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


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.