This blog reviews the latest products, plants and innovations in gardening. It also provides a link for my many gardening friends who are members of the GardenMessenger and Seedmessenger Yahoo groups and their sub-groups that I moderate.

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Location: Australia

I am a semi-retired UK botanical garden curator and former international horticultural consultant, who has worked extensively in Europe, the Middle East, North America and Australia. I spend part of the year in Australia and part in Europe, mainly due to family and work commitments. I earn my living from writing and editing Internet copy, articles and books. I have written over fifty books on gardening and have been translated into twenty-four different languages. I am a former UK Garden Writer of the Year and a previous Quill & Trowel Award Winner from the Garden Writer’s Association of America. I am interested in developing gardening communities on the Internet and I manage the popular GardenMessenger Yahoo group, along with its various sub-groups like PondMessenger and SeedMessenger. I also edit International Water Gardener and its associated regional web-sites.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Blue Potatoes, Ordeal by Fire and a New Lantana

'Edzell Blue'

When I was a boy growing up in the east of England Good Friday was always the day when the first potatoes were planted. Uncle Ted, who I have to thank for my original interest in gardening, and who lived next door with my grandmother was a great vegetable grower, and potato planting on Good Friday was a ritual. It was virtually the only thing that was done on that day, as it was a very serious religious day and we were not really supposed to work. The practice of planting potatoes on Good Friday still continues through much of the east of England, where several of my family still live, and I also understand is prevalent in many other parts of the UK. I have no idea how the idea originated, or why, but Uncle Ted certainly produced good potatoes, irrespective of the date on which Good Friday occurred.

We tend to take potatoes for granted, they are a staple diet of most nations in the western world, and to most people a potato is just that - a potato. However if you delve a little deeper there are almost as many interesting kinds of potatoes as there are tomatoes, especially the so-called heirloom types. Most gardeners grow good standard potato cultivars. There is every good reason for doing so, especially if you are a newcomer to gardening. These are mostly those that are grown by farmers, and of course are the easiest, most disease resistant and productive. What more could you want?

If the main purpose of the vegetable patch is to feed a hungry growing family as economically as possible, then good standard cultivars, especially those that are grown commercially locally is the way to go. One word of warning though. If you get the name of a locally grown potato, be sure that it is one that is produced for the consumer market. A number of widely grown cultivars are produced for the potato crisp, chip and processing markets, and while they are grown in the same manner as the standard market potato, their behaviour in the kitchen and quality on the table is very different.

If you want to get away from standard potatoes, then the current trend is towards salad potatoes. These are not as productive as conventional kinds and look a bit different. The tubers tend to be longer and narrower, and without any of the traditional supermarket qualities of uniformity and conformity, although despite their irregular shape and size they have found their way into many supermarkets. The most popular and widely available cultivar seems to be the pinkish ‘Pink Fir Apple’.

Of the more unusual conventional potatoes, it is the coloured kinds that are the most striking. These are often available as single tubers from specialist suppliers. They are not really economical to grow, but they are fun to have. I always remember lifting a plant of ‘Edzell Blue’. The tuber that I had planted was an uninspiring dirty violet colour, but the freshly lifted tubers looked a rather similar colour to pictures in the catalogues that try to sell you a blue rose. Quite startling and unreal. I am uncertain of the history of ‘Edzell Blue’, but I believe that it had connections with Edzell Castle in Scotland.

This potato is still available, although it has not attained the popularity which my description would suggest that it should. The reason quite simply is that it is more prone to disease than most of the modern kinds. That is why most old cultivars are in the hands of collectors and enthusiasts rather than the hobby gardener. To maintain stock in good condition requires an effort. If diseases are not firmly controlled in heirloom potatoes, then the main eating crop in the garden will pick them up as well. So while it can be fun to grow a row of unusual potatoes, it is important to be committed to looking after them properly, or potential pleasure will turn into disappointment.

Benefits for Eucalyptus

I was reading an article the other day about the smoke treatment of certain seeds that stimulates them into germination. Smoke and fire have been long known to initiate germination in the seeds of many species of Australian plants like Eucalyptus, as well as the lovely South African Protea. The principle behind this, is that in areas where bush fires are part of the ecological system, it is usually hot and dry. Plants produce seeds that fall to the ground and find life very hard. The soil is dry. The parent plants would crowd them out if they germinated, and so therefore why bother? It is not until a bush fire sweeps away competition that it is opportune to germinate. This means that any rain that falls has a chance to reach the ground as there is no longer any leaf canopy to prevent it. The competition for root space has also gone. Seeds often lie on the ground for years, so how are they going to know that the time has come to break into growth? Well it is the combination of the passage of fire across the seeds and the smoke generated by the fire that stimulates them and starts the germination process.

There are now a number of smoke treatments that can be purchased to pre-treat seeds that would benefit from such exposure, but long before these were available I used a simple and very effective treatment revealed to me by a professional gardener from Tasmania who is now sadly no longer with us. Tony was a great innovative guy, who although he had all the modern horticultural aids at his disposal, liked to develop his gardening techniques simply. The treatment for Eucalyptus and Protea he called "ordeal by fire". All the equipment that was required was a metal kitchen sieve and a candle. The seeds to be treated were placed in the sieve and held over the lit candle. Proteas remained there until their hairs were all burnt off, they were then considered to be "done" and could be sown. Eucalyptus seeds jumped around in the sieve and when they stopped jumping Tony said they could be sown. Sure enough, within a very short space of time they all emerged through the compost. The only two commonly grown Eucalyptus for which it was not recommended were Eucalyptus globulus and the lemon-scented E.citriodora.

The New Teenie Geenie Lantana

A new Tom Thumb Lantana called Teenie Geenie or Lantana camara ‘Monike’ is being heavily promoted in the United States just now. Grown and distributed to garden centres by Monrovia Nurseries, it is an extremely dense and compact shrub, some to 75cm (30ins) in height and 75cm (30ins) across. According to the promotional information from Monrovia it is one of the most symmetrical lantanas available on the market today and no pruning is required. "It provides a continuous display of multicoloured flowers, which open chiffon yellow, passing to fuchsia pink. This profusion of flowers is year-round in warmer climates, making a great choice for containers, mass plantings and edging. An easy-care evergreen, it is drought tolerant and loves full sun."

Sadly it is unlikely that this plant will be great a hit in Europe, for it will only prosper in the warmer south. It will not get a toe-hold in New Zealand as it is on the bio-security watch list for pest plants, and it is despised in many of the warmer areas of Australia, my friends in the lovely garden city of Toowoomba, Queensland, setting about any errant shoot or seedling of Lantana with a vengeance no matter how pretty it is. However, for you gardeners in the US, I am sure it will be a great hit. I love lantanas and this one sounds to be of neat growth and yet abundant blossoms and excellent for container cultivation.

Happy Gardening



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Photos:Gardening Express
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Blogger roybe said...

Great blog phillip, very informative. Are you familiar with some of the eucalypt hybrids "summer red" and "summer glory" from eucalyptus (now corymbia)ficifolia and ptychocarpa.We have lovely young specimen growing outside our bedroom window (march archive)Talking about the Chelsea flower show makes my gardening mouth water. keep up the good work.

7:14 am  

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