Saturday, 28 August 2010

The Scented Garden


It is hard to beat a day of relaxation in a garden full of scented flowers on a warm sunny day. My past experience in horticulture has taught me to keep an eye on the weather forecasts and plan your work accordingly. So I have no problem getting on with the hard work on cold and wet days or pruning fruit trees or roses after a snowfall, but I like to have all my work up to date so that when the weather is warm and sunny I can stop work and relax on the patio amongst the garden flowers. It is the patio area where scented flowering plants are most appreciated.
Memories of summer always include a range of exotic scented blooms of Brugmansias, the Angels Trumpets, lilies, sweet peas, carnations and roses.
One of my earliest memories was a potting shed experience at Camperdown greenhouse as a young Parks Dept. apprentice in the sixties learning to make decorative sprays for a civic function with a combination of red roses, clove scented carnations and sweet peas. Perfume was fantastic.

Scented plants are available all year round as shrubs, perennials, annuals, bulbs, climbers and even trees.

Start with a good garden plan

My initial thoughts on establishing a new garden is to create a mature framework within which I can grow a range of plants each having their own requirements.
Garden trees get first consideration as they will require the most space, then I usually try and grow climbers up walls and fences. The essential patio must be sheltered, private, sunny and adjacent to the house, a glasshouse also needs a sunny aspect and then other plants integrated into the plan.
When selecting plants having a scent is very important especially in those areas that receive the most attention. Top priorities will be the patio area, front door entrance and even the rotary drying area. There is always plenty of scented plants to fit all these features covering every month of the year.


Selection of trees will depend on size of garden though even the smallest can get away with at least one tree. The upright Japanese cherry, Prunus Amanogawa forms a narrow column of pale pink scented blossom in spring and takes up very little space, however if more room can be afforded Prunus Shirotae, (Mount Fuji) is a beautiful site.
Most small gardens can also fit in at least one lilac, my favourite was always the double white Mme Lemoine though the rosy lilac Michel Buchner and deep purple Charles Joly are well worth a bit of space.
For the garden with plenty of space plant a balsam poplar, Populus balsamifera. In early spring the unfolding leaves emerge from large sticky buds which give off a delicious balsam scent.


Some plants can be self supporting and others need help with strong wire support, or trellis and some plants may need a warm south facing wall whereas others are fine on north facing walls.
Climbing roses can accommodate all aspects with the vigorous soft white Mme Alfred Carriere quite happy on a north wall. I have a heavily scented shrub rose Gertrude Jekyll trained as a climber on a west wall on my patio. It is fantastic.
Honeysuckle is available in many varieties and will clamber happily over many fences.
The pineapple scented yellow flowers of Cytisus battandieri appear in mid summer and it will need a south wall and a bit of support as will the heavily scented white Jasminum polyanthum.
Sweet peas can be trained on any fence as long as it is given support and good soil. They can also be trained as cordons up a tall cane for cut flowers.


Garden size again dictates what size of shrub you have room for, but Daphne is quite small
whereas the mock orange, Philadelphus needs a fair bit of space. Both are available in a range of different varieties.
In late winter or early spring the Chinese witch hazel, Hamamelis mollis, Viburnum fragrans, and carlesii and Mahonia will provide a wee bit of garden scent
On a lower scale many herbs provide beautiful scents through their foliage from Rosemary, and lavender to mint and ground hugging thyme, and all can be used in cooking recipes.


Every one has their favourite roses as there are so many available, but in these times where chemicals are frowned upon and no longer available to amateur gardeners many old favourites just don't have the vigour to fight off blackspot, rust and mildew diseases.
My favourite red, E. H. Morse is still good but Wendy Cussons and Margaret Merrill go down in mid season every year. The new English shrub roses are mostly scented, fairly vigorous and come in every size and colour.

Carnations and pinks

Border carnations are very easy to grow and make excellent cut flowers, and garden pinks are perfect for trailing over walls. Select those types with the strong clove scents and make sure the soil drainage is good. There are many varieties available at garden centres as well as specialist nurseries found in garden magazines or on the internet.

Beds, tubs and hanging baskets

Spring flower beds placed near front entrance doors benefit from wallflowers with their bright colours as well as strong scent. Stocks are less popular but if you want perfume they must be included.
My summer hanging baskets are placed beside main entrances and I always include the deep blue petunia both for its strong colour as well as its scent, though seed producers never seem to give this trait much recognition.
If you have a large tub or border a specimen dot plant using a Brugmansia, the Angels Trumpets will fill the garden on any warm evening with a strong exotic perfume, but remember all parts of the plant are poisonous with a hallucinogenic chemical.


In spring it is the narcissus and hyacinths that reign supreme followed by flag iris, then in summer nothing can compare with the scent of exotic lilies.
There are many other scented bulbs to try if space can be found in the greenhouse. Try the Polianthus tuberosa, or the spider lily, Ismene festalis or even the sub tropical Hedychium coronarium. They all require careful looking after but the rewards make it well worth while.


Saturday, 21 August 2010

Too big for your roots


To keep the garden looking good all year round it is not enough to put in the hard graft without a fair bit of planning ahead. Tasks performed now will ensure the garden continues to look good next spring and summer.
My past career in horticulture has taken me all round the UK so I have had numerous gardens to design, plant and care for. I don't rush into the task but consider carefully all the different elements I want to incorporate into the garden. I may want flower beds, roses, heather garden, herbaceous border, annual border, flowering shrubs, garden trees, climbers, vegetables and fruit and most likely a greenhouse and sunny sheltered patio.

Shasta daisies
Initial garden design
Nearly all existing gardens have some redeeming elements that are worth preserving, then give a lot of thought to what parts get the most sun, shade and shelter and the need for paths.
Often there is a need for privacy with a sunny patio to relax on, steep banks to stabilise and shelter from wind may be needed. 
If some trees, appropriate to the size of the garden, can also be planted it will give the garden scale and a backdrop within which to set out the different elements.
All of these features need to be thought out at the beginning to save moving plants around later on, but don't worry if things do not go quite as planned. That is quite normal, but make sure you have the best place for your sunny patio to relax on with a wee drink (non alcoholic, of course) while doing all this planning.

Every time you visit a garden centre you are likely to come away with that special plant that needs fitting into this great design and that's when problems begin, or you often find that you want more plants than the garden can hold. Also many plants get too big for the space you thought was sufficient for them. It is sorting out these continual problems that makes gardening a year round affair.

Seasonal tasks

Now is the time to tackle some of those tasks.
Flag Iris
Flag Iris
This is a good time to split up flag Iris when the clumps have grown large and flowering starts to deteriorate. There is always strong young rhizomes around the outside of big clumps that can be dug out for replacing. Flag Iris like a sunny position with good but free draining soil and do not plant too deep as the rhizomes grow on the surface of the soil.

Another plant I grow in a fairly dry border is a large drift of Lavender. It started off as an informal planting ten years ago of about twenty plants that eventually merged into a bold sweeping group. Very impressive at flowering time but now a bit sprawling even though they have been regularly pruned every year after flowering.
I will take a batch of cuttings about six to eight inches long and put them into a shallow tray of free draining compost kept in a shady sheltered spot outdoors. They usually root very easy and will be ready to pot up in late autumn then overwintered before planting back into a drift in spring. The old drift of Lavender will be dug out and the ground dug over, working in plenty of garden compost.. 
Lavander and heather cuttings

A similar situation has arisen in my heather garden where a large drift of gold and bronze Calluna vulgaris has got too straggly. However these require different treatment for propagation by cuttings. I will take strong young shoots about two to three inches long and space them out about an inch apart in shallow tray in normal seed compost which will then go into a covered propagator with bottom heat. This will retain moisture to keep the cuttings sturdy. They should be ready for potting up by the end of autumn or sooner, and again these will be planted out in late winter or early spring.
Heathers can remain in great shape if they are trimmed over with garden shears after flowering, but do not cut into the old wood otherwise they may not recover. However the Irish heath Daboecia will grow again very easily when severely chopped back into old wood after flowering.

Another plant that needs looking after is the Himalayan blue poppy. These give a fantastic display as a woodland edge plant when in a large informal drift. The plants will flower themselves to death over the years so new plants must be propagated from seed saved from the drift. I leave some seedheads to mature after flowering but remove them in July.
Let them dry off before shaking out masses of seeds. These can be sown in trays and left outdoors in a shady spot over winter, but do not let them dry out and protect them from birds who may dig up the compost. They require a cold period for a decent germination so provided the winter is fairly normal this should be ok and provide you with numerous young seedlings in spring. It is usually another year before they are big enough to flower.
Poppies come in numerous types as annuals, e.g. Californian, Ladybird, and biennials e.g. Iceland and perennials, e.g. Meconopsis and Orientals.
It is the biennial Iceland poppy that can be sown now from seed saved from those that have flowered from early spring and continue to provide a fair bit of bright colour.
I sow mine in plug trays with seed compost and keep them in a warm but shady position and make sure they never dry out. Hopefully they will germinate and get potted up in late summer to produce plants for planting in autumn or spring.

Iceland poppies can also be sown direct into the soil in August or September and will overwinter as young seedlings ready to flower in spring.

Feed the topsoil

To get the best out of all your plants you should make sure your soil is in excellent condition. Winter digging as early as possible and leaving the surface rough lets the weather break down the surface, and this is the best time to incorporate garden compost, manure or any other organic material to hand, even old growbags. This will improve drainage, warm up the soil, and increase microbial and worm activity which enhances availability of nutrients.
Every good garden should retain all waste plant materials for adding to the compost heap. I add grass cuttings, leaves, kitchen waste, shredded paper, and even tree and shrub prunings that first go through a shredder. Only things to get rejected are perennial weeds and any diseased plants. Good compost can also be used as a mulch on plants with surface roots that do not like soil disturbance, e.g. Azaleas, heathers
At this time of year waste from harvesting crops provides ample material to compost and it is a great idea to turn over the compost heap to allow even decomposition. It is hard work, but an excellent exercise with great benefits for all.


Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Harvesting Fruits of your Labour


The harvesting and picking season is just getting into full swing. Times are very busy as there is so many fruit and vegetable crops to be picked and eaten or preserved.
Salads have been available for some time but now the summer cabbage, courgettes, early carrots, Swiss chard, baby beet thinnings, mangetout peas, broad beans, early potatoes and leafy kale are all needing to be regularly picked.
Soft fruit picking is almost a daily task with blackcurrants, redcurrants, gooseberries, Bramble Helen, and my huge crop of saskatoons all needing to be picked. There is still a few perpetual strawberries, (Malling Opal) popping up though most of the summer ones are now finished. As usual there is always a glut so the summer diet is extremely healthy with ample spare to pass to family, friends and the freezer.
This used to be the time of year for jam making from summer soft fruits in season which would then be stored in a cool spot for use till spring. However the freezer has now taken over and fresh jams are made as they are needed, provided you can find freezer space.

My partner Anna created a brilliant compote of blackcurrants and rhubarb stewed with sugar to taste. It is added to the muesli at breakfast with a sprinkling of saskatoons or brambles and often at lunchtime with yoghurt and a dash of honey and again some soft fruit, rasps, brambles or gooseberries. As the summer season fresh fruit crops finish there is plenty in the freezer to continue the fruit diet all year round. All those anti-oxidants and vitamins must be doing us some good apart from the feel good factor from home grown produce..

Summer Flowers

Flower beds, tubs and hanging baskets are all at their peak but to keep them flowering they need feeding, watering and dead heading regularly. Shasta daisies are a picture and my exotic Japanese lilies are giving a fantastic show with a heady perfume that permeates the whole garden. I bought a couple of bulbs five years ago and after flowering kept the seed heads for sowing. They were quite easy to germinate and grow on, so now I have masses of them.
I grow a large drift in my winter border of coloured stemmed shrubs, (cornus, kerria, leycesteria, salix britzensis and acer Sangokaku) which is quite a dull border at this time of year. The lilies grow through and above the shrubs in harmony adding colour and scent.

Climbing roses as well as bush and shrub roses have all finished their main flush but many can be repeat flowering with a wee bit of summer pruning to take off seed heads, straggly shoots and any showing signs of mildew, blackspot or rust. I have a policy of only growing those varieties that are resistant to these diseases since there are no longer any chemicals available to the amateur gardener to control them other than Dithane which must be used regularly and preferably before the first signs of any disease appears. However if you grow organically it may be possible to look into the latest idea to use of milk sprayed at 10% dilution every ten days throughout the whole season to prevent some fungus diseases from getting started. This idea is still in its experimental stage, but you can keep up to date with this new method on a range of gardening and allotment forums on the internet..

My other main flower task at this time of year is disbudding early flowering chrysanthemums. I grow one bed with a range of decorative, reflex and incurving flower heads and another bed of sprays which need no disbudding. These will give me cut flower for the house from August till October. I grow these in beds three feet wide and support them with 6 inch weldmesh wire held between four posts. As the plants grow up I raise the weldmesh to keep them supported.

Gladioli are now coming into bloom and will be cut for the house with some left on my allotment to give a show of colour throughout the summer. These are grown on well manured good soil in rows one foot apart and planted four inches apart along the row.
I have kept the corms for years and add new varieties to the collection every year.

Looking ahead to next spring my wallflower seedlings sown in the middle of June, are just perfect for transplanting so they can make a sturdy bushy plant by autumn. I transplant my four inch seedlings into rows spaced 12 inches apart with the plants at 4 inch spacings.
These will be planted on good ground that has just been cleared of my broad bean crop. I also had some land left over from my early summer cabbage, but as they are all in the same family, cruciferae, the risk of clubroot disease is too great to risk it.. I can sow some late summer lettuce and radish or even a fast growing dwarf early pea variety here. There should just be enough season left for these to grow and give a crop in autumn.

Hanging Baskets and Tubs

These are now at their most colourful and can be kept like that with continual dead heading, watering and feeding. My hanging baskets usually combine a central geranium with petunias and nemesia, then Impatiens and trailing lobelia around the perimeter to hide the container.
Some pots which were planted with winter flowering pansies for an early spring display dont seem to realise it is summer. They were to be replaced with summer bedding weeks ago, but they refused to stop flowering and continue to provide an excellent display so I will just leave them a wee bit longer.
Often in late summer I will replant any pot or tub that is going past its best with cyclamen in flower which become available in garden centres in late summer and early autumn. They will then flower till the frosts come.

Larger tubs get my best tuberous begonias as they need more space and in full flower they are very impressive. I bought a box of young begonias nearly twenty years ago and at the end of the season, usually late October I lift and dry them. The dormant tubers are stored in my garage over winter.

I should be finding some time to do some painting, but art has been relegated to late evenings often going well beyond midnight as I need the daylight hours for gardening tasks.
Just finished potting up a batch of indoor and outdoor grape vines which I will take to the Camperdown Flower Show in September to accompany my saskatoon fruit bushes.

Summer pruning fruit bushes

Mid summer is the best time to prune currants and gooseberries, peaches and of course grape vines need continual pruning throughout the growing season.
Blackcurrants fruit on young shoots produced and ripened the previous year, so cut out old wood that has just fruited down to the nearest young shoot. Also cut off any branches too close to ground level.
Red and white currants are spur pruned on a framework of about nine main branches which can be replaced every third year. Cut back all sideshoots to four or five leaves on these main branches.
Peaches are also better spur pruned in late summer to encourage fruit buds to form and restrict growth.
Grape vines need all new growths cut back to one leaf in summer. Earlier on all shoots would have been cut back to two leaves after each flower truss.


The Good Life


Having an allotment has almost become an essential modern fashion accessory.
We no longer need to dig for victory as supermarkets are overflowing with fruit and vegetables on sale at very reasonable prices. Supermarkets are profit driven so produce often picked before it is ready, comes from all over the world from whoever can supply it at the cheapest cost but with little control over what chemicals could be used for its production. The only way to ensure that food is unaffected with chemicals is to grow your own and in any case most chemicals are no longer available to amateur gardeners so we can only grow organic produce.
Our busy city living has brought on a desire for a healthier lifestyle requiring exercise, fresh air and fresh food. Many modern homes do not have much garden space, so an allotment can provide that opportunity for gentle exercise in fresh air to produce an ample supply of fresh fruit and vegetables plus flowers to brighten the day and allow cut flowers for the home.

Allotment sites are also a great place to meet and mix with like minded gardening people chatting over current affairs, football, religion, sex, music, the neighbours weed problems and even gardening, often at a plot barbecue. The social side of allotment gardening is very important where new friendships are often made.
In the past allotments tended to be predominantly male dominated of an older generation. Today allotments are seen as a social and recreational pursuit with people of all ages including students and young families. A great place to teach the kids about plants and outdoor life.
In Dundee there are private sites (three with 126 plots), and either council run (four with 53 plots), or sites on land leased from the council and managed by existing plot holders (six sites with 422 plots). All have waiting lists that are growing bigger every year.
Dundee city Council opened up a new site in South Road with 20 plots. This site has excellent security fencing, water, paths and sheds and was instantly tenanted from local gardening enthusiasts. You can check out their progress on their website at
Other good allotment websites include and


Provision of allotments started hundreds of years ago to allow the poorly paid working classes land to grow food to supplement their diet. More recently the demand grew out of necessity to supply food during our last two wars. Demand after the last war has since gone down but has met with renewed interest recently due to a change in lifestyle living, and now local authorities cannot cope with the demand in some towns where people on waiting lists have to wait many years before they are offered a plot.
The normal allotment size was always about 10 rods, (just over 250 square metres) but it is now quite common to create smaller plots to accommodate more people from waiting lists.
Modern varieties of fruit and vegetables have heavier yields of pest and disease free fruit and vegetables so even the small plot can supply self sufficiency of produce for most of the year.
The allotment has become a pleasant hobby that costs very little money, but which offers huge benefits.

Modern allotments

Local authorities recognise that use of allotments is more of a leisure activity provision, so there has been a need to address safety, security, landscaping, access and rubbish collection.
Provision of toilets is very important as is a secure perimeter fencing and a community hut is also needed to host committee meetings have social events and store composts and fertiliser purchased in bulk for the benefit of members.
In these times of recession and cut backs funding for fence repairs by local authorities is hard to come by. It would help perimeter security if a boundary hedge was established around the outside of the site wherever possible using Pyracantha or Rosa omiensis pteracantha. These two tall growing shrubs are perfect for attracting wildlife, bees love the flowers, and birds love nesting in the security of a very thorny thicket of branches. Both plants provide berries and hips for food in autumn and are very attractive landscape plants, but the thorns are so vicious that they will deter anyone from trespass once they get established.

The new allotment holder

It is preferable to start your tenancy in early winter to allow time organise the site and prepare the ground.
I started my allotment at City Road in November a few years ago. The first task was to clear rubbish, broken glass, brambles and perennial weeds. The social side started immediately as I was made very welcome by friendly neighbours happy to send me home with bags of turnips, potatoes and a cabbage. All this produce and I haven't even bought any seeds yet.
My first concerns were with the design as the paths were in the wrong place and I needed to work out where best to establish my permanent fruit bushes. I needed a patio to relax on, a south facing wall for my fig bush, a convenient spot for my very essential compost heap and an ornamental border for flowers to make the site attractive.
My shed was very dilapidated, leaked badly, and had a broken window but it was home, full of character and did support a few mice and a bees nest. Just exactly what you would expect

Although my plot is quite small with good growing conditions it can be very productive, but that will require a high work commitment. This started with the winter digging. The previous tenant left some compost and this got supplemented with horse manure.
However all the fruit bush rows had to be double dug as well as the sweet pea trench, so extra help from younger family and friends were called in to assist. Payment had to be offered so the first round at the pub was mine, and the second, and a few more.
Always make sure any clay in the lower spit is not brought to the surface when double digging. Deep digging helps the drainage and gives roots a deeper root run. It also breaks up the clay releasing nutrients to the plants.
The fig got special treatment as a pit was excavated two feet deep and lined loosely with slabs to restrict the root run and encourage early fruiting.
Deciding what crops to grow is down to personal choice, but it is always good to build in some rotation system with both vegetables and flowers. I also move my strawberry patch every three years.

Fruit bushes arrived in winter so summer and autumn rasps got planted (in a snow blizzard), but that's dedication, then bramble Helen on the side of my shed, then currants, gooseberries and saskatoons.
City Road Allotment Gardens are having an open day on Sunday 8th August from 11am to 3pm. Come along and see our plots, have a chat in our cafeteria, and see our fresh produce and plants including saskatoons for sale.