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 !!!


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