Monday, 30 April 2012



Scotland, unlike much of England, does not seem to be troubled much with drought and the warm early spell in March has set up the garden for a promising year. Although frequent showers can be a nuisance when you want to crack on with the planting and sowing it is giving us perfect soil conditions for these tasks. However don’t rush onto the ground if it is still wet and even when ground conditions are perfect hold back planting if the air temperature is still cold.
Hardening off plants is now in full flow. Established geraniums have been out since mid April and cabbages and Brussels sprouts both grown in trays are also hardening off for planting at the end of April. However be careful with Busy Lizzies as they are easily affected by a sudden drop in temperature and petunias, marigolds and fuchsias are not much better.
Several fuchsias bought in March as plugs are destined for hanging baskets and after potting up they made excellent growth. The tops were pinched out to make them branch and these were used as cuttings which rooted very quickly and now need potting up.

More potting up

Tuberous begonias started off in the house then transferred to the cold greenhouse have sprouted really well and are now being potted and boxed up to give them more room. My tubers must be over fifteen years old and frequently get split up to increase stock. Some tubers have up to eight shoots on them so will benefit from splitting. Use a sharp knife and make sure each piece has plenty of tuber on it. If you have any sulphur rub it onto the cut surface to seal it and prevent disease. If you don’t have any, don’t worry, I don’t have any and have never lost any yet. Begonias are tough.
Himalayan blue poppies overwintered outdoors in cellular trays are now growing quite strongly so they are now potted up in separate pots. They are very hardy and only need dappled sunlight but keep them moist at all times.


Tomato plants have been hardened off and after a few days getting climatised in the cold greenhouse have been planted into their growbags. I am growing Alicante, my favourite large tomato and Gardeners Delight, also a favourite with Sweet Million my best cherry tomato. I have never found a sweeter cherry tomato so although the seed is expensive and the packet only has about fifteen seeds in it, I still get enough for two years plants as I only need to fill one growbag with three plants.
Some hanging baskets with geraniums, lobelia and petunias can now be planted up and left to establish in a sunny sheltered spot sat on top of a large flower pot to keep it from falling over. They will not be hung up till I am happy all the plants are growing strongly and have started to flower.
Other baskets with fuchsias and Busy Lizzies will have to wait a bit longer till there is room in my greenhouse, or summer returns to remove all threat of a late cold snap.

Fruit trees now in full flower

Peaches and dwarf cherries put on a great show of blossom, but time will tell how successful pollination has been. Plums and pears had hardly any flowers, though most of my pear tree has been grafted so I will have to wait till next year for these shoots to ripen up for fruiting. Apple trees have all got plenty blossom except Fiesta which has a tendency for biennial cropping, so this must be its off year as I got a good crop last year. Saskatoon bushes are covered in flowers yet again.


Greenfly on my roses are now breeding at full vigour so the sprayer will have to come out and gooseberry sawfly larvae have appeared again and will chomp through the bushes unless you discourage them with a wee bit of chemical.
Early carrots have been covered with fleece to keep out the carrot fly.

Plant of the week

Iceland Poppies has always been my favourite poppy as it is very early and mixes with all the other spring bedding flowers and tulips and will also fit into the front of the herbaceous border. Seed can be selectively harvested from your favourite flowers in early summer then sown a few weeks later in cellular trays. They germinate easily and grow rapidly so transplant them into bigger trays which will be ready for planting in October to where they are to flower the following spring and summer.


Sunday, 22 April 2012



Rock gardens were always an essential part of the training of an apprentice gardener in the sixties. Training took in every aspect of gardening from vegetables, fruit, flowers, trees, lawns, outdoor sports facilities, shrubs, roses, herbaceous and rock garden plants. Not many parks in Dundee had rock gardens, but one had been created at Barnhill in the perfect spot of a south facing rocky terrain amongst sand dunes so drainage could not be better. The area is also open to view alongside the Broughty Ferry Esplanade, so Dundee folk can see and enjoy the mature rock gardens seldom troubled by theft or vandalism.
The gardens were started in 1955 when an area of volcanic rock was cleared to form the first part of the rock garden. This was further extended eastwards through an area of sand dunes using rock imported from Carmylie Quarry.
The gardens are run and maintained by Dundee City Council Environment Dept through resident gardener Michael Laird in collaboration with the charity Friends of Barnhill Rock Garden. The Friends play an enormous role involving the local community in arranging events at the gardens, growing and planting plants, and fund raising to help improve and maintain the garden. There are nearly 500 friends in the charity but with ambitious plans to maintain and develop the gardens more friends are always very welcome. The Friends also arrange several trips to other Gardens open to the public throughout the year for their members.
Recently, a new scree area has been created and planted. At the rear of the gardens new birch trees have been added for interest and shelter and local children have volunteered to plant up additional areas of snowdrops helping to create a snowdrop woodland as a visitor attraction.
Volunteers from local schools, cubs, scouts and the community play a large part in planting, weeding and keeping litter under control.
A brand new glasshouse was gifted to the Friends by Dundee Contemporary Arts and is now used for community meetings and events as well as an interpretation centre for the gardens history and current projects.
A new pergola and patio area was established and now hosts live music and events at garden functions.
A nursery and poly tunnel are used for propagation of plants for the garden. Another area is used for recycling all garden waste to create compost for mulching and soil improvement.

The gardens show a wonderful range of alpines suited to very dry scree terrain as well as waterside planting with pools running through the gardens. There are also many fine examples of maritime plants though I am told salt spray from the sea has never really been a big problem. Close proximity to sea has also helped to keep the gardens relatively frost free.
The gardens have been very successful in winning many awards for community involvement and as a visitor attraction for both locals as well as tourists.
I saw some absolute gems of plants both in the rock garden beds and scree as well as the woodlands including Trilliums and Arisaema.
However it was sad to see so many eucalyptus trees devastated by our hard winters of previous years. Mike was hopeful that funds could be found to have them cut back to stumps to let them regenerate with fresh new growth.

Plant of the week

Berberis darwinii is one of the most popular Barberry on account of its versatility. It was always a favourite for urban landscaping in Parks Departments as it is very spiky, vigorous, will grow on any soil and evergreen so it is the perfect plant for any area prone to vandalism. It can grow to ten feet tall or more unless it gets some pruning so can make a great hedge. In April it gets covered in bright orange flowers which bees just love. Then a huge crop of black berries is produced in autumn which feed the birds for weeks. I use it as my companion plant for my plum tree to attract bees for pollination as they both flower at the same time.
Painting of the month

Monday Evening Art class is an acrylic painting completed by one of my students using the Monday evening art class as his models taken from a photograph as they were all busy painting unaware that they were about to be captured on canvas. The likeness to the other students is remarkable as they are all identifiable as are all their paintings. This painting plus many others completed recently by the students will be on show at our Spring Art Exhibition at Dundee Botanical Gardens from Saturday 21st April to Wednesday 2nd May 2012.
Open every day from 11am to 4.30pm.
Although I have about thirty students of all ages and abilities and all amateurs and beginners their creativity has produced some fantastic paintings.


Monday, 16 April 2012



If you have a large garden plus an allotment and you grow a wide range of plants you can learn a lot about gardening if time is on your side and you can compare one years growing with numerous others. To get the best out of plants you need to consider the soil, growing techniques and local climate. After many years of gardening it is very pleasing to be able to pass on your experience to others interested in gardens, plants and growing crops. However advice is always based both on past experience and the current weather regime. The problem arises in that as I right this column today looking out my window wondering if our cold frosty start to April will still be there when you read this a week later on Saturday 14th April.
After a really mild winter it was very pleasant when summer arrived in early March and continued till the end of the month. It was hardly surprising when winter returned in April, but it did give us all a shock, and where will it go from here?

The Gamble

Plants do not gamble with the weather. They are controlled by growth hormones that react to a range of stimuli including gravity, water, temperature and day length. Most plants will germinate and grow if they have sufficient moisture and warm weather. Last month was so warm that you could not hold any plant back, and it lasted so long that we gardeners began to wonder if it was possible that maybe it could last a few more weeks. So there was always a wee temptation to gamble and take advantage of the early summer.

The Winners

Recently planted broad beans, sweet peas, young saskatoons, onion sets (my onion seed Hytech gave a miserable germination this year) and leek seeds are all well established and not affected by the return of cold weather.
Swiss chard from last year has started to grow again and provide us with fresh spring greens, and spring cabbage is putting on excellent growth.
First cutting of rhubarb is earlier than previous years but remember to remove those flowering shoots.
Zygocactus, the Christmas cactus flowered normally last December, then after drying off returned to flower a second time a month later. It then got dried off again, but now it is back into flower for a third time. It must be as bewildered as me, but great to see it in full flower again.
Cuttings of grape vines just love the early summer and have all burst into growth, but when winter returned in April I removed them from my cold greenhouse to our living room windowsill for a few days till we get back to a bit of normality.

The Losers

Early strawberries under tunnels are now in flower, but recent frosts have blackened a few flowers.
Peaches enjoyed the warmth with a lot of pink flowers that I hand pollinated with my sable paint brush. Even with the summer weather there is still very few pollinating insects around. I had to protect the flowers with fleece sheets while frost threatens. Time will tell if it worked.
Tulips were very early but many got flattened with the weight of snow on them, though there is still a great display.
My pear tree grafted with extra varieties last year, have all started to grow very early this year. Beurre Hardy, Conference and Christie are all perfect but young Comice foliage has shrivelled up in the cold spell.
One loser I am happy to live with is the greenfly colony trying to take over my climbing rose Dublin Bay. The frosty weather sorted a lot of them out so no need to get the sprayer out just yet.
Plant of the week

Polyanthus was to be my plant of the week for the first week in May, but they have been flowering from early February and are at there best now.  They are perfect for beds, borders, tubs and hanging baskets. Grow them from seed sown in May to June in seed trays kept moist, shaded and cool. Prick out into cellular trays when big enough to handle, grow on for a few more weeks then line out in prepared soil and grow on till autumn when they can be transplanted into their permanent places.


Saturday, 7 April 2012



Summer arrived in the middle of March and the garden just loved it, bursting into flower way ahead of it’s time. England may have a very serious drought problem, but Scottish gardens are glad to get a rest from two years of dull wet weather. The rains stopped at the end of last autumn allowing land cultivations to proceed in the very pleasant winter. Allotment digging was completed by the end of the year and has weathered beautifully over winter. It is very easy to break down and prepare it for sowing and planting. However it is still hard work in our early summer at the end of March, but we get our rewards with a wee break, sitting in the sunshine and admiring the wealth of colour from our flower and shrub borders.

Spring bulbs and shrubs

Daffodils are at their peak, tulips are well ahead, Anemone blanda is smothering the ground in a carpet of blue, and hyacinths and wallflower provides the scent as well as dazzling colour.
Flower tubs planted with polyanthus are a mass of colour, but my winter hanging baskets filled with pansies have not joined in the fun with hardly a flower to be seen.
My two favourite Camelias, the red Adolphe Audusson and the very reliable pink Donation are a mass of flowers. They like a partially shaded spot with good drainage, but always retaining moisture, and make sure they don’t get early morning sunshine as it can blacken the flowers after a frost. Give them an annual light mulch of compost or well rotted leaf mould.
Kerria japonica is also stealing the show in the coloured stem border as it is the only one that does not get pruned down to ground level, so it has no competition. This border has been mass planted with bulbs, so there is quite a show with tulips taking over from the crocus, now past their flowering period.
The quince, Chaenomeles japonica Crimson and Gold is covered in red flowers. They respond to neglect, so do not feed them or give them any special treatment. They just like to be left alone to flower profusely. I only prune any straggly shoots after flowering to keep the bush tidy.


Swiss chard is looking great with bright red and white leaves, and is one of the few remaining winter vegetables. Still plenty of leeks, but only a few Swedes left. Sprouts, kale and cabbage are all finished. Stored onions are still perfect and plentiful, and there is still one stored pumpkin left.


Figs have started to grow and there seems to be a huge crop of young figs waiting to swell up. Usually after a normal winter a lot of these fall off, but the winter was very kind to them so maybe it will be a good year for the figs. I must look out a good wine recipe in case we get a glut.
Greenhouse grape vines were all lowered to even out bud growth over the whole length of each rod, but can now be tied back onto the framework to keep them secure as bud growth has been excellent.
My new cherry tree has a mass of flower buds waiting to open up, and the peach continues to produce more flowers needing my attention with the sable brush to assist pollination.
The year has started off better than we could ever hope for, let’s hope nothing spoils it.


Geraniums are growing strongly so needed potting up into larger pots. I always remove all the young flowers as I want a strong bushy plant that can put on some decent growth before it gets down to flowering. Busy lizzies also got potted up, as well as newly rooted fuchsia cuttings.
Grape vine eyes (a two inch stem with one bud) dibbled into cellular trays are now all beginning to throw up shoots, but I will wait a bit longer to let them grow a good root system before potting up.
Cabbage and sprouts sown two weeks ago have now germinated and are next to get pricked out and potted up. They are quite happy in the cold greenhouse.

Plant of the week

Kerria japonica has a bright splash of golden yellow flowers in spring. It is very easy to grow as it is not fussy about soils, and propagation is simple as it suckers freely and these can be dug up and replanted in winter. It is quite popular for planting against a north facing wall as it does not need a sunny position. Good companion plants are Pulmonaria and Anemone blanda which are ground cover and flower at the same time but with blue flowers. This shrub grows about six foot tall and although it is deciduous its bright green stems are very attractive all winter.