Saturday, 22 January 2011

A Fresh Start


 The beginning of January is the perfect time to look back over the previous year and analyze your gardening activities so that you can learn from your failures, build on your successes and plan new ventures. This applies to both my gardening activities as well as my painting projects.
Of course we are always at the mercy of our unpredictable weather and climate change brought on by global warming seems to be giving us a more extreme climate. New weather records get broken at a more frequent rate, whether it is the warmest summer, coldest day, the highest rainfall, or the heaviest snowfall.
Keeping in touch with weather forecasts is more important than ever before so we can plan seed sowing, planting, weed control and soil cultivations at the best times. It is even more important to make sure any spraying for pest, disease or weed control is done when a few days dry weather is forecast. There is nothing more infuriating than to have completed crop spraying then see it all washed off a few hours later. Last year was a very difficult year for spraying as the rain was never very far away.
The garden and allotment have never been subject to routine. There are so many new and improved plants to try, and ones that were previous favourites have gone out of favour if they have not been able to cope with a wetter climate. However I may be making a wrong assumption. Just because we have had four wet years and two severe winters in a row does not mean you can expect this to be a pattern. Prior to this we have had years of mild winters with hardly any snow, 2006 was a heatwave and my memory from childhood records seeing the first winter snows every year in November
However, it is great fun to experiment, so although I have tried many grape varieties outdoors in Dundee and discarded most of them, I will still continue with other varieties. Our climate may well get warmer and drier again and maybe I just have to find the right variety for Scottish conditions.


With winter starting at the end of November, gardening has been put on hold till the snow melts and pruning and digging can continue. However the winter landscapes have been brilliant for painting ideas, so I have been going through the phase of planning art projects for the year ahead. The recession has had a big impact on art sales in the middle price bracket, but less so for smaller paintings. There is also a trend towards simpler images on unframed large stretched box canvases. So projects are being planned for a series of watercolour winter landscapes with minimalistic images, and some contemporary figure studies on large box canvases.
Now that could keep me occupied till next autumn unless of course we get a great summer and I will find it hard to choose between the spade, the hoe, the trowel or the paintbrush.


The wet years have really sorted out the roses. Climber Golden Showers was always very reliable as was shrub rose L D Braithwaite, a gorgeous deep red, but they just could not withstand attacks of blackspot disease. Spraying with Dithane was not effective with the continual rain. They and many others have been dug out. The climber has been replaced with shrub rose Graham Thomas which is much stronger and will be trained as a climber.
I have a lot of very steep banks around the house where access to cultivate is a problem, despite a fair bit of terracing so these will be planted with drift of Fuchsia Mrs. Popple, Shasta daisies and some flag iris. This permanent planting will help to stabilize the bank.
Some of the bank was bedded out with spray chrysanthemums last year. I am hoping that these will survive the winter outdoors and grow again this year as a drift, of close planted stems that will not need any attention. Time will tell.

Vegetable Crops
Most vegetables cropped very well last year resulting in gluts of the usual courgettes, cabbages, lettuce, beans and sweet corn.
This year I must grow a wider range of crops and less of each as I am only feeding two people.
Although last year was a bit too wet for onions, I grew a Sweet Spanish Yellow variety from seed.
It was late, but produced an excellent crop that stores very well. I still have plenty firm onions left. I will grow that one again this year but must sow it a bit earlier.
Another success to be repeated this year was a super sweet type of sweet corn, and Swiss Chard Bright Lights has been very prolific, so I do not need so much, especially as we use a lot of Kale leaves in stir fries, and that is just as healthy.
With brassicas both cabbage Golden Acre for summer and Traviata, a savoy for winter will be grown again as well as Brussels Sprouts Wellington.
In the greenhouse it is hard to get a better tomato than Alicante for a large fruit full of flavor and my favourite cherry type is Sweet Million though the seed is expensive and not supplied in large quantities. Do not sneeze when sowing that one.

Fruit Crops

I grow just about every fruit available for eating fresh in season, in jams, compotes all year round, puddings, scones, pies, crumbles, smoothies and juices. It is very important to make sure selected varieties are the best for our local climate and soil. I have not always got it right, so there are many changes to be made this year.
I have several apple trees that provide eating apples from August till mid winter from those in store.
However,  I have too much Arbroath Pippin, (the Oslin) which is very early but does not keep so some branches will be changed to new varieties by grafting this spring.
Pears have the same problem as I have a large Comice tree that gets wiped out by scab in any wet year. Grafting will also be done to replace some of it. I will retain some Comice just in case we go back to warm dry summers again, as there is nothing to beat Comice in a good year.

Raspberry Glen Ample suffered a terminal root rot disease slowly killing the row over several years. The symptoms indicate it could be phytophthora. This fungus disease is spread in soil water so could be a problem if drainage is poor, or during prolonged periods of wet weather. I suspect the disease came in on infected new raspberry canes. There are several strains of phytophthora, some being quite specific to one plant host whereas others can attack a wider range of plants. I must have the latter as I also lost a white currant, and a gooseberry and some blaeberries also got infected. These were growing beside the raspberries, but lower down the slope. Different strains of this disease causes potato blight, sudden oak death and many other plant diseases.
I have replaced the raspberries with a new variety called Cascade Delight bred at Washington University and selected for tolerance to root rot. Hopefully the new canes planted last year will give me some crop this year. I will be sorry to lose my Glen Ample as it is an excellent variety.
I will also replace the white currant but will choose a different location.

I planted a new perpetual strawberry, Malling Opal last year, but it did not make a lot of growth so I will need to assess its performance this summer. It was replacing another perpetual, Flamenco which stopped producing runners, then died out. Perpetuals help to extend the strawberry season into the autumn without any protection.

Last year I tried another superfood fruit called the Chokeberry. Botanically, it is known as Aronia melanocarpa and the popular variety in Viking. The fruit can be a wee bit astringent if eaten fresh. Even the birds leave it alone till the end of summer, but it makes a terrific jam, compote, a deep red wine, and a very healthy smoothie. The berries are almost black and very high in vitamin C and antioxidants. The Aronia has one of the highest levels of anthocyanins of all known plants. The health benefits of aronias are being studied by food scientists. I have a batch of these sown in a tray and hope to have some plants by summer.

I now await delivery of a new cherry tree on the very dwarfing Gisela 5 rootstock, as well as a new grape vine called Solaris which I will try outdoors on a south facing fence, and hopefully I will see some white seedless grapes from a new vine, Perlette planted last year in the greenhouse.


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