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Lawn, lawn go away

December 27, 2015


L - R Long leaf Italian kale, green kale, purple kale / Photos by the writer
L - R Long leaf Italian kale, green kale, purple kale / Photos by the writer

Q. You discourage people to have lawns with expensive grass and encourage them to have less costly, low maintenance, less water requiring, alternatives. What exactly are these alternatives? I live in Islamabad where houses generally have small to medium-sized lawns.

A. I am delighted that you have asked as, in doing so, it indicates an interest in switching to a more sustainable type of gardening than lawns can ever be. Such alternatives include the following: replacing lawns with neatly laid gravel / stone chips which may, or may not, have lower / vegetable beds as a part of the design. Replacing lawns with a suitable number of trees for the area involved and then under-planting these trees with ornamental, edible or otherwise useful plants. Laying paving stones / marble slabs / natural stone / artistically arranged bricks, instead of grass, allowing for planting areas here and there among them, is, once done, low maintenance and can be very attractive. If the area is to be used for sitting / dining outside, then concreting it, leaving a plantable border all around, is another, easy to keep clean, practical idea.

Replacing expensive lawns with low-maintenence landscaping is a good idea to consider

Q. I am interested in growing kale as a green vegetable at my home in Rawalpindi. I cannot, however, find the seeds in my local seed store. I did an internet search and discovered that its Urdu name is ‘Karam Kala’ which is a type of saag already growing in Punjab. Please tell me if the kale you mention is the same thing as ‘Karam Kala’.

A. There are many varieties of what is, generally, called kale and yes, ‘Karam Kala’ is one of them. Botanically speaking, kale is a member of the diverse family Brassica oleracea which also includes cabbages, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and broccoli. All require similar soil conditions but sowing times vary according to each specific variety. Kale / ‘Karam Kala’ is best grown over the winter to early spring months.

Q. What are the local names for herbs such as rosemary, tarragon, marjoram, etc? The shops selling dried herbs can rarely be trusted as they sell expired stuff and sometimes give something else completely. These herbs are prescribed by Hakeems, so you can imagine the problems patients are facing.

A. It is somewhat surprising that Hakeems are prescribing imported herbs such as rosemary and tarragon to their patients now. Marjoram — this is indigenous in northern parts of the country, is understandable of course. As for local names: imported species of herbs rarely have local names, aside from mispronounced English or mispronounced botanical ones. This is true of both rosemary and tarragon which are sold, as dried herbs or as nursery plants / seeds, simply as rosemary / rosemarinous / rozmari / rusmari and tarragon as tarragon. Marjoram is known as ‘marzamjoosh / mirzamjosh / sathra’ depending on which part of the country you are in. Flax is ‘alsi’, basil is ‘tulsi / niazbo’, dill — ‘sowa’ and fenugreek is ‘methi’. For others, I suggest that you search on the internet for English / Urdu names.

No need for grass
No need for grass

Q. Does hell-fire spray work on tiny red ants?

A. Yes, although repeated applications, at weekly intervals until the problem is under control, will probably be needed. It is also important to locate the ants’ nest and destroy this by pouring in lots of hell-fire spray; otherwise they will keep on coming back. Track the ants back to their nest / nests, by laying out a few grains of sugar for them: the worker ants will pick up the grains and carry them back to their nest — all you have to do is to follow them to their home.

Q. I planted a Gul Mohr tree outside the boundary wall of my house six years ago. It flourished, grew to a height of 14ft and flowered brilliantly until last summer when it failed to bloom at all. New leaves kept appearing but then curled up and wilted. The same happened this year and the tree looks bare and unlovely. I have used several pesticides, various chemical based plant foods and manure, plus, dug near the tree roots so that it got maximum benefit from these. The other plants in the same plot, including a mature coconut palm, a bottle palm and bougainvilleas, all seem to be fine. What could be the problem and how best to deal with it please?

A. Your Gul Mohr tree, botanically known as Poinciana regia or as Delonix regia depending on botanical reference source, has a fungal disease not insect pests which is why pesticides had no effect. It is possible that the fungal disease is either Pleiocharta selosa or a form of fusarium may be attacking the tree roots. In either case, using a sulphur based fungicide may be of help. Fungicide should be sprayed / watered on, during January / February for best results. If there is fusarium of some kind, in its roots — these tend to be shallow at the best of times — the tree may be destabilised and could, therefore, fall over in a strong wind. Take care please!

Lawn replacement
Lawn replacement

Q. I live in Murree and have decided to grow a bonsai pine tree. Please tell me the method of doing this. I am 15 years old and love bonsai trees.

A. Creating a bonsai is a complicated and time consuming procedure which includes pruning of certain tree roots and, sorry, but this is too long to detail here. Do not, however, despair: you can partially bonsai a baby pine tree by growing it in a very small pot. This method restricts root growth and naturally dwarfs the tree without you having to prune any roots. I will write on the subject of bonsai at some point. Good luck!

Please continue sending your gardening queries to 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 27th, 2015