Tuesday, 28 December 2010

A Year to Remember


 Looking back over 2010 I have to admit it has been an uphill struggle for many garden plants.
The year started with a winter to remember as we had not really had a decent winter for many years previous. As a painter of Scottish landscapes specializing in winter scenes I was always looking out for a good snow scene. Often I would rush out with my camera to capture as much as possible before it all melted by mid afternoon. Last winter there was so much snow that access to outdoor landscapes was severely limited due to blocked roads.
Back in the garden the early snowdrops were getting used to flowering in early February, but not this year. They were loath to appear by March, then there was a rush as crocus, aconites and Hellebores all came out together.
The low temperatures really gave many plants a fright. Outdoor fuchsias all died except Mrs Popple, Hebe’s died, Lithospermum Red Damask did not survive and my mature thirty foot tall Eucalyptus lost half of its leaves. I had a strong date palm in a flower bed near a warm south facing wall, but it died back to ground level.
On the plus side my outdoor Peach was very late in flowering, much so it missed any late frosts. It produced plenty of pink flowers which kept me busy each day pollinating them with my best watercolour sable brush. I got twelve very large fruits of a very high quality in mid summer.

A Wet Summer

Many Scots might feel a wee bit of global warming could improve our climate. The garden would be bursting with colour and fresh succulent fruit and vegetables.
If the temperatures are a little bit warmer, I can’t say it has been very noticeable this year as the continual rain has dampened down any beneficial effects. I am now looking back as we are well and truly locked into another severe winter weather period. If this is global warming, why is the cold weather breaking all previous records?  Will Fuchsia Mrs Popple survive into 2011 ?
Plants are very adaptable. My flower bed of geraniums took every opportunity each time we had a few days of sunshine in between the deluges to give a fantastic display of bright colour. Begonias were late but very dependable, especially those put into tubs. Gladioli, chrysanthemums and roses all put on great displays, but roses suffered from black spot, rust and mildew late in the season.

Soft Fruit Crops

Following the very hot summer of 2006 we have suffered four very wet years. My normally very dependable raspberry Glen Ample got infected by a root rot which I suspect was a strain of Phytophthora. Over three years the canes slowly died out and no fresh canes emerged. My allotment garden is on a slope and immediately south of my rasps other fruit bushes began to go yellow and die. These included a white currant, a gooseberry, two  Saskatoons and some cultivated blueberries I had been experimenting with. My autumn fruited raspberry, Autumn Bliss was unaffected and still produced a normal crop. However with so much rain and lack of sunshine the fruits were not as sweet as normal.
The Glen Ample was replaced with another raspberry called Cascade Delight. This is a summer fruiting variety bred at Washington State University and showing some tolerance to phytophthora root rot. It has large fruit with an excellent flavour, which I hope to sample next year.
The cool wet summer also delayed ripening of my Saskatoon fruit which cropped for over three weeks, whereas in the previous year they only lasted one week.
Strawberries were badly affected by botrytis rotting the fruits. Modern varieties have resistance built into the plant, but this was an exceptionally wet year. I had replaced my perpetual strawberry variety Flamenco with a new one called Malling Opal. It has not been happy with our wet season and I will see if it fairs better next year. Perpetuals fruit all summer long so it is nice to have fruit into late autumn, but it is difficult to propagate this variety as they do not produce many runners. Flamenco did produce ample runners and these produced fruit immediately.
Both blackcurrants and red currants cropped very heavily this year so no change for them next year.
Saskatoon fruit ripened over a far longer period but the quality was still very good I may do a wee bit pruning, taking one or two main shoots down to ground level to encourage fresh new shoots which will fruit for the next five years.
Goji berry plant is still growing but no sign of any flowers or fruits. Maybe next year.
Outdoor trials of grape varieties have not been successful. They did produce bunches of grapes, but they just would not ripen in our wet year. I will try another variety called Solaris for next year.
However my outdoor variety Brant was exceptional. The bunches are small, but quality is great with over one hundred bunches of sweet black juicy grapes.
I have persisted with our local Bramble Loch Ness, but it is hopeless in our wet years, so it got grubbed out. The fruit was small, tasteless and very prone to botrytis. My other bramble Helen which fruits in August is still hard to beat.

Top Fruits

Pears were a disaster this year. Comice may be a fantastic pear when conditions are right, but it is so prone to scab in a wet year that I cannot recommend it unless our climate takes a turn towards a drier regime. I was very impressed with the variety Beurre Hardy which I got at Glendoick Garden Centre Apple Weekend last October. I kept the fruit for two weeks when it ripened beautifully. This variety is quite strong and resists scab infections. Conference is also very good and scab tolerant, but it is very hard to get anything to compete with Comice.  Some Comice will get grafted with another variety next year.
I worried about my plum tree as although it flowered very late the cold weather had reduced the insect population drastically and I only ever saw two bees on the tree throughout its flowering period. However they done a great job and the tree developed a full crop. Normally I would have been ecstatic as a fully ripe Victoria plum is an absolute delight, but lack of sun and too much rain resulted in a soggy fruit lacking flavour and sweetness. A lot of the fruit got left on the tree.
Now the apple crop was very different as I no longer grow weak varieties prone to scab. The early variety Oslin gave too much crop as it does not store so has to be eaten when ripe.  Some shoots will get grafted next spring with another variety. Discovery and Red Devil were brilliant, but Red Falstaff has not stored well this year, so half of them are going out as winter food for our blackbirds.
I have always fancied growing sweet cherries and now that growers are using the new very dwarfing Gisela 5 rootstock it will be easy to net the tree from birds as it only grows to six feet or so. This one is on my lists for planting next year.

 Allotment vegetables

A mixed year depending on how tolerant plants were in a high rainfall year. Courgettes and pumpkins were excellent. No lanterns for us at Halloween, we need them for soup to last till next summer. I also save the seed every year as I have an excellent strain.
Onions were very poor with ripening up very difficult. Most other vegetable crops grew very well in our wet summer and now we still have excellent savoy cabbage Traviata, Sweet flavoured Brussels sprouts Wellington and plenty of Musselburgh Leeks. My beetroot still in the ground under a foot of snow is still perfect

The Greenhouse

There was just enough sun to ripen my grapes and my Black Hamburg has been very sweet. I look forward to 2011 and getting some grapes from my new white seedless vine Perlette.
Tomatoes ripened very late and quality was not up to usual standard, but maybe next year will be drier with more sun.
Plans are being considered to take a stand at both Gardening Scotland at Ingliston and the Dundee Flower and Food Festival next year as demand for my saskatoon plants and grape vines is still very strong.
Now let us get out that bottle of Glenfarclas and raise a toast in the hope that next year the laws of average will prevail and 2011 will be exceptionally warm and dry and my next packet of parsnip seeds will produce more than three plants.
Cheers !!!


Thursday, 23 December 2010

Festive Thoughts


The Christmas week was never a time to be thinking about jobs around the garden.  The mind is occupied with getting those last Christmas presents, stocking up with plenty of food and some quality liquid cheer. Selecting a nice wee dram is now a lot easier with excellent advice from Brian of Amber Lights on the previous page. Then of course there is the social side to organize as family and friends get together.
This year winter arrived very early, so there is a good chance for a white Christmas if it is still on any ones wish list.

The allotment

My allotment activities have been about capturing snow scenes with the camera for winter landscape paintings. I was instructed to bring back some leeks now that they have been sweetened up with a bit of cold weather, but I just could not find them under a drift of snow two feet deep. Hopefully by the time you read this there will have been a wee thaw and my leeks will appear.
However this year I tried Brussels sprouts variety, Wellington. They have been terrific with large hard buttons and very sweet to taste. Just a pity they are so tall as they were still visible above the drifting snow and an easy target for our ever present resident flock of hungry pigeons.
The severe winter weather was well predicted so it gave us ample opportunity to gather a couple of large savoy cabbage Traviata, some Swedes and beetroot.
I am hoping my beetroot will be quite happy with a couple of feet of snow protecting it from the frosts. After a few hours of continually clearing snow from the drive it is very welcoming to see a plate of hot home made beetroot soup on the dinner table. Our best recipe uses fresh beetroot roughly grated with some onion, garlic, carrot and a potato. It is cooked with chicken stock, olive oil and some sugar, then served with a swirl of yoghurt or sour cream, and some lightly toasted garlic bread. It soon warms you up.

Outdoor plants

The deep snow has buried my coloured stemmed border, but the yellow winter Jasmine continues to flower through frost and snow. Christmas rose, Hellebores are wanting to flower, but are buried under deep snow.
The golden berried rowan Sorbus Joseph Rock has been spectacular with large bunches of bright yellow berries topped with snow standing out against the clear blue winter sky. At first the black birds were not too fussy about eating them until a flock of twenty waxwings found them and within three days the berries were gone. These are winter migrants from Scandinavia who swarm here in huge numbers when their own supply of berries is finished. They love rowans, pyracantha, hawthorns   and cotoneasters and will quickly strip them in a short burst of frenzied eating.

Feed the birds

Birds and wildlife are just as much part of the garden’s attraction as plants and they are particularly welcome in winter when most of the garden is at rest. Every garden will have their own resident robin and blackie, but it is nice to see the range extended with a wren, blue tit, great tit, coal tit, chaffy and occasionally a greenfinch and bullfinch. The latter may be a very attractive bird, but he can be a proper vandal when he picks off flowers and buds in spring with no intention of eating them.
My bird feeders go out when I think their own natural food supply is getting hard to find. This year frost and snow have come a bit early so birds go looking for some human help on bird tables. Fortunately there is a wide range of bird food available. I supplement this with some bread, old bramley apples from store that are not keeping too well, bacon fat and keep the bird bath replenished with fresh water.

Indoor plants

It has become a festive tradition to have a good colourful pot plant to decorate the living room during the Christmas period.
Poinsettias are very popular, easy to grow and will be quite long lasting as long as you don’t over water them. Give them plenty light, keep them warm but not near radiators. In its natural environment it will grow into a small tree, but for the house plant trade they are kept young and treated with growth retardants so you receive a compact plant full of coloured bracts. Thus once they are finished it is not worth keeping them for another year unless you are happy with a taller plant and are prepared to give them special growing conditions.
Once the coloured bracts are finished, adopt a drier water regime to encourage dormancy to give the plant a rest. Restart growth in late spring, repot if necessary with good free draining compost, and cut back the plant to a few inches. Once growth starts give a fortnightly feed and in summer grow the plant outdoors in a sunny spot. Keep growths pinched back to allow up to five shoots per plant and cut back any shoot that gets too big. Poinsettias require short day treatment to bring them into flower.
Thus from early October for the next ten weeks they will need to be kept in the dark for at least fourteen hours every day. Black them out from 5pm to 8am. Once the bracts begin to show colour bring them gradually into the light and continue to water and feed.

Christmas cactus is also a favourite that I find very reliable and quite easy, but again it has its needs. They come in a range of colours from red, pink, mauve and white. Mine have now finished their flowering so they will be allowed to go quite dry but not shriveled and kept in a light cool but frost free spot. They can be cut back at this time and the cuttings used to grow more plants. Once growth starts in summer restart watering and feeding to encourage growth. However this growth needs to ripen to encourage flower buds so I start to dry them off again in September. This helps to initiate flower buds which will appear in early winter. As soon as the flowers show, usually in November,  restart watering and bring them into the warmth.
The plants should last for very many years, and often they will provide two shows per year.

Last of the grapes

Although 2010 will go down in my diary as yet again another very wet year, there was enough sunshine to ripen up most of my grape vines. I have three varieties in the greenhouse and a very large outdoor vine, Vitis vinifera Brant covering a west and a south facing walls.
My earliest variety, Flame is in the cold greenhouse. It is a red seedless grape which has some fruit   ready at the end of August and continues till the end of October. It is very sweet and juicy but as with all seedless varieties some of the grapes can be small. It is the grape seeds that produce the growth hormones needed to swell up the fruit. Commercially, growers solve this problem by applying several sprays of gibberellic acid growth hormone. The first spray in spring causes the bunches to grow bigger thus spacing out the trusses with less overcrowding. The next spray at flowering causes some of the flowers to fall off reducing the need for thinning. Further sprays later on encourage berry growth so the end product is large seedless grapes well spaced out so they will not be troubled by diseases.
My organically grown, gibberellic acid free grapes, may be smaller, but they are still delicious.
I planted a white seedless variety called Perlette last winter so hopefully it will fruit in 2011.
My Black Hamburg greenhouse grape starts to fruit in mid September and I have now just finished off the last of then in early December. These have seeds so each grape is quite large and sweet and very juicy. It is easy to grow and is very reliable.
The outdoor Brant fruits from September to mid October, but our local Blackie is quite fond of them so as soon as I see a bit of damage they get harvested and made into juice. This will keep for two weeks in the fridge but can also be frozen in plastic bottles. The grapes are quite sweet so the juice does not need sugar.


Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Internet Gardening


The first week in December is turning out to be the perfect time to talk about internet gardening. There has been so much snow dropped during the last week in November that you can forget even seeing where the garden is. The allotment is inaccessible due to blocked roads and the cold greenhouse has over a foot of frozen snow on it.
As I write this wee feature in the comfort of my warm home I look out onto a black sky about to offload another six inches of snow, then, when it clears thirty minutes later, and the sun comes out to show a brilliant winter wonderland.
The early winter was well forecast, so ample provisions have been acquired from my allotment to see us through a few weeks of bad weather.
Probably by the time you read this all the snow will have melted, and the winter jasmine will be in full flower, but then again I could be wrong.
Over the last ten years or so I became part of that fast growing band of silver haired surfers. Schools teach computer studies from primary age, so our kids are well versed up in internet technology.  My generation has a lot to catch up on and although there is plenty courses in basic computing, it is not easy to adapt to this new technology when you have never ever put a finger on a keyboard.
Looking back it has been a huge struggle to learn computing language and practices, but when you have the basics mastered a new world opens up that has no boundaries.
We are now at the stage where just about anything you want to know about gardening or anything else is just a few clicks away, and if you want to chat to like minded people who may know the answer to your gardening problems you just join any number of forums dedicated to your topics of interest.
There are still very many people who have not as yet embraced the internet revolution so I will add a few words of encouragement to try and get a few started.

My first steps

Fear of stumbling into the unknown held me back in many areas of modern life, but I always got there eventually. I was the last to get a colour TV, the last to get a microwave, video, digital radio,   digital camera and I still play my LP records and we still enjoy our terrestrial TV. One day I will get a mobile phone, but no great rush.
However I was more determined to get a computer as I thought it would help me sell my paintings and prints if I had a website. That would bring me into the modern world if I could handle the massive learning curve.
About ten years ago I enrolled onto an evening class for basic computing learning a wee bit about all the parts and how they worked. Still not enough to get me started.
I found another course on learning to surf and search the internet. I was getting better but was very slow as the keyboard, which I had never used before, really had me baffled. It took me nearly ten minutes to find the letters to type my name, and don’t expect them to start with capitals. I hadn’t got that far yet.
The next year I enrolled on another course, “Computing for the Terrified”. Now I felt more comfortable with that, but then I was subjected to a host of new terminology that was hard to get a grip on. Now I am a Scotsman and I know what a bar is for, but task bar, address bar, tool bar, menu bar, navigation bar, status bar. Give me a break !!!
The young lady sitting next to me was very helpful as she helped me to find the key called shift. She was planning to go on the new course, “European Computer Driving License” That was excellent advice. A new venture to try, so I enrolled at Kingsway Tech and started to broaden my knowledge base, to include scanning and printing.
At this time Dundee Business Gateway was running a series of courses on computers, the internet and website building for small businesses, so yet again this very determined lad enrolled on all of them. I got enough information on just what to look for to buy my first computer with confidence. Now I could practice all these lessons I had been taught. Before long I was searching, emailing, scanning, adding pictures from my camera, printing, booking buses, trains, holidays, and building up a list of my favourite sites that I look at frequently. I think I was ready to build my own website.

My website

The course at Business Gateway showed you how to build two pages with text and images which then linked to each other. More information was added on optimization to help your site get found by Google. If I could create a two page website it was easy to add more pages as the need arose. The format was just the same.
My site which I called www.johnstoa.com started of as four pages for paintings, and the same for prints, but then I added one for art classes, one for exhibitions and there was always a need for more.
My garden had always been a source for paintings, so I started to add garden pages. As I searched the web for interesting websites relevant to art and gardening these got added into a links page.
My site is now over two hundred pages and big enough, but since I do a fair bit of gardening research I needed somewhere to document these activities. I now incorporate all my gardening activities into these features for the Dundee Courier and archive them in date order in a new blog.
Each one has its own heading so topics can easily be extracted. Since it is my intention to add my artwork activities as well as gardening my blog is called, the “Scottish artist and his garden”.

Learning computing has been a big uphill struggle, but a lot of the problem was lack of keyboard skills. The end result was opening up a new way of living where the computer is used for every aspect of life from checking the weather, the roads, artists and art galleries, cooking recipes, history, geography, cinemas, football results, lottery results, (still waiting on the big one), music and telephoning family and friends with Skype, and off course gardening.

Garden Sites

Every worthwhile nursery, garden centre, grower and product supplier has a website. So do Botanical gardens, the Royal Horticultural Society, stately homes, research institutes and numerous allotment sites.
If you wish to find information, a picture or where you can buy a plant just go to Google and type in the common or botanical name and browse through the result pages. Pests, diseases, weed control, pruning, planting, composts, greenhouses, sheds, fences, polythene and numerous other products are all ready to find.
Whenever you find a really good site that you wish to refer to again at a later date you can right click the home page and save it to your favourites list.
You can look up local garden centres such as www.glendoick.com or www.dobbies.com  or if you wish to look up specialist plant growers I have happily used all of the following.
There are many excellent rose growers including www.davidaustinroses.com and his daughter Claire has a really good hardy plant nursery at www.claireaustin-hardyplants.co.uk.
I grow lots of fruit so a good grower with lots of information on his website is www.kenmuir.co.uk,
and I have been buying my chrysanthemums from Harold Walker for nearly twenty years. See his site at www.walkersplantcentre.co.uk and if you want the best nursery for begonias, polyanthus or delphiniums try www.blackmore-langdon.com. They are not cheap but you will get excellent plants.
When you need to protect your crops from birds with netting or you need plant pots or trays or many other garden products try www.lbsgardenwarehouse.co.uk

Education and Research and Allotments
Our own Dundee botanical gardens can be found at www.dundee.ac.uk/botanic  and for the latest in crops research browse over the website of the Scottish Crops Research Institute at www.scri.ac.uk
This is research at commercial levels but for garden information on everything, you cannot beat the Royal Horticultural Society website at www.rhs.org.uk
There are many allotment sites worth checking out. Try www.allotment.org.uk which has links to everything you are likely to grow except saskatoons. You will need to try my website for that.
Then check out both the National Society at www.nsalg.org.uk and the Scottish Society at www.sags.org.uk
You will soon find there is a wealth of great sites to browse round. Enjoy them.


Wednesday, 8 December 2010

The Winter Garden


A keen garden lover is happy to wander round the garden enjoying the colour of flowers and foliage, scents, texture and shapes of attractive plants at any time of year. The growing season produces a wealth of interest, but it is a bonus when some winter beauty can be enjoyed to brighten up the long cold dormant season. There is quite a wide variety of plants suitable for creating a winter border that will provide a splash of colour on any bright cold day.
Many, e.g. dogwoods, are enhanced with a bit of frost on them or emerging from a blanket of pure white pristine snow.
Information on suitable plants is available in numerous gardening books and magazines or on the internet through Google, or visit your local garden centre or plant nursery.
When the summer flowers fade, the last roses get frosted and the few remaining leaves with autumn colour fall off, this is the moment the winter garden starts its display which continues through the long winter months of cold weather and short days.

Plan the garden

It is a useful exercise to make a list of all the different types of plants you wish to grow, pondering through gardening books, visiting garden centres, botanical gardens or National Trust gardens of stately homes or look through gardening magazines to find out what can be grown successfully in your own area.
Consider ground cover including heathers, coloured stemmed shrubs and trees, flowering shrubs, scented shrubs, climbers and some early flowering bulbs.
Choose a spot that will catch the winter sun and make sure it is well drained, but not dry. Cultivate the soil, adding plenty of garden compost or other organic material to improve the soil structure and add humus. My winter garden is based on heathers, coloured stemmed trees and shrubs, winter flowering shrubs and climbers and a carpet of bulbs in layers to add and extend the interest well beyond the winter. Once you establish drifts of bulbs, soil cultivations can be very tricky if damage to bulbs is to be avoided therefore it is wise to top dress with a mulch of well rotted garden compost in early winter after clearing up old leaves and weeding, but before any bulbs begin to grow. I also top dress with compost from old tomato growbags, compost from hanging baskets, tubs, pots or seed trays. These all add humus which not only improves the soil but also darkens it which helps to show off the bright colours of shrubs, then flowering bulbs.
Always check your old compost for any vine weevil larvae which often hibernate in pots but are very easy to spot as they are white with a brown head and clean.

It is far better to bring all the plants with winter interest together to create a display with impact and if possible site the border against a dark fence, wall or evergreen hedge.

The winter season

In past years the winter garden began its season in late autumn as other plants in the garden were going into dormancy. The recent climatic changes brought about by global warming effects have given rise to an extended season for many plants. We now get roses and geraniums up to December, though not this year. The autumn leaf fall now happens in early winter and yellow Winter Jasmine begins to flower in October. It makes a beautiful Christmas table decoration combined with red carnation (purchased.)
Spring flowering bulbs no longer wait for spring but are ready to put on a show from January onwards. These really are a bonus for the winter garden.

The show begins when the tree and shrubs lose their leaves to reveal the brilliant red  stems of Cornus sibirica Westonbirt and Mid-winter Fire, bright green stems of Kerria japonica and Leycesteria Formosa and the dazzling orange stemmed willow, Salix britzensis emerging from the ground cover of the black grass, Ophiopogon planiscapus nigrescens. This grass is quite black forming dense ground hugging clumps that give a perfect background to both the bright stems and also a drift of snowdrops. Now white on black; that’s different.
I did have a black stemmed Cornus kesselringii but I am afraid it was a curiosity, not quite a thing of beauty to warm the heart and soul on a cold winter’s day so it has been relegated to the shade border.
If you wish to try some grey stems look out a Rubus giraldianus, but treat it carefully as the vicious thorns make it perfect for any vandal prone areas. It is very popular with local authorities for barrier planting to stop people taking shortcuts over roads. Another excellent tall shrub is the violet willow, Salix daphnoides which has a beautiful grey bloom on its stems.

Specimen trees

As well as shrubs with coloured stems the heather garden is often at its best in winter. It can be enhanced with a magnificent specimen birch tree Betula jaquemontia with pure white bark in a central position within a drift of gold and crimson heather, Calluna vulgaris Beoley Gold and Beoley Crimson. All of these plants are enhanced with the first cold evenings and a bit of frost. The heather garden must include drifts of winter flowering Erica carnea Springwood White and Springwood Pink.
For those in a more frivolous mood in need of the perfect small specimen tree, I recommend the Japanese maple Acer palmatum Sangokaku and although it is not cheap, it will not disappoint. After the vivid colour of the autumn leaves fall off the bright wine red stems are brilliant in sunshine.
Climbing plants and wall trained shrubs can be grown on all fences and walls to add beauty, colour, scent and a dark background. The winter flowering yellow Jasminum nudiflorum is superb at this time of year.

Winter scent

For a strong scent try the winter flowering Viburnum fragrans or the variety V. bodnantense Dawn, but for a subtle perfume the yellow flowers of the Chinese Witch Hazel, Hamamelis mollis are very welcome. The latter also has excellent autumn colour.

Spring arrives in February

The winter garden would be incomplete without a heavy planting of spring flowering bulbs drifted in amongst the shrubs. The show starts in February when the Aconites, Snowdrops and Hellebore all compete with each other to see who can flower first, followed by the Crocus species. The large Crocus hybrids flower a week or so later, but what a fantastic display they make.
Snowdrops and dogwood make an excellent combination as does the black grass with either.


In March there is always the occasional warm spring day that brings out the best from the flowering bulbs, and then we know that winter is past. Large drifts of brilliant crocus give way to the first early Narcissi and daffodils. February Gold usually leads this group, though in Scotland more often in March. Above the daffodils, the Kerria japonica now puts on its show of yellow flowers for a few weeks, before the first of the tulips, underplanted amongst the cornus push up and open into the sun.
At the end of March the buds on the shrubs will start to grow, so now is the time to prune them back to a stool just above ground level to encourage the growth of strong young stems that have the brightest colouring. Assist this growth with a light dressing of nitrogenous fertilizer, but only after the flowering bulbs have finished. However I do not prune back the Kerria or Leycesteria. These get a light pruning after flowering by removing some older shoots back to decent fresh young growth.
Although the coloured stems have been pruned and the early spring bulbs are finished, it is still possible to use this border for a further show of summer flowering scented lilies. These are quite tall and grow through the shrubs into the light to flower. All these plants seem to work well together without any overcrowding.
The show goes on.


Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Garden Trees


I think I first became aware of the beauty and majesty of mature trees when I worked at Camperdown Park during my gardening apprentice days. There was a wide range of  broad leaved trees all now mature and a great mix of huge conifers, (Wellingtonias and Cedars) around the park, the big house and in the pinetum, which runs alongside the golf course first tee. There was a great pride by gardeners, groundsmen and foresters in their heritage and we younger apprentices were always being challenged to, “Name that tree” to see if we were learning anything. We would be in deep trouble if we did not know about our own Dundee weeping elm, the Ulmus glabra camperdownii and know the exact spot of the original tree now protected with a wee bit fence.
Dundee has a fantastic collection of trees of every kind inherited from the days of the Jute Barons, Scottish plant explorers, wealthy private estates and especially Camperdown Park awarded to Admiral Adam Duncan for defeating the Dutch Navy in 1797. The estate forester at the time, David Taylor found the Camperdown elm growing wild and now it is planted all over the world.
There are beautiful examples of mature specimens of oak, lime, beech, walnut, sweet chestnut, cedars, Douglas fir and even the more exotic Monkey Puzzle, Incense cedar and eucalyptus found all over Dundee, as well as those unusual forms of weeping ash, weeping oaks and upright oaks and hornbeam.
As much as I loved all of these trees, I was never going to have enough room in my small garden for even one of them, so my arboricultural plantings needed to be of a more modest nature.

Small Garden Trees

My first garden could only take a very small tree so I wanted one that would flower. At this time there was an avenue in Camperdown Park known as the Laburnum Walk which was very impressive in spring. So that was my choice, a Laburnum.
Everything was fine for a couple of years till the main stem got girdled with canker. I was about to lose my first tree, but a journeyman gardener suggested I remove some of the healthy branches and use them to perform a bridge graft over the cankered area. My first lesson in grafting worked a treat and saved my tree. I was now ready for another small tree.
I just love cherry blossom and if you can get one that is scented what more can you want. Prunus Amanogawa has these attributes and grows upright so is easily accommodated in most gardens. Gaining confidence I had an urge to go evergreen.
The huge Camperdown conifers were very stately but I just did not have room for a cedar, monkey puzzle or Wellingtonia, but I could manage a small upright golden yew, Taxus baccata fastigiata aurea. Later on I would acquire a whole range of conifers all of modest proportions suited to both small and medium sized gardens.
My favourites at this moment are Thuja occidentalis Rheingold and the dwarf form of Weymouth pine, Pinus strobus nana, and every garden can find room for at least one dwarf Pinus mugo.

Planting trees is for the long term so it is very advisable to do some research with gardening books in your library, or at a local garden centre or for the more modern gardener with a computer go onto Google. You will soon come across those trees you really like and of a size to suit your own garden.
In the past too many people just went for the cheapest available and ended up with a Leyland cypress and globally creating such a nuisance that laws needed to be introduced to tackle the problem.

Many of my garden trees started off as dot plants in a flower bed designed to add height and contrast to the flat, but bold colour display of Begonias and geraniums. Eucalyptus,  Cordylines and the date palm, Phoenix canariensis are perfect in summer flower beds, but in autumn when the summer flowers are past what do you do with these dot plants.
I always find a home for them somewhere, but remember with global warming they may survive our milder winters and put on a fair bit of growth.
Every ten to twenty years we get a bad winter, like last year, which really tests the hardiness of garden plants. My eucalyptus tree, now over 50 foot tall, got quite a fright and shed a few leaves, but it has survived. The young Cordyline just a ten foot baby survived unscathed, but my exotic date palm got cut down to ground level. It is still alive, just, so time will tell if the crown will yet again grow into another brilliant specimen. Never be too quick to give up on plants that have been frosted. Often they can grow again from the base.
If there is room in the small garden find space for a lilac which will be covered in white or lilac scented flowers in early summer. They do not grow too big.

It is sometimes difficult to distinguish a small tree from a large bush. Cotoneaster frigidus grows the same height as the lilac, but is more of a tall shrub. Then another very tall shrub or small tree is the Eucryphia Rostrevor. There is an absolute beauty in Camperdown Park near the pinetum covered in white flowers in late summer. It has a broadly columnar habit and can reach 30 feet or so depending on soil, shelter and climate.

Specimen trees

Sometimes the small garden can get a boost with a particularly good form of tree planted centrally in a lawn or other conspicuous spot.
The small garden can use the graceful silver grey willow leaved pear, Pyrus salicifolia pendula, or if there is more space the dazzling white stemmed birch, Betula jacquemontii. Then for a bright golden splash of colour all summer plant a Robinia frisia, but remember it needs good drainage.
Another good specimen tree is the weeping birch, Betula pendula youngii. It is very graceful and quite small but extra height can be encouraged in its young growing stages. Buy a young specimen and train the main growing stem up a very tall cane for a few years. I got mine over twelve feet before I let it grow as a weeping tree.
An excellent flowering specimen tree with an architectural shape is the Japanese Mount Fuji cherry, Prunus Shirotae. It is outstanding in full blossom.
Some tree species have columnar growing forms that do not take up too much space, at least in the early years. The upright Cypress oak, Quercus robur fastigiata , (several along Riverside Drive), is very majestic and quite similar to the upright form of hornbeam, Carpinus betulus fastigiata.

It is the larger gardens that have the space to indulge in the finest tree specimens from the modest Liquidambers to the weeping silver lime, Tilia petiolaris. Now that will make a statement, but then, so will a perfect specimen of the blue Atlas cedar, Cedrus atlantica glauca allowed to retain its branches down to ground level.

Apologies for all the inclusion of the boring bits, (botanical names), but if you want to make sure you get the correct plant you will need its proper botanical name. Plants usually only have one botanical name but numerous common names that differ depending on where you live.

Tree Care

It is very important that you are aware of just how big your tree will grow to on maturity so you can plant it with due regard to any future problem.
If trees are planted for shelter or screening around boundaries keep them well away from your neighbours property, and make sure they cannot block street lighting columns, road signs, and site lines at road junctions.
There is healthy debate on how close trees should be planted to property and different bodies give different views. Some say the distance should be from one to one and a half times the trees ultimate height from the base of the property. However trees all vary, and some are very little problem, whereas others such as willow and poplar should be kept at least twice the ultimate tree height and not near any known land drains as they have strong root systems that will seek out any available water.
Trees planted too close to buildings can be a big problem in dry spells as they will extract moisture from an already dry soil. On a shrinkable clay this can cause the ground to heave once the rains return. If any foundations are not up to scratch building walls can crack.
Now you know the pitfalls you can select your specimens with more confidence.