All things considered, humankind is an incredibly adaptive species. Once necessary adjustments have been made, humans have been able to survive, even flourish, in very differing conditions around the world.

Once the provision of water, food, shelter, clothing is secured, humans can overcome the rigours of Siberian and Alaskan existence. They can adapt to life in tough desert and outback conditions, flourish in the lush jungle regions of South Asia and South America, and demonstrably thrive and multiply in predominantly agricultural regions from Europe to America, right across Central Asia and elsewhere.

The same, unfortunately, cannot be said of plants.

Different plant species have largely evolved in conjunction with differing soil and climatic conditions. Plus, and this point is all too often overlooked, plants also evolved in line with latitudes, longitudes and altitudes. Some plants need a certain number of winter chill hours before they will fruit, others must have daylight hours of a certain length before they will flower, and yet others require a complicated combination of several of the aforementioned points.

Blazing red zinnia | Photos by the writer
Blazing red zinnia | Photos by the writer

It is a relatively simple matter to provide perfect soil conditions, be these on the acidic or alkaline side, for a particular plant species and the climate may be similar to that of the plant’s country of origin. But there is nothing to be done about altitude, latitude, longitude and other related, naturally occurring, factors.

People seem to have some very strange ideas about plants and what can be grown where: attempting to replicate a typical English country garden in Karachi being one prime example, and an example that surely dates back to homesick colonials in pre-Partition days, as it makes no climatic sense at all. The incredibly costly results may meet vastly outdated horticultural competition requirements on gold medal day, but that’s as far as it goes. And, as for the cost in potable water, in a city where an ever-increasing number of people go thirsty, it doesn’t bear thinking about, so they don’t!

Importing climatically unsuitable plants, bulbs and seeds may be a lucrative business in Pakistan, but makes no horticultural or social sense

Importing climatically unsuitable plants, bulbs and seeds is, surprising as it sounds, a lucrative business here in Pakistan where, in affluent gardening circles, being able to display a plant that no one else has, is considered to be a major achievement. That the plant, which will undoubtedly have cost an absolute fortune, isn’t likely to survive long-term, is besides the point.

Having more money than gardening sense has resulted in financially well-endowed private buyers, along with property developers, housing associations and other such organisations, bringing in fully grown trees and shrubs, from places such as Malaysia and the Far East and Saudi Arabia.

Mooli
Mooli

These plants, after being hurriedly planted in highly visible locations, are fated to die an often lingering, very unattractive, death. Incredibly, these highly expensive, highly visible, plant deaths have not served as any kind of warning, as these ludicrous ‘mistakes’ have been repeated, time and time again, over at least the past 25 years or so. And they are still happening right now.

The desire for instant gratification has much to do with this sick scenario, and instant gratification isn’t a term that sits — aside from the obvious purchasing of seasonal pot plants — comfortably in the gardening world.

Anyone with money to throw around can pay exorbitant prices for exotic plants, but it takes a passionately dedicated, green-fingered gardener to cultivate beautiful, climatically suitable, plants from seed or from cuttings, from its miraculous ‘birth’ right through to glorious maturity.

Seed sowing suggestions for this month:

The flower garden: Blazing orange cosmos and sulphur yellow ones too, zinnias in all colours, forms and heights, celosia (cockscomb), French marigolds, tagetes, gompherena, annual chrysanthemums, gazania, rudbeckia, portulaca, gerbera and tithonia, lots of sunflowers, old-fashioned petunias — as these are hardier than the modern hybrids — and surprise yourself by sowing a packet of coleus seeds to relish the various colours that come up.

The vegetable patch: Grow salad greens in summer shade — lettuce, endive, radicchio, mesclun, salad leaf mixes, French radish and mooli. Sow more chillies, capsicums, pimentos, cucumbers and aubergines. You can also sow heat-tolerant cherry tomatoes, cucamelons, okra, fenugreek, karelas, seasonal varieties of cabbage and cauliflower and final seeds of courgette/zucchini for a late crop. Climbing beans and bush beans can be sown where they get morning only sunshine and chickpeas in full sun.

The herb garden: Nasturtiums, calendulas, various varieties of basil, corriander, dill, arugula/rocket, corriander, summer savoury, borage in the shade and aniseed.

The fruit department: Chinese goo­s­­­­­e­­­­b­erries, the final sowing of sweet melons and watermelons and do try growing pineapples from cut-off, healthy, pineapple tops.

Climber of the month: Clematis — perennial members of the Ranunculaceae family of plants. It can be evergreen or deciduous. Flowers are usually bell-shaped and hanging downwards or open cup-shaped and may be single or double. Predominantly found in shades from pure white through to deepest purple and crimson, although yellow shades and bi-colours are also to be found. Some varieties, Clematis Montana for example, are indigenous in the cool climate of the Murree Hills and Northern Pakistan. The aforementioned species are not really suitable for cultivation in the heat of the plains, but more heat tolerant tropical species can, with great care and knowledge, be grown successfully as far south as Lahore. Any further south than this though, they are highly unlikely to survive. Roots in the shade, heads in the sun and a spell of proper winter cold form the basis of growing Clematis. For more information refer to the column of December 21, 2014, which is solely dedicated to growing this species.

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, May 2nd, 2021

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