Published August 29, 2021
Petunia | Photos by the writer
Petunia | Photos by the writer

If there is one plant that can make or break a garden, it is a tree. No garden is complete without one of these magical life forms, the emphasis being on the importance of choosing exactly the right one for the space available.

The latter cannot be stressed enough. To plant the wrong species of tree in your garden, courtyard or in a suitably large plant pot on a rooftop, terrace or balcony, is to invite disaster.

The city and town dwellers among us may not have enough garden space to grow truly magnificent trees such as Poinciana indica or gul mohr, Jacaranda, Erythrina indica or Indian coral tree, Indian lilac and mango, but space can be created for smaller species pomegranate, guava, amaltas, bottle-brush, papaya or one of the many hues of the glorious lagerstroemias commonly known as crepe myrtles.

In fact, if you have just enough space for a single tree and desire a flowering one, lagerstroemia is the best one for you. It can be grown in a very large pot or directly in the ground. They smother themselves with sprays of pink, lilac, purple, rose, white or maroon flowers throughout the hot weather months and greatly benefit from being pruned back, around the end of December each year. It keeps their size in control.


They can be trained to provide summer shade, plus, being deciduous, they allow unhindered winter sunshine when warmth is most needed. Flourishing in either full sun or partial shade, lagerstroemias can be grown throughout the country, adding cheer and a delicate perfume to even the greyest of summer monsoon days.

Trees can really a garden make, but the emphasis should be on selecting the right one and planting it with foresight and care

If you prefer your single tree to be a fruiting one and happen to reside in a hot spot such as Karachi, a lemon, papaya or chikoo are ideal. In Lahore, Rawalpindi, Islamabad and Peshawar, you can’t go wrong with an orange tree — a dwarf variety being most suited to pot cultivation — as it is a cooling green focal point all year round.

It will take your breath away and perfume your home when it blossoms in the spring and it will reward your loving care and attention with an abundance of juicy fruit of a quality and aroma unmatched by its commercially cultivated counterparts in the bazaar.

You may feel that having a tree in a small space will prevent you from growing anything else, but this is far from being the case.


Take a citrus tree, be this an orange, lemon, grapefruit or otherwise. Judicious pruning to encourage the tree to spread outwards rather than upwards, keeping the centre of the tree clear of clutter to maximise disease-reducing air circulation, will eventually result in a shady canopy.

The branches are perfect for suspending hanging baskets and the like. In this cool, dappled shade, plants such as petunias, fuchsias, ferns, orchids and chlorophytum, prettily arranged in suitable containers and watered as necessary, will far outlast identical plants grown in a less sheltered place. Plus, they are eye-catchingly beautiful too.

It is true that the vast majority of tree species do not allow grass to flourish around the base of their trunks or even in their shade, but this shortcoming is easily overcome by arranging an eclectic display of pot plants over the grass free area. This display, unlike the permanent green of grass, can be changed around, as and when the mood takes you.

Things to check before buying and planting a tree:

— Its height and spread at maturity and the approximate depth and spread of its roots

— Small trees should be planted at least 2-3 metres away from house and boundary walls, as their roots can seriously damage foundations

— Check the location of underground water tanks, water and sewerage pipes, underground electricity cables etc., as you should not plant a tree where its roots can damage such services

— Do not plant trees underneath overhead cables if there is even the slightest chance of them growing tall enough to eventually be a cause for concern

If a pot grown tree grows too large for comfort, pass it on to someone who has enough space for it, plant another one and congratulate yourself on an environmentally beneficial job well done.

Please continue sending your gardening queries to Remember to include your location. The writer does not respond directly by email. Emails with attachments will not be opened

Published in Dawn, EOS, August 29th, 2021



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