Tuesday, 3 July 2012



It looks like we are going to get a third wet summer, so I watch the weather forecasts and take every opportunity to get into the garden on every sunny day. Growing good garden plants has always been a challenge, but this weather does not make it any easier. On the plus side the garden hose is getting a good rest. It seems we rush out on a dry day to sow and plant, then sit back as they get watered in the following day. However some plants are doing just fine. Climbing roses have plenty flowers on them and not too much mildew. Greenfly begin to build up then a heavy shower comes along and washes a few away, but if I can get a couple of dry days I will give the remainder a rose spray to tackle greenfly, mildew, rust, and blackspot. I no longer grow those varieties susceptible to blackspot so it is not a major problem in these wet summers.
Flag iris, oriental poppies, Iceland poppies, Californian poppies, honeysuckle and peony roses have all been a mass of flowers despite the rain. The Californian poppies have naturalised themselves in the front of a border holding masses of crocus bulbs, but as they have different growing and flowering times they are perfect partners.
Delphiniums are putting on good growth and showing a lot of promise for a good display, but they need strong canes and tying in as they can reach five to six feet tall.
Bedding geraniums and petunias need sunshine so they are beginning to lose their flowers while they wait on summer returning. Busy Lizzies don’t mind rain, but they do not like cold weather which makes them look really sick.
Weeding continues on any sunny days to keep on top, but they seem less of a problem this year.

Seed sowing
Wallflower seeds have now been sown in an outdoor seedbed. After germination and they grow to about four to six inches tall they will get transplanted into rows a foot apart spacing the seedlings about four inches apart. They should make sturdy plants for planting out in late autumn.
Forget me nots (Myosotis) can also be sown this way but in past years slugs have devoured them as soon as they germinate and slug pellets are so weak that they are just not effective enough, so I have sown mine in compost in trays. They will go into plug trays after germination, and then a few weeks later they will be lined out outside to bush up.
I have sown a batch of broad beans in cellular trays to catch a late crop. They will replace my spring cabbage when that crop is finished in July.

Fruit trees
Primary infections (mildew infected young shoots) on my apple tree have been removed to prevent the disease spreading. It looks like a very poor year for Bramley apples. There was plenty of flowers, but very poor pollination or fertilisation, as much of the young crop has fallen off.
Plums are also having a rest this year as there is no more than a dozen fruit on a large mature tree which should have a couple of hundred young plums.
Oddly enough the outdoor Peach Peregrine (hand pollinated with a sable brush) has an excellent crop of young peaches, but the tree is so badly infected by peach leaf curl that there is just not enough foliage to support a decent crop. The tree was sprayed twice in late winter/early spring and once at leaf fall. I blame a combination of wet weather and poor chemical control. Chemicals available in garden centres are now formulated so weak that they are no longer very effective.
I just hope that if we get some warm days I might get a surge of growth and save the crop.

Tomato Gardeners Delight is growing strongly and now flowering on its fourth truss, but Alicante fared rather poorly in the cold dull weather. It is alive and growing but nothing to be proud off.
My favourite Sweet Million cherry tomato could not handle this climate. Root rots set in and killed off my plants. They have now been replaced with fresh plants.
Feeding is done on every second watering.
Grape vine pruning continues on a twice weekly basis cutting all shoots to one leaf to prevent them taking over the glasshouse.
An Amaryllus potted up last autumn should have flowered just after Christmas, but all I got was a wealth of green leaves. I gave up after Easter and it got relegated to a quiet corner in the greenhouse where I could ignore it. It has now decided to flower. All very nice, but this is just not its time.
I reckon Anna felt sorry for it and every time she went on tomato feeding duties she gave it a wee drink.

Plant of the week

Serbian Bellflower known botanically as Campanula poscharskyana is a great rock garden plant displaying a carpet of lavender blue flowers in June. It is very easy to grow as long as you plant it in a moist but well drained soil and although it will grow in a shady spot it flowers more profusely in full sun. Propagate by dividing up bits around the edges of the clump in late autumn.


Sunday, 24 June 2012

Allotment diary


This is June so it must be summer, I think. To take advantage of every dry day it is necessary to monitor weather forecasts and get on the land in between showers. For those gardeners still in full time employment and having difficulty getting onto the allotment I can only sympathise. It is hard enough to keep on top of planting and sowing, but weeding also needs attention.
Green manures
Some crops such as sweet corn, courgettes, pumpkins, winter cabbage, kale and chrysanthemums do not get planted till early June so there is plenty of time to sow a green manure and get it dug in before planting. This weather has been great for my green manures. Mustard quickly reached the flowering stage, so it has now been trampled down, chopped and dug in. This will be my last sowing of mustard as it is liable to infection with clubroot, so in future I will use clover or other plants for green manuring. One patch of clovers is growing strongly, but not yet in flower so I will give it another couple of weeks to grow before it gets dug in.
The wet weather does seem to favour my cabbages, Brussels sprouts and Kale. Spring cabbage April has been cropping since the end of May and as it is still hearting up will go on for another few weeks. Summer cabbage Golden Acre is growing strongly and winter cabbage January King has now been planted. These, plus Kale and sprouts Wellington have all been given full protection from slugs (pellets), rootfly (mats) and pigeons and cabbage white butterfly (netting), so hopefully growth should be reasonable if my four year rotation has sorted out the clubroot.
Compost for planting and sowing
Gardeners are being discouraged from using peat composts, and for really good reasons, but compost suppliers should try a lot harder to provide us with a suitable alternative. I have been using B&Q Verve which only has 58% peat. What a disaster. It drains very poorly creating a wet stagnant medium which rots plants and seeds. There is not enough air space for drainage. From a sowing of forty French beans only ten germinated. Aronia transplants, grape vine transplants, cabbage and nemesia transplants have all been at deaths door, till I uprooted them and put them into my home made compost based on the John Innes mixture. This has a lot of soil in it and only 25% peat, but it can grow plants. The old formula or a variation based on its principles makes a very good growing medium. It was 7 parts loam, 3 parts peat, 2 parts sand or course grit and some base fertiliser and ground chalk to keep the pH acidity levels nearly neutral.

Sweet corn Plants were raised from seed sown at the end of March on a windowsill. After potting up, the young plants were ready to plant and about a foot tall. They were planted into a freshly dug green manure (mustard) crop in early June. Hope they get a better summer than last year when pollination set was miserable due to lack of warmth.

Cape gooseberries Young home raised plants were also planted in early June on soil which had a green manure crop of mustard dug in. As the weather is still cold and wet I am protecting them with some old glass windows till they get established and I see a return to summer weather.

Chrysanthemums will also benefit from my green manuring efforts. I am growing a new batch of spray flowering plants which do not need disbudding. They all got planted in mid June.

Fruit crops Started to pick my first strawberries at the end of May. I have the early variety Mae under a polythene tunnel. Red and blackcurrants, gooseberries, saskatoons and raspberries are all showing heavy crops to come. Outdoor sweet cherry Cherokee has lost half of its crop in a June drop, probably due to cold weather and lack of sunshine. I have protected the rest of the crop from birds with a net. They just need a return of summer weather to ripen them up.
Grape Solaris is growing strongly on a south fence, though no sign of flowers this year. I can wait another year and keep hoping that this could be my global warming winner. You have to dream.
Allotment plot vacancies The last three poor years with too much rain and not enough sunshine has tested quite a few allotment holders. Turnover has been high and we have now virtually used up our waiting list, so if any other keen gardener wants to live the good life we would like to hear from you at City Road.  We open for visitors both Saturday and Sunday from 11am to noon.
Allotment life is very hard work, but the exercise, fresh air, social environment and an abundance of great fruit, vegetables and flowers gives immense satisfaction.

Plant of the week

Flag Iris has always been one of my early summer favourites. The flowers are big, colourful and most are scented. There are many brilliant varieties to choose from and they are very easy to grow. They are happy in a dry sunny area, don’t need a rich soil, and just lift and replant the clumps every three or four years. I start of new plantings with a bit of decent soil and compost to get them established, and then leave them alone.


Sunday, 17 June 2012

Gardening Scotland at Ingliston


There are two major gardening events in my annual calendar. The Gardening Scotland at Ingliston in Edinburgh is in June and the Camperdown Flower and Food Festival in September. I take stands at both to promote and sell my Scottish saskatoons, but it also gives me the chance to see the best of horticultural products and new plants coming to the market as well as meeting gardening friends. There is such a wide range of great plants that you always come away with something special.
Last year our special purchase was Peony Doreen, and this year Anna chose three very colourful Heucheras and I found some gorgeous deep purple early flowering spray chrysanthemums. I have grown early flowering incurving, reflex and decorative chrysanths, but life is so busy I am now concentrating on sprays so I do not need to spend time disbudding to get those large single heads. I have most colours, but not the deep purple so now I have Jalta and Regal Mist.
The grower, Oska Copperfield Nursery in Leicester also had a very deep mauve from China called Barca Red which was not getting released for another four years. However I did get a full flowering shoot which I will try to find leaf bud sections and see if I can get them to root and grow.
My favourite Arisaema sikokianum from Japan was there in full flower. It is really weird and spooky, but I just love it. It is known as the Circumcised Jack in the Pulpit and starts life as a male plant but changes to female as it matures. One day it will be my choice to bring back.
Binny Plants had a fantastic display of Peonies, but you need to have a few bob in your pocket as they are not cheap with some new ones well over £200 each. However they were gorgeous and perfect for that one off special purchase to add a bit of sparkle to the garden.
The Scottish Begonia Society had a very colourful display of tuberous begonias and instructions on how to grow and propagate them. The large headed types can also be very expensive and are best grown under glass, but there are plenty more compact types suitable for outdoor flower beds.
Rhododendrons and azaleas were on show on many stands including Glendoick Gardens. Ken Cox was on the stand also promoting his new book “Fruit and Vegetables for Scotland”  Three hundred pages with ample pictures showing hands on growing from both amateur and professional gardeners growing their own plants to perfection. This book is a wealth of information covering every fruit and vegetable you need to know about. There is even a great article about this fellow in Dundee growing saskatoons.
I brought back a large bag of peat free compost made from composted sheep wool by Simon at Dalefoot composts. It comes in a range of strengths and looks good, so I will be potting up my young saskatoons in this new medium for showing at Camperdown flower show in September.
Several workshops were arranged each day just outside my stand so I got the full story. It was very interesting to hear Andrew Lear (the Appletree man) talk about the heritage apples, pears and plums which used to grow on the Carse of Gowrie. These old varieties may not be as commercial as those found in supermarkets, but they had flavours far superior to most of those around today.  Andrew is doing his best to find and restore these fruits.
Dundee College Gardeners won a silver gilt award with their Garden of Tranquillity showing excellent landscape skills integrating hard and soft landscaping to create a garden of calm and peace to relax in. Design and use of landscape planting was very impressive.

Plant of the week

Osteospermum is a low growing summer flowering plant that thrives in a sunny border, flower bed or hanging basket. There are hardy types that come up every year provided the winter frosts are not too severe, and the herbaceous ones grown from seed or cuttings and used as annuals. Although many people discard these at the end of the flowering season, if you have a particularly good one, it can be retained for another year by taking cuttings in the autumn and overwintering these on a sunny windowsill. Keep the cutting shaded for the first few weeks till well rooted.
This plant, a native of South Africa, needs full sun for the bright daisy like flower to be at their best.

Painting of the month

Paps of Jura from Port Askaig. A couple of years ago I visited some friends on Islay during the Whisky Festival week at the end of May. We were very fortunate in having a heatwave at the time, though our host Maggie told us it happens all the time. The scenery was breath taking and artistically I came away with photos and ideas for numerous paintings. However the highlight had to be our trip to Ardbeg distillery where a very happy and sociable crowd were celebrating the festival in great form with live music in the yard and the best malt whiskeys at £1 a nip. A trip across the island to Jura taking the ferry from Port Askaig gave me even more images to paint, and another brilliant whisky to sample. It was a fantastic trip that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys a wee dram, some great music and Scottish island landscapes. A wee touch of heaven.


Monday, 11 June 2012

Growing and cooking Herbs


There is always room in a garden or on the allotment for a few herbs. Although they are grown for culinary uses in the kitchen, many of them such as sage, lavender, thyme and rosemary are quite ornamental and very attractive in their own right. Most do not grow very big so you do not need a lot of space to grow a decent range. There is a resurgence of interest in cooking at the moment with emphasis on easily prepared meals that cook quickly as many people do not have time to spend hours in the kitchen preparing meals. The correct use of herbs adds a higher level of flavours to enhance many foods, reducing the need for salt. Most herbs can be harvested and dried for storage.
Many herbs have a medicinal use such as Aloe vera where the jelly like sap is used for burns, insect bites and other skin problems. Others are useful against colds, anxiety or are very good for your health. Parsley is full of iron and vitamins A, C and E.
Some are very fragrant and grown to enjoy the smells or used in potpourri. Rosemary, lavender, mint and thyme all have wonderful scents, but avoid the curry plant at all costs as the very strong smell is not very pleasant.
There are very many herbs in use, for medicinal purposes, for cooking, for extraction of essential oils or just because they are attractive. I will run over a few of my favourites grown for the kitchen.

Rosemary is top of my list as I just love the smell on my hands and it adds a fantastic flavour to roasted lamb, pork and chicken dishes, and a very useful tasty addition to pasta dishes.
Very easy to grow preferring a dry sunny soil, but can die out in a severe winter.
Mint comes in many different types including applemint, peppermint, spearmint and even eau de cologne. Mint sauce with lamb is hard to beat, but mint goes very well with new potatoes and freshly harvested garden peas. Easy to grow but can become invasive though is not too difficult to control. It imparts a lovely smell on your hands when crushed.

Thyme is a great low growing ground cover plant useful in the rock garden. Thyme is used in meat stews, roast chicken dishes and in ham, vegetable and chicken soups. It gets trimmed periodically as we cut bits off for flavouring chutneys and stews.

Chives is another very easy to grow plant that quickly multiplies up as clumps, and it can be used in   tuna mayonnaise, omelettes and salads where it imparts a mild onion flavour. Cut into small pieces, it is a very useful garnish in soups, egg and cheese dishes.

Basil is treated as an annual and is not very hardy so has to be pot grown on a sunny windowsill. It is used in pesto and goes very well in all tomato dishes. Remove flowers as they appear as it is the leaves that are used in the kitchen.

Sage has attractive soft green pungent leaves used for adding flavour to stuffing for meat dishes, particularly pork. It is an attractive garden plant and easy to grow. It prefers a well drained soil with a sunny aspect.

Lemon balm also needs a well drained soil in a sunny spot. It is used steeped to make healthy calming teas, flavoured ice cream and stuffing for poultry.

Bay is best grown in a pot and can last for years though a hard frost will kill it. Use a few whole leaves in soups, when cooking rice, in casseroles, stews and marinades. Do remember to remove the bay leaves before serving.

Lavender is a favourite for dry sunny places and is great for attracting bees in mid to late summer when it is covered with deep purple flowers. It has a great scent and its flowers are used to extract scented essential oils.

Parsley is grown from seed as an easy to grow annual. It is often an added ingredient in potato and leek and Scotch broth soups.

Coriander is a hot spicy herb very useful in curries, Indian and Mexican dishes. It grows easy from seed and will come up every year but prefers a dry sunny spot. Use both the leaves and seeds after you harvest them and dry them off for storing.

Plant of the week
Azalea Gibraltar has large fiery orange flowers coming into bloom at the end of May and into June. This deciduous azalea will grow to about five feet. It is very reliable and easy to grow, so long as you give it an acidic soil, so mix plenty of leaf mould into the top nine inches of soil before planting. It likes a moist but well drained soil in a sunny or dappled shade location, and do not let it dry out during the summer as it has shallow fibrous roots. It benefits from an annual mulch in winter of more leaf mould or ericaceous compost, to maintain the acid soil and retain moisture.