GARDENING: AUTUMNAL GLORY

October 06, 2019

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Giant red mustard and mustard mizuna | Photos by the writer
Giant red mustard and mustard mizuna | Photos by the writer

Autumn is a very exciting time to be a gardener as there is such a huge and amazing variety of seeds, bulbs and corms to plant that it can be difficult to know where to begin. However, be certain of one thing, wherever you decide to start, this is a thrilling time indeed.

No matter how carried away you get though, remember that seed sowing and the planting of everything else that grows, must be done with proper care and attention, if your enthusiastic efforts are to succeed. Meticulous attention must be paid to planting depths, distances and to maintain soil moisture without washing everything away.

With the above guidelines in mind and seeds, bulbs and corms at hand, there is no time like this to get outside and indulge in a hefty dose of gardening fun.

A perfect time to indulge in a hefty dose of gardening fun

SEED SOWING SUGGESTIONS FOR OCTOBER

Flower seeds: There are count­less winter-into-spring flowers to be sown now, some started off in seed trays/pots, others sown directly in the ground. The ever popular antirrhinum, in its many forms and colours, is an excellent border or pot plant. Whilst it is a little slow to get going, it flowers over a very long period of time. Sweetly scented wallflowers, in single colours or a Persian carpet mix, deserve far more attention than they currently get, as does cerinthe major atropurpurea (honeywort). Add sweet Williams, sweet sultan, nigella, violas, pansies, Bellis, cornflowers, larkspur, godetia, bedding geraniums, pelargoniums, pinks, carnations, coreopsis, petunias, lobelia, alyssum, verbena, salvias, ageratum, bidens, aquilegia candytuft, Queen Anne’s lace and a liberal splatter of mixed annual poppies and chrysanthemums. In the second half of the month, plant masses of sweet peas and you will have a splendid garden indeed.

Violas
Violas

The vegetable garden: The next few months are an absolute gourmet delight for lovers of all things green and healthy. And, with this in mind, it is time to start sowing both fast-growing varieties of winter cabbages and slower-growing spring ones. There are a surprising number of tempting varieties to choose from, some developing hard, cannonball, heads and others remaining lusciously loose-leaved yet still packed with essential vitamins and minerals. Then there are both regular white cauliflowers and lesser-known violet-purple cauliflowers to be sown along with green and purple sprouting broccoli and their close cousin, calabrese — its lime green head is a fascinating and spiral work of art. Kale — be this curly green and dwarf, tall-growing red Russian, scarlet-leaved or Italian black — is another rewarding and attractive crop that is at home amongst a border of flowers as it is in the vegetable department.

There are also green onions, lettuce, spinach, leaf beet/Swiss chard, endive, pak choi, giant red mustard, mustard, mustard mizuna, turnip greens, radicchio, endive, chicory, beetroot, carrots, turnips and rutabaga. Then you have French radish, Russian, Spanish and Chinese winter radish, broad beans, bush beans, climbing beans, peas, sugar snap peas, celery, kohl rabbi, red and white onions which can be grown this month. In Karachi, you can plant tomatoes which, with care and at least overnight protection, can be grown throughout the plains. This is also a good time to plant potatoes in Karachi and to plant garlic, in well-prepared ground, throughout the country.

Aquilegia
Aquilegia

In the herb garden: There are so many herbs to be sown this month that it can be difficult to make a choice, but do place coriander, and tonnes of it, high on your list. Bright calendulas and nasturtiums are other ‘must have herbs’ to spice up not only the herb garden but the vegetable and flower gardens, too. Chives, garlic chives, parsley, fennel, bronze fennel, aniseed and dill are all useful in the culinary, medicinal and ornamental departments. The other useful herbs are zeera (cumin), oregano, marjoram, thyme, lavender, lemon balm, chamomile, rosemary, sage, watercress, cress, blue and white flowered borage, lovage, various mint varieties and the ever useful comfrey whose seeds, unfortunately, continue to be difficult to track down.

Bulbs and corms: From mid-month through until the middle of December, there are lots of bulbs and corms to plant in pots/containers or directly in the garden where they are to bloom. These include the following: tuberoses, rain lilies, anemones, amaryllis, oriental and Asiatic lilies, Dutch hyacinths, grape hyacinths, crocus, tulips, nargis, daffodils, sparaxis, ranunculus, cyclamen, alliums, miniature iris and as many gloriously fragrant freesias as you can possibly find room for.

Herb of the month: Symphytum officinale (comfrey). This perennial herb has the potential to be the backbone of your sustainable, organic garden as it can be made into one of the best liquid fertilisers/foliar feeds ever. A temperate climate plant, comfrey has been successfully grown in Karachi, Rahim Yar Khan, Lahore, Islamabad, in and around Quetta area and absolutely flourishes in the Murree hills, Nathia Gali, Abbottabad and outside Besham. Shade- and water-loving, comfrey grows fast and spreads rapidly in suitable conditions but can perform surprisingly well in large clay pots/containers and certainly did so for the writer when grown on a rooftop terrace in Karachi some years ago. Seeds are very tiny and should be surface sown on top quality, preferably organic, compost in seed trays/pots with a fine sifting of additional compost just sprinkled over the top.

The seed trays/pots should be placed in a shady spot — beneath a tree is perfect — and kept moist but not waterlogged, at all times. Germination is rather sporadic, taking anywhere between two to three weeks and two to three months. Sow the seed either this month or in very early spring for best results. Pot seedlings when large enough to handle and transplant, into a shady spot, once plants are established. Regular watering is imperative throughout the hot weather. Leaves of established plants usually die back in winter, popping up again in early spring, although, in Karachi at least, they may decide to keep on growing all year round.

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, EOS, October 6th, 2019