Monday, 19 August 2019

EXPERIMENTS IN THE GARDEN


EXPERIMENTS IN THE GARDEN

Apple Pearl grafted onto a James Grieve tree
My interest in gardening started in childhood encouraged by keen gardeners in the family, so it was natural to choose it for a career as well as a hobby. For some folk it is climbing the long list of Scottish Munroe’s, or swimming across the River Tay to Fife, but my challenges were more down to earth as I experimented with plants in the garden.
Grafted pears now growing
The first challenge was to have some part of the garden looking its best with flowers and colour all year round. In spring its bulbs and spring bedding, then as they begin to fade the rhododendrons and azaleas flower, then onto a huge array of summer bedding plants, roses, and herbaceous plants. In autumn we have the harvest season with apples, pears and plums as well as harvesting my huge bright orange pumpkins. However all this time vegetables are being grown and harvested to keep the kitchen supplied all year round where possible. Interest in winter comes from the colour stemmed border of Cornus, Kerria and maple, then before spring arrives the snowdrops appear, quickly followed by the aconites then the whole circle begins again.
Avalon Pride the last peach
I wanted to grow many apples and pears but there was only space for three trees, so to grow all my favourite varieties I had to learn to graft. This gave me trees with at least six varieties on each tree. Grafting sounds difficult, but it is very easy and satisfying once you look up techniques and the success rates are near 100%.
I grew up with raspberries and strawberries as a young berry picker, but now the challenge is to have fruit over the whole summer by choosing early, mid season and late varieties with a row of early strawberries brought on a fortnight early with protection of low polythene tunnels.
Snowdrops in December
Breeders are always bringing out new varieties of every type of plant, so I always buy a few to try them out. Strawberry Colossus turned out to be a complete waste of space with just a few small berries. It got dug out after a couple of years. Blackberry Rhuben advertised as huge fruits produced on new canes in the same year. Mine didn’t flower till November so hardly any time to produce fruit, and the few that did fruit were less than half the size claimed in the catalogue. It got dug out.
With talk of global warming I thought I would try some exotics, so I purchased a peach tree, Peregrine, but it got massacred with disease, so it got replaced with disease resistant Avalon Pride. For the first three years I only got one peach year, then in 2019 there was none, so tree has now been removed to make way for my next experiments to find a grape to grow outdoors in Scotland.
Outdoor grape trial at City Road
I have tried quite a few and had some success but only with grapes for wine use. I have yet to find a seedless variety for dessert use, but I keep trying. Up at City Road Allotments we have planted several against our south facing shed. These will be grown as single stem cordons with summer and winter pruning so they do not take over the front of the shed.
Saskatoons in fruit
Trials were successful with my outdoor fig, Brown Turkey which is a real beauty that never lets me down producing well over a hundred figs every year. Growing Saskatoon fruit bushes is my other great success story. They are in great demand from other gardeners, but as yet no-one in UK is growing them for the fresh fruit market or as bushes to sell to the public.
This year I am trying a range of cherry tomatoes in the greenhouse. They are all very vigorous reaching the top of the greenhouse long before my large fruited Alicante. However most only got five trusses, though Sungold had seven trusses with excellent flavour and texture. Supersweet 100 was not an early cropper but trusses all had over 100 tomatoes on them. Rapunzel had large fruit but poor texture and flavour. Sugarglass was my heaviest cropper but lost points for flavour and texture. Cherry Baby had the smallest fruit but with the best flavour. Trusses had well over 100 fruits, but most of them fell off before the fruits grew.
Pumpkins growing strongly

Wee jobs to do this week

Cut back summer growth extensions on pumpkins once each plant has made two or three decent fruits. Pumpkins just love this hot wet summer and will try to take over the whole garden.

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Wednesday, 14 August 2019

SUMMER HARVESTS


SUMMER HARVESTS

We will always remember the summer of 2018 with its long hot and dry spell, but 2019 seems to be even hotter, but with plenty thunder storms so there was never any shortage of water. Plant growth has responded to this great growing weather. My bush roses normally reach five feet tall, but this year I am seeing them at six to seven feet tall and a real
Sophie and Anna topping and tailing gooseberries
nuisance with strong winds so staking and tying has been necessary to stop them blowing over. Flowering has been a bit erratic as the warm dry spring allowed a severe dose of mildew and black
Beetroot Cylindra
spot to spread and greenfly infestations have been in plague proportions. There has been plenty of ladybirds, but not enough to halt their spread, so spraying had to be done to stop them for a few weeks. Sweet peas have been brilliant this year, but needed constant dead heading and picking bunches for the house.
Broad beans grew very rapidly and ripened earlier than normal, so it was an early start to the harvesting season. Family members over on holiday get roped into the harvesting and processing tasks all summer long. The broad beans get picked in one go preferably in the morning, then after lunch we all gather around the patio and shell the beans. By evening, they get blanched and then we begin the task of separating the beans
Rose Myriam
from their skins, before bagging up for the freezer.
Peas were ready to pick at the same time, so another family day was spent picking, shelling then bagging up for the freezer, other than those for immediate use. Then just before my visitors departed volunteers were sought for the Invicta gooseberry picking. The bushes have been so packed with gooseberries that all the shoots were trailing on the ground with weight of crop so straw was needed underneath them to prevent soil splashing during heavy rainfall. Family again got together around the table for a night of music, wine (adults only) and topping and tailing the gooseberries.
Hot muggy weather seems to have brought on more crops, so it was the turn of blackcurrant Big Ben to get picked followed a week later for picking Ben Conan.
Strawberry Florence
Freezer is now well stocked, but Saskatoon picking has not yet started as the crop is a fortnight behind normal picking from mid July onwards, but this year it will be from early August. The bushes are absolutely laden down with berries. In between major crop harvesting there was plenty raspberries, strawberries and Bramble Helen to pick every three days apart, and autumn fruiting raspberry Polka is making an early start.
Harvesting on the vegetable patch is well under way. Potato Casa Blanca lifting was started in early June, but before the whole row was lifted I had to harvest Mayan Gold which seemed to suffer an odd disease that caused the leaves to die back. This variety is also liable to boil away to soup in the pot so I will not be growing it again.
Beetroot and turnips have had a mixed year so far. Beetroot is always a great cropper and keeps well outdoors in our mild winters, but all my Golden ball turnips ran to seed. Think I will stick to Purple Top Milan in future which is always reliable, though our freaky weather may have some bearing on matters. It’s been a great year for
Good crop of blackcurrants
salads. Lettuce has never been better, but greenfly infestations are not very welcome and spraying a bad idea as picking has been constant. I tried a few rows in between a block of chrysanthemums. I got plenty of lettuce before the chrysanthemums needed the space.  Onions, like all the other vegetables have made strong growth and are swelling up just fine, though the wet hot atmosphere has caused a severe infection of white rot fungus.
In the greenhouse grape vines and tomatoes are fighting for space. Tomatoes have now all had the tops removed after five or six trusses as they have all reached the roof and grapes are all hanging in great profusion. I know it’s a bit late but the massive bunches will need some thinning of the fruits.

Wee jobs to do this week

As summer harvests continue and land gets cleared of crops such as peas, onions, broad beans and early potatoes, put this spare ground to good use. This is a good time to sow salads (lettuce, radish, spring onions and rocket) for late summer and autumn use. Some varieties of lettuce are winter hardy and can give useful fresh greens over the winter months and into spring.

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Monday, 5 August 2019

ORCHIDS


ORCHIDS

Cattleya sincorana
Fifty years ago orchids were rarely seen outside stately homes with large gardens and greenhouses. I don’t recall seeing them during my five year gardening apprenticeship training, though we were given notes on their culture. Orchids were expensive to purchase so they remained fairly rare, but life moves on and growers and breeders saw a huge opportunity, so before long new varieties appeared on the market and using meristem culture they could be propagated in very large numbers quite cheaply. Today they now appear everywhere for sale from garden centres to supermarkets at very affordable prices. The Phalaenopsis seems to be the most popular, but then the flowers come in a range of colours, with stems full of blooms can last for months, and they are very easy to grow. However you must avoid keeping them in sunlight (they prefer dappled shade or full shade) and never leave them sitting in water. A sunny bathroom is perfect where the
Cattleya Saturn
aerial roots can get plenty of atmospheric moisture, though in our Scottish climate they will be happy on a sunny windowsill during the winter months. In their natural environment they grow by clinging to tree trunks in tropical forests where there is plenty of warmth and rainfall with perfect drainage, and nutrients washed down the trunk from bird droppings and rotting leaves absorbed by the aerial roots hang down the side of the plant.
The woodland canopy, mostly evergreen, affords dappled light and protection from strong sunlight. Orchids can be found all
White phalaenopsis acrylic painting
over the world growing wild in damp moist and peaty soils. I saw drifts of thousands growing in Glen Nevis and they even reached weed status growing in industrial developments in Livingston New Town.
Growing orchids in the home
Wild orchid
The Phalaenopsis type are usually quite reliable and very rewarding when it repeats the flowering every year, so makes the best one to start with. They will come in pots with ample holes for drainage and planted in special orchid compost. This is often a mixture of bark chips, coarse graded peat, charcoal to keep the mixture sweet, nutrients and trace elements. This should be sufficient to keep the plant happy for two to four years before repotting is necessary depending on type. It is best to repot in spring as growth commences. I purchased one in full flower last August at the City Road Allotments open day and it continued to flower well beyond Christmas. Once flowering is over allow the plant some dormancy by keeping it in a cooler spot, and water less often, but do not let it dry out and do not feed at this stage or repot. Orchids are not heavy feeders so just give them an orchid feed once every two to four weeks while they are growing.
Paphiopedilum orchid
Phalaenopsis can flower most of the year with six or up to twenty or more flowers on one spike. Keep the stem staked otherwise it hangs over and could pull over the whole plant.
Cymbidiums are very popular and another good one to start with as they are very adaptable. They flower in autumn to spring producing many spikes with up to twenty flowers each lasting up to ten weeks. The plants can grow quite large and are happy in a cool room. They require more frequent repotting because of their strong growth.
Paphiopedilum orchids are terrestrial, not epiphytic so there are no aerial roots or pseudobulbs. They grow from rhizomes just below ground level and produce medium sized flower stems with just one or a few flowers. They like to be kept lightly shaded. Propagate by division in spring and repot every second year in the smallest pot available.
Salads for autumn and winter
Cattleyas  are epiphytes that are very flamboyant with large colourful flowers which are often highly perfumed. Both Cattleyas and Phalaenopsis have been used extensively by artists as the subject for flower paintings with great impact.

Wee jobs to do this week
Take advantage of small areas of land becoming available as mid summer crops get harvested allowing sowings of lettuce, radish, spring onions and rocket and even some Chinese cabbage. These will give salads for late autumn use. Early potatoes, peas, broad beans, cabbage and cauliflower and soon onions will all get lifted to release some land though some onions are having a hard time with the warm but wet weather and white rot is gaining the upper hand.

END