Monday, 27 February 2012



I was always aware that Dundee had a lot of trees in and around the town. I grew up in St. Mary’s. We were surrounded by woodlands and farmers fields, though slowly new housing blocks replaced a lot of the fields. The woodlands of St. Marys and Templeton woods were our playground all year round. That was a healthy way to start life in a rural environment, with the Sidlaw Hills only about  an hours walk away. Once my gardening life kicked in I began to learn what all about the different kinds of trees and where they came from. Whether it was Baxter Park, Victoria Park or Camperdown Park, they all had a very interesting history that explained how our wealth of great trees came to be planted.
Over two hundred years ago Dundee was beginning to prosper due to the expansion of the jute mill industries, whaling and ship building. This brought great wealth to the town and many people began to build big houses in both the west end and Broughty Ferry. It was fashionable to show off your wealth by acquiring rare exotic trees to enhance the gardens and estates of the land owners.
At this time plant hunters were travelling all over the world to bring back new specimens to try out in the UK. Very popular trees included the Monkey Puzzle, Cedars, Giant  Redwoods, evergreen oaks, weeping ash and elm, sweet chestnut and walnuts.
Many of these initial plantings have survived to this day and can be found all over the town.

Parks and estates
Mature specimens of walnut and sweet chestnuts can be found in the approach to Ninewells hospital where the land had been part of the Invergowrie House estate.
Jute barons had mansions and estate land outside Lochee where you can still see avenues of lime trees, cedars, monkey puzzles and giant redwoods.
Excellent specimens of weeping ash and a Corstorphine Plane can be found along the Perth road from the Bonar Hall to Blackness library.
Baxter Park and Caird Park were donated to the town and feature many rare trees including a weeping oak, elms and lime trees.
Victoria Park and Balgay Park were acquired by the town and hold some less exotic but very mature and attractive specimens of beech, oak and robinia.

Camperdown and Templeton woods
Thanks to the naval success of Admiral Adam Duncan at the Battle of Camperdown in 1797 we can now enjoy his estates and woodlands. These were planted by his son, the 1st Earl of Camperdown’s  head forester David Taylor. He introduced numerous Wellingtonias, Sequoias, Western Hemlock, cedars, sweet chestnut, weeping ash, oaks, sycamore, Douglas firs and beeches. He also found and nurtured the dwarf weeping elm, Ulmus glabra Camperdownii, which is now propagated and planted all over the world. There are beautiful specimens all over Dundee, but the original tree is still growing at Camperdown Park protected in a fenced enclosure.

Recent plantings
The Dundee Parks Department have continued to enhance the town with additional tree specimens. Dawson Park has a fine avenue of flowering cherries, Riverside Drive has upright oak trees, Camperdown has a mature flowering Eucryphia Rostrevor beside the Pinetum, and the Botanical gardens boasts many types of Eucalyptus and other trees from around the world.

Plant of the week

Betula jaquemontii, the white stemmed birch tree, has always been one of my favourite trees for the small garden. It has the cleanest bright white bark than any other birch, and retains its pristine appearance as the bark matures and peels off, revealing a warm orange white surface which slowly turns to a dazzling white. It makes a perfect lawn specimen and adds height and colour to a heather garden or the coloured stem border. It can be grown as a single specimen or as two or three trees in a clump. If you wish to be really extravagant and you have space, a drift of twenty to thirty trees is a very impressive site. All birch trees grow very easily in Scotland.

Painting of the month.

Templeton Woods is one of my larger oil paintings of a good local winter landscape. A few years ago our winters were quite mild and a decent covering of snow was becoming a rare event which is disastrous for someone who loves painting snow scenes. This snow arrived overnight and realising it could all be melted by lunchtime I was out early with the camera all over Templeton woods and Camperdown Park. I caught the early morning sunrise casting its warm glow over the frozen woodlands. As a horticulturalist I just loved this spot as it shows the full cycle of freshly planted beech trees, younger birch copse, mature spruce trees and the old mature stand of Douglas fir trees.
This painting will be on show at my winter art exhibition in my studio at 17a Menzieshill Road in Dundee on Friday, Saturday and Sunday 2nd to 4th March 2012, open from 11am to 5pm each day.


Sunday, 19 February 2012

Planning this years garden


Now is a good time to look ahead and make plans for this year’s garden and allotment. It is always interesting to try new varieties of fruit, flowers and vegetables, but once you have found the perfect variety there is no good reason to change it. My allotment is just too small to keep trying small rows of new vegetables when I prefer to use the space for my tried and tested winners that I know will give me a good crop.
This year I made sure I got my packet of Suttons Hytech onion seed, as it has been outstanding, and broad bean Giant Exhibition. Last year I tried the dwarf broad bean The Sutton and it was very short in height, a very poor cropper and not many seeds in each pod.
My row of perpetual strawberry Malling Opal has been dug out. It hardly grew, produced no runners and one row of twelve plants gave me less than six berries. I will go back to Flamenco which was a great variety.
The garden centres are now getting the new seeds, bulbs and corms in so it is a perfect time to sort out this year’s crops. I have had a batch of fifty mixed tuberous begonias bought about twenty years ago. They increase slowly every year as the tubers grow large and I split them in spring. However I needed to add extra colours as the white and yellow colours have not bulked up as quickly as the red, pink and orange colours. Found excellent tubers for 0.99 pence each. Pretty good value I thought. I have also purchased some fuchsia plugs for hanging baskets and a hardy one called Snowcap for the border.


It is very wise to plan a four year rotation for vegetable crops to prevent any build up of pests and diseases. I also integrate my chrysanthemum and gladioli beds, and strawberry patch, which I move every three years, into the rotation to extend it further.
Crops can be grouped according to their needs and although everyone has their own variation, it usually follows as potatoes, brassicas, heavy feeders and root crops. My rotation is slightly different as I have no space for potatoes, but grow a lot of pumpkins, Swiss chard and Cape Gooseberries.
Each year I compost one section quite heavily for onions, leeks, beans, sweet corn, courgettes and pumpkins. Pumpkins and courgettes need very heavy composting to retain ample moisture throughout summer. I also compost heavily for my sweet corn as I grow them quite close together to assist wind pollination, and make sure they do not need to compete with adjacent plants for  feeding.
Another section gets a normal spread of compost for my brassicas, cape gooseberries and salads but the area I grow root crops in does not get any compost otherwise roots may split.
The brassica patch gets some lime in winter as they do not like an acid soil.
I grow sweet peas in the same place each year and this row always gets double dug and loads of compost. The sweet pea seeds have now been sown in cellular trays two to each cell and will germinate on the windowsill. Broad beans have also been sown but at one per cell in cellular trays. They will all be cooled down after germination and hardened off as they prefer cooler temperatures.


The two previous hard winters killed out some shrubs, so this bare patch has been dug over and will be sown with annuals which enjoy a dry sunny border such as Livingston daisies, Star of the Veldt and Shirley Poppies.


Tomato Alicante, Sweet Million and Gardeners Delight are my regular foolproof varieties planned for the greenhouse. They will be sown on the windowsill in mid February then pricked out into small pots. They need warmth but I try to grow them cooler otherwise they will be ready for planting before the greenhouse has a chance to warm up.

Plant of the week.   

Helleborus niger is also known as the Christmas rose and belongs to the buttercup family. It occasionally flowers at Christmas if weather is kind, but more likely in February. I have a pure white flowered strain, and as it is evergreen soil splashing onto the blossom is not such a problem, though I usually remove some older leaves and thin out the crown to allow the flowers to be seen.
There are several species in cultivation and many varieties with flowers varying from white to purple and green, and some with spots and mottling.
They need good rich soil that is fairly moist but must be free draining. They enjoy a woodland fringe position with dappled shade, but in Scotland they will be very happy in full sun.
Once the clump has been growing for several years it can be dug up, split into several pieces and replanted to increase stock. Top dress annually with well rotted compost.


Sunday, 12 February 2012

A Good Time for the Roses


February is often blessed with drier weather and clear sunny days as the days get longer, and although we nearly always get a covering of snow, it is very refreshing to find a good gardening task to keep you active and enjoying a bit of fresh air. We seem to be back into mild winters so roses will take advantage of this and will want to start growing, so do not delay the essential task of pruning. Once this is completed we can do our soil cultivations, feeding, planting and replacements and tying in climbers to their supports.
If you go by the book you should not prune during frosty weather, but if you don’t have a book don’t worry about a wee bit of frost or a covering of snow. The roses will be fine and clearing out the old wood, removing weak growth and trimming over vigorous shoots will keep the bushes healthy. Rose pruning on a frozen soil was always an easy task as the soil never got muddy or damaged and I’ve never seen any ill effects on my bushes.


Floribunda, hybrid tea, patio roses and other types of a similar nature all get the same treatment. Start by removing any dead wood and weak non flowering shoots. Then try to cut back any older shoots if they have a younger shoot growing up from the base which can be retained to replace it.
If the bush is vigorous and has a lot of stems thin some of these out especially in the centre to allow air to circulate freely when it is in full leaf. Finally cut back all remaining shoots to an outward pointing bud taking off about one third of the shoot. This is a generalisation as all varieties have slightly differing growth patterns, but the principles are good for most bush types.
Shrub roses are different and do not need intensive pruning as they are usually planted where they have plenty of room to grow, so just cut off straggly shoots to keep the bush tidy, otherwise let it grow as it wishes.
Ramblers are often trained along fences or up walls. They flower on long shoots produced the previous year. After flowering these shoots are removed right back to the base and the new young non flowering shoots are tied in as they produce the following years flowers.
Climbers are pruned the same way as bush roses, but are allowed to form a semi permanent framework against a wall or fence. This framework continually has older wood removed to allow younger shoots to replace them but over several years.


There are always new varieties to try out and nowadays with precious little chemicals available to the amateur to control diseases many of our previous great varieties are not worth trying as they are too prone to blackspot, mildew and rust. I have thrown out many of my favourites such as Golden Showers, L D Braithwaite and Blue Moon as blackspot virtually wiped them out. Rose growers say we should spray every two weeks throughout the growing season, but we do not have access to the same chemicals as commercial growers, then what if we are on holiday, or suffer wet summers where the spray just gets washed off by the next shower before it has a chance to work.
There are many varieties with strong healthy foliage, so grow these and forget the others. Roses with strong colours are back in fashion so let us hope the breeders are giving us healthy new rose varieties.
If you are replacing roses from an existing border you need to remove the old soil and put in fresh soil to prevent rose sickness. Always cultivate deep and add compost or manure to the ground before planting.

Cultivation and Feeding

After pruning give a dressing of fertiliser then add a heavy mulch of compost to conserve moisture and keep down weeds. Worms will slowly incorporate this into the soil where it will break down and improve the soil fertility. Roses have a lot of feeding roots near the surface so I prefer not to cultivate existing beds other than for weeding.

Plant of the week.  Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis)

By tradition it is the snowdrops that let you know winter is ending and spring is just around the corner. However we can no longer use them as our guide. Last year’s winter was so long and cold that snowdrops didn’t flower till mid February, while this year it has been so mild that they started to flower in December, but it is still really fantastic to see the first garden flowers appear.
A few years ago I wanted to paint them as they stretched above a carpet of snow into the sunshine. I have a large drift of snowdrops planted among my red stemmed cornus. I needed to take a photo looking up into the flowers, so had to lie on a sheet of cardboard over the snow with the camera at ground level to get the perfect picture.
Neighbours thought I had gone loopy, but my photos resulted in some excellent paintings.
Snowdrops enjoy growing in a woodland setting with moist soil rich in humus, but need good drainage. They will grow in sun or shade and are easy to propagate by splitting up overcrowded clumps and replanting into drifts just after flowering.
The best local places to see them are at Cambo Estate, Kingsbarns in Fife, and Gagie House at Duntrune just north of Dundee.


Sunday, 5 February 2012

Work in the Winter Garden


This has been an excellent winter for catching up with outdoor gardening tasks. It has not been too cold, but just enough frost to firm up the ground for getting on with the digging. We have not been bothered with a lot of wet weather or snow so fence repairs, staking and fruit bush pruning are all in hand. The mild weather has brought on a lot of early flowers with snowdrops, crocus and aconites about a month ahead of their normal season. Normally we should worry about this, as a late frost will do them no favours, but weather forecasts do not seem to give us much cause for concern, so just enjoy the bonus for as long as it lasts.

Outdoor tasks

Harvesting continues with fresh vegetables from the allotment including cabbage, kale, sprouts, Swedes, Swiss chard and leeks. Stored eating apples are now finished, but Bramley cooking apples are still plentiful, though a few are developing a wee bit of brown rot, so these are removed as soon as they are spotted. Onions in store are still perfect, quite sweet and full of flavour.
Prune summer fruiting raspberries by removing lasts years fruiting canes down to ground level and tying in all the one year old canes which grew last year as they will produce this year’s crop. If you have a lot of canes remove any weak ones and reduce the number to leave enough so that when they are tied in along the top wire with a running knot the canes will be spaced about four inches apart.
Autumn fruiting raspberries are removed entirely at ground level as the row will produce new canes which will fruit at the end of summer and into autumn.
I feed my summer fruiting raspberries but not the autumn ones as they have never lacked vigour and I do not want canes higher than six feet. However I will give them both a good dressing of well rotted compost to help conserve moisture just in case we get a dry summer. Now don’t laugh, it is perfectly possible, though most unlikely if we consider recent past summers.

 Blackcurrants were pruned immediately after fruiting, but redcurrants can now be winter pruned. I have established a bush with nine main stems. All side shoots growing from these main stems are spurred back to a few buds and two of these stems will be replaced each year as new young shoots grow up from the base.
Gooseberries are grown on a short leg to allow good air circulation as previously older varieties were very prone to mildew. Modern varieties are more resistant so mildew is not a problem. Cut out any shoots growing up the centre and those on the outside if they are too near the ground and if there is still a bit of congestion in the middle which can make picking a thorny nightmare then do a bit of spur pruning to assist picking.
Brambles are pruned like summer raspberries but as the shoots are quite long devise a bending and looping system without breaking the canes so they take up less room.
Outdoor grape vines need an annual cut back of all shoots back to one bud on the established framework. When the vine is in its early years allow it to grow like a fan or espalier apple so it fills its allotted space with a framework of main branches spaced about one or two feet apart. These will need a permanent strong wire support as in summer the young shoots can grow very long if you don’t get the summer pruning done on time. It is these young shoots that produce the bunches of grapes. Each shoot then gets summer pruned back to two leaves after the bunch, but now in mid winter they are cut off right back to the stem.

Indoor tasks

Greenhouse grapes are grown the same way, but the framework is usually upright rods spaced about 18 inches apart. Pruning needs to be completed in January as they are quite quick to start growing in the warmth of the glasshouse.
Geranium grown from cuttings are now well rooted and can get potted up into small pots.
Blackcurrants in the freezer surplus to our needs are now being brewed into another batch of wine.

Plant of the week.  Winter Aconites

Winter aconites, Eranthus hyemalis, normally appear in February but when we get these mild winters they can start to show their buttercup yellow flowers in early January. They associate well with snowdrops and compete to see who can produce the first flower of the year. Plant a patch close to a window so you can enjoy the promise of spring just round the corner from the warm comfort of your home.
They belong to the buttercup family, are not too fussy about soil and will grow in sun or shade as long as the ground has good drainage. They are perfect under deciduous trees that have a dense canopy as the Aconites produce their leaves quite early, while light and sunshine can filter through. As soon as the tree begins to produce its canopy, the aconites have had their short growing season so are happy to go dormant, and if the ground goes dry under the tree canopy this helps to ripen off the corms. Propagate by splitting up clumps immediately after flowering and save and scatter the seeds as soon as they are ripe. They will flower from seed within three years.