In our Parting Shot series, readers share their stories of expat life in Hong Kong. Here, LOUISE CROWE meditates on growing things and what she learned from planting a herb garden in Hong Kong.
A few months ago, I decided to plant a herb garden on the balcony. It marked the end of a difficult period, in which employment and a future in Asia were very uncertain indeed. At times during those troubled months, I felt rootless and stateless, unwanted, and unable to express agency over my circumstances. It’s amazing how our thoughts can spiral out of control when the basics, like a place to live, feel precarious.
Planting a herb garden was very noticeably an antidote to all that. I purposefully chose aromatic herbs like rosemary, tarragon and mint, which release a scent at the slightest brush. Elbow-deep in potting compost, I very quickly realised that, from the eighth floor, I was literally grounding myself and fulfilling a previously unrecognised need to put down roots.
The idea began earlier when my attempts to reduce my plastic footprint progressed from the bathroom to the kitchen, and the small, over-priced plastic pouches of herbs started to bother me. A couple of weeks after assembling the herbs, when I still couldn’t walk past them without a quick tousle and sniff, I noticed a wrinkled tomato in the fridge and remembered the leftover compost and spare pots I had stashed away in the back kitchen.
Fast forward three months and the situation seems to be getting out of hand. Now I have tomato, bay, capsicum and chilli plants growing beside the sage, thyme, oregano, tarragon, mint, marjoram, rosemary and coriander – close to one hundred plants in total, not counting the ones I have given away to friends. I keep thinking that some will die back or succumb to a disease but instead they continue to grow and thrive.
It’s such a simple pleasure to plant a seed and watch it grow, one that I now struggle to believe I had lost touch with. First comes the anticipation. Then, after a week or so, delicate stems begin to appear on the surface of the soil – they’re bent at the waist in the evening, then standing proud waving their seed leaves the following morning, ta daah! At first there is one, then a couple more; suddenly, there’s a burgeoning cacophony, growing so fast you can almost hear them.
Watering has become an evening ritual. I should buy a watering can but in truth, traipsing to and fro with a jug is all part of the slowing down and the quietening at the end of the day. There’s a stillness to this collection of plants, and a quiet determination not just to survive but to thrive. If they’ve wilted in a hot, drying wind, a cool drink makes them stand proudly again within a few minutes. It’s almost like gratitude made visible.
The rate of change is slower now. They’re steadily building height and strength, siphoning carbon from the atmosphere. I expect they’ll flower in another month or two and we’ll see what pollinators they attract, which other species they will benefit. So, for now, it’s a waiting game. First grounding, then gratitude and now patience. I wonder what these plants will teach me next.
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This article first appeared in the Winter 2020 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.