Sunday, 25 November 2012



When I started my first garden as a very keen fifteen year old apprentice gardener with a heap of enthusiasm, but no experience I was determined that my wee council house garden in St. Marys would stand up proud if it had a few trees. There was precious little space, but I managed a laburnum, an upright cherry, Prunus Amanogawa and a weeping birch Betula pendula youngii. There was a lot of really excellent gardeners in the Dundee Parks dept where I worked so advice was given that if I wanted a really impressive weeping birch I would have to stop it weeping and force it to grow tall first before it started serious weeping. The main stem was tied to a stake then as it grew it was tied to another long cane on top of my stake. Eventually it reached about fifteen feet then I let it weep. I got a fantastic specimen. Moving on to bigger gardens my love of trees stayed with me and over time I planted numerous trees in gardens all over UK.
I now have a decent sized garden so I have indulged in many of my favourites, though I am not yet on the scale where I can have my fruiting walnut, a weeping silver lime, an Atlas cedar or a mulberry, and I would also love a big copse of white stemmed birch trees. Maybe one day!!!
Trees add scale to a garden, encourage birds and other wildlife, can screen eyesores and create impressive specimens in lawns and borders. Trees can be selected for any size of garden and may be ornamental, flowering and fruiting.

Ornamental trees
Only plant oak, beech, lime, Scots pine, spruce and cedar if you have a huge garden with space to let them grow, but for normal gardens there is always smaller growing trees. Rowan is a favourite in Scotland and berries come in white, orange and yellow as well as red. Birch is another common species and I prefer Betula jaquemontii for its brilliant white trunk and B. Youngii as a great weeping form. The dwarf weeping elm tree, Ulmus camperdownii, is well worth planting as it is very attractive as well as being our local elm. Upright forms of many trees exist, that do not take up too much space such as hornbeam, oaks and cherry. For larger trees try a Eucalyptus, whitebeam, hawthorn or Japanese or other maple. Maples have dazzling autumn colour, come in all sizes and many have ornamental bark. The golden leaved Robinia frisia grows well in Dundee as long as the ground is well drained, and it can make a stunning specimen.
Leyland cypress should be avoided as although it is cheap, easy to grow and fast, it soon becomes a nuisance and at the end of the day it is not all that attractive.

Flowering trees
Cherries, crab apples, Magnolias, Eucryphia, Lilac and Amelanchier are all perfect for smaller gardens. Prunus Amanogawa is upright and quite narrow. Prunus Shirotae is spreading, but an absolute stunner in flower. Crab apples flower then have a crop of very bright small apples, e.g. John Downie. Some Magnolias are more large shrubs, but can attain a fair height when mature.
Eucryphia Rostrevor is slow growing but will make a tall white flowering tree in time.
Amelanchier is brilliant in flower, has terrific autumn colour and if you get the fruiting form, known as the Saskatoon, the birds will get a healthy feed in summer.

Fruiting trees
If you prefer to have a fruiting tree then the choice can include apples, pears, plums, peaches, and cherries, and if you have the room and patience try a mulberry. Modern dwarfing rootstocks now allow us to have apples, peaches and cherries that will happily fit into the small garden often trained against a south facing wall. Choose varieties that have healthy foliage as there are very few fungicides available to tackle scab, mildew or brown rot. I can recommend apple Discovery, Katy, Red Devil, Fiesta and Bramley for a good cooker. Victoria is still my favourite plum, Peregrine a good peach, and Beurre Hardy my best pear, but newer varieties are appearing all the time and it is good to try something different.

Plant of the week

Jasminum nudiflorum is at its best in late autumn to early winter, but will continue to flower every time we get a few mild days. Its bright yellow flowers are very welcome at this time of year. It is treated as a wall climber, but needs a support and tying in. It can be planted on a north wall, or any other aspect, but flowers best in full sun. It is not fussy about soil as long as the drainage is good and is very easy to propagate as long shoots arch over onto the ground and quickly take root by layering.

Painting of the month

“Picture of Fruit” is an acrylic painting of summer fruits, completed as part of a project of about thirty paintings using fruits as still life subjects. I included peppers, Cape gooseberries, mushrooms, bananas, grapes, apples and pears, and set up spot lights to create a dramatic effect.
Some of these can be seen in the West End Gallery in the Perth Road Dundee.


Monday, 19 November 2012



We all want to live long healthy lives, so what we eat is extremely important. Research is giving us the information on the health aspects of most edible plants to allow us to select the best types to grow in our garden. Plants previously thought of as a bit common, e.g. rhubarb, kale, broad beans and beetroot are now almost elevated to superfood status, so lets have a look at a few crops that will help to keep us in good health. I tried to select my best six, then it went to my top ten, but that still left out too many others and we tend to grow more of those we just love to eat like rasps and strawberries. Looking at my crops for this year I have grown a range of about twenty different vegetables and fourteen different soft and top fruit. All of them have beneficial properties but some have a wider range and varying amounts of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
I will mention a few of my favourites here, though not in any order.

Beetroot was traditionally pickled, but today it is now gaining its place as a delicious savoury, spicy chutney and it makes one of my favourite soups. Its red colour is full of antioxidants and vitamin C as well as potassium, sodium and magnesium. This has shown to lower blood pressure and has beneficial affects for cardiovascular health. Grow enough to last from early summer till late winter, though soups and savouries can be frozen.

Rhubarb is one of the easiest crops to grow. Usually planted in a shady spot next to the compost heap giving it plenty moisture and gross feeding which it thrives on. Give it an annual dressing of fertiliser and some compost and make sure it is well watered in summer. You can leave it alone for at least five years. Use it stewed in puddings or for pies, crumbles and compote, or blend with figs for a delicious jam.
It is high in calcium and potassium and antioxidants. When cooked it releases high levels of polyphenols which may have a beneficial affect against some cancers. It is high in fibres which help sufferers with high cholesterol.

Apples are quickly becoming an essential plant for the family garden to encourage children into leisure gardening. Modern dwarfing rootstocks now give us very small trees to fit in any garden, but having normal sized fruit. Popular varieties such as Katy, Scrumptious, Discovery, Fiesta and Red Devil are very reliable croppers with disease resisting foliage with sweet fruit full of flavour. The high levels of pectin in apples helps to lower bad cholesterol, and the fruit is high in boron and a range of flavanoids which helps to strengthen bones.

Tomatoes grown in your own greenhouse and picked when fully ripe have a taste far superior to  anything bought in a supermarket which is harvested unripe so it can travel without being damaged, and last a long time on a shelf. Tomatoes are delicious picked fresh off the vine, added to salads dressed with olive oil, or cooked in pizzas and soups. They contain vitamin A, E and C, potassium, and a wide range of antioxidants which help to reduce the risk of prostate and pancreatic cancer, and heart disease.

Swiss Chard and Kale together with broccoli are at the top of the green leafy vegetables for healthy eating. They are very high in fibre, vitamins and an excellent source of the minerals calcium, potassium and manganese as well as beta-carotene an antioxidant having beneficial effects against heart disease, cancer and age related problems. Kale can be used in soups, stews, added to stir fries and pastas. Swiss chard is used the same way and has a similar range of health benefits as well as iron and the vitamins A, C and K.

Saskatoons, Aronias and Blackcurrants are three black berries very high in anthocyanin, an antioxidant and vitamin C. These are very important in maintaining good health for vision, heart, aging, urinary tract and brain. They are all very easy to grow and can be eaten fresh from the bush or in jams, compote, smoothies, drinks and summer puddings. The new blackcurrant Big Ben has been bred for large fruit for eating off the bush. Aronias, also known as the chokeberry, have a slight astringency so are best cooked or added to other fruit recipes, but they have one of the highest levels of antioxidants of any recorded fruit and are packed with minerals and vitamins.
They also all make a terrific wine that retains its high levels of antioxidants.

Plant of the week

Coral bark maple, Acer palmatum Sangokaku is a large shrub or very small Japanese maple tree. It is very attractive all year round, but is brilliant in autumn with fiery orange foliage, then after leaf fall its coral pink bark just glistens in the sun. Plant it in a sheltered spot in sun or partial shade away from winds in soil that is well drained but retains moisture. It is not fast growing at first but once established it can easily put on a couple of feet per year. I grow mine in my coloured stem border in the winter garden.


Sunday, 11 November 2012

Composting and Digging


The end of season tidy up of the garden and allotment creates a lot of green waste that is invaluable to build up your compost heap. Grass cuttings, kitchen waste from preparing fruit and vegetables are all compostable. Harvested vegetables such as peas, beans, sweet corn, onions all need shelling and cleaning before they are ready for storing, giving more waste for the compost heap. Autumn and early winter is also a time for tree and shrub pruning, and for those keen gardeners with a decent sized garden it is well worth while buying a small shredder to chop up your pruning fine enough to assist breakdown on the compost heap. At home we all have heaps of old newspapers and unwanted mail which can also be shredded with a small cheap electric shredder giving us more compostable waste. By early winter most trees and deciduous shrubs will have lost their leaves, so gather these up and add them to the heap
If you have access to horse, cow, pig or hen manure these can be added to the heap.
However don’t add diseased plant material, (blackspot infected rose leaves or clubroot infected cabbage roots) or perennial weeds, unless you have already killed them by spraying with glyphosate or leaving out in the sun on a hard dry surface to shrivel them up.

The compost heap
Most councils and garden centres will have compost bins available to purchase, and you can even buy the appropriate strain of composting worms, but making a compost heap is really very simple and once you have sorted out a location worms will soon appear in their thousands and be very happy to break down all your garden waste. I always build my heap on a soil surface so the worms can find a rich source of food.
Compost heaps are best put on spare land in the shade, but with good access for adding to the heap, turning it over a couple of times a year and then digging it out to transport it where ever you want it.
Allow for a heap up to about four feet in height and three or more feet width and length. Support the sides with old pallets, corrugated iron or construct your own with good well preserved timber so it lasts a few years.
I turn my heap three times a year so it rots down quickly and compost is ready to dig into the ground by early winter every year.
It is beneficial to mix ingredients and chop up rhubarb leaves, cabbage leaves, old sweet corn and broad bean plants. If you are adding grass cuttings always mix these into other waste to allow air and water to penetrate the heap. Cover the heap with old carpets or similar material to prevent it drying out, but remove it from time to time to let rain in to keep it moist, and if there is ever a dry spell make sure the heap is well watered and covered. Worms, fungus and bacteria need warmth and moisture to do their job.

Winter digging
There are different schools of thought on digging and some of the no digging believers get good results, but I have always been into digging. The exercise benefits are huge, providing you only do as much as your body can handle. I tend to dig for about two hours, twice a week. I start in November and try to complete my allotment digging by Christmas. Only dig when the ground is dryish on the surface and in a wet winter you may not get completed till nearly spring. I spread my compost over the ground to be dug, take out a trench and make sure the compost is buried as I dig. Leave the surface as rough as possible to expose a large surface area of soil. Winter frosts will break this down to a nice tilth by spring.
Areas that have been green manured with mustard, clover, rye grasses or other crop can be left till they show signs of flowers. At this stage, trample them flat and chop up stems to make it easier to bury them when digging. If growth has been excessive you can cut down the foliage and put it on the compost heap, but add some rotted compost before digging to compensate.
In those areas intended for brassicas, you may want to give a dressing of hydrated lime to improve the pH which helps to discourage clubroot. However allow a few weeks after manuring before adding the lime.

Plant of the week

Pyracantha, commonly known as the firethorn, is one of the most prolific berrying shrubs in the garden. The berries can be red, orange or yellow and usually last well into winter. It can be grown as a large spreading evergreen shrub or hedge, but more often used as a wall climber where it can reach twelve feet or more. It is very thorny and perfect as a deterrent to burglars around vulnerable windows. It is quite happy on a north facing wall, but needs tying in on wires or a trellis framework, as it has no means of support. Prune it to shape in winter to keep it in its place, cutting back any straggling shoots.


Monday, 5 November 2012

Winter Vegetables


The autumn vegetable harvest is now either in store in a dark cool airy building or in the freezer, but fresh greens are still available right through till spring with a bit of planning for winter crops to grow on the allotment or vegetable patch in the garden. Sometimes you may have to shake off a bit of snow to pick frosted sprouts for the table, and if the ground is frozen rock solid you could find it very difficult to dig up a nice parsnip, but your home grown vegetables will be very fresh, chemical free, and full of flavour.
My winter supplies of vegetables include the brassica range of cabbage, sprouts, kale, sometimes cauliflower, then root crops including Swedes, parsnips and beetroot, and finally Swiss chard and leeks. I have also sown winter lettuce Arctic King last September to give me an early crop next year, but I may also get a few leaves from plants left to grow in the greenhouse.


Brussel sprouts are looking great at present. I still grow a very old favourite Wellington that never lets you down, producing good sized firm buttons for a very long time. They have not been affected by clubroot, collars protect them from rootfly and nets have kept the pigeons away. Caterpillars were a nuisance as the cabbage white butterfly still managed to squeeze through my fine net, but these got picked off as soon as damage was spotted.
Cabbage January King was a disaster as clubroot, slugs, snails and caterpillars virtually wiped them out, but my summer cabbage Golden Acre gave a brilliant crop and with such a cool slow season they are still cropping into November. Spring cabbage April has been planted out on new land composted and treated with Perlka against clubroot, collars in place for rootfly, and netted for pigeons. So they are looking good and hopefully will give me some late winter or early spring greens.
Curly Kale always grows very well and never gets bothered with pests or diseases. It is a very healthy plant to eat, so is well used fresh in stir fries, soups and other dishes. It freezes well with no loss of nutrients and can be used all year.
I will have to experiment to find a clubroot resistant cauliflower, as my usually very reliable variety All Year Round got wiped out twice.

Root crops

Beetroot may not be as big as last year but we have had very good roots and now use the leaves regularly. They are very similar to spinach and packed with healthy vitamins and antioxidants. Over the last few years I have successfully left them alone in the soil into the winter with no losses. In fact a snow covering protects them from any severe frosts, though makes it difficult to find them.
Sometimes I give them a wee earth up if a severe frost threatens.
Swede Brora has grown very well under my nets as the pigeons will eat the tender foliage. They are quite large and unaffected by pests so far. These should crop continuously right through winter.
Parsnip Albion is growing very strongly, but as yet I have not lifted any roots. However judging by the vigorous foliage I think the roots will be just fine. This is another winter vegetable that keeps cropping till spring.

Heavy feeders

Leek Musselburgh is another old but very reliable favourite, that will easily keep healthy right into next spring. Growth has been very slow but it will keep growing all winter. The young plants were dibbled into six inch holes in a two inch furrow so there has been a good covering of soil around the stem for blanching.
Swiss Chard Bright Lights always attracts attention due to the brilliant splash of colours all winter. It is another very healthy vegetable used like spinach in stir fries and soups. It can be picked into early winter as long as it has enough stems for cutting, but as it does not grow again till spring give it a break. However it is one of the first to resume growing in early spring so do not dig it out as you can get many leaves to harvest before it decides to run to seed.

Plant of the week

Calluna H E Beale, sometimes known as Scotch heather is a very vibrant heathers with long racemes of bright pink double flowers from late September to November contrasting beautifully with the dark grey green foliage. It is very easy to grow in most soils, but preferring an acid, sandy well drained, but moist soil in full sun. It is a good choice for maritime areas. It will grow in shade and semi shade, but flowering is less effective. This evergreen heather grows about a foot tall and gives excellent ground cover smothering any weeds that try to germinate. It is trouble free and only needs cutting off the old flowering spikes once they have finished. This will keep the plants tidy and bushy.