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Your garden can be your most valued and trusted friend or an implacable foe: the choice is entirely up to you. A garden is not simply an area of ground to be used, abused or pandered too at whim but is — or should be — a living entity that a gardener needs to spend time to get to know.

Soil is, of course, the backbone of any garden yet so many gardeners abuse it to within an inch of its life and sometimes kill it with over enthusiastic use of chemical interventions both above and below the ground.

It is, therefore, imperative that before creating a garden, the gardener learns how to understand the essential needs and requirements of the piece of land whose friendship they need to win using natural not artificial processes.

Soil, on which so much else depends, needs regular feeding and upkeep. Compacted soil must be opened to allow life-giving oxygen easy entrance to nourish invisible soil microbes and visible soil ‘helpers’ such as earthworms. Worms and other ‘soil helpers’ allow the soil to breathe, multiply and improve soil health — as they do so, lots of soil/mineral/microbe building, organic compost/mulch should be fed to the soil. This feeding should continue on a year-round basis if the friendship is going to last.

To ensure your garden gives back over the years, first get to know it

Prior to sowing even a single seed, it is also essential to learn things such as which garden areas shimmer in the heat of the full sun, which areas enjoy most shade, which spots dry out fast and where water tends to stay. Such observations are important when it comes to deciding which species of plant to put in and where it is most likely to thrive. This is another fact that gardeners learn as they progress because different species of plants often have very differing requirements.

With endless soil care and careful observation, a gardener learns how best to care for the land he/she holds in trust for future generations and, in doing so, very quickly learns that establishing reliable friendships with the garden and all its inhabitants is a sure way to bountiful fulfilment for all.

Things to do for the month

It’s time to indulge yourself — and your garden of course — by splurging on a whole host of annual flower seeds for winter and spring floriferous delights. The following can be started off, some directly in the ground and others in seed trays/pots now and over the next few weeks for long-lasting colour.

Back of the border: Masses of frothy, creamy Queen Anne’s lace along with hollyhocks, both single and double, in shades ranging from gentle whites, soft pinks and lavenders through to deep apricot, satiny reds and luscious purples. Tall forms of scabosia in white, cream, pale pinks and various shades of blue and crimson are well worthwhile as are giant antirrhinums, in both double and single forms, in all the colours of the rainbow. Also worth a try: sparkling white gypsophila dotted with drifts of tall larkspur found in gun-metal greys and from pale blue to the most brilliant deep azure blue imaginable.

Middle of the border: Lots of medium height clumps of scabosia and antirrhinums in whatever colours and colour combinations will make you smile. On your list should also be plenty of cheap and cheerful calendulas to dazzle and a good selection of ‘cottage garden’ blooms such as godetia, ageratum, clarkia, poppies, cornflowers, linum, stocks and Sweet Williams. Other possible flowers include: sweet sultan, larkspur, pinks, dahlias, bidens, salvia, cinerraria, phlox, geranium and nemophila.

Border edging: There are plenty to pick from in this category from pretty bellis, candytuft, alyssum, petunias, lobelia, pansies and violas to nasturtiums – both the bush and dwarf type.

Flower of the month: ‘Osteospermum’ is a spectacular, carpet-forming perennial and is more commonly known as the African daisy. Simple to grow from seed, these stunning flowers grow quickly and deserve a prominent place in our gardens. Sown now — just press the seed, very lightly, into the surface of moist compost — the plants should come into bloom over the winter months and on into spring, providing a mass of purple, lavender, white, pink, red or yellow flowers until summer heat gives them pause for thought.

The African daisy flowers most profusely in the full sun but also tolerates light shade. It will grow in most soil/compost as long as it is well-drained but does prefer slightly acidic conditions. It needs regular watering until established — then it becomes fairly drought tolerant, and is happy in pots/containers as well as in the garden proper. When flowering ceases, trim back over the summer months; new growth will begin as summer fades away.

The vegetable garden: Grow a selection of the following to ensure that the months ahead are full to bursting with, preferably, organic goodness: peas, both regular and sugar or snap peas, beans and tomatoes. Others on your list should include: Swiss chard/leaf beet, winter radish such as ‘China rose’ and ‘Black Spanish’, smooth-leaved and crinkly cabbage, cauliflower, calabrese, broccoli, beetroot, carrots, turnips, celery, lettuce, onions, green onions, shallots, endive, mustard, giant red mustard and mustard mizuna. Give spinach, Chinese greens and lettuce a try and you can make a start on planting potatoes, too.

The herb garden: There are plenty of options from blue and white flowered borage — look out for the variety which also has variegated leaves for additional interest — upright and/or creeping thyme and sage to rosemary. You should also plant fast-maturing varieties of lavender, lemon balm, chives, garlic chives, winter savoury, aniseed and lovage. And let’s not forget that this is a good time to grow oregano, agastache, dill, parsley, mint, calendula and nasturtium. Along with ‘ordinary’ mint, you can also plant apple mint, pineapple mint and peppermint.

Please continue sending your gardening queries to [email protected] It is important to include your location. The writer does not respond directly by e-mail. E-mails with attachments will not be opened.

Published in Dawn, EOS, September 1st, 2017

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