‘Absolutely stunning’ is the only way to describe some of the magnificent home gardens lining — or tucked away as the case may be — the highways and byways of chaotic Karachi right now. These glorious ‘gems’, some overpoweringly floriferous, others a beneficial bliss of ornamental and edible plants, serving to underline the indisputable fact that the art of gardening ranks top in the popularity stakes.
Karachiites, along with other ‘ites’ throughout the country, currently seem set on growing anything that can be grown in whatever space, large or small, they can utilise; and gardening enthusiasts have elevated their ideas to transform suitable rooftops into green wonderlands, too. The world of gardening has, over the last 35 years in particular, taken some incredible bounds forward here and new gardeners, of diverse ages, are joining the ‘clan’ each and every single month.
The number of nurseries has and continues to increase in line with market demand, as does the range of both seeds and plants on offer. Also, with gardeners naturally desiring to spend whatever leisure hours possible out there amongst their treasured plants, outdoor furniture and garden ornaments have become more popular and more available which, as far as the writer is concerned, are good indications of a people happy to be re-falling in love — and respect — with nature.
February is a busy month with lots of sowing to be done and a variety of plants to choose from
There are still those — property developers, so-called ‘local authorities’ and the like — who are determined to replace greenery with construction and asphalt; and we must continue to convince them to see ‘environmentalist green’ rather than profit in the hope that good sense will finally prevail.
The ‘battle’ to green up and thus help cool down our cities is far from over. In fact, it has really just begun; therefore, fantastic as many gardens now are, we — all of us without exception — need to plant and grow even more and, this cannot be stressed enough, to do so 100pc chemical free.
‘Pep talk’ done for this month ... it’s time to pick up your tools and get into action!
Tree planting remains a seasonal top of the list of things to do, providing you have adequate space of course. Don’t forget that tree roots often spread out beneath the ground two to four times more in volume than the tree itself, therefore it is highly important that you consider the possible effect on things such as water / sewage pipes, underground cables, wall foundations and building foundations, too. Additionally, water thirsty species, that troublesome ‘eucalyptus’ being a prime example, will send roots out, in all directions, in search of water and will, with surprising ease, penetrate solid concrete water tanks in order to drink their greedy fill. The above ground height and spread of trees once they reach maturity is also important: do not grow large trees where they will interfere with overhead cables, or obstruct necessary sunlight to the rest of your own — or your neighbours — garden and prevent other things from being cultivated there.
Tree species to be found in nurseries right now — this varies throughout the country in line with climatic suitability — include:
Tall: Albizzia lebbeck (Sirus), Melia Azdiracta (Neem), Ethrina indica (Indian coral tree), Pithelocobium saman (Rain tree), Ficus religiosa (Peepul), Tamarindus indica (Imli), Ficus indica (Banyan), Bauhinia (Kachnar), Bombax malabaricum (Silk cotton tree), Jacaranda, Magnolia and Poinciana regia (Flame of the forest) as well as various pines and conifers.
Medium: Cassia fistula (Amaltas), Melia azadarach (Persian lilac), Thespia populnea (Tulip tree), Cassia grandis (Pink shower), Lagerstroemia, Bottle-brush, Schefflera and Pittosporum. Mid-sized conifers.
Small: Acacia auriculiformis, Guaicum officinale (Lignum vitae), Sebastana (Scarlet cordia), Gliricidia maculata (Madre), Polyalthia longifolia (Ashok), dwarf Lagerstroemia and dwarf or creeping juniper.
Fruit trees: Mango, peach, apricot, plum, cherry, pear, apple, jamun, quince, orange, lemon, grapefruit, chikoo, date palm, Annona squamosa (sharifa), guava (amrood), Papaya (papita), fig, mulberries (black / white), olive, lasura, loquat, lychee and banana although this isn’t actually a tree.
Nuts: Coconut, hazelnut, walnut, pecan, almond, plus, sweet chestnuts should grow in monsoon free areas of the north.
Shrubs to go in now: Falsa, Hibiscus, Acalypha, Aralia, Plumbago, Jasminium, motia, raat-ki-raani, Brunfelsi, Ixora, Allamanda, Bougainvillea, Duranta, Cystus, Eranthemum, Frangipani, Jatropha, Lantana, Kamni’, roses and Russelia.
Climbers/Creepers: Grape vines, Passiflora, Kiwi fruit, roses, Clematis, honeysuckle, Bougainvillea, Allamanda, Asparagus plumosa, Solana maxima, Banisteria laurifolia, Bignonia, Clerodendron, many varieties of Ipomea, Petrea volubilis, Monsteria deliciosa, Solanum seafortheanum (Potato creeper and Tecoma grandiflora (Trumpet vine).
Flower seeds to sow this month include the following: Cosmos, nicandra, zinnia, sunflower, tithonia, dahlia, carnations, annual chrysanthemum, portulaca, matricaria, gaillardia, rudbekia, corncockle, scabosia, petunia, tagetes and verbena. Suggested herbs to sow in February: borage, lots and lots of different varieties of basil, oregano, marjoram, agastache, chives, garlic chives, arugula / rocket, aniseed, dill, coriander, chervil, lemon balm, calendula, nasturtiums of all kinds from bush to climbing, lemon grass, tarragon, sage and creeping thyme in partial shade.
Vegetables to be sown are: lettuce, cucumber, endive, chicory, radish, aubergines, tomatoes, ladies finger, spinach, Swiss chard / leaf beet, green onions, potatoes, fast maturing cabbage, cauliflower, sugar snap peas / mange tout, baby beetroot, baby carrots, French beans of bush and climbing types with, if you can source seeds, the beautiful deep purple and golden yellow ones. You may also start sprouting sweet potato tubers, preferably inside plastic bags / clothes for the high humidity they enjoy (planting them out next month) and, towards the end of the month, make a start on putting in tindas, pumpkins, courgettes / zucchini, marrows, spaghetti squash, loki and other members of the huge Cucurbita family.
Fruit: in the last week of the month, try sowing just a few — maybe only three to four — water melon seeds in well-prepared ground in the hope of a relatively early first crop. Make additional sowing every week or two over the next few weeks if your aim is, as it should be, to have an extended watermelon harvesting season.
Other tasks this month – there are far too many to detail here but here are a few:
Take cuttings of geraniums, carnations and Poinsettias.
Pot up chrysanthemum runners — selecting only the strongest ones and discarding weaklings.
Apply liquid, organic fertiliser to lawns if you — stubbornly and against all environmental advice — still have them.
Make a start on harvesting seeds of the annual flowers — heirloom varieties only not hybrids as the latter do not reproduce well — which are coming to an end so that you have lots of home produced seeds for next time around.
Please continue sending your gardening queries to firstname.lastname@example.org. 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, February 7th, 2016