Monday, 6 May 2019

PLANTS FOR THE SHADE


PLANTS FOR THE SHADE

Bee pollinating flowers of Hydrangea petiolaris
Choosing plants for the garden is usually fairly simple for most areas, but there is always an awkward corner in deep shade from buildings, trees, hedges or fences. These areas can still be made very attractive provided you choose the right plants. Some plants like dry shady areas and others prefer it moist, so do some research before buying in plants.
Prepare the ground by digging over, removing big stones and
Pieris
add some planting compost ahead of planting. Shady corners can be brightened up by planting variegated plants or those with golden, bronze or gray foliage. If the ground has a steep slope controlling weeds could be a problem so choose evergreens which can smother germinating weeds. Dwarf conifers are perfect for these areas and there are plenty to choose from. Thuja Rheingold has golden bronze foliage and does not get too big. Juniperus squamata meyeri is a low growing evergreen with blue foliage and Juniperus pfitzeriana aurea has yellow/green foliage. Both are low and spreading and quite dense so very few weeds will survive with them to compete with. Other evergreen ground cover plants can include the white dead nettle, Lamium White
Euonymous Emerald N Gold
Nancy which can thrive in moist shade. Another for moist shade is the range of gold and silver Hostas, but watch out for slugs which just love the foliage.
For something quite different the black grass Ophiopogon planiscapis nigrescens is worth a try.  For areas with partial shade the London Pride makes a solid ground cover with flowers in May.
Where there is room for some bigger plants try lonicera Baggesons Gold with yellow leaves. It makes a dense bush six feet tall which birds just love to nest in, and for an even bigger bush come small tree the holly will provide berries for winter decoration and also comes in golden and silver variegated forms.
Doronicum with tulips
There are many flowering plants that are shade tolerant and can give some colour to dull areas.
At ground level in late winter there are numerous flowering bulbs that can be used. Snowdrops have always been a favourite and with some early flowering types you can have flowers from mid December onwards if we get more mild winters. Then the winter aconites begin to flower from February to March. Planting bulbs under deciduous trees and under fruit trees can create a lot of interest using those just mentioned, then later on the grape hyacinths, Chionodoxa and Anemone blanda flower in early April, and towards the end of April the bluebells have their moment in the spotlight. Both Daffodils and narcissus types
Ophiopogon Black Grass
can all be used in shady areas and really add colour letting us know the end of winter is here and spring is just round the corner.
There are plenty herbaceous perennials happy growing in shady spots so try some low growing ground cover Bergenias with pink flowers, Doronicums with yellow flowers or some Pulmonarias with blue flowers, and a large range of Primulas with flowers in all colours. As we go into summer a few choice plants could include some red  Astilbe Fanal, yellow Geums and blue Meconopsis, the Himal;ayan Blue Poppy, and for white flowers the Anemone Honorine Jobert is hard to beat.
Coming up the scale there is a wealth of Rhododendrons from low growing to massive tall types as well as Azaleas, Pierris and
Silver Euonymous
Camellias, all providing a terrific show of colour in spring, then in summer Fuchsia Mrs Popple will flower quite happily in the shade.
If you need a plant for shady walls both Hydrangea petiolaris and Pyracantha, the Firethorn, with orange berries in autumn will be quite successful.
If you happen to have a flower bed that suffers a bit of shade use polyanthus and primulas for spring colours together with dwarf tulips, and in summer try bedding fuchsias, tuberous begonias and impatiens, the Busy Lizzie.

Wee jobs to do this week

Harden off plants grown under glass. Onions, geraniums and chrysanthemums were all taking up greenhouse space needed for a couple of rows of tomatoes, so they are now all outdoors taking advantage of the warm Easter weather. However tuberous begonias and Impatiens (Busy Lizzies) are too soft so they will remain under glass for another couple of weeks just in case winter returns.
END

TULIPS


TULIPS

May is normally the peak flowering time for tulips, but with our mild winters and early spring, tulips have been in flower since March. This year spring started very early, but then cooler winds from the north arrived and cooled things down for a few weeks.
Mixed tulips in a rose bed
Tulips last a lot longer in these conditions so our extended displays are a bonus, and by using a combination of early season, mid season and late flowering varieties tulips can be flowering for a good couple of months or longer.
Tulip Abba and Sun Lover
At this time of year it is a good idea to assess the impact of the flower display so that it can be enhanced for the following year by adding a few more tulips in the autumn. Where ever I have drifts of tulips I check to see if they can be improved by adding a different colour such as a white, pink or orange amongst a drift of yellow and reds.  It is not hard to find areas in the garden that can be improved by adding tulips. They are very versatile, flowering in spring, then after a couple of months they are ready to go dormant so they don’t interfere with the needs of other plants in the same area. Companion planting can be a great success when the season is in your favour.
Tulip Scarlet Baby with saxifrage
My first tulips to flower are the Kaufmanniana tulip Scarlet Baby planted alongside some lemon yellow saxifrage both flowering together in late March. Sometimes the seasons are not in their favour and one flowers ahead of the other, but when they both come out together it makes a great display in early spring. The next to flower early in the season in late March to early April is the Fosteriana variety Red Emperor, also known as Madame Lefeber. This large flowering variety makes a great companion planted underneath the shrub Forsythia as they both flower together in early April. I also like to combine them with another
Tulip Red Emperor at City Road Allotments
early flowering Fosteriana type Purissima. A large white flower said to be scented. I must have planted a couple of hundred, but I fail to find any with a scent. In fact looking over the bulb catalogues I was impressed by how many were scented, so I tried a scented variety trial. Maybe as you get older your sense of smell diminishes, but I can’t say I was impressed as I failed to find any scent amongst them, but again maybe it depends on the weather. Orange Emperor is another cracker in the Fosteriana range.
Going back to companion planting I have a drift of Doronicum Little Leo flowering in early to mid April with a great show of golden daisy type flowers so I planted some dwarf double Showcase, a deep purple and some red Triumph tulip Isle de France amongst them for colour contrast.
I grow a range of disease resistant (mildew, black spot and rust) roses in a bed for colour in the summer, but like to make this bed attractive in spring so the roses have a mixed batch of dwarf double tulips planted amongst them. The tulips light up the border in April and May then a couple of months later they have gone dormant, and the roses can take over the space unaware that they had competitors at their feet. My favourites are Abba (red), Negrita (purple), Peach Blossom (pink), Showcase (purple), Sun Lover and Monsella (both with yellow with red markings) and Monte Orange (orange.)
Tulips planted in pots and tubs for a spring display together with pansies, wallflower, myosotis, and polyanthus can be planted back in the garden when they are finished as they will continue to flower for years to come. Most tulips left alone for years will slowly multiply and give great value year after year, but give them a boost in spring with some fertiliser to keep them healthy.
City Road Allotment have realised the impact and value for the plot holders as well as the community around the site so we are now mass planting areas at the entrance with tulips, daffodils, snowdrops, aconites and other plants to improve the appearance of our site.
Remove flowers from rhubarb

Jobs to do this week

Remove flowering shoots from rhubarb as they usually like a spring floral flurry, before settling down to producing healthy stems and leaves. If allowed to flower they will put all their energy into seed production at the expense of growth. As the season gets warmer keep them well watered and give a monthly feed to boost growth. Continue to pull sticks throughout the summer.

END

Thursday, 25 April 2019

A DAY ON THE ALLOTMENT


A DAY ON THE ALLOTMENT


At long last we got a few days of rain which the garden really needed and now we are in a period of dry warm days with cold nights threatening frost so first early potatoes Casablanca, which had pushed through the ground, had to get earthed up for protection. Second early Charlotte was also showing young growth so they got earthed up as well. This is perfect gardening weather which is just as well as the essential seasonal jobs are piling up.
Potting up tomato seedlings
Broad beans and sweet peas got hardened off in mid March and were ready for planting by the end of March. Cabbage, kale, sprouts and cauliflower are now all outdoors in pots getting hardened off for planting in April. These will all need nets to keep pigeons out, collars to prevent attacks of cabbage root fly maggots, and slug pellets as the mild winter has allowed them to survive in great numbers.
Freshly planted broad beans
Club root is kept at bay by using resistant bred varieties, but now I need to experiment with sowing dates to give cropping over a long period with just one variety of each. It is just a pity that these resistant varieties come with no more than twenty seeds per packet and supervision in the pack room must be tight as no-one ever slips in an extra seed. Sowing continued with lettuce, rocket, spring onions, radish, turnips, carrots, beetroot and leeks. The ground was all prepared in winter and left rough so it easily broke down into a fine tilth for good germination. Ground allocated to pumpkins, courgettes and sweet corn which don’t get planted till June has all been sown down with a green manure crop of clover and ryegrass to increase soil fertility. There is plenty time for them to grow, and then a fortnight
Transplanting aconites
before planting they will get trodden down and dug in.
The plot still has a few end of season produce such as overwintered lettuce, chard, leeks, parsnips and Swedes, and in store the Bramley apples, onions and pumpkins are all needing used up. Pumpkins got roasted, made a brilliant soup and added to many other dishes. Stored potatoes suffered too many sprouted shoots due to the mild winter, so many had to get chopped up and composted. Beetroot was also at the end of its season so Anna lifted the last of the roots for a very tasty and healthy beetroot soup. I had left all the beetroot outdoors as I took the chance of getting another mild winter which happily came along so no damage was done.
Weeds have started to grow, but as the soil is quite soft they are easy to hoe, and any big ones pulled out and added to the compost heap.
Sweet corn potted up
Dry weather is becoming the norm so once our allotment site went into April, and the water got turned on, it was just in time to start watering rows of newly planted strawberries plus those under tunnels and the March planted broad beans, spring onions and sweet peas. When the strawberries under tunnels begin to flower lift the polythene to give some ventilation and allow bees access to pollinate the flowers. This also makes it easier for watering.
However the flower borders were still quite moist so clumps of aconites were lifted in the green for transplanting to new locations. Chrysanthemum cuttings were rooted under glass in February due the very mild winter, and
The last of 2018 fruit and vegetables
growth was prolific so there was no shortage of fresh cuttings. They root very easily so after hardening off they were ready for planting out in mid April.
In the greenhouse the tomato seedlings and sweet corn had all germinated and needed potting up.
If we are back into another dry year it is wise to add a mulch of well rotted compost to raspberries, black and redcurrants, gooseberries and rhubarb to preserve moisture.

Wee jobs to do this week

Grafting pears
One large pear tree in the garden was really misbehaving. It decided to push numerous vigorous shoots straight upwards over twenty feet tall and not a flower bud to be seen. So it was a job up the ladder with a saw and loppers. All long shoots devoid of flower buds got the chop and a few large limbs got grafted with other varieties. This pear tree was a Conference and Comice variety that I had added Beurre Hardy and the Christie grafts a few years back, and now I added Concord and Beth. It should make an interesting tree if nothing else.
END

Monday, 15 April 2019

SASKATOONS


SASKATOONS

Saskatoons which are also known as Juneberries are relatively unknown in UK and as yet not grown commercially for fruit although a few nurseries
Saskatoon fruit cluster
stock them for sale to the public. However down in Worcester at Pershore Juneberries they are grown on a small scale as a flavour with gin to create the Juneberry Gin Liqueur. The Saskatoon grown for its fruit comes in a range of varieties of the Amelanchier alnifolia. It has been an important source of
Bowl of freshly picked saskatoon berries
food for the Cree and other native North American Indians, who mixed it with grated buffalo meat and fat to form pemmican which was dried and stored for use over the winter months. They also ate it fresh and used it in soups and cakes. The wood was used for arrows, baskets and in the construction of canoes. The Saskatoon bushes grew naturally along the banks of the Saskatchewan River where the town of Saskatoon was established. Early settlers to this area realised its importance and soon it was grown for harvesting the fruit. Breeders began to select the best forms to grow and breed from and soon a range of varieties appeared. In 1878 the first variety, Success appeared, but many years later Smoky and Pembina arrived and got planted extensively. Later on when micro propagation techniques allowed mass production of plants
Saskatoon flowers
other varieties were developed. Smoky was superseded by Thiessen which had larger fruits then Northline, Martin and Honeywood gave cropping over a longer period. Today demand far outweighs production so the growers are expanding to try and catch up. Picking is done commercially by machine in addition to hand picking with those growers who allow pick your own. The black berries are becoming very popular due to the health benefits as the fruit is very high in antioxidants as well as iron, magnesium, potassium and calcium.
In the garden the fruit is picked over a couple of weeks from mid July to early August depending on climate, to eat fresh, used with yoghurt, added to breakfast cereals and it freezes well to be used at any time for smoothes, compote, pies, cakes and makes a great jam, especially with added rhubarb. I also use surplus crop for wines, but lay them down for three years to mature. Young bushes start to crop from two to three years old and can continue cropping for over thirty years. Expect to get about
Saskatoons from suckers
six to ten pounds of fruit from each mature bush.
I came across the Saskatoon fruit on a trip to Canada where we called into a Saskatoon pick your own farm. The fruit was delicious. On returning home I found that they had been growing up at James Hutton Institute for many years but there was very little research done due to lack of demand.
I started growing them fifteen years ago and still have two rows of Smoky and Thiessen planted as two rows seven feet apart with the plants spaced at three feet apart. No pruning is required as the bushes fruit on all wood, but once they get too high to net, then a few tall shoots are cut down to the ground. They grow again very easily. Birds just love them so netting is essential.
They are not troubled much by pests or diseases and will grow on any soil.
In their natural environment in the American North West the plants get a very hard winter so crops here do best after a bad winter. They can be propagated both by seeds and from lifting up a few suckers in winter and potting them up. Seeds extracted from fresh berries (select big ones) require a couple of months in the fridge then kept outdoors over winter for germination in early spring. They grow rapidly so pricking them out in March in small pots, then potting up as they get bigger.
See my Saskatoon notes over the last fifteen years on a special Saskatoon page (find it on my links page) on my website at www.johnstoa.com.

Wee jobs to do this week

The Greenhouse overcrowding can become a problem at this time of year as many plants are started
under glass where it is sheltered and warmer, but then as they grow bigger they need potted up and more space is required. So start hardening off plants as soon as a few mild days form a pattern. Sweet Peas, broad beans, lettuce, spring onion, chrysanthemums and geraniums should now all be outdoors to harden off, but leaving space for the sweet corn, courgettes and pumpkins which are a wee bit more tender.
END

Sunday, 7 April 2019

DAFFODILS AND NARCISSUS


DAFFODILS AND NARCISSUS

Mixed narcissi
Narcissus Flower Record
April flowers are dominated by daffodils in gardens, local authorities’ parks and open spaces and as cut flower in the home. They are very easy to grow, quite cheap to buy and very versatile as we can all find a spot in the garden that needs brightening up as we leave winter behind. Many years ago when the Britain in Bloom contest was at its most popular, most local authorities competed with each
Narcissus Dick Wilden
other for top place in the contest. Flower impact in open spaces, parks and along highway verges of massed drifts of daffodils and narcissus was crucial to impress the judges, but also to create beauty for locals in towns and villages. Daffodils planted in massive drifts fifty years ago are still there and we reap the benefit every spring when the towns come alive with the yellow flowers. Once planted, they will live forever, as they are fairly free from pests and diseases. In past times when council budgets were under less pressure, allocating funds to enhance the environment was a high priority as locals were proud of the beauty of their locality. Daffodils were planted by the thousand, and numerous organisations got involved in planting their own patch from school kids planting in school grounds and adjacent open spaces, then boy scouts, girl guides, council gardeners and workers on job creation schemes. Organising the planting was easy once the technique was demonstrated by a few gardeners. Using a spade, a turf was cut in three sides and flipped over to allow two bulbs to be
narcissus Cheerfulness
placed in the corners, then the turf was flipped back into place and firmed down with the feet. The next sod was cut about nine inches to a foot away from the last one. However the shape of this drift was marked out to allow grass cutting around the outside of the flowers. After flowering it was normal to leave the foliage to die down before it was cleared off with flail mowers which collected the dead foliage and long grass. Usually six weeks or longer was enough to let the leaves develop and bulk up the bulb for the following season.
In gardens we most often plant amongst deciduous shrub borders, or under trees; perfect for orchards and allotment flower borders. To give the biggest impact it was
Narcissus Replete
normal to plant with the large flowered trumpet daffodils such as King Alfred or Golden Harvest as well as the white flowered and scented Mount Hood. However to get the show off to an early start February Gold was often used as it is often the first to flower, usually in March in Scotland, and even after our mild dry winter it was still March before it appeared.
Daffodils and narcissus have always been very popular for hundreds of years so breeders have introduced new varieties by the thousand. Every year there is a new one that catches your eye so just buy it and plant it.  They are great in tubs and pots for displays at door entrances and patios, then once they finish flowering they can be transplanted to another spot in the garden to flower the next year. I love the scented varieties so I always have some Cheerfulness types as well as the smaller flowered Jonquils. They can also be used in autumn in
Narcissus Sir Winston Churchill
pots to flower indoors in early spring or even late winter.
Daffodils and narcissus however have a darker side as many species contain the alkaloid poison lycorine mostly in the bulb but also in the leaves, so take great care when handling the bulbs.
Dermatitis can also be a problem for flower pickers, packers, florists and gardeners, causing the "daffodil itch", with dryness, fissures, scaling, and erythema in the hands. Of all the alkaloids, only galantamine has made it to therapeutic use in man, as the drug galantamine for Alzheimer’s disease. The daffodil crop is growing in Wales not for the flowers, but for the extraction of galantamine for medicinal use in the treatment of alzheimer’s disease.

Wee jobs to do this week

Greenhouse packed with plants
The greenhouse is now packed out with plants growing strongly, so open the ventilators at every opportunity to harden off plants. Tomatoes in pots will need more room to grow before planting out into borders, pots or growbags once that first flower appears. Broad beans, onions, sweet peas and salads and geraniums can all go outside on a good day, but keep an eye on the weather forecast in case we get a late frost.
END

Thursday, 4 April 2019

BUSY SPRING DAYS


BUSY SPRING DAYS

It sounded like a good idea at the time. The mild winter and warm dry spring gave the garden plants a great boost. Crocus was a good three weeks ahead of last year and the bees in large numbers were having a great time. So I ran with the good times and sowed seeds and planted potatoes three weeks ahead of my planned seed sowing schedule.
Planting Mayan Gold potatoes
However, now in the middle of March numerous jobs are piling up. Windowsills are bursting at the seams, but winter has returned for a few more days and many of my young plants need the warmth so I cannot transfer them to the unheated greenhouse. Tomatoes got pricked out into cellular trays and
Tares and clover green manure
are now happy on the windowsills. Tuberous begonias in deep polystyrene boxes are still indoors but really need to go into the greenhouse and get spaced out into more boxes as they can grow quite large before they are ready for outdoor planting. Bizzie Lizzies grown from cuttings last autumn have grown into large plants in full flower so they remain indoors as house plants. Later on I will take more cuttings from them to grow into small plants for hanging baskets.
Broad beans and onion seedlings
The snowdrops and aconites put on a great show early on, but now is a great time to transplant some “in the green” up at City Road Allotments flower border. Aconites are getting ready to disperse their seeds so these get carefully gathered up to sow in new locations.
A start has been made to weeding as speedwells and sticky willy are now germinating. These are usually the first weeds to grow after winter and this year they are ahead of the game.
Anna planting snowdrops in the green
Strawberries perked up with the mild winter so one row of Honeoye got covered with a low polythene tunnel, which should advance cropping by about three weeks. On sunny days the temperature can rise, so raise the polythene a little to ventilate the row to keep the strawberries from over heating. Strawberries under tunnels can dry out faster than those in the open so keep them watered. On rainy days it helps to pull back the polythene to let them have a good soaking.
Early potato (Casablanca) and second early (Charlotte) got planted at the end of February and now the maincrop potatoes (Mayan Gold and Maris Piper) can go in. I take out a deep furrow, line it with well rotted garden compost then plant the seed potatoes into this before covering up and dusting the rows with some potato fertiliser.
Now is a good time to sow green manure on land allocated for courgettes, pumpkin and sweet corn as these do not get planted for at least another couple of months. Tares, rye grass and clover all grow
Saskatoon seedlings
very fast giving a lot of foliage to turn in and the roots really break up the soil, penetrating quite deep. It is a great way of adding fertility to the soil. I avoid mustard green manure as it can carry over the clubroot disease of all brassicas including radish and rocket.
Seed sowing outdoors can now begin with leeks, lettuce, radish, spring onions and rocket. Some of these can go in between rows of sprouts, cabbage, kale and cauliflower which take a bit of time to grow over the ground. You can also use salads grown under glass which are well on and may only need a few weeks before you start to crop them.
The greenhouse is just as busy as existing plants begin to grow and new ones such as sweet corn and all the brassicas get sown. Lettuce and saskatoons sown earlier are all big enough to prick out into cellular trays. Broad beans, sweet peas and onions have now all germinated so they need pricking out into larger pots and give them room to grow on.

Wee jobs to do this week

Taking geranium cuttings
Take more geranium cuttings. Cuttings taken last autumn were rooted in cellular trays on a windowsill then potted up singly into three inch pots in winter. These have been growing strongly and many have been potted up into five inch pots. It helps to remove the tops to encourage the plant to branch out, and these tops can be used as cuttings. Now we are heading into spring looking for warmer weather these later cuttings will grow fast, so before they get too tall take their tips out to produce a well branched stocky plant. Use those tops as more cuttings. Remove flowers as they appear so the plant can concentrate on growing.
END

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

PLAN THE SUMMER FLOWERS


PLAN THE SUMMER FLOWERS

Although the spring flowers are just getting started we still need to look ahead to a plan of action to make sure the summer flowers will put on a great show. Gardening is a continuous activity and a lot of work is usually involved well ahead of flowering.
Early border chrysanthemums
Tubs and hanging baskets are planted up with geraniums, marigolds, Busy Lizzies, petunias, nemesia, lobelia, fuchsias and tuberous begonias. Many of these plants are annuals grown from seed in early spring, but some (geraniums and Busy Lizzies) are also perennials retained over winter from autumn cuttings, rooted, then grown on a sunny windowsill over the winter months. The tuberous begonias are retained year after year by drying off in autumn and stored in a frost free shed, but brought back into growth from early March in a warm place. At this time of year nurseries and garden centres are full of summer bedding plants so a good selection is always available.
I make up my summer hanging baskets in April, but keep them in a sunny sheltered spot on the ground to establish before they get hung up. My spring flowering hanging baskets full of pansies like to keep flowering well into summer so at some point these come down so I can put up the summer flowering baskets, but I always find a spot for the pansies to brighten up a dull area for another couple of months. Any spare plants are planted where ever I see a bare patch, usually after removing some shrubs that have gone past their sell by date, overgrown their allocated space, or just died. Outdoor
Purple peony
fuchsias can die out after a bad winter as well as Ceanothus.
This is a good time to visit nurseries and garden centres to see plants in flower, as it is hard to imagine colours from a catalogue. Rhododendrons, azaleas and Camellias can all be found in flower to make selection easier. Buying in some new shrub roses, bush or climbing roses will need to wait a bit longer, but as they are mostly container grown this is no problem. My climbing rose Mme Alfred Carrier had been scheduled for a winter removal as it had out grown its tall supporting fence by putting on massively long shoots reaching up to overhead telephone lines and blocking paths nearby. However it is such a beauty, that I could not dig it out, so it got a severe pruning and a verbal warning to behave itself or it would get the chop next year. That usually works.
Check young shoots on roses as the mild winter has allowed greenfly an early start and I see them beginning to make themselves at home on fresh young growth.
The herbaceous border will soon come alive with Oriental poppies, Delphiniums, flag iris, lilies, peonies, phlox and mine is bordered with pinks,
Garden Pinks
Verbena and Shasta daisies as the border is up a bank retained by a three foot high wall. Weeds are now getting organised so sharpen up the hoe and let the war commence.
Summer hanging basket
As the soil surface is beginning to dry up and warm up this is a good time to sow annuals. Poppies, godetia, candytuft, clarkia, cornflower and numerous more will all grow fast and put on a great show for summer. They flower best on poorer soils, so no need to add compost or manure to annual borders, but prepare the surface by raking to a good tilth to achieve a decent germination. Once the seeds germinate and begin to grow they will most likely need thinning some of which can be used as transplants.
Gladioli, chrysanthemums, and sweet peas all make brilliant cut flower for the house as well as adding a splash of colour to the garden and allotment, and these can now get planted out. Gladioli corms retained from last year can be supplemented by buying in a few more colours to add variety.

Wee jobs to do this week

The coloured stem winter border has brightened up the garden since autumn, but now crocus and tulips planted in between the shrubs need room to
Winter border
flower so it is time to cut back the Cornus, and willow to ground level. They are very tough so grow up again quite quickly. I also grow Kerria japonica and the Japanese maple, Acer Sango Kaku, but they do not get cut back. Just tidy up any straggling shoots from the maple, and prune old flowering shoots from the Kerria after flowering in late spring but leaving any strong young shoots which will flower next year.
END

Sunday, 17 March 2019

TOMATOES


TOMATOES


Home grown tomatoes will always be so much better than those purchased from the supermarket. They are not exposed to chemicals to keep them pest and disease free, and we let them fully ripen before picking. Picking a fully ripe cherry tomato fresh from the plant for immediate consumption is a wee taste of heaven, and in mid summer when
Feeding the tomatoes
we are picking bumper yields there are always a few cherry tomatoes that split, so we may not want to spoil the look of our harvest, and not wishing to waste a good tomato so we just eat as we pick and enjoy the moment.
Having grown tomatoes annually for nearly sixty years I have tried out borders, pots, growbags, ring culture and straw bales, which were popular for about ten years in the mid sixties. Flavour has been best for me when grown direct into a prepared soil border which I put down to the tomato plant having a great growing medium and access to plenty of every type of nutrient it needs. In past times this was normal commercial practise, but each winter the soil was sterilised with steam to kill all
Healthy young tomato plants
disease spores. Sometimes chemical sterilisation with chloropicrin was used so that the main problem disease verticillium wilt spores were killed. I have no access to either so I have to remove six inches of border soil and replace it with good garden soil to which I add well rotted compost then mix a few bags of compost from growbags into the surface plus some additional fertiliser as tomatoes are gross feeders. This may be a wee bit of strenuous exercise but for people of a certain age we are told it is good for us, and in any case it is on a small scale, taking about two days.
Seed sowing for this part of Scotland may depend on whether you have greenhouse heating or not and if you have access to a decent windowsill. I normally sow my seed first week in March but this year with a warm winter they were sown in the middle of February, hoping the good weather continues. This year I am trying out a range of cherry tomatoes so I do not need a lot of plants in total. Just as well as the packets had only ten seeds each. Been your normal tight Scotsman the plan is to sow half the packet and keep the rest for next year so I am counting on getting 100% germination. A couple of weeks
Summer harvest
later they all germinated apart from one seed. This gets the highest rating in Scotland of No Bad!!!
It is important to grow on plants with good light and a decent temperature to keep them sturdy. Plants are ready to plant out in early April, but plus or minus a couple of weeks depending on the weather. I space plants out about 18 inches apart along the border which is two feet wide. If you use growbags these are usually placed end to end with three plants per bag. Always shake up the compost in the bag before planting. If you have any spare plants it is always worth trying a few outdoors against a south facing wall or fence in a sheltered place.
Outdoor tomatoes
Tomatoes are grown as a single stemmed cordon and sideshoots are removed as soon as they are big enough to break off. I suspend strong polypropylene binder twine from strong wires along the roof and twist the plant around the twine as they grow taller.
Varieties This year I will again grow my favourite Alicante as my main crop but am trying a few cherry types such as Sungold, Cherry Baby, Rapunzel, Sugar Gloss and Supersweet 100. I have dropped Marmande a beefsteak type, which was a very poor cropper, though I have heard others getting good crops. I also dropped Yellow Delight which gave a massive crop, but with poor flavour and the plants were so vigorous they took over space from others nearby.

Wee jobs to do this week

Broad beans ready to plant
Up on City Road allotments some plot holders have been taking advantage of the mild winter and run ahead with broad bean sowing and planting out. I started sowing a fortnight ahead of last year and now germination has taken place I have potted up my seedlings into larger pots to give them more feeding and space to grow. They are quite hardy so they have been moved from the warmth of a south facing windowsill in a warm room into my unheated greenhouse. However if winter decided to make a last stand I have a greenhouse heater at the ready.
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Monday, 11 March 2019

THE FIRST SPRING FLOWERS APPEAR


THE FIRST SPRING FLOWERS APPEAR

Spring arrived in February with record high temperatures following a very dry and mild winter. The garden plants just loved it. Crocus bloomed from mid February onwards. Over the years, crocus have given a very bright splash of colour heralding the end of winter, though usually from mid March onwards. They take over from the drifts of snowdrops and aconites which this year started the show in December for the early snowdrops then in
Tulip Scarlet Baby and yellow Saxifrage
January and February for the aconites. I can always find another corner to brighten up with more crocus ordered in the autumn. It was great to have afternoon coffee break on the patio in the sun at the end of February surrounded by huge drifts of crocus.  Looking ahead, the drifts of flowers can be enlarged with careful planning. Thick clumps of snowdrops can be lifted and transplanted in the green, but water them in if weather is dry and sunny. With aconites it is best to collect the seed and scatter it where ever you want more plants, but take care to check them out once the seeds germinate.
Naturalised narcissus
In the first year they only produce a pair of seed leaves, then in the second year you get the first true leaves but no flower. This comes along in the third year, but well worth the wait.
As the crocus display comes to an end along comes the other spring bulbs such as the blue flowered Chionodoxa and Anemone blanda followed by drifts of grape hyacinths. These just seem to love our soils and can be a bit invasive as they establish very easily. I underplant the grape hyacinth drifts with narcissus and oriental lilies. The narcissus flowers at the same time as the grape hyacinths, but then in summer when the spring bulbs are going into dormancy the Oriental lilies take over with massive scented flowers in white and pink. I tried planting crocus into this scheme, but the foliage of the grape hyacinth emerges in autumn and is too strong for the crocus to push through. In a normal winter, snow and frost help to flatten this foliage so the crocus can be seen, but not this year.
Narcissus February Gold nearly made flowering in February this year, but at least it is very welcome
Spring crocus under the apple tree
in early March as one of the earliest narcissus, and then all the other daffodils and narcissus follow on. Now we can have scent as well as colour, especially with the Cheerfulness types and the Jonquils as well as the large white trumpets of Mount Hood, but the bold colour of Golden Harvest is very hard to beat for sheer impact in large drifts.
Saxifrage is one of the earliest dwarf rock garden plants to flower, but plant the dwarf Tulip Scarlet Baby along side it and in most years they will flower together, though this year the Saxifrage has run ahead with the mild weather, and the dry soil has held back the tulip. Sometimes you just cannot win with our unpredictable climate, but we keep trying.
Pulmonaria started to flower from the end of February, but like the saxifrage it is ahead of the early tulips Monte Orange and Red Revival chosen to accompany it. The Pulmonaria is underplanted amongst my apple trees to add colour and give a display while the apples are coming quietly out of their winter dormancy period.
Coming up the scale my first Rhododendron praecox has started to flower, so fingers crossed that there is no late frosts as often happens as the blooms are too tender to with stand a cold snap.
Planting polyanthus
Forsythia, however is quite tough though it usually flowers at the end of March and into April, but this year flowering is well ahead with a good show in mid March.

Wee jobs to do this week

Check over tubs, pots and hanging baskets planted last autumn with spring flowers and replace any losses. Sometimes vine weevil maggots are a nuisance with polyanthus and over wintered pansies are prone to greenfly and leaf spot disease. Garden centres are well stocked up with spring flowers, so replace losses now while plants are thinking now is a good time to flower. Many of my tubs and hanging baskets are planted up with pansies which I grew from seed harvested early last summer from the best blue, mauve, yellow and lemon colours I could find. However most have ended up in deep blue shades and only the occasional lemon.

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Sunday, 3 March 2019

A NEW SEASON BEGINS


A NEW SEASON BEGINS

This year’s mild winter with warmer, dry, sunny days
Taking chrysanthemum cuttings
encourages us to take advantage of this and start seed sowing a week or so earlier than planned, and just hope there is no sting in the tail with a winter flurry and a cold spell as we head for Easter.
Onion Hybound seed and sweet peas were both sown in a propagator in mid February. Both are in cellular trays with the sweet peas at two per cell and the onions at several per cell. Once they germinate the onions will go into individual cells to grow on in the greenhouse which at this moment
Geranium ready to pot up
is not heated. However as other spring grown plants will also go under glass as well as a large stock of geraniums, I have a heater just in case winter decides to return to try and catch us out. Geraniums were propagated from cuttings in autumn, then potted up once rooted and kept on windowsills, but now they all need potting up, but as space is limited they will go into the unheated greenhouse. Chrysanthemum stools lifted in late autumn, boxed up and overwintered in the greenhouse have just loved this mild winter as they are showing a lot of growth, so I took a large batch of cuttings putting them in cellular trays and keep them close to house windows, but away from direct sunlight. In another cool room with a north facing window I keep my seed potatoes in trays close to the light for chitting. If this mild winter continues I will gamble a wee bit and plant my first early Casablanca either at the end of February or early March. They will go in quite deep in case of late frosts and I will earth them up as they break through the
Potato Charlotte with good chitts
soil. Hoping to pick the first spuds ahead of last year, when I dug up my first shaw the first week in July.
Tuberous begonias are great value for flower impact, but they are always the last of the summer bedding plants to flower so I have started them a fortnight earlier than last year. My tubers must be heading for well over thirty years old, though most have been chopped up as I divide the big ones as long as each piece has a couple of buds showing. However over time they have become so misshapen I cannot tell which way is up, so they just go into boxes packed close together and covered with potting compost then placed in any warm room. At this stage they do not need light, but then once I see some buds appearing they will be removed and get boxed up with a bit more space and go into my greenhouse.
Broad beans are scheduled for sowing in early March, but as the weather so far has been in our favour it has been a late February sowing with one bean per cell in
Sweet peas and onions in the propagator
cellular trays. They are kept indoors until germination then they go into my unheated greenhouse as they are quite hardy.
Tomatoes are also getting sown at the end of February on a windowsill. Once they germinate they will need more space so my large geranium collection will have to come off the windowsills and go into the greenhouse to make space for the tomatoes which are not hardy. I will continue to grow tomatoes in a soil border in the greenhouse instead of growbags, but I remove some soil, replacing it with fresh soil from the garden then add compost to increase the fertility. As soil is packed with all the nutrients and minerals the tomatoes need, I find this enhances the flavour. This year I will be trying out a few new varieties of tomato as well as some tried and tested types. Alicante never lets me down so it is always on the list together with the golden cherry Sungold which I found to be really sweet. Added to those will be Cherry Baby, Rapunzel, Sugar Gloss and Supersweet 100. Two varieties from last year include Marmande, a beefsteak which cropped very poorly and Yellow Delight which was extremely vigorous and a very heavy cropper, but with poor flavour.
Under glass the grapes are still dormant, so the upright rods which were pruned in January can now get lowered so spur growth so buds break will be even from top to bottom. If left alone growth tends to be strongest at the top of the rod and weaker at the bottom.

Wee jobs to do this week

Putting tunnels on the early strawberries
Early strawberry varieties can be encouraged to fruit a good fortnight ahead of normal if the rows are covered with low polythene tunnels. The varieties Mae and Christine are perfect as well as Honeoye. Make sure the polythene is well secured as we seem to be getting more gale force winds.
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