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.
Tell us a tale and win $1500 HKD
Here’s your chance to get published – and make some money at the same time. We’re looking for 500-word written contributions on any funny, poignant, practical or even controversial topic that touches on expat life in Hong Kong. Simply email your stories in a Word document to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll consider them for inclusion in an upcoming issue.
This article first appeared in the Winter 2020 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.