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October herbs

October 05, 2014

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(L to R): Oregano, variegated sage, thyme
(L to R): Oregano, variegated sage, thyme

Creating an edible, as against medicinal or purely ornamental, herb garden is an interesting challenge in Pakistan. Sadly, and this is increasingly relevant, neither access to necessary irrigation water nor climatic conditions here are all that they should really be for the cultivation of popular culinary herbs many of which, quite literally, have their roots in cooler climes.

Many, not all, varieties of herbs such as basil, rosemary, sage, oregano and thyme are native to the Mediterranean region and can, with care, be successfully cultivated here and even be maintained, with the exception of annual basil (we do have our own, indigenous, perennial varieties in some parts of the country). They naturally are long-lived perennials and, despite the trend of blistering hot days with cooler nights this month, now is a good time to make a start on sowing their seeds. Again with the exception of sun-loving, heat-tolerant, basil, which, although can be grown over the winter months, much prefer to be sown during early spring when temperatures are once more on the rise.

Seed suppliers have, as a direct result of customer demand, begun to import a surprising variety of seeds, including herb seeds. But, before making your choice, please read the small print on the packet — or if this is absent which is often the case if imported seeds have been repacked in locally labelled packets — ask for full information as to the origin and type of seed you are considering buying as we want no ‘nasties’ here!


Along with fruit, vegetables and flowers why not try your hand at growing herbs in your garden?


Sage, botanically known as Salvia officinalis, is a very attractive, medium to tall growing, shrubby plant with silvery blue, aromatic leaves above which spires of intense blue flowers appear during spring. A useful, decorative, border plant with so many culinary uses that it is impossible to list them all here, sage is perfectly at home in medium to rich, well draining soil types but while it flourishes in full sun in relatively cooler upland areas, it is best grown in partial shade in the heat of the cities and plains. It can be grown directly in the garden, ideally underneath a shady tree, or in large clay pots or other suitable containers on patios, verandas, balconies and even on rooftops providing that necessary shade is given. Sage will also appreciate protection from strong, especially salty, winds as they burn up and dry out its velvety leaves.

The fairly small seed is, if you handle it carefully of course, large enough to sow individually in small pots, growing trays or whatever you chose to utilise for propagating your seeds. Use a good quality seed sowing compost — preferably an organic one of course — and sow the seed approximately one quarter to half an inch deep; if not sowing in individual pots, allow about four inches all round, between seeds. Place the seed trays/pots in partial shade. Keep the soil/compost damp but not wet. Overly wet conditions will cause the seed — or emerging seedlings — to rot away to nothing more than yucky black slime.

Depending on the freshness of the seeds, germination should begin within 10 to 14 days: older seed, if it is still viable, may take as long as one month before it decides to wake up and grow. If nothing has popped up after a month then you may need to replant with other, fresher seed. Seedlings can be transplanted on to their final growing position when they have developed six to eight true leaves above the original seed leaves that are the first to emerge.

Luscious lettuce
Luscious lettuce

Rosemary or Rosmarinus to give it its botanical title, can be a little tricky to germinate from its very tiny seed — this should be sown just under the soil/compost surface in the same conditions as sage seeds — but plants are available in many nurseries these days so you may prefer to search one out. Alternatively, if you have a friend who is already growing rosemary, request a cutting and take it from there.

There are numerous varieties of perennial oregano and thyme available. From personal experience, however, I strongly suggest that you track down seed for ‘Greek oregano’ — or ‘Origanum’ — as this is the most climatically suitable and definitely the strongest flavoured one around. ‘Creeping thyme’, one of the extremely diverse ‘Thymus’ family, seems to outlive other varieties of thyme in cultivation here. Both oregano and thyme prefer partial shade in hot areas of the country and, like the aforementioned sage and rosemary, have the best survival rates if given partial shade when grown in hot locations. Oregano and thyme are indigenous to the Galiat and northern areas of the country in general but, be warned, digging up plants from the wild is illegal and illogical: they will not survive the summer heat of the plains.

Herb: borage & Lavender herb
Herb: borage & Lavender herb

Other herbs, both seasonal and perennial, to sow in cities and plains areas this month, include: borage, marjoram, chives, garlic chives, parsley, lovage, annual lavender, bergamot, agastache, all varieties of mint, lemon balm, nasturtiums, fennel, aniseed, dill and watercress.

The ever important vegetable garden, albeit directly in the ground or created in pots and other suitable containers, can be expanded now by sowing as many of the following as you can find space for: winter/spring cabbage, cauliflower, green onions, broccoli, calabresse, Brussels’ sprouts, beetroot, carrots, turnips, tomatoes, mustard, lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard / leaf beet, kale, potatoes, peas, climbing beans, bush beans, broad beans, celery and a varied selection of Chinese and Japanese salad greens and winter radishes, too.

On the flower front, continue sowing seeds of petunias, lots of hanging and trailing ones of the old-fashioned, perfumed varieties please, dianthus, cornflowers, annual chrysanthemums, antirrhinums, stocks, bellis, lobelia, pansies, violas, verbena, geraniums, cosmos, wallflowers, larkspur and make a start on preparing the ground for putting in some sweet peas at the end of this month.

Elsewhere in the garden: put some extra effort into compost making, mulch making and laying, water conservation methods and general garden hygiene and keep in mind that prevention is always far better than having to cure!

Please continue sending your gardening queries to zahrahnasir@hotmail.com. Remember to include your location. The writer will not respond directly by email. Emails with attachments will not be opened.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, October 5th, 2014