Free Press Journal

A dummy’s guide to summer gardening


With summer almost here, Marilyn Gore looks at plants that will survive the heat, and even your less-than-green thumb

The right plants give any home or office a slice of serenity; they help bring down the temperature and, in many cases, can purify the air and even keep pests away. What’s not to love about a little extra greenery, especially in the summer?

So, why don’t we all have a garden of some sort? After all, Instagram and Pinterest, with those pictures of perfectly gorgeous gardens in all shapes and sizes, make it look like the easiest thing to do! Gardeners seem to agree. “Any plant can survive in the summer. You just have to put the ones that need sunlight in the sun, and the ones that need shade in the shade. Then, all they need are water and fertilizer,” said nursery owner Dhiren Dalwadi.

Let’s face it, though, not all of us have a green thumb. I, for one, have whatever is the opposite of a green thumb. So, while there are a plenty of plants that can survive an Indian summer, this article looks at plants that will survive both the heat, and a beginner’s “expertise”.

Pretty, hardy

You’ve probably given or received a small potted succulent as a present at some point over the past few years. Not sure what a succulent is? Think of cactus-like plants, usually small, minus the thorns. The similarity isn’t a coincidence. All cacti are succulents. If you are thinking that all those plants couldn’t possibly fall under one category, consider this: the Cacti and Succulent Garden and Research Centre at Panchkula in Haryana houses nearly 3,500 varieties of succulents.

Their distinct architectural appearance makes succulents ideal for terrariums, box gardens and miniature gardens that can be used to make any space that much greener. “Succulents can be grown from seed or through vegetative propagation, from cuttings. The easiest way to grow succulents is to break off a piece from a healthy plant and put it in a container with well-drained soil,” says Hazel, who asked to be identified only by her first name. A hobby gardener, she cares for about 100 potted plants in her garden— including succulents such as aloe vera, adenium, sedum, jade and crown of thorns — on the top floor of her apartment complex.

While succulents can be a bit pricey at the nursery around the corner, the fact that most species are essentially about 90% water means that they will survive minimal watering: just once a week, perfect for the time-pressed amateur gardener in a country that faces a shortage of water almost every summer. Even the more fiddly species, like the crown of thorns, only require a light misting when the soil begins to look dry.

If you want a lot of green, Boston Fern is a good choice

Floral allure

For those who want a pop of colour in their gardens, and are willing to do the work, there are plenty of flowering plants that don’t only survive, but also thrive in the summer.

Hibiscus, also called the shoe flower, does well as an outdoor plant since it needs both needs plenty of sun and room to grow.

The ubiquity of bougainvillea is testimony to its summer-loving nature. However, these wild, colourful plants can require large quantities of water while in bloom. Professional gardener Raju Kumar says the best way to care for these woody shrubs is to soak its roots, and then not water it until the roots are dry again. “The amount of water will depend on the drainage,” he explains.

Home gardener Kathleen Reubens lists bougainvillea, oleander, raat ki rani (night-blooming jasmine) and the yellow tecoma (bell flower) as other summer-friendly flowering shrubs. “Just look around, and see what is flowering,” she advises, on planning a summer garden. “The frangipani (champa) tree is another great choice. If you’re short on space, you could even consider a dwarf or bonsai version,” she adds. Interestingly, to this untrained eye, the bonsai version of the frangipani loosely resembles that of the adenium.

Marigolds are another bright option for a summer garden, as are miniature sunflowers. “Many kinds of roses also bloom in the summer,” Hazel said, but warned, “Pests seem to love them as much as we do. So, they aren’t the easiest plants to care for, especially if you’re a novice.” One cheerful solution might be to place roses near marigolds, since the latter are effective in keeping bugs away.

If you aren’t in a hurry for flowers, look at zinnias and lilies. Zinnias bloom late in the summer, while lilies usually wait for the rains before blooming. The former are easy to grow from seed, and are particular favourites among butterflies. Lilies, on the other hand, will sometimes allow their leaves to dry up and go into a state of suspended animation, while the bulb waits for clement weather. Some species, such as the arum or peace lily, do particularly well indoors since they need only a little light, and limited watering. They do, however, need regular dividing and re-potting as they outgrow their containers, advised Vijay, a gardener in Dalwadi’s nursery, who uses only one name.

Another hobby gardener, Roshni Joy says that while she likes colourful flowers, she prefers the fragrant jasmine, and has three kinds of them growing in her balcony garden.

Marigolds are a bright option for a summer garden

Evergreen solutions

If all you want is green and lots of it, look no further than evergreen shrubs such as the spider plant, the song of India, the Boston fern, or any variety of palm. Just make sure you have enough water and space on offer since these guys can get super thirsty in the summer, and tend to grow wild when cared for properly.

Still wondering about the absolutely easiest plant to grow and care for? “The money plant,” Kumar said. “Even you could do it,” Hazel added, “as long as you give them a little sun, and change the water once every couple of days.”

I walked away, deciding to ignore the slight undertone of (admittedly well-deserved) condescension and give it a shot. But first, according to popular wisdom, I need to find someone to steal a piece from. Apparently, that’s the first rule to ensuring bountiful money-plant foliage.