Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The Good Life


Having an allotment has almost become an essential modern fashion accessory.
We no longer need to dig for victory as supermarkets are overflowing with fruit and vegetables on sale at very reasonable prices. Supermarkets are profit driven so produce often picked before it is ready, comes from all over the world from whoever can supply it at the cheapest cost but with little control over what chemicals could be used for its production. The only way to ensure that food is unaffected with chemicals is to grow your own and in any case most chemicals are no longer available to amateur gardeners so we can only grow organic produce.
Our busy city living has brought on a desire for a healthier lifestyle requiring exercise, fresh air and fresh food. Many modern homes do not have much garden space, so an allotment can provide that opportunity for gentle exercise in fresh air to produce an ample supply of fresh fruit and vegetables plus flowers to brighten the day and allow cut flowers for the home.

Allotment sites are also a great place to meet and mix with like minded gardening people chatting over current affairs, football, religion, sex, music, the neighbours weed problems and even gardening, often at a plot barbecue. The social side of allotment gardening is very important where new friendships are often made.
In the past allotments tended to be predominantly male dominated of an older generation. Today allotments are seen as a social and recreational pursuit with people of all ages including students and young families. A great place to teach the kids about plants and outdoor life.
In Dundee there are private sites (three with 126 plots), and either council run (four with 53 plots), or sites on land leased from the council and managed by existing plot holders (six sites with 422 plots). All have waiting lists that are growing bigger every year.
Dundee city Council opened up a new site in South Road with 20 plots. This site has excellent security fencing, water, paths and sheds and was instantly tenanted from local gardening enthusiasts. You can check out their progress on their website at
Other good allotment websites include and


Provision of allotments started hundreds of years ago to allow the poorly paid working classes land to grow food to supplement their diet. More recently the demand grew out of necessity to supply food during our last two wars. Demand after the last war has since gone down but has met with renewed interest recently due to a change in lifestyle living, and now local authorities cannot cope with the demand in some towns where people on waiting lists have to wait many years before they are offered a plot.
The normal allotment size was always about 10 rods, (just over 250 square metres) but it is now quite common to create smaller plots to accommodate more people from waiting lists.
Modern varieties of fruit and vegetables have heavier yields of pest and disease free fruit and vegetables so even the small plot can supply self sufficiency of produce for most of the year.
The allotment has become a pleasant hobby that costs very little money, but which offers huge benefits.

Modern allotments

Local authorities recognise that use of allotments is more of a leisure activity provision, so there has been a need to address safety, security, landscaping, access and rubbish collection.
Provision of toilets is very important as is a secure perimeter fencing and a community hut is also needed to host committee meetings have social events and store composts and fertiliser purchased in bulk for the benefit of members.
In these times of recession and cut backs funding for fence repairs by local authorities is hard to come by. It would help perimeter security if a boundary hedge was established around the outside of the site wherever possible using Pyracantha or Rosa omiensis pteracantha. These two tall growing shrubs are perfect for attracting wildlife, bees love the flowers, and birds love nesting in the security of a very thorny thicket of branches. Both plants provide berries and hips for food in autumn and are very attractive landscape plants, but the thorns are so vicious that they will deter anyone from trespass once they get established.

The new allotment holder

It is preferable to start your tenancy in early winter to allow time organise the site and prepare the ground.
I started my allotment at City Road in November a few years ago. The first task was to clear rubbish, broken glass, brambles and perennial weeds. The social side started immediately as I was made very welcome by friendly neighbours happy to send me home with bags of turnips, potatoes and a cabbage. All this produce and I haven't even bought any seeds yet.
My first concerns were with the design as the paths were in the wrong place and I needed to work out where best to establish my permanent fruit bushes. I needed a patio to relax on, a south facing wall for my fig bush, a convenient spot for my very essential compost heap and an ornamental border for flowers to make the site attractive.
My shed was very dilapidated, leaked badly, and had a broken window but it was home, full of character and did support a few mice and a bees nest. Just exactly what you would expect

Although my plot is quite small with good growing conditions it can be very productive, but that will require a high work commitment. This started with the winter digging. The previous tenant left some compost and this got supplemented with horse manure.
However all the fruit bush rows had to be double dug as well as the sweet pea trench, so extra help from younger family and friends were called in to assist. Payment had to be offered so the first round at the pub was mine, and the second, and a few more.
Always make sure any clay in the lower spit is not brought to the surface when double digging. Deep digging helps the drainage and gives roots a deeper root run. It also breaks up the clay releasing nutrients to the plants.
The fig got special treatment as a pit was excavated two feet deep and lined loosely with slabs to restrict the root run and encourage early fruiting.
Deciding what crops to grow is down to personal choice, but it is always good to build in some rotation system with both vegetables and flowers. I also move my strawberry patch every three years.

Fruit bushes arrived in winter so summer and autumn rasps got planted (in a snow blizzard), but that's dedication, then bramble Helen on the side of my shed, then currants, gooseberries and saskatoons.
City Road Allotment Gardens are having an open day on Sunday 8th August from 11am to 3pm. Come along and see our plots, have a chat in our cafeteria, and see our fresh produce and plants including saskatoons for sale.


Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Healthy Summer Eating


Last week I ran over a few thoughts on the raspberry and strawberry for a true taste of Scottish summer. This week I will also include others a bit less popular, but definitely far more healthier.
My only omission will be rhubarb as it is not a fruit, but we use it as such in jams, crumbles, and stewed for puddings and it ranks as high as most others as a delicious health product.

                                                    New SCRI Glen Fyne rasps

Black, red and white currants

These fruits are very high in both vitamin C and anti oxidants. Ben Connan, Ben Lomond and Ben Dorain the latest newcomer, were all bred at the Scottish Crops Research Institute and are heavy croppers and disease resistant. Blackcurrants make fantastic jam and are great in a summer pudding mixed with other soft fruits. If you have enough bushes and can spare the fruit, blackcurrants make a brilliant dessert wine.
Prune blackcurrants immediately after picking as this helps to ripen up the young shoots which will crop the following year.
I also grow Red Lake redcurrants and White Versailles white currants, though there are many more fine varieties. Red and white currants are excellent additions to summer puddings, or lightly stewed and sweetened for adding to morning muesli or Greek yoghurt with honey. They also make fantastic wine.


New varieties have emerged with resistance to mildew and SCRI hope to have a red fruited thornless variety available to the trade in a couple of years time.
Invicta is a superb dessert and cooking gooseberry, but picking is a nightmare. The bush will draw blood, but the fruit which is quite sweet, is heavenly eaten when ripe straight off the bush. Grow on a leg and remove all low growing branches too close to the ground and keep the centres open to assist picking.
Remove any sawfly caterpillars as soon as you spot them or they will very quickly defoliate the bush.


Blackberries are no longer a prickly problem when picking and pruning as most new cultivated types are thornless. They are perfect on a wall or shed or can be trained in rows along support wires. Flavour, fruit size and thornless stems as well as disease resistance has been bred into newer varieties such as Loch Tay and Loch Ness both from SCRI. Sweetness and aromatic flavour have been bred into Loch Maree, the latest newcomer.
I'd love to say they were my favourite, but Helen which crops in early August has seeds so small the fruit makes a perfect jam. No need to strain off the juice for making jelly.
Pruning to remove all the old fruiting wood can be done any time after fruiting, then tie in all the new young shoots which will fruit next year.


A mid to late summer soft fruit easy to grow if you have a moist but free draining acid soil or use containers with an ericaceous compost. Some varieties have very large fruit like the popular Bluecrop. Eat them fresh or in juices.
Soils can be made more acidic by incorporating leaf mould from pine woods and giving a dressing of sulphur chips. I give light dressings of acidic fertilisers such as sulphate of ammonia, sulphate of iron, and sulphate of potash.
They will need netting from birds during cropping.


Also known as Juneberry these fruiting forms of Amelanchier are the latest new fruit bush for a health conscious diet. They are high in vitamin C and many minerals as well as being very high in anti oxidants.
They are very easy to grow on most soils, have few pests or diseases and give a very heavy crop of black sweet berries great eaten fresh, or used in jams, yoghurt, pies, summer puddings and make an excellent wine.
I started picking my first berries in early July and will continue till the end of the month.
At present they are fairly unknown but becoming quite popular as word gets around. They will be on show at the Dundee Flower and Food Festival from 3rd to 5th September.
I have created a special Saskatoon page on my website detailing my experience with them over the last six years.

Other fruit

Figs grow and ripen perfectly in Dundee trained against a south wall though I have given my Brown Turkey variety a restricted root run in a sunken pit. My young bushes about four years old will give me about twenty delicious fruits in late summer.
Chokeberry, Aronia melanocarpa is grown very successfully around Dundee as our mild moist climate suits it perfectly. It is rated as one of the healthiest fruits on the planet, due to its very high levels of anti oxidants and vitamin C. However, although it is too astringent to be eaten raw it is perfect for blending into juices, smoothies and health drinks.
Goji berries are worth trying as a novelty, but they have been a bit over hyped with stories of living a very long life if you eat a lot of them daily. My two year old plants have still to show a berry, but I am patient. Grow them as a climber on a wall or fence.
Outdoor grapes are worth a try. I grow Brant on a south wall getting over one hundred small bunches of black sweet grapes every year. I keep growth in check with summer and winter pruning as they are very vigorous.
I am also trying other outdoor varieties on my allotment plot but as yet global warming at City Road allotment site has had no great impact.

In a later article I will mention my outdoor peach, plums, pears and apples.

Fruit for the Future

The Scottish Crops Research Institute held an open day on 15th July to show the direction and findings of recent research with raspberries, blackcurrants, blueberries and brambles.
Studies have started on berry crops on the effects of global warming which reduces the chilling time during winter dormancy. A cold period is necessary for most fruit otherwise flowering capacity is reduced the following year.
A programme of blueberry breeding is underway to find varieties suitable for Scottish conditions, having large healthy fruit, free from pest and diseases fruiting over as long a period as possible so local growers can meet a huge market demand which at present is met with imports.
New varieties of raspberries have large sweet fruit with an aromatic flavour cropping over a longer season. In a tasting session the varieties Glen Fyne and Glen Magna were absolutely delicious.


Sunday, 25 July 2010

Summer Fruits for a Healthy Lifestyle


There is so many easy to grow summer berries that just spoil you for choice, and if you have access to an allotment you can really indulge in a huge variety that will keep you enjoying fresh fruits from June till the frosts come. However most can be stored in freezers to maintain that summer luxury all year round.
Although we have grown up in the Dundee area with berry fields everywhere and people of my generation spent many days during the summer holidays picking rasps and strawberries.
It was always a seasonal pleasure that only lasted a few weeks of hard graft but you got paid and it always seemed to be sunny in the countryside.
Life has moved on. Very few locals go to the berries any more, but we can grow our own fruit and modern techniques and varieties allow us to extend the season.

My earliest memories (1960), of home grown fruit was picking a few strawberries to add to my plate of cornflakes at breakfast. I felt like royalty with the health benefits from fresh fruits invigorating my mind. The journey to work from my home in St. Marys to Dawson Park was no problem on my bike, and anyway it had a three speed gear, very modern.

I have always had a deep interest in fruit culture from rasps to apples, having worked commercially on many soft and top fruit farms in southern England, and now back in Scotland my fruit growing is on a domestic scale. My research background encourages me to try new products and now that we have global warming it is worth trying out those fruits normally associated with warmer climates..
By the way, global warming is a long term statistic we are informed about, but not immediately obvious considering the last three very wet years followed by the coldest winter in living memory for many people, though in Dundee we always seemed to miss the worst.
Anyway I will give you my thoughts on the summer soft fruits I have been growing both in my garden and on my allotment today and next week.
I will discuss my top fruit trees in a later article.

I grow strawberries, raspberries, black, white and red currants, saskatoons, blaeberries, blueberries, gooseberries, brambles, goji berries, figs, outdoor grapes and cape gooseberries. I also had Aronias, the chokeberry, and lingonberries for a few years.
Saskatoon fruit in July


Strawberries can now be picked over several months by selecting the appropriate variety and growing technique.
My season starts in early to mid June with an early variety called Mae. I have two rows, one of which I cover with a low polythene tunnel at the end of winter. This harvests two weeks ahead of the unprotected row, and the polythene cover protects the ripening fruit from damp so I get a full crop as there is no botrytis to spoil any fruit.. Main season varieties start in July with Honeoye, and Elsanta, then followed by late varieties Symphony and Florence. Commercially Elsanta is the supermarkets favourite as it is a large clean berry with excellent shape and a heavy cropper.
Late season fruit above picked outdoors in October
There is also a drive to put back flavours, textures and high nutritional values back into fruit to improve the health of the product. In the past there was too much emphasis on producing large fruit with a heavy cropping potential. However a lot of these varieties suffered from botrytis which rotted a lot of fruit during wet weather, so it was normal to spray chemicals at least three times just before fruiting. Today the use of chemicals is frowned upon, so newer varieties are bred with vigour that are not prone to rotting so no chemicals are needed.

The picking season extends till October, depending on sunshine levels with a perpetual variety Flamenco. I am also trying a new perpetual called Malling Opal. The perpetuals will continue well into November with a late autumn, and may look brilliant, but lack of strong sunshine gives a hard fruit devoid of flavour.
It is now possible to follow the experience of the commercial growers and buy in cold stored runners (dormant leafless crowns), at a range of times up to July and plant these outdoors or in poly tunnels or glasshouse, even using growbags, (ten to a bag). They will start cropping sixty days from planting. So with a range of different planting dates fruiting can continue for months.
I have included a photo of some fruit of strawberries and raspberries I picked on 4th October 2007.
Strawberry growing is easy, but they must be strictly managed.
I grow in rows 2.5 feet apart with plants at one foot intervals. If using my own runners and they are plentiful, I plant a double row at six inch spacing to give me a heavy crop in the first year.
I do not remove any runners during the summer, though many people do, and I control slugs before cropping and bed the rows with straw to stop soil splashing onto the fruit.
After harvest I remove the straw and cut off all foliage. The crowns grow again very quickly. In early winter I give a light dressing of garden compost between the rows which I dig in as well as any runners rooting in the middle of the rows. I only crop for three years.


Raspberries should be grown in every Scottish garden. They should be as common as rhubarb and just as healthy. It is our national sweet dish and very easy to grow.
The variety Glen Ample bred at the Scottish Crops Research Institute at Invergowrie is now the main summer season heavy cropping raspberry. New varieties are being developed for vigour, better flavours, and pest and disease resistance to reduce the need for chemical controls, as well as an ability to crop well under tunnels to extend the cropping season.
Look out for the new SCRI variety Glen Fyne,
a heavy cropper with very sweet berries full of flavour.

For gardeners not having tunnels the variety Autumn Bliss will fruit from early August till the frosts. It fruits on current canes, so I cut back the old canes to ground level then do a light thinning of new canes so they do not overcrowd each other. I also give them some support with six inch weldmesh wire held at three feet high which they can then grow through.

The last three wet summers have resulted in the spread of raspberry root rot disease, phytophthora which causes the leaves and new emerging canes to wilt and die off. Studies are under way to breed resistance or at least tolerance into new varieties. I am testing a variety bred at Washington University called Cascade Delight that is reputed to be tolerant to root rot. My previous row of Glen Ample died out last year with what I suspect could be phytophthora. Some types of this disease which is spread by ground water is quite specific only affecting one host, but others strains can affect a wide range of plants. Another strain of phytophthora causes potato blight a big problem recently in our wet summers, but this one spreads in the air, as well as by infected tubers.

I will cover more soft fruit next week to include the currants and gooseberries as well as the more exotic outdoor grapes, gojis, chokeberries and figs and the latest berry gaining popularity, the saskatoon.


Saturday, 24 July 2010

Flaming June did happen this year


The summer returned this year after three years of cool and wet weather following a very long and cold winter. That is the kind of normal weather I remember from childhood to youth, before global warming appeared and weather pattern became guesswork.
The garden plants have responded with strong healthy growth, a lot less pest and diseases, flowers in profusion and fruit crops to come, full of potential.

Some outdoor fuchsias never made it through the winter, hebes were lost as well as my Leptospermum Red Damask, however Fuchsia Mrs. Popple has sprouted from the base and will have its first flowers by the time you read this, despite the attention of the greenfly and frog hoppers, (cuckoo spit).
Always give apparently dead plants plenty of time after a hard winter to recover before you dig them out. Some years ago I had a 15 foot tall Cordyline australis the Torbay palm, that died after a very hard frost. It was cut back to ground level, but then 18 months later five new shoots appeared and it sprang back into life. A lesson was learnt. Eucalyptus can also be a bit tender when young though my twelve year old specimen has never looked better.
Robinia frisia, the false acacia, an excellent small tree with golden leaves suitable for domestic gardens lost a few branches but soon recovered. It needs good drainage at its feet to survive the winter, otherwise die back of shoots get infected with the coral spot fungus which can then spread to healthy wood.

This year it was the turn of my date palm, Phoenix canariensis, to die back to ground level after successfully growing outdoors in a sunny border for six years as a specimen dot plant in the middle of a flower bed. It got chopped back to ground level but I see it is trying to make a recovery.

The Flower Garden

Glorious colour abounds in herbaceous borders, rose beds, climbing roses, flowering shrubs and in tubs, hanging baskets and borders with summer bedding plants.
Dead heading to remove seed heads is a constant task with Rhododendrons, Azaleas, Himalayan blue poppies, Iceland poppies, and winter pansies who wont stop flowering. I have never known them to continue for so long so I keep feeding and watering them.

Seeds gathered from the Meconopsis, Himalayan blue poppy, and the Iceland Poppies will be sown this month. I hope the Iceland poppies will germinate fairly soon as they are to grow on for flowering next spring, but the Meconopsis will probably not germinate till next spring. Keep both of them moist, shaded and cool to assist good germination.

My bed of geraniums grown from cuttings every year is a mass of colour, but my other summer bedding plant the tuberous begonias have yet to put out their first flowers. They are looking very strong. I purchased a tray of fifty mixed double non stop tuberous begonias about 15 years ago. They flower reliably every summer then get dried off, and overwintered in a box in the garage,
They never let you down.
Excellent value for money.

The Fruit Garden

A funny year for fruit. I have been too busy on other activities, painting flowers, and running art classes, so I never got around to netting my strawberries to keep the birds from eating them. I never lost a single berry, yet the local blackie took a liking to my red currant bushes so these got the strawberry net for protection. I have not needed to net red currants for the last four years. Birds left them alone, but not this year.
The net has also been erected over my saskatoon patch as they are so favoured by the birds that they will even attempt to tunnel underneath the net if it is not buried around the edges.
The saskatoons, Amelanchier alnifolia, should be ready for picking mid July probably at the same time as my red currants, black currants and gooseberries.
This year I only have Autumn Bliss raspberries as my row of Glen Ample got infected by a root rot fungus which wiped them out. I think it was phytophthora but cannot be certain.
There replacement variety Cascade Delight will not bear any fruit till next year, (hopefully)

Apple trees are quite heavy with crop, but the natural June drop did some thinning for me. I then did a little bit more to space apples out so I get larger fruit.
My variety Fiesta has adopted a biennial fruiting attitude with only five apples on a young tree that gave me over forty last year.

I will cover fruit crops in greater depth next week.

The Scottish Crops Research Institute will be holding an event for those in the fruit industry on Thursday 15th July at Invergowrie to showcase developments and trends in their breeding and research programmes. This cutting edge technology eventually filters down to gardener level as we benefit from the release of new fruit varieties with enhanced cropping potential, better flavour, more disease resistance, stronger vigour and acclimatised to Scottish growing condition.

The Allotment

Two rows of Beetroot Bolthardy germinated very well so they required a thinning to leave them about an inch apart. These will grow into lovely baby beet size before a further thinning to four to six inches for the main crop. Last year our beetroot was left in the ground unprotected until winter digging time in January and was still excellent. The cold winter did not do any harm. We use beetroot for soups mixed with potato, onion and a wee bit of orange rind, then finished off on the plate with some yoghurt or sour cream swirled into the surface. It is brilliant and most likely very healthy.

Leeks are another vegetable that are very easy and rewarding as they keep you supplied with fresh vegetables right through the winter till March, or April in a long cold winter.
I plant mine out in rows twelve inches apart in the traditional style on good ground manured or composted in winter. Take out a shallow furrow and dibble in holes about four to six inches apart. Lift the young seedlings when about eight inches tall and top and tail them before dropping them in the dibber holes. Water them in and leave them alone.

Fresh vegetables are now being harvested for the table regularly. Lettuce. radish, spring onions and now the first courgettes and Swiss chard leaves. The former makes fantastic soup and the latter brilliant as a stir fry ingredient but dont use much oil.
The social side of allotment gardening brings people together at this time of year to swap spare vegetable plants, tomato plants, courgettes, pumpkins, leeks and other new types worthy of a trial, and when its too hot to garden there are always plenty of sunny patios to sit down and relax on.

The Cold Greenhouse

As the heatwave continues most plants that had greenhouse protection have been moved outside leaving the grapes and tomatoes and four pots of Cape gooseberries which continue to grow very strongly. At this moment I still have space for them, but if they get much bigger they will need to go out somewhere.


Friday, 23 July 2010

Early Summer in the Garden


Recent warm, dry weather has been great for weed control but watering some recently planted crops and flowers has been essential. Watering is best done in late evening if time permits.

Now is the time to potter around the garden as the hard work of preparation is complete, and planting done but numerous other small tasks seek attention in between relaxing on the sun lounger when its too hot to work, but of course with thoughts of planning the next few tasks.

The Flower Garden

Most Rhododendrons and Azaleas have flowered so remove the old seed heads to conserve energy for growth.
I have an excellent drift of delphiniums grown from seed obtained from the specialists Blackmore and Langdon in Bath. These are quite vigorous so need good staking and tying in
I grow both decorative and spray chrysanthemums on my allotment, but this year I am trying the sprays at the end of my herbaceous border to add colour in late summer when most of the other plants have finished. These sprays will get the tops removed twice to make sure they are well branched and hopefully dont need staking but I'll keep an open mind on that.
Iceland poppies have been outstanding yet again so I will save seed for sowing in a week or so to give me plants for planting in autumn or next spring.

Recently sown wallflower seeds has now germinated but will get transplanted later into rows for growing on.

Roses this year have never been better. Vigour is strong and pest and disease so far not been a problem. The climbers Madame Alfred Carrier, Etoile de Holland, Dublin Bay, Gertrude Jekyll and Morning Jewel have all been terrific, and the bush roses are now all in full flower. Very hard to pick a favourite.
Gertrude Jekyll is a pink highly scented old English shrub rose but can be grown as a climber as it has enough vigour and given the the right pruning for covering a wall or fence. I am also using shrub rose Graham Thomas as a climber to replace my Golden Showers, once one of the best yellow climbers, but after three wet years it got wiped out by black spot.

The Fruit Garden

The strawberry patch has been strawed to keep soil from splashing on the fruit during wet weather. Not been any of that for a wee while, so the fruit has been fantastic with hardly any rots. I have been very slow to get the nets on, but for some reason there is no damage from birds. Maybe they dont like my early variety Mae.
The first fruits were picked from my new perpetual variety Malling Opal. As with the previous one I grew, Flamenco, the fruit may not be as shapely as summer fruiting Honeoye or Elsanta but the flavour is excellent.

My thornless bramble Helen trained on the east side of my allotment shed has been a picture while in full bloom, but now the young shoots growing from the base (next years crops) need careful tying in as they are very brittle. This variety is very early fruiting in August but has great flavour and very small seeds so is excellent for jams.

Check over apple trees and remove any primary infections, ie. young shoots that have been infected by overwintering mildew spores. The young growths are stunted and totally covered in mildew ready to spread to the rest of the tree. Remove these immediately you see them.

My pear tree is a family type with two varieties grafted onto the same tree.
As is normal the more vigorous one (Comice) dominates and the weaker one (Conference) which gets overwhelmed. Comice is a terrific pear if scab was not a problem, but after three very wet years scab has taken a hold and virtually wiped out the Comice. Conference is less prone to scab but not a great pear in Dundee. I must graft some decent varieties onto this tree next April and cut out the Comice.
The Carse of Gowrie has a history of fruit growing and in the past top fruit predominated but now it is mainly soft fruit. There is a renewed interest in its heritage and there are still many of the old varieties to be found. Hopefully I will locate a good pear able to tolerate scab and do my wee bit to preserve a good old type.

The cold winter seems to have wiped out a lot of pollinating insects so although my Victoria plum tree was quite late in flowering there were no insects around to pollinate it. I even have a Berberis darwinnii planted at its feet to attract bees who just love it and it flowers at the same time as my plum. It is usually very successful in attracting pollinating bees, but this year I only saw two large bees. They must have been very efficient as I now have a fantastic potential plum crop.

The Allotment

Watering has been the main task this week keeping my courgettes, pumpkins, Swiss chard, lettuce and sweet corn growing through the dry spell.

I utilised the two failed rows of parsnips with a sowing of lettuce and radish, though giving the successful four parsnip seedlings every protection. If any greenfly wanders anywhere near them they are in deep trouble.

Mangetout sugar peas needed some support, so netting on a framework of posts and rails usually keeps them tidy and easy to pick.

My brassica rows of summer cabbage Golden Acre, winter savoy Traviata and my curly kale are all looking good. None have needed watering. Netting from pigeons seems to have worked, though even those unprotected have been left alone, (for now)
Could be that on an allotment site of over sixty plots there is ample food so damage is not too severe.
However I keep checking them for cabbage butterfly caterpillers and just pick these off as they appear.
You must also do the same on the gooseberries as sawfly caterpillers can multiply and devastate the bushes very quickly.

My Cape gooseberries (Physalis edulis) planted three weeks ago have been very slow to establish, though usually they are quite vigorous by late summer. I have a few more in pots in the greenhouse just in case we get another cool wet summer.

The Cold Greenhouse

Tomatoes continue to grow with constant watering and feeding and removal of sideshoots.

Grapes, Black Hamburg and my red seedless variety Flame require continual summer pruning of removal of shoots at two leaves after the fruiting bunch then one leaf after that.
This allows ample leaf cover to grow a good crop but not too much foliage otherwise mildew and botrytis could take hold. Keep plenty of ventilation at all times and leave the door open on any hot days.

Check for vine weevil beetles late evening and early mornings when they can be seen feeding and dispose of them before they lay hundreds of eggs that emerge as maggots doing untold damage.


The Garden Beckons

As the season warms up, the garden has never shown so much potential. The long hard winter appears to have reduced the amount of overwintering pests and diseases, and now plants are showing a lot of promise for good crops and plenty flowers.

The Flower Garden

Summer bedding plants have now been planted out in borders, tubs and hanging baskets.
However my winter show of pansies in hanging baskets and tubs are still very colourful, so I let them finish their show grouped together on the patio beside the new summer tubs.
I rely on geraniums, and tuberous begonias for my main display, supplemented with other summer bedding plants.
I also plant out patches of spray chrysanthemums, and gladioli with sweet peas trained up some fence lines.

Roses seem to be healthier than ever this year. There is little signs of greenfly, mildew or blackspot. The last three very wet years really allowed diseases to flourish so I removed all roses than were not strong enough to fight off fungus attacks. So out went many bush and climbing roses to be replaced by stronger and more disease resisting types.
A heavy infestation of greenfly disappeared when a passing swarm of ladybirds spotted them. If only it was always that easy.
I replaced one climbing rose with a shrub rose Gertrude Jekyll then treated it as a climber. It just loves this spot on a west facing wall on the patio providing a mass of deep pink flowers with the old English rose scent wafting over the patio. Now this is summer.

Another border is ablaze with scented flag iris and oriental poppies. My garden may be my labour of love and main hobby, but my income comes from the world of art. Flowers give me inspiration to paint and the Iris just had to go onto a canvas together with some spectacular Iceland poppies both in my garden around the studio as well as on my allotment in City Road.
These new paintings on large canvases can be seen on my website on my Art Exhibition page.
The Fruit Garden

I have been a fruit lover since childhood having been weaned on the berry fields around Dundee since about nine years old, so growing raspberries and strawberries was essential to a normal way of life, but not forgetting rhubarb, previously so common in poor working class family gardens but now almost elevated to super food status. I have always loved it raw with or without a dip in the sugar bowl, or as crumble or stewed for dessert.
A short spell during my horticultural training years at our local Scottish Crops Research Institute in the sixties introduced me to a wide variety of fruit previously unknown.
We had the museum collection of apple trees from all over the world looking for a variety suitable for eastern Scotland. I also remember harvesting the first crops of Blueberries in 1967 totally unknown in the UK but now widely grown everywhere.

However, now we have global warming, my research background encourages experiments with outdoor grapes, peaches, figs and now saskatoons.

I have started picking the first of my strawberries from an early variety called Mae grown under a low polythene tunnel. These will continue until my other varieties take over including Honeoye then the late summer variety Symphony.
I am also trying a perpetual variety called Malling Opal which I hope will fruit till the end of October in the open.

Raspberry growing was always very easy in the north east of Scotland and SCRI bred an very heavy cropping and flavoursome raspberry called Glen Ample.
Then along came a root rot fungus Phytophthora. My row of Glen Ample was wiped out. Research is now under way to find a variety that can resist or at least tolerate the diseases. Fortunately the variety Autumn Bliss has not been affected by root rot so I still get raspberries from August till October.
I have replaced my Glen Ample with Cascade Delight, a new variety bred at Washington State University reputed to be fairly tolerant of root rot disease.
Time will tell.

The Allotment

The allotment of today is a place to indulge in the delights of growing whatever you want, whether vegetables, fruit, flowers or just create a garden place to relax in. Sheds with patios, and seating areas are common place, but to reach the stage of being able to wind down and relax, a wee bit of work does not go amiss. Once the crops are in and all the weeds are taken care of, (a major task) the site takes on a social function.
However do not ignore the benefits of fresh air, outdoor environment, exercise and the value of fresh vegetables, fruit and flowers.
In between socialising and weeding, my first crops of lettuce, radish, rhubarb and strawberries have all received a picking. Greenfly not controlled by ladybirds infested my blackcurrants and gooseberries, so I picked off all the young infected shoots. This will also help to push plant vigour into fruiting rather than growth.
By the middle of June my allotment is virtually all planted up.
Although most vegetables are giving good growth, my parsnips have failed. Only got four plants from a whole packet of seeds. They had better be very big as they need to last from November to April.
My ornamental border full of Iceland poppies always needs dead heading before they take over the whole allotment site and I get evicted, but what a fantastic display they give.

The Cold Greenhouse

My tomato main crop Alicante and Sweet One Million cherry tomatoes growing directly in growbags continue to need removal of sideshoots as I grow them as cordons. I am now feeding them a high potash feed at every second watering.

I also grow Black Hamburg Grapes, as well as Flame, a red seedless variety which fruits in August and does not need any fruit thinning. I have planted a new white seedless type known as Perlette but it will not fruit till next year at least.

Now the garden is sorted out I had better get a brush in my hand and get back to the easel.


Tuesday, 10 February 2009

The Winter Garden

Plan a garden for colour all year round

A garden can have year round interest with the availability of such a wide range of plants to choose from at local garden centres, or by mail order from a host of excellent gardening magazines.
It is very easy to create interest from spring to autumn, but winter can also have its charm to be enjoyed through the window of a warm home, or to wander round the garden on those cold but pleasant sunny winter days.

The Winter Garden
When the summer flowers fade, the last roses get frosted and the few remaining leaves with autumn colour fall off, now is the moment the winter garden gets some attention. An attractive winter garden full of colour is much appreciated during the long winter months of cold weather and short days.

Plan the garden
It is a useful exercise to make a list of all the different types of plants you wish to grow, pondering through gardening books, visiting garden centres, botanical gardens or National Trust gardens of stately homes or look through gardening magazines to find out what can be grown successfully in your own area.
Consider ground cover including heathers, coloured stemmed shrubs, flowering shrubs, scented shrubs, climbers and for late winter plant some early flowering bulbs.

The winter season
In past years the winter garden began its season in late autumn as other parts of the garden were going into dormancy. The recent climatic changes brought about by global warming effects have given rise to an extended season for many plants. We now get roses and geraniums up to December. The autumn leaf fall now happens in early winter and yellow Jasmine can easily provide a beautiful Christmas table decoration combined with red carnation (purchased.)
Spring flowering bulbs no longer wait for spring but are ready to put on a show from January onwards. These really are a bonus for the winter garden.
A Scottish garden
My winter garden in sunny Dundee has only a few square metres combining ground cover plants, shrubs with coloured stems, climbers at the back, a specimen tree and all underplanted with bulbs.
The show begins when the tree and shrubs lose their leaves to reveal the brilliantly coloured stems of Cornus sibirica Westonbirt and Mid-winter Fire, Kerria japonica, Leycesteria Formosa and the dazzling orange stemmed willow, Salix britzensis emerging from the ground cover of the black grass, Ophiopogon nigricans. This grass is quite black forming dense ground hugging clumps that give a perfect background to a drift of snowdrops. Now white on black; that’s different.
I did have a black stemmed Cornus kesselringii but I am afraid it was a curiosity, not quite a thing of beauty to warm the soul on a cold winter’s day so it has been relegated to the shade border.
The coloured stem border leads into the heather garden where a magnificent specimen birch tree Betula jaquemontia with pure white bark takes a central positio
n within a drift of gold and crimson heather, Calluna vulgaris Beoley Gold and Beoley Crimson. All of these plants are enhanced with the first cold evenings and a bit of frost. The heather garden extends with drifts of a wide range of Calluna and Erica including the winter flowering Erica carnea Springwood white and Springwood Pink.
If there was more room I would include a Rubus cockburnianus, the grey stemmed bramble. This is a lovely grey plant but has vicious thorns.
For those in a more frivolous mood in need of the perfect small specimen tree, I recommend the Japanese maple Acer palmatum Sangokaku and although it is not cheap, it will not disappoint. After the vivid colour of the autumn leaves fall off the bright wine red stems are brilliant in sunshine.
It is important to create a dark background to enhance this border, so consider the fence colour, or use evergreens or climbers on a fence or wall. Climbing plants and wall trained shrubs can be grown on all fences and walls to add beauty, (climbing roses), provide scent, (honeysuckle), give protection, (pyracantha), or provide a fruit crop (figs, vines, or peaches). The winter flowering yellow Jasminum nudiflorum is superb at this time of year.
Spring arrives in February
The winter garden would be incomplete without a heavy planting of spring flowering bulbs drifted in amongst the low ground cover. It is quite feasible to have successional plantings each at their own depth giving a long display of flowers right out of winter and into summer.
The show starts in February when the Aconites, Snowdrops and Hellebore all compete with each other to see who can flower first, followed by the Crocus species. The large Crocus hybrids flower a week or so later, but what a fantastic display they make. Then immediately behind them is the polyanthus a couple of months early, but very welcome.

It is important that the border is kept weed free especially in autumn and top dressed with a mulch of well rotted garden compost. This humus helps to feed the soil, as well as creating a clean darker surface which helps to show off the coloured stems and spring flowers at their best.
In March there is always the occasional warm spring day that brings out the best from the flowering bulbs, and then we know that winter is past. Large drifts of brilliant crocus give way to the first early Narcissi and daffodils. February Gold usually leads this group, though in Scotland more often in March. Above the daffodils the Kerria japonica now puts on its show for a few weeks, before the first of the tulips underplanted amongst the cornus push up and open into the sun.
At the end of March the buds on the shrubs will start to grow, so now is the time to prune them back to a stool to encourage the growth of strong young stems that have the brightest colouring. Assist this growth with a dressing of nitrogenous fertiliser, but only after the flowering bulbs have finished. However I do not prune back the Kerria or Leycesteria. These get a light pruning after flowering by removing some older shoots back to decent fresh young growth.
The winter season ends, but the display continues.
Although the coloured stems have been pruned and the early spring bulbs are finished, I have also planted drifts of tulips which can now add interest to the border in May then these are followed by my scented lilies in mid summer. All these plants seem to work well together without any overcrowding
The show goes on.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Garden and studio work in January 2009

A few sunny days has allowed a bit of gardening between snow showers.

Feed the Ground
Weeds and old leaves have been tidied up and bush and climbing roses pruned to allow me to spread compost on the ground where the spring bulbs will soon be appearing. This also makes the soil quite dark and helps to make the coloured stem border stand out better. This winter garden has Cornus, Leycesterias and Kerrias and is underplanted with drifts of crocus species, and snowdrops for February colour to be followed by tulips in May at which time the shrubs will be pruned down to the ground.
Roses start early with a warmer climate in Scotland, so pruning which used to be a March task now is better done in January.
I keep two compost heaps going so one has now been used and the other has been turned over to allow better rotting down of material. It should be ready for spreading in late spring.

Winter planting
I have been in the fruit garden digging out old redcurrent and blackcurrent bushes, manured and dug over the ground, which now gets planted with a batch of nine blueberries grown from seed saved from some berries purchased for eating several years ago. It will be interesting to see how they perform. The ground was previously prepared with leafmould dug in and a generous sprinkling of sulphur chips to acidify the ground. To help this acidification the plants will only get fertilised with sulphate of ammonia and sulphate of potash, both of which will help keep to heep the pH levels on the acid side.

Allotment planting
I also grow the Scottish Blaeberries, Vaccinium myrtillus on a prepared patch in my allotment fruit garden. These plants were also grown from seed collected when blaeberry picking on Alyth Hill several years ago. These blaeberry fruit can be as large as the highbush blueberries when given good growing
conditions, though the bushes only grow about a foot

Back in the Studio
Snow showers h
as got me back indoors at the easel.
I have pulled out a few still life paintings that I was unhappy with and decided to rejuvenate them. It was mainly the backgrounds that let then down, so they have now been repainted.
My art classes have started for the winter session finishing just before Easter, and I am now looking for those interested in an outdoor art holiday workshop painting the Scottish mountains, glens and
lochs based at the Four Seasons Hotel at St. Fillans on the banks of Loch Earn.
To enrol see information at
Paint Scottish Lochs and Glens

First Spring Flowers
Although it is still mid winter by the calendar, the spring bulbs are now coming into flower. aconites, snowdrops and hellebores have not been detered by the snowfall or frost and are now
for attention.