When I arrived in Hong Kong I was heavily pregnant and relocating from the Solomon Islands. We had, for the previous three years enjoyed the benefits of a tropical paradise – full coral beachfront, wide palm fringed garden and unobstructed views of the ocean. And we had a gardener!! My home finding at the hands of a local agent had left me in tatters. How could I survive in a 30th floor apartment with no balcony, and planes whizzing past the windows near Kai Tak Airport? I knew people lived in places like Clearwater Bay and the Southside, but we had a budget that wasn’t going there. I was excited when an expat agent suggested I visit Discovery Bay. At last someone who understood. I didn’t even view the rooms of the house when I walked into my first Hong Kong low-rise, and glimpsed a long strip of green grass with a white sand beach beyond. I had found HOME. I had no idea how my husband would get to work but we had a BEACH and a GARDEN! Almost 24 years later, as an agent now myself, I recently leased the same home (with no improvements) for double our budget of 1993 and wondered to myself if the eager tenants really understood what owning a garden in Hong Kong means – I certainly didn’t and I wonder now if I would reconsider if I had.
As a keen member of the HK Gardening Society I moved on – to the New Territories and 4000 sf of unkempt scrub which we stoically built up with composting and cuttings to a sizeable oasis of fruit trees, ponds and contemplation corners. Along the way I made friends with people who did the same. Gardening people tend to hang together, even in the face of growing doubts that they are sane. Mosquito breeds and snake species came to be part of my vernacular and we fought on, chopping our way out after typhoons and euthanising chickens in a birdflu epidemic, to retain the country lifestyle. Our kids grew up rock climbing and stream hopping and we entertained in the garden and had annual bonfires and luau’s – until we got a divorce.
I had never lived in a high rise – and I had no idea what that meant. It certainly meant less room and certainly didn’t involve garden furniture, but it did involve free time, clean floors and a strange sensation of not quite ever being alone. I’d never even had curtains! The first night I didn’t sleep a wink as I listened to lift bells dinging and chairs scraping on all four sides of my flat. And so for the last three years I have lived without a garden. Let me tell you how that feels.
I miss it.
I miss the smell of plants and fresh cut grass and I miss the sound of plopping turtles. I miss the cool evenings having a glass of wine under the trees and admiring the days effort. I miss the fun of kids running amok and chasing puppies, but I don’t miss all that comes with it – hours and hours of pulling weeds, repositioning hoses, clearing drains and smacking bugs.
Leasing a home with a garden is a bigger noose around your neck than adopting a dog. You will enjoy a garden for about three months a year – in between the rain and the cold. If you are here in October, November and March it will be wonderful. The rest of the year you will either be watering or baling. Now don’t get me wrong – as a Real Estate Agent with some knowledge of HK’s greener sides, I still lease homes with gardens, and some are magnificent, but seldom to people who are seasoned expats. Nowadays, we have so many options to enjoy gardens – public gardens – that owning one yourself is hardly necessary. A few herbs in pots and you are done. A palm in the living room and you are positively transported. Honestly – having a garden is for the birds but this is just my opinion. Now I don’t have a garden! I am happily enjoying running, and exploring areas of Hong Kong I’ve never really appreciated – Hong Kong IS a garden. A wonderful garden of Eden in all seasons and I love it!