September is such an exciting month for gardeners that it is hard to know where to start when it comes to listing those all so important tasks to be done in order to turn your green dreams into thriving reality.
Let’s be sensible though and before rushing out to purchase the latest selection of available seeds, bulbs and plants, give some serious consideration to the garden area you have at your disposal: albeit an actual patch of earth, a rooftop, balcony or other such location.
Conjure up a picture of exactly what you wish to achieve: do be realistic please as it is simply impossible, no matter what foreign gardening magazines and television programmes suggest, to create, for example, a lush English garden bursting with European plant species in Multan or Bahawalpur or a miniature Indonesian rain-forest in Quetta!
It is essential to work with exactly what you have in respect of soil conditions, localised climatic factors and, most important of all, the reliable volume of water at your disposal. It is also essential to factor in the average daily hours of direct sunshine your growing area receives, as well as anticipated wind velocity and wind direction.
For a great garden you need to know what species to sow when and where as all do not grow everywhere
Attempting to cultivate completely unsuitable plant varieties — be these edible or ornamental — is a waste of time, energy and hard earned cash, and all too often results in potential gardeners becoming so disillusioned that they are put off practicing what can be such a rewarding pleasure, for life.
This is not to say that one should not experiment — one should and I for one, experiment all the time — but please go about this with a degree of basic knowledge combined with an understanding of specific plant species requirements.
Having figured out the aforementioned points and wisely pondered on them, the next step is to prepare your planting area/pots/containers:
Firstly, clean up!
Pull out all surface weeds, dig out deep rooted perennial ones, prune back any overgrown shrubs, sweep up every single bit of plant debris as this may harbour potential nasties such as slugs and snail or their eggs whilst also encouraging a variety of plant diseases/pests. Strict garden/rooftop/balcony hygiene, maintained around the year, goes a long way towards preventing problems before they have chance to occur.
All disease/pest free garden ‘waste’ should be added to the compost bin/heap: chop up woody, tough or large pieces first as this will aid and speed-up the composting procedure.
If intending to grow things in plant pots/containers, clean them out first: Do not try to minimise on time/effort by sowing seeds directly in previously used pot/container soil/compost. Empty existing soil/compost out into a large bucket/wheelbarrow, remove root debris from previous plants and then mix this old soil/compost — 50/50 is fine — with new soil/compost which provides the essential nutrients growing plants need. The old soil/compost is likely to be ‘food’ deficient as previous plants will have eaten it up.
If growing directly in the ground, it is necessary to prepare planting/sowing areas in advance: sowing expensive seeds/putting expensive plants into unprepared ground is not a good idea!
Planting/sowing areas should, after weeding and de-stoning them, be topped up — presuming they have been used before of course — with very generous amounts of preferably homemade, organic compost or, if you consider it really necessary, old, well rotted, organic manure.
Some important points here:
Not all of the ‘Organic’ compost currently being marketed as such, is really organic: much of it contains manure from poultry farms. Commercially raised poultry is ‘fed’ antibiotics, etc., plus, their daily food supply is mostly — perhaps always — chemically contaminated in one way or another and both medicinal and chemical residues are liable to be present in their manure.
Animal manure — poultry manure is detailed above — is, unless you can find a very different source, ‘harvested’ from places such as buffalo and goat farms in which the animals are routinely dosed with various ‘medicines’ and fed on highly questionable rations that often contain chemicals which, as with poultry, are liable to be present in the manure.
There is now a school of gardening though which completely outlaws the use of poultry and animal manure in any shape or form. This is mainly due to the aforementioned problems but also includes the indisputable fact that, in their natural habitat, plants thrive and multiply on a diet of natural compost — provided by the plants around them — with, perhaps, just a minute amount of manure from wild animals and birds. Those adhering to this school of thought are increasingly replacing manure usage with the ‘chop and drop’ method of laying weeds/disease and pest free plant debris, directly on the soil surface where it is broken down by the combined action of the weather and of beneficial insects.
The choice, as always, is yours but please garden organically as chemical interventions, in any shape or form, are harmful to the environment and to all living things — including yourself!
Having got that off my chest — let’s take a look at what seeds/plants you can put in this month and which will form the basis of your cool weather show. Do, however, keep in mind that these suggestions — for that is exactly what they are — are general. It is necessary to take into account your localised climatic conditions as species suitable for sowing/planting in coastal Karachi, may not be suitable for sowing/planting in places such as Peshawar and Quetta just now.
On the floral front: drifts of very tall growing Queen Anne’s Lace are perfect for creating ‘wild garden’ effects or for making a soft impression at the back of borders and against walls; tall, medium or small hollyhocks in a variety of colours and both single and double forms can make a splendid display. You can also have medium to tall scabosia, medium to tall salvias, stately or not so stately antirrhinums, sun loving calendulas; softy romantic gypsophila; godetia, ageratum, clarkia, Californian poppies or escholtizia; Sweet sultan, larspur, carnations, annual pinks, dahlias, cineraria, phlox, bidens, nemophilia, masses of azure-blue cornflowers, linum, stocks, sweet William’s and as many varieties of annual papaver — poppies — as you can get your hands on. Relatively low growing flowers for pots and edging purposes include: alyssum, petunias, candytuft, lobelia, pansies, violas and bush, not climbing, nasturtiums — reserve the climbing variety for locations which have lots of room for them to climb/ramble and don’t forget, nasturtiums are perfectly edible, as are calendula flowers, too.
Perennial day lilies can also go in towards the end of the month, as can rannunculous, calla lilies, rain lilies and both Asiatic and Oriental lilies.
Vegetables and herbs include: beans, peas, tomatoes, radish, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, calabresse, carrots, turnips, beetroot, celery, lettuce, onions, green onions, parsley, potatoes, endive, mustard, giant red mustard, mizuna, borage, rosemary, thyme, lemon balm, chives, lovage, oregano, agastache, spinach, leaf beet / Swiss chard, mint and aniseed.
Have a wonderful month in your garden!
Please continue sending your gardening queries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember to include your location. The writer will not answer directly by email. Emails with attachments will not be opened.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, September 6th, 2015