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The green retreat

June 05, 2016

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Red Swiss chard
Red Swiss chard

Gardens, irrespective of the time of year and no matter how big or small they happen to be, are a soothing balm to ward off the everyday hassles of life. They are — or should be — places of peace, reflection, relaxation, healing and turning dreams into reality.

Creating cool tranquillity is an excellent gardening project to initiate this month when, even as we sizzle in once upon a time unthinkable heat, the approaching monsoon season promises respite.

To demonstrate the point, take something as simple as a chair, place it outside, in the shade and, next time you return home, hot and exhausted from an unbearable day in the office or a headache inducing shopping trip, sit on that very same chair with a long, cooling drink in hand and try to relax. Relaxation may or may not come ... but ... place even a single green pot plant, a Monsteria deliciosa perhaps or a gently waving fern, close to the chair and the atmosphere changes immediately, peace will come.


On summer days, when temperatures and humidity levels are at their peak, make your garden an ultimate haven by planting these flowers and vegetables


Multiply one plant by as many as you have space for — and have the necessary water to support — and a much needed haven is in full, beautifully soporific, swing. It is a ‘swing’ you can design to suit personal taste by adding and subtracting whatever pleases you in days, weeks, months and years to come.

Shade tolerant shrubs, suitable for pot or container cultivation, suitable for increasing natural privacy in such a spot include: ‘Acalypha’, ‘Aralia’, ‘Clerodendron’, colourful ‘Crotons’, blue flowered ‘Duranta’, ‘Panix’ with its pretty, heart-shaped, leaves. Plus, if or where shade is partial, a mix of the following perennials to increase texture, interest and fragrance to the plan: ‘Monsteria deliciosa’, rubber plants, ‘Anthuriums’ with their unusual spathe flowers, surprisingly tough asparagus ferns, quick to have babies spider plants, gorgeous, velvety leaved and rainbow hued ‘Coleus’, ‘Maranta’, ‘Tradescentia’, ‘Zebrina’ and a selection of ‘Jasminium’ for good measure. Your local nurseries will have so many suitable plants to choose from that you will find making a selection more than a little difficult!

Pots of whichever seasonal flowers happen to be in bloom can also be dotted here and there, being replaced every few weeks, for an ever changing palette of your favourite colours and — if possible — scents.

Sunflower
Sunflower

Depending on room, a couple of comfortable cane chairs or a cane sofa set with lots of cushions can furnish such a green retreat to perfection, and to the point where you may end up wanting to take root there, amongst your plants, on a permanent basis.

If water is of concern — as it is for the vast majority of people these days — then keep water usage to a minimum by inserting an empty, upside down, plastic bottle with a tiny hole made in the lid — of a size to suit each pot or container — three-quarters of its length deep. The bottle should protrude in the air; base cut off for easy filling and waters your plants via it. This will slowly drip water into the plant roots where it is needed thus reducing the amount of water used. This method of ‘in pot’ irrigation removes the need to water each and every day as the upside down bottles should only be topped up when absolutely necessary and, to make it even better, they can be topped up with water recycled from hand washing / shower, vegetable washing, dish or clothes washing as long as this water does not contain toxic chemicals / detergents but ecologically and environmentally friendly ones instead.

Elsewhere in the garden this month: sow more seeds of blatantly outrageous Zinnias, Balsam, Tagetes — French Marigolds, Gaillardia, Gompherena, Matricaria, Kochia — burning bush, Gerbera, Coleus, Tithonia, Amaranthus, Rudbeckia and, for a drift of prettiness Cosmos are always ready to oblige.

In the vegetable garden: sow even more chillies and capsicums, aubergines, cucumbers — both short and fat and long and slim, Swiss chard / leaf beet, okra, tomatoes, lettuce in the shade, radish, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach and row upon row of green onions.

On the herb front, coriander, basil, borage, chives, garlic chives, dill, aniseed, ‘Calendulas’, nasturtiums and also try rooting some mint cuttings — starting them off in nothing but water — taken from bunches of fresh mint bought in the bazaar.

Fruit: plant some more water melon seeds in the first half of the month, opting for ‘desi’ varieties if you can get them.

Other tasks for June

  • Prepare planting holes for shrubs and trees to be put in during the fast approaching monsoon with special emphasis on indigenous species, particularly fruit / nut bearing trees, which are climatically suitable for your specific location. Avoid imported ‘exotics’ as these usually require far more water than is now generally available.
‘Gaillardia’
‘Gaillardia’

  • Give your growing area a thorough going over before the rains arrive. Support any plant which may be knocked over by heavy rain or high wind. Move delicate plants into a place, such as a covered veranda, which is protected from adverse weather.

  • Check that all drains are unobstructed and clean them out if necessary. This is especially important if you have created a rooftop garden where a clogged drain may result in rainwater cascading down the stairs into the house itself.

  • If you have been able to install a rainwater harvesting system, check that all is 100pc operational before the rains arrive.

  • Tie up — or prune back — top heavy climbers / ramblers such as ‘Bougainvillea’, to prevent the rain and wind from knocking them flat. Standing them up again is a next to impossible task — as I learnt the hard way, in Sea View Apartments, Karachi, many years ago!

*** Flower of the month:**

Sunflower — Helianthus annuus — The ‘not as popular as it should be’ sunflower deserves space in gardens of all sizes. Many years ago these stunning flowers were only available in ‘dominating’ form but, nowadays, they can be found in heights ranging from a mere 18-24 inches on up to over 14 feet tall. Not at all fussy about soil type — as long as it is reasonably well-drained — these sun loving annuals can also be found in a superb range of glorious colours including white / cream shades, lemon, dusky crimson, chocolate, terracotta, blazing red and, of course, sunshine yellow. Single, double and double-double flower forms are also common now. These bee and butterfly attracting flowers are also loved by purple sun-birds. Being fast to grow, the gigantic varieties are a fun growing project for children — of all ages.

They can be grown directly in the ground or in large pots and make a stunning display. The seed makes a scrumptious snack for humans as well as for birds and the flower petals are perfectly edible too. Tall varieties will need support.

Please continue sending your gardening queries to zahrahnasir@hotmail.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, June 5th, 2016