Friday, 24 September 2010

Low maintenance friendly hedges


All my gardening life I have never understood the concept of having a privet hedge, but its popularity tells a different story.
I had the benefit of a five year gardening apprenticeship, (most likely quite rare today) combined with being transferred to different squads all round Dundee to give us a wide range of experiences. Our training instructor, Walter Gilmour, still fondly remembered by many Dundee gardeners was very keen on visiting other gardens, horticultural research stations, nurseries and botanical gardens all over Scotland. This increased our knowledge of plants and how others use them. Hedges were created from numerous plants both dwarf and tall, evergreen and deciduous and with both low and high maintenance.
Many examples were seen of fantastic skills with the hand shears where straight lines, angles, curves and other shapes were meticulously maintained. No leaf was allowed to step out of its allotted space. This was old fashioned horticultural discipline at its best.
Today we have mechanical hedge trimmers with staff on bonus and often the tasks are put out to contract so hedges become functional, cheaper to look after but seldom a work of art to look at.
Hedge cutting in the Parks Dept. in the sixties was a huge task to keep labour employed during the winter as many ornamental open spaces were filled with a wide variety of shrubs all of which received the bog standard haircut of flat tops, square sides or maybe cut into a round ball. It did not matter if it was a flowering shrub, evergreen or conifer.
My lesson for life was that in my garden, I would never ever plant a hedge that needed pruning.

The need for a hedge

It is quite normal to want to define your property garden boundary with a hedge, or separate the ornamental areas from the vegetable patch, or maybe hide the compost heap somewhere.
Hedges can also be used to give shelter from winds, to create an impenetrable barrier to keep animals in or for privacy in the garden or around the patio and barbecue areas.
The height of a hedge should be governed by your own personal need as well as others if they are likely to be affected. Hedges can be very tall, the beech hedge at Meikleour or quite dwarf where box edging is often used around herb gardens, and the range of plants used can be enormous. Some require constant clipping to keep them in shape and control their size whereas others will do the same function without the need for continual pruning as long as it is acceptable to have a more ornamental appearance.

High maintenance hedges

Privet is still the most widely used but more likely because people don't know what else to use and it is very cheap. Golden privet has a better colour and the lack of chlorophyll holds back its growth. Lonicera nitida is very popular, easy to prune and shape and not too vigorous. Beech is deciduous, but often retains its leaves into winter. It can be kept at any height. Leyland cypress is cheap, fast, evergreen and can make a good solid hedge if kept under control, but has lost its credibility through abuse from those who plant it and let it run wild in urban areas to the extreme anxiety of neighbours. More on this one later.
It is quite possible to create an environmentally and neighbour friendly hedge that is both functional and ornamental and requires little pruning.

Low maintenance hedges

Berberis comes in many forms and sizes and being spiky makes an attractive barrier, many of which are evergreen and Berberis darwinnii has brilliant orange flowers in spring.
Shrub roses come in all sizes are can have scented flowers all summer. Philadelphus is quite tall but is very majestic in spring with white scented blossoms. Lonicera Baggesons Gold grows up to five feet and is quite spectacular all year round. Its dense foliage gives great shelter to small birds and it does not need to be pruned.
Saskatoons, can make a perfect hedge and give a show of white flowers in spring followed by a crop of edible berries in summer for picking or as food for local birds. It can be grown to any height up to twelve feet with minimalistic pruning.
For a low hedge Fuchsia Mrs Popple will grow to four feet and although deciduous it is a mass of flowers all summer. However every so often when we get a very cold winter it gets cut down to ground level, but nearly always grows again the following year.
Lavender is quite popular for a really low hedge with scented foliage and purple summer flowers.
For a conifer hedge the dwarf pine, Pinus mugo, or slightly taller Pinus strobus nana both look natural if left to grow unpruned.
Many other shrubs including Escallonia, rhododendrons and camelias, etc. can be used for hedging. Select according to height needs and plant closer together to establish a close nit hedge or line of ornamental shrubs.

Problem hedges

Where shelter or privacy needs require a tall boundary screen always give thought to adjacent neighbours who may be affected. Your paradise could be their nightmare.
My first experience was with a friendly neighbour in Darlington, knowing I had a fair bit of knowledge asked me if I could help him to identify this plant growing in the middle of his new greenhouse. It was a shoot of my very vigorous ornamental bamboo hedge Arundinaria anceps that can grow immense and I had planted a fair distance from his garden not realising it liked space to grow. It promptly got the chop, and I lost my supply of garden canes, but kept my friendly neighbour.
Problems arise when hedges are allowed to grow without any thoughts on their nuisance effect. Are they blocking some-ones view, or obstructing paths, visual access along footpaths and highways, growing over another's property, blocking light to windows, blocking drains, (poplars and willow can do this) or shedding leaves into another garden or roof gutters.
Encroaching roots can also do considerable damage interfering with underground service pipes and cables, competing with garden plants for moisture and nutrients and in times of drought add to the moisture loss levels causing clay and peaty soils to shrink. When rain follows the resultant heave can damage walls and older buildings which may not have adequate foundations.
Leyland cypress can also drop limbs in heavy winds endangering people and property.
People trying to sell property next to a hedge problem can suffer a significant loss in value.
In England there are positive signs that legislation is helping to end the misery caused by overgrown hedges, but at present in Scotland the law provides no protection to sufferers.
A campaign run by Scothedge is behind a proposal for legislation in Scotland to develop guidelines on hedges backed with last resort enforceable arbitration. The problem is currently under consideration and meanwhile anyone in need of support can get advice from Pamala by email at


Thursday, 16 September 2010

Border Plants


Modern gardens can be an extension of a home's living space. The indoor living space is subject to fashion as replacement furniture is modernised and moved around to maintain interest and keep up to date with new technologies and the latest fashions.
This suits comfort, taste, appearance and socialising.

The garden, (the outdoor living space) is just the same as ideas change with healthy living through fresh foods and exercise, relaxing on the patio after a stressful days work and socialising around a barbecue being just as important as choice of that special must have plant.

The garden has developed over the years from the narrow cottage garden border where a few choice plants would grow, often from cuttings or suckers obtained from a friend's garden. These often had scented flowers such as border pinks, iris and herbs such as thyme, sage, lavender, rosemary and mint to be used in the kitchen. Borders often had honeysuckle growing up border fences.
Cyclamen hederifolium
Garden space got bigger after the last war when there was a steady demand for fresh vegetables and some fruit was necessary as there was no supermarkets, and people wanted to grow colourful flowers to raise spirits. There was a continuous flow of new vegetable varieties, fruit, flowers and other garden plants.

The garden enthusiast could indulge in a massive extension in the range of plants available to fill their borders. Slowly garden centres and specialist nurseries have grown to meet this need to try something new, different or just the latest fashion.

The Modern Garden

The pace of change has been huge as gardens are now smaller to meet housing needs where space for building gets priority over garden space. However, the pace of life is faster, more demanding and stressful and the need for a place to relax in all the more relevant. The garden may be smaller but can still be designed as a place to chill out, and be visually attractive and easy to look after.
Today's popular plants are those that are easy to grow, pest and disease free, have long lasting colour from flowers or foliage, give good ground cover and are not invasive or grow too tall. People want colour but without too much effort.

The herbaceous border would be fine if the plants did not need staking and climbers are great if they are self clinging. If only it were that easy.

It is possible to create that attractive garden border with colour all year round and easy to maintain, but most often there is a fair bit of graft to perform before we reach for the sun lounger on our sunny patio.

Choosing Border Plants

Anemone Honorine Jobert
Choice of plants is always a personal matter, but garden centres have such a wide choice that plants can be tried for a few years then dug up to be replaced by the next garden fashion accessory if they have any failings. My own garden goes through major transformations as many of my previous plant favourites especially roses, succumb to diseases in clean air devoid of sulphur. Global warming will also affect the choice of plant as warmer summers and winters are not to every plants liking and we also take the opportunity to try those more exotic plants that we might manage in a better climate. I'm assuming that our Scottish climate will get warmer and hoping that we wont just get warmer summer rain and a lot more of it. What's the point of a warm wet summer and a dry winter and spring!
Spray chrysanthemums

A larger garden has scope to have colour all year round with a wide choice of plants, but many smaller gardens can be an absolute treasure with just one well grown plant giving a burst of colour for a couple of weeks that will be remembered for a long time. I have noted several Dundee gardens with one brilliant azalea, one Rhododendron praecox, one philadelphus, or oriental poppies.
Wherever there is only room for a very limited number of plants it is better to select good plant combinations where they will all be at their best at the same time. If you have a garden where there is a wee bit of colour over many months but scattered around here and there, the impact is lost. Try a red quince under-planted with daffodils, or a Forsythia under-planted with Fosteriana tulip Red Emperor. A later early summer combination is flag iris, oriental poppies and pyrethrum. Another good spring combination is the lemon yellow broom Cytisus praecox amongst a drift of dwarf early red tulips and blue grape hyacinths all flowering together.

It is important to make the most from the space available, so plants can be very accommodating growing happily together, but at different depths. My winter border of coloured stemmed shrubs are attractive from October to the end of February. Then they get pruned to ground level as the snowdrops take pride of place to be replaced by the crocus two weeks later. Another couple of weeks later then the tulips take over and in July my lilies get the border to themselves being supported by the young shoots of my cornus and other coloured stemmed shrubs. Lilies are also useful companions to dwarf Japanese azaleas where they both grow happily together.

All Year Round Colour

Fuchsia Mrs Popple
Where there is scope for a range of border plantings consider trying to get year round colour. I have borders around all sides of my house so those that need a warm south border will be different from those in the northern shady border. No point putting crocus here as they need sun to open up the flowers, but snowdrops are perfect as they are happy in the shade.
My borders start the flowering season in winter with Jasmine climbing over a fence under-planted with snowdrops. Aconites are nearby in a drift surrounding a pure white Christmas Rose, the Hellebore.
My first herbaceous plants are the yellow Doronicum next to the blue Pulmonaria, then a drift of hyacinths pushes through the bed of flag iris, extending the flowering season.

The garden bursts with colour in spring and early summer but by August other garden areas have their moment. Fuchsia Mrs Popple, having just survived last winter is now in full flower and combines well with the white Anemone Honorine Jubert.
A spring drift of another Anemone called blanda dies down for a summer rest to be replaced with Cyclamen hederifolium.
As autumn approaches the michaelmas daisies have their display and this year I am also trying a drift of spray chrysanthemums, usually grown for cut flower but with tops removed to encourage them to branch into a wide plant which will be self supporting. I've no wish to stake them.


Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Winds of Change


Childhood memories of sunny summers getting burnt on Broughty Ferry beach followed by hard winters when we could ice skate on the roads, (very few cars around) and have plenty of snow for sledging, snowmen and igloos, all belong to my generation. I was not able to offer my young family the same fun as they grew up with a lot less snow visible and although the summers seemed fine there was a lot more wet days if your holiday was at home.
However there was always the extreme conditions of a very cold winter, six foot snow drifts, local floods you will not forget, and every ten to fifteen years a very hot summer.

My gardening career started during the 1959 summer heatwave as an apprentice gardener in Dundee Parks Dept. working in the Howff cemetery. A glorious three months ended when the rains came in September and flooded the Howff and many other places.
Gardening activities force you to work with the weather so you become aware of weather patterns and how they change over your lifetime.
Date Palm
I was working in Darlington Parks Dept during the 1976 heatwave. Our main bedding displays relied on geraniums and petunias which could not have been better. We won the Regional Britain in Bloom Award. However the heatwave had other effects, especially on the greenfly pests. Farmers in east Anglia were applying high levels of nitrogen fertiliser to increase grain yields. This also gave a lot more leaf content which combined with the hot summer caused breeding greenfly to reach plague proportions. Once they had devastated East Anglia they took to the air to find new pastures. A drift extended from Kent to Newcastle and scientists estimated the weight to be in excess of 200,000 tons of greenfly.
That summer I was on Scarborough beach when the sky darkened from the sea and expecting a thunderstorm got quite a shock when the plague of greenfly arrived.
Hitchcock could not have done it better!! The sea and sand turned green and everyone ran for cover. The following year there was a mini plague of ladybirds which had been feasting on the greenfly.
Gardens, farm crops and the outdoor natural landscape will all be affected as global warming changes our climate. Future generations will need to adapt to climate change as this generation embraces the changes, assesses the impact and takes steps to alleviate the problems.

Changing weather patterns

The UK has always had a different local climate for different areas, being affected by proximity to the sea, and the gulf stream, hills and mountains, built up urban areas, winds and geography. The south is generally warmer than the north, the west wetter than the east, but extreme weather conditions can affect any area with tornadoes in the Midlands, hurricanes in the south and flooding just about anywhere. Counting 2010 we have had four very wet years following the record breaking heatwave of 2006. June was truly flaming, but then the rains came in July and hopefully when you read this it will have stopped. However the south of the country has been basking in a glorious heatwave with gardens desperate for water. My garden hose has not been used for four years.
Mild winters have seen the snowdrops flower a month earlier than normal followed by other spring bulbs all early. Grass cutting always started first week in April, but now it is more likely to be mid March and the season finishes, not when the grass stops growing but when it is too wet to put the mower over the ground.

The Good

Fig Brown Turkey
Gardeners love to try out new plants and now with a warmer climate the time is right to experiment with those exotics we admire from holidays abroad.
There is a whole range of palm trees worthy of planting from the cabbage palm, Cordyline australis to the date palm, Phoenix canariensis and those colourful Bougainvillea's might one day become common in UK.
It may be normal to grow our tomatoes outdoors rather than under glass and sweet corn could become a major crop.
Already I am having success with peaches and figs and some types of outdoor grape vines and as warming continues it is quite possible that Scotland could have numerous vineyards especially as it may become too hot for their success in France.
Pete Gottgens is prepared to be a leader in this field by establishing a vineyard on the banks of Loch Tay with his experience of growing grapes in South Africa. He hopes for success by choosing an early variety, Solaris suited for a northern location. We may no longer have very cold winters, (last winter being an extreme one off), and our summers may be getting warmer, but that is tempered with the prospect of a wetter summer and less sunshine hours. Scotland's first vineyard will be a barometer for the future. Gardeners will be encouraged to experiment with a range of grape varieties grown in more favourable locations with less incidence of rainfall and more sunshine hours.
In time, cherries, nectarines, apricots, citrus fruits and dare I say bananas and olives could well be grown on our Carse of Gowrie.
The woodland landscape could see more sweet chestnuts, walnuts, and eucalyptus.

The Bad

A climate that progressively gets warmer will affect many of our trees e.g. beech does not like dry soils. Herbaceous borders, rhododendrons, azaleas and lawns require moist soils so could suffer from too dry conditions. Soft fruit including raspberries, strawberries and blueberries would struggle, but saskatoons can tolerate drier conditions.
Many fruit plants require a period of winter chill to set fruit buds without which the following years crop is greatly reduced, e.g. blackcurrants.
Sweet Corn
It was always good gardening practice on allotments to complete winter digging before Christmas leaving the surface rough to allow frosts to break down the soil surface, but with mild and wet winters good digging opportunities are few and far between. In spring a poor soil surface restricts the germination of seeds.
Plum trees flower so early that there is often not enough insects around to pollinate the flowers thus reducing the crop. I do not mind hand pollinating my smaller peach tree every day with a fine sable brush in March, but the plum is twenty feet tall. Forget it !!

The Ugly

The changing climate not only affects plants, but also animals, insects and diseases.
Mild wet winters and wetter summers up north give rise to the spread of damping off, blight, root rots, scab and mildew. Potato blight can be problematic so make sure the variety has some tolerance or resistance to it. Similarly roses are suffering badly from black spot, rust and mildew so only grow those varieties strong enough to withstand an attack.
However the root rot, phytophthora has many types that affect many different plants and could become a major problem in gardens as well as raspberry fields.

Two generations from now could see a massive change in the horticultural and agricultural landscape.


Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Healthy Food in Abundance


August is a crucial month for harvesting in the gardeners calendar. There are so many edible vegetables and fruit available that it is impossible to eat your way through the crops, so friends and relatives all benefit and the freezer starts to get used in earnest.
Salad crops of lettuce, radish, tomato and spring onion have to be eaten fresh, but courgettes can be used either for immediate cooking or used for soup which can then be stored frozen.
Other crops of vegetables and fruit can have a very short shelf life so need to be prepared for freezing.


My summer cabbage Golden Acre may be an old variety, but it is very reliable and has been cropping for nearly two months with large, very tender, delicious heads. Caterpillar attacks were kept down by inspecting and picking off as soon as seen. Although they will soon be finished my winter cabbage Traviata, is heading up very well so I will try them out long before winter arrives.

Onions are now ready to ease up a wee bit with the garden fork to help them ripen in the late summer sunshine, if only it comes. They will get dried off and stored in a frost proof garage on wire trays. However they do lend themselves to roping up for storing in the garage.

Dwarf French Beans are now getting picked in abundance, then topped and tailed before blanching for the freezer. Those cooked immediately are extremely tender and delicious with a wee bit of butter melted over them.

My early salad potato Charlotte suffered from blight due to yet another wet year, (four in a row) so I am lifting all of them, and so far the crop has been excellent. Brilliant in salads, but they can boil away very quickly so keep an eye on them.


My first early apple the Oslin, also known as the Arbroath Pippin is now ready. I do not grow too many of them as they do not keep and only last about two to three weeks on the tree, but they are delicious with a unique flavour. The growth is quite healthy and disease resisting, but there has been some brown rot on the fruit not helped by the wet weather. The Oslin was brought over to Arbroath Abbey by the cistercian monks in the 12th century and although they established extensive orchards as a food source and for cider production they have mostly all disappeared.
Scotland was once a major centre for top fruit production growing apples, pears and plums from Melrose in the borders, Clydebank in the west and Carse of Gowrie in the east. These served local markets for years with excellent tasty fruit, but major supermarkets required cheap produce with perfect unblemished skins and evenly sized fruit that can withstand bruising during the picking and cleaning processes and have a long shelve life within the store. Older varieties did not posses all these qualities so they have been passed by for other modern varieties, mainly from abroad that travel well and may look good on the shelf, but do not have the distinctive flavours of older varieties.
Other pressures on land for housing, roads, railway and other agricultural crops together with orchards getting older and little replanting of young trees resulted in the demise of the Carse of Gowrie as a top fruit growing area.
However there is an interest in going back to these older varieties to ensure they are not lost forever as they are perfect for Scottish gardens and smaller estates who may be well capable of picking them carefully and selling them locally in farmers shops and markets. If the price may not compete with the supermarket the flavours, aromas and taste will be well beyond anything they are currently stocking. In time as the price of oil increases, affecting transport costs, it may be economic to establish commercial top fruit orchards with varieties known to do well here but grown as a commercial undertaking.

My young Peregrine peach tree grown on a south facing fence has now ripened the first of seven large fruits. The cold prolonged winter and late spring held back flowering so that frost was not a problem, but even so there was very few insects around to pollinate the flowers so hand pollination with my sable watercolour brush did the trick. Peach leaf curl disease has not appeared this year so the tree has excellent vigour.
It may not be a huge crop, but they will ripen on the tree with an intense flavour, and in Scotland it is quite a challenge to ripen them outdoors.

My saskatoon bushes have now all been picked. I cannot understand how last year I picked all the crop in one week, yet this year I have been picking for over four weeks. I will have enough in the freezer to last till next years crop.

Brown Turkey fig tree has started to yield a few ripe fruits which will continue for several weeks. A return to some summer weather would not go amiss to dry and sweeten them up, but the continual rain may tend to favour botrytis as they need to be left to ripen till they are quite dark and soft.

Raspberry Autumn Bliss has also started to crop. This mild wet weather is in their favour as the fruit is huge and sweet, but the canes are very tall at over six feet, and bramble Helen also favours the climate, but may do even better if the rain went off. We are not short of moisture in the ground this year, just a bit like the last three years.

The three year old goji plant continues to grow but there was no sign of any flower or fruit this year. As this is very new there are numerous gardeners all over the UK awaiting the first fruits. Sounds a bit like my new saskatoons, but hopefully 2011 will be the year.


Gladioli and sweet peas are providing ample cut flower for the house and soon my spray chrysanthemums will be in full bloom as they are already showing a lot of colour.


Tomato Alicante fully ripened on the plant is pure pleasure to eat in a salad and my Sweet One Million cherry toms just melt in your mouth. Alicante is a bit late, but now has very heavy crops that end up in the freezer to be used for tomato soup in winter.
The damp air has resulted in a fair bit of blight rotting the foliage. This must be picked off before it spreads to other leaves and fruit, but to compensate for loss of leaves, very relevant as the lower leaves are removed as the cordon grows upwards, I allow some of the top sideshoots to grow. This ensures there is always enough green leaves to draw up the sap and feed the developing tomatoes.

Grape vine Flame is colouring up well so hopefully I will have a fully ripe bunch to display on my stand at the Dundee Flower and Food Festival in Camperdown Park which runs from Friday 3rd September to Sunday 5th September. As well as my Scottish grown saskatoon fruit bushes I will also be showing some outdoor grape vines suited to this location, now we have a wee bit of global warming in Scotland.


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.