How to Start your Garden

If you are a complete beginner or just want something easy, buy evergreen plants. (The kind that are found in big pots everywhere in everyone’s porches and front gardens). They are local, well suited to the climate.

Things you’ll need

  • Gardening spade
  • Gardening fork
  • Ordinary soil and a bit of  red soil
  • Compost/fertilizer
  • Plant pots(optional)
  • Seeds or baby plants
  • Watering can

Place

The first thing is to decide where you’re going to plant. It’s better not to mess up the front lawn and start with a few pots in the porch. A small success is always better than a big failure. As you learn, you can extend it further.

The place you pick must get a minimum of six hours of sunlight every day. Try not to put them in a place where the midday sun will be directly above them. Observe an area to see the how the sun moves about the place during the day. Pick a place near a water tap and make sure that it is a place that you can’t ignore. (Outside your bedroom window, for instance).

Time

The best time to start planting seeds is of course the spring. But most seeds germinate in summer too. And if you are starting with plants bought from the nursery, then the season doesn’t matter. Plants can be re-potted anytime.

Soil

The best kind of soil is a mixture of sandy soil, red soil and compost. If you ask the nearest nursery owner, he can probably get a sack of red soil for you. You may have seen it at construction sites where the ground is being dug up. Compost can be bought from the same place where you get your plants. You can also make it yourself too, but it will take time. Gather all the organic waste from the kitchen- the fruit and vegetable peels and put it under a big drum or bucket on some soil. Add leaves, dead insects and animals, manure –even your own would be healthy (no, I’m kidding. That would be disgusting). Adding worms would speed up the process as they help in decomposing. Leave it for six months. When you take it out, all the waste will have been converted into compost. Making compost is one of the best things you can do for the environment, and yourself. It cuts back on a huge amount of household rubbish and plant compost is a magic formula for growing anything.

Preparing the area

If you are planting on ground and not in pots, then turn over the soil, remove rocks and rake it once before planting the seeds. Turn it when the ground is moist. If the ground is dug when too wet or too dry, it ruins its structure.

It must be damp enough to form a loose ball in your fist, but fall apart when it is released. You can also add fertilizer, but if you are using compost, then there is no need.

Planting

This is the part where your own style shines through. Do you want to plant vegetables for readily available organic snacks, or do you want brightly coloured flowers to cheer up your mood every morning. Do you like roses or tulips? Or, would you prefer evergreen plants?

When buying flowers, keep it in mind that they only bloom for a specific time throughout the year. Usually nurseries keep the flowers that are blooming in that season, and they will usually last 2-4 months.

There are two types of flowers. Annuals are those flowers that have to be replanted every year because they die after their flowering season, but bloom for a longer period and give lots of colour. Perennials are those that have shorter bloom, but come back every year. What I do, is mix the two types up, with evergreen shrubs and bushes in between.

However, if you are a complete beginner or just want something easy, buy evergreen plants. (The kind that are found in big pots everywhere in everyone’s porches and front gardens). They are local, well suited to the climate and do not need much care other than watering and they increase in size every year.

Water

In the summer: Once a day.

Winter: two times a week.

Plants can also survive on every other day but they will grow faster if you water them more. Also, never water plants during the midday, when the sun is harshest. The best time is in the morning or evening.

Drainage

Most people say that holes at the bottom of pots and kiyaris (those long rectangular deep pots) are a must, to drain off excess water. Waterlogging causes fungus to grow on the soil. But in my own experience, they are a pain. The water would drain quickly through channels in the soft soil of my kiyaris and would pour out in a muddy mess at the bottom. And the soil in some areas would remain dry, and my plants would still need water. So I plugged the bottoms using clay and now it holds the water. Our country is pretty dry, and anything to hold the water in is better. Of course if you use smaller pots, then you can always use plates to hold the excess water. And if the bottom layers of soil are tightly packed, the water usually does not drain out. Just experiment to see what works best for you.

Turning over the soil

It is necessary to turn over the surface Layer of soil, which hardens and sticks together after some time. Called ‘godi karna’ in Urdu, it recreates holes in the surface of the soil, so air can reach the plant roots and they can breathe. However if your soil is hardening and cracking too much, then add compost to it to increase aeration and drainage.

Mulching

This is totally optional, but you can cover the soil with a layer to prevent weeds from poking through. You can use synthetic method- like small pebbles or organic like wood chips. It also gives your garden a neater appearance.

Tips

  • When buying from nurseries, try to buy the plants from the green packets. These are cheaper and they come without the cost of the terracotta pots. You’ll have to take greater care while planting them as they are quite small, but they will save a lot of money because they usually contain many individual baby plantlets that grow to form a number of full plants.
  • You can keep the plants in the misshapen pots which they come, or you could buy new pots. But if you want to save money, get creative. Try making your own. Put a yogurt pot or jar inside a jelly mould (those flower shape ones) or any other deep, flexible tub. Fill the mould with cement, but not inside the yogurt pot. When it is dry take it out. This is why the mould needs to be flexible. The hole left inside the cement by the yogurt pot can be filled with soil and plants.
  • If you are wondering what kind of paint to use for you flower pots, the answer is enamel. There are two types of enamel- matt and gloss. Both work well on wood, metal and clay.
  • Worms and ladybirds are good for plants. Caterpillars, grasshoppers and small red/ white insects growing under leaves are not.
  • Use plastic gloves- the dishwashing kind if you do not like getting your hands dirty.
  • If your plants start turning yellow on some sides, but are otherwise healthy, they are not getting enough sunlight
  • Try decorating your garden with unique stones, little figures like gnomes or statues. Adding fake plants here and there I think is a bit deceitful, but it totally brings out the look.
  • If you think you can never grow anything, try planting tomatoes. They are the easiest vegetable and grow like wildfire. Just plant all the seeds from inside a tomato in a row, remember to water and soon your plants will be poking their heads through and growing like the beanstalk!
  • If you have flowers, collect the seeds from them after the flower has died and the seeds are fully formed. Plant them next year!

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