Thursday, 27 October 2011

End of the Growing Season


 Garden tasks continue throughout every season. As soon as the summer ends, autumn tasks take priority. We need to save perennial plants for another year, e.g. Begonias and gladioli, propagate geraniums to retain good varieties for next year and plant up some spring flowering plants such as Iceland poppies. Harvesting crops continues with grapes and apples, and still plenty of vegetables from the allotment.

Lift tubers and corms

Both gladioli and tuberous begonias have been brilliant this year, seemingly unaffected by the lack of warmth in summer and more rain than we need or want. However their season is now over and the tubers and corms should be lifted and dried out for safe storage over winter. I retain the dry soil that falls off them to cover them in their polystyrene boxes kept in my frost free garage. The gladioli get cleaned up and all the small bulbils removed. Any that are a decent size get retained for the next year when they are planted thickly like a row of peas. They may not flower the first year, but will bulk up to a small corm for flowering the next year.


Geranium cuttings are taken before the cool weather kills off the flowers as I need to know which variety is which. Take shoots about three inches long by breaking them cleanly at a joint and removing the lower leaves otherwise they will lose too much moisture. They really only need one or two small terminal leaves, and I never use rooting hormone as they root very easily. Insert about four or five around the edge of a seed pan and place them in a light and warm but not sunny place.
They should root after a few weeks and be ready for potting up in early winter.
Impatiens, (Busy Lizzies) can be propagated from cuttings now before they die off in the cold weather. I take shoots about three inches long removing the lower leaves and stick them together in narrow jars filled with water. They seem to enjoy this and root quickly into the water. Once they are well rooted, remove them and pot them up. They can be overwintered on a windowsill where they will flower as the perfect house plant.
Saskatoon seeds sown outdoors in cellular seed trays a few weeks ago, after a period of six weeks in the fridge have started to germinate. This was not planned, and if they continue to germinate they will have to be overwintered in my cold greenhouse otherwise the young seedlings may suffer from frosts.


Iceland poppies grown from home saved seed and potted up in early summer can now be planted out where they are to flower in spring. I plant mine on steep banks where the drainage is excellent and I have naturalised drifts of tulips. Although you cannot see where the tulips are, and may chop through a few, they are very robust and don’t seem to come to any harm. They blend in very well with the poppies.
Wallflowers grown from seed are very slow to bulk up so I will wait another week before they get lifted and planted out in the spring flower beds and tubs.

Harvest glasshouse crops

Greenhouse grapes Flame, my red seedless and Perlette, the white seedless were quite early to ripen and have now all been harvested. They were remarkably sweet and juicy despite the lack of sunshine, though Perlette suffered a fair bit of split skins which allowed botrytis to form.
I am now picking the Black Hamburg which fortunately ripens slowly over a long period so they keep me supplied with grapes right up to December. Although I never thin them they are still quite large, very black, juicy and sweet. Thinning grapes in our Scottish climate can risk infection from botrytis, so I never take that risk, and always allow them ample ventilation to keep the air flowing freely around the bunches.

Take care of house plants

Phalaenopsis orchids are now budding up, so they will get more water and feeding to encourage a strong healthy flower spike. They seem to love the warm moist atmosphere in our bathroom where the sun warms up the room through frosted glazing.
Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) bulbs can now be potted up for flowering in winter. Plant them in a pot just a wee bit wider than the bulb and leave half the bulb above the compost. They can flower in about ten weeks after potting up so they may be in flower for Christmas. The flower is produced before the leaves which emerge much later.
Christmas cactus, (Zygocactus) will soon be showing some evidence of flower buds, so as soon as they start to show colour, after their long dormant period over summer, commence watering to bring the plants into growth. They often flower from mid November to mid December, and sometimes put on a display twice in the same season.


Thursday, 20 October 2011



Nearly every garden has a corner or border in deep shade, or ground under trees that presents a problem of just what to do with it. Its attractiveness and success can depend on your level of gardening knowledge or research. Today the internet can just about solve every garden problem once you learn how to search with text, images or even video.
There is no need to have a dull corner just because the area is shaded. A wee bit of research will reveal a host of plants suitable for all kinds of shade, flowering all year round, or having bright or interesting foliage. The shaded border provides a good challenge to test our gardening skills.
My first experience of tackling a shady problem was back in the early seventies when I bought my first house in a village called Bromyard in Herefordshire. It had an eighteen foot tall thorn hedge down one side separating our garden from the farmers freshly ploughed field and also spoiling my view of the Malvern hills. Being a lot younger then with more brawn than brain, the hedge was quickly dug out and I acquired a nice pile of potassium rich woodash. How was I to know that forty sheep were to escape from another field and wandering around the grassy field headland soon found my garden. I had not yet erected a fence. Early one quiet Sunday morning they all piled in just as the wife was trying to hang up her washing. I can still hear her screams. I think I got a bigger fright than the sheep. We were both fresh from the city (St. Mary’s) and did not know much about country life.
Next to the hedge was a forty foot oak tree casting shade over a large section of garden and I did not really know what to put under it. I had a strong spade, a sharp saw and any amount of horticultural energy so that tree was destined to follow the hedge. However the sheep episode made me think again, so the tree was spared and I had to apply my training to select suitable plants for this dry shaded area.
That summer we got a long hot spell and I spent many a pleasant hour in the shade of my oak tree.

Dry shade and wet shade

That area was a dry shaded area especially once the tree developed its canopy and the foliage absorbed any soil moisture available. Also the canopy tends to direct falling rain to its perimeter so the ground around the trunk is often quite dry. Some improvements can be made by removing some lower branches from the trees and adding compost or used growbags to the soil and cultivating it in lightly. A bark mulch will also help to retain some moisture.
Shaded areas can also be wet if there is no sunshine getting in to dry up the ground, or the garden is at the bottom of a slope or subject to poor drainage. Improvements can be made again with compost, or putting in some drains provided you have somewhere to take the water.  Each situation will demand a different range of plants. Plant selection will also need to consider exposure to frost, wind, drainage and type of soil as well as density of the shade.

Types of plants for shady borders

Some plants are happy in deep shade while others need some dappled sunshine, and many bulbous plants such as snowdrops, chionodoxa and anemone blanda get full sunshine in late winter and spring under the canopy of deciduous trees then die down and go dormant when the canopy closes over. This contrasts with Cyclamen hederifolium which flowers in late summer and autumn under trees then produces its leaves in autumn to enjoy the light when the trees are losing their leaves.
Variegated shrubs such as Euonymus fortune and Lonicera Baggesons Gold can really brighten up a shady border, but as the variegation reduces the plants green chlorophyll and ability to grow they are better in partial shade.
Many evergreens from holly, laurels and dwarf conifers to skimmia will grow happily in the shade.

Dry shade

Euonymus, mahonia, lonicera Baggesons Gold, most cotoneasters and epimediums will all thrive, and for ground cover some sedums and the variegated Lamium White Nancy is very eye catching. Japanese maples like dappled shade.

Wet Shade

Provided the ground is not a bog choose from a wide range of cornus, kerria, cotoneasters and skimmia, and as long as the moist ground drains ok choose some of the flowering camelias, rhododendrons, azaleas and pieris. For ground cover try trilliums, variegated ivy, hostas, bergenias, colombines and astilbe. Bamboo and New Zealand flax are also quite striking in form.
Some shade loving plants such as the Himalayan blue poppy like a moist but free draining soil.

Dundee Botanical Gardens

Many examples of shade loving plants and all with labels to identify them, in both dry and moist soil can be seen in Dundee Botanical Gardens, and if you visit the gardens you can also pop in to see my art exhibition running from today, Tuesday 19th October to Monday 31st October.
As a special treat on my opening day I will be offering a free glass of my new Saskatoon wine produced from this years berries. Although less than three months old it is very pleasant. It will improve after one year, and be a lot better after two, but will really be fantastic after three, if any bottles reach that stage. I think this may be the first Saskatoon wine produced in the UK.


Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Autumn Clean Up


Gardeners, farmers and growers all need to pay close attention to the weather to determine the best times to carry out tasks. Soil cultivation, weed control, planting and sowing all need the right conditions and 2011 has proved that we can get it wrong very frequently. There has been no normality about this years weather, but I remember last years autumn was so wet and the winter so early that there was no chance to get the winter digging completed by Christmas. So this year I thought I would make an early start with the autumn clean up, land cultivations and other autumn seasonal tasks.
The end of summer in the garden for me is marked by putting my sun lounger into storage, normally in the middle of September. This year it had been so little used that it went into storage at the beginning of the month. How many people expected the summer to arrive at the end of September and run into October. However, it is brilliant to be enjoying lunch on the patio in warm sunshine and still marvel at the last of the flowers still determined to bloom while they can, and I can casually plan my autumn clean up.

Planting and sowing

Spring cabbage April was sown a few weeks ago and after struggling through attacks of slugs, caterpillars, vine weevils and pigeons are now ready for planting out. They will need to be strong as they will face more attacks from rootfly maggots, more pigeons and clubroot. However the net will protect them from pigeons and I have collars to go around the stems to prevent rootflies from laying eggs next to them and hopefully my rotation will keep them a fair distance from any clubroot infected areas.
Land left vacant after harvesting sweet corn, salads, French beans, broad beans and my early strawberries will be green manured with a sowing of clovers. I had previously used mustard as it is fast and effective, but is also prone to clubroot so not good for a healthy rotation.
Saskatoon berries harvested in early August were crushed and washed to extract the seed and remove the flesh which contains germination inhibiting hormones, then placed in the fridge for six weeks. I usually place the seed between two sheets of moist kitchen roll to prevent them drying out, and keep checking them for moisture levels and botrytis. They have now been sown in cellular trays and placed outdoors in a cool shaded spot for the winter. I will protect them from mice and birds.

Harvesting and storing

Onion Hytech harvested a few weeks ago has dried out just nicely so I have now roped them for easy storing in the garage. I am amazed that my one packet of seed produced so many quite large onions in a very wet and cool summer.
Apples are being harvested as they ripen. Discovery and Oslin have both been picked and consumed as they need to be eaten fresh. Red Devil have been picked and stored in a cool airy garage, but my Fiesta, Red Falstaff and Bramley are still hanging on so there is no rush to pick them.
My Pear tree has been grafted with two new varieties (Beurre Hardy and the Christie) though I left one branch of Comice and one of Conference to draw up the sap which helps the grafts to grow. Comice was wiped out by scab in the wet weather and Conference foliage was shredded in the gales. The tree decided it could not afford to ripen my lovely crop so the fruit all fell off.

Weeds and leaves and compost

This is the last chance to tackle the weeds before winter. Annual weeds, eg groundsel can be composted before it sets seeds, but bin any perennial weeds.
Leaves have started to fall very early. This is not an early autumn but more the result of bad weather conditions earlier in the season. Many trees such as Whitebeam have lost all their leaves without any autumn colour. All these leaves can be composted. My mature eucalyptus tree has been shedding leaves all summer, but still managed plenty of regrowth, so hopefully it will be strong enough to face the winter.

Straggly shrubs and roses

This is a good time to prune or tie in those shrubs that have grown straggly. Many climbing roses have put on excellent growth which will ripen and flower next year so get them tied in before the winter winds begin. Pruned shoots can be shredded and composted.

Lawns and paths

As the grass growth begins to slow down in October it is a good time to start any lawn renovation work to keep it in good health. A nice level well maintained lawn is an asset that enhances the appearance of beds, borders, trees and houses, but for an area where kids can play in and even make their daisy chains, it does not need a high level of attention as long as it is not liable to flooding.
However if you wish the golf fairway to bowling green standard you can achieve that effect with a wee bit of work to create a free draining, close mown, (in stripes) healthy but not too vigorous, deep green sward, free from moss, disease and weeds.
Kill out any moss with a dressing of lawn sand or water on a week solution of sulphate of iron, (one heaped dessert spoon per two gallon can). I also use this to kill moss on tarmac drives or other paths. The dead moss will turn black, then after a few weeks rake out the dead moss with a springbok rake. The moss can go on the compost heap. Now aerate the lawn by spiking with a hollow tine aerator or a garden fork pushing holes four inches deep every six inches or so. These two tasks are quite hard work, but keep going. Now put on a top dressing and brush it into the holes. This is also hard work but both you and the lawn will recover and be better next year. The top dressing will have a slow release fertiliser to feed the grass throughout the winter.
You will most likely need a wee malt whisky.
Next year in spring check for weeds and spray as necessary. If the lawn is strong and healthy you should not be troubled by diseases such as red thread, fusarium patch or fairy rings.


Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Autumn is for apples


Autumn has appeared and the Scottish apple harvest has started at a fast pace. We may not have a high acreage of commercial orchards yet, (if any), but there is a massive interest in planting apple trees from the small garden scale to small estates, schools, edible landscape groups increasing the biodiversity and in renewing old orchards.
There is a resurgence of interest in trying to achieve a healthy lifestyle by getting a plot of land or garden to grow some fresh fruit and vegetables. The smells, tastes and flavours of home grown produce picked when fully ripe and consumed within a few seconds to a few hours is an experience to savour. Supermarket produce just cannot compare.
Many varieties of top fruit grown extensively in Scotland are now almost extinct. Renewed interest in our heritage has focussed on retrieving whatever remnants of this industry can be found and bringing them back into production. These old varieties had a flavour to die for, but may have matured unevenly, maybe not handled well with mechanised harvesting and packing equipment and liable to the occasional blemish, so went unloved by the major supermarkets. However people are now buying from farmers markets and the small grocer so heritage apples can supply these outlets and give the discerning public an apple to enjoy.
Apple, pear and plum orchards once flourished in our fertile Carse of Gowrie supplying local markets, but trade is now done on a global scale with fresh apples and pears coming into supermarkets from all over the world. This trade is driven by profit with appearance, marketability, cheap to produce and good shelf life given higher priority than flavour, texture and fragrance.
I can understand why young kids take no pleasure in eating an apple a day if it was not home grown. For the last five months all my apples came from the supermarket as I am only self sufficient in apples for seven months, ie. end of August to end of March.

The first apples ripen

However at the end of August my first Arbroath Pippin, also known as the Oslin was ready. It was sheer heaven with a very distinctive aromatic flavour. They must be eaten frequently as they do not store well, so I only grow a small batch. These are quickly followed by another early, Discovery, and again a very tasty and distinctive apple. James Grieve is very popular in Scotland, but I cannot say it is one of my favourites.
Fiesta will soon be ready then Red Falstaff and then my best late for storage is Red Devil. Do not eat this one fresh from the tree as it takes a few weeks of storage to be at its best.
Last spring I grafted three new varieties (Pearl, Park Farm Pippin and Lord Roseberry), onto my old James Grieve and they have all taken beautifully, so I look forward to next year when maybe one of them may give me an apple or two.
The apple crop this year is excellent. The spring was good so pollination was perfect, then the wet summer gave us good growth and big apples. The crop needed a serious thinning just after the June drop in mid July. However wet weather increased the incidence of brown rot, then more gales dropped a few more apples, but I still have a huge crop. Just a pity we couldn’t get a bit more sunshine to sweeten up the fruit, (they would be perfect for the supermarket)

No pears this year

Last year was so wet, (almost as bad as this year) that my Comice pear tree got totally infected with scab wiping out the whole crop as well as the foliage. It had to go, so I looked around for a good flavoured pear that had disease resistant leaves. Glendoick Garden Centre came up with an excellent Beurre Hardy and well known horticulturist and fruit grower Willy Duncan came up with The Christie. Grafts from these two have now replaced most of my Comice with growth so strong and sturdy that I think they will fruit next year.
I covered the topic of grafting last March, and archived it on my blog (scottish artist and his garden blogspot) for anyone interested in trying it out to replace a poor variety with a good one known to do well in this area. It sounds very specialised and technical, but is amazingly easy as the small grafts are just itching to leap into growth at any cost. It is hard to fail, even with my broken pen knife, a plastic supermarket bag cut into strips to tie them with and some Vaseline to seal the cut ends if you can’t get grafting wax. Just make sure the sap is rising (usually about flowering time) so the bark can separate easily when cut to allow you to push the graft in.

Scottish apple events

Megginch Castle is host to a guided tour by local apple expert Andrew Lear showing visitors around an old orchard being revitalised. Megginch was home to The Bloody Ploughman apple, named after the tragic incident when a ploughman was caught stealing some apples to feed his starving family. He was shot on the spot dropping his apples. An apple tree grew up from one of the seeds producing an apple with blood red skin. You can also see some excellent heritage pears including Black Worcester, Catilac and Jargonelle. Tour begins at 2pm on Wednesday 5th October as part of the Carse of Gowrie Orchard Festival starting on the 1st October 2011.

Scottish Orchards run by John Hancox aims to promote apple tree planting in local communities and schools to give youngsters the opportunity to plant, grow, harvest and taste fresh home grown Scottish apples. Mini orchards are being established in schools all over Scotland including our own Kingspark School. More information at

Abundance Edinburgh is a group of volunteers taking action on food waste. They arrange the harvest of apples and other fruit from gardens or the wild then some get converted into jams and chutneys for redistribution to local charities.

Scottish cider is now being produced locally at Cairn o Mohr with apples harvested from the Carse of Gowrie and another cidermaker, Thistly Cross,  has started up in East Lothian making award winning ciders blending local harvested apples with strawberries.

The future for Scottish grown apples looks very rosy.