It’s time to put green fingers to good use. Liz O’Reilly tells you how to get the best from your garden during the growing season.
As the cooler months arrive our thoughts turn to the great outdoors and whether you’ve got a window box, a balcony or some impressive acreage, there’s no reason to let our desert climate stop you enjoying fresh flowers,herbs and vegetables. These are things I’ve grown successfully in my garden with minimal care.
Lots of people told me lavender wouldn’t grow in Bahrain but I used a good dollop of potting compost and plenty of water in a bed which gets at least a little shade, and the tiny sprigs I acquired from a garden centre on the Budaiya Highway have gone bonkers, sprouting madly and smelling divine. I cut them back during the summer and they’ve come along beautifully and look ready to start flowering again – plus, I’m told, they will spread.
This herb has been a life- or at least bed- saver in my garden. You can pick up tiny plants for around 100 fils and, with water and not much else, you will very quickly have great big bushes which not only provide leaves for cooking but also bathe the air with their delicious scent and are said to help keep flies at bay. A warning though, they do tend to take over, so make sure you give ample distance between sprigs when planting and chop them back ruthlessly if they get too much – don’t worry, they will definitely grow back.
I was lucky enough to be given a few cuttings of ornamental grasses last autumn and they have taken really well in my sandy soil. Plant them with a little fertiliser and water well until they’re established. Once they’re bedded in they’re very drought-resistant so are ideal for our hot and humid summer. They also spread rapidly and can be easily split to fill beds or large pots. To divide, simply cut your grass back and use a sharp spade to split away the section you want to remove. Dig it out and replant in a new location with a little compost. There are lots of different types and colours of grass to choose from and they make a great addition to year-round beds.
These ridiculously forgiving plants almost seem to thrive on neglect. I grew two from shoots in balcony pots and they were very resilient. On moving to a villa, I transplanted them to the ground (nothing complicated, just dig a hole, add a bit of compost and put them in without too much bashing about of the roots) and, before long, they were growing like wildfire and sprouting babies all around the base, which I’ve now moved along to fill the other beds. Impressive to look at, they can reach a good size and barely need watering or any care at all.
These might sound like the last thing you’d want to grow in our climate but, in fact, the name comes from their shimmering appearance and they’re actually very drought-tolerant and good for ground cover or in pots. However, since they love full sun and dry soil, they can become invasive, so only plant them where you’re not too worried about them taking over a bit. You can grow from seed, don’t cover as they need light to germinate, or you will find plants in most garden centres. They’re perennial, so they keep coming back, and flower for several months; even when not flowering the foliage is also attractive. Make sure not to overwater them though as damp soil can actually kill them.
Slightly more effort but I think they’re worth it. Their bright orange, red and pink blooms always look really cheerful and bring to mind holidays in Greece and Spain. If you’re lucky enough to already have plants, you can take cuttings very easily by simply breaking small stems at the natural joints, removing all but the top leaves to concentrate sunlight on the growth section, dip the stalk in a little honey and put up in good-quality potting compost. They do like to be kept well watered to ensure flowering and it’s best if you can find a spot where they will get some shade. If you don’t have existing plants, they’re available at garden centres during November and December and, once you’ve got them going, you can take as many cuttings as you like but make sure to deadhead throughout the flowering season. They will bloom for several months and you may wish to bring them inside when the weather heats up again and cut them back for next year.
Other plants to consider for a blooming desert garden include hibiscus, bougainvillea, jasmine, frangipani and various cacti, both flowering and ornamental. With a little more effort, it’s possible to grow colder-climate plants but please do consider the watering needed and, if you really must have a floral taste of home, how about potting up some indoor bulbs – I’ve just planted some gorgeous, fragrant Paperwhites (narcissus), which promise to flower in time for my Christmas table.
Veggies – Grow Your Own
There’s nothing nicer than having fresh vegetables straight from the garden and our gorgeous winter temperature is ideal for growing them.
Chilli peppers can be grown either in pots or in the ground. You can grow from seed or plants, both of which are readily available in most garden centres.
Rocket brings a delicious peppery taste to your salad bowl. I grow mine in a bag of compost, split down the middle. Just chuck the seeds in, cover with the compost and water well. Within three or four weeks you’ll have a good crop right outside the kitchen door, and the more you pick, the more it grows.
Potatoes will grow well in pots year round. My current crop came from shop-bought spuds popped in a dark cupboard until they start to sprout. Small potatoes can be planted intact, larger ones cut into pieces. Plant in pots or straight into the ground (sprouts upward) with a good layer of compost and plenty of space around them for the tubers to grow. Water well but don’t let them get boggy.
Tomatoes thrive just about anywhere from pots to flower beds and, once bedded in, they return year after year (sometimes even when you don’t want them to). Most garden centres and the farmers’ market have baby plants. Plant with compost, water well and enjoy a delicious crop. I use the little cherry tomatoes and eat them like sweets!