Thursday, 29 September 2011



Although the summer is now well and truly behind us, September is the peak season for garden chrysanthemums. Most gardeners can find room for a few of these plants in the garden or allotment, and if you have some spare glasshouse space after the tomato crop you can extend the season into November or even December in a mild winter or with some added heat if frost threatens.
The starting point for most folk is the admiration for those magnificent blooms on display at a flower show, or growing on some ones allotment, especially if they are showmen and are just about to take the paper bag off a flower that is ready. Everybody wants to know what is under those bags. Then, can the grower be persuaded to part with a cutting knowing that you just might end up being a competitor. However those first few cutting are very special and get maximum attention lavished on them as you try to grow them to the highest standard. There is always a but, and as you do not have the years of experience of the serious competitor, your results are brilliant but not yet quite ready for the show bench. However they will make excellent cut flowers for the home.
Once the bug gets under your skin and you grow for exhibition, this hobby is very demanding of your time, but the end results can be very satisfying.
Other chrysanthemum enthusiasts may be quite happy to grow for garden and allotment display and cut flower for the house.

Types of chrysanthemums and season

If you are an exhibitor you will need to be aware of the official classification to enter your blooms in the right category for showing, but if you just want to grow them for garden display and cut flower you do not need to get bogged down trying to sort out the differences between a reflex, incurve, spray, anemone, fantasy, single or whatever else you find in the chrysanthemum catalogue.
However, whether you buy from the specialist grower such as Woolmans or Harold Walker, or get a few cuttings from a friend, keep the type and name recorded as you will need to know its season and whether it gets disbudded or not.
There are several excellent chrysanthemum growers who can supply collections of one type or another so every year you can try out something new, keeping those you really like, but discarding the rest if they don’t meet your needs.
The first blooms usually come from the early outdoor  chrysanthemums in late August and September. These can be incurved, reflex, or sprays.
These are followed by the October flowering varieties of incurves, reflex or singles usually as sprays which will all need some weather protection in a cold greenhouse.
The November and December varieties will also need protection and also some heat if cold weather prevails. The October to December flowering plants can be grown outdoors in pots or baskets planted in soil all summer then brought into the greenhouse in mid autumn.
Chrysanthemums are also grown as pot mums as a house plant flowering all year round. Flowering is controlled by adjusting the light level duration with polythene blackout curtains, and growth is kept dwarf with a chemical growth retardant. The amateur gardener does not have access to the growth retardant, so although many people retain the pot plant to grow the next year, it will revert back to its normal height and may not be suitable as a pot plant. However some height restriction can be achieved by frequently pinching out shoot tips to make it branch, though this has its limits.


At the end of the season plants are cut down to six inches and the stools dug out of the ground shaking off the soil then boxed up in fresh potting compost. These can be overwintered in a cold frame or cold glasshouse as long as it is fairly frost free. They are hardy, but don’t push it.
I had a lot of plants in 2010, so left many in the ground to overwinter. None of them survived and even in the cold glasshouse many died out as the winter was long and cold. Keep the stools on the dry side, but add some water if necessary to keep them alive. Start them into growth in January or February. Take cuttings about two inches long from the stool and dip them in rooting hormone and dibble them into pots boxes or cellular trays in a free draining rooting compost. Place this in a warm light place but not in direct sunshine. They should root and be ready for potting after three weeks or so. Pot up in small pots, then larger pots in a soil based compost. Plant out in late spring.


They can be grown in well manured soil spaced at fifteen inches apart and staked individually with a cane. If you grow a big batch it is quicker to grow them in a two foot wide bed and secure them with a roll of six inch weldmesh or wire fencing. This is held tight between four posts and raised as the plants grow. I plant mine at one plant in each square and do not pinch out the tips to allow one flowering shoot per plant.
If you grow sprays you do not need to disbud, but if you want one large single bloom you need to disbud leaving just the one terminal flower bud to develop. Remove side shoots as well as flower buds.
Keep them fed, watered and weeded throughout the growing season

Pests and diseases (some)

Chrysanthemums can be prone to attack from a wide range of pests and diseases, but the main ones are greenfly, slugs, leafminer and earwigs and the two main diseases are white rust and mildew.
In modern times with very few chemicals left on garden centre shelves, the answer is vigilance and good growing conditions.
On a small scale it is possible to spot and remove most pests before they do any significant damage, and fungicides containing myclobutanil, available for rose problems will help control diseases, but any leaves affected by white rust should immediately be removed.


Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Autumb bulb planting


As the long hot summer becomes a distant memory, (well, you have to dream a wee bit) and temperatures begin to drop, the first signs of autumn appear as maples and birch trees begin to colour up. Instead of contemplating the onset of yet another serious winter, we leap ahead to next spring as we anticipate the garden in all its glory as the spring bulbs we are about to plant come into flower. It is the masses of spring flowers starting with the snowdrops and aconites then one type after another as the days warm up that keeps our spirits and hopes high. This year will be the good one and maybe we will get more than just four continuous days of really good weather.
I will have to rely on my bulb planting for my main spring displays as the wallflowers are very poor this year and my Forget me nots, Myosotis, got devoured by slugs at the seedling stage.
The garden is already packed with bulbs, but there is always room for a few more, or to replace losses. The mice have been digging up my snowdrops and crocus, and the daffodils are getting eaten away with narcissus fly maggots.
Bulbs can be planted underneath deciduous shrubs, in flower beds, tubs, window boxes, in between herbaceous border plants, and rock gardens. They can also be grown in pots, some forced to flower early for displays in the house, then once they have finished, planted in the garden to flower another day.

Flower beds and tubs

Spring flowering wallflowers, pansies, polyanthus, myosotis and daisies are always enhanced when interplanted with suitable bulbs. The bulbs need to flower at the same time as the bedding plants and grow to the right height. Tulips are the favourite, though hyacinths are also perfect in tubs, window boxes and beds close to entrances and windows where their perfume can be enjoyed.
Choose tulips carefully with the taller Darwin hybrids eg. Apeldoorn, for wallflower, but use single early types, eg. Bellona or Couleur Cardinal, or dwarf doubles eg. Peach Blossom, Carnaval De Nice or Red Riding Hood with low growing bedding plants such as pansies or polyanthus.
The Fosteriana group are quite early and Red Emperor and Purissima are large headed and very showy.
Many other types such as the triumphs, lily flowered, parrot, fringed, and paeony are very attractive but may be too late to go with bedding plants. These are perfect on their own in borders.
Crocus hybrids can be used in tubs and borders with low growing spring bedding, but will provide a display before the bedding plants flower. After they flower, if the leaves begin to obscure the bedding they can be removed and replanted elsewhere in the garden.


There is bulbs suited to every situation from rock garden to shrub border, sun to shade and some like it dry and others happy in a bog garden.
I tend to go by the season then plant each type in the most suitable location.
The first bulbs to flower are my snowdrops then aconites. These may come in early February in a mild winter. At that time of year it is nice to view the garden from the warm comfort of the house, so I like to have these bulbs planted in front of my patio window so I can enjoy them when I take a break from the easel or the computer chair.

Snowdrops are very accommodating and are happy in full sun or shade. They are excellent in deciduous woodland where they can flower, then grow, mature and die down for the summer as the woodland canopy closes in. It is best to divide and split up overcrowded drifts immediately after flowering as they transplant readily at a time of year when there is plenty moisture in the ground.
Crocus can also be planted under trees, but need sun to open up the flowers. The crocus species tend to be about a week earlier and have smaller flowers, but they naturalise easily and soon form large impressive drifts. Cream Beauty and Blue Pearl are my two favourites.
Narcissus February Gold usually flowers in March in Dundee unless we get a very mild winter, Then other narcissi have their show before the large trumpet Golden Harvest, King Alfred, and Ice Follies have their display. These taller bold flowers will mix well with the Fosteriana type of Tulip such as Red Emperor which flowers at the same time and is a similar height.
Blue is very popular in spring with Anemone blanda, the grape hyacinth Muscari and the bluebells as well as the Chionodoxa, commonly known as Glory of the Snows.
Most spring flowering bulbs start to grow after flowering then die down to have a period of dormancy over the summer months. However there is always a few that buck the trend.
Autumn crocus, also called Naked Ladies as it flowers in September and October when there are no leaves around, is really a Colchicum and quite a different plant family from the crocus. Although a very attractive garden plant be very careful as every part of it is extremely poisonous. Many deaths have occurred when people have mistaken the bulbs for garlic and used them for cooking.
Some crocus species do however flower in autumn and the most significant one is crocus sativus grown for the production of saffron using the gold coloured flower stigmas.


Most bulbs are not too fussy with soil as long as it does not suffer water logging. I give my drifts in shrub borders a thin mulch of well rotted compost in autumn then let the winter rains and worms mix it into the surface. You are unable to cultivate deeply as most bulbs are near the surface.
After flowering collect and spread any seed as this will grow and help the drifts to naturalise.

Forcing bulbs

The flowering season can be brought forward with hyacinths, daffodils, tulips and crocus by planting them in pots in September, keeping them in a cool dark place for about ten weeks or so then slowly introducing them to the light. Once they start to green up and grow keep them cool but frost free and only give them some warmth just before flowering when they are then ready to be brought indoors. Best keep the mid day sun off them or they may go over too quickly.


Thursday, 15 September 2011

Try a taste of the Exotic


The Scottish climate is very favourable for growing a wide range of both soft and top fruit but this range can be extended if we have the benefit of a south facing wall in a sheltered location. We all love a challenge, and trying to get a crop from a plant everybody knows needs a warm sunny climate really tests your gardening skills. We have heard so much about climate change and global warming that we begin to believe that the weather might just warm up and we can then contemplate growing those plants usually confined to the south of the country.
A few years ago I started trying out a range of different grapes on my allotment to see if our climate has now warmed up sufficiently to find a good cropping grape. The allotment plot has great soil, a south facing slope and excellent drainage. I have cultivated it quite deeply over the years and added plenty of manure and compost. What could possibly go wrong.
All the grapes grew vigorously, though training and pruning kept them under control, but where are all the grapes. Maybe I have not yet found the right variety, though more likely this global warming is just a political myth, or it has not yet reached Scotland. The climate has certainly changed. It is more predictable than ever and extremes seem to be normal. We did get a heatwave a few years ago but what about this year. It will be remembered for the long cold severe winter followed by severe spring gales, thunder storms and a cool wet summer with very little sun.
However, we shall continue to experiment with the more exotic fruits just in case climate change brings in a wee bit warmer weather once in a while. Last year I got over forty figs and a dozen peaches. That made all the work and effort well worthwhile.
I can take advantage of warm south facing walls and fences around our house which sits on a south facing slope, but unfortunately we do not have shelter being exposed to the prevailing winds.


My first range of grape varieties were just not suited for growing this far north, but I am now trying out one called Solaris recommended for more northerly locations. This time it has the benefit of a south facing fence. The ornamental variety Brant grows and fruits extremely well on my south facing house wall. It produces about 100 small bunches of black sweet juicy grapes in early September. It is the success of this one that makes me feel they will work if I can get the right variety.


I first tasted a Scottish grown fig about forty years ago. A farmer friend near Montrose grew them in his garden and was delighted to be able to offer me these exotic fruits. I had never tasted a fully ripe fresh fig just picked from the bush. It was absolutely delicious, so I have had a fig tree in the garden ever since.
They are very easy to grow, and normally quite hardy though last winter put that to the test. They suffered a fair bit of die back in spring with a loss of most of the fruit buds. However growth soon resumed with great vigour, though this year I am down to a handful of fruits.
Brown Turkey is still the best variety and growth needs to be restricted by growing them in a slab lined pit about three feet square with plenty of brick rubble in the bottom for drainage. I train mine on a south facing wall to give them the warmth to ripen up the fruits. Watch them very carefully as they ripen as in our wetter climate botrytis can be a problem when you leave the fruit to ripen to its deep purple brown colour.


Another fruit that needs the warmth of a south facing fence or wall. My peach Peregrine is very hardy and growth was unaffected by last winter. In fact the long winter was a distinct advantage since flowers did not appear till quite late when danger of frosts had passed. However there was a distinct lack of pollinating insects so my sable brush was used daily to help pollination. The flowers did not look very strong and cool conditions did not help fertilisation, so one by one the flowers failed to set and fell off, apart from one. It will not take very long to bring in this year’s harvest.
However this will give me more time to concentrate on my other life as the artist as I am now enrolling for my autumn session of evening art classes.

Cape Gooseberry

This fruit from Peru is grown as an annual from seed and often with the protection of a glasshouse. Some people have had success in growing it as a perennial cutting it back to the crown in winter. Glasshouse space is often at a premium with grapes, tomatoes, and cucumbers so I grow mine in the shelter of a south facing fence. The soil is deep, rich and well drained so plants can grow quite vigorously. I let them branch as a wide bush so they do not need staking or pruning. The fruit may not ripen up till well into the autumn, but be patient as when the Chinese lanterns produce their orange berries the wait will have been well worth it. Make sure you get the type Physalis edulis as it has the biggest berries.

Goji berries

This new fruit grows in Tibet, China and Mongolia and is related to the potato. It is a vigorous bush growing up to eight feet tall and may fruit in its third year. The orange red fruit are very high in vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants. This has been used in their promotion as a superfood, but is largely unsubstantiated by scientific research. The ripe fruit must be harvested very carefully to avoid damage to the fruit which is then dried in the sun like a sultana.
My climbing bushes have not yet fruited, like so many others who are trying them, but one gardener did get a crop from them. Unfortunately it was not to his liking so the bush got dug out.
Maybe next year I will get the chance to put them to the test.

Kiwi fruit

This will only grow successfully outdoors in this area in a very sheltered warm position. They are quite vigorous and some varieties come as separate male and female plants, though there are now varieties such as Jenny that are self fertile. Keep growth under control by pruning similar to grapes.


Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Late Summer Harvest


September must be a very healthy month. Fresh vegetables and fruit are at their peak. There is such a huge range available that you should be able to reach your five a day needs by lunch time and a few extras at teatime as the bonus.
If you managed to catch the sun when it appeared briefly last month you might just have a wee tan, and the garden is providing some gentle exercise, removing the last of the weeds, a bit of pruning and the harvest tasks.
As the harvest is gathered there will be plenty of waste for the compost heap. However any diseased leaves (blackspot, rust, mildew), or roots (clubroot) should not be composted, though I still use mine. I grow my sweet peas along a fence in the same place every year and build up the fertility with compost as they are gross feeders. They also appreciate a deep fertile soil that is well drained, so in late autumn I open up a deep trench, put all my diseased plant material in it and turn it over. Sweet peas are in a different group from roses and brassicas so will not be affected by these problems, but remember the disease spores can travel down a slope in the winter rains so consider where you site your sweet peas.

Onions grow best in very fertile well drained soil and need plenty of 
sunshine to grow and ripen, so this should not be a good year for them as there has been a distinct lack of sun and an awful lot more rain than we need. Yet my onions have never been better. I put this success down to good soil and the right choice of variety. One £2 packet of seed of onion Hytech gave me a crop of 150 large round onions that are reputed to store well. They are now lifted and will be dried out in the sun. When the foliage has gone brown I will rope them for easy storing hanging up in the garage.

Sweet corn is another crop that needs warmth. Normally I would get about seventy cobs from sixty plants grown from one packet of seed. I got the excellent plants, but just as soon as they got growing the gales came. They have never really recovered. Growth is reasonable but the plants are totally disorientated. Only a few male flowers appeared at the same time as the female silky tassels grew from the top of the cobs. Other male flowers appeared two weeks later by which time the female tassels had withered, so pollination was very patchy and I will only get about a dozen decent cobs. There will be nothing for the freezer.

Beetroot germinated and grew very quickly. Thinnings were removed as young baby beet, but those remaining have not grown into the normal larger sized beet. It seems this will be the year for baby beet. Last year I left my main crops of large beetroot in the ground where the early snowfall provided a cold blanket which protected them from hard frosts. They kept perfectly till the end of February.
Beetroot is a very healthy vegetable which we use a lot of to make soup and eat fresh in salads after boiling and dressing in a sauce made from soya sauce, balsamic vinegar, honey and seasoning.

Beans have had a mixed year. Broad beans were good, but I chose a dwarf variety, The Sutton which did not crop very heavily. However I have sown another late batch, now in flower so I hope to get two crops this year. It makes a heavenly soup. French and runner beans have been slow to grow and cropping has been light. There has not been the usual heavy crops for the freezer.

Courgettes and pumpkins both suffered from the gales but are now growing strongly. They have lost too much time and with a poor summer the harvest will not need a wheelbarrow to cart them off the allotment. My winter soups will be well rationed, but they both brilliant.
However many other allotment holders who had kept their plants protected under glass till after the gales have had fantastic crops. Next year I will not be so early to get them planted.

Swiss chard has again grown very well this year and the variety Bright Lights has a wide range of attractive colours with red, yellow pink, white as well as green stems. This leafy vegetable is very high in vitamins and minerals, dietary fibre and proteins. It is used in stir fries, salads when very young and soups.

Healthy fruit has been in abundance this year, with most now either consumed fresh or in the freezer. Autumn Bliss raspberry is very late and I am still waiting for my first serious picking.
My new perpetual strawberry, Malling Opal has been a huge disappointment. A row of ten plants only produced one runner. The fruit is hard, ripens unevenly, has no great flavour, and it is not a heavy cropper. It is supposed to crop till the end of October, but unless we get a late summer the fruit is hardly worth picking. This variety was bred in Kent so maybe it is just not suitable for Scottish conditions.
Blueberries lost a lot of foliage in the gales so the fruit is smaller than normal, but the crop is still quite heavy. These berries are similar to my saskatoons but it is a real advantage having them in fruit when the Saskatoon picking has finished.
The chokeberries, Aronia melanocarpa Viking is now in full cropping. Some will be used for jam, some for compote and summer puddings and a batch for making a strong red dessert wine. Hopefully this will be at its best in three years, but I will need to sample some round about Christmas just to make sure it is maturing ok. The fruit is a bit astringent so is not normally eaten fresh, but can be juiced or processed into many products. The very dark fruits are quite high in vitamin C and it has one of the highest levels recorded of the antioxidant anthocyanin.
Hopefully my wine will be a true health giving tonic.
Rhubarb may have got hammered by the gales as the large leaves were a sitting target, so there was no early crops, but they soon recovered and have been growing very strongly. We are now taking off our final picking for the freezer, so the plants can build up a healthy crown to see them over winter. As well as rhubarb crumble and pie it makes a lovely jam if mixed with dried figs.

Winter crops will provide the fresh vegetables right through the winter so will not need to be stored or frozen. Leeks, swedes, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and Brussels sprouts are all putting on good growth, though some have been attacked by caterpillars, pigeons, rootfly maggots and clubroot. You do not get your green healthy winter vegetables easy.