The theme of this week's Corner View is actually 'garden', but I'm going to look at more than one, as here in Oman we have an unispiring back yard with a bit of bougainvillea, which attracts Sunbirds, African Silverbills and White-eyes, but it's not particularly photogenic. Back home in Hampshire, we have a house with a typical English garden, but as we only go back to take care of it for a few weeks each summer, it's beginning to go to rack and ruin. Probably, the most interesting garden I ever had was when I lived in a little whitewashed villa in Spain. It had orange and persimmon trees and grape vines, and I copied the locals by growing most of my own vegetables there. Can't find any photos of it though. You probably noticed there were a few 'buts' there, which all leads me to the fact that I'm not going to show you any of them. Instead I'm going to look at a few public gardens that have particularly impressed me in my travels around the world.
I like minimalist gardens, maybe because they are so different to what I grew up with in England, and I've always been attracted to the exotic. My favourite is the Zen Rock Garden at Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto. It consists simply of a rectangle filled with a bed of gravel and fifteen rocks. Laid out in the fifteenth century, it is regarded as a masterpiece of Japanese culture.
"That is a description, but to understand its effect, and its purity, you have to go there. The design generates tension, drawing the viewer to contemplate the mystery of Zen. It can't be photographed in entirety, the dimensions could drive any photographer to distraction, but thats the beauty of it. All you can do is just put the camera away, sit down and contemplate it. Especially when you realize that no matter where you sit, you will only see 14 of the rocks at any one time. The longer you sit, the more the garden fascinates." Japan Travel Guide. So, again, no photos, but it left a lasting impression on my mind, as I'm sure it will on yours when you go to see it for yourself. I expect some of you already have.
My second favourite is Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech. Currently owned by Yves Saint Laurent, it was originally laid out by another Frenchman, Jacques Majorelle, in 1886. Like the Ryoanji rock garden, it is a place that inspires contemplation and wonder, although I'm sure that some visitors must walk round it once, which can be done in less than five minutes, and ask, 'Is that it?' The garden is indeed small and simple, but the cacti and palm trees are set off to perfection by the blue architecture. This time there are photos, but they don't really do it justice. Again, you should go to Marrakech and see it for yourself one day.
Third place must be shared by a number of botanical gardens which feature collections of rare and exotic plants and trees collected by Victorian botanists , including Kew Gardens in London and the Royal Botanical gardens of Calcutta and Kandy, the last of which is featured in the photos. They are vestiges of a lost empire, and, like my garden in England, many of them, especially the one in Calcutta, are becoming ovegrown and going to rack and ruin. The great Mughal Shalimar gardens on the shores of Dal lake in Kashmir have been abandoned and neglected for even longer, but you can still conjure up visions of their lost beauty as you drift by them in a shikara .
Do you remember that children's book by Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden? There is something intriguing about the idea of being able to enter a long-lost secret garden, isn't there?
I have/had two big ambitions: the first to travel to 100 countries and live in 20 of them; the second to become a full-time writer.
Last year, I visited my 106th country: Rwanda. Countries I've lived in recently include South Korea, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Romania, Oman and, lastly, Egypt, which is the nineteenth country I've worked in.