The months tend, if you are a dedicated gardener, to slide into one another as the years cycle through seasonal planting routines with, it is hoped, a few interesting experiments — the kind which make a gardeners heart sing — adding exciting variations on a theme along the way.
It is so utterly satisfying when you succeed with something new garden-wise, be this with a previously untried plant species, producing something ‘out of season’, discovering that a new to you or, even better, personally ‘invented’ planting procedure works, watching your own grown and harvested seeds spring to life after being sown and so much more. It is, quite often, these aforesaid pleasures — although there may be some disappointments thrown into the mix — which contribute to making gardening the wonderful experience it undoubtedly is.
Gardening is, no matter how many years you have been addicted, also an endless learning experience: lessons learnt, sometimes painful ones, being excellent reference ‘books’ for future application or adaptation.
Most gardeners prefer to stick to scheduled sowing while some like to experiment and sometimes are blessed with unexpected results
One can sometimes get rather carried away and fatally overconfident with self-imposed challenges such as sowing seeds at what is definitely the wrong time of year for the species, something I am undeniably guilty of but it can be so hard, when overly excited by a new seed delivery, to resist the sowing urge. Sometimes this has worked, at other times not and this year, for example, I squandered time, effort, water and hard earned cash by enthusiastically sowing asparagus, sweet fennel, celeraic, lupins, roses and a fantastic collection of aquilegia seeds when common sense advised better. The weather was simply too hot and, when not a single seed of any of the above managed to germinate. I hung on to the hope that, as seeds can lie in the soil for years (thousands of years in some cases) and spring to life when climatic conditions suit them, come cooler days, the seeds would germinate after all. But, something — perhaps ants — interfered as I am still waiting. Maybe I will get a wonderful surprise in the spring!
Having said this, I do, and have done so repeatedly, advised you to sow / plant at un-traditional times of the year as, without any shadow of a doubt, the climate has changed and continues to do so but, as I have learnt, something like a month before and until a month after traditional planting times should suffice for now!
Having got this confession off my chest, let’s now take a quick look at some plant species which can, I promise, be sown / grown, all year round through the plains and coastal regions of our incredibly climatic and soil diverse country.
Joint top of list just has to be ginger and its almost inseparable ‘buddy’, garlic.
Ginger is, basically speaking, a tropical or sub-tropical, rhizomous plant without which ‘desi’ food would never be the same. It can though, be successfully cultivated in the non-tropical climes of Lahore, Peshawar and, as I discovered to intense personal pleasure, even up in the much cooler, sometimes downright freezing, climes of the Murree Hills but cannot, in this latter spot, be planted all year round. In localities with cold winters, ginger should be spring sown and harvested six to seven months later before the soil freezes and ‘squishes’ it!
In Karachi, ginger can — and should be — planted every single month of the year. It will grow better at some times than at others but is still, very much, worth growing either directly in prepared ground or in suitable pots / containers.
Ginger needs very rich, moisture retentive soil which is free-draining. It benefits greatly if you mix in plenty of homemade, organic compost, before you plant it.
Go to the bazaar and carefully select the fattest, healthiest looking rhizomes you can find — taking care not to fall for the trap of buying the cleanest looking ginger which, unfortunately, may have been ‘cleaned’ and ‘plumped’ out by the health threatening procedure of soaking it in acid!
Each rhizome should have ‘bumps’ which will develop, in time, into growing shoots.
Break / cut each rhizome into chunks about 5cm long, each one with a ‘bump’. Plant these, five to 10cm deep, 15cm apart 15cm between rows: Alternatively, one chunk per 10-inch pot.
Keep watered, give a feed of organic liquid fertiliser once a month, keep weed free and six to eight months later you should have succulent fresh ginger to harvest. Plus, throughout the growing period, it will send up delightful, if rather tall, greenery with, if you are lucky, the benefit of some pretty, fragrant, flowers too. Ginger plants are perfectly at home in prepared flower beds as well as in the herb / vegetable patch.
When starting off ginger, in the plains and coastal regions, from November to February, it is wise to provide night time protection in the form of plastic covers — cut in half water bottles are great — and these can, if day time temperatures are on the low side too, be left in place day and night until spring arrives in force. Or, you can, of course, start off ginger, inside the house, on a sunny windowsill and plant it out when the weather warms up.
Garlic is easy to grow by planting individual cloves. It needs rich, well drained soil in a sunny location. It can also be grown in wooden crates / containers. It needs quite a long growing period to yield bulbs of any size but is worth growing for its ‘cut and come again’ greenery alone.
On the flower front, this month you can still sow seeds of the following: cosmos, Queen Anne’s lace, ageratum, pansies, cornflower, linum, petunia, arcotis, brachycome, candytuft, linaria, sweet peas, larkspur, cornflowers, sweet sultan, alyssum, phacelia, bellis, nemophila and poppies of all kinds.
Vegetables to sow this month include: spring cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, spinach, Swiss chard / leaf beet, pak choi, chopsuey greens, giant red mustard, mustard mizuna, fast maturing varieties of calabresse, radish of all kinds, spring onions, beans, peas, potatoes, rutabaga / swedes, turnips, celery, chicory, endive, lettuce and tomatoes providing you give them protection on cold nights.
Herbs to sow: parsley, borage, lemon balm, watercress, lovage, dill, aniseed, chamomile, chervil, coriander, chives, garlic chives, oregano, marjoram, thyme, sage, rosemary, fast maturing varieties of lavender, mint, nasturtiums and calendula.
Fruit trees to go in December to February, providing they are climatically suitable to your locality, include: apples, pears, peaches, plums, nectarines, olives, apricots, cherries, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, mango, loquat, kumquat, custard apple, chikoo, guava, coconut, date, star fruit, banana and jamun. Dwarf fruit trees can be grown in very large clay pots / containers.
Fruiting vines and fruit shrubs/plants: grapes, passion fruit, kiwi fruit, falsa and those ever popular strawberries about which, due to demand, there will be a full column in two weeks time.
Please continue sending your gardening queries to email@example.com. Remember to include your location. The writer does not respond directly by email. Emails with attachments will not be opened.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, December 6th, 2015