Saturday, 28 August 2010

The Scented Garden


It is hard to beat a day of relaxation in a garden full of scented flowers on a warm sunny day. My past experience in horticulture has taught me to keep an eye on the weather forecasts and plan your work accordingly. So I have no problem getting on with the hard work on cold and wet days or pruning fruit trees or roses after a snowfall, but I like to have all my work up to date so that when the weather is warm and sunny I can stop work and relax on the patio amongst the garden flowers. It is the patio area where scented flowering plants are most appreciated.
Memories of summer always include a range of exotic scented blooms of Brugmansias, the Angels Trumpets, lilies, sweet peas, carnations and roses.
One of my earliest memories was a potting shed experience at Camperdown greenhouse as a young Parks Dept. apprentice in the sixties learning to make decorative sprays for a civic function with a combination of red roses, clove scented carnations and sweet peas. Perfume was fantastic.

Scented plants are available all year round as shrubs, perennials, annuals, bulbs, climbers and even trees.

Start with a good garden plan

My initial thoughts on establishing a new garden is to create a mature framework within which I can grow a range of plants each having their own requirements.
Garden trees get first consideration as they will require the most space, then I usually try and grow climbers up walls and fences. The essential patio must be sheltered, private, sunny and adjacent to the house, a glasshouse also needs a sunny aspect and then other plants integrated into the plan.
When selecting plants having a scent is very important especially in those areas that receive the most attention. Top priorities will be the patio area, front door entrance and even the rotary drying area. There is always plenty of scented plants to fit all these features covering every month of the year.


Selection of trees will depend on size of garden though even the smallest can get away with at least one tree. The upright Japanese cherry, Prunus Amanogawa forms a narrow column of pale pink scented blossom in spring and takes up very little space, however if more room can be afforded Prunus Shirotae, (Mount Fuji) is a beautiful site.
Most small gardens can also fit in at least one lilac, my favourite was always the double white Mme Lemoine though the rosy lilac Michel Buchner and deep purple Charles Joly are well worth a bit of space.
For the garden with plenty of space plant a balsam poplar, Populus balsamifera. In early spring the unfolding leaves emerge from large sticky buds which give off a delicious balsam scent.


Some plants can be self supporting and others need help with strong wire support, or trellis and some plants may need a warm south facing wall whereas others are fine on north facing walls.
Climbing roses can accommodate all aspects with the vigorous soft white Mme Alfred Carriere quite happy on a north wall. I have a heavily scented shrub rose Gertrude Jekyll trained as a climber on a west wall on my patio. It is fantastic.
Honeysuckle is available in many varieties and will clamber happily over many fences.
The pineapple scented yellow flowers of Cytisus battandieri appear in mid summer and it will need a south wall and a bit of support as will the heavily scented white Jasminum polyanthum.
Sweet peas can be trained on any fence as long as it is given support and good soil. They can also be trained as cordons up a tall cane for cut flowers.


Garden size again dictates what size of shrub you have room for, but Daphne is quite small
whereas the mock orange, Philadelphus needs a fair bit of space. Both are available in a range of different varieties.
In late winter or early spring the Chinese witch hazel, Hamamelis mollis, Viburnum fragrans, and carlesii and Mahonia will provide a wee bit of garden scent
On a lower scale many herbs provide beautiful scents through their foliage from Rosemary, and lavender to mint and ground hugging thyme, and all can be used in cooking recipes.


Every one has their favourite roses as there are so many available, but in these times where chemicals are frowned upon and no longer available to amateur gardeners many old favourites just don't have the vigour to fight off blackspot, rust and mildew diseases.
My favourite red, E. H. Morse is still good but Wendy Cussons and Margaret Merrill go down in mid season every year. The new English shrub roses are mostly scented, fairly vigorous and come in every size and colour.

Carnations and pinks

Border carnations are very easy to grow and make excellent cut flowers, and garden pinks are perfect for trailing over walls. Select those types with the strong clove scents and make sure the soil drainage is good. There are many varieties available at garden centres as well as specialist nurseries found in garden magazines or on the internet.

Beds, tubs and hanging baskets

Spring flower beds placed near front entrance doors benefit from wallflowers with their bright colours as well as strong scent. Stocks are less popular but if you want perfume they must be included.
My summer hanging baskets are placed beside main entrances and I always include the deep blue petunia both for its strong colour as well as its scent, though seed producers never seem to give this trait much recognition.
If you have a large tub or border a specimen dot plant using a Brugmansia, the Angels Trumpets will fill the garden on any warm evening with a strong exotic perfume, but remember all parts of the plant are poisonous with a hallucinogenic chemical.


In spring it is the narcissus and hyacinths that reign supreme followed by flag iris, then in summer nothing can compare with the scent of exotic lilies.
There are many other scented bulbs to try if space can be found in the greenhouse. Try the Polianthus tuberosa, or the spider lily, Ismene festalis or even the sub tropical Hedychium coronarium. They all require careful looking after but the rewards make it well worth while.


Saturday, 21 August 2010

Too big for your roots


To keep the garden looking good all year round it is not enough to put in the hard graft without a fair bit of planning ahead. Tasks performed now will ensure the garden continues to look good next spring and summer.
My past career in horticulture has taken me all round the UK so I have had numerous gardens to design, plant and care for. I don't rush into the task but consider carefully all the different elements I want to incorporate into the garden. I may want flower beds, roses, heather garden, herbaceous border, annual border, flowering shrubs, garden trees, climbers, vegetables and fruit and most likely a greenhouse and sunny sheltered patio.

Shasta daisies
Initial garden design
Nearly all existing gardens have some redeeming elements that are worth preserving, then give a lot of thought to what parts get the most sun, shade and shelter and the need for paths.
Often there is a need for privacy with a sunny patio to relax on, steep banks to stabilise and shelter from wind may be needed. 
If some trees, appropriate to the size of the garden, can also be planted it will give the garden scale and a backdrop within which to set out the different elements.
All of these features need to be thought out at the beginning to save moving plants around later on, but don't worry if things do not go quite as planned. That is quite normal, but make sure you have the best place for your sunny patio to relax on with a wee drink (non alcoholic, of course) while doing all this planning.

Every time you visit a garden centre you are likely to come away with that special plant that needs fitting into this great design and that's when problems begin, or you often find that you want more plants than the garden can hold. Also many plants get too big for the space you thought was sufficient for them. It is sorting out these continual problems that makes gardening a year round affair.

Seasonal tasks

Now is the time to tackle some of those tasks.
Flag Iris
Flag Iris
This is a good time to split up flag Iris when the clumps have grown large and flowering starts to deteriorate. There is always strong young rhizomes around the outside of big clumps that can be dug out for replacing. Flag Iris like a sunny position with good but free draining soil and do not plant too deep as the rhizomes grow on the surface of the soil.

Another plant I grow in a fairly dry border is a large drift of Lavender. It started off as an informal planting ten years ago of about twenty plants that eventually merged into a bold sweeping group. Very impressive at flowering time but now a bit sprawling even though they have been regularly pruned every year after flowering.
I will take a batch of cuttings about six to eight inches long and put them into a shallow tray of free draining compost kept in a shady sheltered spot outdoors. They usually root very easy and will be ready to pot up in late autumn then overwintered before planting back into a drift in spring. The old drift of Lavender will be dug out and the ground dug over, working in plenty of garden compost.. 
Lavander and heather cuttings

A similar situation has arisen in my heather garden where a large drift of gold and bronze Calluna vulgaris has got too straggly. However these require different treatment for propagation by cuttings. I will take strong young shoots about two to three inches long and space them out about an inch apart in shallow tray in normal seed compost which will then go into a covered propagator with bottom heat. This will retain moisture to keep the cuttings sturdy. They should be ready for potting up by the end of autumn or sooner, and again these will be planted out in late winter or early spring.
Heathers can remain in great shape if they are trimmed over with garden shears after flowering, but do not cut into the old wood otherwise they may not recover. However the Irish heath Daboecia will grow again very easily when severely chopped back into old wood after flowering.

Another plant that needs looking after is the Himalayan blue poppy. These give a fantastic display as a woodland edge plant when in a large informal drift. The plants will flower themselves to death over the years so new plants must be propagated from seed saved from the drift. I leave some seedheads to mature after flowering but remove them in July.
Let them dry off before shaking out masses of seeds. These can be sown in trays and left outdoors in a shady spot over winter, but do not let them dry out and protect them from birds who may dig up the compost. They require a cold period for a decent germination so provided the winter is fairly normal this should be ok and provide you with numerous young seedlings in spring. It is usually another year before they are big enough to flower.
Poppies come in numerous types as annuals, e.g. Californian, Ladybird, and biennials e.g. Iceland and perennials, e.g. Meconopsis and Orientals.
It is the biennial Iceland poppy that can be sown now from seed saved from those that have flowered from early spring and continue to provide a fair bit of bright colour.
I sow mine in plug trays with seed compost and keep them in a warm but shady position and make sure they never dry out. Hopefully they will germinate and get potted up in late summer to produce plants for planting in autumn or spring.

Iceland poppies can also be sown direct into the soil in August or September and will overwinter as young seedlings ready to flower in spring.

Feed the topsoil

To get the best out of all your plants you should make sure your soil is in excellent condition. Winter digging as early as possible and leaving the surface rough lets the weather break down the surface, and this is the best time to incorporate garden compost, manure or any other organic material to hand, even old growbags. This will improve drainage, warm up the soil, and increase microbial and worm activity which enhances availability of nutrients.
Every good garden should retain all waste plant materials for adding to the compost heap. I add grass cuttings, leaves, kitchen waste, shredded paper, and even tree and shrub prunings that first go through a shredder. Only things to get rejected are perennial weeds and any diseased plants. Good compost can also be used as a mulch on plants with surface roots that do not like soil disturbance, e.g. Azaleas, heathers
At this time of year waste from harvesting crops provides ample material to compost and it is a great idea to turn over the compost heap to allow even decomposition. It is hard work, but an excellent exercise with great benefits for all.


Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Harvesting Fruits of your Labour


The harvesting and picking season is just getting into full swing. Times are very busy as there is so many fruit and vegetable crops to be picked and eaten or preserved.
Salads have been available for some time but now the summer cabbage, courgettes, early carrots, Swiss chard, baby beet thinnings, mangetout peas, broad beans, early potatoes and leafy kale are all needing to be regularly picked.
Soft fruit picking is almost a daily task with blackcurrants, redcurrants, gooseberries, Bramble Helen, and my huge crop of saskatoons all needing to be picked. There is still a few perpetual strawberries, (Malling Opal) popping up though most of the summer ones are now finished. As usual there is always a glut so the summer diet is extremely healthy with ample spare to pass to family, friends and the freezer.
This used to be the time of year for jam making from summer soft fruits in season which would then be stored in a cool spot for use till spring. However the freezer has now taken over and fresh jams are made as they are needed, provided you can find freezer space.

My partner Anna created a brilliant compote of blackcurrants and rhubarb stewed with sugar to taste. It is added to the muesli at breakfast with a sprinkling of saskatoons or brambles and often at lunchtime with yoghurt and a dash of honey and again some soft fruit, rasps, brambles or gooseberries. As the summer season fresh fruit crops finish there is plenty in the freezer to continue the fruit diet all year round. All those anti-oxidants and vitamins must be doing us some good apart from the feel good factor from home grown produce..

Summer Flowers

Flower beds, tubs and hanging baskets are all at their peak but to keep them flowering they need feeding, watering and dead heading regularly. Shasta daisies are a picture and my exotic Japanese lilies are giving a fantastic show with a heady perfume that permeates the whole garden. I bought a couple of bulbs five years ago and after flowering kept the seed heads for sowing. They were quite easy to germinate and grow on, so now I have masses of them.
I grow a large drift in my winter border of coloured stemmed shrubs, (cornus, kerria, leycesteria, salix britzensis and acer Sangokaku) which is quite a dull border at this time of year. The lilies grow through and above the shrubs in harmony adding colour and scent.

Climbing roses as well as bush and shrub roses have all finished their main flush but many can be repeat flowering with a wee bit of summer pruning to take off seed heads, straggly shoots and any showing signs of mildew, blackspot or rust. I have a policy of only growing those varieties that are resistant to these diseases since there are no longer any chemicals available to the amateur gardener to control them other than Dithane which must be used regularly and preferably before the first signs of any disease appears. However if you grow organically it may be possible to look into the latest idea to use of milk sprayed at 10% dilution every ten days throughout the whole season to prevent some fungus diseases from getting started. This idea is still in its experimental stage, but you can keep up to date with this new method on a range of gardening and allotment forums on the internet..

My other main flower task at this time of year is disbudding early flowering chrysanthemums. I grow one bed with a range of decorative, reflex and incurving flower heads and another bed of sprays which need no disbudding. These will give me cut flower for the house from August till October. I grow these in beds three feet wide and support them with 6 inch weldmesh wire held between four posts. As the plants grow up I raise the weldmesh to keep them supported.

Gladioli are now coming into bloom and will be cut for the house with some left on my allotment to give a show of colour throughout the summer. These are grown on well manured good soil in rows one foot apart and planted four inches apart along the row.
I have kept the corms for years and add new varieties to the collection every year.

Looking ahead to next spring my wallflower seedlings sown in the middle of June, are just perfect for transplanting so they can make a sturdy bushy plant by autumn. I transplant my four inch seedlings into rows spaced 12 inches apart with the plants at 4 inch spacings.
These will be planted on good ground that has just been cleared of my broad bean crop. I also had some land left over from my early summer cabbage, but as they are all in the same family, cruciferae, the risk of clubroot disease is too great to risk it.. I can sow some late summer lettuce and radish or even a fast growing dwarf early pea variety here. There should just be enough season left for these to grow and give a crop in autumn.

Hanging Baskets and Tubs

These are now at their most colourful and can be kept like that with continual dead heading, watering and feeding. My hanging baskets usually combine a central geranium with petunias and nemesia, then Impatiens and trailing lobelia around the perimeter to hide the container.
Some pots which were planted with winter flowering pansies for an early spring display dont seem to realise it is summer. They were to be replaced with summer bedding weeks ago, but they refused to stop flowering and continue to provide an excellent display so I will just leave them a wee bit longer.
Often in late summer I will replant any pot or tub that is going past its best with cyclamen in flower which become available in garden centres in late summer and early autumn. They will then flower till the frosts come.

Larger tubs get my best tuberous begonias as they need more space and in full flower they are very impressive. I bought a box of young begonias nearly twenty years ago and at the end of the season, usually late October I lift and dry them. The dormant tubers are stored in my garage over winter.

I should be finding some time to do some painting, but art has been relegated to late evenings often going well beyond midnight as I need the daylight hours for gardening tasks.
Just finished potting up a batch of indoor and outdoor grape vines which I will take to the Camperdown Flower Show in September to accompany my saskatoon fruit bushes.

Summer pruning fruit bushes

Mid summer is the best time to prune currants and gooseberries, peaches and of course grape vines need continual pruning throughout the growing season.
Blackcurrants fruit on young shoots produced and ripened the previous year, so cut out old wood that has just fruited down to the nearest young shoot. Also cut off any branches too close to ground level.
Red and white currants are spur pruned on a framework of about nine main branches which can be replaced every third year. Cut back all sideshoots to four or five leaves on these main branches.
Peaches are also better spur pruned in late summer to encourage fruit buds to form and restrict growth.
Grape vines need all new growths cut back to one leaf in summer. Earlier on all shoots would have been cut back to two leaves after each flower truss.


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.