Monday, 28 December 2015

WINTER GARDEN



WINTER GARDEN

We generally plan our gardens for spring and summer colour, then enjoy
the autumn as leaves take on the golds, orange and red hues, but as winter approaches and the weather becomes colder we are less inclined to wander around enjoying the garden. Garden tasks however continue with winter digging, pruning, repairing fences, planting trees and shrubs and hedges and moving plants indoors or under shelter to give them some winter protection. We also have to clear paths of snow, sprinkle salt on drives, and on a sunny day there is always a few remaining leaves to sweet up. To keep our spirits raised on these cold days outdoors it is a good idea to establish a winter garden that will have its days of impact during the winter months. There are a lot of plants that have very attractive variegated foliage such as the gold and silver Euonymus, or the yellow edged Elaeagnus and even the black grass, Ophiogogon now gets some attention without having to compete with spring and summer flowers. Then of course there are a lot of shrubs with highly coloured stems such as the Cornus, (dorwoods with red, orange and black stems) the salix, (willow with red, orange and grey stems,) Kerria japonica with green stems and Rubus with stems covered in a white bloom. To create impact, grow these shrubs together in a drift against a dark green hedge or some Rhododendrons and Camellias. Although these can grow quite tall, most get pruned right back to stumps at ground level in spring so do not interfere with the Rhododendrons or camellias in flower in April.
Flowering plants can also be found in mid winter. Both the scented Viburnum Dawn shrub and yellow climber Jasminum nudiflorum will continue to flower all winter provided they get a few sunny days together.
To add a bit of height to the border there are plenty of taller shrubs such as the coral bark maple Acer sangokaku and a few smaller trees well worth a place for their winter bark. The white stemmed Betula jaquemontia
is a must have if you can afford the space as it is a real show stopper all year round. The list grows longer if you have room for more small trees as several more maples and Prunus (cherries) have ornamental variegated or peeling bark. Eucalyptus can also be used as it has very attractive smooth bark in shades of warm greys and the foliage is always a lovely blue grey colour. However it is a forest tree which needs a lot of room, so keep it down to a reasonable size by cutting back in late winter.
The front of the border is the place for a few drifts of Calluna heathers with yellow and bronze evergreen foliage that brightens up after a bit of frost. The black grass is another ideal plant for the front of the border and if you plant snowdrops underneath it you will create a very modern attractive show in February when the pristine snowdrops open above the black ground cover of the Ophiopogon grass. I tend to use the winter border to extend the show into spring by under planting the whole area with snowdrops, aconites, and crocus, as these flower immediately you have pruned back all the shrubs in March. However do not prune the Kerria till after it has flowered in late spring and only cut back some of the old flowering shoots to ground level, leaving all the fresh green shoots to flower the next year. The display of bulbs can continue with both daffodils and tulips and even the taller summer flowering oriental lilies can be found a spot as they will just grow through the growing shrubs quite happily.

Wee jobs around the garden

Unheated greenhouses still house and grow plants right through the winter. I overwinter my fuchsias, outdoor chrysanthemum stools, many recently propagated shrubs in small pots and spring flowering hanging baskets full of pansies. I also grow some spring onions, winter lettuce and many other salads. It is a good idea to give these plants some extra protection by lining the glass with a layer of bubble polythene. You can get special clips to hold it in place so there is an air gap between the polythene and the glass, to help the insulation. If you have a grape vine try to keep this on the outside of the insulation as they benefit from a winter chill.

END

Monday, 21 December 2015

FESTIVE THOUGHTS



FESTIVE THOUGHTS

As the festive season draws ever so near we begin the wind down, putting essential gardening tasks on the back burner, and in any case recent storms, flooding, and the memory of a rotten summer brings in the need for a wee bit of festive cheer. While I always try to get all my digging done before the end of the year, the continual rains have made the soil surface too wet to walk on so digging will be delayed till it dries up a wee bit or we get some light surface frosts.
My most essential task has been making sure I have some two year old Saskatoon wine bottled up, as well as my red currant, grape and apple wine. Trips to the allotment plot are mostly to pick parsnips, carrots, sprouts, cabbage, kale, beetroot and leeks. Though when you get a few dry sunny days I go for the other healthy option and bring back my salad range of winter lettuce, spring onion, rocket, mizuna and mustard, all still growing happily. Back home we still have plenty spuds, onions, pumpkins and apples in store. I keep checking apples and remove any going soft or brown. These get cut in half and left outside for the blackbirds which seem to enjoy them just fine.

Early December is the time for putting up the Christmas tree, checking that last years lights are still working. This decorating task is very important and a very serious operation taking care to ensure the loaded tree does not fall over. However to steady my nerves a bottle of vintage Saskatoon wine is never far away.
The weather the last few weeks has been quite predictable; we get gales and storms one day, followed by a calm sunny
day next and occasion the sun stays out for two days. This gives us the chance to wander around the garden, and be amazed at just how much flowers we still have putting on a display. We either grow or buy in flowers to decorate the tables over the festive season, as the garden is usually bare. This year most plants missed out on summer so they are trying to make up for lost time taking advantage of every sunny day. Fuchsia Mrs Popple has been unbelievable as it is still covered in flowers in mid December. Mahonia Charity flowers in mid winter, but some flowered last October. Snowdrops are again just itching to start the winter flowering season, though my drift are at the bottom of a warm sunny south facing wall. Two tubs of polyanthus have never stopped flowering since I planted then in October.

Back indoors things are a bit mixed. I keep my stock of geraniums going from year to year by taking cutting in autumn and over wintering them on a windowsill. Other geraniums got lifted whole, slightly trimmed and then potted up. They are now a mass of colour. Impatiens were propagated from cuttings quite successfully then potted up. However they got infected by red spider, and though I sprayed them and killed a few, the plants never recovered.
At this time of year I always have my Christmas cactus (Zygocactus) full of pink flowers. Last year it flowered twice, but must have exhausted itself as it has refused to flower this year.
One plant that I don’t grow, but always buy in is the Poinsettia. They are not expensive, so easy to grow and being quite big really make a bright splash of colour. Some people tell me they find them difficult, but this may be due to over or under watering, draughts or too close to a radiator.
Another excellent plant for this time of year in the winter cherry, but look around for a good one.

 Wee jobs to do this week

Winter is the time for pruning shrubs and fruit trees and bushes. It is quite pleasant doing this task on a sunny but cold day as we are usually well wrapped up, and a wee bit of outdoor activity is good for you. However keep the momentum going as the prunings have to be disposed off. If you are able to burn then a wee controlled bonfire will dispose of prunings quickly and leave you with some high potash wood ash fertiliser, but it is very soluble so get it bagged and under cover as soon as it is cold enough. For the rest of us a shredder is the next option, which again is a pleasant task, gets rid of all your wood prunings and leaves you with a pile of shreddings to add to your compost heap or used as mulch under some fruit bushes.

 End


Tuesday, 15 December 2015

GRAPES FOR SCOTTISH GARDENS



GRAPES FOR SCOTTISH GARDENS

As an apprentice gardener way back in the mists of time we were trained in propagation of grape vines, and told how to grow them, but I don’t recall ever seeing one actually grown. To own a grape vine then, you had to be very clever or wealthy. It was another twenty years later before I got my first grape vine. However it was essential to have a greenhouse, as no-one ever considered growing them outdoors. Black Hamburg was the only one around for unheated greenhouses, but if you had heat you could grow Muscat of Alexandria. Today we have moved on and the choice of vines for both indoor and outdoor is quite extensive. Both Black Hamburg and Muscat of Alexandria are excellent grapes for the greenhouse, but they both have pips and today nobody wants grapes with pips. However if you grow them for the health benefits, I am told it is the pips that are the healthy part. Supermarkets demand seedless grapes, so now we buy vines with grapes that have no pips. This brings in another wee problem as we discover our seedless grapes are smaller than normal. It is the pips, or seeds that produce the growth hormones to make the grapes swell up. Commercial growers get round this problem by spraying the growing vines with several sprays of the growth promoting hormone gibberellic acid. We amateur gardeners do not have access to this chemical so we grow smaller grapes, but so much more healthy without covering the skins with chemicals. Thompson Seedless grapes are very popular in USA, but the markets demand really big grapes so the vines get large doses of this hormone.

In Scotland I have tried the white seedless grape Perlette and red seedless Flame, both needing the protection and warmth of a greenhouse. After several very successful years the weather changed resulting in very poor ripening of growth in autumn so the following year the vines produced very few bunches. I am now trying Seigerrebe which has a Muscat flavour and a few pips, so time will tell how it performs in my cold greenhouse.

We all love to experiment so I have planted a few outdoor grapes to see if there is any merit in hoping that global warming could be on our side way up north. We do know that to be successful, sun and warmth are needed to ripen up growth in autumn to help initiate fruiting buds the following year and also to ripen up the grapes. The sugar content of the grapes at harvest is totally dependant on getting plenty sun in summer and autumn. This year our Scottish summer was not at its best, but we had plenty of rain to encourage growth. I have been trying out several grapes with varying degrees of success. Both Rondo and Regent produced a few bunches of decent grapes, but Phoenix was outstanding giving me about thirty bunches. If the autumn had been better this would have been my success story. Solaris has a good reputation as the grape for the north, but I have not been impressed so far.
The ornamental variety Brant produces over a hundred bunches, which always ripen up, but they are very small. This year I put all my indoor and outdoor grapes together for a batch of home brew wine, but the low sugar content (specific gravity of 64) was only going to give 8% alcohol strength so it was necessary to add some grape concentrate, and a bit of sugar.
All my outdoor grapes have the benefit of a south slope and south facing walls and fences, so I will continue with a few more varieties, (Polo Muscat and Muscat Bleu both show a lot of promise) in the hope that one decent summer will give me a vintage year.

Wee jobs to do this week

Now that lawns have had their last cut this is a good time to carry out any renovation work. Spiking to aerate the lawn and scarifying to remove moss and thatch is usually done in late autumn followed by top dressing with sterilised soil and slow release fertiliser, but worn patches and broken edges can be repaired now. It is too late to oversow with seed but fresh turf can be used to repair damaged edges. Remove old turf and soil to same depth as thickness of new turf and lay and firm in carefully to maintain the same levels.

 End


Saturday, 5 December 2015

GARDEN CLIMBERS



GARDEN CLIMBERS


In my early training days in gardening, the only way to find out about plants was to grow them, so I created a wee rock garden, a rose garden, flower beds, herbaceous border, heather garden, got a greenhouse and cold frame, then a fruit and vegetable patch. There was always more plants to discover so every available space had to be utilised. House walls, fences and pergolas all played their part, so I began to experiment with climbers. Problems soon appeared with the need for support, and soil where none existed, then I had to get a grasp of training systems, before sorting out the best plants for walls facing north, east, west and south. A few years later when I found fruit growing to be just as important as flowers, I had to choose exactly what suited my needs as the choice of plants for covering walls is huge.
Climbing rose Dublin Bay
My first success was finding plants that would grow on a north facing wall where good sunshine was a problem. Climbing rose Mme Alfred Carrier, or Ena Harkness and  Jasmine and Hydrangea petiolaris are all  good, and although Camellias are not climbers, they can be trained up a north facing just fine. Property security can be improved by planting Pyracantha around any vulnerable windows. This firethorn has real vicious thorns but also orange, red and yellow berries all autumn and into winter, and blackbirds just love to nest in them.
I placed a great value on walls next to main front doors. These needed scented flowers to enhance the feel good factor for anyone going into the house.  Climbing rose Zephirine Drouhin and Gertrude Jekyll are both perfect pinks for this spot, and honeysuckle is another favourite.
Walls and fences are becoming very popular places to plant fruit trees and bushes on as people want an apple, pear, cherry or peach but normally they would grow quite large, so nurseries now cater for this use. Espaliers, cordons and fan trained trees, and dwarf cherries are all available. Now cherries grown on the new Gisela 5 rootstock will only grow to six to eight feet tall, so they are easy to net against birds. Figs are very successful on a south facing wall and easily pruned to prevent it taking over the garden. Grape vines are also easy to grow, but need pruning to induce fruiting and restrict excessive growth. They are not self clinging so will need a strong support, or a tall fence.
Another great climber that does very well on tall fences is the clematis in many different forms.
Clematis montana rubens may be very common, but it is one of the best for a mass display of pink flowers. It is very reliable, quite vigorous and loves to scramble into old trees, over sheds, tall fences, conifers, etc.
Most climbers against house walls only need enough decent soil to get them established in the first couple of years, and then they can look after themselves.
Very often there will be a perfect house wall space but totally paved with no soil near it. I have frequently removed a two by two paving slab against the house wall then excavate ten inches of builders rubble before loosing up a further six inches. Backfill the hole with some decent top soil, adding a bit of compost and some fertiliser to the pit. Keep any new plant well watered till it gets established. It will soon find spaces to grow in the builders rubble and be perfectly happy. My climbing rose Dublin Bay has to be severely pruned in winter to keep in down to twelve feet.

Wee jobs to do this week

This is a good time to put up the bird table and feeders as a lot of winter berries, apart from the cotoneasters, have now been used up, and it is the smaller birds that benefit. I have rebuilt my bird table to prevent seagulls and pigeons hovering up all the seeds leaving nothing for the robin, bluetits, chaffinch and sparrows. The blackbirds get a few chopped apples from store after cutting off any brown bits.

 End


Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Winter Pictures of Tayside

 Having a wee rest from gardening while my winter landscape paintings of snow scenes around Tayside and Scotland is on display in my art exhibition in my studio in Dundee.
Visitors are very welcome to pop in from 11am to 5pm from Saturday 5th December and running every day till Sunday 13th December 2015. 
 My studio is at 17a Menzieshill Road, Dundee, DD2 1PS




Monday, 30 November 2015

EARLY WINTER IN THE GARDEN



EARLY WINTER IN THE GARDEN

As winter begins to close in we take every chance to get into the garden on any dry days and when the sun shines we get the bonus of seeing plenty of colour
as plants have not yet all gone dormant. There will always be good colour on the Calluna heathers as well as the variegated Euonymus and Houttuynia, but the unpredictable weather has so confused plants that they just do not know when to stop flowering. Wallflowers and polyanthus in borders and tubs have all got flowers on them, which is all very welcome at this time of year as long as it doesn’t restrict their display in spring. Now is the last chance to complete any wallflower, pansy or other spring flowers while there is still just enough warmth in the soil to get them established.
However it is the Nerines that are catching my eye in a clump next to some apple trees which have all lost their leaves, and outdoor fuchsias in borders and hanging baskets continue to flower as the sun shines in between days of rain, sleet and the first snow showers.
Several days of heavy rain have hampered outdoor gardening, so some tasks are a wee bit overdue. Gladioli, begonias and dahlias have now all been lifted and drying them off in the greenhouse was just fine, but now they have been cleaned up, and will be over wintered in polystyrene trays in my frost free garage. I dry out some old compost and cover the begonia tubers for added protection from frost and too much drying out. When sorting through the gladioli there is always masses of wee bulbils, so I keep the biggest of these, and in spring I will sow a row somewhere to let them bulk up. They can be sown like a row of peas in a six inch wide drill.

Chrysanthemums have lasted well into November, but have now been lifted and boxed up in compost to be kept just moist in my cold greenhouse. They are quite hardy so some frost should not worry them too much. Make sure all these over wintered plants are labelled.
A few days of decent weather allowed catching up of other tasks that needed doing but were not a whole load of fun. So a new fence was installed and painted, and as I had the brushes handy I was instructed to continue with the good work and paint all the other fences as well as the shed. As a full time artist I can be handy with a brush, but fences and sheds do not quite have the same impact. I couldn’t wait to get back into the studio and pick up a smaller brush for my latest project of capturing the
beauty of snow on Scottish scenes on canvas.
Back on the allotment, there are plenty of root vegetables to lift for the kitchen with parsnips having a great year, unlike my beetroot which has not been the least bit happy this year. I grew plenty as it is always easy to find room for another row, but I just could not get them to grow to a decent size.
You win some you lose some, as leeks, cabbages, kale and brussels sprouts are all growing massively this year, not bothered by the lack of sunshine. On the downside I had great summer turnips, but Swedes failed miserably, though I put this down to poor seed as there was no germination. Yet another nursery joins my blacklist, though there are plenty others to choose from.
Outdoor work continues with the winter digging as long as the surface is dry enough.
Indoor work in the kitchen is busy as Anna makes her apple chutney, and I brew three demijohns of apple wine. Thirty pounds of apples had to be cored and chopped then crushed before adding to the bucket with water, sugar and a few sultanas and bananas to give it body. This should be ready in under a couple of years. My previous home brew from outdoor grapes plus Black Hamburg had to have wine concentrate added as the poor summer held back sugar production in the grapes. There was only enough natural sugar to give about 8% alcohol and ideally we want it to be about 12%.
Global warming up north was hard to find this year; maybe it will be better in 2016.

Wee jobs to do this week

Order fruit trees, bushes and plants from catalogues, garden centres or online while stocks are available as all the best varieties will go first. Planting can be done over the next four months.

 End


Thursday, 26 November 2015

WINTER PROPAGATION



WINTER PROPAGATION

We all love to grow a few extra plants for free, and late autumn is a good time to propagate many plants. Winter may be just around the corner, but the ground still has a bit of warmth to help new plants get established. Hardwood cuttings of numerous fruit bushes and ornamental shrubs can be taken now, grape vines under cold greenhouses will be fine and on the fruit patch both raspberries and saskatoons from suckers and strawberries from runners will all help to increase your stock.
John checking over his Bramley apples
Blackcurrant cutting
Red, white and blackcurrants as well as gooseberries, and most deciduous shrubs such as forsythia, philadelphus, cornus and even roses can all be grown from hardwood cuttings. The best time to take these is about two weeks before dormancy when the leaves fall off till about a month later, before winter sets in and the soil turns cold and wet. Take cuttings about six to nine inches long cutting above a bud at the top end and below a leaf joint at the lower end. Prepare the soil in a sheltered spot outdoors or in a cold frame. Add grit and fork into the top few inches to help drainage, then dibble the cuttings in burying two thirds of the stem at spacings of four to six inches apart. This gives the rooted young plant room to grow as it will remain there for a year. If you are growing gooseberries on a leg then remove all the lower buds except the top three or four.
Lining out gooseberry cuttings


Difficult shrubs like Cornus are better when the prepared cuttings are bundled together and heeled into the compost heap where they will get bottom heat over winter with cool tops. This will help the cutting base to callus over ready for lining out in early spring before roots emerge.
Taking grape vine cuttings
Some trees such as willow and poplar are very easy from cuttings which can be quite big (four to five feet) to get them off to a quick start.
Blackberries (bramble) can either be propagated from layering the tips of the growing shoot in summer where they will root and produce a plant by autumn, or in winter you can take a root cutting. Dig up a few roots at least pencil thick and cut into lengths about six inches long with a straight cut at the top end and a sloping cut at the root end so you don’t mix up which way to insert them. They can be lined out in a cold frame or in pots in a cold greenhouse over winter.
Raspberries grow very easily from suckers growing away from the centre of the bush where they would be just a nuisance. These can be planted into permanent position any time during the winter spacing them about eighteen inches apart with rows six feet apart.
Saskatoons also produce plenty of suckers, but new shoots appearing one year may not have roots on them so always give the suckers two years for good root growth.
Planting fresh strawberry runners
Strawberries usually produce plenty of runners in the first few years after planting, and once you have left enough in to thicken up the rows, surplus can be dug up to plant new beds. Keep new plantings spaced about a foot apart with rows three feet apart. Row spacing may look a bit wide at first, but the rows soon thicken up and you need some clear space for your feet at picking. Replace strawberry beds after three years cropping, as any later and the older plants only produce small fruits and not much runners.
Grapes both indoor and outdoors can be propagated during the dormant season once the leaves have fallen off and the growth has ripened. Take cuttings from November to the end of the year, as any later risks bleeding from the cut ends on the vine. Take cuttings about four inches long from strong young shoots with at least one good bud at the tip. Insert these into pots with gritty compost and over winter in a cold greenhouse. They will start growing in spring.

Wee jobs to do this week

Dry Keep checking on apples in store as any damaged ones can quickly go brown and the rot can spread to other healthy apples. Slightly damaged apples can still be used before they go bad for crumbles, stews, pies, tart and juice. Some dessert apples such as Falstaff, Fiesta and Red Devil can last up till next March if kept in an airy cool dark place that is frost free. Cooking apple Bramley may last even longer as it is a great keeper.
END

Thursday, 19 November 2015

BERRIES



BERRIES

Summer and autumn is the time when most flowering trees and shrubs produce fruit. Some of these we consume as fruit such as apples, pears, plums, raspberries, brambles and hazelnuts. Others we grow as ornamentals for the display of brightly coloured berries, though some fall into both camps.
I had an old dessert apple fruit tree that gave us some reasonable crops, but it was no great display so it got cut back and grafted with several apple varieties that were a bright red splash of colour such as Discovery and Red Devil.

Similarly my huge climbing outdoor grape vine Brant has autumn colour and a lot of small bunches of black grapes in October. I leave these on till about the beginning of November, by which time the local blackbird has decided he fancies a few grapes for breakfast, lunch and tea. As these grapes are quite sweet and edible we have always used them, but when you collect over a hundred wee bunches, we eat a few but most get brewed into a couple of demijohns of wine. Another large climber that gets covered in orange or red berries is the firethorn, Pyracantha Orange Glow. It is very useful, as it is quite happy on a north wall and having ample vicious thorns it can be trained around any low windows to keep burglers at bay as it can be quite impenetrable. Bees love the flowers in mid summer and birds get the berries in winter.
The garden gets crowded at this time of year as the blackbirds, robins, bluetits and numerous others all fight and forage as they stake their claim to the feast of berries.

Berberis darwinii is one of the first to ripen up its black berries, and as this evergreen shrub can grow massive it provides several birds with enough food for several months. Berberis wilsoniae is a better garden plant as it is low growing, with good autumn colour and gets covered in coral pink berries in winter. Other good ground cover shrubs include the evergreen Pernettya with pink, red, white and mauve berries. However these plants come as female forms so will need a male plant for pollination. If you like deep lilac berries try a Callicarpa which is medium sized and its foliage turns pinkish in autumn. For a long display of white berries the snowberry is aptly named, and for orange berries the sea buckthorn is very attractive.
Elderberries are more often used in shelterbelts and windbreaks, but if you have room and wish to provide food and shelter for birds they will fit the bill. However if you also enjoy elderberry homebrew, the
birds will have to find other berries, which fortunately are in plentiful supply.
The Cotoneasters range in size from ground cover to small trees, but all of them are prolific with their berries, most of which are red with some yellow varieties. Cotoneaster frigidus can be spectacular at this time of year and will keep several blackbirds fed well into winter, unless of course the flocks of waxwings and fieldfares coming in from Scandinavia find them.
Several small trees put on a great fruit display in late autumn especially the Malus John Downie and Golden Hornet, but it is the rowans that are essential in the Scottish garden. They are very versatile with brilliant autumn colour as the leaves turn a fiery red, and a range of berry colour from red, orange, pink, yellow to white.

 Wee jobs to do this week

Autumn is not too early to be drawing up a plan for 2016 for fruit and vegetable growing to incorporate a crop rotation to help prevent any build up of pests and diseases such as clubroot on brassicas and white rot on onions. The rotation plan will show where next year’s heavy feeders (peas, beans, courgettes, pumpkins, onions and leeks) are grown so that they get well manured or composted during the winter digging. Potatoes and brassicas get some compost but do not give any to the root crops as carrots, turnips, Swedes, parsnips and beetroot are likely to fork instead of growing as one swollen root. I also add well rotted compost to the bottom of my potato drill at planting as this boosts growth.

 End


Thursday, 12 November 2015

AUTUMN COLOUR



AUTUMN COLOUR

Summer may now be truly over, but many plants go out in a blaze of glory to cheer us up before winter sets in. As gardeners we can capitalise on this by planting trees, shrubs and even fruit bushes for both autumn colour as well as fruit and flowers. Choice is usually determined by garden size, though we can all be tempted to buy that special plant we just have to grow even though our small gardens are just not big enough for them. My weakness happened after my year at College in Chelmsford studying my National Diploma. There was a massive spectacular blue atlas cedar in the college grounds. I knew that once I got a decent garden I would have to get one. Sure enough on moving to Darlington I purchased my Cedrus atlantica glauca which had a space of about six by six feet in the back garden. I enjoyed it for about eight years before realising it was going to need my whole garden plus a few of my neighbours as well. Unfortunately it had to go.
There is so much choice that selection for garden size is easy. Other factors to consider are privacy, shelter, a specimen for the lawn, closeness to the house and even food and shelter for birds. Although my cedar will be fine in any huge garden, its beautiful blue colour lasts all year round as it is evergreen and creates a perfect background for deciduous plants with good autumn colour. However if you wish to have some conifers with good colour then try some of the deciduous ones such as larch, Gingko or swamp cypress, Taxodium, but again check space available as some can ultimately require a fair bit of room. Coming down in size, you can’t go far wrong with our range of rowan trees in Scotland. They all have dazzling scarlet foliage in autumn plus ample berries of red, pink, white or yellow. On a similar size are the maples which are one of the first to show their dazzling autumn colours, though my favourite is the Japanese maples. Acer Sangokaku will grow up to ten feet tall
with brilliant golden autumn colours followed by red stems in winter. Other maples such as Acer palmatum atropurpureum with crimson foliage in summer turns a fiery red in autumn growing to about five feet tall. Other medium sized trees worth growing for autumn colour are the flowering cherries, liquidamber, amelanchiers and upright forms of hornbeam and oak.
However if your garden is too small for a wee tree there are plenty of shrubs to use from the deciduous azaleas, hammamelis molis, Cotinus the smoke bush, chokeberry and Spiraea. There are many more large, small and ground cover shrubs with excellent autumn foliage, so it is worthwhile growing some of these together so one colour enhances the other. My Euphorbia griffithi Fireglow has turned a decent shade of yellow, but with the fiery red dwarf maple behind it they both make a great splash of colour together. Down at ground level some of the evergreen heathers take on terrific autumn colours once they get a few frosty nights, particulary Calluna Goldsworth Crimson and Golden Feather. Climbing shrubs should not be
overlooked but be careful with the dazzling red Virginian creeper as it loves to climb and scramble to great heights. My favourite has to be the grape vine Brant mainly grown for autumn colour, but also provides us with an ample supply of small black sweet and juicy bunches of grapes that never fail to ripen up on my south wall.
                                             
Wee jobs to do this week

Bring wooden patio tables indoors for winter protection as they are most unlikely to be used for the next five months. Once they are totally dry they can be repainted with an outdoor varnish to last for another couple of years.
Once all the old tomato plants have been removed, the grapes harvested from vines and the leaves have all fallen off the inside of the greenhouse can be washed down to clean it up for the winter. If you get a good sunny day take the chance and wash the outside of the greenhouse, which can be very important for those who have applied some glass shading for the summer. I stopped that practise years ago as the sun in Scotland is just not strong enough to cause any problems unless you grow orchids.

 End


SUNNY AUTUMN DAYS



SUNNY AUTUMN DAYS

Late October was always tattie picking time, and memories are still very strong of cold mornings but it always seemed to be dry and sunny. We no longer pick spuds in the field, just on our allotment plot, but sunny days are still with us. The garden flowers and fruit are taking advantage of the mild spell, and like us probably hope it lasts long enough.
Outdoor fuchsias are still a mass of flowers, and I struggle to replace my begonias with the spring bedding plants as they won’t stop flowering. Several plants are totally confused not knowing what season they are in. Ceanothus and philadelphus have started to flower. Wallflower is a spring bedding plant, but mine are all in flower now. On the vegetable patch my spring cabbage is hearting up now, ahead of my winter cabbage.

Climbing roses are now in their second flush, but greenfly are a proper nuisance, and blackspot is never far away. Bush roses continue to flower and I expect them to keep going into winter unless we get an early cold snap. The jet stream seems to be behaving itself for now, giving us a fair bit of decent weather, but reports of potential problems with the path of El Nino could tip us back into a severe winter. Gardeners always keep an eye on the weather as it affects all our plans.
Dahlias are showing a wee bit of distress following a few cold nights, so they will soon get lifted and dried out for storing in a frost free place.
Autumn raspberries are now just about finished, and perpetual strawberry Flamenco still produces very large attractive fruit, but they are not soft or sweet without warmth from the sun.
I keep thinking I have picked my last fig, but then we get a couple of sunny days and a few more figs ripen up. My small bush five feet tall on my allotment plot has been unbelievable this year. I had hoped for a good year of about 100 figs since I got 80 last year. However the summer was so cool that I lost faith in this exotic plant that really
needs a sunny hot summer. My first figs were not ready till the very end of August. Then the jet stream changed direction, the sun returned and my figs jumped for joy. I have now picked over 160 figs, and as they ripen over a long period it is easy to use them all. It is hard to beat a fresh picked ripe fig for flavour.
Autumn salad leaves love the mild, moist autumn and provide a wealth of fresh leaves including mizuna, rocket, mustard, lettuce, spring onions and radish. Many of these can keep us in fresh salad greens well into winter provided it is not too severe. To be on the safe side some can be transplanted into the greenhouse after the old tomato plants have been removed from growbags or borders.
Pumpkins have been quite poor this year due to lack of sun and warmth. Only got three pumpkins from three plants and they were not all that big, though a bad infection of mildew did not help.
It has been a funny year for root crops. Carrots and summer turnips seem to be having a good year and parsnips a fantastic year with huge thick roots more than two feet long, but beetroot is taking a rest. Size is poor and they all seem to have rust infected leaves.
Apples and pears have never been better, but sweetness and flavour is lacking compared to other years. They have all given record yields, and Anna has taken on the task of finding out how to utilise this crop. The juicer has been working overtime, and compote, stews, pies and crumbles are all appearing. Many of these dishes can be frozen for future use, and there will still be plenty left over for my wine brewing.
Grapes, however are having a terrible year. Outdoors the early varieties Rondo was ready at the end of August and Regent in mid September, but as these are all new vines it is really too early to judge. Phoenix is well established outdoors and produced a lot of bunches, but most failed to ripen up.
In the greenhouse muscat flavoured Siegerrebe was ready in September, but Black Hamburg suffered from shanking where more than half the grapes failed to ripen and just shrivelled up.

Wee jobs to do this week
Assess potatoes in store and on the plate to decide what to grow in 2016. Blight has again been bad on most varieties other than Sarpo Mira, but my best spud for flavour is Lady Christl.

END

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

HARVEST THE APPLES



HARVEST THE APPLES

October is usually the busy month for apple harvesting, though this year the cool summer has delayed ripening by a few weeks. My first Oslins, the Arbroath Pippin, were picked at the end of August, but were not truly ripe till early September. Although this apple has a distinct flavour it is very prone to brown rot and in this cool year with a wet August losses have been very high.
Apples like all other fruit need warm sunny days to increase sweetness so it is understandable that apples, pears and most other fruits have lacked the sweetness of previous years.
Catherine picking her step over apples
My main early apple Discovery was picked in mid October, a good month later than previous years. The crop yield with this and all other apples has been very high, but I fear at the expense of flavour. Apples came into flower quite late so there were plenty of bees around for pollination, then good weather for fertilisation. The spring and summer season gave us cool but moist weather so growth was slow, but apples and pears all swelled up larger than normal. A week of brilliant summer weather at the end of September certainly helped to ripen up the fruit, but then it was very short lived as we returned to a cold and wet October. This mixture of warm dry weather followed by cold and wet affected the Discovery apples by causing the skin to split on a few before I got them harvested. As yet my Fiesta, Red Falstaff and Red Devil are still on the tree, but will be picked before the end of this month.
Apple Red Devil
This years heavy crop came in for some thinning in July, both naturally then by hand where ever I thought the crop was too heavy. However as the fruit swelled the trees have continued to drop apples all October but before they were fully ripe. This harvest was not lost as Anna has got herself a juicer and now everything she can get her hands on gets juiced. Apples, pears, carrots, beetroot, Lettuce, chard, kale and tomatoes have all gone through the juicer. Never thought I would be drinking my lettuce and kale, and it tastes just fine. It can be stored fresh in the fridge for a couple of days, but all surplus gets frozen for future use.
We lead a very healthy life!!!
Apple Discovery
Bramley apples can hang a long time on the tree so it is usually early November before I pick my cookers. Again the crop is very heavy so there is plenty to store into next spring. I pack all fruit in boxes placed in my cold garage, but keep a check for any rots, or shrivelling or mice.
Once all my apples are picked, cleaned and sorted I can see just how much surplus I have so I can allocate a fair bit for brewing into my Sauternes style dessert apple wine. I will need 30 pounds of apples for three demijohns of wine, which will be ready in a couple of year’s time.
Starlight apple Firedance

Plant an apple tree now
We get so much value from our apple trees that I feel everyone with a wee garden or plot should plant at least one apple tree. Now is the time to plan which variety you wish to grow and garden space will determine what size of tree to purchase. There is a size and shape to suit all situations, from standards, bush, fan trained, cordons, espaliers and now for those with very limited space we have the step over tree growing only a few feet tall but kept small with summer pruning. Another development has been the introduction of the single stemmed Starline apple trees coming in five different varieties. These dwarf trees are kept narrow and columnar by summer pruning all side shoots to a couple of buds. They are ideal for those with very limited space but wish to grow a few varieties, which also helps with cross pollination. I like the bright red Starline variety Firedance.

Wee jobs to do this week

Now that the tomato crops are just about finished, it is better to remove all ripe and unripe fruits which can be ripened in a warm place indoors. Remove the old plants and chop up for the compost heap. Growbags or border soil can still be used for an early winter salad crop of salad leaves, mizuna, cress, rocket, mustard and radish.

END

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

END OF SEASON CARE



END OF SEASON CARE

As the growing season comes to an end it is time to harvest some crops that need winter protection, and find winter quarters for those tender summer flowers that will continue for many years as long as you look after them during the critical winter months. Some vegetable crops such as leeks, Swedes, winter cabbage, Brussels sprouts, Swiss Chard and parsnips are quite happy to be left alone as they are perfectly hardy and exposure to frosts help to sweeten them up.
Beetroot and carrots can be lifted and stored in dry soil or sand in a frost free shed, although with milder winters becoming normal, I have tended to just earth up my beetroot and leave them where they are. So far this strategy has been fine, but a severe winter like in 2010 could test this method.
Onions and potatoes are best drying off before storing them in hessian sacks, onion nets or for small quantities of potatoes I use large cardboard boxes in my frost proof garage. Onions need plenty of ventilation to keep them sound, and potatoes need darkness as exposure to light will turn them green and be inedible. However if you have a good variety and you wish to keep some smaller spuds for growing the next year, then exposure to light is good for them.
Pumpkins are usually left till the end of this month to let them ripen up and turn orange before taking them home and storing them in a cool room. They should store quite well up to March.
Geraniums and impatiens can be kept from one year to another by taking cuttings and growing them on a windowsill over winter. I take geranium cuttings by snapping the top of a strong shoot off at a leaf joint with just one leaf. I do not use a knife. These cuttings go into shallow pots with a sandy compost mixture. Impatiens cuttings are taken about three to four inches long and after removing all the lower leaves they are placed in a jar filled with water with only the leafy tops showing. Keep them on a light windowsill that is not in the sun. They will root in a month and can then be potted up into compost to grow on and flower in late autumn to mid winter, on a sunny windowsill.
Fuchsias grown in pots or baskets are best dried off and kept in a cool frost free place over winter, but check they don’t completely dry out. However keep young fuchsias grown from cuttings taken in summer growing for as long as possible to establish a strong plant before they go dormant and need drying off slightly.
Begonias are lifted in October when flowering finishes and the cold weather causes the leaves to fall off. I dry my tubers out in the sun for about a week, provided there is no risk of frost. Then remove all the soil before packing them in polystyrene boxes for storing in my garage. I use the dry old soil to cover over the tops for added protection and make sure they don’t completely dry out.
Gladioli are lifted in mid October and the old stems cut off just above ground level. The corms are dried out under cover, then cleaned up removing the old spent corm and all small cormlets. The biggest of these can be retained for growing on, and will flower after one or two years. Store in a frost free garage or shed in boxes and keep them dry.

Chrysanthemum stools are lifted after flowering, cut back to about six inches and boxed up in compost. Make sure all stools are labelled. Over winter in a cold greenhouse or frame, and keep them moist as they will continue to grow, though ever so slowly till spring.

Wee jobs to do this week

Although our autumns seem to go on longer and winter slow to appear, deciduous trees and shrubs will start to lose their leaves from now till winter. Rake these up regularly and add them to the compost heap. Once mixed with old grass cuttings, annual weeds and vegetable debris they will soon rot down and provide an excellence source of compost to enrich the soil.
Summer bedding plants that are finished can also be added to the compost heap plus any old soil from tubs and hanging baskets that needs replacing. If the compost heap has been gathering material since late winter, give it a turn over with a fork to mix old rotted compost with fresh new material as this will help to rot it down.

END

Sunday, 11 October 2015

SUMMER TUBS AND BASKETS



SUMMER TUBS AND BASKETS

Summer may have been a long time coming, but the end of September went out in a blaze of colour responding to the dry, warm, sunny weather. The summer flowers should have been going over, but they are trying to make up for the lost season. Several petunias that had survived the cold summer put on a bold display as did the impatiens which has sulked all summer. However, now is the time to assess just how the summer flowers have performed. So before they get pulled out and added to the compost heap to be replaced with our spring flowering plants, take stock of the best plants and varieties to grow in 2016.

Geraniums and tuberous begonias have been my star attractions this year. Geraniums have been in flower from late spring till mid October and I am loath to remove them, but I have pansies, polyanthus, wallflowers and tulips all eager to get planted. Both red and white geraniums had a great year, but one tub with a mixture of cerise pink geraniums planted with shell pink impatiens and deep purple petunias were let down badly as the impatiens and petunias just did not grow this year, until the end of September. However every year is different so I will try out this combination next year hoping that the summer comes in a wee bit earlier. Dark blue and purple petunias can be very attractive in a good year and the blue petunia has the added bonus of a great scent.

Begonias were a bit late in coming into flower, but then they put on a dazzling display. My red and orange varieties were particularly impressive so they will get prime locations next year as individual colours in each tub rather than mixed to increase the dramatic effect. My tubers must be approaching twenty years old, but they are very easy to keep over winter, and when they get too big I just cut them in half in spring when I can see the shoots begin to grow.
Both geraniums and impatiens will be propagated from autumn cuttings and grown indoors over winter. The impatiens makes an excellent flowering house plant, and can be in flower almost up till Christmas in a mild year.

Fuchsias are another plant that just loved this cool sunless summer. Southern Belle is used in my hanging baskets by the entrance doorway, and Mrs Popple grows freely in borders established years ago. In a cold winter it may die back to ground level, but then in spring it bursts into life. It was a mass of flowers in mid summer, producing loads of ripe berries which we collected and put through the juicer for a tasty drink. It had a wee rest in early September, but by the end of the month with the late arrival of a week of summer weather brought out more flowers in a dramatic burst of colour.
African marigolds and annual calendulas provided the yellow garden colours, but they could have been better in a different year. Marigolds really need a hot dry sunny summer. I’ll think twice about growing them again next year. Cosmos grew from seed left in the ground from the previous year providing a nice splash of pinks and mauves against fresh green feathery foliage.

Lobelia is another dwarf annual that keeps appearing all around the garden and if it is not interfering with other plants we just let it grow to provide a deep blue relaxing colour.
Poppy Ladybird and Californian poppies also appear everywhere, but they can overwhelm the garden so we give them some space but don’t let them take over. Grown together the red and yellow flowers compliment each other.

Wee jobs around the garden

Once fruit bushes go dormant and lose their leaves they can be propagated easily with hardwood cuttings. Red, white and blackcurrants and gooseberries are all pretty foolproof. Take current years shoots about nine inches long and insert at least half of it into the soil outdoors having forked over the ground to loosen it up and aerate it. Prepare the cutting with a basal cut below a leaf joint and the other cut at the top above a bud. Space out about four inches apart and after rooting in spring grow on for the rest of the year. They will be ready for lifting and planting out the following winter.

END