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Gardening: Fragrance and flavour

July 14, 2012


Q: I live in Lahore and my garden measures 35x40 ft in the front and 25x10 ft at the back. There is a magnificent 22 year old Ficus tree in the front which has a circumference of 15ft. I have very little knowledge of gardening but would like to create a wonderful garden around my home.

A: Firstly, assess the amount of sunlight falling directly in your garden throughout the day as sun loving plants will not flourish in the shade and vice versa. Additionally, few plants will thrive beneath the presumably expansive canopy of your wonderful Ficus tree which, stately as it is, should be proud to stand alone. You can designate your back garden, if sunlight is sufficient, for vegetable and herb cultivation. This applies equally to the front as there is absolutely no need to hide vegetables away. A well tended vegetable garden outclasses ordered beds of ornamental plants by far. Next you need to make suitable growing areas, don’t make them too wide otherwise it will be hard to work in them without walking on the soil and this should be avoided. Walking compacts soil, damages soil structure and reduces fertility. Beds should then be topped up with a mix of 50 per cent sweet earth, 25 per cent river sand and 25 per cent old, well rotted, organic manure/organic compost. If the soil is already sandy then skip additional sand and increase the ratio of manure/compost. You then have to decide on the use of perennial versus seasonal plants. I would suggest perennial plants around boundary walls and seasonal ones in easily accessible beds. What is planted where is a matter of personal choice and seasonal availability. Keep a close eye on this column for more advice.

Q: I have exotic plants in my front garden in KDA, Karachi and a kitchen garden at the back. I have been getting good results on both fronts. This year, however, both cucumbers and gourds have become infected.

A: Not knowing if your plants are infected by fungal disease or insect attack makes it difficult to advise correctly. For insects, you can try spraying garlic water, hell-fire spray or soapy water, all of which have been discussed in previous columns. If the problem is fungal, perhaps powdery mildew at this time of the year, then try spraying with warm water and bicarbonate of soda, 1 tablespoon bicarbonate of soda to 1 liter of water. Spray when the sun is going down and repeat daily for 7–10 days. You will probably have to cut off heavily mildewed leaves as these will be beyond saving but lesser affected leaves do stand a chance. If plants are very badly mildewed then you will need to remove them and replant with something more tolerant to summer heat and humidity.

Q: I garden as a hobby and grow plants in small pots before transferring them into the ground. Can you please give me some tips on growing roses from seed and also how to grow some lemons?

A: It can be difficult to germinate rose seeds and, depending on the variety of rose from which the seed was harvested, any which do grow may be completely different from the ‘parent’ plant. If you do want to try then seal the seeds in a plastic bag and put them in the freezer for six weeks before sowing them just under the surface of good quality organic compost. Keep the compost moist at all times and place the seed pots in partial shade. Germination will be sporadic and can take a number of weeks. It is much easier to multiply roses from cuttings taken in July/August. It is better to purchase grafted lemon trees from a nursery than to grow them from seed as seed grown ones can take years to fruit and rarely fruit well, if they fruit at all.

Q: On a recent trip to Lahore I saw a very beautiful tree in someone’s garden. It had clusters of pink buds and flowers at the same time. Can you tell me what it is?

A: Perhaps Barringtonia or a member of the Cassia family but from your description I am not certain.

Q: Can I grow alstromeria and achimenes bulbs in Lahore. If so,  then what are the growing conditions and when should they be planted?

A: Alstromeria is a rhizomous perennial and is unlikely to thrive in Lahore but achimenes – ‘Hot water plant’, a tuberous perennial, just might do with care. It requires well drained soil in partial shade and must be sprayed with warm water during dry weather. The tubers will need lifting and storing over the winter and should be replanted in early spring.

Q: I have lonicera japonica in my garden. Which other species of climbing honeysuckle can I grow from seed in Lahore aside from periclymenum?

A: Sorry but none that I am aware of.

Please continue sending your gardening queries to Remember to include your location. Answers to selected questions will appear shortly in a future issue of the magazine. The writer will not respond directly by e-mail. E-mails with attachments will not be opened. The writer’s garden is not open to the public.