The Doha Mums Garden Club spills the secrets to their green thumbs.
If you’re anything like us then your garden grows rather brown and sickly. We confess, we are plant murderers and we cannot be trusted around tulips. Cacti lock up your children. Tomato plants recoil in fear. Which is a problem, as Qatar’s long growing season means that Doha’s the perfect place to get a little green.
Thankfully one group of dedicated gardeners is here to help and to teach us how to turn our thumbs, and our backyards, green.
‘First of all sit out there and picture it,’ says Soultana Chanikian (otherwise known as Suzi), the founder of the Doha Mums Garden Club. ‘Go around and look, if you don’t have any clue, because it’s really a lot like interior design. Think of your outdoor space like an indoor space because you’re going to live in that space for a while in Doha. You can have lunches, dinners, parties – I don’t care how small it is!’
The Garden Club has been active for several years, and just like Suzi’s garden, it started small before flourishing. Now, they meet monthly to swap ideas, stories and plants. In fact, after our interview, she slipped us a packet of ‘magic beans’ – a type of bean she discovered grows like a gangbuster in Doha’s heat.
‘Then start thinking whether you want to go in the ground, or you want to go with pots. Plants are always going to do better in the ground because they’re insulated better from the heat and the moisture is better controlled. You have to be way more careful with the pots.’
That’s one of the reasons Suzi says it’s so important to have a social club: to share knowledge. Many of the plants that do well here are unexpected and gardeners can learn from each other’s trials and errors. Even if sometimes they don’t know the names for them – Suzi showed us several in her garden that were spawned with just kitchen scraps, or sprouted all on their own. She says one of the most important things new gardeners should think about is what will flourish because there’s nothing like a successful plant to inspire more green efforts.
‘I’m still experimenting! This started from a QR15 bougainvillea,’ she said, gesturing to a giant arching tree, sprouting green leaves and bright flowers. ‘Two years. If I let it, it would be much bigger; I have to trim it constantly.’ Bougainvillea is one of the better growers in a garden, she tells us, as is jasmine. ‘Then you have aloe, which grows; I had literally to throw out tonnes of it because it just expanded… this is one thing you don’t have to buy over and over!
‘But for something that will last all year – that will last over a year – that would be jasmine. It will last even if you don’t water it all summer. I know because the lady who looked after my garden killed practically everything!’ She also tells us that roses, although they will probably die for the summer, do well for the rest of the year so you can practically fill your entire garden with these beauties.
It’s not all about the flowers with Suzi though, as she’s recently started exploring the world of vegetables, herbs, climbing bean plants, watermelons, tomatoes, lettuce and strawberries, which all do well in Qatar. You can raid your fridge for the seeds but, she says, just be careful they’re not genetically modified: many plants grown for food are modified so their seeds are sterile.
‘Seeds are fun. If you have kids, seeds are lots of fun,’ Suzi tells us. ‘They will grow very well but they need care.’ Climbing plants also look great and as long as you give them a little support they’ll do the rest.
But before you get swept away buying pretty green things, you have to start at the very beginning: the dirt. ‘I had to put good soil in because it’s really only sand underneath,’ Suzi warns. ‘Every garden needs good soil, which is not very easy to get in Doha, but you’ll find it!’
For instance, good quality topsoil, compost and potting soil especially for potted plants are available at the Garden Souq. Located by the Wholesale Market, this is the Garden Club’s go-to haunt for everything growing. Here you will find plants, pots, and everything you need to get started. Suzi says that while you can get plants and accessories from Carrefour, Lulu Hypermarket and other stores, the Garden Souq is generally cheaper, and will introduce you to the various nurseries in the country, most of which have vendors at the Souq.
Once we’ve bought all our goods and everything is in the ground, however, how do we keep it alive? ‘Let them be thirsty!’ Suzi stresses. Too many people overwater their plants, worried the heat will kill them, and instead they end up drowning them. Suzi says once a day in the hot months is all you need for most plants and then once every couple of days when it’s cooler.
With a little luck and a lot of perseverance, by September your garden will be bursting with colour and life.
Just don’t let us near your plants.
The Doha Mums Garden Club meets once a month. For more information and the most recent times and dates, check out www.dohamums.com