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Planning ahead

July 03, 2016


Sweet williams + ladybird
Sweet williams + ladybird

Forward planning is an essential — yet often overlooked — part of successful, year round, gardening and this month is the perfect time to plan out, and make a start on, what you envisage on your own personal patch over the months, even years, to come.

While many of you may not be in an active gardening frame of mind — yes it is hot and humid during these monsoon weeks but whatever rain falls, in moderate amounts, is greatly needed by the land and by the underground water aquifers on which, ultimately, we all depend. July is the month in which to review your garden, decide on revamping plans, order seeds for autumn / winter sowing (unless they can be locally sourced, of course) and in which to either plant container / pot-grown shrubs / trees or to begin to decide what trees / shrubs you are going to put in this winter and to set aside their designated planting areas.

Let’s begin with reviewing your garden: start off by spending some time out in your garden, seriously considering every single thing in it, whether things / plants are being used / producing as intended, whether everything is absolutely perfect or if improvements are needed.

July is the perfect time to reimagine and plan your garden before the arrival of monsoon

If you realise that your garden ‘dream’ is not as originally intended then, unless you are perfectly happy with the accidental result as it is, close your eyes and re-imagine your dream garden all over again and then, get to work with redesigning both visible and invisible mistakes. The ‘invisible’ mistakes being important issues such as soil quality, drainage and water related issues such as ease of irrigation.

Recreating an existing garden does not, necessarily, mean bulldozing everything and beginning over with a clean, new slate. It is far easier, indeed preferable, to retain and design around established features like trees, shrubs, surfaced footpaths and so on but, as always, I strongly recommend giving serious consideration to whether or not you really need an expensive to maintain, water-guzzling, labour-intensive, rarely used, lawn. Lawns are not traditional in Pakistan but were, basically, made popular during the days of the British Raj when the population was small and water resources were correspondingly vast. These days, with water shortages increasing by the day, designing a garden that uses as little of this precious commodity as possible makes sense.

Dazzling nasturtiums
Dazzling nasturtiums

Examine your plants: check over and think about the tree / shrub, flower / vegetable / herb / fruit being grown. Is it all in good health? Is it at home in its given location? Could different species / varieties do better? Will nourishing the soil help? Is water being used correctly or it is being wasted?

Write down every good and bad point, study this list, think about it, sleep over it, read it again, think some more and then begin a new list of necessary / possible changes. You may wish to change ‘common’ plants for more unusual ones — after checking that they will be suitable to the climate and soil of course — devote a larger area to organic food production, move an existing vegetable plot to a different location, widen borders, put in additional trees / climbers, install hanging baskets. You may even want to add wind chimes for their evocative ‘music’, create a wild flower area, restore / replace garden furniture, make provision for birds, plant an orchard where the lawn is and so on. It is your garden and you know what you enjoy seeing, doing, feeling and what you can afford.

In the flower department this month: find space, or pots, to pop in some more of those easy to grow zinnias, their brilliant colours — unless you opt for zesty lime green ones — will light up the dullest of days. Make a start, preferably towards the end of the month, on sowing lots of old-fashioned hollyhocks in as wide a range of colour as possible; and don’t forget, they are available in dwarf and medium forms as well as the better known ‘reach for the sky’ varieties. Other flower seeds to start off include the following: Cineraria, Salvia, Gerbera, Rudbeckia, Scabosia, Phlox, carnations, sweet Williams, wallflowers, Gailardia, geranium, Cosmos, Antirrhinums and plenty of Dahlias, too.

On the vegetable front: sow even more tomatoes, lettuce, cauliflower, cabbage, spring onions, radish, leaf beet / Swiss chard, spinach, celery and make a start on beetroot and carrots for pulling when baby sized in early autumn.

Herbs to sow now include chives, garlic chives, coriander, dill, nasturtiums, Calendulas, borage and lovage.

Dancing cosmos
Dancing cosmos

Seed trays / pots should be protected from heavy rain, as should any ‘fragile’ pot plants you have dotted around. Pots / containers which have a tendency to waterlog can, carefully so as not to damage the plants growing in them, be laid on their side before forecast rain arrives and, once the rain has passed over, be stood upright again.

Other jobs this month:

  1. Plant pot grown trees, shrubs and climbers, preferably ones which are not yet flowering or fruiting as these suffer less transplantation shock and are, therefore, more liable to survive the trauma of having their roots disturbed. If they do have existing flowers / fruit on them, be patient and wait until these are finished before transplanting them.

  2. If you are not yet ready to plant additional trees / shrubs / climbers, start giving thought to which varieties can be ‘homed’ in your garden once the winter planting season arrives. Don’t forget to keep in mind the height and spread of trees / shrubs / climbers once they reach maturity, plus, the location of any underground pipes / cables must also be taken into account. Do not plant tall growing trees beneath power lines or close to water / sewage pipes that their roots could damage.

  3. Keep your eyes open for blockages in garden drains, remove plant debris such as fallen leaves, from them regularly as prevention is better than cure, plus, stagnant water is mosquito breeding ground.

  4. Watch out for any signs of fungal attack and treat, organically please, before they spread.

  5. Curl up and write down a seed list for future sowing of garden dreams.

*** Flower of the month:**

Nasturtium: Botanically known as Tropaeolum, these annual flowers are actually herbs in disguise. All parts of these attractive, simple to cultivate, plants, are edible — including the fresh green seeds — with ‘peppery’ being the best way to describe the taste. They can be sown all year round — except in areas prone to severe winter cold — and, if happy, can be had in flower all year round, too. Available in dwarf, medium and climbing form, flowers can be brilliant yellow, cream, orange, peach, scarlet, dark red; apricot and leaves may be plain green, dark purple or variegated cream / green. The large seed germinates rapidly, especially if given a 12-hour soak in warm water first. Sow at a depth of about one-inch in regular garden soil and at a distance of approximately 12 inches apart to allow for unrestricted growth. Climbing forms will need support. These are sun lovers which enjoy a reasonable amount of water.

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, July 3rd, 2016