This month let’s start off by taking a look at just a small selection of gorgeous flowers, edible ones, which you can start off from seed right now, besides others which will benefit from some August attention.
On top of the list is the often wonderfully fragrant species Dianthus, of which there are approximately 300 different species belonging to the Careophyllaceae family of plants: A family that contains far more than just the ever popular Sweet Williams which are sold in nurseries simply as Dianthus without the addition of the second part of their botanical name barbatus.
Dianthus species can be annual, bi-annual or perennial and a surprising number of them are perfectly at home here in Pakistan. There are many edible species in each of these three categories but, for reasons of space, it is not possible to examine them all here so let’s examine the most popular ones:
On top of the list is the aforementioned Dianthus barbatus or Sweet William as these attractive — the old-fashioned ones, these are non-hybrid, are often heavily perfumed — are commonly known. Sweet-Williams are simple to grow from seed and this can be started off in seed trays/pots of reasonable organic compost/soil during the second half of this month; just keep it reasonably spaced out if possible,.
It’s the time of year when you can plant lots and lots of flowers in your garden
The seed resembles ‘kalonji’ and should be sown just under the soil/compost surface. The seed trays/pots are best located out of direct sunlight and in a place sheltered from any lingering monsoon showers. Keep the trays/pots just moist — not wet as this would cause the seed to rot or the emerging seedlings to die off. Rather slow growing at first, but rapid once they are established, Sweet Williams are grown as winter to spring, annuals in the plains of Pakistan. Autumn or spring sown bi-annuals in the cool of the hills, quite often, can decide to become short-lived perennials lasting from three to five years on average.
Seedlings are transplanted out during October, by which time they should be strong enough to endure what can, in the plains, be debilitating heat, as long, that is, as they are not planted in a place blasted by direct sunshine throughout the day: A location receiving just four to six hours of direct sunshine each day will suit them just fine.
Sweet Williams can be found in all of the colours of the rainbow and more, with single or double flowers, with green or deep purple leaves and both with and without fragrance. The edible petals have a distinct clove-like taste and, if perfumed, then a sweet, clove-ish fragrance, too. They can be used as garnish on sweet and savory dishes, in salads, in soups, cold drinks, in and on cakes and biscuits, to add spice to cold drinks and are beautiful frozen in ice cubes to be used in whoever way you prefer.
Another favourite member of the same species is the well known Carnation — Dianthus caryophyllus — which is found in annual, bi-annual and perennial forms and which has exactly the same culinary uses as Sweet Williams but tends to have a stronger flavour. Carnation petals also make a wonderful tea and are a delightful addition to things such as apple-jelly which they colour pink. Established perennial forms, be these pot or garden grown, are easily multiplied by root or stem cuttings taken in early autumn or early spring depending on your hot or cool location.
Then there are Pinks — Dianthus plumarius, an annual species, grown for winter to spring displays in the plains and for spring/summer/autumn in the hills which, again, has all the uses of the above mentioned species.
Other flowers to sow this month include: Hollyhocks, dahlias, geraniums, rudbeckia, scabosia, begonias, phlox, salvia, gerbera, cineraria, dianthus and make a head start on petunias and antirrhinums. The latter two can be sown in as many colours and forms as possible to ensure a long lasting garden display right on through into the summer months of next year if they are happy. Dahlia tubers can also be started off now as can seed for Ranunculus and Freesias.
Vegetables and herbs to be started off in partial shade, in the plains this month are: Brussels’ sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, beetroot, spring onions, lettuce, tomatoes, celery, lovage, spinach, leaf beet/Swiss chard, lots of healthy, crunchy radish, chives, garlic chives, borage, thyme, agastache, oregano, echinacea, bergamot, nasturtiums and calendulas to name but a few.
Elsewhere in the garden you may need to pay some attention to grape vines which have, in hot humidity, a tendency to develop that bane of many plants, powdery mildew: This can be kept at bay with regular sprays of Bicarbonate of Soda — 1 tablespoon per litre of warm water. The spraying, of anything — preferably of an organic nature, of course — should be done in the evening hours as to spray when the sun is up, is to invite serious problems such as leaf burn. If toxic substances that so many people, quite wrongly, reply on, are used then beneficial insects (bees included) are ‘murdered’ which is, as sensible gardeners are already aware, detrimental to both the garden and to the sustainability of the environment as a whole.
Grape vines will, if they have finished fruiting of course, benefit from being treated to a light pruning now. Cut back all sappy, weak and overlong growth but do not, whatever else you do, make the mistake of pruning any ‘hard’ wood otherwise the vines will ‘bleed’ and — if they manage to survive — will have lost so much energy that they may not fruit very well, if at all, next season. Pruning of hard wood is only done during the winter months, mid-December to the end of January in the plains, when the vines are enjoying their winter break.
Depending on weather conditions, this month is ideal for adding more trees — preferably fruiting or otherwise useful ones — to your collection or, if you have a garden but no trees, then it’s time to make a start. The same goes for climbers, of all kinds as long as they are not at the flowering or fruiting stage. Hedges can also be planted now with species such as Acalypha, Clerodendron, Lantana, Lawsonia alba, Murraya exotica, Jasminium and Russelia — all being good hedging varieties depending on your needs and location.
Otherwise and as always: take some time for general garden maintenance, paying particular attention to garden hygiene as these tasks can both prevent outbreaks of disease and help guard your beloved plants from insect infestation in the weeks to come.
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Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, August 3rd, 2014