Gardening: Out with the old, in with the new

Zahrah Nasir

Good grief! December again and I, for one, am wondering where the year flew away to — the seasons didn’t merely stroll by this year, they raced at record breaking speed and it’s time for us to take a look at what to do in the garden during this month of out with the old and, when it ends, in with the new.

Let’s take a look at the ‘outs’ first: Top of the list is something that many of you consider to be a labour of love and which I view as being criminally insane. Here … I’m having yet another ‘go’ at those abominations known as ‘lush green lawns’ which, in the face of escalating malnutrition — something like 60 per cent of our population is struggling to exist and feed themselves way below the poverty line and, needless to say, they aren’t managing very well at all — along with ever escalating inflation, surely it is wrong to lavish time, inputs, labour, water — water is another mote point — and money on something which could, and should, be put to productive use. Lawns are a luxury that the world, especially Pakistan where climate change is hitting hard, can no longer afford; so do something about them — please!Gardening Out with the old, in with the new

I accept that some of you, perhaps all, will find this ‘suggestion’ repugnant but take a look, a long hard look, at the faces you pass by in the streets and, if you look hard enough, you will see that there is hunger everywhere and that to party — if you do — on a ridiculously expensive lawn, solves nothing but further exacerbates the dreadful situation.

You do not have to rip out every single blade of grass — although I would much prefer it if you did — but do, at the very least, plant fruit trees here and there and, out of sight of your drawing room window if you must, then create a vegetable and herb garden. If you don’t want to eat the produce yourself or have too much of something all at once, instead of dishing it out to friends and relatives who do not really need it, hand it out to the poor, donate it to an orphanage or simply haul it off to the nearest ‘squatter camp’ and donate it there.

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Now, having got that little lecture off my shoulders, let’s move on to other gardening matters be these edible or not but, naturally, we will begin with edible varieties.

This is the perfect time for planting fruit trees of all kinds, including the ‘bare-rooted ones which will be available in nurseries any day now and, mostly, at a reasonably low cost: Please keep in mind that dwarf or naturally small-sized fruiting trees and bushes, Chinese lemons and falsa being good examples, are perfectly at home in large clay pots or other containers which can be placed here and there in the garden, on terraces, on balconies and on rooftops where, if given adequate protection from wind and burning sun, they will thrive.

If you haven’t done so already, and even if you have, then think ahead to ‘follow on’ crops; sow seeds for cabbages, cauliflower, spinach, leaf beet/Swiss chard, spring onions, potatoes, lettuce, tomatoes, beetroot, carrots, etc. There is still time to put in some last minute peas, beans, lots of Chinese and Japanese salad greens and plenty of annual herbs many of which, especially the latter, thrive in pots.

If you have seedlings ready for transplanting into their final growing position then get this done as soon as possible; this will give them time to get very well established before there is a hint of ‘heat’ in the air during early spring. After transplanting according to variety, give them a nice, gentle watering in — in the evening not during the day when the sun is up even if the temperatures are cool. Evening watering is the best method all year round and a good habit to form.

Keep on top of weeding — although weeds are slower to make a takeover bid in the cooler weather. As long as the weeds, these are nothing more than out of place plants and many of them are perfectly edible (check with an expert before putting them anywhere near your mouth please), have not yet formed seed and are free of disease then you can put into the compost bin or, failing that, use them in mulch.

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In the flower garden, or pots/containers, then you can still sow nasturtiums — although these are really herbs — and lots of them as they add a wonderful blaze of lasting colour to the drabbest of surroundings. You can also sow things such as larkspur, Virginia stock, cosmos and other fast growing annuals, plus, this is the perfect weather for spending an afternoon — or six — browsing through all of your local nurseries to see what they have in stock and, I guarantee, you will return home with far more than you bargained for!

This month is also the right time to prune back and generally tidy up your grape vines, passion flowers and other climbers, ramblers and creepers. Myself I am tackling the thick growth of variegated ivy which annually threatens to completely take over the front of the house: I do allow it to half cover a bedroom window for the summer so that only cool, greenish, filtered light comes through rather than blazing sunshine but, in the winter cold sun — as much as possible — is preferred. A point for you to ponder here: Growing climbers over your windows for the summer months in, for example Karachi, will reduce room temperature and lessen your electricity bills. Think of it!

Also, remember to keep on composting, mulching and brewing up organic plant food of all kinds as soil health is the backbone of every single garden on the planet.

Please continue sending your gardening queries to zahrahnasir@hotmail.com. Remember to include your location. The writer will not respond directly by e-mail. E-mails with attachments will not be opened.

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