Sunday, 25 December 2016

LOOKING BACK OVER 2016



LOOKING BACK OVER 2016

The Festive season is a time to relax and enjoy the benefits of our labour over the past year. We have filled the freezer with fruit and vegetables, there is ample fruit and vegetables in storage, and plenty leeks, swedes, cabbages, winter cauliflower, kale, winter lettuce, rocket, Swiss chard and parsnips still quietly growing through the winter months. It is a time to look back and review the year, looking at the successes, failures, varieties we grow, sowing dates and how much we have worked with the climate that can never be relied on as no one knows what is normal any more.
John and Anna wish everybody a very Merry Christmas
However it is the climate more than anything else that determines how plants will grow. The UK climate varies dramatically from north to south and east to west, but looking back my Dundee area hasnae done too bad. Early on we came through a reasonably mild winter which had snowdrops beginning to flower the previous December, just a bit like this winter as mine are all showing white tips as I write. The year will go on record as a mild dry year, with always just enough rain to keep plants growing in between warm dry weather. The south of UK got plenty heatwaves, which we were promised would travel north, but the heat seemed to wither away round about the borders.
Fuchsia Mrs Popple
Spring arrived early and never got too warm so displays of daffodils, crocus and tulips were brilliant and lasted a very long time. Fruit trees flowered abundantly, and there always seemed to be plenty bees around to pollinate them. The apples gave the heaviest crop ever and had to get some serious thinning. Fiesta was my biggest winner as fruit was huge, very flavoursome and is still very fresh in storage. Discovery and Red Devil both cropped heavily. Pears looked great in full blossom, but only produced three fruits, so either a late frost stopped fertilisation or my four varieties on one tree are not compatible. I thought Conference, Comice, The Christie and Beurre hardy would help to pollinate each other, so next March I will graft some Concorde onto the tree to see if that helps.
Figs also had a great year, as did all my currants, gooseberries, raspberries, strawberries, saskatoons and brambles. New autumn raspberry Polka was excellent with large fruits and spine free stems. Autumn Treasure was also good, but fruited a fortnight later. My new primocane bramble
Red tuberous begonias
Reuben was a disaster as the new canes never flowered till November, then withered away. I will leave the canes in place and see how it fares as a floricane type.
New perpetual strawberry Albion was cropping right into November, but the flesh is very firm and not as soft as we expect from a summer strawberry. I will retain it another year and review progress.
The dry mild summer brought out the best in flowering plants with geraniums, begonias, fuchsias  and roses all at their best, but petunias were miserable as they really like it to be a wee bit warmer.
Vegetables had a mixed year, as disease was hard to control, so the onions suffered some white rot, brassicas got clubroot and potatoes got blackleg and late blight, though I still got a great crop with Amour producing huge spuds. Broad and French beans, peas, courgettes
Tulip Monte orange
and pumpkins all had a great year, but root crops have not been as big as in previous years.
Indoor and outdoor grapes had a very good year, but the lack of a warm sunny autumn did not help to ripen up the fruits and increase the sugar content, other than with Muscat flavoured Seigerrebe which ripens in August and was this year’s star attraction. Just a pity the fruit is so small.
The dry autumn allowed me to complete all my composting and digging ahead of winter and now raking up leaves will soon be completed so next year’s compost heap will have a good start.
Now I am well ahead of gardening tasks, I can sit back, enjoy the festive season, and with a glass of three year old Saskatoon wine in hand let’s look to 2017 and make new plans. Cheers!!!
Check over fruit and veg in store

Wee jobs to do this week

Rake Check over stored apples onions potatoes beetroot carrots as well as dahlias, begonias and gladioli and remove any with signs of decay in case it spreads to healthy plants.
Check chrysanthemums stools growing in the cold greenhouse for overwintering greenfly on young foliage. Try to keep them frost free and growing away slowly.

END

Sunday, 18 December 2016

BLACKCURRANTS



BLACKCURRANTS

Blackcurrants are now almost an essential fruit on allotments and in gardens. They have come a long way over the years. Native to northern Europe and northern Asia our soils and climate are perfect for their successful cultivation and fruiting. Their popularity was encouraged after the last war when a shortage of fresh fruit such as oranges rich in vitamin C was likely to affect the health of the nation. The variety Baldwin was very popular as were Wellington XXX and others. However many of these were prone to pests and diseases, especially reversion, a virus disease spread by the gall mite which was quite common making the bushes worthless. The Scottish Crop Research Institute, now #James Hutton Institute, took on the task to sort these problems.
Rex Brennan and scientific team sample the blackcurrants
Another problem causing poor yields was late frosts affected some varieties prone to flowering too early. Research work started about sixty years ago with Malcolm Anderson and continues today with Rex Brennan along these lines and also looking to increase berry size, vitamin C content, flavour, health benefits, sweetness and resistance to other diseases. The new range of varieties in the “Ben”series now account for about 99% of all blackcurrants grown in UK, 95% of which goes for Ribena production. One of the first to be released was Ben Lomond in 1972. In the garden Ben Hope and Ben Connan are hard to beat, but Big Ben, with larger sweeter berries that are great to eat straight off the bush is giving strong competition. Blackcurrants are very high in vitamin C as well as vitamin A and B, the minerals iron, manganese, phosphorus, copper and many others and the fruit has high levels of anthocyanins.
Blackcurrant Ben Connan
We can eat the berries fresh in summer, especially #Big Ben, and freeze surplus for future use in jams, jellies, juice, compote, summer puddings and it makes one of my favourite wines, especially after laying down for three years. If patience is not your strong point, try a Blackcurrant Cassis which will be ready for Christmas if crushed immediately after a summer harvest and put in a large glass jar with sugar, a few blanched almonds and steeped with a dark rum. Strain off the liquid a few days before Christmas for a warm festive tipple with a fantastic flavour.
Blackcurrants grow on most soils but prefer them fertile and free draining, but still retaining moisture. Plant two year old bushes in prepared soil, spacing them about five to six feet apart. Then prune all shoots to a few buds above ground level, dress with some fertiliser and add a mulch to control weeds and retain moisture. In future prune to retain young shoots and remove old less productive wood. Give an annual dressing of fertiliser and continue to mulch and keep weed free. Bushes should grow to about six feet tall and yield up to ten pounds of fruit per plant.
Blackcurrant bushes after pruning
Breeding over the last sixty years has eliminated most pest and disease problems, but young shoots can still attract greenfly infestations so keep a watch over them and if necessary spray with an insecticide used for rose pests, or if you wish to go organic then cut out any infested shoot tips.
Propagation of blackcurrants is very easy and rooting is usually 100% successful. Take strong one year old shoots from healthy bushes after leaf fall and before growth starts again in spring, and trim them to about ten inches long. Line out in a nursery row, spacing the cutting four to six inches apart and inserting them into the ground about six inches deep. Keep them watered if dry weather prevails in summer and remove all weeds. They should be rooted and ready to lift and replant with more space a year later to make a strong bush for permanent planting.

Wee jobs to do this week
Land now composted and dug over for winter

Recent winds and frost have helped trees and shrubs to drop their leaves so take the chance on any dry day to get them raked up, collected and added to the compost heap. Autumn has been remarkably dry this year, so getting the garden and allotment ready for winter is well ahead and all of this year’s compost heap has been spread and dug in so these fresh leaves will begin a new compost heap. This will be added to with kitchen waste, trimmings from winter vegetables and whatever the next ten months has to offer.

END

Sunday, 11 December 2016

WINTER PRUNING FRUIT TREES AND BUSHES



WINTER PRUNING FRUIT TREES AND BUSHES

Most fruit bushes and trees have now lost their leaves and are completely dormant so this is a perfect time for the winter pruning. A frosty day is perfect, or if the ground has a covering of snow, this will prevent any surface soil damage.
Apples and pears
Remove branches too close to ground level after getting weighed down with heavy crops, and thin out shoots to keep the centre of the trees
Apple Fiesta
open for good air and light circulation. Remove any over vigorous shoots growing straight upwards and cut back a few other shoots by about a third to maintain a well balanced shape and encourage fruiting spurs. Sometimes a mature pear tree can produce too many spurs resulting in a massive crop of smaller pears, so thin these out if necessary.
With some forms of apple trees growth is controlled by spur pruning, such as with espaliers, fan trained trees, columnar forms and stepovers. Growth is pruned in late summer cutting back side shoots in half, then in winter these are further pruned to a few buds to encourage the formation of fruiting spurs.
Plums
Do not prune these in winter otherwise they are liable to infection from the silver leaf fungus disease. Wait till spring for young trees and mid summer for older mature trees.
Blackcurrants
Try to retain and encourage strong young shoots by removing some old wood every year. Young shoots usually grow lower down on older fruiting branches, so cut these back to the young shoots.
Anna picks #blackcurrant Ben Connan
Any branches that got bent over with heavy crops should be removed as the fruit on these is liable to get soil splashed onto them when it rains.
Red and whitecurrants
These fruit on spurs established on older branches, so retain about ten older branches growing from the crown and cut back by half all young shoots on them in summer and then in winter cut back to just a few buds. Replace older branches over the years from new shoots growing from the crown.
Gooseberries
These are best grown on a single clear stem to keep fruiting wood well above ground level, so prune out all low growing shoots as well as some in the centre of the bush, otherwise it can get too crowded making picking a nightmare. Cut back any very long shoots to encourage fruiting spurs.
Raspberries
John prunes autumn fruiting raspberry Polka
Summer fruiting raspberries fruit on six foot tall shoots grown the previous year, so these are retained and last summers fruiting shoots are removed to ground level. Thin out excessive growth to allow spacing of about four inches between shoots after tying in to the top wire with a running knot.
Autumn fruiting raspberries are easier to manage as they fruit on shoots produced in the same year, so everything gets cut to ground level as soon as fruiting has stopped in early winter.
Brambles
Blackberries are like summer raspberries that fruit on long shoots produced the previous year. Depending on variety these shoots could be very long so they are best trained along wires fixed to a fence or wall or other free standing permanent solid structure. Remove all of the old shoots that have fruited and tie in the new young canes to replace them.

Wee jobs to do this week
Erecting the bird feeders

Now that frosty weather is with us we need to look after our feathered friends, even though they will still return in summer to eat our strawberries, currants, saskatoons and blueberries. I keep replenishing a water dish with clean warm water so it can last a few hours before freezing up again. Once the ground gets frozen birds can struggle to find food although in early winter there is still plenty of berries around. Keep bird feeders topped up regularly all winter.

Art Studio
Back in the art studio I am finishing off another oil painting for my #Lady in Red #art exhibition.

END

Monday, 5 December 2016

THE WINTER GARDEN



THE WINTER GARDEN

The winter months can be a quiet time in the garden as most plants are dormant, but with a wee bit of research you will find there are quite a few plants that have their day in winter. Bringing these together to create a winter garden can give a focus of interest from November till the end of March.
Although we may not get a blaze of dazzling flowers, we do get a surge in the feel good factor on coming across the Chinese Witch Hazel, Hamamelis mollis and Jasminum nudiflorum in full flower on a sunny January day, and Viburnum bodnantense Dawn’s pink flowers have a terrific scent. Down at ground level the heather Erica carnea flowers all winter with red, pink and white flowers and the Christmas rose, Helleborus niger has pink, mauve and my favourite with a pure white flower. Another impressive specimen with tall yellow flowers is Mahonia Charity.
Chinese Witch hazel

Many variegated evergreen shrubs show off their brightly coloured leaves in winter without having to compete with the spring or summer flowers. Euonymous Emerald N’Gold, and Emerald Gaiety, (the silver variety), Elaeagnus pungens maculata with a yellow variegation and  Lonicera Baggesons Gold are some of the brightest shrubs in winter, but some can grow quite big so need plenty of room. The Lonicera is also a favourite for nesting birds as the dense foliage gives them ample protection and camouflage, so please do not clip these shrubs into modern round, square or other unusual shapes to keep them under control.
Give them plenty of space and let them grow naturally.
As autumn gives way to winter there is a period of several months when it is the berried plants that take centre stage from trees to ground cover. The rowans come in a range of colours from white to pink and yellow to red. They also have fiery autumn colour as the leaves drop leaving behind a prolific crop of berries to feed the birds for a couple of months.
Joseph Rock
The Cotoneaster genus has a huge range of red berried shrubs varying in size from the massive Cotoneaster frigidus up to 20 feet tall to the normal C. simonsii then coming down the scale to C. horizontalis with its herring bone pattern and down to the ground cover C. dammeri.
If you are looking for a plant to cover a north facing wall the firethorn, Pyracantha comes in a range of colours and the thorny habit gives perfect cover for your local blackbird at nesting time.
If you have room for a specimen tree several maples have bright coloured stems, such as the coral bark maple Acer palmatum Sango Kaku, and some have peeling bark, but it is the white stemmed birch, Betula jaquemontii that gets my top marks for an impressive tree to stop you in your tracks.
Several shrubs have dazzling coloured stems in winter, very visible once all the leaves are off.
Dogwood and snowdrops

Rowan with golden berries and autumn colour

Cornus alba Westonbirt and Mid Winter Fire are two beauties and the Cornus stolonifera flaviramea has yellow stems. If you want variety, try the grey stemmed Rubus giraldianus which appears as if it was covered in frost. However it has very thorny stems which can be a nuisance for spring pruning. Kerria japonica has bright green stems but also gets covered in a mass of yellow flowers in spring.
The willow Salix britzensis has orange stems that can grow ten feet tall in one season. All these shrubs which are grown for their coloured stems are best treated as stooled bushes, (except the Kerria,) which get cut back to ground level at the end of March just when they are ready to burst into growth. It is the new one year old shoots that have the brightest colours. These shrubs can be planted together in a large drift for greatest impact, and plant some crocus and tulips between them for spring colour as they can all grow happily together.

Wee jobs to do this week
Arthur Bell in November

Most roses will now be dormant so they can be pruned now, but leave any buds still clinging on, hoping to flower on a sunny day as fresh roses in early winter are great to enjoy. Otherwise for bush roses remove some old shoots but leaving behind all strong young shoots and hopefully you will have about five or so young shoots which can be tipped by about a third of their height.

END

Friday, 2 December 2016

Limited Edition Prints on a special Festive Offer 

Dundee artist John Stoa has published quite a few limited edition prints which he is now offering at reduced prices during the festive season and into winter.
See his prints on his website print pages at www.johnstoa.com with some samples here.
Evening Lights from Broughty Ferry
Guardian of Peace
Mist over the Tay










Winters Evening West End

                                                   

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

WINTER CULTIVATIONS



WINTER CULTIVATIONS

Now that the growing season has finished most summer crops have been harvested. The land is looking bare so now it is a good time to start preparing the ground for winter cultivations. However there will always be some winter vegetables to keep us in fresh produce for a few more months to come, so these areas can be dealt with later. Where green manures were sown after harvesting summer crops, the land will be fine over winter and can be cultivated last.
Dave digging in the clover green manure
It is a good idea to have some idea of next year’s rotational plan so compost can be allocated to where it is needed as some crops are gross feeders and others like root crops do not need fresh manure or compost. Hopefully the compost heap will be well rotted down and ready for use, but at this time of year there is always plenty of leaves and spent crops to start another compost heap for the following year. If you have access to any form of well rotted farmyard manure this can be spread over the ground and dug in during early winter, but if it is still fresh then better to mix it in with other composting materials. Up at City Road allotments we are blessed with a wood shredder so all fruit bush and other prunings can be shredded and added to the compost heap. However do not add diseased materials such as rose foliage infected with black spot, onions with white rot, potato leaves with blight or brassica plants infected with clubroot disease. Similarly although all annual weeds can go on the compost heap, do not add any perennial weeds as these will survive.
John digging up the compost heap
The type of worms that break down fresh compost are usually quite plentiful in most soils, so no need to buy in special packs of composting worms.
Although I try to complete all my winter digging before the end of the year, progress is determined by weather. Do not go onto the soil if it is wet as this could destroy the natural crumb structure, but if dry days are in short supply a slightly frosty surface should be just fine. Single digging to the full depth of the spade is normal practice, but if you have to incorporate a lot of manure or compost or if you are digging in a green manure crop it is better to take out a trench so there is space to invert the soil and keep compost and plants under the ground. At this time of year leave the soil surface as rough as possible to expose a bigger surface area to weathering. This helps to create a surface that is easy to rake down to a fine tilth in spring.
Dave shredding prunings at City Road Allotments
Some areas however may need special treatment of double digging incorporating manure or compost in the lower spit. Where ever new trees, shrubs, roses or fruit bushes are to be planted permanently, this will be the only chance to give them a good start to improve fertility and drainage.
Sweet peas are another plant that will benefit from double digging especially if you want exhibition quality blooms. Double digging involves taking out a trench and forking the bottom while adding manure or compost. It greatly assists fertility and drainage, allowing roots deep penetration of the soil, and although it is hard work, it is a great exercise provided you go canny.
While compost is being spread on the soil, keep some available for mulching fruit bushes and roses and even herbaceous border plants.
Areas planned for cabbages, cauliflower, kale and brussels sprouts will benefit from a dressing of lime to increase the alkalinity which these plants prefer, but allow a couple of months between spreading lime and manuring, otherwise some of the goodness will be lost as nitrogen evaporates.

Wee jobs to do this week
Chrysanthemum Pennine Ice

Early chrysanthemums grown outdoors will now be finished flowering, so check over this year’s performance to see which are worth retaining for the next year, such as the dazzling white spray Pennine Ice, and discard any that have not lived up to expectations as you can always try out some new varieties next year. Cut back all stems to about six inches and tie a label on to mark the variety. Shake some soil off the stools and repack into trays with fresh potting compost and water in. These boxes of stools can be kept in a cold greenhouse over winter and new young shoots will appear about March ready for cuttings and starting the new season all over again.

END

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

GROUND COVER



GROUND COVER

Gardens and gardeners change as time marches on. The gardens follow the fashion of the day, and today that seems to have ease of maintenance at its heart. When you go for a walk around the towns and villages of any location looking for garden ideas you see major changes, especially in new developments where hard landscape seems to take up most of the available outdoor space. Lawns and borders take second priority to space for the cars. In times past we kept our cars in the garage, but they are now so full of other things that there is no room left for a car.
Delosperma cooperi and Senecio
The garden with its lawns, borders and fruit and vegetable patch were our place of sanctuary, where we escape the pressures of modern living to be one with nature while at the same time we grow fresh fruit and vegetables for our healthy living. However there is such an abundance of other leisure activities available that gardening is going out of fashion for many folks. When I check the papers on the Thursday to see the houses for sale, I see numerous modern dwellings stuck in the middle of sterile hard landscapes where paving, sets and tarmac have replaced a green landscape.
Doronicum and red tulips
Then as some of us that do gardening on a slope get a wee bit older we find the energies of youth beginning to fade and we begin to look for the easy solution. The days of double digging every patch of soil and removing trees complete with roots no matter how big are becoming a distant memory. Thus we bring in more ground cover in our planting schemes to reduce the need for weeding and continual planting of bedding, bulbs and annuals. With clever design and knowledge of plants flowering times and heights we can still create very attractive planting schemes with a more permanent theme that will be easy to maintain.
Erica carnea
Some ground cover plants are evergreen such as heathers, ivy and London Pride and others such as Euonymus and Houttuynia Chameleon are variegated so give us winter colour. When planning location of ground cover plants give thought to soil type, drainage, exposure to sun, shade and season of interest as well as height of plants, as they all have different needs.
Many plants are appreciated best in winter such as the variegated types especially if grown together with dogwoods, maples with coloured bark and winter flowering heathers such as Erica carnea to create a winter garden.
In the rock garden the dwarf saxifrages which can smother the ground, flower in late March at the same time as early tulip Scarlet Baby. Another excellent attractive rock garden plant is the mauve red Sedum spathulifolium purpureum. Plant the tulips adjacent but not amongst these plants.
Euphorbia polychroma
In mid spring it is the Doronicums with bright yellow flowers that make a splash especially if under planted with mauve and red early flowering tulips. Doronicums grow about a foot tall, so plant a drift of scarlet phlox subulata next to them. The phlox hugs the ground and flowers at the same time. From spring to early summer the dwarf Japanese azaleas take over the display for several weeks. They are easy to grow, happy in sun or dappled shade with a well drained but moist soil.
In summer good ground cover plants include the lemon yellow flowering Euphorbia polychroma, the mauve Campanula, the yellow and mauve succulents Delosperma and the white Shasta daisy. Although many heathers flower all summer the late flowering Calluna H E Beale is a real show stopper and makes a perfect ground cover plant.
In autumn it is time for the berried plants to take over such as numerous types of Cotoneaster and Pernettyas, though the latter needs a male pollinator as the berried plants are all female.

Wee jobs to do this week
Swiss chard

Most plants have now gone dormant as winter approaches, but some vegetables such as Swiss chard and rocket continue to grow slowly, just enough to balance replacing shoots as you pick them for use. They are both valuable health giving vegetables packed with goodness to keep using them into winter. Remove any flower shoots that develop on rocket and chard so the plants can retain their strength for growing young hardy shoots.

END

Thursday, 17 November 2016

SCOTTISH GROWN GRAPES



SCOTTISH GROWN GRAPES

The chance of success with growing grapes outdoors in Scotland is down to a range of factors, such as choosing varieties that will ripen fruit in a cooler climate, selection of a sheltered and warmer usually south facing site, and good growing husbandry. All of these things are in our control, but they are not the end of the story. Grapes need warmth and sunshine to grow and produce fruit which will ripen, then in autumn a period of really good weather is essential to sweeten up the grapes so they are either delicious to eat or have enough
Brant grapes ready to pick
sugar content to produce wine with at least a 10% alcohol level or even higher. Our present climate in Scotland is a bit lacking in warmth and sunshine so we rely on the unpredictable nature of our climate to give us those better than normal good years, but then what do we do with our grapes in the normal years. In time climate change with a wee bit of global warming might suit some parts of Scotland but at the expense of the rest of the world. However it might just mean we get warmer temperatures but with a lot more rain, so the challenge to establishing a successful vineyard is still a problem. Although attempts have been made in the past to establish Scottish vineyards and some continue today, they are probably totally reliant on favourable weather becoming more of a normal feature. If Scotland should experience a period of better than normal weather this will encourage more gardeners and growers to
Seigerrebe grapes
experiment on a small scale with grape production as we all love to rise to a decent challenge. It will be down to these new entrepreneurs to try out numerous varieties to see which best suits our climate and soils, but then we may find the best solution by breeding desirable characteristics from a range of varieties and in time (could be thirty to fifty years) we might have Scottish bred vines to grow and crop successfully in commercial vineyards.
Gardeners working on a smaller scale do not have the same problems. This year I picked some Seigerrebe grapes growing in my cold greenhouse
Rondo
in the middle of August. This variety has sweet Muscat flavoured grapes producing numerous bunches of small grapes which favours wine. However after crushing, the grape must gave a 1.092 specific gravity reading, which is high enough to achieve an alcoholic content of at least 11%. As this was my first year with Seigerrebe and I only had enough liquid for one demijohn, which won’t get bottled for a couple of years.
Last year the weather was not on our side, so grape sugar content could have been better. I left harvesting as late as possible waiting for some sunshine, so picking was done both outdoors and under glass during the first week of November. I mixed my Black Hamburg from the glasshouse with Phoenix grown outdoors on a south facing fence and a heavy crop of the ornamental vine Brant. Brant produces numerous small bunches of black sweet grapes. I had enough for two demijohns. After crushing I only achieved a specific gravity reading of 1064, which would only give me about 8% alcohol, so some water and grape concentrate were required to produce wine.
Brant grape vine on house wall
2016 has been a better year, as the east of Scotland has been relatively dry and reasonably warm, but we could have done with more sunshine in autumn to sweeten up the grapes. Harvesting started at the end of October with Regent, Rondo and Phoenix, all grown on south facing fences, and Brant on a south facing wall. Black Hamburg from my cold glasshouse was added into the blend. My other three outdoor grape varieties Solaris, Polo Muscat and Muscat Bleu never produced any grapes whatsoever, so they are still under review.
Brant grapes grown on my south facing wall were picked first week November and after crushing will give two demijohns of red wine, but needed some sugar to give me 11% alcohol strength.
Dahlia ready for storage

Wee jobs to do this week

As cold weather is just round the corner get ready to lift the dahlias if any frost is threatening. Cut back the plants to about six inches and put the tops on the compost heap. Lift the dahlia tubers and remove as much soil as possible. Tie a label with the variety name to the main stem. I bring in my tubers to my cold greenhouse for drying off before storing them in boxes in the frost free garage.

 END

Monday, 7 November 2016

FESTIVE POT PLANTS



FESTIVE POT PLANTS

As autumn slowly passes by and winter approaches gardening activity slows down as daylight is in short supply and it can be a wee bit nippy outdoors. So we turn our attention to indoor gardening and the coming festive season to make sure there will be some home grown or even bought in plants to decorate our homes.
Garden Centres cater for the festive demand by buying in quite a range of flowering plants as these will make excellent gifts for Christmas for the keen gardener. This is often the starting point, but then we want to see if we can keep the plant growing so it will flower the following Christmas.
Azalea indica
Plants such as hyacinths and amaryllis can be bought in as bulbs in late summer so there is plenty time  to get them growing ahead of the festive season. Getting hyacinths to flower at Christmas is quite a challenge as the bulbs need to be prepared for forcing then planted in pots or bowls in bulb fibre in August. They need a period of a couple of months of dark and cool conditions so the roots can grow but not the tops. Slowly bring them into warmer conditions, (but not too warm) with good light from November onwards. The flower spikes may need support with canes and twine. After flowering keep the plants growing, then harden them off and find a spot in the garden for them as they will flower for many more years.
White Phalaenopsis orchid
Amaryllis bulbs are best planted shallowly in good compost about eight weeks before Christmas giving them good light and warm conditions to get them growing. Once the flower spike emerges it will need support and will continue to flower for several weeks. After flowering keep the plant growing right through till late summer then dry off the bulbs to ripen them up so they can initiate flower buds for the next year.
Poinsettias are very popular and one of my favourites, but I always buy in as they are not expensive and difficult to keep dwarf and require a period of induced short days to initiate the coloured bracts.
Poinsettia
The Christmas cactus, Zygocactus truncatus is one of my must have festive flowering plants. They usually flower just before Christmas, and can be retained to flower for years to come. If they get too big then take a few cuttings and start all over again. As they are of the cactus family they can survive for long periods without watering, but give them a drink if you see any signs of shriveling.
After flowering keep them dry till late spring, then water to encourage some growth. However this growth needs to ripen up so let them go dry once again from late summer till early winter.
Azaleas grown for indoor flowering can be very attractive and are another plant to keep for several years. They are best grown in a cool spot outdoors with dappled shade and do not let them dry out. Bring them indoors in late autumn once the buds begin to swell up. They can remain in flower for several weeks.
Sophie ties up the Amaryllis
Cyclamen flower in autumn to winter. Grow them as cool as possible outdoors but dry off the corms in summer to let them go dormant. They will start to put on leaves in autumn, so start watering and keep them cool.
Phalaenopsis orchids come in several colours and are the easiest of orchids to grow with large flowers that last for a couple of months. They need special orchid compost to hold the plants upright, but produce aerial roots outside the pot which absorb moisture from the air. As they grow naturally in rain forests give them a warm moist atmosphere away from direct sunlight. They just love a light warm shower room. Repot them every two to three years.

Wee jobs to do this week
Drying off begonia tubers

The summer flowers are now finished but some like tuberous begonias can be kept to flower year after year. Cut back the tops to a few inches of ground level then lift and remove as much soil as possible before drying off the tubers in a warm and airy place. Once completely dry the tubers can be cleaned up and stored in trays in a cool but frost proof place.

 END

Monday, 31 October 2016

LARGE PLANTS FOR IMPACT



LARGE PLANTS FOR IMPACT

We try to create beauty in our gardens with flowers, shrubs, trees, beautiful lawns, meandering paths leading to quiet tranquil spots where we can relax away from our daily stresses. If we have a big garden we have more scope for our creative abilities so we can have one part of the garden a complete picture for a few weeks before another area has its day. However if our garden is just a normal small patch we may have less scope but we can still make it eye catching even if just for a short spell. I see numerous gardens all around my location in Dundee’s west end where the gardens come alive every year with one plant catching the eye for two to three weeks. Early on in the year I look out for a specimen of
Anna relaxing by rose Gertrude Jekyll
Rhododendron praecox, followed by other Japanese azaleas. Another garden has a fence and pergola smothered in the pink Clematis montana. At the same time I see one garden with bright red eye catching phlox. I was so impressed I found out the variety so I could buy some for my own garden. Other notable plants that catch the eye include a large Yucca filamentosa in full bloom, a mature Azalea Klondyke at least twenty years old and now very dramatic and a garden with one large tub filled with scented pure white oriental lilies in mid summer.
Berberis darwinii
The deciduous azaleas do not grow massive so can suit even the smallest gardens but in time as they mature they can create impact. Similarly there is any amount of Rhododendrons in a range of colours and sizes to suit all gardens, and the bright pink Camellia Donation is a real winner.
Looking back over the year other plants that gave me the wow factor included a Lilac Michel Buchner, the common but still very impressive Forsythia intermedia, Berberis darwinii, Philadelphus virginal and Beauclerk, a deep blue Ceanothus thyrsiflorus. Another good shrub to grow as a specimen is Cornus kousa chinensis with layers of white bracts in early summer.
In my own garden I grow several outdoor Fuchsia Mrs Popple that flowers continuously from early summer till late autumn. They are very easy to grow, and as the foliage comes down to ground level weeds are not a problem. They can be cut down in a very bad winter such as in 2010, but the crown and roots survive so the plant grows away again in spring.
Philadelphus


In mid summer the shrub roses can provide an impressive display with my favourite being the old variety Ispahan with bright pink flowers and very healthy foliage. Another brilliant pink shrub rose with a gorgeous scent is Gertrude Jekyll and for an impressive red climber Dublin Bay is hard to beat. If you have a lot of space try Mme Alfred Carrier with scented double white old fashioned flowers, but as she can easily put on several ten foot shoots each year she does need room.
Phlox
Polygonum baldschuanicum and Solanum crispum are another two climbers that need space, but if given the room they can be very impressive. I have a specimen vine, Vitis vinifera Brant on a south wall, grown for its autumn colour, but also loves to grow at great speed. I curtail this growth with summer pruning (complete removal) of sideshoots so the vine can put its energy into swelling up its wee bunches of grapes rather than masses of green leaves.
One shrub often grown against a north wall is the Pyracantha Orange Glow, the Firethorn, which gets covered in orange berries in autumn and into winter. It provides a food source for the blackbird and they often nest in the bush as the numerous thorns give it protection.
In autumn we look for plants that give us dazzling autumn colour and the Japanese Maples are winners having a wide range of varieties and also good colour on stems in winter.
Sango Kaku growing to nearly ten foot tall, is one of the best.

Wee jobs to do this week
Calluna H E Beale

Autumn is a good time to trim back some low growing shrubs like Lavender, Erigeron and heathers which have flowered in summer but benefit from a trim to keep them stocky. Cut as far back as possible as long as there is still some growth buds left on the cut back stems. The plant will then strengthen up these buds so they can get through the winter and be ready to grow in spring. Do not cut back Calluna H E Beale as it is still flowering or Erica carnea which flowers in late winter.

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Wednesday, 26 October 2016

TOP FRUIT REVIEW



TOP FRUIT REVIEW

The last of the apples have now been picked as we approach the end of October, so while crops are fresh in our minds it is good to review the past year to see if we need to make any changes for 2017.
On the east side of central Scotland our climate is usually drier than the west and warmer than the north, so varieties grown should reflect this. By and large it has been a brilliant year for fruit, with good pollination in spring, followed by strong healthy growth. This gave a great fruit set that needed a lot of thinning to leave us with a heavy crop of large fruits.
John picks some Discovery apples
Summer was warm and dry but Scotland never seemed to catch those heat waves that troubled the south of the country, then in autumn we got a few gales that brought down a lot of early apples.
The Oslin, also known as the
The Oslin
Arbroath Pippin is my first apple to crop, ripening in August, but it flowers very early so fruit set was not good, then a damp spell in mid summer caused a fair bit of brown rot. My second early apple Discovery made up for the poor crop of Oslins. Size was brilliant and they kept us in apples throughout September and October. Red Devil follows on in mid October with Fiesta getting picked at the end of October. This year Fiesta apples are huge and ripened up just perfect, but Red Falstaff looks like it will hang on the tree till early November.
My James Grieve apple tree had been grafted with several other Scottish Heritage varieties a few years back and these have now come into cropping, so this year I will be sampling some Lord Rosebery, Park Farm Pippin and Pearl. They were picked in mid October and now in store to ripen up for a couple of weeks before tasting.
Scottish heritage apple Pearl
My cooking apple Bramley surpassed its self with the heaviest crop ever.
It was the pear tree that was this year’s disappointment. I have a large tree grafted with Conference, Comice, Beurre Hardy and the Christie, but although it was covered in blossom in spring I only got four pears. Harvesting was not a huge operation. I am planning to reduce some growth in winter and graft another couple of pears such as Beth and Concorde onto them next April.
Other pear trees at City Road allotments have fared a lot better with good crops of large pears.
Plums were in short supply as this is my first year after planting a young Victoria plum tree to replace my mature plum infected by silver leaf disease. It flowered in spring so I allowed one plum to mature just so I could still get a wee taste of plums, but hope to get more in 2017.
Peach Avalon Pride planted last winter has put on good growth. This variety is said to be resistant to peach leaf curl which kept devastating my other peach Peregrine and had to be removed. Peregrine in a good year would give me good crops, but climate change was just not in its favour.
Avalon Pride did get some peach leaf curl disease but not enough to affect growth, so I look forward to seeing some Scottish outdoor grown peaches next year.
Cherry Cherokee was another winner as it just loved our spring and summer. The tree is grown on the dwarfing rootstock Gisela 5 so it is easy to keep height down to a manageable size for picking.
This was a very busy year so I never got round to netting my tree, but still I lost very few cherries to the blackbirds. Blackfly infestations on the young shoots was a problem, but some summer pruning of young shoots reduces the problem and helps keep the tree small.
Scottish Heritage apple Lord Rosebery
Figs also had another great year, cropping from mid August to mid October giving me over 140 ripe figs.

Wee jobs to do this week

The tomato crops are now finished, so after the last ripe ones have been harvested and the green ones also picked to be left somewhere to ripen up, the old plants can be removed. However as we are in a cold greenhouse there is still enough warmth to grow a crop of winter lettuce, some rocket leaves and some winter hardy spring onions. Once all the old plants have been cleared up fork over the soil lightly, firm it and rake it level. Add some fertiliser and plant young salads sown in trays a few weeks ago. These should keep us supplied with salads for the next few months.

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