Sunday, 24 June 2012

Allotment diary


This is June so it must be summer, I think. To take advantage of every dry day it is necessary to monitor weather forecasts and get on the land in between showers. For those gardeners still in full time employment and having difficulty getting onto the allotment I can only sympathise. It is hard enough to keep on top of planting and sowing, but weeding also needs attention.
Green manures
Some crops such as sweet corn, courgettes, pumpkins, winter cabbage, kale and chrysanthemums do not get planted till early June so there is plenty of time to sow a green manure and get it dug in before planting. This weather has been great for my green manures. Mustard quickly reached the flowering stage, so it has now been trampled down, chopped and dug in. This will be my last sowing of mustard as it is liable to infection with clubroot, so in future I will use clover or other plants for green manuring. One patch of clovers is growing strongly, but not yet in flower so I will give it another couple of weeks to grow before it gets dug in.
The wet weather does seem to favour my cabbages, Brussels sprouts and Kale. Spring cabbage April has been cropping since the end of May and as it is still hearting up will go on for another few weeks. Summer cabbage Golden Acre is growing strongly and winter cabbage January King has now been planted. These, plus Kale and sprouts Wellington have all been given full protection from slugs (pellets), rootfly (mats) and pigeons and cabbage white butterfly (netting), so hopefully growth should be reasonable if my four year rotation has sorted out the clubroot.
Compost for planting and sowing
Gardeners are being discouraged from using peat composts, and for really good reasons, but compost suppliers should try a lot harder to provide us with a suitable alternative. I have been using B&Q Verve which only has 58% peat. What a disaster. It drains very poorly creating a wet stagnant medium which rots plants and seeds. There is not enough air space for drainage. From a sowing of forty French beans only ten germinated. Aronia transplants, grape vine transplants, cabbage and nemesia transplants have all been at deaths door, till I uprooted them and put them into my home made compost based on the John Innes mixture. This has a lot of soil in it and only 25% peat, but it can grow plants. The old formula or a variation based on its principles makes a very good growing medium. It was 7 parts loam, 3 parts peat, 2 parts sand or course grit and some base fertiliser and ground chalk to keep the pH acidity levels nearly neutral.

Sweet corn Plants were raised from seed sown at the end of March on a windowsill. After potting up, the young plants were ready to plant and about a foot tall. They were planted into a freshly dug green manure (mustard) crop in early June. Hope they get a better summer than last year when pollination set was miserable due to lack of warmth.

Cape gooseberries Young home raised plants were also planted in early June on soil which had a green manure crop of mustard dug in. As the weather is still cold and wet I am protecting them with some old glass windows till they get established and I see a return to summer weather.

Chrysanthemums will also benefit from my green manuring efforts. I am growing a new batch of spray flowering plants which do not need disbudding. They all got planted in mid June.

Fruit crops Started to pick my first strawberries at the end of May. I have the early variety Mae under a polythene tunnel. Red and blackcurrants, gooseberries, saskatoons and raspberries are all showing heavy crops to come. Outdoor sweet cherry Cherokee has lost half of its crop in a June drop, probably due to cold weather and lack of sunshine. I have protected the rest of the crop from birds with a net. They just need a return of summer weather to ripen them up.
Grape Solaris is growing strongly on a south fence, though no sign of flowers this year. I can wait another year and keep hoping that this could be my global warming winner. You have to dream.
Allotment plot vacancies The last three poor years with too much rain and not enough sunshine has tested quite a few allotment holders. Turnover has been high and we have now virtually used up our waiting list, so if any other keen gardener wants to live the good life we would like to hear from you at City Road.  We open for visitors both Saturday and Sunday from 11am to noon.
Allotment life is very hard work, but the exercise, fresh air, social environment and an abundance of great fruit, vegetables and flowers gives immense satisfaction.

Plant of the week

Flag Iris has always been one of my early summer favourites. The flowers are big, colourful and most are scented. There are many brilliant varieties to choose from and they are very easy to grow. They are happy in a dry sunny area, don’t need a rich soil, and just lift and replant the clumps every three or four years. I start of new plantings with a bit of decent soil and compost to get them established, and then leave them alone.


Sunday, 17 June 2012

Gardening Scotland at Ingliston


There are two major gardening events in my annual calendar. The Gardening Scotland at Ingliston in Edinburgh is in June and the Camperdown Flower and Food Festival in September. I take stands at both to promote and sell my Scottish saskatoons, but it also gives me the chance to see the best of horticultural products and new plants coming to the market as well as meeting gardening friends. There is such a wide range of great plants that you always come away with something special.
Last year our special purchase was Peony Doreen, and this year Anna chose three very colourful Heucheras and I found some gorgeous deep purple early flowering spray chrysanthemums. I have grown early flowering incurving, reflex and decorative chrysanths, but life is so busy I am now concentrating on sprays so I do not need to spend time disbudding to get those large single heads. I have most colours, but not the deep purple so now I have Jalta and Regal Mist.
The grower, Oska Copperfield Nursery in Leicester also had a very deep mauve from China called Barca Red which was not getting released for another four years. However I did get a full flowering shoot which I will try to find leaf bud sections and see if I can get them to root and grow.
My favourite Arisaema sikokianum from Japan was there in full flower. It is really weird and spooky, but I just love it. It is known as the Circumcised Jack in the Pulpit and starts life as a male plant but changes to female as it matures. One day it will be my choice to bring back.
Binny Plants had a fantastic display of Peonies, but you need to have a few bob in your pocket as they are not cheap with some new ones well over £200 each. However they were gorgeous and perfect for that one off special purchase to add a bit of sparkle to the garden.
The Scottish Begonia Society had a very colourful display of tuberous begonias and instructions on how to grow and propagate them. The large headed types can also be very expensive and are best grown under glass, but there are plenty more compact types suitable for outdoor flower beds.
Rhododendrons and azaleas were on show on many stands including Glendoick Gardens. Ken Cox was on the stand also promoting his new book “Fruit and Vegetables for Scotland”  Three hundred pages with ample pictures showing hands on growing from both amateur and professional gardeners growing their own plants to perfection. This book is a wealth of information covering every fruit and vegetable you need to know about. There is even a great article about this fellow in Dundee growing saskatoons.
I brought back a large bag of peat free compost made from composted sheep wool by Simon at Dalefoot composts. It comes in a range of strengths and looks good, so I will be potting up my young saskatoons in this new medium for showing at Camperdown flower show in September.
Several workshops were arranged each day just outside my stand so I got the full story. It was very interesting to hear Andrew Lear (the Appletree man) talk about the heritage apples, pears and plums which used to grow on the Carse of Gowrie. These old varieties may not be as commercial as those found in supermarkets, but they had flavours far superior to most of those around today.  Andrew is doing his best to find and restore these fruits.
Dundee College Gardeners won a silver gilt award with their Garden of Tranquillity showing excellent landscape skills integrating hard and soft landscaping to create a garden of calm and peace to relax in. Design and use of landscape planting was very impressive.

Plant of the week

Osteospermum is a low growing summer flowering plant that thrives in a sunny border, flower bed or hanging basket. There are hardy types that come up every year provided the winter frosts are not too severe, and the herbaceous ones grown from seed or cuttings and used as annuals. Although many people discard these at the end of the flowering season, if you have a particularly good one, it can be retained for another year by taking cuttings in the autumn and overwintering these on a sunny windowsill. Keep the cutting shaded for the first few weeks till well rooted.
This plant, a native of South Africa, needs full sun for the bright daisy like flower to be at their best.

Painting of the month

Paps of Jura from Port Askaig. A couple of years ago I visited some friends on Islay during the Whisky Festival week at the end of May. We were very fortunate in having a heatwave at the time, though our host Maggie told us it happens all the time. The scenery was breath taking and artistically I came away with photos and ideas for numerous paintings. However the highlight had to be our trip to Ardbeg distillery where a very happy and sociable crowd were celebrating the festival in great form with live music in the yard and the best malt whiskeys at £1 a nip. A trip across the island to Jura taking the ferry from Port Askaig gave me even more images to paint, and another brilliant whisky to sample. It was a fantastic trip that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys a wee dram, some great music and Scottish island landscapes. A wee touch of heaven.


Monday, 11 June 2012

Growing and cooking Herbs


There is always room in a garden or on the allotment for a few herbs. Although they are grown for culinary uses in the kitchen, many of them such as sage, lavender, thyme and rosemary are quite ornamental and very attractive in their own right. Most do not grow very big so you do not need a lot of space to grow a decent range. There is a resurgence of interest in cooking at the moment with emphasis on easily prepared meals that cook quickly as many people do not have time to spend hours in the kitchen preparing meals. The correct use of herbs adds a higher level of flavours to enhance many foods, reducing the need for salt. Most herbs can be harvested and dried for storage.
Many herbs have a medicinal use such as Aloe vera where the jelly like sap is used for burns, insect bites and other skin problems. Others are useful against colds, anxiety or are very good for your health. Parsley is full of iron and vitamins A, C and E.
Some are very fragrant and grown to enjoy the smells or used in potpourri. Rosemary, lavender, mint and thyme all have wonderful scents, but avoid the curry plant at all costs as the very strong smell is not very pleasant.
There are very many herbs in use, for medicinal purposes, for cooking, for extraction of essential oils or just because they are attractive. I will run over a few of my favourites grown for the kitchen.

Rosemary is top of my list as I just love the smell on my hands and it adds a fantastic flavour to roasted lamb, pork and chicken dishes, and a very useful tasty addition to pasta dishes.
Very easy to grow preferring a dry sunny soil, but can die out in a severe winter.
Mint comes in many different types including applemint, peppermint, spearmint and even eau de cologne. Mint sauce with lamb is hard to beat, but mint goes very well with new potatoes and freshly harvested garden peas. Easy to grow but can become invasive though is not too difficult to control. It imparts a lovely smell on your hands when crushed.

Thyme is a great low growing ground cover plant useful in the rock garden. Thyme is used in meat stews, roast chicken dishes and in ham, vegetable and chicken soups. It gets trimmed periodically as we cut bits off for flavouring chutneys and stews.

Chives is another very easy to grow plant that quickly multiplies up as clumps, and it can be used in   tuna mayonnaise, omelettes and salads where it imparts a mild onion flavour. Cut into small pieces, it is a very useful garnish in soups, egg and cheese dishes.

Basil is treated as an annual and is not very hardy so has to be pot grown on a sunny windowsill. It is used in pesto and goes very well in all tomato dishes. Remove flowers as they appear as it is the leaves that are used in the kitchen.

Sage has attractive soft green pungent leaves used for adding flavour to stuffing for meat dishes, particularly pork. It is an attractive garden plant and easy to grow. It prefers a well drained soil with a sunny aspect.

Lemon balm also needs a well drained soil in a sunny spot. It is used steeped to make healthy calming teas, flavoured ice cream and stuffing for poultry.

Bay is best grown in a pot and can last for years though a hard frost will kill it. Use a few whole leaves in soups, when cooking rice, in casseroles, stews and marinades. Do remember to remove the bay leaves before serving.

Lavender is a favourite for dry sunny places and is great for attracting bees in mid to late summer when it is covered with deep purple flowers. It has a great scent and its flowers are used to extract scented essential oils.

Parsley is grown from seed as an easy to grow annual. It is often an added ingredient in potato and leek and Scotch broth soups.

Coriander is a hot spicy herb very useful in curries, Indian and Mexican dishes. It grows easy from seed and will come up every year but prefers a dry sunny spot. Use both the leaves and seeds after you harvest them and dry them off for storing.

Plant of the week
Azalea Gibraltar has large fiery orange flowers coming into bloom at the end of May and into June. This deciduous azalea will grow to about five feet. It is very reliable and easy to grow, so long as you give it an acidic soil, so mix plenty of leaf mould into the top nine inches of soil before planting. It likes a moist but well drained soil in a sunny or dappled shade location, and do not let it dry out during the summer as it has shallow fibrous roots. It benefits from an annual mulch in winter of more leaf mould or ericaceous compost, to maintain the acid soil and retain moisture.


Monday, 4 June 2012



Now that the spring flowers have finished we can concentrate on planting the summer flowers in our tubs, pots, hanging baskets and borders. Summer bedding plants are a mixture of annuals, and perennials which we treat like annuals.
Alyssum, Lobelia, Petunias, salvias, Livingston Daisies, Star of the Veldt are sown each spring grown on, planted out then at the end of summer when they have finished flowering we dig them up and put them on the compost heap.
However there are quite a few perennials such as geraniums, Busy Lizzies, fuchsias and begonias which we can retain over winter to grow and flower again every summer.
Many of these plants are available quite cheaply from garden centres as small plug plants which are perfect for potting up into cellular trays, then growing on for a few weeks before planting out as bigger stronger plants.
Most of these will now be hardened off outdoors and be ready for planting. Many plants have been affected by the recent cold weather which held back growth a wee bit, and some may have been affected if you planted out too early as the cold spell in April extended well into May. However there is still plenty available so planting can now be completed in the hope that our unpredictable weather will not produce a late frost to catch us unawares.

Hanging baskets

My baskets are lined with a cut to shape old compost bag with the black side on the outside. I don’t put in any drainage holes in the bottom as I cut slits for plants to grow in the side of the basket. As these grow they will hopefully cover the whole basket with foliage and flowers.  Petunias, trailing lobelia, Impatiens (Busy Lizzie) and the occasional geranium are my favourites for baskets, though I usually try to have at least one trailing fuchsia with Swingtime high on the list. This red and white double  never lets you down.

Tubs and pots

This year I am having geraniums as my main display supplemented with petunias and impatiens at the edges to trail over. I have kept my own selection of four geraniums for years as I have found the perfect red, cerise pink, salmon and white. I usually select the dark blue petunia for patios and near entrances as it has a gorgeous scent. I never understand why the seed producers don’t promote this scent in their blue petunias as it is the main reason why I always seek out this colour of petunia.
Lobelia is also an excellent blue flower that is more reliable if we get a poor summer as petunias really need plenty of sunny weather to produce their best show. French marigolds and Tagetes provide great yellow colours and if you need extra tall plants the African marigolds are hard to beat.
Sometimes I use the strongest of my tuberous begonias for the largest tubs as they can make a dazzling display of intense colour.

Flower beds and borders

However this year I am again keeping my begonias for the main large flower bed at the front of the house as last year they were brilliant and the weather did not give us the best summer. I will add a bit of height in the bed with a deep planting of about twenty mixed gladioli. They will not need staking as the deep planting will keep the stems upright and supported.
Other bare soil areas will be planted with Shirley poppies which were sown a few weeks ago in cellular trays. I have a few areas that are very sunny and a bit dry. These will be planted up with Star of the Veldt and Livingston daisies which both revel in hot sunny places.
Californian poppies and the double opium poppy Papaver somniferum have naturalised in a few areas of the garden and are allowed to grow and flower as long as they don’t spread too far. They have both appeared as windborne seeds, but as they are very colourful they have been allowed to spread in a few areas.

Plant of the week

Hardy Ice Plant Delosperma cooperi is a perennial mesembryanthemum with intense purple flowers in mid summer. It comes from South Africa where it is known as the Pink Carpet and Trailing Ice Plant. A yellow form Delosperma nubigenum, the yellow ice plant, flowers in early summer. These succulent ground cover plants need full sun and will grow in very dry soils. I planted one in the top of a seven foot high very dry south facing wall and gave it just enough water to keep it growing to get it established. It just loves it. Shoots of the yellow ice plant were stuck in cracks in the middle of the wall where they rooted and have now become established.
Delosperma naturally produce dimethyltryptamine, a hallucinogenic drug, but poses no problem to gardeners. The garden is full of plants that contain all sorts of poisons, but as most people are unaware of them we just grow them and enjoy the flowers.