Q. I want my own herb garden, outside my kitchen door, so that I can quickly pick herbs when I am cooking. There is quite a long, narrow garden bed, in partial shade, that I can use. Please suggest a variety of permanent and seasonal herbs that I can grow in Islamabad.
A. There are lots of wonderful herbs suitable for growing in the described location. Perennials ideally include lemon balm, agastache varieties, different kinds of mint, thyme, sage, rosemary, lavender, lemongrass, oregano, chives, garlic chives, calendulas, lovage, lemon verbena, chamomile, plecanthrus and aniseed. On the seasonal front, as many different kinds of basil as you can find, such as borage, coriander, parsley, dill, nasturtiums, chervil and marjoram. Take care to plant tall growing herbs at the back of the border, medium height ones in the center and low growing ones at the front. Also, plant them at distances allowing for their size and spread, once they reach maturity. Don’t forget to clean up the bed, removing any weeds and their roots in the process. Top up with good quality soil mixed with organic compost/ well-rotted down animal manure, before you start planting.
Q. Which herbs are suitable to grow in Lahore over autumn and winter? I want to grow them in pots on my second floor balcony, which gets afternoon sun.
A. You can grow any or all of those mentioned in the answer to the previous question. However, ensure that you select pots that are deep and wide enough for the selected herbs, once they are fully grown.
All your gardening queries answered here
Q. Are black roses real? If they are, is Karachi’s climate suitable to grow them? And where can I find the plants?
A. The so-called black rose originates from the Halefi district in south-west Turkey. It appears almost black when in bud, but is actually a very dark and dusky, deep crimson when the flower opens. They are cultivated in exactly the same way as other roses. With correct care and attention, it can be grown in Karachi, but I have never seen this particular variety of rose for sale in Pakistan.
Q. I planted a cassia nodosa tree two years ago in the summer months. It was in bloom when I bought it but hasn’t bloomed since. There is no extra watering, sunlight is ample from all sides, regular compost is fed. What could the problem be and what is the solution?
A. Many trees suffer transplantation shock after being transferred from the pot they were originally grown in and planted directly in the ground. Some trees never recover from this, others can take two or three years to get used to their new location and decide to resume growing and flowering. I strongly suspect that this is the case, so as long as it remains visibly healthy, allow it more time to recover. Hopefully it will reward your patience by bursting into bloom again next year.
Q. Do you know of a prickly pear cactus farm in Pakistan? I want to obtain its fruit for seed.
A. Opuntia ficus indica, a thornless variety of prickly pear, is now being grown as animal fodder by farmers in Chakwal district of Punjab. I suggest that you contact either the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council, or the National Agricultural Research Council for full information, and a possible source of seed.
Q. I have observed that natural manure bought from local nurseries in Islamabad brings along fungus which becomes impossible to eliminate. Is there a way to treat and disinfect this manure before use?
A. The most powerful disinfectant of all is strong sunlight. Spread the manure out on a large sheet of plastic or similar, laid in a spot receiving as much direct sunlight as possible, breaking up any big lumps in the process. Rake the manure around each day so that, bit by bit, it is all exposed to the sun’s heat for at least 7-10 days. This should do the trick. Plus, the birds will clean it further by picking out any grubs and other unwanted larvae.
Q. I am a nine-year-old schoolgirl and want to help feed my family by growing potatoes in containers in our small courtyard. I have done all the research about how to do this so you don’t need you to tell me more. What I do need to know from you is, can I plant ordinary potatoes that we buy in the bazaar? Do I let them sprout first or do I need to search out the special seed potatoes that I have read about on the internet?
A. Congratulations on your initiative. You can plant ordinary potatoes, sprouted ones, and I wish you the very best of luck in your endeavours.
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Published in Dawn, EOS, August 22nd, 2021