The sheer, unadulterated pleasure of regular seed-sowing, of transplanting carefully tended seedlings into their permanent growing positions and of putting in newly purchased trees, shrubs, climbers and creepers are just a few of the manifold joys of gardening.
Standing back to admire a meticulously weeded flower border or vegetable bed gives a feeling of satisfaction like no other and, at the base of it all, is that complicated stuff that new gardeners tend to take for granted — soil.
Without soil, there would not be any gardens to fall in love with and yet, soil often suffers from total disrespect, from starvation and neglect.
There is still time to sow seeds of vegetables and herbs before winter sets in
December 5 is World Soil Day. A day which highlights the invaluable role that soil plays in all our lives and a day on which we should all, each and every one of us, give thanks to the soil for the life it enables us to live.
We will be taking an in-depth look at the soil and soil-care in a couple of weeks’ time and, meanwhile, here are this month’s planting suggestions for you — and your soil — to get to grips with.
This month’s seed sowing guide
The flower garden: If you haven’t finished sowing those deliciously fragrant sweet peas, hurry up please as they need to be planted in as soon as possible and certainly before the week is out. The same goes, if you reside in Karachi, for tall and dainty cosmos, Queen Anne’s lace (Ammi), cornflowers, larkspur, linaria, mock seas of blue ageratum and phacelia for bees to feast on and drift after drift of spring flowering poppies. Then there are antirrhinums, arcotis, candytuft, petunias, pansies violas, stocks, alyssum, brachycome, nemophila, bidens, sweet sultan, sweet williams, coreopsis, nigella and corncockle too. If you live in Lahore, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Quetta or in the mountainous north where winter seriously makes itself known, unless you have a greenhouse or poly-tunnel, it is best to wait until early spring to sow all of the above-mentioned seeds except, that is, for sweet peas and annual poppies — these really should have been sown last month. However, they can still be sown if the soil isn’t overly wet and cold, where you want them to bloom, over the next few days but no later.
The vegetable garden: The following seeds are amongst many that can be sown, throughout the month, in all plains and coastal areas but not in cold northern areas of the country. Peas, beans, broad beans, Swiss chard/leaf beet, spring cabbage, cauliflower, kale, mustard varieties, calabrese, winter radish of all kinds and in a surprising range of colours such as pink, yellow, red, orange and even black. Onions, spring onions, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, radicchio, bok choy, spinach, turnips, rutabaga, chopsuey greens, chicory and tangy endive with its attractive and frilly leaves. Then there are winter varieties of lettuce and, providing that protection from chilly nights and cold winds can be given, tomatoes as well.
In the herb garden: Sow blue and white flowered borage — and do look for seeds of borage with eye-catching, variegated leaves — comfrey, parsley, chervil, nasturtiums, calendulas, watercress, lemon balm, all kinds of mint, quick-to-flower lavender species, chamomile, chives, garlic chives, rosemary, sage, thyme, lovage, dill, aniseed, coriander, marjoram and oregano.
From the middle of the month, on through to the end of February or beginning of March, you can, providing you have enough space, put in some fruit trees. However, do stick to species that are known to do well in your particular locality otherwise you may simply be buying a disappointment. Suggestions are coconuts in coastal locations only, dates, banana, star fruit, chikoo, guava, jamun, custard apple, loquat, figs, olives, oranges, kumquat, loquat, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, mango, peaches, nectarines, cherries, apples, pears, plums, persimmons and pomegranates.
Dwarf fruit trees can be cultivated in suitably large pots/containers and are particularly useful for inclusion in rooftop gardens.
Pecan nuts are reportedly doing well between Rawalpindi and Peshawar and both walnuts and hazel nuts are indigenous in the hills and mountains of the north and north-eastern regions.
Fruiting vines and fruiting shrubs: They are useful in any garden and even more if you don’t have space for trees. These include grape vines, passion fruit vines and Kiwi fruit vines and shrubs such as our very own falsa, red and black currants, gooseberries, raspberries, logan berries and blue berries which perform surprisingly well in some locations. It is definitely the last call for strawberry runners if you want a crop — and who doesn’t in the coming season — but pineapples, of course, with winter protection, can be started off all year round.
Many of the above trees, shrubs and vines can be found, quite easily, in local nurseries over the coming weeks but others, raspberries and blueberries for example, may be problematic to track down.
The winter into early spring planting season is also the perfect time to add new roses to your collection and to plant other ornamental shrubs, creepers and climbers wherever you have sufficient space for them to flourish.
Herb of the month: Rosmarinus officinalis (Rosemary). This shrubby, woody, potentially long-lived perennial can be grown from seed but tends to be more successful when multiplied by woody cuttings taken from existing plants. Native to countries all around the Mediterranean, it tolerates extreme heat, cold and is a well-known coastal plant in regions with far less humidity than Karachi where, sadly, it barely tolerates the summer but manages fine — reaching a harvestable size — if grown from late September through until summer when humidity takes its toll. It does fine in Lahore though, well in Rawalpindi and Islamabad and exceptionally well in the hills and mountains. Both young and established plants are available, at various times of the year, in nurseries around Rawalpindi/Islamabad, Peshawar, Pattoki outside Lahore and Quetta. Rosemary enjoys lots of direct sunshine, needs well-drained, slightly acidic, soil/compost, also being tolerant of sandy soils and is an indispensable culinary and medicinal herb.
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Published in Dawn, EOS, December 1st, 2019