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Homing in on the wine industry

November 4 2017

In early youth, once you are old enough to sample a wee bit of alcohol you go over a threshold with a new experience that stays with you, but is forever changing as life evolves. When you are still very young there are a lot of lessons to learn, like, men drink beer, old men drink whisky and women drink wine. Way back in the sixties when the pubs shut at 10 o' clock (later on it changed to 10.30pm) as it was too early to go home we went for a meal and as we learned to be posh we got a bottle of wine. Following the fashion of the day, this would be Blue Nun, Mateus Rose, or even Liebfraumilch. However, on a trip to Melbourne visiting family my hosts were horrified to hear I drank wine as I got told all Aussie men only drink beer. As time marched on into the seventies, back in UK beer and wine consumption was not gender based and I got back to both beer in the pub, but wine with a meal. I enjoyed wine but these were poorer times so there was a surge in home brewing where you could make your own tipple with a few demijohns, some home brew equipment and a bit of foraging for fruit, such as elderberries, apples and brambles. Home brewing was very popular with shops stocking everything you need, then home brew magazines gave you the recipes and I even went to evening classes for wine making when I lived in Darlington. As my few demijohns bubbled away, then settled down to clear, it was very difficult to contain your patience to leave the wine alone to mature so there was always a bit of early sampling. Eventually the good times arrived and we could have a bottle of wine with our meal on both Saturday and Sunday. Now that was living life to the full. However this was a learning curve, and not all fruit makes good wine so both the raspberry and strawberry went down the sink plus a few others. There was only one answer, and that was to get an allotment and grow my own wine crops. So I started with red currants, white currants, blackcurrants, gooseberries and apples, but had to have trips to the countryside to get my elderberries. They all make fantastic wine, especially if you can lay it down somewhere cool for three years. Moving on to more recent times, I now grow saskatoons and the chokeberry, Aronia Viking which is extremely high in antioxidants so it makes a great health drink with a wee kick and a fantastic flavour. As the climate changes and Scotland gets a wee bit more global warming (I haven’t really noticed any difference, other than the summers are wetter and there’s not much snow in winter) now could be the time to see if we can grow grapes up north. After trying many varieties my best bet has been Regent, Rondo and Brant which has small bunches, but are very sweet, juicy and black. All of these fruits can be frozen for future use to spread out the work load and demand on demijohns. All the normal fruit wines have great flavour, but need added sugar to boost the alcohol strength and once they come out of the fermentation bucket (4 to 5 days) I add some grape concentrate to add vinosity. Modern yeasts can give quite high alcohol strengths, but I try to keep mine at 11 to 12% alcohol and ferment right out for a dry wine as this keeps the calories down. However wines made from home grown grapes have to stand on their own merits so no additional grape concentrate, but we need more sunshine to encourage the grapes to produce more natural sugars. This year my greenhouse Solaris and Siegerrebe picked in August gave a specific gravity reading of 1074 so needed some sugar to give a strength of 11% alcohol. Similarly my outdoor grape Brant left till the end of October gave a similar reading so the yeast also needed a sugar boost, but my vine yielded 36 pounds of grapes so I got 2.5 full demijohns after racking off the sediment. Now I just need to wait three years before sampling begins! Wee jobs to do this week  Chrysanthemums will now be finished flowering and dahlias likely to get cut down by the first frosts so lift them both up for storing. Chrysanthemums are labelled and boxed up to grow on slowly in a cold greenhouse, so keep them watered , but not wet, and keep a lookout for greenfly. Dahlias are dried off and stored in a frost free shed in boxes. They do not need any soil.


Summer spotlight on the lady gardener

June 10 2017

A mature garden that has been well designed with a lot of interest all year round gives a great deal of pleasure and has plenty of plant stories to write about. Although these gardening articles go under my name, the reality is that I am only one half of the team that creates and maintains the garden and allotment. Anna Anderson, the other team member has a huge garden and together we create an ever changing horticultural world that we like to share. It was through art that we met many years ago when Anna visited my art exhibition in Roseangle Gallery looking for a painting of her home town Alyth. As I had no paintings of her home town I was commissioned to paint the Old Packbridge over the Alyth Burn. I was very impressed by this small town so another twenty paintings covering all seasons were completed for my next exhibition. We soon found that we both had an interest not only in art but also gardening. At that time I needed a studio and Anna needed a hand with her large garden so a team was formed. The garden is built on a steep facing south slope. In the early days the garden had been planted with a lot of evergreen ground cover surrounded with tall conifers to help smother weeds. There was a lot of plants we would love to grow if only we had room, so it was sleeves rolled up as we started to dig out all the ground cover plants, but we had to call in professional foresters to remove a dozen huge conifer trees complete with roots. Most of the wood went through their shredder so it ended up on our allotment paths as well as the compost heap. Garden construction continued with new fences, paths, two patios and terracing, and then areas identified for shady borders, dry borders, sun traps, herbaceous borders and a rose garden. We also allocated space for fruit trees and some vegetables. Then the interesting phase began as we both sorted out our favourite plants. We both had thoughts on those must have plants, so numerous trips took place to garden centres, nurseries, flower shows at Camperdown and Ingliston as well as further afield to RHS Wisley and Hampton Court Palace. We always took home some new plants or seeds. I started my rose collection of bushes, climbers and shrubs and Anna took a shine to Heucheras. Every time we visited the Dundee Flower Show at Camperdown Park she came away with ever more Heucheras. I was sure she was aiming for status as a national collection. Luck was on our side when we won the lottery. We got £90 between us, so were able to indulge in a few special plants. I got Rhododendron Horizon Monarch and Anna got the coral barked maple Acer Sango Kaku, but it needed a partner so we also got the white stemmed birch and a golden Robinia frisia. Soon the autumn catalogues came in and Anna went for a flag iris collection and I started our affair with spring bulbs from aconites and snowdrops through daffodils and tulips and now into the summer with oriental lilies. We both fell in love with azaleas after a trip around Glendoick Gardens, so now they are our latest passion. It was our holidays abroad that introduced us to the exotics of figs, grapes, cherries and saskatoons. The latter discovery was a day trip to a pick your own Saskatoon farm in Canada while visiting Anna’s sister. When I realised they were a species of Amelanchier I knew they had every chance of success in Scotland. I later discovered that James Hutton had them growing in a field for forty years. As the garden and allotment provide us with ample produce we have just about become self sufficient in fruit and vegetables and now excellent wine from home grown grapes and other fruit. Wee jobs to do this week The moist warm weather has been perfect for pests and diseases on numerous plants. Roses have been troubled by mildew, blackspot, rust and greenfly and evergreen rhododendrons and camellias are plagued by scale insects. Up on the allotment the cabbage white butterflies are seeking out the cabbages and cauliflowers and the gooseberry sawfly has been chomping its way through the gooseberry bushes. Slugs and snails attack anything green at ground level so keep vigilant and take preventive action as soon as possible with practical as well as sprays with insecticide and pesticides.


Getting to the root of orchids

March 4 2017

Orchids once held the reputation of being expensive to buy and difficult to grow as these exotics were not native to our climate. Plant collectors and breeders have now introduced us to a massive array of orchids that most folk can try out with varying degrees of success. I have grown these both for the impact of large beautiful flowers, but also as a subject for numerous orchid paintings. Many of my art class students also like to paint these exotic flowers from their own plants. Habitat There are many types of orchid native to Scotland, though these grow in the ground preferring damp areas and banks just above boggy ground so the roots are not in standing water. These types are known as terrestrial but the common ones we see flowering in garden centres are mostly epiphytic in origin coming from rain forests in tropical environments. These cling to tree trunks and branches where there is high humidity. They roots hold the plant in place and aerial roots which hang below the plant and absorb moisture from the air. They do not draw on their host plant for nutrients but rain with atmospheric nitrogen washes nutrients down in bird droppings, and small amounts of leaf mould produced by natural falling leaves. Culture Phalaenopsis are usually quite reliable and very rewarding with repeat flowering every year from autumn through winter. They will come in pots with ample holes for drainage and planted in special orchid compost. This is often a mixture of bark chips, coarse graded peat, charcoal to keep the mixture sweet, nutrients and trace elements. Re-pot in spring after two to four years as growth commences. Once flowering is over allow the plant some dormancy. Keep it in a cooler spot with good light but not in full sun, and water less often, but do not let it dry out. Do not feed at this stage or repot. Never leave the plant in standing water as they all require free draining compost. Orchids are not heavy feeders so just give them an orchid feed once every two to four weeks. Propagation Orchids sometimes produce basal offshoots that can be separated for growing on once they have produced their own roots. Others can produce many pseudobulbs, or swollen stems which can be split up and repotted. Before potting up, remove any broken, diseased or dead roots, and make sure there is plenty of drainage in the bottom of the pot before adding orchid compost. Repot into the nearest size for the plant as they prefer to be root bound before they settle down to flower. Do not put the aerial roots into the pot when potting. Phalaenopsis are now a very popular pot plant and one of the easiest orchids to grow with long racemes of large flowers lasting for many months. They are fine on a sunny windowsill in Scotland from autumn till spring, but then give them a more shady position for summer. Cymbidiums  flower in autumn to spring producing many spikes with up to twenty flowers each lasting for months. The plants can grow quite large and are happy in a cool room. Paphiopedilums grow from rhizomes just below ground level and produce medium sized flower stems with just one or a few flowers. They like to be kept lightly shaded. Propagate by division in spring and repot every second year in the smallest pot available. Cattleyas are very flamboyant with large colourful flowers which are often highly perfumed. Wee jobs to do this week  Pumpkins in storage need checking, but can keep till end of March in a good year. We still have three left so this one getting cut up for the pot is still in a perfect condition at the end of February. Anna will roast some of these slices with nutmeg, honey and butter for tonight’s supper. The rest will get roasted, and then skin removed before bagging up for the freezer. Later on they will be used for soup, risotto, pumpkin pie and as a vegetable with a bit of seasoning. Even with young grandchildren visiting there’s just no chance these will end up as lanterns.


The time for tomato growing is ripe

March 11 2017

Tomato growing has always been one of the gardening challenges with great rewards when you pick that first fruit fully ripened on the bush, and then followed by loads more as the season progresses. Summer salads would never be complete without some home grown tomatoes. At this time of year they are available in the supermarkets, but you struggle very hard to find a ripe one with some flavour, though we did find a small red cherry one on the vine, to go with our salads with lettuce leaves and spring onions fresh from the greenhouse. They had been sown last autumn to utilise the greenhouse borders over the winter months. Early March is soon enough to sow the seed as I germinate mine at home on a warm windowsill growing them on a few weeks before they go into my cold greenhouse. If any frost or cold nights threaten them I have an electric heater to keep them protected over night. Sow them thinly in shallow trays in seed compost and keep them warm for germination. They are generally very easy to grow so germination is usually good. Prick them out into individual small pots once they have made strong seed leaves and only handle them by the leaves, (not the stem) As my windowsill space is limited I keep them as long as possible in small pots, but soon they will need a bigger pot and transferred to the greenhouse. Keep them growing in the pots until the first trusses show, then they are ready for their permanent position. There are several options to consider. Do you use large pots, ring culture, grow bags, straw bales (very popular fifty years ago) or border soil. I have tried all methods and while grow bags make life simple, it is growing in fertile border soil that has given my tomatoes the greatest flavour. This used to be the traditional method (many years ago) but commercially the soil was sterilised every winter with steam injection or chemically with chloropicrin. My fertile border soil has been composted and dug every year and I got three years of great crops, but as I have no means of sterilising the soil, last year my crop suffered from verticillium wilt. So this year I take no risk, so the whole border got dug out a foot deep and replaced with healthy fertile garden soil with added compost. Who needs to go to the gym for exercise when you can grow a tomato crop. Anyway I will try the border again this year, but then go back to growbags in 2018. The border will have some fertiliser added then the tomatoes planted about 18 inches apart. Once they get established and the first trusses start to flower begin to feed the plants with a tomato feed every week. Tomatoes grow on a single stemmed cordon that needs a strong support especially when full of ripening fruit. I use six foot lengths of polypropylene binder twine hung from roof wire supports and tied to the bottom of the tomato plants which are then twisted around the twine as they grow. Remove all sideshoots so the plant can use its energy for fruiting. Remove the growing point after six to eight trusses or more if you get a glorious summer as tomatoes love the heat. There are plenty of varieties and different types to try out from normal fruits such as Shirley or Alicante, cherry types such as Sweet Million and Sungold, beef stake types, plum types and a good one for hanging baskets or tubs is Tumbler. Let the fruit fully ripen before picking and if you get more tomatoes than you can handle they will make an excellent soup, or they can be frozen for future use.  Wee jobs to do this week  There is nothing to beat picking that first strawberry in early summer. Our target date was first week in June in my youth when Red Gauntlet was favourite down in Sussex. Today we have so many new varieties to choose from that you can try a few and see which ones suit your location and conditions best. However, to bring on them on a fortnight earlier cover a row with a low polythene tunnel held up with metal hoops. Last year I picked my first berries on 22 May, but with the mild winter we are running ahead so could be even earlier this year. Fingers crossed!!!


Grow something big

January 21 2017

Gardeners have always loved to rise to the challenge of getting the biggest plant possible. Once you have mastered the techniques of getting good crops many like to take it a wee bit further and then size does matter. Once it gets under your skin and results come in, the dedicated gardeners like to take their produce to the shows in open competition. However for most of us we are happy to grow a huge pumpkin or a very tall sunflower. These are the simple pleasures we use to get our young kids involved in a bit of gardening. With most plants it is simply a matter of dedication and attention to detail so each type can grow in a lavish world where everything it wants is laid on. Start with well prepared soil, with good drainage and plenty well rotted compost added, adding extra fertiliser depending on plant then give irrigation as necessary and weekly feeding for the roots. Pests and diseases and weeds are not allowed so keep an eye on them and take action immediately. Pumpkins and courgettes respond to maximum feeding, watering and pruning of excessive young shoots. You also need to start with a variety that likes to grow huge like Hundredweight or Atlantic Giant Pumpkin. Start them early in a greenhouse to give them a long growing season then allow plenty of space to grow but do not take too many fruits from each plant. Onions are another favourite that need rich soil, feeding plenty of room and a long growing season, starting off with a good variety like Kelsae. Most gardeners would be very happy with outdoor grown large onions, but if you compete at shows then most likely the onions will be grown in pots or special beds in a greenhouse or tunnel. Avoid over watering as onions are very prone to white rot. To grow giant leeks is not easy as the techniques are kept closely guarded secrets, especially feeding and strains of exhibition varieties are often handed down from father to son. Germination is usually from an autumn sowing and plants potted up gradually in ever richer soil. They can grow outdoors but many prefer glasshouse or tunnel protection for better results. Cabbage, cauliflower, Swedes and other vegetables all follow similar growing styles. Potatoes are another favourite when going for size and the variety Amour will get you off to a good start. It has huge tubers for the show bench as well as a cracking baked potato. Flowers are a different story when seeking a large head as some respond to rich soil with feeding such as sunflowers and dahlias, but others such as carnations, iris and lilies do not need rich soil, but good soil structure and free drainage is essential. Chrysanthemums and dahlias for exhibition or just for large heads require selecting the best varieties, growing them strongly and only growing one or two heads per plant so all the plants energy is concentrated in growing a large flower. Sweet Peas grown for size are usually grown as single stem cordons. Ground preparation is essential, so select a site with very fertile soil and enhance this by taking out a trench in autumn and forking in compost or well rotted manure into the bottom. Leave this over winter but back fill with good soil ahead of planting in early spring. Seeds are sown in the greenhouse in autumn and grown on. Young plants are tipped after a few leaves then the strongest shoot is retained. Use six foot tall canes to support the cordons removing all side shoots and tendrils. Liquid feed weekly. Wee jobs to do this week  Grape vines grown both indoors and outdoors are best pruned between December and the end of January otherwise they are liable to bleed as the sap rises quite early in the season. Under glass they are grown as upright rods spaced about 18 inches apart and 6 feet tall. All sideshoots are cut back to one or two buds. This system is also fine outdoors, or grown with a fan shaped permanent framework as long branches are given ample space. Again all shoots are cut back to a couple of buds. Commercially vines are grown on the Guyot system of pruning where fruiting laterals are only kept for one year then replaced. There are some excellent You Tube videos on this technique.


The Winter Garden

December 3 2016

The winter months can be a quiet time in the garden as most plants are dormant, but with a wee bit of research you will find there are quite a few plants that have their day in winter. Bringing these together to create a winter garden can give a focus of interest from November till the end of March. Although we may not get a blaze of dazzling flowers, we do get a surge in the feel good factor on coming across the Chinese Witch Hazel, Hamamelis mollis and Jasminum nudiflorum in full flower on a sunny January day, and Viburnum bodnantense Dawn’s pink flowers have a terrific scent. Down at ground level the heather Erica carnea flowers all winter with red, pink and white flowers and the Christmas rose, Helleborus niger has pink, mauve and my favourite with a pure white flower. Another impressive specimen with tall yellow flowers is Mahonia Charity. Many variegated evergreen shrubs show off their brightly coloured leaves in winter without having to compete with the spring or summer flowers. Euonymous Emerald N’Gold, and Emerald Gaiety, (the silver variety), Elaeagnus pungens maculata with a yellow variegation and  Lonicera Baggesons Gold are some of the brightest shrubs in winter, but some can grow quite big so need plenty of room. The Lonicera is also a favourite for nesting birds as the dense foliage gives them ample protection and camouflage, so please do not clip these shrubs into modern round, square or other unusual shapes to keep them under control. Give them plenty of space and let them grow naturally. As autumn gives way to winter there is a period of several months when it is the berried plants that take centre stage from trees to ground cover. The rowans come in a range of colours from white to pink and yellow to red. They also have fiery autumn colour as the leaves drop leaving behind a prolific crop of berries to feed the birds for a couple of months. The Cotoneaster genus has a huge range of red berried shrubs varying in size from the massive Cotoneaster frigidus up to 20 feet tall to the normal C. simonsii then coming down the scale to C. horizontalis with its herring bone pattern and down to the ground cover C. dammeri. If you are looking for a plant to cover a north facing wall the firethorn, Pyracantha comes in a range of colours and the thorny habit gives perfect cover for your local blackbird at nesting time. If you have room for a specimen tree several maples have bright coloured stems, such as the coral bark maple Acer palmatum Sango Kaku, and some have peeling bark, but it is the white stemmed birch, Betula jaquemontii that gets my top marks for an impressive tree to stop you in your tracks. Several shrubs have dazzling coloured stems in winter, very visible once all the leaves are off. Cornus alba Westonbirt and Mid Winter Fire are two beauties and the Cornus stolonifera flaviramea has yellow stems. If you want variety, try the grey stemmed Rubus giraldianus which appears as if it was covered in frost. However it has very thorny stems which can be a nuisance for spring pruning. Kerria japonica has bright green stems but also gets covered in a mass of yellow flowers in spring. The willow Salix britzensis has orange stems that can grow ten feet tall in one season. All these shrubs which are grown for their coloured stems are best treated as stooled bushes, (except the Kerria,) which get cut back to ground level at the end of March just when they are ready to burst into growth. It is the new one year old shoots that have the brightest colours. These shrubs can be planted together in a large drift for greatest impact, and plant some crocus and tulips between them for spring colour as they can all grow happily together. Wee jobs to do this week Most roses will now be dormant so they can be pruned now, but leave any buds still clinging on, hoping to flower on a sunny day as fresh roses in early winter are great to enjoy. Otherwise for bush roses remove some old shoots but leaving behind all strong young shoots and hopefully you will have about five or so young shoots which can be tipped by about a third of their height.


Feeling fruity in the garden

April 21 2018

Gardening is no longer just about growing a few basic fruit and vegetables. There is such a variety of different plants to grow, and with climate change we can now try a few exotics that previously would only be considered in the warmer southern end of UK. Over the last 20 years, I have tried figs, peaches, outdoor grapes and autumn raspberries and strawberries, cherries, saskatoons, aronias and only the goji let me down failing to fruit after four years. When they work, they can cause a lot of interest and provide a great gardening challenge. Many however require warmer sheltered locations on fertile but very well drained soil. Figs Figs need a warm spot to ripen its fruits, so plant against a south facing wall or fence. It can grow into a very large bush or small tree so plant it in a prepared pit 18 inches deep lined with slabs to restrict root growth. Back fill the pit with broken brick for drainage then add about nine inches of fertile soil to get it started. It will then concentrate on producing fruit. Brown Turkey is the best variety for outdoors in Scotland. I got 190 ripe fruits last year. Grapes Black Hamburg is very popular under glass, but now many people are trying a few hardy varieties outdoors on warm south facing walls. I grow the ornamental variety Brant on my south facing house wall. It is very successful with a regular one hundred bunches every year. They are small, but the black grapes are very sweet and juicy. These get used for a delicious sweet grape juice for immediate use or it can be frozen. I have also tried several others, but so far only Phoenix, Rondo and Regent are successful, but as they all have pips, they are great for wine but not dessert. Peaches Outdoor peaches can suffer from disease so I am trying Avalon Pride which has some peach leaf curl resistance. It also flowers late so is less likely to get the flowers damaged by a late frost, but I still hand pollinate the flowers as there is not too many flying insects around at that time. Cherries and Goji (Wolfberry) I am trying Cherokee grafted onto a new very dwarfing rootstock called Gisela 5 trained as a fan on a south facing fence. Once the cherries ripen up they need to be netted as birds just love them. I keep the tree pruned to six feet so netting is not too big a problem. Goji got dug out as a failure. Saskatoons Saskatoons are similar to blueberries but grow faster and crop heavier. The black berries which are very high in antioxidants, are ready in July, and can be eaten fresh or used for jams, pies, compote, summer puddings, or even used for wine making. They can grow on any soil and are best after a severe winter as they need cold winters to initiate ample fruit buds. Chokeberry Chokeberries, (Aronia melanocarpa Viking) have extremely high levels of antioxidants in the fresh fruit, but are a bit astringent if eaten raw, so the fruit is best used in jams, compote, pies and smoothies. They are not troubled by any pests or diseases and our soils seem to suit them perfectly. They can be grown as a single bush or even as a hedge. I use mine for a healthy home brew wine!!! Autumn fruiting raspberries and strawberries Raspberries and strawberries may not really be exotic, but with new varieties we can now enjoy these berries well into autumn. Try Polka for huge raspberries in September and October and strawberry Flamingo will also fruit during this late summer and autumn season. Wee jobs to do this week  Plant out broad beans grown in containers. They are quite hardy, but this has been a long cold winter so no great rush as the soil may still be cold. I plant mine in a double row two feet apart spacing the plants nine inches apart. They are heavy feeders so use soil that has been well manured or composted and add some fertiliser after planting, then water them in if necessary.


Tomato season springs back

May 5 2018

It’s that time of year again when all keen gardeners and allotment plot holders with a greenhouse get quite excited about this year’s challenge of growing better tomatoes than last year. Tomatoes take priority from most other crops under glass as the reward of fresh produce over the summer season makes the effort very worthwhile. Good varieties to grow Every year new varieties appear so we all like to try something new, but still stick to some of our tried and tested successful varieties. In my Dundee greenhouse my hard to beat main crop remains Alicante though others swear by Shirley, and my best red cherry type is Sweet Million, and Sungold my best yellow cherry. This year I have added Yellow Delight to my yellow cherry types and Red Cherry to compete with Sweet Million. I don’t usually go for the plum or beefsteak tomatoes but this year I will try out Marmande, a large fruited beefsteak type with few seeds. However seed catalogues list a huge range of varieties so every year you can try out a couple of new ones to put to the test. For those lacking a greenhouse it is worth trying a bush tomato such as Tumbler, Montello, Peardrops, Hundreds and Thousands or Tumbling Tom in pots plunged into growbags (two to a bag) or in a hanging basket. Up north it may be best to select a sheltered south facing wall to give them some warmth and protect them from cold fierce winds. Culture Sow seed in early March in shallow seed trays then about three weeks later they should be ready to prick out into small pots. Grow these for another couple of weeks then transplant into bigger pots. Wait till the first flower on the first truss has opened as a guide to when to plant into their final positions. They can be grown in large pots, grow bags or border soil in a greenhouse or outdoors if sheltered and against a south facing warm wall. If using the border soil in a greenhouse there is a chance of getting bacterial wilt disease after a few years. However you can dig out the infected soil, sterilise the border and replace it with fresh soil. This is very hard work, but a great exercise and growing tomatoes in soil results in a full flavoured crop that is hard to beat when picked and consumed fresh off the vine. Bush and trailing varieties are left to grow naturally, but the rest are grown as upright cordons supported on canes or strong string tied at roof height to a strong support as there is a lot of weight once they all get into full cropping. Remove all side shoots carefully as they grow and give the cordons a daily wee shake to assist self pollination. Keep water off the foliage and give plenty ventilation to keep fungal diseases at bay. Start feeding with tomato fertiliser as the first truss fruits begin to swell and continue weekly. Keep the plants well watered to prevent blossom end rot due to calcium deficiency as this mineral needs moisture to carry into all parts of the plant. Cropping and use Allow the fruit to ripen up fully before picking to gain the maximum flavour. Fresh tomatoes fully ripe in a summer salad are just heavenly and the red and yellow cherry tomatoes sitting in a bowl on the table are hard to resist when walking by. Even when crops are at their peak in mid season there is always a use for some tomatoes. A bacon, egg and mushroom fry up needs some tomatoes, then pasta is enhanced by adding tomatoes and they are almost essential on a pizza. As the cropping glut continues surplus can be skinned for a delicious tomato soup. After this surplus can be frozen without any preparation to be used as required till the following years crops arrive. Wee jobs to do this week The first week in May is my traditional time to sow courgettes and pumpkins in the greenhouse. I sow them in shallow wide pots then after germination, prick them out individually into small pots. They will get potted up again after a couple of weeks as they grow fast and should be ready to plant out early in June when all danger of a late frost is passed.


Important role of flower shows

June 4 2016

It’s flower show season. Courier gardening expert John Stoa sorts out his beds from his borders. Flower shows have played a very important role in most gardeners’ lives. This is the place where plants can be seen at their best, new landscape design from professionals and colleges is on display and new plants appear so we can try out something different. The competitive gardener can also compete with others to see who can grow the best plants in the show. The shows are a meeting place for gardening friends, and now come with a huge range of other entertaining events including food, drink, forestry, art, live bands and dancers. There are so many plants of every description grown to perfection on display and for sale that it is impossible to leave the show without at least one must have essential plant. Most shows have a sell off on the last hour of the last day when bargain hunters have a field day, and traders try to reduce their stock as they really do not want to take it all back home. Even composts, fertiliser, rock dust, hanging baskets and large specimen plants are all there for the taking at hugely reduced costs. The mass exodus of people and plants leaving at the end of a show with a smile on their face and struggling home with huge plants is a very entertaining sight. My first flower show was in the Dundee Ice Rink over fifty years ago, and I have been going to one or other show ever since. Although I go as a visitor, I have attended many shows as a trader. I had three years displaying paintings in the art marquee at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, then several years selling a range of plants including saskatoons at Ingliston in Edinburgh and Camperdown Park in Dundee. Traders are a very friendly and helpful group and friendships are made at every event. One year at Ingliston I found my onion hoe in constant use ever since, plus a bag of rock dust and a bag of compost made from sheep wool and bracken and Anna got her Peonia Doreen, then the next year at Camperdown I think Anna got the national collection of Heucheras which she just could not resist. The shows always leave you with great memories of the plants you find, the people you meet and for me one great afternoon at Ingliston was hearing the Red Hot Chilli Pipers playing Snow Patrols Chasing Cars. Fantastic music on a lovely summer’s day. Camperdown Park hosts our local food and flower show in early September and further afield at Ingliston in Edinburgh Gardening Scotland has a massive show on now from 3rd to 5th June 2016, then in August the Southport Flower show is on from 18th to 21st August 2016. In the Midlands in rural Malvern the RHS put on a spring festival in May then an autumn show at the end of September at the Three Counties show ground. For those visiting London a visit to see the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show from 5th to 10th July 2016 is an unmissable experience. Although I attended three shows as a trader, I still had plenty time to see the show as fellow traders looked after my stand as I took a wee break. However it is the Chelsea Flower Show held at the end of last month that has the most prestige. It is not the biggest show, but held in the highest regard. Exhibiting with the RHS at Chelsea would be most exhibitors dream. Chelsea is where you can see Royals and celebrities from the gardening world as well as entertainers, past and present, and the countries best garden designers will create a modern vision of how a garden can look. As a gardener it is always the use of plants that has the biggest impact for me, but the creative use of hard landscaping, integrating the house into the outdoor environment has been really outstanding. The Royal family gives great support to this show and look out for Mr Motivator, Twiggy, Dame Judi Dench and Jeremy Paxman and a host of other very famous faces from the world of entertainment. Wee jobs around the garden  Lift young leek plants grown from seed in an outdoor drill and after a gentle top and tail transplant them into dibbled holes about six inches deep, spacing them six inches apart. Water them in to secure them.


Looking ahead into 2018

January 6 2018

Gardening and information technology have one thing in common, that both move forward as new ideas emerge, though in gardening the pace of change may be just a wee bit slower. The dark cold days of winter give us the chance to sit down and make plans for the year ahead. We may be trying out new varieties in the vegetable garden, buying in a new flowering shrub or rose or grape vine or just looking forward to seeing the result of new plants and bulbs planted last year. Control of plant pests and diseases and weeds is always worth looking into as many can devastate crops such as rose blackspot, slugs on everything, vine weevils eating roots of flowers, clubroot of brassicas, caterpillars on cabbages, cauliflower, sawfly on gooseberries, carrot fly, and the list just goes on. Then breeders bring out new varieties of fruit, flowers and vegetables for you to try out. Flowers Last spring my crocus and tulips put on such a brilliant show, that while we stood and admired them, we decided to extend the show next year where ever possible. Although our garden is a fair size we still struggle to grow all the plants we love so we now try to intercrop bulbs with shrubs, roses (Tulip Sunlover) and herbaceous plants and are trying one area with layers of bulbs planted at different depths and flowering at different times. This area is a carpet of grape hyacinths. These start to grow in autumn but the leaves bed down in winter to allow my new planting of crocus bulbs to flower in March quickly followed by the grape hyacinths. Underneath these bulbs is a layer of narcissus to grow above them and flower at the same time as the grape hyacinths. When this spring show ends another layer of lilies appear for flowering in mid summer. By this time the spring bulbs foliage is dying down so I can scatter some fast growing annual flower seeds such as Candytuft to accompany the lilies. It is an ambitious plan, but time will tell how successful it turns out to be. Crocus have been so colourful that I decided to clear out a drift of peonies growing under my apple trees and replaced them with 1000 mixed crocus. Looking forward to seeing these flower in spring. Tulips and Oriental lily bulbs were purchased for mass planting at a few strategic points for impact and near the patio and entrances for scent. Fruit Older strawberry beds have been replaced but I have gone back to reliable varieties such as Honeoye for early summer, Symphony for late summer and Flamenco for the autumn. New fruit plantings last year of Raspberry Glen Dee, Peach Avalon Pride and Pear Concorde will now begin to crop as they are in their second year. As land is limited and I came across an impressive pear called Beth, so I will get some shoots to graft them onto my family pear tree, which  has Comice, Beurre Hardy, Conference, Concord (from last years grafting) and The Christie. Vegetables Plans on the vegetable garden include using clubroot resistant Cauliflower Clapton in three monthly sowings to give curds from summer to autumn. With Swedes I will go back to standard varieties which have turned out to be more reliable and better flavoured than clubroot resistant varieties. I will no longer be adventurous with onions, so it is back to well established varieties, and same applies to Sweet corn Bountiful as the cobs were rubbish. The pollination failed to set the corns. Wee jobs to do this week  As winter weather starts to bite and restricts our outdoor gardening activities, take time out to browse the internet on the ipad, mobile, laptop, tablet or computer in the comfort of a warm room and look out some information on any number of gardening problems. Pruning apple trees, plums, pears, grape vines, blackcurrants, gooseberries, brambles and roses of all types. Methods of growing all plants and crops are only a few clicks away, with YouTube videos are plentiful and all my gardening articles for the Dundee Courier magazine going back nearly 10 years can be looked up on my blog, archived in date order at scottishartistandhisgarden.blogspot.co.uk