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Can I grow lavender in my drawing room window?

August 28, 2016

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Lavandula stoechas
Lavandula stoechas

Q. On a recent visit to Jhelum, I spotted some gorgeous, deep pink, very tall, clumps of daisy-type flowers in a garden. I fell in love with them and want to have them in my own garden just outside Islamabad. I learnt that they are called Echinacea and have ordered some seeds. Now I need to know when the seeds should be sown, the soil type they prefer and anything else of interest about them, please.

A. Echinacea purpurea has a long standing reputation as a valuable medicinal herb with internal and external uses. In your locality, seeds should be sown about a quarter of an inch deep, in reasonably good, well drained soil/compost, from late October to late November for plants that will begin flowering the following year. Once seedlings are established, transplant them into their permanent flowering position — dappled shade is ideal or a place that gets morning or afternoon sun but not direct sun between 11am to 2pm. Space plants two to three feet apart and keep in mind that these perennials can, unless you have a dwarf variety, grow quite tall. Never let the soil get waterlogged. The plants will tolerate drought for short periods of time.

*Do not use medicinal herbs without direct professional advice.

Q. I belong to Hunza and need guidance about growing lavender, please. I tried to collect data from the internet but found it confusing in respect to finding out which variety is the best to be grown in northern parts of Pakistan, especially in Chitral. I managed to get one lavender plant from Chitral but have no idea which variety it is and am not sure how to care for it.

A. There are quite a few different types of lavender with the two most common ones being Lavendula angustifolia and Lavendula stoechas. Lavendula angustifolia, the so-called English lavender although it isn’t English at all, has narrow flower spikes of pink, blue, mauve or white flowers arranged compactly or at relatively close intervals along its length and it prefers neutral to rather alkaline soil. Lavendula stoechas, on the other hand, is not so hardy, needs acidic soil and its flowers, in the same beautiful hues as angustifolia, are arranged in short, dense spikes topped by eye catching bracts. All lavenders need plenty of sun and established plants prefer drought to plenty of water. Without a clear description of the plant you got in Chitral, it is impossible to identify the exact type but, whatever kind of lavender it is, I suggest that you give it protection from the bitter winter cold of Chitral. To increase your stock, search out hardy lavender seed via the internet. There is, I understand, such a seed service based in Pakistan now.

Q. I am a complete gardening novice but have read about scented indoor plants like lavender, Peace Lily and African Violet. Are these plants suitable for growing in a house in Lahore and, if so, where can I get them? My drawing room window gets sunlight for six hours and I can place the pots there. Are these plants easy for a beginner and are they expensive?

A. Lavender is not an indoor plant but both Peace Lilies and African Violets are. African violets are very hard to find, are usually prohibitively expensive, and are difficult to grow. Peace Lily, botanically called Spathipyllum, is your best bet. Easy to care for and not difficult to find in nurseries, Peace Lilies prefer a partially shady location so your window is far from ideal.

Q. Which crops are best for tunnel farming in Thatta district and in which season should they be grown?

A. Any vegetable or fruit crop can, basically, be cultivated in a tunnel but, due to reasons of cost, it is only worth doing so if you can grow good quality, preferably organic, crops to coincide with when they can bring the highest price in the market. I suggest that you ask your local agricultural department for full advice.

Q. I have a 21-year-old lychee tree but it started dying after I pruned it very vigorously this summer. It only has a few branches left, because I thought it had fire blight. What went wrong and do you think it will survive? I reside in Sialkot.

A. Pruning trees in summer can be lethal. The trees are in full growth/full leaf and high temperatures encourage the formation of fungal and other diseases to form on the newly exposed cuts. The tree should have been pruned, and only if it was absolutely necessary, during the winter months when it was relatively dormant. I do not know if your tree will survive. Keep your fingers crossed that it does.

Q. We are very confused about which soil to use for growing plants. Some people recommend ‘sweet earth’, some ‘loamy soil’ and some ‘good earth’, etc. No one tells from where to source such soil. I reside in Larkana close to the Indus River and am wondering if soil obtained from the river bed is a suitable growing medium as it contains sand.

A. Different plants require different soil types. Soil with or without additions can usually be purchased from nurseries. River silt such as you describe is lacking in organic matter so is best mixed 50/50 with compost before using for general growing purposes.

Q. I have searched for a long time for rosemary plants in Karachi but had no luck. Can you advise please?

A. You may find Rosemary plants in late autumn or the winter months.

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, August 28th, 2016