Sunday, 29 July 2012

Saskatoon Fruit Growing


Saskatoon fruit grows on the Amelanchier alnifolia bush, a member of the rose family, which grows wild in North West America and Canada from New Mexico to Alaska. Over time superior fruit has been selected to produce bigger and better fruiting varieties which are now very commercial. The industry is growing very fast to meet demand for this fruit, which is very high in nutrients and antioxidants.
They look similar to Blueberries, but have a different, sweeter flavour and are much easier to grow.

History of the Saskatoon
Native American Indians have been using the fruit for hundreds of years, eating it fresh, using it in soups and cakes, and mixing it with dried grated buffalo meat and fat to make pemmican. This is dried and stored for use throughout winter. Settlers in America soon realised the value of this fruit and started to gather it from the wild, then selecting the best bushes to cultivate.
The Saskatoon bush was also used medicinally for numerous ailments, the leaves were brewed for tea and the wood used for arrows, basket making and in the construction of canoes.
Saskatoons were growing prolifically along the banks of the Saskatchewan River and when the town grew up at this location it was named Saskatoon after the anglicized version of the Cree name, Mis-sask-a-too-mina for the fruit.
At present demand for the fruit far exceeds supply and it is estimated that soon over 4000 hectares will be under cultivation. Harvesting is done by machine, hand pickers and nearly half the crop by pick your own, as people love a day in the country picking native fruit.
The first variety, Success appeared in 1878, but it was not until 1952 that the first selections produced the superior varieties Smoky and Pembina. Smoky was the main variety used in the first orchards established about forty years ago. However with micropropagation techniques other varieties including Thiessen (this one has the largest fruit size), Northline, Martin and Honeywood were mass planted.

Nutritional value and use
The fruit is high in iron, magnesium, potassium and calcium and very high in anthocyanins. These antioxidants may help prevent heart disease, strokes, cancer, cataracts and other chronic illnesses associated with ageing.
They can be eaten fresh during the picking season of nearly one month and used in jams, jellies, compote, pie fillings, yoghurt, smoothies and wine. They make excellent fruit compote mixed with other soft fruit or rhubarb and used with breakfast cereals, dessert or a topping or filling with sponge cake. The berries freeze well for future use.
The bushes are quite dense with a strong root system, making them perfect for landscape planting in shelterbelts, hedges, urban and edible landscapes and on slopes viable to soil erosion. They are very attractive in May when they are covered in white flowers and are beneficial for bees, birds and other wildlife. Many varieties of Amelanchier have excellent autumn colour.

Saskatoons tolerate a wide range of soils from acidic to those with a high pH, clay, sandy, loams and peat provided drainage is reasonable. They are very hardy down to -50 centigrade, (they grow in Alaska), though a late frost or severe wind can affect young foliage and flowers. I have not experienced any severe Scottish weather that affects mature bushes, but have had some damage on young plants in the May gales last year.
For garden cultivations plant single bushes about 6 to 8 feet apart, or 3 feet apart for hedgerows.
Without pruning they could reach about 15 feet. They do not need pruning for fruit production, but do need height management for picking. Cut out a few tall shoots right down to ground level in winter. These will regenerate with fresh new shoots which keeps the bush young and wont need pruning for another five years.
They will produce 6 to 10 lbs fruit per mature bush from the middle of July to early August.
Young bushes start cropping about three years old and continue for over thirty years.
Birds just love the fruit so they will need netting or grown in a fruit cage.
Visitors are very welcome to inspect and sample a few berries from my crop of bushes, now 7 years old at the City Road Allotment site Open day on Sunday 5th August from 10.30am to 2pm.

Plant of the week

Lavatera is grown in gardens both as an annual and a permanent perennial. Both types prefer poor dry soil and full sun for prolific flowering. The pink and white flowers can be very bold.
Perennial Lavatera should be pruned in late winter quite hard and it will still grow up to six foot tall.


Monday, 23 July 2012

Bush roses


Last week we were looking at large shrub roses and this week we shall look at bush roses.
I have been in love with roses from childhood. A garden with a rose bush was very special as they were quite expensive to buy when wages were still quite low as work study and bonus had not been invented. As a young apprentice gardener I had managed to get a few bushes of what was popular at that time, i.e. Peace, Ena Harkness, Queen Elizabeth and the new vermilion rose Super Star. However rose breeders were bringing out numerous new varieties every year so I had to stretch my budget a wee bit further. My council house garden in St. Mary’s was big enough for a fair few, but as apprentice gardener wages were quite meagre I decided to buy 100 rose rootstocks and bud my own. I got over 70 bushes, which for a first effort at budding was quite good. I had not yet had any training in budding, but had a very good book with pictures. However I had to source my stock of buds for new varieties from a wide source of locations around Dundee and beyond. Enough said!!!
The Rose Bed
I now always have a rose bed or border in my garden, and try out new varieties as space allows.
I do not separate my hybrid teas from my floribundas as there is great merit in both types.
Over the years you always find favourites that you stick with. In the past, breeders wanted the best colours and a perfect hybrid tea shape but now we have plenty of these so demand is for a return to scented roses and healthy disease resisting foliage.

Pests and diseases
However many of our favourites were a wee bit susceptible to blackspot, mildew and rust so breeders have been trying to introduce vigour, strength and disease resistance into their new varieties. Not an easy task as the blackspot fungus continually mutates to form resistance to chemicals, and our wet weather has not helped to keep diseases down. There are suitable chemicals for rose pests and disease control, but you need to spray regularly and your time and chemicals are wasted if the rain washes the chemical off not long after spraying.
I no longer tolerate diseased roses, so unfortunately many of my favourites have been dug up and dumped. I had always liked Blue Moon, but it had to go, and my best scented white Margaret Merrill is only just hanging on. Iceberg is also a good white but has little scent and needs a sunny year to get the best from its flowers.

My rose favourites
E.H. Morse has always been my best red as it is large, has a great shape, good scent and is quite disease resistant. National Trust is the perfect red rose but with no scent it is not top of my list. Fragrant Cloud, Alec’s Red and Ingrid Bergman have all got shape, intense colour and strong fragrance. Evelyn Fison is an old but very reliable red floribunda.

Dearest is top of my pink floribunda list, but Rose Gaujard, a very old variety, is also very attractive though it does not produce a lot of flowers. Congratulations and Blessings are both excellent pinks and Wendy Cussons, a deep cherry red is strong, disease free and has a strong fragrance.
Piccadilly is the most popular red and yellow bicolour, and often my first rose to bloom. Foliage is shiny and very healthy.
Alexander is now top of my vermillion colour and for a bright orange try, Doris Tysterman or Dawn Chorus. Arthur Bell remains my best yellow floribunda, and Margaret Merrill my best white.

Rose culture
Roses like a well cultivated clay soil rich in organic matter as they are gross feeders, but once well established go easy on fertiliser otherwise they may respond with too much vigour at the expense of flowers. They flower better in a sunny spot that is well drained but retains moisture. An annual mulch of compost is beneficial.
Prune in late winter removing old and weak shoots and shortening others by about half. Do not prune too hard as some varieties do not like it. Roses will still be just fine even if they are never pruned, or as I found out cut evenly to two feet with hand shears.
Watch for pests and diseases and spray as necessary in dry weather in the evening.

Plant of the week

Delphiniums are a very popular summer flowering herbaceous plant with huge spikes of
intense blue flowers. They can grow up to six or more feet tall and as the flower spikes are solid with flowers they need thorough staking. They are easily grown from seed from specialist growers such as Blackmore and Langdon of Bath. They are very reliable coming up every year as long as you keep slugs at bay as they will chew the young shoots.
Handle this plant with care as every part is very poisonous.


Monday, 16 July 2012

Shrub Roses


I had always been a lover of roses, but it was only when I gardened on a larger scale that could I indulge in trying out the larger growing shrub roses. The individual flowers may not have the perfect hybrid tea shape, but the sheer floral impact and scent from a mature bush in full flower at its best can be quite breathtaking. Flowers vary from single, double and full petalled and you soon get attracted to the old fashioned flower shapes.
Shrub roses have developed from many rose species and new varieties created by breeding with other bush roses. They can grow from three to six feet or more depending on variety, soil and local climate. When given plenty of room to grow they can put on a fantastic display of flowers. Some only give one show each year, such as Rosa rugosa Fru Dagmar Hastrup but others such as Benjamin Britten and Brother Cadfael are repeat flowering from early summer till autumn and many are highly scented. Rose breeders from all over the world have been selecting and crossing every type they can get their hands on. Sometimes they go for a colour, or size, or disease resistance and nowadays there is a demand for a return to scented roses. Numerous new roses appear every year, so it is worth trying some of them out. However nurseries offer some wonderful descriptions which may be as they find them in warmer drier locations, but in Scotland we are cooler and often not as dry so our roses are more prone to blackspot disease. I have already tried and discarded eight bushes that failed to survive diseases, or the flowers were not up to an acceptable standard.

Types of shrub roses

The oldest roses were species from Europe such as the Gallicas (Rosa mundi is very popular even though it is from the 12th century) grown hundreds of years ago by the Greeks and Romans.
The Crusaders brought back the Damask roses (Ispahan is highly scented) from the Middle East.
The Albas (Maidens Blush) appeared in the Middle Ages, and the Centifolias (Fantin-Latour) grown in Holland. In Victorian times, the Mosses were very popular. William Lobb is a tall moss with deep crimson highly scented flowers, and the buds are covered in balsam scented mossy glands. These types all have one summer flush but there is also a range of repeat flowering old roses, which have a main display, then continue to flower till the autumn. These include the Chinas, (Old Blush China), the Portlands, (Jacques Cartier), the Bourbons, (Mme Isaac Pereire), and the Hybrid Perpetuals, (Baroness Rothschild).
Zephirine Drouhin is a popular thornless pink Bourbon used as a highly scented wall climber.

Plant hunters have collected many rose species from all around the world. These are very popular with landscape architects for urban landscape plantings (Rosa glauca, R. pimpinellifolia, the Scottish Rose, and R. moyessii well known for its huge colourful red hips) My own favourite is Rosa xanthina Canary Bird which has masses of large single yellow flowers in early summer.

Plant Breeders have had ample stock to use to create further shrub roses including the Hybrid Musks (Felicia and Lavender Lassie) and a wide range of modern shrub roses, bred from Rosa rugosa (Fru Dagmar Hastrup)

Planting and aftercare
As these are usually fairly large, give them plenty of space. They are excellent at the back of borders and some make excellent flowering hedges.
Roses are gross feeders so enjoy good soil with plenty of compost added, with an annual mulch to feed the surface roots, keep down weeds and retain moisture. They do not need much pruning other than removing any straggly shoots, diseased wood and an occasional old shoot to keep a balance of young and mature shoots.
Watch out for blackspot disease and spray with a rose fungicide, but if it does not cure it, remove the bush and try a different one. Always remove and destroy all diseased foliage.

Plant of the week

Cistus Silver Pink is a variety of the Rock Rose or Sun Rose flowering in June to July. Cistus thrive in a sunny location on poor stony soils where good drainage is very important. They do not like feeding, mulching or adding organic matter to planting holes. Cistus come with white, purple, pink and spotted flowers which are set off against their grey foliage. The variety Cistus purpureus is also excellent.
Painting of the month

Madonna is an acrylic on canvas painted for the Madonna art exhibition showing at Art et Facts gallery in Roseburn Terrace in Edinburgh from 16th to 28th July to coincide with her tour and concert in Edinburgh.


Monday, 9 July 2012

An early harvest


It is very rewarding to pick those few early vegetables right at the beginning of the season. Nothing found in any supermarket can beat a freshly picked young lettuce or radish served on the plate within a few minutes to a couple of hours later. It is surprising that with a wee bit of research and planning you can have some fresh produce from the garden all year round.

Although not truly a fruit, rhubarb is regarded as a sweet used in crumbles, tarts, stewed or added to compote. It also makes a fantastic jam when combined with figs and prunes.  Forced rhubarb gives the earliest sticks, but outdoor natural season comes in quickly behind the frozen and those spring bright red stems are just bursting with vitamins and minerals as well as flavour.
Strawberries are now becoming very popular as an early crop advanced with the help of low polytunnels which are cheap to make, and easy to erect. Use an early variety such as Mae, and follow this with a maincrop such as Elsanta then extend the season using a late e.g. Symphony or Florence. If you wish to have strawberries right up until the frosts come use a perpetual such as Flamenco. Protecting my early strawberries for a very early harvest has paid dividends this year as it has protected them from the continual wet weather. Modern strawberries have been bred to withstand the fungus botrytis which used to devastate crops without at least three chemical sprays of Elvaron (now withdrawn). However even these resistant varieties are struggling very badly trying to cope with constant rain showers, and botrytis is back but not as severe as in the past.

Radish, lettuce and spring onions have been used for a few weeks now. I thin my lettuce to about 4 to 6 inches apart, then do a final thinning over a few weeks using alternate young very tender lettuce plants for salads.
Radish and spring onion are usually sown as a quick intercrop between other slower growing crops such as sweet corn, parsnips and courgettes which are spaced wide apart but take a few weeks to cover the ground. As long as the ground has been well manured these salads will grow quickly.
Early carrots grown under fleece have come along very quickly and although the fleece did get a few holes in it over the weeks, it has given protection from the carrot fly. These small carrots are very tasty and tender.
Baby beetroot are now ready to harvest as the thinning from normal rows allowing the rest more space to grow.
Spring cabbage April is now just about finished, but these have been terrific, despite slugs, caterpillars and pigeons. The earliest cabbage were so tender they only needed two minutes boiling and were plate perfect. I will definitely grow this variety again with a sowing at the end of July.

Stored and frozen crops
The last twelve onion Hytech will be used this month. I did not expect them to store so well in my garage over such a long period and still remain so sweet.
French and broad beans are still available from the freezer as well as a few raspberries, blackcurrants and saskatoons. However with this year’s crop only a few weeks away, some of these will have to go to make room in the freezer.
Another batch of wine is being planned, as nothing gets wasted.

Cut Flowers
The first sweet peas are now flowering but the cool wet weather has held them back from other years, though growth is still quite strong. Always remove old flowers and do not let them go to seed.
Roses make a great display for the table, but it is hard to sacrifice the garden display. However we can always spare a single scented rose. Ernest Henry Morse is one of my favourites.
Garden pinks and border carnations are another excellent cut flower available in early summer and the clove scented varieties are hard to beat.

Plant of the week

Fuchsia Swingtime is my favourite hanging basket fuchsia now in full flower though still has plenty of growth to make. Purchased as plugs in early spring and grown on in a pot before planting alone in a hanging basket. I give it a feed once a fortnight to keep it growing. At the end of the season it will get dried off and stored in a cold but frost free place till next spring.
There are numerous different varieties to choose from for pots, tubs, baskets or outdoors in a border, and coming cheaply from plugs it is always worthwhile trying a few different ones each year.