Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Preparing for Winter


Autumn is a very important time in the gardening calendar as it is this time we assess the results of the seasons work so we can plan for the next year. It is also the time to get overwintering outdoor crops tidied up before winter sets in and prepare those requiring winter storage. Then there is the winter digging, fruit tree and bush pruning and before long the leaves will have started to fall.
In fact its quite weird and very unusual, but the seasons seem to be normal. Autumn leaves are falling in autumn instead of early winter, snow is falling at low levels in some places, summer bedding would appear to be finished and the rain has stopped. I cannot remember much wet weather during the tattie picking season, though it was often frosty in the mornings. Then as usual thousands of geese flying in formation overhead are making their way up the Tay estuary. Now, this is autumn.
Allotment work

The cold weather is just what we need to sweeten up the winter cabbage, leeks, kale, Brussel sprouts, swede turnips, Swiss chard and my four parsnips that grew from a whole packet of seeds. Next year I will definitely change the variety and supplier.
Last year I left my beetroot in the ground rather than lift for storage and even though we had a very cold winter they came to no harm, so I will try the same again this year, but earth them up a wee bit to give the roots some protection from frosts.
It is a good idea to try to complete winter digging, adding manure or compost, before the end of the year, but this usually depends on good weather so the soil is not too wet to walk on. Any land sown down to a green manure crop such as mustard must be dug over immediately the first flowers appear otherwise they may set seed and end up being a real nuisance.
Gladioli and chrysanthemums have now finished so they can be lifted and stored for next year. Gladioli are dried off and stored in a cool box in dry sand or dry soil in a frost free shed. Chrysanthemum stools are boxed up and kept moist in a cold but frost free greenhouse over winter.

My strawberry varieties Symphony and Florence have both had three fruiting years, so now is the time to replace them from runners. They have produced a lot of very strong healthy runners so I can afford to give the new strawberry bed on freshly prepared and composted ground special treatment. Rows are spaced three feet apart, but I can afford to make each row a double row six inches apart and space the plants up each row at six inch spacings. This way I will establish a thick row in the first year to give a far heavier crop than traditional planting distances.

Winter Storage

Pumpkins have been lifted, washed and are now stored as an ornamental feature in our utility room where it is not too warm. They will be used fresh for fantastic soups up till next April, then any remaining will have the flesh scooped out and frozen for use later. The seeds will be used for next years crop.
Onions have been dried off and stored in nets hung up in the garage.
Carrots are lifted and stored in between dry straw and covered over with soil to keep them frost free.
Potatoes are now all lifted, dried, sorted out and stored in boxes in a cool but frost free spot.
Apples have now all been harvested, even my Bramleys, sorted out and stored in cardboard trays in the garage. The Discovery variety is finished so now we are eating the Fiesta. Red Falstaff and Red Devil will be stored a bit longer to ripen up.
The freezers are packed with enough fruit and vegetables to keep a large family well fed for well over a year. French beans, broad beans, (it makes a brilliant winter soup) and the best of our sweet corn crop are all frozen and surplus kale leaves get frozen as this makes it easier to break them up for soups without losing any of their nutritional value.
When you add soft fruit to the freezer such as strawberries, rasps, red currants, black currants, gooseberries, saskatoons and brambles it makes sense to pack them in square shaped plastic containers to maximise space and minimise empty air space.
Rhubarb, surplus pears and plums which do not store well can also be frozen to be used throughout the rest of the year.
The latest health trend to use any surplus fruit is in a delicious smoothie. This retains the healthy properties of the fruit or vegetables and can be taken as a food or thick drink. They can also be used in place of cream for summer puddings. Our favourite smoothie at present is made with our Aronia berries. This new berry crop is also called the chokeberry as the fresh fruit is astringent if eaten raw, but easily loses this when cooked. As far as superfood status goes the aronia ranks near the top of the list having ten times as much anti-oxidants as a blueberry. As well as smoothie it makes a great jam and can be juiced for a drink with some sugar added.


Geraniums are easily overwintered as rooted cutting taken early in October and put in small pots. Keep them cool and don't over water, but if you wish to build up stock then water and feed oftener and grow in a light warm greenhouse or windowsill. Take the tops out for cuttings as soon as big enough, then take another cutting from the second cutting once it has put on a bit of growth. Grow them fast and repeat the process. It is possible to get ten plants from one plant by late spring.
I will be sowing my Meconopsis, (Himalayan blue poppy) now that it has been in the fridge for three months. It will remain outdoors to complete its stratification period and hopefully germinate in spring.
My saskatoon seed and now Aronia also get stratified before they will germinate. Select good berries at harvest time and squeeze them out of the flesh as soon as possible as the flesh contains germination inhibiting hormones. Wash them and use a kitchen roll to remove the worst of the moisture then store them in moist kitchen roll in the fridge. Do not let them dry out. Sow the seed outdoors in a prepared seedbed or in containers and keep these outside to weather. Germination should occur in spring. However this year my saskatoon variety Smoky has started to germinate. This is October so I do not know if the young seedlings will survive the winter so Smoky will go into my cold greenhouse for a wee bit of protection.

Spring bedding

Now that autumn appears to be with us most of my summer display of bedding plants in beds, tubs and hanging baskets is over. My geraniums are still colourful, so I will leave them alone for another week, and my tuberous begonias still think it is summer. They are still brilliant so no harm will come to them at this stage, even if I have bags of tulips, hyacinths and crocus eager to get planted.
Tubs of begonias will be replaced with a mixture of polyanthus underplanted with scented hyacinths. Smaller pots and hanging baskets will be planted with winter pansies and some crocus, and my main flower beds will be planted with wallflower grown from seed on my allotment, and a mixture of Darwin Hybrid tulips once I finally decide the geraniums are past their best.


Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Garden Art


I often wonder if I have just been lucky, or if fate intended me to have two creative careers.
My horticultural career lasted over thirty years and involved not just growing plants but also using them in the landscape in the design of parks, gardens, housing, highways, retail, industry and forestry.
I got immense pleasure from the creative processes especially returning a few years later when the landscape matured and the improvements could be seen and enjoyed by the public. Some schemes were on a small scale, a shop, a factory, a few flower beds then others were on a more grander scale with ample scope for your creative ideas. A new golf course in Darlington desperately needed trees everywhere, then Livingston new town needing a programme of daffodil planting of over two million bulbs over three years.
All this time I enjoyed a range of hobbies from wine making, swimming, travelling, hill walking and painting.
However, I changed careers in 1992 to become a full time artist and now my horticultural creations are of a more modest scale, such as a hanging basket or plant tub, and my painting has become the source for my creative energies.
Having been blessed, or cursed with the creative gene does bring great pleasure when your work is admired, whether it be a colourful garden, an immense pumpkin or a beautiful painting. The drawback comes when you consider the possibility of retirement. When I officially retire my two main hobbies will be gardening and painting. So, at what point can I tell myself I am retired.

Anyway, coming back from thoughts of retirement, I always seem to find a new project to work on in the art world, and it often starts in the garden or on the allotment.

Allotment Art

A few years back I started growing saskatoon fruit bushes in pots around the house, but soon realised they needed more space to grow, so I decided to find an allotment for them.
It would also serve to grow other fruits, vegetables and flowers getting me back into growing plants again. Then of course there is the exercise value as well as the health benefits of fresh produce all year round.
The new plot needed a fair bit of tidying up to remove old wild brambles, weeds, broken fences and repairing the dilapidated shed. A meandering path in the wrong place needed removing and replacing, so since I have no problem working outdoors in all seasons these tasks kept me on site regularly throughout the winter.
Even when the snow came I couldn't resist a trip to the allotment to see how the plot looked covered in a blanket of snow.
The site was a winter wonderland of untouched pristine snow and as I had my camera with me I walked up and down every path as ideas for winter landscape paintings appeared at every turn. My digital camera was working overtime. City Road allotments have been going for years and now most plots have some kind of shed and greenhouse in every shape possible and in various degrees of hastily repaired dereliction.
Broken down fences, steps, scattered water barrels, pots, boxes, posts, wheelbarrows and old gnarled apple trees covered in snow made perfect subjects for a series of garden winter landscape paintings. One of my neighbours suffering from a bad back recently, had not kept a very tidy plot, but his stack of old boxes, pots, barrels and pallets piled against his semi derelict shed was just perfect. Another plot with an old apple tree pruned way beyond any sensible shape added another perfect image to be captured on canvas.
I enjoyed creating this series so much that I decided to run an allotment painting workshop in the spring.
This turned out to be very popular and at the time there were many plots covered in poppies and other summer flowers. However different people see beauty in different ways. One lady just loved the clever graffiti covering a large shed and for another it was the washing hanging from the tenement clothes lines blowing in the sun.
I also found more inspiration for another series of allotment paintings in both watercolour and acrylic balancing flowers and vegetables against the allotment furniture and structures.

Garden Flowers

Painting the “Winter on the Allotment” series took several months by which time spring had emerged and my garden was a picture of flowers.
This time I decided to throw caution aside and got out some of my biggest canvases. These images were to be very bold using large flowers with impact. My first was the Iceland poppies which brighten up the spring and continue right through the summer as long as you keep taking off the seed heads.
Next was some brilliant candy striped early tulips, Carnaval de Nice contrasting the illuminated blossoms against a deep blue background. A beautiful lemon narcissus was next then my flag iris started to bloom and gave me quite a choice for another large canvas.
I grow a wide range of iris which come in many colours supplied from specialist hardy plant growers in Shropshire, Claire Austin. I chose the deep purple, Dusky Challenger and again used a contrasting pale blue background.
Spring leads into summer and I was overwhelmed with choice of flowers to paint. There was not time to do them all so the camera captured hundreds of images to be stored on my computer so I can pull them out at any time. The digital camera allows you to keep the best and delete the rest.
The apple trees were terrific especially when you zoom in to capture the flowers as a close up, then my bright red oriental poppies gave a fantastic though short lived display.
Rhododendrons and azaleas seem to thrive in this mild wet climate so gave me dazzling blossoms which I like to zoom in on to capture individual flowers or small groups of them.
Another brilliant red tuberous begonia growing in a deep blue flower pot caught my eye. I look forward to getting that one on canvas.
Lilies and fuchsias will always give great value, but you need to photograph them in full sun against a dark background or sometimes I can find a low angle to get them against a deep blue summer sky.

Garden Art Exhibition

John is showing some of his flower paintings at the Dundee Art Society Autumn Exhibition at 17 Roseangle open from Saturday 30th October to Sunday 7th November 2010. Open every day from 11am to 5pm.

Garden Blog

I have created a garden blog to store these weekly articles in, so if you wish to look back to any previous feature they are stored in date order. They can also be viewed by title and keywords. The blog is called the Scottish artist and his garden blogspot.

Saskatoon update

Landward TV will be featuring John's saskatoon fruit bushes on their programme about growing and using Scottish superfoods on Friday 29th October at 7pm on BBC2


Thursday, 21 October 2010

Preparing the Soil


We live in times where just about everybody is suffering from some degree of stress. Modern living lifestyles demand a great need to spend money that may be in short supply.
Although past generations may have been a lot poorer and had just as much if not more stress, they were not aware of it. Television and newspapers have made us all aware of how everyone everywhere is living with special emphasis on celebrity lifestyles.
Now we cant all enjoy that life so we look around for activities at our own level to enjoy or for exercise and relaxation.
There is nothing better than going back to nature, with a walk in the hills, or along the seashore, (we have ample places to visit in Scotland) or turning to gardening where you can indulge in growing a few plants around the house or if you are lucky, on your allotment.
They are now in big demand with councils working hard to reduce the ever increasing waiting lists.
Allotment sites are very sociable places where gardening discussions are going on in every corner to swap information and learn how to grow those huge clean vegetables or special brilliant flower displays.
There is a lot of people coming into allotment life with the romantic notion of relaxing on a seat in the sun amidst the wonderful crops of fruit, flowers and vegetables. For some this is reality, but unfortunately for others they never realised that to achieve this euphoric state without recourse to alcohol, a wee bit of work may have to be performed now and then.
It seems a priority to work hard at creating a visual amenity, so paths,fences, sheds, greenhouses, and patios all get attention. However allotment gardening is about growing plants, and these need soil, so this must not be ignored.
Most seed will germinate and grow on any soil without too much effort, but to grow good plants you need good soil, and if you want great plants that will be admired, you will need very fertile soil.
I would advise every newcomer to gardening or allotments to get hold of a book or subscribe to a gardening magazine and study good soil management. There is also excellent websites on the internet that will advise on everything you ever need to know.
Just ask Google.

Soil amelioration

This topic played a major part in studying horticulture during apprenticeship days as it was the custom to buy in manure or make your own compost or leafmould, and use it in all soils at every opportunity.
Every park kept a leafmould heap. Some were quite huge, especially at Camperdown Park and the old quarry in Balgay Park had been filled in with the parks leaves for years.
As the leaves decomposed on the surface they were riddled to remove twigs and debris then the composted leaves used to ameliorate flower beds, rose beds, and shrub borders.
At the nursery riddled leafmould was sterilised and used to make a Dundee version of John Inness compost where it replaced the peat. It may have helped to save the planet, but the geranium cutting did not like it and losses of 50% were accepted as normal. My lesson was complete when I visited a geranium nursery in England where success was 100% and propagators wore white sterile lab jackets. Cutting were snapped off (no knives used) with just one leaf and inserted into a Jiffy 7 pot. I am still doing the same method now as I grow the same four varieties every year overwintering young rooted cuttings.
Flower beds were always manured in autumn to feed the hungry wallflower plants used for spring displays.
Our training involved both fruit and vegetable culture where manuring every autumn/winter was standard practise and our gardener instructor wanted to grow everything to exhibition standard.
Bulky organic manures feed the soil increasing worm activity and soil organisms which break down the manures into humus. This creates a fertile crumb structure which opens up the soil, aerates it and improves the drainage. Humus also darkens the soil which then warms up more efficiently. Where there is a drainage problem or where plants need a deep root run e.g. roses, fruit bushes and trees, sweet peas, it is advisable to double dig those locations forking in manures at the bottom of your trench.

Organic manures

It is not easy to get hold of good farmyard manure today so go for whatever is available such as horse, cow, pig, hen or even seaweed or leafmould. Most will need to be left for six months or longer to rot down before use.
Remember that these mainly feed the soil to create a good structure and fertiliser will still be needed to grow strong healthy plants.

Compost heap

This is where the fertility comes from. I compost everything unless it is diseased , e.g. clubroot or rose black spot or has seed heads such as poppies. Even domestic newspapers, utility bills, bank statements can be shredded and woody material can be chipped and shredded then added to the heap. Grass cuttings, leaves and annual weeds will all rot down.
However discard or dry out any perennial weeds such as couch grass, mares tail, nettles, willow herb, dockens or dandelion.
Keep the heap for nine months and try to turn it over at least once. Keep it moist to assist worms and organisms, but also keep it covered to retain the moisture and warmth. A good compost heap can kill seeds and weeds during decomposition heat up.

Discovery compost

Dundee council make an excellent very black compost from domestic green waste. This is well rotted and weed free. It is great for adding to soils to dig in or mulch or even added in small quantities to potting composts. It is heavy to handle but for £0.50 per bag of any size it is great value for money.

Green Manuring

This is an excellent method of improving soil fertility. When the early crops such as broad beans, early potatoes, sweet corn, dwarf french beans or even old strawberry plots are finished, dig or fork over the ground, add some fertiliser then scatter some mustard. You can also use annual rye grass, tares, or clover. Dont use mustard where clubroot is a problem as it will hold onto that fungus.
As soon as the first flowers appear, trample down the stems and dig it in before it gets a chance to set any seeds.


Now you have all this lovely compost decide where best to put it. Use the rotation principle where you grow all the heavy feeders together, i.e onions, leeks, beans, courgettes and pumpkins get the lions share, but keep some for the brassicas.
Root crops are happy to grow on soil that was manured for a previous crop, though I still keep some for the tattie patch. Fruit crops do not need any unless used for a mulch, or before planting to get them established.


Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Planting Spring Bulbs


It is always very uplifting to see the emergence of the first spring flowers after a long dark cold winter. They are the sign that winter is ending and warmer weather is on its way.
Traditionally March was the turning point when shoots started to appear, then up popped the first snowdrops and winter aconites. Global warming has changed all that, but climate change is not occurring gradually. It is a bit like the stock market, over time it improves but has wild swings along the journey. Several years ago I was enjoying a coffee break outdoors in glorious warm sunshine at the end of February. Last April my early tulips were broken down with the weight of snow on them. I used to think Narcissus February Gold was a joke as it flowered in April, but now it almost does flower at the end of February. See the drifts of them along the Lochee Road next February or maybe March.

This is the time of year to be planning, buying and planting bulbs for that early flower display. The garden Centres, nurseries and stores are full of bulbs for every situation around the garden.

Bulb planting ideas

Bulbs start to flower in February with the snowdrops and continue till mid summer with the lilies. They will give a more impressive display if they are planted in bold drifts. They can also be mixed together with several types of bulbs to extend the season of display. Snowdrops can be mixed with crocus and tulips which are planted deeper and also summer lilies which flower much later, but all grow happy together.
However consider the location for each type. Snowdrops, aconites, bluebells, chionodoxa and grape hyacinths are all happy in partial or dappled shade, whereas crocus need sunshine to open up the flowers. Many bulbs thrive under deciduous trees as they do their growing early before the trees develop a dense canopy. Often this canopy will dry out the soil surface in summer which may suit the bulb during its dormant stage.

I find numerous places to grow bulbs in association with other plants such as in the herbaceous border, coloured stemmed or winter border, woodland border amongst the Himalayan blue poppies, and of course in the spring bedding displays in borders and tubs.
Bulbs, such as hyacinths and narcissus can also be grown in pots for the house, then later after flowering dried off and planted out in the garden.

Early flowering bulbs such as narcissus and crocus can be planted in lawns, but remember to let the leaves grow to feed the bulbs for the following years flowers. Always allow a minimum of six weeks from flowering before mowing off the leaves, though many people will advise to leave them till they begin to turn yellow. In some wet years that can take a long time especially with the large headed daffodils.
Another great plant association is a drift of Anemone blanda with Cyclamen hederifolium as they both have totally different flowering and growing seasons. Anemone blanda flowers in spring, then grows quickly till mid summer before dying down. The cyclamen flowers emerge in late August to September and continue to grow till winter before dying down.

To capture and enjoy the beauty of those first flowers in late winter plant some snowdrops, aconites and crocus species in view of the main house windows. Then even after a snowfall you can still see them emerging unscathed from the comfort of a warm house. I have a drift of these next to a beautiful pure white Christmas rose, Helleborus niger which flowers at the same time and viewed from the patio window.

Bulbs for the house

Hyacinths are hard to beat for a flowering scented house plant and come in many colours. My favourite was always the red Jan Bos, but there are excellent blues, pinks and whites. For the earliest flowers choose bulbs that have been prepared for forcing and try to get them potted up at the end of August or early September.
Bulbs can be planted close together, even one above the other in bulb fibre compost in wide pots. Water them in then put them outdoors against a north wall. They prefer to be kept dark at this stage for about ten or so weeks and protect them from frost and mice.. This encourages root growth but holds back leaves and flowers. They should not need much watering. Keep checking them for signs of shoot growth and as soon as they begin to grow, probably in late November to December, introduce them to a light but not sunny place such as a cold frame or cool greenhouse. Keep them cold but frost free, until the flowers begin to show. Gradually warm them up but leave it to the last minute before you take them into the warmth of a house otherwise they will grow too tall.
Early narcissus and dwarf tulips e.g. Red Riding Hood, can also be grown in pots for early flowering. I like the scented Cheerfulness types which have double flowers and a heady perfume. Grow them the same way as hyacinths.

Bulbs for the garden

My season starts in early February with a clump of snowdrops planted under my grape vine on a south facing wall which gets a lot of heat from the sun. Then other snowdrops, aconites and crocus species all come together. Crocus should come after the snowdrops, but not any more. Anemone blanda is drifted under our apple trees and follows the crocus before the bluebells smother the ground under our Bramley apple and Victoria plum, all happy to grow together. In the front of our fruit tree mini orchard, (five trees) there are drifts of lilies which grow up into the sun.
The herbaceous border is covered in hyacinths previously grown in pots but now naturalised plus Chionodoxa, the Glory of the Snows. One display after another.

Where ever there is a space amongst shrubs I have planted sacks of daffodils, narcissus, tulips and grape hyacinths which are all left to grow and spread as they wish. I keep adding to them every year. Types of fosteriana tulips have large flowers, are very early and naturalise well.

Tubs and Beds

My Parks Dept training as a gardener was very thorough so I always follow our tradition of planting both summer and winter bedding plants in borders, tubs and hanging baskets.
At this time of year the normal selection will be Wallflowers, Myosotis, Polyanthus and winter flowering pansies.
I choose the tall Darwin Hybrid tulips for interplanting amongst the wallflower, but dwarf early tulips or species to go between the others.
Tubs and pots are also planted with dwarf tulips amongst the pansies and myosotis and often a few crocus are added to give an early display.
I do not use bulbs in my winter hanging baskets as these are usually filled with winter pansies which can suffer from too much foliage from the crocus which just loves to grow when you water and feed them.
All of these bulbs get dried out after flowering to be reused elsewhere in the garden the following year.


Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Tayside Top Fruit


Very few pleasures in the garden can match the delight in late summer of picking that first bright red apple from your own home grown tree. Very few adults let alone children can resist the temptation to pick an apple once it has turned ripe. Nothing from any supermarket can touch the home grown apple for taste.
They are not difficult to grow once you have a grasp of some basics practises.
Apples are the starting point and once you have your first crop harvested, (usually about three apples) you are now ready to take on the next top fruit tree on the list. This will either be a plum or pear, and once they start to crop why not accept global warming will happen and try those more exotic fruits previously only grown in warmer locations.
Lets look out an early variety of cherry and peach tree.
It is always a good move to do a wee bit of background research to find out where it all started, how top fruit growing has developed over the years and how that affects us today.

History and culture

Apples have been grown in Scotland for hundreds of years. They were an important food source in monasteries or private estates, then more recently, grown commercially to supply local markets. Every area would have its own varieties peculiar to its needs and history.
However the world today is a very different place and top fruit culture has seen massive changes. People now prefer to shop at supermarkets and they demand a product that looks good, has a long shelf life, is cheap to produce, handles and travels well, and is evenly sized with a blemish free skin. Growers in turn require a variety with a heavy yield producing apples that don't bruise when bulk handled and can resist or tolerate the majority of pests and diseases..
In the past apple trees were sprayed with chemicals every ten days throughout the whole growing period, but this is now frowned upon, so they prefer to grow strong vigorous varieties resistant to scab, mildew and canker.
To keep costs down the trees are grafted onto dwarfing rootstocks and the apples grown on a hedge row system so all pruning and picking can be done from the ground. It is too slow and costly to send pickers up ladders to harvest the fruit.
Thus today, there is a very limited range of varieties grown commercially as few of our older heritage range would pass the stringent criteria demanded by the supermarkets. Unfortunately good flavour does not seem to be a high priority.

Plums and pears were also once a major crop in Scotland, but economics has wiped them out commercially.
Life however, moves on and there could be a return on a smaller scale to some of our older varieties grown to supply local farmers markets as demand increases for quality fruit with flavour and ripened on the tree before harvesting.
Many older fruit varieties are being found in old derelict orchards and are now being propagated and promoted as interest grows in our past history.
The Bloody Ploughman, Scotch Dumpling, and Tower of Glamis may yet emerge from the mists of time, and my Arbroath Pippin, also known as the Oslin, may be very old and non commercial but is hard to beat for a very early apple.
For the home gardener this is the time of year to be looking out the wide range of varieties in nurseries and garden centres while many have fruit on the young trees and selecting those you wish to try out.

For more information on our heritage fruits visit the Carse of Gowrie Orchard Festival starting at Glendoick Garden Centre on Saturday 9th October and Sunday 10th then continuing all week to Sunday 17th October with events all over the Carse of Gowrie.


If you only have room for one tree then go for an apple. They come in all shapes to suit every ones needs. You can have a bush, tree, espalier, fan, low step over form or even a slender minarette. They also come with one, two or even three different varieties all on the same tree.
In a later article I will cover grafting so you can learn how to add additional varieties to your tree or even rejuvenate an old tree. There is no limit on how many varieties you can have on one tree. My James Grieve apple has now been grafted with Discovery, Red Devil and the Oslin and I will add a few more varieties next April. I am afraid I was just not impressed with James Grieve, though it is still very popular.
Other good varieties for Tayside are Scrumptious, Katy, Red Falstaff and Fiesta. However the latter has a tendency towards biennial bearing.
The best cooking apple has to be Bramley as it is very prolific, has huge apples, is quite disease resistant and the fruit store for a long time.


My favourite has to be Victoria which crops well and has a fantastic flavour. It freezes well and ends up in jams, stewed for a mixed compote and crumbles. It is very reliable. I assist pollination with a Berberis darwinnii planted below it. It's bright orange flowers come out at the same time as the plum and attract the bees who cannot resist it.


In the past I would have said a Comice and Conference combination would be best for good cross pollination and when we get a good summer Comice is outstanding. However as the last four years have been very wet my Comice has suffered badly from scab and the crop has been lost. Conference resists scab but is not as good as Comice.
I will be looking out for a better variety to graft over some of my Comice branches early next year. Pear trees can grow quite big so if space is limited go for a minarette, cordon or espalier trained tree.
Scab in a tree is hard to control as there is very few chemicals available now and anyway a large tree is hard to spray.


I grow Peregrine on a south facing tall fence and now that I have peach leaf curl under control I am getting a decent crop. The fruit is quite large, well coloured, very juicy and sweet. As my small tree is fan trained, the pruning, which can be quite complicated at first, has to be carried out thoroughly. This allows light into the tree, restricts excessive growth and ripens up young shoots which will replace this summers fruiting wood.
I control peach leaf curl with two sprays of Dithane at leaf fall and just before bud burst.


I will try out a bush sized trees grafted on the very dwarfing Gisela 5 rootstock so I can net the tree for birds. My favourite at the moment is the self fertile Cherokee, but by winter I may change my mind after a wee bit more research.


Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Planning a new garden


We all face this situation each time we move house, whether just married, moving up the property ladder or moving to a new location following the sun.
It may be a new house where the builders have just left, it may be flat but turfed, or it might be an existing home where the previous owner has left behind his neglected, overgrown or fantastically landscaped garden. However, you are likely to want to develop your own ideas for your garden, but just where do you start!
I have always loved gardening and my horticultural career has taken me all around the UK, so every time I found a new house it had to be landscaped to my needs at that time. I always had a notion of the plants I wanted to grow if room and funds permitted. In the early years the house and garden were quite modest and there was always a garden problem to solve. Nothing much has changed except that my garden is a wee bit bigger and I have now grown many of those special must have plants.
The experience of creating new gardens has developed into a pattern that can now be followed breaking it down into logical stages.
Let us start at the beginning.

Site analysis

I always start here, walking over the site and noting if there are any worthwhile features, e.g. specimen trees or shrubs, or good views to preserve, eyesores to remove or problems, e.g. steep slope to solve. Now look over the fence and see if any screening is needed for neighbours washing line, adjacent busy roads, building next door with windows looking onto your private patio.
Have a look at the topsoil, dig a few pits a foot deep. Is it good, does it need amelioration, assess the drainage to see if this is a problem. Look at local weeds. Nettles indicate good soil, buttercups, wild orchids and reeds wet soil.
You will now be getting an idea of the site's potential, so you can incorporate your own needs. Give every idea an airing. Will the garden be totally ornamental or will you want a vegetable patch, and what about some healthy fruit crops. Will you plan for a compost heap. This was always an essential with me where I recycle all plant waste material including tree and shrub pruning after shredding them, plus all household waste paper that goes through a paper shredder first. However don't compost any diseased material.
What about a greenhouse and shed for pots, canes, tools, wheelbarrow and wood shredder.
Getting friends around for the barbecue on those long warm summer evenings and a patio in a sunny sheltered location is needed to relax on after all this garden planning. Very mentally exhausting work.
Then of course there is the lawn, for some an absolute essential, and for others nothing but a problem area that is always full of moss and weeds and never stops growing.

The other major task is the hard landscaping of paths, walls if required, rock garden for some, fences, and services (water and electricity) to the greenhouse and shed.

Finally what about all those plants you want to grow for year round interest and colour.
Now the work can begin!

Structure, shelter and privacy

A garden will take on a very professional look if it has a good structure within which specific features are incorporated. Start with selection of trees. Is the garden big enough for one, two or more? Trees come in all shapes and sizes so nearly every garden can take at least one of a modest size. I will tackle this subject in a later article showing a wide range of trees suited to the small to medium sized garden.. The small garden can consider some slow growing conifers, an upright cherry, Prunus amanogawa, or hornbeam, Carpinus betulus pyrimidalis and if your drainage is good what about the golden Robinia frisia.
Keep trees, especially willow and poplar, well away from house walls and check where the services are before you drive in any supporting tree stakes.
Shrubs are the next item to be planned, usually to define boundaries or give shelter and privacy. However the planning of these will depend on the location and route of paths, greenhouse, sheds, vegetable patch and patio. Many shrubs flower and some such as the Philadelphus are scented.
I like to blend buildings into the garden landscape by using climbers on any bare wall around the house and on surrounding perimeter fences. Choose plants known to do well on the appropriate wall face, as some need the warmth of a south wall and others prefer a north wall, (more information in a later article).

Entertainment and Relaxation

The patio and barbecue should be big enough to accommodate several people. It should be sheltered, have privacy and will be hard surfaced. Outdoor tables and chairs will be needed and it is a good idea to have some colourful bedding plants in tubs, hanging baskets and borders to brighten up the area. Scented plants located nearby add to the tranquillity.

The lawn

Decide whether the lawn is to be attractive but functional with daisies and buttercups cut with a rotary mower or whether it is to be a feature of admiration with level surface, close mown weed free fine grass which the cylinder mower leaves in pretty stripes after its weekly cut. Of course, the edges will need to be kept cut regularly. The height of the lawn must relate to any surrounding manholes and path edges so the blades do not get chipped and make sure there is free access to get onto the lawn. Plan the lawn shape with flowing perimeter curves so mowing is easy. Select an appropriate grass seed mixture depending on what type of lawn you wish. Do not use a fine grass mixture if the kids will be playing ball games or riding bikes over it.
The greenhouse

If you like to eat very fresh salads, home grown sweet cherry and the larger Alicante tomatoes cannot be beaten when picked totally ripe off your own plants.
Then you can also grow a grape vine and any amount of bedding plants.
Site your greenhouse in a sunny but sheltered spot and put in power and water before you dig foundations. I have always put in a brick base about a foot high to give extra height for my grape vine and giving added drainage with a large pit dug out and filled with old crushed bricks. Top up with 6 to 9 inches of good topsoil. Grapes want decent soil to get them started, but then good drainage. Don't feed or over water them much once established.

Colour all year round

There is a huge selection of excellent flowering plants to brighten up every month from early spring to summer bulbs, spring and summer bedding plants, herbaceous and border plants, flowering trees and shrubs, lilies, gladioli, carnations, bush and shrub roses and annuals for a quick display. The effects will change continuously as every time you visit a nursery or garden centre you will always find something new to try.


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 pamala.mcdougall39@btinternet.com


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.