Gardening: Islamabad’s green thumb

Published: January 11, 2012
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Antirrhinum, roses and petunias are very popular in the capital. PHOTOS: FILE

Antirrhinum, roses and petunias are very popular in the capital. PHOTOS: FILE

Antirrhinum, roses and petunias are very popular in the capital. PHOTOS: FILE Antirrhinum, roses and petunias are very popular in the capital. PHOTOS: FILE Antirrhinum, roses and petunias are very popular in the capital. PHOTOS: FILE
ISLAMABAD: 

Despite what A Troll in Central Park would have us believe, activating one’s green thumb takes a lot more than a snap of the fingers (unless one is a magical troll with a sparkling thumb; then, by all means, snap away).

Growing and nurturing the many varieties of flora can be laborious — requiring a degree of patience, effort and passion. Sometimes a bit of creativity and a decent sense of humour can take amateur gardeners far; a recent survey by the Royal Horticultural Society explains that plants respond well and — in many instances — grow faster when spoken to, explains the Telegraph. In particular, the study shows that the plants respond to “women gardeners’ voices”.

In Islamabad, as well as other major cities in Pakistan, the gardening dialectic gets a little more complicated. Very few residents — especially those from high-income households — actually participate in growing or planting. Those hours spent in the heat of the sun or the chill of winter, are reserved solely for hired gardeners. “I’ve never planted or watered anything in my life,” says Alia Shaikh, 22. “I can safely say the same for everyone I know,” she adds.

But gardening really isn’t rocket science. Islamabad’s temperate climate helps: the gorgeous spring and early summer period is ideal for growth; the hibernal, cold months are perfect for planting and potting/re-potting. Those interested in learning how to tend and grow flowers, bushes, herbs, or even trees need only take a trip to the lines of nurseries in the outskirts of central Islamabad.

The Paradise Nursery in Sector 1-9 is remarkably verdant this time of year, despite the cold, and provides a view of purple gobi heads, the hand-like leaves of palm and assorted seedlings in small, earthenware pots. One of the proprietors, Atif, explains that the winter season is ‘good for growing petunias and pansies.’ The genus of antirrhinum (kids know these as ‘doggie flowers’ on account of their flexible mouths, which can be pressed open so they look like they’re barking), primula and the household gobi flourish in the cold as well, he explains. Caring for these varieties in winter is actually quite straightforward and not very labour intensive: “They should be watered every two or three days, when they start looking dry. Of course, in summer you must water them more; at least once to twice a day, depending on the plant.”

At the neighbouring Green Land Nursery, the caretaker, Ahmed, offers his expertise on seasonal gardening. “Yes, petunia, pansy and antirrhinum are popular in the winter. But the real focus these days is on roses and the citrus variety.” The seeds are imported from Japan, Germany and the United States and the nurseries grow seedlings, ready to sell locally.

Budding growers should take note that when it comes to soil, Ahmed is partial to one and says that; red soil is preferable, a third mixed with natural manure.

Although Ahmed claims that gardening isn’t all that difficult, he points out one of the more challenging aspects of the job: “seeing a dying plant is very challenging, especially figuring out how it’s dying. Sometimes you can blame the water; or it could be the dirt.”

“Gardening work, it’s really not difficult,” says Ahmed, “you just need to be passionate about it, then it’s not a problem. Just be careful not to over-water certain plants.” Those interested in learning how to tend and grow flowers, bushes, herbs, or even trees need only take a trip to the lines of nurseries in the outskirts of central Islamabad. In addition to the variety of foliage and pots, local residents will find a helpful ear for all their gardening woes and a number of useful tips along the way.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 12th, 2012. 

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