By Zahra Nasir
As always, when monsoon rains have graced us with their presence, gardens should be looking fresh and exceptionally green, with most varieties of plants, especially trees, shrubs and perennial climbers, having renewed themselves with some amazing spurts of new growth which, as mentioned last month, may need pruning back. More importantly though, if your locality received a decent amount of rain, it will, aside from transforming your garden into a temporary rain forest, have shown you exactly where the drainage you took for granted, has gone wrong!
That overly soggy patch in the middle of the vegetable plot for instance; the one in which your previously thriving tomato plants suddenly developed blight — that nasty fungal disease that first yellows then dries up leaves and rots fruit before it has a chance to ripen. The bed in which, when the standing water finally disappeared, the once diggable soil had been transformed into something resembling solid rock and as for that flower border, the one running alongside the back boundary wall … well … it defies description and there is no time like the present to put these hiccups right.
Drainage, or lack of it, is an often overlooked aspect of gardening as, surprising as it sounds, many gardeners simply presume that water, whether this is from natural rainfall or irrigation water, will simply soak in and away as required. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work that way and can, if left uncorrected, eventually result in loss of plants, a build-up of otherwise avoidable fungal and other diseases, serious damage to soil structure and can even, in extreme cases, render a once-upon-a-time garden a disaster area and no one wants that!
Water naturally collects in dips and hollows, at the bottom of slopes no matter how slight these gradients may be, and in places where it is completely unable to percolate into the sub-soil due to its route being blocked by solid rock or the presence of extended concrete foundations, etc. Some of these drainage problems are easy to remedy, others more complicated but, if you want to maintain, or create, a beautiful and productive garden then all must be dealt with and there is no time like the present.
Dips and hollows should be filled in and levelled off in line with the surrounding area unless, of course, you want to take full advantage of their existence, have them excavated even deeper and, with suitable lining, transform them into fish ponds and yes, I am serious. Home-grown fish would be wonderful to serve up with your organic fruit and vegetables and is a potential source of protein that, on a home scale, does not receive the attention it deserves and, if you can tie it in with aquaponics, all the better.
In gardens created in soil laid down over solid rock or extended concrete foundations, providing good drainage can mean digging everything up and laying either actual drainage pipes leading into existing storm drains or gullies or, alternatively, by digging deep trenches, in-filling these with about six to 12 inches of gravel/small stones, re-covering with soil and cultivating on top but, these drains must also lead somewhere sensible. In either case, if you have put in such drainage facilities then please remember not to plant deep rooted species on top of them as these would wreck them and it would all have been a waste of effort and money.
Other jobs in the garden this month are, as always, many and include the following:
Sow some brightly coloured, eye attractant, annuals in any gaps amongst shrubs and other tall-growing perennials which may be slow to bloom. Decide on the effect you would like to create — orderly, wild, cool, hot or whatever you fancy — and then head straight to your local seed supplier and let rip!
Suggestions for tall, winter-to-spring flowering annuals are very tall-growing Queen Anne’s Lace, tall, medium or small hollyhocks, medium to tall scabosia, medium to tall salvias, stately or not-so-stately antirrhinums, dazzling calendulas, softly romantic gypsophila, pastel shades of godetia, sea blue ageratum, clarkia, glowing Californian poppies or ‘escholtizia’, cornflowers, linum, sweetly scented stocks, sweet William’s and an explosion of ‘Lady bird poppies’ wouldn’t go amiss with, for front row edging purposes, alyssum, petunias, candytuft, lobelia, pansies, violas and nasturtiums being amongst the easiest and longest lasting. You may prefer to start many of your winter seedlings off in seed trays or pots and then, once the seedlings are strong enough to take it, transplant them out into their selected growing positions.
If so, then please bear in mind that, as next month can, all depending on climate change of course, be scorchingly hot and dry, any transplanting should be done in the relatively cooler hours of the evening and that watering, daily until seedlings have settled in, also be done around sunset. Morning watering, as I have explained before, is a complete waste of precious water as, once the temperature begins to climb the water evaporates well before the plants have had a chance to drink their fill. Evening watering means that they have all night long to luxuriate in what is becoming an increasingly scarce resource for the vast majority of the population and, just because you may be lucky enough to have access to ample water, does not mean that you should senselessly waste it. Practise water conservation please.
Vegetable and herb-wise, make sure to sow as wide a variety as possible of the following but do keep in mind that, depending where you reside, not everything will tolerate winter temperatures — for example, beans are suitable for sowing only in the south of the country now, not in the much cooler, in some places downright cold, winter to come. Beans, peas, tomatoes, radish, winter cabbage and cauliflower, broccoli, calabresse, carrots, turnips, beetroot, celery, lettuce, onions and green onions, parsley, potatoes, endive, mustard, giant red mustard, mustard mizuna, borage, rosemary, sage, thyme, lemon balm, common and garlic chives, lovage, oregano, agastache and a good selection of Chinese greens and other salad greens such as spinach and leaf beet/Swiss chard.
Oh yes! Almost forgot! You might like to start off some early sweet peas too and, if you want prize-winning-size chrysanthemums, then keep on disbudding all except the one main, central, top flower bud.
Published on: 09/01/2013