Gardening in the Foreign Service

“It’s nothing to shout about but it made such a difference to nurture something and to have some more green in all the cement.  I think we’ll keep on trying to garden wherever we go, despite our limited success. There is just something therapeutic about it.”  – Small Bits

Antananarivo, August 1989

I just had to get outside.

That was pretty much the reason I first started gardening — in Madagascar 20 years ago.  And that is the reason I’m running a bit late with this Friday Foreign Service Bloggers’ Round Up on “gardens created, loved, and left.”

Yesterday was beautiful here in D.C. We finally got a break in the weather, with a high of only 86º and low humidity.  By early afternoon, when I should have been settling down to write, I chucked it all and walked down to Dunbarton Oaks Garden (more on that later in the week).

So now, I’ll get right to it.  All the posts were so enjoyable.  Thanks to everyone who responded to the theme!

Small Bits in “209 of 365” writes about gardening in the harsh climate of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.

“It is hot (over 100) and kind of humid in the summer but can still freeze in the winter. The wind blows all the time. And when it rains, it dumps water out of the sky, which can wash plants away. When it doesn’t rain, lots of plants shrivel right up unless they have access to some shade. December and November are gorgeous though.”

They use planter boxes so they can move the plants out of the driving rain (or even inside during a freeze).  They’ve had good success with volunteer watermelons and citrus (lucky!).   They also report that the birds eat their chilis.  This intrigues me too.  Has anyone else seen this?

Sadie Abroad writes about “The Miracle Orchid.”

“Now, I am not any kind of a green thumb.  I am very, very bad with plants.  I like them, but I am not good at keeping them alive.  When I lived in South Africa, one of my friends and I shared this amazing furnished cottage.  It was not until we had lived there several months that we realized we had a 6-foot tall plant in our dining room.  We realized it because it was dying and the leaves were falling off and crunching underfoot.  Whoops.  So that’s the kind of thing I’m talking about.”

But co-workers in New Hampshire gave her an orchid, which persisted in not only surviving, but thriving and repeat blooming, so it got to make the trip to Oakwood when she joined the Foreign Service.  Now in Saudi Arabia, she has adopted a 5′ tall “plant of some sort,” which she has named Aziza.  This is often how it starts.

3rdculturechildren writes affectionately of their home in Southwest D.C. in “Photography: gardens who were left behind. . .”  and posts some very sweet pictures.

“It’s our ‘home base’, our safe haven, the place to where we always come back to. It’s very close to our hearts – our first apartment as a married couple, the home for our first born child and the return home after the first overseas adventure.”

Whale Ears and other Wanderings lives in Jordan, where things are a bit too hot and dry for much yard work at the moment.  But back in May, she wrote about the pleasure of starting a garden in “She Puts the Lamb in the Oven . . . Preparing a Garden for Spring” and “For Lack of Anything to Say — Flowers.”

Those were the two posts she submitted, but I poked around and found “Gardening Like a Madwoman” from March, which I very much enjoyed, since I love a good chopping spree myself.  (BTW, I think your blue-flowered “majnoon” vine is plumbago.  If so, you can keep it pruned to 2′ to 3′ high and use it as a flowering bedding plant or a hedge.)

By the where writes about her bumper crop of zucchini in “Jardin.” 

“We’ve eaten so much zucchini so far this year it’s silly. Justin has told me that he doesn’t want to eat zucchini again maybe ever and that 16 inch bad boy above (12 inches in girth) — [there’s a photo; it is impressive] — is currently being turned into ridiculous amounts of zucchini bread that we are going to gift. Don’t even start with me on telling me there are more ways to eat zucchini than in bread or sautéed. We’re zucchini-d out and that’s a fact.”

Been there — but with yellow cherry tomatoes, on the roof in Togo.

Life in the Land of the Long White Cloud writes in “Garden City to City in a Garden” about the heartbreak of realizing that the old Christchurch, New Zealand, is gone forever after the earthquake six months ago.  But there is inspiration in the story of its plans to rebuild over the next 10 years — making its gardening heritage the starting point for renewal.

“Christchurch, the Garden City, will become the city in a garden, according to its broad-shouldered mayor. The Central Business District will, in effect, be a thing of the past. Most of the landmark buildings, its heritage, its calling cards, will be gone. The new city will be lower, greener and more spread out. At the heart of the new Christchurch will be the gorgeous, leisurely Avon River. Upon its banks will be serpentine parks, bike paths and green areas – a botanical soul to a defiant city.”


I know this has been a very long post, but I want to ask everyone who needs to order anything from Amazon to please go to the website of the Anthology Books of the Pages and Places Book Festival (Scranton, Pa.) and use their Amazon portal.  

During August, through this portal, a portion of your purchases (for anything at Amazon) will go to the Veterans Writing Project, a 501(c)3 non-profit.  Every veteran has a story, and the project is helping him or her to tell it.  

The Project provides no-cost writing seminars and workshops for veterans and family members at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and through the veterans symposium at George Washington University.  It will also be working with the Johns Hopkins Graduate Writing Program in the spring.  For more information, go to or write to


Filed under garden writing, life in gardens, nature, working in the garden

16 responses to “Gardening in the Foreign Service

  1. Thanks for a great Round Up! I really enjoyed this topic and the great stories and ideas you’ve collected here.

  2. Thanks again for hosting, Cindy! A great theme, and you wrapped it up as a beautiful bouquet! :o

  3. Hey SIL…I found you!! I can’t believe you didn’t send me a link!

    I have read it all and really enjoyed it…you have now been properly added to my dashboard and I can’t wait to see what you do in Rwanda!

    So sorry we missed Monday…I haven’t gone to work all week….I wish I had insisted Don go but I only had half a brain!

  4. What a beautiful Round Up. You did such a great job with this. Thanks for including me and thanks for a great read. I loved reading your story as well. I hope you host again sometime. I am enjoying your blog too because it is helping me with our garden efforts. (I think my kids could totally go for those glowing grass things you talked about the other day.)

    (PS On the chilies: when we asked someone about it, he thought it was funny that we were surprised by it. Shows how much we had to learn.)

  5. I can’t get the link to your Madagascar garden to work. Am I doing something wrong?

  6. I hope that when you settle in Rwanda, y0u will be able to explore plants that are native/indigenous to your new country. Rain forest? Lush tropical, new to commonorgarden plants??

    What a fascinating collection of gardens – I love when the hostess talks us thru, and invites us to visit! Instead of, here’s the list, get on with it ;~(

  7. BTW NZ link is broken, going to type it in, and try again …

  8. Thank you for hosting the round up! What a lovely read! And thank you, and Diana at Elephant’s Eye, for helping to ID that flowering vine. I like Small Bit’s quote at the beginning. The few times we’ve moved into homes with private gardens, they are usually devoid of all but patchy grass or are overgrown jungles. By the time I get the ground and plants figured out, it’s time to move again, but this frustration has never stopped me from getting out there and starting all over again. I had a laugh about the pine needles… my gardeners think I’m insane when I do stuff like that. I’ve even caught them cleaning up bread crumbs that I tossed out for the birds! I’m not sure what to recommend for acquiring the specific roses you desire, btw, but you might be able to bring rooting compound and obtain cuttings when you arrive in Rwanda from an established garden… maybe?

  9. Enjoyed the weekly round up! This makes me excited to start our little herb garden on our balcony! Cheers!!!!

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