Thursday 10 March 2022

Egypt Trip - Winter 2022 - Cairo - Street Trees - Al Azhar Park

Following Christmas and New Year back in the UK with the family  I was supposed to be going to Italy, Sardegna for a consultancy and design site visit but, Covid things happened so we postponed. Egypt is a place I've never had a strong desire to travel to but it popped up first on a list of warm places to go in winter, so here I am. 

Two words that linger in thoughts while walking around Cairo are chaos and contrast. After a few days, you began to see the order within the chaos but the contrast is even more apparent. I don't see how you could describe Cairo as beautiful, pleasant, or charming (although parts of it are) however, it is most certainly, very interesting. 

A word of warning for anyone that has never ventured from the comforts of the West, if you ever visit Cairo, be prepared for a culture shock Richter magnitude 9.

Cairo is a very busy city and you can move around hassle-free like every other city but get close to any popular tourist attraction and it's the real-life equivalent of browsing the net without AdBlock on and that's true of pretty much the entire Egyptian tourist trail. Fortunately, the Pyramids of Giza site (that sits west of the Nile on the edge of the city) is so vast it's easy to get away from the relentless sales pitch and enjoy the phenomenon.

I found it remarkable that across the whole area I did not find a single living plant. This could be due to grazing pressure from the 100's of camels and horses that carry the tourists around the site, could be just the wrong season or maybe there are just no plants around.  I did find a small patch of plant remnants that looked like last season's tissue from an annual plant (left image below)  

Just a few km east of the Pyramids, closer to the Nile (that runs through the center of the city) it's lush green with ornamental plantings, avenue trees, and parks.


Street Trees Of Cairo 

I have little experience with subtropical plants and for the first 5 days in Cairo, I did not recognize a single tree I came across apart from Ficus elastica - Rubber Fig the common house plant, only these  Rubber Figs were as tall as houses. 

I found an excellent resource on plants used for landscaping in Egypt (Introduction to Egyptian plants) that helped identify the majority of common street trees and I was surprised to see that many of the street trees are Figs (non-edible types), most of them are non-native and a high percentage of trees planted around the city are nitrogen-fixing, from Fabaceae. 

Probably the most common trees are Ficus microcarpa that you will often find lifted and tightly trimmed to shape. 

Roystonia regia -  Cuban royal palm is also a common species used around state buildings, parks and gardens of the downtown residencies. It is native to Mexico, parts of Central America.


Having never spent a winter away from a temperate climate, it felt a little odd walking the leafy downtown streets in mid-January. I would imagine during the high summer the trees provide essential shade but even in subtropical Egypt the winter is cool and, where the deciduous trees in a temperate climate would have lost their leaves, the subtropical evergreens create a moody shade.

Upon the layers and layers of history to wade through in Cairo, the relatively recent European colonial influence is very obvious in the architecture of Downtown Cairo including the mansions that flank the Nile. Quite a few of these buildings have been abandoned as the Egyptian elites have largely moved out of the old city into new estates guarded by tall walls and armed guards, referred to as "compounds". One such abandoned mansion in the Dokki neighborhood caught my eye. Crumbling apart, the garden plants were thriving. 

Probably one of the most impressive trees I came across in Cairo was a Banyan Tree - Ficus benghalensis. It's a famous tree in the city, known as the Cairo Tower tree, or Zamalek tree, and is more than 150 years old. What looks like the large tree in the middle of the road with a number of other large trees planted around it is, upon closer inspection,  one single tree.

Banyan trees begin life as an epiphyte (a plant that grows on another plant). Usually, the seed of an epiphyte will germinate in a crack or crevice of a host tree and when large enough will send down roots that anchor into the soil and eventually form a trunk. As the plant takes over the host with its own growth and forms a canopy the plant will send down further growth from its branches that will form new trunks. 

Cairo by night- taken from Cairo Tower looking South up the Nile

Al Azhar Park - Cairo

Al Azhar Park is a perfect way to escape the din of the city. The park is built on a 30-hectare site, surrounded by what looks like a post-apocalypse landscape. The area used to be a dumping ground for rubble from earthquakes, wars, fires, and urban reconstruction and had reached a height of 45 meters tall. Aga Khan, a royal figure, had watched this pile of rubble grow over the decades from his palace terrace and one day in 1984 decided to clean it up and replace it with an Oasis. 

Mission accomplished!

Al-Hazar is an excellent garden that gets a lot of use from the public. It's composed of large grassed areas subdivided by low-growing hedging, intricately landscaped sections, water features, and forested areas. 

Roystonia regia -  Cuban royal palms are planted in rows alongside the central access of the garden 

The central access leads to a beautifully landscaped herb garden 

There are a number of elevated areas that provide excellent views, 4 or 5 restaurants and cafes, water features, ponds, and lots of brides and grooms posing for wedding photos. It's pretty magical at sunset.

A variety of drought-tolerant shrubs are densely planted and tightly trimmed serving as ground cover for the canopy trees.

That's all for this post, during the next post I'll be looking at horticulture along the Nile, Sugar Cane and a dive into some plants featured in Ancient Egyptian artifacts.  

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We offer a diversity of plants and seeds for permaculture, forest gardens and regenerative landscapes including a range of fruit and nut cultivars. We Deliver all over Europe from Nov - March. - Give a happy plant a happy home :)

Our Bio-Nursery - Permaculture/Polyculture/ Regenerative Landscape Plants 

Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course 

Want to learn how to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes?  Join us on our Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course. We look forward to providing you with the confidence, inspiration, and opportunity to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes, gardens, and farms that produce food and other resources for humans while enhancing biodiversity.

You can find the course details here and at the moment we have a $350 ( 20%) discount for full enrollment to the course. Just use RLD2024 in the promo code  section of the registration form to receive your discount. 

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The Bloom Room is designed to create a space for more in-depth learning, for sharing projects and ideas, for seeking advice and discovering opportunities.

Ultimately, it aims to build a more intimate, interactive, and actionable relationship between members, a way for the Bloom Room community to support each other’s projects and learning journeys, and to encourage and facilitate the design, build, and management of more regenerative landscapes across our planet.

What you can expect as a member of the Bloom Room

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Tuesday 1 March 2022

Balkan Ecology Project - Winter/Spring Newsletter 2022

  On a mission to develop and promote practices that can produce food and other resources for humans while enhancing biodiversity


We hope you are well wherever you may be on our beautiful planet and a very warm welcome to our winter newsletter where you can find what we've been up to and what we're up to next. 

Volunteer Project and Community Work in Shipka

If you are following our blog you will be aware that last season Sophie hosted our first European Solidarity Corps (ESC) volunteering project.  We had an amazing team join, focussing on local community work in the town and learning about how to produce food and other resources for humans while enhancing biodiversity via practical work around our gardens. 

The community-building aspect of the project was very rewarding as we found so many people in need of a hand. The volunteers regularly visited seven elderly people, many of whom lived alone, and helped out with garden work.  A heart-warming intercultural and intergenerational exchange took place and the volunteers learned new skills and some traditional methods of preservation from the elderly people that they helped.

The extra helping hands were also much appreciated in the communal parts of the town where the volunteers assisted the major's team with seasonal tasks such as watering, weeding the central park, clearing the autumn leaf fall (that made excellent mulch in the gardens), and some planting including a Butterfly Polyculture for the central park.

Thank you so much to the volunteers, it was an honour and inspiring to meet and work with such a creative and talented group of multinational young people. The future of our planet seems promising with international bright young things like this around. They all have interesting projects and talents, so check out the links for more info or to connect. Markus from Estonia, Ruxandra from RomaniaTara from Slovenia, Ruhsar from Turkey/The NetherlandsFanny from France, Hekim from Turkey, Marco from Switzerland and Julian from Germany.

Special thanks to our wonderful Mayor Vasilka Panayotova and to Misha and Philip from the Green School Village for coordinating the ESC project. We'd also like to thank Sophie from Ura Gora Foundation for being an amazing mentor to the volunteers and for her support of the project in general and Rumyana Stoyanova, Kristiana Karneva, Elitsa Maksimova & Mihail Kossev for their involvement.

You can find a week-by-week diary of the ESC Project on our blog here.

Land Stewardship around Koprinka Lake 

We're pleased to announce that we've extended our land stewardship by 2.4 hectares to include land around Koprinka Lake nearby to our site in Shipka.

We have some great plans for the future development of this site, that we'll be sharing in our next newsletter. For the immediate future, the site will be managed as a wildlife reserve, allowing natural succession to work its magic. We'll probably harvest some Robinia pseudoacacia saplings, that are growing around the periphery of the site, to prevent them from taking over the area and encourage more diversity in the herb layer. 

We've already started to create some conceptual designs for the site, segmenting the area into 30 forest gardens with small cabins.

Thank you Georgi Pavlov for the beautiful artistic impression of the garden designs and we look forward to working with Georgi further as we develop this project.

Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course 

Want to learn how to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes?  Join us for our Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course from May 1st to Sep 13th, 2023. 

We're super excited about running the course and look forward to providing you with the confidence, inspiration, and opportunity to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes, gardens, and farms that produce food and other resources for humans while enhancing biodiversity.

Regenerative Landscape Design Online Course

You can find out all about the course here and right now we have a 20% discount on the full enrollment fees. Just use the promo code
 RLD2023 in the section of the registration form to receive your discount. 

We are looking forward to providing you with this unique online learning experience - as far as we know, the very first of its kind. If you are thinking of reasons why you should do this course and whether this course is suitable for you, take a look here where we lay it all out. Looking forward to it!

Our Forest Garden Nursery

The good news is that more and more people are starting forest gardens. We know this because we continue to receive more and more emails from new people and projects that would like us to send them plants, bulbs, cuttings, and seeds. It's a real pleasure to comply, thank you so much to our customers for giving our plants new happy homes.

New Plants in The Nursery for 2022  

We've been continuing to expand the diversity of plants we offer from the nursery always focussing on plants that are beneficial to wildlife, provide fertility to the gardens, and of course produce delicious fruits and nuts. New plants this season include the below. Click on plant names for the full plant profile. 

Corylus colurna - Turkish Hazel
Diospyros lotus - Plum Date
Tilia tomentosa - Silver Lime 
Thymus x citriodorus  Lemon Thyme
Ocimum sp. - Perennial Basil 'Magic Blue'

Woodland Trees/Hedging Plants 
Acer pseudoplatanus -  Great Maple
Acer campestre - Field Maple
Carpinus betulus - Hornbeam
Corylus colurna - Turkish Hazel 
Fraxinus ornus - Manna Ash
Liquidambar styraciflua - Sweet Gum 
Maclura pomifera - Osage Orange 
Ostrya carpinifolia - Hop Hornbeam 
Quercus rubra -  Red Oak 
Taxus baccata  -  English Yew 


Sideritis syriaca Ironwort
Achillea clypeolata - Balkan Yarrow
Artemisia abrotanum - Southernwood
Thymus x citriodorus  Lemon Thyme
Ocimum sp. - Perennial Basil 'Magic Blue'
New Cultivars for 2022  

We have a new selection of grafted Sour Cherry and Jujube cultivars. Click on the banners for cultivar details

For our full selection of fruit and nut cultivars click here 

For bulbs, tubers, seeds, and root cuttings "click to buy" all year round from our online store here.

Polyculture Study

Given the uncertainty that a certain submicroscopic infectious agent has produced over the last few years, we found it rather difficult to plan for and organize our Polyculture Study. We made the decision to put the research on pause for a while and try some other options such as the ESC project that Sophie ran last year. I (Paul) took some time to travel, write and plan for some future projects we're working on.

We've also taken this opportunity to improve the project site infrastructure in order to address some problems, namely, irrigation, wild animals eating our research, and having our gardens spread out over the town. In response to this, we're focussing on a new area to concentrate our research and demonstration gardens and should have the area fenced by spring and a perennial source of water installed.

Dylan will be maintaining the gardens and keeping the nursery plants watered this Spring and Summer and we're looking forward to resuming our research project in 2024.    

You can find records and reports from our polyculture research from previous years here.

Spring Open Day - April 17th, 2022

Come along, we look forward to meeting you!

We made it to the Top 10!

Thanks to all of our readers and supporters that enjoy and share our content, we have moved up into the top 10 most popular ecology blogs on the planet according to Feedspot's Top 40 ecology blogs and websites.

Their selection is based on a combination of algorithmic and human editing that, they claim, offers the best means of curation. Seeing as we did not submit our blog to the website it seems the algorithms are picking up on the global support and interest in our project, which is fantastic!

We really appreciate it when you like, comment, and share our work. It provides us with moral support and encouragement, helps more people find our project, and hopefully builds towards helping us on our mission to develop and promote practices that can produce food and other resources for humans while enhancing biodiversity.

So again, a big thank you to all of our readers and supporters :) 

New Payment System for 2022

We are super grateful that our project continues to grow attention from around the world both from the people that visit our project for courses, internships, and volunteer programs and the people that read our blog, join our online courses, buy our plants and seeds online and follow the information we share via social media. According to google analytics, the only countries we have not had visitors from, so far, are Mauritania, Central African Republic, and Republic of the Congo (marked with red dots on the map below) If you know someone from those countries, please share :) 

Given that our audience and customer base are from all over the world, this presents a challenge in how we process payments. Recently we have been looking into ways to make this easier for our customers as well as ourselves and we're pleased to announce that we will be trying out FTX Pay and now accept digital $ (USDC or USDT). We'll be integrating this payment option into our website and can take payments peer to peer from anyone on the planet with a cryptocurrency wallet or an FTX account. If you don't have an FTX account, you can create an account and enjoy this new payment network for yourself or for your own business here.

As a side note, this is by no means an endorsement of all cryptocurrency. As this nascent technology finds the path to becoming practically useful, the way is paved with insidious scammers so please do be careful. We are only offering this service because it appears to us to be a legitimate business that is solving a real problem.

New Blog Posts and Articles from 2021

Sophie took on the bulk of the blogging last year and you can find her weekly diary for 2021 here. We've also been co-writing some new growing guides of fruit and nut trees that we love, which you can find below. 

The Essential Guide to Probably Everything you Need to Know about Growing Cornelian Cherry - Cornus mas

With the research program on hold for now I (Paul) took the opportunity to travel last year and will continue to do so this year. I'll be blogging about the plants and gardens I come across during my travels. You can find some of last year's posts about plants in Turkey below.

You can also follow day-to-day observations, largely related to plants that I come across, during my travels on our Instagram account here.

Thanks, as always, to  Permaculture Research Institute and Permaculture Magazine for continuing to publish our articles and blog posts and for sharing our work with a wider audience. 

2023 International Forest Garden / Food Forest Symposium

Following the success of the first Symposium, the second International Forest Garden / Food Forest Symposium will be held online from 21-24 February 2023. Hosted by Martin Crawford, this online gathering of forest gardening and food forest practitioners and academic researchers explores the current state and future prospects for these regenerative land-use systems. You can find out more about the event, how to apply for your own presentation and ticket ordering here

That's all from us for now, wishing you productive seasons and happy growing in 2022!

Thanks again to all our friends, family, volunteers, readers, and customers that make our project possible. 

Until next time!

Paul, Sophie, Dylan, and Archie