Q. There is a large community garden outside my apartment block and I want to make my own contribution to it. Currently, there are a mix of moringa, neem, Ashoka, gul mohr, champa and other trees and shrubs here and there on the lawns. I am thinking of adding flowers, fruits, vegetables and herbs around the periphery, and would appreciate some suggestions about species. These must be tolerant of the salty bore water that we have in our lines and taps and of the very unqualified gardener who is supposed to take care of the area.

A. Bananas are very salt tolerant so, providing they get plenty of water and are heavily manured twice a year, should perform well. Other fruits to consider, if space is available, include: coconut palms, date palms, chikoo, sharifa, papaya and jamun. Most seasonal annuals will be okay but, as they finish flowering, will need replacing with ones for the following season: these will be available in local nurseries at the appropriate planting time. Local varieties of vegetables, such as loki, tinda and karella, along with hardy cherry tomatoes, capsicums, cucumbers, aubergines, cabbages, lettuce, spinach and mooli are worth trying. But it is best to avoid any of the fancy things, such as Chinese cabbage, pak choy, broccoli, etc. Other than niazbo, I would not recommend herbs for this location, as they need more dedication than the gardener seems to have.

Q. I want to plant evergreen vines/creepers on a full wall in Islamabad. Please recommend species that will grow well even over the coming winter months.

A. Everything slows down, growth wise, over the winter months, when temperatures are fairly low and daylight hours are shorter. But you may like to try the following: Bougainvillea, Banistera laurifolia, honeysuckle, money plant, Monstera deliciosa — Swiss cheese plant if the wall is sheltered from cold winds and direct sun — Rhyncospermum jasminoides (Star jasmine), Ficus pumila (creeping fig) and climbing/rambling roses.

Stunning climbing roses
Stunning climbing roses

Q. I am new to gardening and want to grow Swiss chard in my Lahore garden. This vegetable is not available in our local markets here. I have found a source of seeds on an online marketplace in Pakistan but I have no idea if they are authentic or not. Can you please advise?

A. If you cannot find Swiss chard seeds in your local vegetable seed supply store then it is worth giving those purchased online a try.

All your gardening queries answered here

Q. Can green chillies be sown now in Defence, Karachi? Which type of chilli seed should I get?

A. No. Chillies are hot weather plants. Sow a selection of varieties in late spring and early summer for masses of chillies throughout the hot months and on into early autumn.

Q. Which plants are able to endure the hot weather of Larkana? I have tried many species but they wither during the summer.

A. Larkana is like an oven in the height of summer. Few plants will tolerate such heat unless they are provided with something like drip irrigation. Perhaps ‘matka irrigation’ would also work. If possible, erecting green shade netting over at least part of your garden would help save plants from burning up. Shade, water and moisture retentive soil are a basic necessity for a beautiful garden in your locality. If you can arrange these, many hard plants, especially indigenous ones, can be grown. I hesitate to recommend any plant species until the aforementioned arrangements are in place.

A mass of seasonal flowers
A mass of seasonal flowers

Q. Can plants be grown in compost bins?

A. If you mean can plants be grown on top of full compost bins, the answer is yes, providing that you spread a six-inch-deep layer of soil on top of the rotting down compost first and plant in this. The best pumpkins I ever grew were grown in this way; their roots went down into the compost below the soil which resulted in them being very well-fed indeed. Alternatively, if you mean can compost bins be used as containers to grow plants in, again the answer is yes. You just need to fill them with soil first.

Q. Please settle an argument for us. A friend of mine says that fuchsia plants can only be grown in hot, dry, climates. I disagree. Neither of us has any experience in growing them, but I am fairly sure that I have seen them growing in pots on the patio of a hotel in Murree, where it is certainly not hot and is rarely, in my experience, dry.

A. You are correct. Fuchsias love the relatively cool, often damp, spring, summer and autumn climate of Murree but must be taken inside during the freezing months of winter. They will — your friend will be happy to know — also thrive in climates that are both hot and dry, but they dislike the steamy, summer humidity of places such as Karachi where, unless great care is taken, they succumb to a variety of pests and diseases and die off.

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, November 8th, 2020

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