Sunday, 7 February 2016

PRUNING FRUIT TREES AND BUSHES



PRUNING FRUIT TREES AND BUSHES

The dormant season from November till the end of March is the time when we prune our fruit trees and bushes. I often choose a frosty day or when the ground is covered with snow when I can’t get on with other work. However leave plum trees till summer otherwise there is a risk of silver leaf infection from airborne spores entering the cut surfaces.
The pruning of apples, pears, outdoor peaches and cherries has changed over the years as new dwarfing rootstocks are found, and demand to grow small trees increases as space gets restricted. So now as well as standard trees for the large garden, we can have half standard and commercial spindle bush training allowing all picking to be carried out from the ground. For the smaller garden we now get cordons, fan trained trees, upright columner forms and stepover trees only growing a couple of feet tall, (as long as you summer prune them.)
Anna picking bramble Helen
The principles involved in pruning all of these different forms is very similar. We aim to control the balance between strong growth and fruiting, and opening up centres to allow light in for ripening the fruit. Old wood that has fruited for five or more years also needs removing periodically to be replaced by some young shoots that will grow in its place for the next five years.
Autumn Bliss raspberries
However cordons, fan shapes and stepovers all fruit on a system of spurs created by cutting growth shoots to a few inches long in late summer to ripen up the shoots, then cutting them back further in winter to form fruiting spurs.
However in the early years after planting we prune to establish the shape intended for the tree as bush, fan, stepover and oblique cordon all need treated differently.
Brambles (blackberries) and raspberries are similar to prune. Summer fruiting types, fruit on shoots grown the previous year, so we remove the old shoots that fruited last year right down to the crowns at ground level, and tie in new shoots. Autumn fruited rasps and the new primocane brambles such as Reuben have all their growth removed in winter as they will fruit on shoots produced in the same year. Reuben had a bad year with me in 2015 as the young shoots flowered in November, far too late for fruiting. Hope it does better this year.
Blackcurrants fruit best on young shoots formed the previous year so we prune to remove some old wood to encourage a supply of new shoots every year.
Apple Fiesta
Red and white currants are similar but the young shoots form spurs so we retain them for several years. Try and establish an open centred framework of about nine main shoots, replacing a few of these each year as new young shoots grow from the base of the bush. All sideshoots are cut back to their main shoot to form spurs in winter.
Gooseberries are usually grown as a bush on a central leg about a foot tall. There are usually plenty of young shoots grown every year and fruiting is usually heavy so the main aim of winter pruning is to remove those branches too close to the ground to prevent fruit getting soil splashes, and keeping the centres open to make picking easier. Gooseberries like red and white currants can also be trained as cordons on walls and fences where space is limited. 
Figs up north are best grown in a sheltered spot against a warm south facing wall and planted in a prepared pit lined with slabs to restrict growth and encourage fruiting. Initial pruning is carried out to create a fan shape against
Chinese witch hazel
the wall. Subsequent pruning removes shoots growing away from the wall, keeping the centre open and reducing any long vigorous shoots. Summer prune young shoots by tipping them back to several leaves to encourage fruit bud formation.

Wee jobs to do this week
The weather has been so wet this year that outdoor gardening activity has been greatly curtailed, but it has also been very mild and this has brought forward the flowering of the early bulbs, so whenever the sun shines wander outside and just enjoy those snowdrop and aconites. Its been a good year for the Chinese witch Hazel, Hamamelis molis and Mahonia Charity, both looking great while the sun shines. Daffodils, tulips, hyacinths and many other dwarf bulbs are all well advanced and even my rhubarb crowns are all swollen up ready to start growing after this wet but mild winter.

END

Thursday, 4 February 2016

ROSES



ROSES

Fifty year ago every decent garden had roses in beds, growing along fences, growing up walls and a few tall shrub roses along garden boundaries. However, time moves on and life changes. Chemicals previously used to combat black spot, mildew and rust are no longer available so these diseases are now running rampart through many great varieties. Roses have lost their appeal and now plant breeders have a struggle to bring in a new roses with great floral merit, scented flowers and healthy leaves with built in disease resistance. I have discarded a lot of bush and shrub roses recently, but fortunately there are still a few good ones left. Some still get attacked, but seem to survive and still flower just fine. There is still some rose fungicides available which I use for those such as the white scented Margaret Merril which I do not want to lose.

Other favourites still in my garden include the red scented E H Morse, the bicolour Piccadilly, Arthur Bell, a great yellow, the orange Dawn Chorus and the pinks Wendy Cussons, Myriam and Congratulations. Two great reds are Ingrid Bergman which has some scent and National Trust with a perfect rose flower shape but no scent.
New varieties appear every year so it is wise to try out something new and most garden centres display them in pots during the early flowering season so you can see the flower, smellthem to see if  it has a scent and see if the foliage looks healthy.
My best shrub roses include the very old pink Ispahan, the pink striped Rosa mundi and Gertrude Jekyll, another scented pink shrub rose which I train as a climber. My other climbers which have given me great value, brilliant displays and very little disease is the red Dublin Bay, now twelve foot tall and Mme. Alfred Carrier at least eighteen feet tall. It really needs a massive amount of space and takes a lot of work with pruning and tying in.

Planting new roses
Roses are permanent plants so need a lot of ground preparation prior to planting to improve the soil structure and drainage. New ground for roses should be double dug incorporating plenty manure or compost, and then dusted with a slow release organic fertiliser such as bone meal. Choose a good day for planting and don’t plant the bushes too deep. A compost mulch applied in spring is very beneficial. Planting bare root bushes can be done any time from November to March, but container grown bushes can be planted all year round as long as they are watered in any dry spells.
Prune shoots after planting, by removing about half the growth to encourage new growth.
 
Pruning existing roses
With bush roses remove weak shoots, some old wood and trim others by about a third to an outward facing bud. Shrub roses only need tidying up of old shoots trailing on the ground and periodically remove some old wood to encourage fresh new shoots.
Climbing roses need the most attention as they grow so tall and put on a lot of growth, but the principle is the same. Remove all weak shoots, try and remove some old shoots every year, but only lightly prune last years shoots as these will flower this year. Remove any shoot growing away from the wall if it cannot be tied in. Space out and tie in long shoots so they all have plenty of room.
 
Wee jobs to do this week

A cold frosty day is often a good time to prune the raspberries as the weather restricts gardening in other places. Autumn fruited varieties are the easiest as they are cut back to a few buds at ground level. New shoots emerge in spring, grow tall in summer then fruit from August onwards. Summer fruiting varieties fruit on canes grown the previous year so all last years fruited canes are removed down to the ground. They are easy to recognise as they are brown rather than green and they are all tied in rather than loose. Tie in the new canes with a running knot spacing them four inches apart along the top wire.

END

Sunday, 24 January 2016

SOIL



SOIL

To create a successful garden, we select our favourite plants, arrange where best to put them and give them the soil conditions best suited to their needs. Some research is always handy to establish the best plants for dry soil, damp soil, poor soil, shady areas, suntraps and even on the allotment you need to know which plants need very fertile soil and those that are best on land manured the previous year. Many problems start with the new garden around new property once the builders have left the site. Poor soil, consolidation, poor drainage and buried builders debris are normal.
Once you start to dig over the site, coupled with a visual inspection you will quickly determine the state and nature of soil, and if drainage is needed.
Anna starting the winter digging
A rubble drain can often be integrated under garden paths and lead to a large sump. Soil improvement is an ongoing event involving digging annually, incorporating organic manures, practicing green manuring, establishing a compost heap and using fertilisers and rock dust to get plants off to a good start. Any areas to be planted with permanent or long term crops such as fruit bushes, shrubs, trees or roses should have the ground double dug adding in as much compost or other organic material as you can get hold off. When double digging nearly two feet deep don’t allow the soil or clay in the lower depths to come up into the top soil. Deep digging opens up the soil allowing good aeration, root penetration and improves fertility and drainage.
Adding 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. On allotments where a four year rotation is practised it is usual to lime one section each year where the brassicas are to be planted. On sandy soils often deficient in minerals consider using rock dust to improve mineral uptake.
Shredding branches at City Road Allotments

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 such as shrub prunings 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.

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, clover or tares. As soon as the first flowers appear, trample down the stems and dig it in.

Wee jobs to do this week
Pruning Black Hamburg grape vine
Prune grape vines in the greenhouse as well as outdoors. Vines under glass are usually trained as upright rods spaced about 18 inches apart with spurs established about ten inches apart up these rods. Prune all young shoots right back to a couple of buds from the main stem (rod). Grapes grown outdoors can also be grown as rods or if covering trellis, fences or sheds left to form a framework of main stems spaced about a foot apart. Again spurs are encouraged to form about ten inches apart and in November to January all young shoots are cut back to a couple of buds. Commercially outdoor grapes are trained in the single or double guyot system to form well managed rows with plenty of light and growth restricted in summer to encourage fruiting.

END

Sunday, 17 January 2016

PLANS FOR A NEW SEASON



PLANS FOR A NEW SEASON

Although the very wet weather at the start of 2016 has not been kind to gardens or gardeners giving us precious little chance to get onto the soil, we can still do some gardening at home, sorting out plans for the new season. We have had time to analyse last year’s results so we can continue with our success stories and find answers to our failures.
There have always been continual changes around the garden and on the allotment. We have a permanent battle with the weather all year round, and then there are new varieties of flowers, fruit and vegetables to try out.
Add to that those must have trees and shrubs that have given us a lot of pleasure for many years, but eventually outgrow their allotted space. I have had to sacrifice my eucalyptus, several huge conifers, many shrub roses devastated by blackspot, my plum tree which got infected by silver leaf disease and my peach tree devastated by peach leaf curl. I also lost several grape vines, my goji and a row of raspberries killed out by phytophthora root rot.
However the gaps left behind gives us the challenge of improving the landscape design. Thus a lot of new plantings took place last year including many dwarf rhododendrons and azaleas, some osteospermums, flag iris, outdoor fuchsias and bulbs.
I had a huge ceanothus growing at the bottom of a steep bank, but during a dry spell last year it died so I dug it out. The ground was replanted with a drift of yellow doronicums around which I have planted numerous dwarf red tulips to flower at the same time. Another dry area at the top of a wall has been planted up with peonies and pinks around the edges to trail over the wall. This area has also been under planted with tall red tulips for a spring display and highly scented oriental lilies for the summer. More oriental lilies are planned for the ground vacated by removal of my forty year old plum tree as well as hundreds of grape hyacinths which naturalise very easily.


Update in the fruit garden
Last year my new autumn raspberry Polka started to fruit, and as hoped the berries were larger than Autumn Bliss, so I look forward to this year’s crop. I will try out a new summer raspberry bred recently at James Hutton Institute called Glen Dee, with larger fruit than Glen Ample, heavier yields with tolerance to some strains of raspberry root rot.
Bramble Rhuben will now be in its second year, so I hope it fairs better than last year. This is a primocane type fruiting on new shoots produced in the same year. However last year some of these new canes flowered in November so never had a chance to fruit, though it was a cold sunless year.
Blackcurrant Big Ben gave a good crop of large berries so hope this continues this year.
Aronia Viking gave us its first crop last year, but as the bush grows the cropping potential will increase, so 2016 could be a good year, with enough for a demijohn of wine.
My original outdoor peach tree Peregrine, grown against a south facing fence had to be dug out as the peach leaf curl could not be controlled. It has now been replaced with peach Avalon Pride said to be resistant to this disease, so here we go again.
In the greenhouse my new grape Siegerrebe was quite promising, giving white grapes with a Muscat flavour, so I took some cuttings and will try this one outdoors on a south facing fence.
Starline apple Firedance planted last year gave a few apples, and in the cool wet summer growth was fairly decent, so it will be interesting to see what it does this year.


Wee jobs around the garden

Winter aconites are now beginning to flower a lot earlier than normal due to the mild winter. Where a drift is forming from scattered seed these are now germinating but only produce one set of seed leaves in the first year and no mature leaves. The second year they produce one mature leaf, and then hopefully begin to flower in the third year. Make sure you can recognise these young leaves so they don’t get mistaken for an early flush of weeds.

END

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

EDIBLE PLANTS FOR A HEALTHY LIFE



EDIBLE PLANTS FOR A HEALTHY LIFE

The Festive season is now a very pleasant memory of meeting friends and family, great food and drink and plenty of it, but now we need to get back to reality. It is very easy to have gained a few pounds as it is not the time to be resisting the dumpling or pudding with a generous helping of brandy butter sauce, followed by a large slice of Christmas cake. However now we need to sort out some activities to use the energy stored up in our bodies.
John picking the Aronia Viking chokeberries
Some folk will be getting back to the gym, others out for a jog, a few country walks, a swim or cycle run and for us gardeners we can crack on with the winter digging, fence and shed repairs after all the storms, then there’s the roses, vines and shrubs to prune. Gardeners also benefit from having a good selection of fresh vegetables available all year round. Last week I had a notion for a fresh salad, something light after all the very tasty, but heavy going festive meals.
Then a trip to my allotment plot to pick a lettuce, spring onions, beetroot, and some salad leaves of mustard, rocket and mezuna. The very mild winter has kept these plants growing and quite fresh. Looking forward to the 2016 growing season I always make sure that there are plenty healthy crops on the growing plan. The top plants for health benefits are often referred to as the superfoods, and giving them this accolade does help to promote their use, but the term is vague with little scientific basis for evaluation. There are very numerous scientific experiments currently underway to try and evaluate superfood products on our health. Many of these experiments use concentrated extractions of the beneficial elements contained in the
fruit and vegetables so even when the results are favourable we should not read too much into them. It is however quite beneficial to consume a variety of fruit and vegetables to provide our bodies with wide range of vitamins and minerals, as one plant will be quite different from another, and growing your own has the added advantage with the crop not getting picked till it is fully ripe and uncontaminated by any chemicals. Any small garden or allotment plot can grow many of those fruit and vegetables earning the superfood status and just enjoy them and feel all the better in the knowledge that they all possess a wee bit more of those beneficial vitamins, anti-oxidants and minerals. My list of the best includes rhubarb, beetroot, chard, kale, broccoli, garlic, onions, peppers, blueberries, saskatoons and chokeberries. Although not on any superfood list, I would also include lettuce and heritage apple varieties, as when you research the health benefits of crops they both come out very favourably, especially the apples before they were subjected to breeding for size, heavy cropping and uniformity. Each crop has its own claim to fame.
Top of my list is the chokeberry with very high levels of vitamin C and anti-oxidants.
Saskatoons, blackcurrants and blueberries all having black fruits have similar health benefit properties and can be eaten fresh, frozen or processed for a wide variety of uses.
Beetroot including the leaves is also high in anti-oxidants and vitamin C but also vitamin A and K as well as a lot of minerals. Chard belongs to the same family so has a similar range of goodness.
Kale and broccoli are very high in calcium and iron.
Garlic and onions contain the vitamins A, E, C and B6 as well as the minerals iron, molybdenum, manganese, chromium, calcium and potassium.
Rhubarb is high in calcium and potassium and antioxidants.
Peppers are very high in Vitamin C, vitamin A, and most of the vitamin B range, as well as the minerals potassium, magnesium and iron. If you can build up a tolerance to hot peppers they are
recognized for excellent health benefits.

Wee jobs to do this week

Lift and divide rhubarb if it has cropped for three or more years. Discard old crowns but save and replant strong young crowns with at least two to three buds. As rhubarb will be undisturbed for several years dig over the ground incorporating plenty of manure or compost as rhubarb is a heavy feeder. Space crowns about three feet apart.

 End

Monday, 4 January 2016

REVIEW OF THE YEAR



REVIEW OF THE YEAR

The festive season is a good time for indoor garden planning relaxing in the warmth and enjoying a wee bit of festive cheer. Plans for 2016 are usually based on the past years experiences, so it is a good idea to review performance while we can remember our successes and failures.
Whilst we have always been at the mercy of nature not knowing what kind of weather awaits us, we still make the choice of what plants we wish to grow. We are also relying on nurseries and garden centres to supply us with good stock and seeds so that we get what it says on the label, and plants are healthy and grow. I like to experiment, so every year I select new plants to try out, and every year this meets a fair bit of disappointment as some
suppliers send inferior stock. I have had wrong variety raspberries supplied, rasps infected with root rot, virus infected vines, purple phlox that produced pink flowers, pink peonies that turned out to be the common red one, and vegetable seed with extremely poor germination. So the failures of 2015 were not all due to bad weather. Our spirits rose at Easter when summer started early and lasted nearly a fortnight. After that it was downhill till autumn. No need for watering on the allotment plot this year.

Fruit
Cold weather in spring delayed flowering on all top fruit for two to three weeks, but when trees did flower there was plenty of bees around and everything flowered together so bees were quite fussy and ignored my peach tree. Daily hand pollination helped, but then the cold wet summer favoured peach leaf curl disease and I lost most of the leaves. The fruit could not develop, so most fell off. Apples and pears were the success story giving fantastic crops, though fruit was not as sweet as
previous years.
I had worried that the poor summer would ruin my fig bush. If the summer had been good I had hoped to get about a hundred figs. The summer never came but still the first figs were ready at the end of August and continued till the end of October by which time I had picked over 150 ripe figs.
Blackcurrants cropped very heavy with berry size the best ever. New variety Big Ben lived up to its name with enormous sweet berries. Similarly my new autumn raspberry Polka produced very large berries, but my new blackberry Reuben was nothing to get excited about. Some of the new primocanes flowered in November so had no chance of fruiting this year.
Vegetables
All leafy plants such as cabbage, kale, salads, leeks and broad beans just loved the weather, and parsnips and carrots have never been better, but beetroot was very poor. It germinated just fine but never swelled up. Similarly Swedes failed to germinate totally, but I put this down to poor seed.

Pumpkins really need a good summer, but I did get three modest fruit from three plants. I usually get two fruit per plant. Potatoes also loved the weather, though blight was a nuisance except on Sarpo Mira which has healthy foliage. Tomatoes were brilliant though I hear others had variable results. I put my success down to good border soil enhanced with compost.
Flowers
Spring flowering tulips, azaleas, camellias and bulbs were brilliant but many summer flowers such as petunias and impatiens failed miserably. It was the geraniums, begonias and fuchsia Mrs Popple that stole the show.

Wee jobs to do this week

The greenhouse grape vine is now fully dormant, and has ripened up so this is a perfect time to get out the secateurs and do the winter pruning. Vines are prone to bleeding if stems are cut late in the dormant season so complete all the pruning by the end of January. Grapes in greenhouses are grown on upright rods spaced about 18 inches apart. Spurs grow from these rods about every 9 or 10 inches apart and produce the shoots with the grapes. It is these shoots that are now cut off back to the main rods leaving a couple of buds.

 End


Monday, 28 December 2015

WINTER GARDEN



WINTER GARDEN

We generally plan our gardens for spring and summer colour, then enjoy
the autumn as leaves take on the golds, orange and red hues, but as winter approaches and the weather becomes colder we are less inclined to wander around enjoying the garden. Garden tasks however continue with winter digging, pruning, repairing fences, planting trees and shrubs and hedges and moving plants indoors or under shelter to give them some winter protection. We also have to clear paths of snow, sprinkle salt on drives, and on a sunny day there is always a few remaining leaves to sweet up. To keep our spirits raised on these cold days outdoors it is a good idea to establish a winter garden that will have its days of impact during the winter months. There are a lot of plants that have very attractive variegated foliage such as the gold and silver Euonymus, or the yellow edged Elaeagnus and even the black grass, Ophiogogon now gets some attention without having to compete with spring and summer flowers. Then of course there are a lot of shrubs with highly coloured stems such as the Cornus, (dorwoods with red, orange and black stems) the salix, (willow with red, orange and grey stems,) Kerria japonica with green stems and Rubus with stems covered in a white bloom. To create impact, grow these shrubs together in a drift against a dark green hedge or some Rhododendrons and Camellias. Although these can grow quite tall, most get pruned right back to stumps at ground level in spring so do not interfere with the Rhododendrons or camellias in flower in April.
Flowering plants can also be found in mid winter. Both the scented Viburnum Dawn shrub and yellow climber Jasminum nudiflorum will continue to flower all winter provided they get a few sunny days together.
To add a bit of height to the border there are plenty of taller shrubs such as the coral bark maple Acer sangokaku and a few smaller trees well worth a place for their winter bark. The white stemmed Betula jaquemontia
is a must have if you can afford the space as it is a real show stopper all year round. The list grows longer if you have room for more small trees as several more maples and Prunus (cherries) have ornamental variegated or peeling bark. Eucalyptus can also be used as it has very attractive smooth bark in shades of warm greys and the foliage is always a lovely blue grey colour. However it is a forest tree which needs a lot of room, so keep it down to a reasonable size by cutting back in late winter.
The front of the border is the place for a few drifts of Calluna heathers with yellow and bronze evergreen foliage that brightens up after a bit of frost. The black grass is another ideal plant for the front of the border and if you plant snowdrops underneath it you will create a very modern attractive show in February when the pristine snowdrops open above the black ground cover of the Ophiopogon grass. I tend to use the winter border to extend the show into spring by under planting the whole area with snowdrops, aconites, and crocus, as these flower immediately you have pruned back all the shrubs in March. However do not prune the Kerria till after it has flowered in late spring and only cut back some of the old flowering shoots to ground level, leaving all the fresh green shoots to flower the next year. The display of bulbs can continue with both daffodils and tulips and even the taller summer flowering oriental lilies can be found a spot as they will just grow through the growing shrubs quite happily.

Wee jobs around the garden

Unheated greenhouses still house and grow plants right through the winter. I overwinter my fuchsias, outdoor chrysanthemum stools, many recently propagated shrubs in small pots and spring flowering hanging baskets full of pansies. I also grow some spring onions, winter lettuce and many other salads. It is a good idea to give these plants some extra protection by lining the glass with a layer of bubble polythene. You can get special clips to hold it in place so there is an air gap between the polythene and the glass, to help the insulation. If you have a grape vine try to keep this on the outside of the insulation as they benefit from a winter chill.

END

Monday, 21 December 2015

FESTIVE THOUGHTS



FESTIVE THOUGHTS

As the festive season draws ever so near we begin the wind down, putting essential gardening tasks on the back burner, and in any case recent storms, flooding, and the memory of a rotten summer brings in the need for a wee bit of festive cheer. While I always try to get all my digging done before the end of the year, the continual rains have made the soil surface too wet to walk on so digging will be delayed till it dries up a wee bit or we get some light surface frosts.
My most essential task has been making sure I have some two year old Saskatoon wine bottled up, as well as my red currant, grape and apple wine. Trips to the allotment plot are mostly to pick parsnips, carrots, sprouts, cabbage, kale, beetroot and leeks. Though when you get a few dry sunny days I go for the other healthy option and bring back my salad range of winter lettuce, spring onion, rocket, mizuna and mustard, all still growing happily. Back home we still have plenty spuds, onions, pumpkins and apples in store. I keep checking apples and remove any going soft or brown. These get cut in half and left outside for the blackbirds which seem to enjoy them just fine.

Early December is the time for putting up the Christmas tree, checking that last years lights are still working. This decorating task is very important and a very serious operation taking care to ensure the loaded tree does not fall over. However to steady my nerves a bottle of vintage Saskatoon wine is never far away.
The weather the last few weeks has been quite predictable; we get gales and storms one day, followed by a calm sunny
day next and occasion the sun stays out for two days. This gives us the chance to wander around the garden, and be amazed at just how much flowers we still have putting on a display. We either grow or buy in flowers to decorate the tables over the festive season, as the garden is usually bare. This year most plants missed out on summer so they are trying to make up for lost time taking advantage of every sunny day. Fuchsia Mrs Popple has been unbelievable as it is still covered in flowers in mid December. Mahonia Charity flowers in mid winter, but some flowered last October. Snowdrops are again just itching to start the winter flowering season, though my drift are at the bottom of a warm sunny south facing wall. Two tubs of polyanthus have never stopped flowering since I planted then in October.

Back indoors things are a bit mixed. I keep my stock of geraniums going from year to year by taking cutting in autumn and over wintering them on a windowsill. Other geraniums got lifted whole, slightly trimmed and then potted up. They are now a mass of colour. Impatiens were propagated from cuttings quite successfully then potted up. However they got infected by red spider, and though I sprayed them and killed a few, the plants never recovered.
At this time of year I always have my Christmas cactus (Zygocactus) full of pink flowers. Last year it flowered twice, but must have exhausted itself as it has refused to flower this year.
One plant that I don’t grow, but always buy in is the Poinsettia. They are not expensive, so easy to grow and being quite big really make a bright splash of colour. Some people tell me they find them difficult, but this may be due to over or under watering, draughts or too close to a radiator.
Another excellent plant for this time of year in the winter cherry, but look around for a good one.

 Wee jobs to do this week

Winter is the time for pruning shrubs and fruit trees and bushes. It is quite pleasant doing this task on a sunny but cold day as we are usually well wrapped up, and a wee bit of outdoor activity is good for you. However keep the momentum going as the prunings have to be disposed off. If you are able to burn then a wee controlled bonfire will dispose of prunings quickly and leave you with some high potash wood ash fertiliser, but it is very soluble so get it bagged and under cover as soon as it is cold enough. For the rest of us a shredder is the next option, which again is a pleasant task, gets rid of all your wood prunings and leaves you with a pile of shreddings to add to your compost heap or used as mulch under some fruit bushes.

 End


Tuesday, 15 December 2015

GRAPES FOR SCOTTISH GARDENS



GRAPES FOR SCOTTISH GARDENS

As an apprentice gardener way back in the mists of time we were trained in propagation of grape vines, and told how to grow them, but I don’t recall ever seeing one actually grown. To own a grape vine then, you had to be very clever or wealthy. It was another twenty years later before I got my first grape vine. However it was essential to have a greenhouse, as no-one ever considered growing them outdoors. Black Hamburg was the only one around for unheated greenhouses, but if you had heat you could grow Muscat of Alexandria. Today we have moved on and the choice of vines for both indoor and outdoor is quite extensive. Both Black Hamburg and Muscat of Alexandria are excellent grapes for the greenhouse, but they both have pips and today nobody wants grapes with pips. However if you grow them for the health benefits, I am told it is the pips that are the healthy part. Supermarkets demand seedless grapes, so now we buy vines with grapes that have no pips. This brings in another wee problem as we discover our seedless grapes are smaller than normal. It is the pips, or seeds that produce the growth hormones to make the grapes swell up. Commercial growers get round this problem by spraying the growing vines with several sprays of the growth promoting hormone gibberellic acid. We amateur gardeners do not have access to this chemical so we grow smaller grapes, but so much more healthy without covering the skins with chemicals. Thompson Seedless grapes are very popular in USA, but the markets demand really big grapes so the vines get large doses of this hormone.

In Scotland I have tried the white seedless grape Perlette and red seedless Flame, both needing the protection and warmth of a greenhouse. After several very successful years the weather changed resulting in very poor ripening of growth in autumn so the following year the vines produced very few bunches. I am now trying Seigerrebe which has a Muscat flavour and a few pips, so time will tell how it performs in my cold greenhouse.

We all love to experiment so I have planted a few outdoor grapes to see if there is any merit in hoping that global warming could be on our side way up north. We do know that to be successful, sun and warmth are needed to ripen up growth in autumn to help initiate fruiting buds the following year and also to ripen up the grapes. The sugar content of the grapes at harvest is totally dependant on getting plenty sun in summer and autumn. This year our Scottish summer was not at its best, but we had plenty of rain to encourage growth. I have been trying out several grapes with varying degrees of success. Both Rondo and Regent produced a few bunches of decent grapes, but Phoenix was outstanding giving me about thirty bunches. If the autumn had been better this would have been my success story. Solaris has a good reputation as the grape for the north, but I have not been impressed so far.
The ornamental variety Brant produces over a hundred bunches, which always ripen up, but they are very small. This year I put all my indoor and outdoor grapes together for a batch of home brew wine, but the low sugar content (specific gravity of 64) was only going to give 8% alcohol strength so it was necessary to add some grape concentrate, and a bit of sugar.
All my outdoor grapes have the benefit of a south slope and south facing walls and fences, so I will continue with a few more varieties, (Polo Muscat and Muscat Bleu both show a lot of promise) in the hope that one decent summer will give me a vintage year.

Wee jobs to do this week

Now that lawns have had their last cut this is a good time to carry out any renovation work. Spiking to aerate the lawn and scarifying to remove moss and thatch is usually done in late autumn followed by top dressing with sterilised soil and slow release fertiliser, but worn patches and broken edges can be repaired now. It is too late to oversow with seed but fresh turf can be used to repair damaged edges. Remove old turf and soil to same depth as thickness of new turf and lay and firm in carefully to maintain the same levels.

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Saturday, 5 December 2015

GARDEN CLIMBERS



GARDEN CLIMBERS


In my early training days in gardening, the only way to find out about plants was to grow them, so I created a wee rock garden, a rose garden, flower beds, herbaceous border, heather garden, got a greenhouse and cold frame, then a fruit and vegetable patch. There was always more plants to discover so every available space had to be utilised. House walls, fences and pergolas all played their part, so I began to experiment with climbers. Problems soon appeared with the need for support, and soil where none existed, then I had to get a grasp of training systems, before sorting out the best plants for walls facing north, east, west and south. A few years later when I found fruit growing to be just as important as flowers, I had to choose exactly what suited my needs as the choice of plants for covering walls is huge.
Climbing rose Dublin Bay
My first success was finding plants that would grow on a north facing wall where good sunshine was a problem. Climbing rose Mme Alfred Carrier, or Ena Harkness and  Jasmine and Hydrangea petiolaris are all  good, and although Camellias are not climbers, they can be trained up a north facing just fine. Property security can be improved by planting Pyracantha around any vulnerable windows. This firethorn has real vicious thorns but also orange, red and yellow berries all autumn and into winter, and blackbirds just love to nest in them.
I placed a great value on walls next to main front doors. These needed scented flowers to enhance the feel good factor for anyone going into the house.  Climbing rose Zephirine Drouhin and Gertrude Jekyll are both perfect pinks for this spot, and honeysuckle is another favourite.
Walls and fences are becoming very popular places to plant fruit trees and bushes on as people want an apple, pear, cherry or peach but normally they would grow quite large, so nurseries now cater for this use. Espaliers, cordons and fan trained trees, and dwarf cherries are all available. Now cherries grown on the new Gisela 5 rootstock will only grow to six to eight feet tall, so they are easy to net against birds. Figs are very successful on a south facing wall and easily pruned to prevent it taking over the garden. Grape vines are also easy to grow, but need pruning to induce fruiting and restrict excessive growth. They are not self clinging so will need a strong support, or a tall fence.
Another great climber that does very well on tall fences is the clematis in many different forms.
Clematis montana rubens may be very common, but it is one of the best for a mass display of pink flowers. It is very reliable, quite vigorous and loves to scramble into old trees, over sheds, tall fences, conifers, etc.
Most climbers against house walls only need enough decent soil to get them established in the first couple of years, and then they can look after themselves.
Very often there will be a perfect house wall space but totally paved with no soil near it. I have frequently removed a two by two paving slab against the house wall then excavate ten inches of builders rubble before loosing up a further six inches. Backfill the hole with some decent top soil, adding a bit of compost and some fertiliser to the pit. Keep any new plant well watered till it gets established. It will soon find spaces to grow in the builders rubble and be perfectly happy. My climbing rose Dublin Bay has to be severely pruned in winter to keep in down to twelve feet.

Wee jobs to do this week

This is a good time to put up the bird table and feeders as a lot of winter berries, apart from the cotoneasters, have now been used up, and it is the smaller birds that benefit. I have rebuilt my bird table to prevent seagulls and pigeons hovering up all the seeds leaving nothing for the robin, bluetits, chaffinch and sparrows. The blackbirds get a few chopped apples from store after cutting off any brown bits.

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