Seen at the Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Friday, 31 October 2014

VP's VIPs: Our Flower Patch Part Deux

Previously on VP's VIPs we learned how Cally Smart and Sara Wilman met then came up with the idea of Our Flower Patch. Today, they're going to tell us more about their business and how they are inspiring a new generation of  growers...

Describe how you work together. Do you have fixed roles?

At first we worked together on everything, although Sara knows more about growing flowers for sale than Cally does and Cally had more hands-on gardening experience with school aged children.

Over time we have taken on more specific roles. We meet together formally once a month to plan what is going to happen and discuss ideas and keep in touch via phone, text and social media, sometimes every day in the meantime.

In general Sara is the website geek and photographer and Cally is the writer, though we bounce ideas off each other across our roles. We both make the most of social media, tweeting and retweeting things our audience will find interesting via @ourflowerpatch.

We engage with parents, grandparents and teachers via Facebook and our Pinterest boards are full of workable ideas for children to get stuck into.

Screen grab from the Our Flower Patch website

Tell me a little bit more about Our Flower Patch. How does it operate? What is its philosophy? 

We want to get teachers, parents and children learning and having fun outside. Many schools have school gardens but their potential isn’t always fully exploited.

We wanted to have an all-year-round educational progamme which is easy to follow even for non gardeners, fun to do and inexpensive to start, in fact run the way we advise, it can be self-financing, even profit making. It can stand alone or work alongside edible growing, increasing the biodiversity and crop yield of your veg plot and fruit garden and providing funds to buy seeds and fruit bushes
from the sale of flowers.

The programme is eminently flexible and can be run with children of all ages either in class, as Planning, Preparation and Assessment cover, or as an after school club. It can be managed by teachers, teaching assistants or volunteer parents and grandparents. Some schools might consider using it as a programme to support ‘nurture groups’ or children who need opportunities to learn more flexibly outside the classroom.

As well as learning to grow flowers as a crop, the activities are closely linked to National Curriculum subject areas, allowing teachers to use it to tick these boxes, rather than taking time away from valuable classroom time.

Running Our Flower Patch as a mini business within the school teaches all those soft skills that employers say school leavers lack – planning, team working, budgeting, negotiation, problem solving, keeping customers happy, marketing... and as the children are seeing the project through from start to finish it is real to them. They are fully involved in all aspects and are true owners of the project, able to develop it in the way that works for them.

Who is Our Flower Patch aimed at? Do you have a cluster of members anywhere?

We have a cluster of school members in Wiltshire, inevitably, although we have had enquiries from as far away as Northumberland. The common factor is that we have some sort of connection with all our current member schools and interested parties.

The next phase is to engage with people who don’t know us or know people who have worked with us. We are aiming at primary schools who want to use the school grounds to teach the National
Curriculum – all subjects, not just gardening.

Our activities cover the whole range of subjects – numeracy, literacy, design and technology, geography, science..... In the future we’ll be developing a programme for nursery schools and secondary schools and possibly for children to do at home.

Any feedback or anecdotes you'd like to share?

It’s early days but one of our newest schools sent a couple of Teaching Assistants to have a look at Our Flower Patch in operation at another school. At the end of the morning one of the ladies said “ I’m so excited about this. I don’t ever want to go back into the classroom. I feel I could do it all outside in the garden.” We were happy with that.

Earlier in the year, during an interview with the local BBC radio station one of the children involved in Our Flower Patch said “this is the best time I’ve had in school – ever.” We think that’s a pretty good endorsement.

Some youngsters who maybe struggle a little with the sometimes abstract classroom maths have been witnessed using maths to solve practical problems during sessions, they don’t see it as how many fives in 25 but how many rows of 5 seeds can I sow if I have 25 seeds. It is more visual for them.

Screen grabs from Our Flower Patch's social media - blog, Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest

Autumn term has just started, what's new on Our Flower Patch? What activities do you have to cover the non-growing season? How do school holidays affect what can be grown?

Many school gardeners come back to a flurry of activity at the start of term, harvesting anything left alive after the summer holidays and tidying up. Then, when the weather turns bad, nothing much happens until the Spring.

The Our Flower Patch programme runs all year round. Our members have already been growing and sowing for next season and there are plenty of activities to do in and around your flower patch, even when not much is growing.

These will appeal particularly to eco schools who want to develop their school grounds from rainwater harvesting and building a successful compost heap to recycling materials and looking after the biodiversity of your patch.

We provide weekly activities for our members throughout the year. The holiday week activities can be carried out at home or in school if there is a holiday club. Everything is flexible.

We’ve started a blog this term alongside the website to share information, ideas and snippets with everyone. We want to help anyone to start on their flower growing adventure and share good ideas for getting children outside learning, rather than stuck indoors. Even being outside for 15 minutes every day is good for you and the school grounds are a rich and often untapped learning resource.

How's recruitment going?

Teachers are amongst the most difficult audience to convince about a new programme. They seem to have had so many new initiatives land on their desks in the last few years. We don’t want Our Flower Patch to feel like something else they have to do.

Therefore we are taking our time to build a community of school growers who feel supported, engaged and have access to new resources on a regular basis. Our Flower Patch is not just a one off package. We’re writing new stuff all the time and want to continue to act as a hub for useful and up to date information to share with young growers.

Thanks for another great set of answers Cally and Sara! In their third and final part of VPs VIPs, they'll be talking about their favourite flowers for cut flower growing, which will appear on Friday, 14th November.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Book Review: Two From Francis Lincoln

I have two books for your delectation today, both are courtesy of review copies obtained from Francis Lincoln.

The Garden Anthology book cover
The Garden Anthology is Ursula Buchan's pick of the garden writing published by the RHS for more than a century.

I don't envy her the task as so much has been published by the RHS in The Garden (in all its forms) and other journals. Over 80 authors are featured, which in turn means a whole host of gardening topics are covered.

The pieces are bundled into 13 broad chapters which range from Seasons & the Weather through to Inside the RHS. In between there are plenty of plants, people, science and a number of different gardening styles.

In the International Dimension it's good to see George Forrest rubbing shoulders with Toby Musgrave, who both describe plant hunting and the flora of the Yunnan, but almost a century apart.

This is a wonderful celebration of garden writing, which lets the words loose on the page unfettered by images. Each chapter is colour coded so the reader doesn't get lost and to make up for the lack of photographs there is a liberal sprinkling of wonderfully jolly images courtesy of Jenny Bowers.

My only disappointment with the book is that The International Dimension chapter is more about the 'Englishman abroad'. These articles are great in themselves, but I feel the opportunity to include a different perspective on British gardening courtesy of writers from outside the UK has been lost (if such articles exist). However, that's a minor quibble.

This is a perfectly dippable book which has enriched my bedtime reading over the past few weeks.

By complete contrast Kitchen Garden Experts is a celebration of the collaboration between 20 chefs and their head gardeners at some of the UK's top restaurants.

I've had the good fortune to visit two of the establishments featured - The Pig last year and Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons last month. Both have been memorable occasions.

Each restaurant featured forms a chapter in the book which explains how the collaboration between chef and gardener works and explores their gardening and culinary secrets.

Different vegetables or fruits are featured per restaurant with extensive notes on growing for success and culminating with a signature dish to try at home.

There are plentiful good quality pictures to illustrate all aspects of the establishments, their produce and the dishes featured.

Whilst I can't fault the writing, the photography and the places featured, I've struggled with how to place this book in my gardening library. It's a hybrid volume, which is more about inspiration than practicality. Foodies will enjoy recreating the recipes from chefs who are at the top of their game and I now have a list of 18 restaurants which I just have to visit.
NB If you like the look of The Garden Anthology, Dave Marsden has a prize draw for a copy over at his blog, The Anxious Gardener.

Hurry, the closing date is on Friday (October 31st 2014) and applies to UK readers only (or those with access to a UK address).

Alternatively, I have a couple of offers available, one for each book as follows:

  • To order The Garden Anthology at the discounted price of £13.50 including p&p* (RRP: £16.99) telephone 01903 828503 or email and quote the offer code APG233.
  • To order Kitchen Garden Experts at the discounted price of £16.00 including p&p* (RRP: £20.00), telephone or email as above and quote the offer code APG130.  

*UK ONLY - Please add £2.50 if ordering from overseas.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Unusual Front Gardens #19: Grapes

I found these jaunty blue railings draped with edible grapes when we ventured to the bottom of the hill in Bishop's Castle last month. I wonder if I could manage something similar in our front garden.

Update - thanks for all your interest in this idea in the comments, though of course there's also been plenty of speculation on how long the grapes would last in most locations.

If you like the idea but not the thought of attendant scrumping, then a possible alternative if you have the space is the wonderful Vitis coignetiae, which has dramatic, large leaves and small bunches of inedible grapes. I first saw this vine scaling a tree at Westonbirt and Karen was so taken with it adorning the fence of one of the demonstration gardens at Derwen garden centre last month, she took one home with her.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Salad Days: An Autumnal Experiment

Seed trays with various salad leaves

This year I'm trying an experiment with my late sown lettuces. I usually grow them in pots and some old sinks in my cold frames. Everything is fine initially, but the height of the front of frame is too low for the pots placed there and things get a little mushy.

This year I'm trying seed trays instead. These will give the leaves more headroom, but I'm not sure there's sufficient growing media to sustain them for the whole of the winter. However, that can be remedied easily if my fears prove well founded.

I made a relatively late sowing in early September of 2 rows of lettuce seed per tray - 'Merveille des Quatre Saisons', 'Lollo Rossa', 'Little Gem' and 'Salad Bowl', made easy with the use of seed tapes. That's why my rows are so even.

I've kept the trays on the sunniest part of the patio to maximise the light and warmth the trays receive, but as you can see I'm unlikely to be cropping much from them until early spring. They've also suffered the onslaught of the annual Birch seed 'snowstorm' and gained the odd autumn leaf.

I'll put them in the cold frame once the frosts start with a vengeance and I also have some fleece on standby just in case.

'Indigo Rose' update

My 'Indigo Rose' tomatoes are still cropping and I can report their flavour has improved slightly this late in the season. I've now bought the rest inside to keep us going for a couple more weeks.

Last week saw the first BUG talk of the season, given by Alice Doyle from Log House Plants in Oregon. She took us on a fascinating, whistle stop tour through the vegetable varieties she considers worth growing, which includes the IndigoTM varieties of tomatoes.

It turns out Alice is a member of the collaborative breeding programme which is developing further new varieties under the IndigoTM banner. There are around 20 in the pipeline, of various hues, shapes and sizes. Alice mentioned another variety in her talk - IndigoTM 'Delicious'. It sounds like at least one better tasting variety is on its way.

A set of posters on the Log House Plants website (link opens as a PDF) gives us a foretaste of what is to come and introduces some of the breeders involved. This includes Tom Wagner, who I met in Oxford a few years ago.

Looking back on my blogged notes from that day, I should have guessed he'd be involved as he talked about developing anthocyanin rich varieties of both potatoes and tomatoes. I asked Alice about his potato work and she confirmed it continues.

It's a small world!

Monday, 20 October 2014

Daffy Dahlia

Photo of a large yellow dinner plat dahlia with a red streak on one of the petals
My daffy dahlia - posing for its photo in the large terrace bed 

Whilst I was out in the garden last week, I noticed something slightly different in one of my bright yellow "dinner plate" dahlias. This plant is in its third season here and it's the first time I've seen a streak of red on any of the petals.

Just one flower is affected, so what's going on?

Four possible reasons spring to mind: environmental impact, genetic mutation, reversion, or a reaction to a virus.

Environmental impact

I wrote about how environmental factors affected My Crazy Petunias last year. I found the Crazytunias I grew were sensitive to light and temperature and this in turn affected their flower colouration. I also uncovered a number of other examples (like my Salvia 'Hot Lips') which can differ in response to a number of environmental factors or stress. I don't think that's happening in this case as it's just a single streak of red and it hasn't happened before.

It's all in the genes?

Genetic mutation which gives rise to a different looking plant aka a 'sport' is a well-known way of obtaining new plants. I've already seen a couple of these here at VP Gardens, most notably my Mystery Clematis. It could be a sport this time, but somehow I don't think there's enough of a variation for this to be my favoured explanation.

Going back to mum or dad

Reversion is where a plant goes back to a different form found in its parentage. The most well-known example is where variegated plants revert to pure green leaves. This is happening currently with some of my Euonymus shrubs in the front garden. It could explain what's happening here, but without knowing this particular dahlia's breeding, I have no way of knowing whether there is any red in its genetic parentage.

Give them a break

Virus infections giving rise to colour breaks in flowers are very well known, particularly with tulips. They can produce some spectacularly mottled and striped flowers resulting from infection by the Tulip breaking virus. It was these variations which helped fuel "Tulip mania" in Europe during the 17th Century. I've found one reference to this also happening with dahlias, so this possibility - like reversion - needs further research.

Next steps

In the meantime, I'll apply my Dahlia Duvet as usual this winter and hope I can continue with my observations next year. At the moment I'm tending towards reversion as the cause as the difference is so limited on one bloom. One of my large variegated Euonymus shrubs has just a single small branch which has reverted. If it was a virus, I would expect a more dramatic change, unless the infection is very light.

Quite often with a virus, infected plants get steadily weaker until they no longer bloom. This is what happened to some of the popular tulip varieties in the past. So next year I'll look for more red streaks on blooms and/or any signs of weakening of the plant.

What a living botany lesson my garden is turning out to be. There's always something new to observe and learn, so I'm adding a new Botany label to the blog - to gather together my lessons from VP Gardens.

Update 23/10

I popped into the RHS Shades of Autumn show in London yesterday to ask their advisory service about my dahlia. They say it's a chimera, i.e. material which is genetically distinct from the rest of the plant. Apparently this phenomenon is often seen late on in the season in plants like my dahlia, and it's usually a reaction to environmental factors such as temperature fluctuation. 

There are other ways in which chimeras occur, most of them linked with a genetic mutations of some kind. Many of our variegated plants are chimera, with the paler foliage genetically distinct and living alongside the green. As the pale foliage has no chlorophyll, it is dependent on the green foliage for its survival.

Some grafted plants are chimera too and that's the exception to the cause being genetic. It's great to have got to the bottom of the cause so quickly and to have something so interesting happen at VP Gardens.

Friday, 17 October 2014

VP's VIPs: Our Flower Patch

Photo of Sara Wilman and Cally Smart from Our Flower Patch
Sara (left) and Cally of  Our Flower Patch
Picture credit: Clare Green and
Western Daily Press
It gives me great pleasure to feature my latest VIPs -from Our Flower Patch, a joint venture between Cally Smart and Sara Wilman. I've known Cally for ages as she's one of my Local Vocal bloggers and I met Sara last year when she, Cally and I went on our Gardeners' Question Time adventure.

Cally and Sara are keen supporters of the British Flowers movement and earlier this year launched Our Flower Patch. They're so excited and passionate about what they're doing, I've decided to divide our interview into three parts. I didn't want to cut out any of their enthusiasm and I'm sure what they have to say is of interest to many of you.

So without further ado, here's how it all started...

How did you meet?

Several years ago in a flower arranger's garden. We were at an event for women in business. Sara had started growing cut flowers as a hobby and I was working as a freelance teacher running educational activities in primary schools and writing a blog.

Sara offered to send me some pictures of her sunflowers to use on the blog. Bringing up children took over for the next few years but we reconnected again a couple of years ago on Twitter.

How long have you been growing cut flowers/working in education?

I’ve been growing flowers on and off since I was a child but started gardening in earnest when I was a young teacher living in North London in the early 1990s. I had a balcony where I grew lots in pots and then started doing a bit of guerrilla gardening in the secondary schools where I taught. 

When we moved to Wiltshire and the children were born, more time and less money led me to grow more and more. When the children started school I volunteered to run a gardening club and eventually realised that the crop we grew which fitted best with the school terms and which sold best was cut flowers. Selling flowers enabled us to run gardening activities in a self sustaining way at school. In these times, where many schools are cash-strapped, this is a definite bonus.

I’ve always been interested in gardening and used to help my Nan in her garden as a very young child. I bought heathers and other plants to pretty up the bland patio at my student shared house in University, and loved buying my first house as I could really make my mark on its garden. 

Growing flowers specifically for cutting started as a bit of an accident when I was offered an allotment. I bought “a few” flower seeds, as I didn't think I could fill an allotment with veg, and soon realised I had more flower seeds than veg seeds! So my own cut flower patch was started on a separate piece of land a friend owns near my house. It has expanded several times since and is now growing as a business [My Flower Patch - Ed].

How did the idea for Our Flower Patch (OFP) come about?

I was interested in developing activities for my school gardeners specifically on growing more cut flowers for sale and asked Sara to help. She agreed and we met for a coffee. The idea grew from there. OFP was born in a coffee shop in Devizes, where we were taking advantage of their free wifi. We got through a lot of coffee and by the end of the morning we had a business name, a domain name, a long list of ideas for educational activities and a seed supplier on board.

We realised that growing flowers in schools fits really well into the school term set up, as there is something to do as soon as the children come back in September. They can be straight into sowing hardy annuals for earlier blooms next year, and with further seed sowing in the spring, there will plenty of blooms for them to harvest before they break up for the summer. There is always something to be done when you are growing flowers, so it is ideal for young people who like to be involved in a project, see it develop and follow it through.

How long did it take to get from idea to launch? What (if anything) changed along the way? 

We launched on St David’s Day (March 1st) 2014 - perfect for two Welsh girls who love flowers -with a view to spreading the word and signing up members from the start of the Autumn term. It took us about 4 months from idea to launch.

We thought we’d write a package of printed materials at first but decided that teachers value ongoing support, advice and networking opportunities and bite size chunks of information so decided to make everything available online and to build a community of growers. 

Our Flower Patch was born as a membership website with some publicly accessible sections and now, an additional blog where we post information, advice and ideas for growing flowers and getting children outside doing things and having fun. 
Thanks Cally and Sara. It's great to have an insight into how OFP was born and how quickly your ideas grew in that first meeting.

We'll be catching up with them again in 2 weeks time to find out more about their work and have a further bathe in their enthusiasm.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

GBBD: Aster novi-belgii 'Waterperry'

Picture of Aster novi-belgii 'Waterperry'

Asters are the final plant to come to my garden and my terrace bed revamp this year. I was put off them as a child because the Michaelmas daisies we had (as they were often called then) were those sorry, leggy and mildew ridden specimens so often seen in 1960s gardens.

My picture shows a very different aster called A. 'Waterperry'. I bought it as a souvenir of a wonderful visit to the garden last September, where this particular cultivar was discovered. The garden's famous long border contained many asters, all very healthy with not one jot of mildew to be seen. They made me revise my thinking on their garden worthiness.

It also gave me the nub of an idea for my revamp of the garden this year. Most of the plants I've chosen are gifts from friends or have strong associations with them or places I've visited. I now have two terrace beds full of memories and good times as well as marvellous plants.

Photo of Aster novi-belgii 'Waterperry' draped over a garden wall
For some reason I planted this particular aster at the back of the lower terrace bed, thinking it was one of the taller ones. I've just checked the label which says it grows to just 40cms tall.

It seems however that my instinct was right in placing it at the back, because it's far taller than it should be*. The flowers are using the back wall as a kind of shelf, where they've arranged themselves most prettily.

The picture to the left gives you more of an idea of what they've done. It means the flowers look like they're forming the front of the top terrace bed rather than the back of the lower one.

Have any of your plants performed in an unexpected way this year?

* = Looking at Waterperry's picture, I'm wondering whether I have the right plant. Website picture colours can vary widely though...

Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

Update 20/10: there was an @oldhorts visit to Westonbirt Arboretum at the weekend and Pat Havers - Waterperry's Head Gardener - was there. Today she's kindly confirmed I do indeed have Aster 'Waterperry'. Theirs has grown much taller this year too and thinking about it, so have plenty of other plants in my garden this year.

Update October 2015: the name has changed to Symphyotrichum novi-belgii 'Waterperry'. My plants are much shorter this year.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Take a Seat

If the embedded slide show above doesn't open for you, you'll find it via Take a Seat. 

Some of you may be familiar with my other blog, Sign of the Times. My most regular feature over there is Friday Bench, where I showcase all kinds of seats I've seen on my travels.

I've found many of my favourites during garden visits or whilst looking at public planting, so they're an appropriate subject for Veg Plotting too. I've put together a short slide show of 25 of them for you to grab a cuppa, sit down and have a good look.

I'm not alone in my predilection for benches, Sarah Salway has a whole blog dedicated to them called A Quiet Sit Down. I'm also told that Christopher Woodward - the Garden Museum's Director - is a bench aficionado. I must try and have a chat to him about it when I visit tomorrow.

I've showcased many dozens of benches over the years, so you may like to have a look over at Sign of the Times, where my most recent discovery at the Dingle Gardens is awaiting your contemplation today.

Tell me about your favourite bench in the comments below.
You may also like

Last year I wrote a more practical article about benches, which was published in The Guardian.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Things in Unusual Places #14: Trousers

My thanks to Juliet for sending me this picture from her holidays in Llandovery earlier this year. I love the sense of humour in this piece of public planting. I wonder who donated the trousers?

I passed through Llandovery in early February this year and it's earmarked for a longer visit. I thought it looked an interesting town, even though it was pouring with rain at the time. Now I need to go back and have a closer look at their public planting too.

It was lovely to hear from Juliet as she hasn't blogged for a while. She's been busy moving house and settling into a different part of the country. Here's hoping The Clockwork Dodo is back in action soon.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Plant Profiles: Apples

Isn't she lovely? The last Fiesta apple ripe for picking in the large pot on my patio today

Every October I've written about apples on Veg Plotting, so it's a pleasure to feature them as my Plant Profile this month.

At first, I was quite daunted about growing apples. There are loads of varieties to choose from, some very off putting root stock names to get to grips with and a whole host of things that can go wrong in the pests and disease line. And then there's the pruning...

But oh, there is such beauty to be found in an apple tree. There's deliciously frothy blossom in the spring and a rich variety in the fruit. If I could just pick one tree for my garden, it would have to be an apple.

And yes, you can have just one apple tree in your garden as some of them are self-fertile, though having more than one in the same or adjacent pollination group is even better for ensuring plenty of fruit. Amongst the self-fertile possibilities is the ever popular Cox's Orange Pippin, alongside the Scrumptious, Falstaff and Red Windsor varieties I grow.

October is the main picking month here at VP Gardens, though growing Discovery means I've actually been picking since late August. In my bowl this week there are Scrumptious, Sunset, Kidd's Orange Red, Princesse (the russet one) and Spartan. Note I didn't buy my special apple bowl, it was one of the worldly goods endowed by NAH when I married him.

I'm set to apply greasebands soon to protect my trees from winter moth. Apart from that and putting out codling moth traps in May plus some aphid squishing, I must admit I've been pretty relaxed about pest and disease care so far (*touches wood and crosses fingers*). I've chosen trees which are happy for my allotment and garden's soil/aspect so that goes a long way to keeping them healthy.

A trick I've adopted for my trained and potted trees is to bury a short piece of pipe alongside them. This allows me to water directly to the roots during very dry weather. I'm applying the principle that 'a pint at the roots is worth a gallon on the ground' i.e. the tree is encouraged to put down a good deep root structure which will help it through periods of drought. It's worked thus far and also means the task of watering during dry spells is kept to a minimum.

The trees are about to enter their winter dormancy so now is a good time to research and order the best apple tree(s) to grace your garden or allotment. So what are you waiting for?

Here's a great idea I saw in the Long Walk at Stockton Bury Gardens last month. How about growing a row
of dwarf rootstock apple trees as a hedge? Fits neatly in a small garden and is more productive than stepovers.
Further notes

It's strange to think that something we think of as quintessentially English as an apple actually originated from the remote mountains of Central Asia. Here the wild ancestor - Malus sieversii - of our apple, Malus domestica is still found today.

It seems that apples can be added to the list of things the Romans did for us.

To blossom well (and in turn fruit) most apple trees need a minimum chill requirement of 400-1,000 hours of temperatures just above freezing over the winter period in order to break winter dormancy.

This is why climate change is of some concern for our apple trees. There are some varieties which require a lot less (e.g. Anna, 100-200 hours), so it is likely the varieties we grow will change, not that apples will disappear entirely.

Rootstock numbering comes with an M (Malling) or MM (Malling/Merton) prefix which refers to the location where they were developed (East Malling Research or East Malling/John Innes Institute respectively). Thousands were developed initially, but there are just a few left in common use today.

Rootstock choice determines how tall the tree will grow and is important to get right for success in the garden.

For pots and container growing, M26 (dwarfing) is the rootstock to look out for. Check if the tree has been formative pruned before buying. I pruned my potted tree after planting and then found out I didn't need to and had cut away half of its potential.

Other useful rootstocks are MM106 (semi-dwarfing - the most popular rootstock used), which is good for a wide variety of purposes, and M9 (dwarfing) is a good choice for small gardens.
As well as being grown as the usual kind of tree, apples can be trained into all kinds of forms e.g. espalier, cordons, pyramids, goblets, over arches etc. I'm having a go at cordon and arch growing on the allotment. It's best to google any particular form you're interested in as I haven't found an overall introductory guide online.

And finally, there are three basic types of apple - dessert, cooking and cider. Dessert is the sweetest and cider the most astringent. There are also dual-purpose varieties e.g. the James Grieve I grow is suitable as a cooking apple when picked early, then a dessert apple later in the season.
You may also like:
Further references
Apples form a major component of the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale, Kent.

Finally there's my favourite book on apples, The New Book of Apples by apple guru Joan Morgan (and Alison Richards). This would feature in my Desert Island list of gardening books.

Plant Profiles is sponsored by Whitehall Garden Centre.

Note to readers:
Sponsorship goes towards my blogging costs; the words are my own There are no cookies or affiliate links associated with this post.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Tree Following With Lucy: October

This month we're playing the waiting game. September's warmth means my ash tree is still clinging determinedly onto its leaves, though plenty of other trees started to shed theirs ages ago.

Autumn's come early. It's not the mellow season of poetry, but instead there's a darker crispness of leaves frazzled by the heat of summer and the record dryness of September. My ash tree's roots must run deep as it's looking relatively untroubled so far.

With the advent of October the weather's turned. The jet stream swung back over Britain from its summer station to the north, bringing lashings of rain over the weekend. It's left behind the autumnal coolness we expect at this time of the year.

I hope it's enough to let the drooping, dusty trees on our estate present a proper display of autumn colour and for my ash tree to join them in a last hurrah before it stands naked for the winter.

In previous years I've noted it's hard to pinpoint exactly when ash leaves start to turn. I look forward to this year's extra vigilance helping me find the proper signs to look out for. Tune in again in November to see how I got on.

Find out how all the other Tree Followers are faring this month over at Lucy's blog, Loose and Leafy.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Book Review: The Plant Lover's Guides

Timber Press have a new series of books out this year called The Plant Lover's Guide To...

...Dahlias, Salvias, Sedums and Snowdrops are the four titles published thus far.

I was invited to breakfast by Timber Press at the Garden Bloggers' Fling in Portland earlier this year, where I was pleased to see Salvias in my goody bag. It was joined by Snowdrops last week courtesy of Timber Press in the UK.

The almost square format makes each volume easy to hold and the quality of the hardcover and pages means these books will stand up to being well thumbed.

Each guide is designed to give a thorough introduction to a genus for both gardeners and plant enthusiasts alike.

They're not all-out works of reference. Instead there's lots of information crammed into 200-250 pages, together with a showcase of around 75 particularly garden-worthy examples. This combination gives an overall introduction to the variety of plants available within the genus under discussion.

Thus the reader isn't weighed down with detail, yet still gets a really good idea of how the plants perform under a wide variety of situations and how they may be used in a garden.

There are plenty of photographs to illustrate how the plants may be used as well as a large, clear photograph of each variety selected for inclusion. These books are clear, bright and visually appealing.

Timber Press have been wise enough to set a general framework for the overall look and feel of the series and then let their selected authors' individual style and enthusiasm for their subject come to the fore.

I particularly liked Naomi Slade's sprinkling of interviews with various snowdrop experts and galanthophiles throughout her book, plus her delving into snowdrop history. I've already found John Whittlesey's notes on how salvias are pollinated useful for my Blooms Day post last month.

I'm easily pleased with just the single Galanthus nivalis and the double G. 'Flore pleno' in abundance in my garden, but it was still interesting to learn more about the 70 or so named varieties Naomi's highlighted. I was also happy to see most of my chosen salvias are featured in John's volume, especially S 'Amistad' and S 'Hot lips'.

If the Dahlia and Sedum volumes are as good as these two, then Timber Press have a successful formula on their hands.

Update 11th October: I've just seen Timber Press's USA Spring 2015 catalogue and there are further volumes in the pipeline on:

  • Asters - written by UK experts Paul and Helen Picton
  • Epimediums - UK author Sally Gregson 
  • Ferns - Richie Steffan and Sue Olsen. I met Richie in Seattle earlier this year when he took us on a fantastic tour round the Miller Botanical Garden
  • Tulips - Richard Wilford, hardy display collections manager at Kew 

Thursday, 2 October 2014

I Love October For...

Roadside pumpkins seen on the way to Bromham

...Pumpkins and Squash

Turk's turban squash ready for winter storage
There's something quite satisfying in bringing the harvest home in the mellow days of autumn. In 2013 it was apples which caught my eye; this year it's pumpkins and squash that are my heart's delight.

I've returned to Turk's Turban as my squash of choice for this year. It's just the right size for the two of us; not so small to be fiddly and not so large we have to eat it in every meal for a week. It has a good flavour (so I dispute Wikipedia's entry) and its shape makes me giggle.  Useful and gigglesome has to be good right?

We live close to Wiltshire's market garden area around Bromham, so piles of locally harvested pumpkins are currently stacked high at the local farm shops. Soon families will be going there to select their pumpkin for carving in readiness for Halloween.

I'm not a huge fan of Trick or Treat, but I do like the unsaid agreement around here that a doorstep posed pumpkin means tomfoolery of the spooky sort is welcome. No sign of a pumpkin and the ghouls and witches just glide on by.

Those of you wishing to make something a little more spectacular for your doorstep may like to look at the Zombie Pumpkins website. You may also be surprised - like I was when writing this - to learn Trick or Treat's origins are rooted in Britain and Ireland, not those naughty Americans we've been led to believe.

What do you love about October?

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

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