Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Cut Flowers


 I love to see an attractive garden with a show of flowers in some part in every month of the year. This is quite possible with a wee bit of knowledge of plants and some careful planning. However the garden is part of the home so many of the flowers end up in a vase, table decoration or grown in a pot for a colourful windowsill.
This is where I am often very unpopular as many people feel that flowers are for picking. They certainly do brighten up the home, but at the expense of my outdoor displays, so I have always set aside a part of my garden or allotment specifically to grow cut flower for the house. This saves the loss to my outdoor flower beds.
The range of plants suitable for cut flowers is immense and can cover every month in the year. Suitable flowers can be tall like gladioli for a bold impressive vase or small like pansies for a table decoration in a small bowl using oasis to keep them moist. The vase or bowl is often enhanced with some greenery using foliage from plants not necessarily linked to the cut flower.

Flowers by the season

Spring belongs to the flowering bulbs of daffodils, narcissus, tulips and iris.
In summer there is plenty to choose from with roses, carnations, gladioli, sweet peas, dahlias, lilies and chrysanthemums.
Autumn cut flowers include the later chrysanthemums that may need some protection, Michaelmas daisies, and again roses that just keep flowering if they can get a bit of warm sunshine.
In winter we might begin to struggle a bit for a wide range, but shrubs such as Viburnum fragrans can help us out for table decorations, and some plants such as perpetual carnations given some greenhouse conditions will fill the gap. A good table decoration for Christmas can be made with a few red carnations in oasis surrounded with yellow jasmine. Freesias are very welcome in winter, but need a glasshouse for protection. Late blooming chrysanthemums can be grown in pots or wire baskets outdoors then brought inside under glass to complete their flowering up till Christmas.

Herbaceous and annuals

Many herbaceous plants are tall and strong and will last well when used for cut flower. Flag iris are my favourite as the flowers are bright, bold and scented. Pyrethrum and Doronicums are for the early season and phlox, Japanese anemone and michaelmas daisies for late summer.
Good annual plants grown from seeds include snapdragons, larkspur, helichrysum, cornflower, sweet William and the scented stocks.

Bulbs and corms

Daffodils, narcissus and tulips can usually be found a spot out of the way under some shrubs or even under a fruiting bramble. Their seasons work well together. I grow my alliums and lilies under the shrubs of my coloured stemmed winter border and my Azalea beds where they all live in a happy association.
Many Daffodil and tulip bulbs start off in pots in late summer to be forced outdoors then brought under glass to complete their flowering. If the pots are small they are fine indoors, but sometimes the flowers are cut if the pots are too big.
Freesias can either be used as pot grown or cut flower started as seed or small bulbs. They will need a glasshouse but the blooms make excellent cut flowers with a heady scent.


Roses have a long season with National Trust a deep red with perfectly formed heads, but unfortunately no scent. Ingrid Bergman, another red, is vigorous, produces many flowers and is scented. Margaret Merril is a white with pink blush and scented, as is Pure Bliss a pale pink rose. Golden Celebration is a good yellow strong grower with scent. 
Chrysanthemums have a wide range of colours available and may be grown as sprays or as single blooms on a stem. Sprays are easy to grow and require no disbudding, but decorative, incurves and reflex blooms need summer disbudding to leave the centre bud to develop into a large flower. I grow mine in a two foot wide bed and support the flowers with six inch mesh fencing wire held firm between four posts. As the plants grow the wire is raised up the end posts. You can plant out the bed as one plant in each six inch square mesh and grow the flower on one stem
without stopping the main shoot. This will make it flower earlier than one which is stopped and branched.
are long lasting and many have a deep clove scent. Grow them in a bed or single row and support the flowers with canes. Border carnations and pinks are grown outdoors for summer flowering, but perpetual flowering carnations can be flowered all year round in a glasshouse.
are excellent as a cut flower but take up a lot of space. If you grow them for a garden display there is usually plenty of flowers for a good show and cut flowers. There is a wide range of colours and types though

decoratives and cactus are best for cut flower.
are great value and very easy to grow. I add a few new colours every year, but save the corms from year to year. After autumn cleaning of lifted corms I select out all the biggest bulbils and sow them in a broad row to grow into new corms. Many flower in their second year.
Sweet Peas
are very versatile. They can be grown up a six foot net, on a tall fence or traditionally in a double row supported with six foot canes. For a garden display they are best grown from seed in autumn or early spring, tipped after two to four leaves then after planting out left to grow unchecked. For larger blooms for cut flower grow then on a single stem tied to a cane and pinch out all tendrils and sideshoots. Sweet peas grow best a well prepared double dug trench, manured in both spits. Give a dressing of fertiliser before planting and more feeding in mid summer.
Always cut off all seed pods as they sap the strength of the plant at the expense of flowers.


Wednesday, 24 August 2011

A bed of Roses


If your garden was very small and you could only grow a few plants, there is a good chance that a rose would be selected. They have perfect flowers, scent, are easy to grow with a wee bit of knowledge and can last for years.
Last February I covered some basic thoughts on roses as a pleasant way to brighten up the long cold winter.
Previous articles can be seen on my gardening blog at
We are now in mid summer, according to the calendar I believe, and the roses are back in full flower again for the second flush. The first flush had a lot of promise and was quite brilliant for a week or so, but it is hard to put on a fantastic show in a Scottish monsoon.
It certainly sorts out the favourites, and tests their ability to survive blackspot.
I have been fairly ruthless in grubbing out anything that is prone to disease, though it is hard to lose some of your favourites. Margaret Merril is a gorgeous white with terrific scent, but does get a bit of blackspot. She is too good to lose so I resort to some chemical spraying, (Systhane containing Myclobutanil) whenever there is a couple of dry days in between showers.

Types of roses

Demand for roses has kept the breeders busy for years. We now have every colour we need and a rose for every situation. They can be planted in beds as bushes, borders as taller shrubs grown with minimal pruning, as climbers and ramblers along fences, pergolas or trained up walls, and for the very small garden there is a wide choice of patio roses. These may be small, but they are perfectly formed.
Breeders must now turn there attention to bringing back more scent in new roses. Scent was a low priority in the rush to extend a new range of colours, but now people have patios and spend time relaxing around the garden, scent is a must have. The other breeders priority must now be to create a plant with health and vigour. If the changing climate is to be milder and wetter, this will favour the build up and spread of diseases, and as most effective chemicals have been withdrawn, the gardener has no means of combating disease. The only answer left is to dig out any plants prone to disease and only grow resistant types. This does mean the loss of many past favourites such as Golden Showers, Blue Moon and the old English shrub rose L D Braithwaite which had lovely deep red flowers.

Favourite bush and shrub roses

This is always a personal thing as everyone has their own favourites and as roses last for years it is not always feasible to keep trying new varieties.
National Trust is my best red rose with perfectly shaped flowers held upright on strong healthy shoots. However it has no scent, but E H Morse has great scent and excellent deep red flowers. Another great red rose is the very vigorous and highly scented Ingrid Bergman.
Julie Goodyear is my best yellow with Arthur Bell nearly just as good, but Julie has the vigour and more flowers. Graham Thomas, a tall shrub, has taken over from Golden Showers as my yellow climber, as it is not defoliated with blackspot. I am very sorry to lose Golden Showers, as it had brilliant deep golden flowers, and was very prolific but with climate change and withdrawal of chemicals it could not survive blackspot attacks.
Great pink roses are numerous from Silver Lining to Perfecta (a very old but reliable variety), then for scent the deep carmine Wendy Cussons is hard to beat. For the perfect bloom choose Myriam if you can find it. Dearest is a great pink floribunda. Pink shrub rose favourites include Lavender Lassie, Ispahan and Wisley.
Iceberg was always my favourite white floribunda and Margaret Merril a brilliant scented white hybrid tea.
Picadilly is hard to beat as a bicolour and has healthy disease free foliage and Rose Gaujard a lovely pink/white bicolour
New roses are prolific, so todays favourites will quickly be replaced by another, but it is always good to try out something new.

Favourite Climbers

My best red climbing rose at present is Dublin Bay, but it has no scent. Climbing Ena Harkness is a terrific red with well formed and scented hybrid tea shaped flowers. As a bush rose its failing was always a weak head which hung down. This trait is a distinct advantage in a climbing rose as you can look up into the full blooms.
Gertrude Jekyll has to be my best pink with very scented flowers with the Old English rose shape.
Climbing Iceberg is a great white, but suffers mildew too much, so it will never compete with the very old favourite Mme Alfred Carrier. This is very vigorous and needs a lot of space to grow. This noisette rose was bred in France and introduced in 1879 and is still in great demand.

Summer cultivation

Dead heading once flowers have finished is essential for appearance as well as preventing the bushes from spending their energy producing seeds at the expense of flowers.
Keep the soil weed free and give a mulch of compost in spring to conserve moisture.
Use a good pesticide and fungicide to prevent any build up of greenfly or diseases. All of these chemicals available at garden centres are now very safe and environmentally friendly.
The pesticides previously available to control all the garden problems are now all off the shelf.
Climbing roses usually benefit from some summer pruning to cut back flowered shoots to a strong bud that will grow and give some late flowers. There is usually a lot of weak and blind shoots that can be removed to allow more light and air into the centre to ripen up remaining shoots.
Tie in any straggling shoots so they do not get broken.


Tuesday, 16 August 2011

A Blaze of Colour


There is just enough warmth and sunshine, in between showers, to bring the best out of the flowers.
Although everything has its season, and some may be short lived, if you grow a wide range of plants, there is always some part of the garden looking fantastic just about all year round. At this time of year we are spoilt for choice. The Shasta daisies have been allowed to spread over a few square metres as they are excellent ground cover. They started off a few years ago as a small box of six plants, but soon multiplied in our alluvial soil. They have now finished flowering but the show continues with the Shirley poppies sown adjacent. They really respond to the warmth of sunshine when it appears for a few hours every three to four days. Still, with an ample supply of rainfall in between, we no longer need to bother getting the garden hose out.

Summer flowers everywhere
The hanging baskets are a blaze of colour with petunias, nemesia, geraniums, Impatiens and lobelia, and tubs and pots have a similar mixture but in different colours.
The main flower bed of Nonstop tuberous begonias just seems to get better each day.
Roses have had their first main flush and are now getting ready for the second flush, but mildew keeps having a go at them. However my huge climbing rose Mme Alfred Carrier continues into her second flush with numerous large white scented blooms. It grows up a trellis fence but I try to keep its height down to about twelve feet, though I know it wants to grow at least twice that height.
If you have a large spare sunny spot and something for it to hang on to this rose will reward you immensely. It may get a wee bit of blackspot, but never too severe.
Gladioli are now in full bloom on my allotment giving it some welcome splash of colour as well as providing ample cut flower for the house. Sweet peas from the allotment add both colour and scent for the house.
The time has come for Anemone Honorine Jobert to take centre stage as the clumps and display get bigger each year.  It really is very eye catching and a favourite for sun, semi shade or even shade and is very reliable and easy to grow.


My gooseberries survived the hard winter, spring gales, early summer thunderstorms, a plague of sawfly caterpillars and the heavy crop was monitored daily with a wee bit of sampling to see how sweet the fruit was before I picked them. Then I noticed the crop slowly disappear over a few days before I could pick the ripe ones. City Road Allotments have a resident family of foxes only ever seen by those few hardy souls who can always be found at dawn when the sun rises. I know of no other pest who would devour my gooseberries before they are fully ripe. They could not reach the lower ones because of the thorns, but did manage to eat half of the berries still on the bush. I thought foxes ate chickens, not gooseberries, and why can’t they have a go at the pigeons while they perch on the cabbages having a picnic.
However although they were very partial to Invicta, a large golden sweet juicy berry, quite delicious I recall from last year, even though the bush is thick with vicious thorns, they did not bother my other red gooseberry on trial for disease resistance. It is a mildew resistant thornless type so easy to harvest, but apparently not tasty enough for foxes. Scientists at James Hutton should look at this one again for flavour.
Autumn raspberries are late this year, and only just started to crop. Berries are not very sweet as they need more sunshine to increase sugar content. Summer raspberries that have finished fruiting can be pruned any time now by removing the old fruiting canes but leaving this years canes which will fruit next year.
Strawberries that have finished fruiting can be tidied up. Cut off the old leaves down to the top of the crown, and remove them together with any straw used to protect the fruit from soil splashing. Only allow the strawberry crop to fruit for three years, and then replace it with new runners saved from the old rows, or buy in new plants during winter.
The strawberry net has been removed to cover the blueberry patch as birds love these just as much as saskatoons which are now finished. Blueberries are now colouring up just nicely, but the crop is not as heavy as last year as the spring gales done them no favour at all.
The compost heap will be getting a fair bit of material as the summer harvest is well under way, so help it to rot down by giving it at least one turning. This is one dirty, unpleasant and hard task so a wee bit of muttering and swearing is permissible and does help the breakdown process to work faster.
Bramble Helen has now started to crop providing fruit for compote, jam and the freezer. So far the fox has not noticed these.


It is very hard to stay one step ahead of nature. The wet years have allowed clubroot to become a major problem with brassicas. We can no longer get Calomel dust and as the spores remain active for up to twelve years, the normal four year rotation has little affect. We can lime the ground ahead of planting, even dust some more into the planting holes and grow the plants in pots during the early stages. This gives a bigger more robust plant a good chance to fight off any attack.
I lost most of my spring planted cauliflower All Year Round to clubroot, so I was determined to give my summer crop a better chance. They all got potted up and regular feeding so I was quite proud of my two rows looking so strong after planting. Nets protected them from pigeons, and I don’t think the fox likes caulis. A week later I was horrified to find half of them wilting. Digging a few of them up, it was not clubroot, but the cabbage rootfly maggots.
We try hard but nature wins in the end.
Next year we must seriously look at pest and disease resistant varieties, though that often means at the expense of flavour.


Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Summer has Arrived


The summer must be here. The sun is shining, not too many clouds, great weather for killing weeds, but it is too hot to work. This is the time to relax on the patio with an ice cold lager and lime as the lilies, now in full bloom waft over the garden. To keep cool while still working the land, many gardeners get into their shorts and give their fair skinned legs a wee airing, but you do not want to see the photos.
Garden problems are beginning to disappear. Weeds are under control, pests have been wiped out, and diseases, mainly mildew, sprayed with a rose fungicide which worked.

Weather on the garden

Now is a good time to assess the damage on those plants that suffered from the hard winter, spring gales and early summer thunderstorms.
Outdoor hardy fuchsias are now growing strongly and are in full bloom.
Cistus shrubs are only just alive though they have been flowering, but there is now no re-growth of buds near the centre, so after a tidy up pruning, they will be monitored to see how they recover. They are not yet off the replacement list.
Cordyline had reached a height of about twelve feet but was wiped out right back to ground level. Previous experience has shown me that they do recover, so I was very pleased to see some new shoots push up from below the ground. They will recover.
Broom, Cytisus praecox, was so badly damaged in the gales it had to be removed.
My mature Eucalyptus has lost half of its foliage and the canopy looks thin, but there is a lot of new young shoots to replace them. They can grow quite rapidly in warm moist conditions.
Courgettes and pumpkins are still on the sick list, after the tops got separated from the roots in the gales, but seem to be trying to make a recovery. Fingers crossed.
Tomatoes have suffered from cold temperatures, cloudy skies and damp weather. Flowers bloom then fall off, foliage has blight, which then gets botrytis. A lot of leaves have had to be removed, weakening the plants, which were prey to an attack of greenfly. This is not their year.
Nature always has a reason to throw up the unexpected. I have no idea why my Hellebores (Christmas rose) have decided to come into flower again. It should be semi dormant as it builds up its strength for its peak flowering period in winter, but now it is trying to compete with the annual Shirley poppies. These were sown in spring from seed saved from last years display.

Summer flowers
The tubs, pots and hanging baskets have now all recovered from the gales and after a fair bit of watering and feeding are looking fantastic. I have a hanging basket just outside each door planted with geraniums, lobelia, impatiens and the deep blue petunias which provide a strong scent when you are close to them.
Tuberous begonias are in full bloom in a large bed at the front of the house. They have never looked better. They are in good soil and get plenty of sun beside a south facing wall.


Maincrop strawberries are now finished, but the perpetual variety, Malling Opal has now started and should continue to fruit till the autumn.
Apple and pear grafts are growing very strongly, especially, pear Beurre Hardy and The Christie, both of which seem to be forming fruit buds along the base of long shoots. If we get a long warm dry autumn these shoots will ripen up and I may get a few fruit of these new varieties in 2012.
Fig bushes suffered a lot of die back in the winter and a lot of young fruit buds were killed, so this year’s crop will be a bit meager, but it has made a lot of growth that could ripen up in autumn for a bumper year in 2012, hopefully.


Sowing summer salads has continued, with lettuce, radish, and golden ball turnip whenever some spare ground becomes available.
Spring cabbage April was sown in pots as club root risk is too high for an outdoor sowing in a seed bed. They germinated very quickly and will soon be potted up into large cellular trays.
Cauliflower All Year Round was planted out for an autumn crop. These were potted up to give them a better chance against clubroot.

Aberdeen Art Fair

The garden and allotment have kept me occupied during the day with planting, sowing, harvesting and preparing produce for the freezer and wine making, but evenings have seen me back at the easel preparing the last of my new paintings for display at the Aberdeen Arts Fair which runs from Saturday 13th August to Sunday 14th August 2011 at the Music Hall in Union Street.
As well as bold flowers on large box canvases, I will also show some of my latest figure studies including a portrait of Lady Gaga.


Thursday, 4 August 2011

Back to the Land


Allotment life was supposed to be about living the dream. A place for quiet recreation, fresh air, sunshine, an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables, then after a wee bit of horticultural exercise and graft, we relax on the patio by our sheds enjoying the scent from the flower border while we have a wee refreshment.
There has not been a lot of leisure time on the land this year. The season has not been in our favour, at least not in the north east of Scotland. The summer did try to appear on more than a couple of occasions, but was rapidly followed by cool and wet conditions.
Those plants of a more tender nature, beans, courgettes, pumpkins, sweet corn and Cape gooseberries have not had a chance.
However, our native weeds have not been deterred and hoeing just seemed to transplant them rather than eradicate them. Still, we plod on as there is always a job to do and hope that sometime soon the sun will return and plant growth will be back to normal. 


Onions are looking really strong this year. The ground had a lot of compost dug in and had been green manured with an early mustard crop. The onions were sown at home on a windowsill in cellular trays then hardened off in my cold greenhouse. The plants germinated in groups of one to four plants per cell, then each cell clump was planted out six to nine inches apart. This close spacing has not held back the onion size. The wet season has caused a few plants to suffer white rot, but these diseased plants were removed as soon as they appeared.
Beetroot, lettuce, radish and spring onions have all grown well and continue to crop with repeated sowings.
Sweet corn is very poor with only half the plants putting up a flowering spike.
Pumpkins and courgettes have been in a state of shock for weeks, though the French beans have now decided to grow.
Cabbage, cauliflower, sprouts and kale have been very mixed. I lost most of the first two through some very serious clubroot fungus, but the others seem to resist it and are putting on excellent growth. Turnips and Swedes are also growing very well in the wet season.
Broad beans have now been harvested, but I am trying another sowing to see if I can catch a late crop. I am also cutting the old plants down to a few inches of ground level to see if they will regrow and give me another crop. Sometimes you get lucky.


Red currants are now in the demijohn, and black currants in the freezer. Some will be for jam, some for compote and some for wine. The bushes can now be pruned. Red currants get side shoots shortened by a third to encourage spurs on the main shoots and blackcurrants get one third to a quarter of older fruited wood removed. You can usually find a strong one year old shoot that you leave as it will produce the best fruit next year.
Bramble Helen is now in full cropping as is the gooseberries and saskatoons. They are all bearing heavy crops and do not seem to be affected by this years weather. It is the beginning of the Saskatoon pie season, though there is plenty for eating fresh off the bush, jam, compote and wine.


This is a time for planning ahead for the next spring flowering display. Wallflower seedlings are now ready for transplanting into rows a foot apart so they can grow on and make a bigger plant for flower beds in October. They get dibbled in at four inch spacings. If you want really good plants you have to grow your own from seed as garden centres will only supply smaller plants in boxes.
However pansies, polyanthus, primroses, myosotis, daisies and Iceland poppies can either be home grown or bought from local garden centres as the plants are usually smaller and easily produced.

Pests, diseases and weed control

The weather affects these just as much as us. Caterpillars have had a great time and greenflies and blackflies had a slow start but are now at epidemic levels. You can only go so far with picking these off. However there are still some chemicals available that will do the job without harming the environment.
Mildew is now a big problem as the chemicals available to the amateur gardener are very weak and continual wet weather means the sprays get washed off before they get a chance to work.

Weed control is at the same stage. Glyphosate is available, quite environmentally friendly and an excellent herbicide, but needs at least two to three days of dry weather to work effectively.
The formulation available to the amateur gardener is about a quarter of the strength of the commercial product used by farmers, growers and local authorities.

Allotment Open Day

The City Road Allotments are having an open day to let the public see our plots.
Refreshments are available and there will be many plants for sale, fresh vegetables, home baking, jams and tablet. Open on Sunday 7th August 2011 from 10. 30am to 2.30pm