Oleanders, Guilandina Bonduccella, Tamarix, Hibiscus, Gleditsia, various Dalbergiae, one, the Sissoo, attaining the size of a tree, and yielding excellent timber in Egypt. Of the English, European, or N. American timber-trees, few prosper: Araucaria imbricata exists, and that is all; the Oak looks poorly; Taxodium distichum is yellow as a guinea, Platanus orientals far from umbrageous. Cypresses are killed by the inundations of the Nile. The Asiatic Teak even will not grow, owing to the wet at this period. The Palms are very capricious: some have succeeded admirably, as Oreodoxa regia, sent by Loddiges, Latania Borbonica, and some Caryotas; these, however, are individuals, forming no great features in a garden of sixty acres, though very handsome in themselves. Upon the whole the Rhoda Gardens are a noble project, more interesting to a botanist than ornamental, according to European taste. Everywhere you turn you are greeted by some English or well-known exotic, struggling to accommodate itself to Egyptian bondage, or rebelliously resenting all poor Mr. Traill's kind attentions, and doing the worst a slave can do—dying on the spot, and breaking his master's heart.

Some accounts of the Rhoda Gardens are published in the Gardeners' Chronicle by Mr. Traill himself, which I should have liked to have perused previous to my visit, but had no opportunity : they are, however, worth your referring to.

The London Journal of Botany: Containing Figures and Descriptions of ... Plants ... Together with Botanical Notices and Information and ... Memoirs of Eminent Botanists
Por William Jackson Hooker
H. Baillière, 1848

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