GardenMessenger

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.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Magnetic Therapy, Scorzonera, Salsify and Monkshoods

Bio-resonance to control diseases in cut flowers?

I know that this blog is intended to provide news, views, and good practical gardening information for present day gardeners, but I cannot resist whisking you away for a moment into the future. I was absolutely fascinated to learn yesterday that scientists now believe that they have discovered a method of controlling plant diseases with magnetic frequencies. A pioneering scheme being trialled with cut flowers, if proven successful, is likely to be followed by a system for hydroponics, the initial stages of work on that project having already been completed. The cut flower project uses a ‘Ship Chip’, which is designed to reduce losses of cut-flowers from diseases during shipping. The chips, 2.5cm (1in) in diameter, are fixed to the bottom of the flower box. They are made of a proprietary metal material, attached to a metallic base that is thick enough to maintain programmed magnetic frequencies. Once the chip is detached from the protective backing liner, it emits a magnetic frequency that helps to keep the flowers free from disease during shipping. All life forms emit a natural energy field of magnetic frequencies, according to Dr. Kikuo Chishima, Nagoya Commercial University, Japan, and a leading exponent of ‘magnetic therapy’.

Known as bio-frequencies, these can apparently be measured, duplicated and translated to a digital readable format. From the specific bio-resonances isolated from a range of fungal pathogens, the scientists can then create a dominant resonance or energy pattern. The ‘Ship Chip’ is then programmed to emit an energy field characteristic of the flower species or cultivar being shipped. This bio-resonance is absorbed by the flowers in the box where it contains the energy field of the pathogens, thereby limiting infection and spread. The positive effect of this ‘treatment’ is said to continue after the flowers have been purchased. It is claimed that wastage in transport due to fungal and bacterial infection is substantially reduced by using ‘Ship Chips’. Obviously at this early stage there are no direct benefits to home gardeners from such technology, but it does not take much imagination to see that if this is successful, we may well be rethinking our disease control methods in the future.

Scorzonera

Well back down to earth and a question from Ken in Northern Ireland about scorzonera and salsify. Ken is a chef and has been using both vegetables recently. Much under-rated he thinks and I am inclined to agree. How does he grow them and are they easy to cultivate? To answer the last part of the question first, if you live in a cool temperate climate like Northern Ireland, then yes they are quite easy to grow.They are not unlike parsnips in many respects, although they do not require such a long growing season, maturing during autumn from a late spring or early summer sowing. In Northern Ireland there is still probably time to get them sown if you can do it in the next week or so. Both produce valuable winter roots which are used in a similar manner to parsnips, although they are much more slender and tapered in appearance. They must have a well-drained sunny position, ideally in a deep friable soil which has not recently been dressed with organic matter, for unless very well rotted this can cause the roots to fork badly and become useless. It may also encourage soft growth which is disease prone.

Scorzonera differs mainly from salsify in that its roots have a dark brown skin. The only widely grown cultivar is ‘Habil’, a very sweet and easily grown kind with roots that on occasions can be as substantial as an intermediate carrot. Salsify is altogether more slender and elegant with slim white, but very tasty roots. The cultivar known variously as ‘Mammoth’ and ‘Mammoth Sandwich Island’ is that which is usually available. Sow both scorzonera and salsify in shallow drills in the open ground. Most gardeners find a single row sufficient, but where more than one row is required, then space 30-45cm (12-18in) apart. Once the seedlings have emerged and the first rough leaves are up they should be thinned to 2.5cm (1in) apart, thereafter when they develop further, thinning should reduce them to 10cm (4in) apart. Keep the rows and plants free from weeds and in hot weather ensure that they have plenty of water. In really dry weather they will sometimes run to seed. Although once the foliage starts to fade the roots can be harvested and stored indoors in sand or peat, they are best left in the soil and lifted and used fresh as required. However, do not leave them beyond mid-winter, otherwise they may start into secondary growth and become woody.

Aconitum napellus

I think one of the most easiest and interesting groups of hardy herbaceous perennials for summer flowering are the monkshoods. These are typified by Aconitum napellus, an attractive hardy perennial with dark green glossy foliage and towering spikes of sinister, hooded dark blue flowers. These are produced during early summer, with a secondary flush from lateral shoots later if dead-headed immediately the first flowering is over. Adaptable to both soil and situation, A.napellus flourishes in all but the driest sun-baked position. There are a number of cultivars of varying colour, the most startling being the pure white 'Album'. Then there is the violet-blue and white 'Blue Sceptre', dull salmon-pink 'Carneum' and tall and spectacular 'Bressingham Spire'.

Aconitum lycoctonum subsp vulparia

In addition to the well known monkshood there are a number of other species which are well worthwhile growing, particularly A.carmichaeli with its dense spires of mauve-blue helmeted blossoms, dark inside, pale outside, which arise from mounds of mid-green foliage. Aconitum lycoctonum and its various forms and subspecies like vulparia are creamy and yellow-flowered. Unlike A. carmichaeli, this is a rather ungainly, but nevertheless, attractive plant up to 1.5m (5ft) tall with sprawling glossy rounded, indented foliage and short dense spikes of flowers. Aconitum volubile is even more ill-disciplined, often being regarded as a climber, but more realistically as a rambling monkshood with growth up to 4m (13ft) long which demand careful staking. It has lovely glossy leaves and small dense spikes of light blue flowers. Aconitum species can be raised from seed, but this generally takes two seasons to produce a sizeable flowering plant. Sow seeds in the spring in a good seed compost and place in a cold frame. Germination is erratic and may take place over a period of two months or more. Alternatively the fibrous rootstock can be lifted and divided in the early spring, just as the bright green shoots are emerging. This is the only way to propagate the cultivars.

Join HardyPlantMessenger

If you are interested in growing hardy perennials, then why not join the newly established HardyPlantMessenger group. This is a global community for those who are interested in the cultivation of hardy perennial plants. Discussions embrace all aspects of the cultivation of both traditional and modern frost-hardy perennials. The group welcomes members from around the world, both beginners and the more experienced, to share their knowledge and ideas with one another and to make new gardening friends. To join click here.

News

Mimulus ‘Yellow Blotch’
This is one of the finest ,and the best performing cultivar in recent trials of the new Maximus series of Monkey Flower. Other colours in the series are ivory, red shades, lemon yellow, orange and yellow.







Lilium ‘Shocking’
The recent cross-breeding of Oriental and Aurelium lilies has resulted in a completely new type, referred to in the horticultural trade as OT lilies. Although similar in shape to the Oriental kinds, the new OT cultivars have several advantages over this traditional group. These include larger blooms, improved vase life as cut flowers, and improved resistance to disease, especially botrytis. The latest cultivar is the slightly fragrant ‘Shocking’, with blossoms up to 20cm (8in) in diameter.

Ranunculus asiaticus ‘Elegance Hot Pink’
This is the latest addition to the Elegance series of double-flowered Ranunculus. When fully open, the blossoms of this cultivar can be as large as a rose. This makes it an excellent flower for cutting, but a little bulky and top-heavy for general border decoration. There are seven other colours available in the same series: white, cream, yellow, orange, pink, red and wine red.



UK National Blind Gardeners’ Club Launched
The National Blind Gardeners’ Club has been launched recently in the UK by Thrive - the national charity that uses gardening to improve the lives of disabled people – and Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB), supported by the Big Lottery Fund. The aim of the Club is to encourage more visually impaired people to enjoy the benefits of gardening, help people share information and techniques, and provide a national voice for blind and partially sighted gardeners. Benefits of club membership include a quarterly gardening magazine, advice, practical courses held across the UK and a library of accessible information, including tactile diagrams.
Details click here.

Diary

Southampton Garden Festival,
1st and 2nd July,
Southampton Common,
Southampton,
UK.
Website click here.

Happy Gardening

Philip

GardenMessenger

Today’s Sponsor


If you have enjoyed this publication, you may also like to visit the monthly SeedMessenger gardeners’ seed saving and seed exchange blog click here.
and the weekly water gardening blog PondMessenger click here.

To join the GardenMessenger gardening community
click here
.

To visit the SeedMessenger seed exchange web-site
click here
.


Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Mulching, Window Box Ideas and the Iford Cherry

Mulching conserves moisture

Water, and watering in the garden, are now becoming major concerns for gardeners everywhere. Already in the UK, which is noted for its wet maritime climate, water restrictions are in place for parts of the south of the country, and it is scarcely summer yet. Australian gardeners, except those in Tasmania, seem to live in an almost permanent drought situation. Such is the seriousness in the garden city of Toowoomba, Queensland, that the press is presently full of concerns over the future of the famous Carnival of Flowers in 2007, and whether or not the whole week long programme should be cancelled. That would be unprecedented after over fifty successful years, and be a severe blow to both the economy and reputation of the city.

So what can gardeners do to help alleviate the problem? Well mulching is one thing that can be done that is very beneficial for most plantings. This is a process that conserves moisture around plants and suppresses weeds. In some cases it also adds welcome organic matter to the soil. It is usually undertaken during the spring before the soil had dried out, although occasionally coarse bark mulches are applied to plants that require winter protection for their roots in cold districts, and this is then done during early autumn. However, mulching can be undertaken at any time, it is just that if it is done during summer the soil must be moist before the mulch is applied.

Use coarse bark with caution

The commonest mulching materials are well-rotted garden compost, composted bark and in tropical and sub-tropical areas, sugar cane mulch. Garden compost must be thoroughly rotted down before it is used and the heap must have heated up sufficiently to kill all weed seeds. If partially rotted compost is used as mulch, then it is likely that weeds will be distributed, mainly in the form of seeds. Bark which has been properly composted is quite safe providing that it is not used around Mediterranean-type sun-loving plants like lavender and rosemary. In such circumstances a gravel mulch should be applied. Coarse bark should be regarded with caution and only used around mature trees and shrubs. Once this starts decomposing in the soil it uses nitrogen in the process and this can result in problems for some annuals, herbaceous plants and bulbs where the plants become sickly and the foliage turns yellow. Sugar cane mulch poses similar problems, although it is not as bulky as bark. Use it mainly around well-established perennials, trees and shrubs. Although relatively inexpensive, it is not the most visually attractive mulch and it is often scattered by foraging birds.

Mulching involves placing a layer of the mulching material around individual plants and covering all the soil between. One of the cheapest and most useful mulches in areas where it is available, is spent mushroom compost. Although looking peaty and therefore assumed to be acidic, it is actually alkaline owing to the addition of chalk, which is part of the mushroom production process, so it cannot be used safely around lime-hating plants like rhododendrons and camellias. Coir and cocoa shell mulch, which can be purchased from garden centres, can be used freely. These are materials that are increasingly being marketed as replacements for the peat moss, which conservationists are encouraging us should only be utilised in composts, and then sparingly, and not as an outdoor mulching material.

Window box combinations

The other day I was busy filing away some old gardening notes when I came across an interesting list that I would like to share with you. This described the use of plants in window boxes, and their visual compatibility with their surroundings, especially the building to which they are attached. In most circumstances colour is very important. Red blossoms will hardly show to their best advantage against a red brick wall, nor creamy-white blossoms associate well with a white background. Yellow blooms look great against white but will often be awful against red or reddish-brown. The question of plant associations with buildings is largely a matter of personal taste, but generally speaking, contrasts work to the best advantage. The following ideas were gathered from a group of home gardeners.

Plant Associations
Red Brick Walls – Use white with soft blues, lemons and a touch of lilac.

Sunny Aspects
Spring
White hyacinths and forget-me-nots
Pink and white daisies and bronze and
cream dwarf wallflower
White tulips and grape-hyacinths
Summer
White marguerites and mauve-pink trailing geraniums
Mixed stocks
Sweet alyssum

Shade
Spring
Polyanthus
Narcissus
Crocus
Summer
Campanulas
Violas
Fuchsias

Grey Stone or Colour Wash – Use deep blues or purples, also bright reds and pinks.

Sunny Aspects
Spring
Wallflowers
Pink tulips and forget-me-nots
Blue or pink hyacinths
Summer
Mixed petunias
Scarlet geraniums and pink ivy-leafed types like ‘Galilee’
Asters
Stocks

Shade
Spring
Polyanthus
Drumstick and Wanda primulas
Small evergreens
Summer
Fuchsias
Heliotrope
Begonias

White Painted or Washed Walls – Use really bright colours with plenty of green, or pastel shades of pinks and mauves.

Sunny Aspects
Spring
Golden wallflowers and forget-me-nots
Red wallflowers and daisies
Red and blue Hyacinths
Crocus
Summer
Marigolds
Calceolarias
Tagetes
Petunias

Shade
Spring
Polyanthus
Ferns
Violas
Periwinkle (Vinca)
Summer
Impatiens
Fuchsias
Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia)

In winter the emphasis is on foliage. Many nurseries sell little evergreen shrubs which can be planted from pots when the summer display is over. Suitable subjects are small Box (Buxus) Junipers, Euonymus. These may be inter-planted with Crocus or other small bulbs for early colour.

Iford Manor Garden

A fascinating story has just been related by the Royal Horticultural Society, of the rescue from the brink of extinction of the Iford Cherry, an ornamental Prunus. The cherry, which has an unusual prostrate habit and produces pale shell-pink flowers during late spring, was the only one remaining from a group originally introduced by Victorian architect Harold Peto to Iford Manor Garden, Wiltshire, England. He had returned with it from a plant-hunting expedition to Asia at the beginning of the twentieth century. The tree was brought to the attention of Will Sibley, a fruit specialist, while he was visiting Iford Manor Garden in 1999. Keen to save it he proposed taking a cutting from the tree’s last piece of living wood. "We knew that removal of that final live piece would spell certain death for the tree but it was also its only hope for a future," he said. The resulting scion twigs were grown and grafted on to dwarf rootstocks of Prunus avium. The resulting healthy young trees formed the basis of the propagated material now available. It is hoped to replace the avenue of trees at Iford in the future, re-creating Peto’s planting style. Botanists at the RHS Garden Wisley have so far been unable to provide a Latin name for the cherry but it is described as being similar in appearance to Prunus serrulata. To visit the Iford Manor Garden web-site click here.

News

Bouvardia ‘Diamond Light Pink’
This is one of a new group of double-flowered Bouvardia called the Diamond series. Developed in Holland they are not only suitable for greenhouse decoration, but are also useful for cutting. Other cultivars in the Diamond series being released are White,Dark Pink,Red and Cherry.



Vriesea ‘Astrid’
A new development in Vriesea. Unlike other species and cultivars of Vriesea, ‘Astrid’ forms a rosette of three to six shoots with the same number of flowers. The leaves curl back delicately and the flower spikes are soft red.Development is continuing to produce more colours.



Diary

2006 American Rose Society National Convention and Rose Show
21st-26th June
Bellevue Doubletree Hotel
Bellevue,
(Seattle area),
Washington,
USA
Web-site click here.






Happy Gardening

Philip

GardenMessenger

Today’s Sponsor



If you have enjoyed this publication, you may also like to visit the monthly SeedMessenger gardeners’ seed saving and seed exchange blog click here.
and the weekly water gardening blog PondMessenger click here.

To join the GardenMessenger gardening community
click here
.

To visit the SeedMessenger seed exchange web-site
click here
.


Monday, May 29, 2006

Biodegradable Pots, Marrows and Apple Diversity

Pots from manure and paper

A new kind of environmentally friendly plant pot, that is nutrient-rich and rapidly biodegradable, has been launched in Taiwan. Other than providing a solution to livestock waste management, this novel idea could also serve to enhance awareness of environmental protection among Taiwanese people, said Koh Meeng-ter (Kuo), the owner of the patent of this new technology, and the head of the Livestock Management Department at the Livestock Research Institute in Taipei. The pots are made from a mixture of pig manure and paper, and are apparently already receiving wide acclaim from environmentalists, gardeners and florists.

Traditionally the manure from pigs is piled into a compost heap. Each pig produces around 0.01kg of dry sludge per day. Taiwan has enough pigs (6.8 million) to generate around dry 68,000kg of dry sludge per day. In the past, other than turning it into compost, there was no other way of dealing with animal waste. So Kuo decided to utilise the dehydrated sludge made from pig manure, and to mix it with paper pulp in a ratio of four to six, to produce pots with diameters of 5 mm (2 in) and 89mm (3.5 in). Kuo calculated that if an 89 mm pot weighed 17g, it contained up to 7g of dry sludge. The advantage of using this type of pot is that it is rich in all types of nutrients and decomposes within three to seven days. "When using it, the gardener does not have to remove the plant, just plant the whole pot directly into the soil", he said. Kuo added that he was prepared to share his methods with others. So watch out for these pots at a garden centre near you soon!

Green bush marrow

Yesterday I had quite a surprise. I posted a note on this blog about the UK Marrowthon, a fun fund-raising competition for growing vegetable marrows - just scroll down to yesterday’s blog to read it. However, it was not any reaction to the competition that caused my surprise, but those gardeners, especially American members of the GardenMessenger Yahoo group, who had never heard of a marrow. Having spent quite a lot of time in the United States I am aware of the confusion that Europeans have over squashes, and also differences between the popular naming of courgette and zucchini, but I never imagined that marrows would cause any excitement. So today, for those who want to know a little about these plants and the related courgettes (yes they really should be called courgettes as ‘Zucchini’ is merely one cultivar ) I offer a short presentation.

There is quite a range of marrow and courgette cultivars, but all require the same culture. The common green marrow is divided into two kinds; bush and trailing. The bush kind is the most popular because it is a compact plant with a predictable spread. The trailing kind goes wandering off and can cover several metres of ground. This is the one commonly used for planting on a finished compost heap which is rotting down prior to dispersal in the autumn. The bush types are known as ‘Bush Green’ and ‘Bush White’, while the trailing sort is ‘Trailing Green’. There are other cultivars, including the superb, evenly fruiting F1 ‘Zebra Cross’, and the Rugby ball-shaped ‘Twickenham’. However, the basic green and white skinned kinds are perfectly adequate for most gardeners. There are also Custard Marrows. These have fleshy discus-like fruits in white and yellow which are excellent for cooking like traditional marrows. For the most sophisticated there is a Vegetable Spaghetti, a marrow-like plant with typical marrow-like yellowish or pinkish fruits which after cooking are opened up to reveal a spaghetti like interior. In North America these are often called Spaghetti Squash.

Green courgette

Courgettes are really prolifically fruiting marrows which are harvested in their juvenile state. They are also grown for their flowers which are used in fashionable cooking. As with the marrows there is a ‘Green Bush’ cultivar. It looks similar, but is different from the marrow. The traditional trailing sort is the dark green fruited ‘Zucchini’ and its yellow counterpart known as ‘Yellow Zucchini’. Marrows and courgettes are usually sown under glass or on the window ledge in the UK between mid-April and mid-May. The seeds are sown individually in small pots of good seed compost and pot grown until it is safe to plant out once the danger of frost has passed, usually during late May or early June. They must be grown in an open sunny position in a richly organic soil and kept well watered during dry spells. Courgettes should be harvested regularly as they develop, but marrows, while best eaten on the point of maturity, can be stored for the winter in a cool frost-free place if unblemished and fully mature at harvest time.

Diversity in the apple collection

The results of United States Department of Agriculture sponsored visits by scientists to Europe and Asia over recent years are starting to bring their rewards. Especially trips that were made to the central Asian republic of Kazakstan. Here many collections were made, and returned to the United States, of a local apple species, Malus sieversii, one of the forerunners of the modern domestic apple. According to the scientists, the Kazak trees showed significant resistance to apple scab - the most important fungal disease of apples - as well as to fire blight. They were highly resistant against Phytophthora cactorum, which causes collar rot, and Rhizoctonia solani, an agent of apple re-plant disease. Researchers have also found genes in the Kazak apples that allow them to adapt to mountainous, near-desert, and cold and dry regions.

News

Gerrondo Gerberas
The Gerrondo Gerbera is an entirely new type of flower which will be available during the next few months. The individual blooms differs from traditional gerberas by virtue of their unique spherical shape and huge number of petals – 450-500 - to a single bloom. Although the flower of this new strain is similar in shape to a dahlia, the overall appearance is quite different. The first series of Gerrondos has been named Terra Universe. The prefix in the name being a reference to the breeder Terra Nigra, and the suffix to the unusual spherical shape of the blossoms. The cultivars within the series have been named after planets, the pink-flowered ‘Terra Saturnus’ (illustrated) being the first to become available. The series contains six other colours: white, yellow, red, orange, cream and purple.

Diary

Journées de la Rose
9th-11th June
Royal Abbey of Chaalis,
Oise, France
Contact: Nathalie Darzac
Tel: +33 (0)144414340
Web-site click here.

Happy Gardening

Philip

GardenMessenger

Today’s Sponsor



Photos:
Pots: Taipei Times
Marrow and courgette: Suttons Seeds
Apples: USDA
Gerbera: Flower Council Holland

If you have enjoyed this publication, you may also like to visit the monthly SeedMessenger gardeners’ seed saving and seed exchange blog click here.
and the weekly water gardening blog PondMessenger click here.

To join the GardenMessenger gardening community
click here
.

To visit the SeedMessenger seed exchange web-site
click here
.



Directory of Gardening Blogs

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Controlling Late Blight, European Trials and Figs

Late Potato Blight - devastating

Agricultural Research Service plant pathologist, Modesto Olanya , and colleagues at the New England Plant, Soil, and Water Research Laboratory in Maine, United States, are investigating plant essential oils—including oregano, thyme and lavender—and other biologically based approaches for the control Late Potato Blight, one of the most devastating potato diseases in the world. Potato plants infected with the disease, scientifically known as Phytophthora infestans, suffer rapid foliage deterioration and loss, and the tubers decay. It was this disease that was blamed for the Irish potato famine of the 1840s. Is a formidable opponent, for it quickly acquires resistance to widely used systemic fungicides, requiring researchers to constantly search for new ways to protect both farm and home garden crops.

The researchers have found that among the essential oils, oregano, (or marjoram), is showing the greatest promise as a Late Blight suppressant. In laboratory tests, it was discovered that oregano and other essential oils greatly inhibited the growth of the Late Blight fungus. If future studies continue to show promise, natural remedies such as essential oils, could someday reduce a portion of the many fungicides that we currently use to control Late Potato Blight. The research team are also looking at pairing essential oils with other natural products, such as beneficial micro-organisms. The essential oils do have some limitations to overcome. Apparently oregano is fairly volatile, meaning some of its fungi-fighting essence could evaporate from plant surfaces after it has been applied. Conversely, the oils can burn plant leaves if applied too generously. This is most interesting work that we should follow closely.

Hydrangea paniculata on trial

It is great to learn of European co-operation with trialling plants. So often the horticultural industries of important plant producing countries work in isolation.The Royal Boskoop Horticultural Society (KVBC) in The Netherlands have taken the initiative to expand the scope of their research work by taking plant trials to an international level. The resulting new Euro-Trials are the outcome of co-operation with the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) in the UK, the Institut National d’Horticole (INH) in France and Germany’s Bund deutscher Baumschulen (BdB). The first group of plants now being trialled in these four countries are the many different cultivars of Hydrangea paniculata. The results from the trials are expected sometime in 2007.

Trial visit: Gardeners in the UK have an opportunity to visit the Royal Horticultural Society Hydrangea paniculata trial on 21st September. Further details later from the RHS.

Success with figs

There has been a lot of discussion recently about figs, particularly their successful cultivation in temperate climates. In tropical districts, especially those where there is low humidity, once figs are established, they generally take care of themselves. In cooler climates figs are usually regarded as an indoor fruit. This is partly true as in order to obtain a regular crop it does demand the protection of a greenhouse. In warm conditions three flushes of fruit can be produced, although most gardeners grow figs under unheated glass where one good quality crop in late summer is usual. Fig trees themselves are very hardy and will tolerate extremely cold conditions, tolerating -10°C (14ºF) and still surviving. It is the fruits, and the requirements of warmth and protection for these, which ensures that most gardeners grow the fig indoors, or at the very least against a sunny wall.

Figs grow best with a restricted root run. While they can be grown in a large pot or planter they are best in the ground where during the summer they can be given copious amounts of water. In a greenhouse or a border against a wall they are best planted with constraint. The traditional fig house has concrete box-like compartments in the border filled with soil from which the roots cannot escape. Figs benefit from a free-draining soil and must have a sunny position if they are to prosper. Pruning is usually undertaken during the winter months in order to restrict bleeding. Figs produce a very sticky white exudation, which during summer can be difficult to stop flowing if a branch is cut. Figs fruit on one year and two year shoots and these should be retained as far as possible. Weak, diseased and misplaced growth being removed. Few pests and diseases bother figs, but aphids do attack and leave a sticky deposit upon which sooty mould becomes established. Keep an eye open for greenfly and the moment they are spotted spray them with an appropriate contact insecticide. This will prevent the occurrence of the honeydew deposit upon which sooty mould becomes established. There are a number of cultivars of figs available, but the universally popular 'Brown Turkey' seems to be the most reliable.

News

UK Marrowthon
Although officially announced in March, the UK Marrowthon is just getting under way. If you want to take part, then you do not have a moment to lose. Everyone, from children through to expert growers, are invited to participate in this great nationwide fund-raising charitable event. £1,000 worth of National Garden Vouchers, gardening equipment prizes and trophies will be awarded at the Marrowthon Grand Final in London on Saturday 16th September. There are Junior, Adult and Team marrow competitions, with classes for weight, length, decorative and ‘unusual looking’ marrows. Details click here.

Papaver nudicaule ‘Poppy Bussana’
A lovely new Iceland Poppy that was originally bred for cut flowers, but also makes a lovely border plant. Free-flowering and in a wide range of colours. It won the title ‘Most Promising Novelty’ as a cut flower cultivar at FloraHolland 2005.






Hippeastrum 'Mocca'
This is a cultivar that has been bred for cutting, rather than as growing as a houseplant, although it can be used for both purposes. The petals are an unusual orange-brown colour with the pale green undersides. It bears at least four, but usually five, and sometimes more flowers on each stem. These are up to 10cm (4in) in diameter.




Veronica ‘Christa’
An unusual cultivar that grows like any other hardy herbaceous Veronica, except that its spikes of dark blue blossoms end as a cockscomb. The tips of the flower spikes are green when young.






Diary

RHS Pinks Open Day
14th June
Garden Meeting Room,
Hillside Events Centre,
RHS Garden
Wisley
Surrey
UK
Web-site click here.


Happy Gardening

Philip

GardenMessenger

Today’s Sponsor

Yardiac.com - The Ultimate Garden Center


If you have enjoyed this publication, you may also like to visit the monthly SeedMessenger gardeners’ seed saving and seed exchange blog click here.
and the weekly water gardening blog PondMessenger click here.

Photos:
Late Blight: USDA
Hydrangea paniculata: Royal Horticultural Society
Fig: Wikipedia
New Plants: Flower Council Holland

To join the GardenMessenger gardening community
click here
.

To visit the SeedMessenger seed exchange web-site
click here
.



Directory of Gardening Blogs

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Water Gardens Endangered, Schizanthus, Marking Out An Oval

Waterlily heritage threatened

The main purpose of this blog is to provide news, views, information and updates about gardening matters. It has never been my intention for it to become a soapbox for my opinions, but once in a while something in the news causes my grave concern and I feel it important to share those concerns with the wider world. This involves a serious threat to the future of one of international horticulture’s most treasured centres of excellence, Bennetts Water Gardens in the south of England. One of the most ill-conceived proposals that can be imagined, is being put forward by Andrew Price, Head of Planning for the local Dorset County Council. A decision having been deferred at a meeting of the Council’s Planning Committee on 5th May, it is expected that it will reappear for consideration at a meeting on 2nd June (although at present it is not scheduled in that meeting agenda).

Mr Price is tabling a proposal to the Council Planning Committee recommending that they approve a waste transfer station and sorting depot within 50 metres of the world famous Bennetts Water Gardens at Putton Lane, Chickerell, Weymouth. Gardening organisations, professionals, and enthusiasts from around the world have been horrified to learn belatedly of the proposal and are organising opposition by making the members of the Planning Committee, the Head of Planning, as well as the local press and gardening media aware of the opposition, which goes well beyond the shores of Britain. If you want to know more about this folly and would like to add your voice to the growing chorus of dissent, please visit the PondMessenger blog click here, where I have related the controversy and provide contact details so that you can have your say. I do hope that you will help to stop this foolishness.

Poor Man's Orchid

One of my favourite plants for indoor display is Schizanthus. While most popular house plants are perennial, Schizanthus, or the Poor Man's Orchid, is annual and discarded after flowering. Plants are often sold in full flower in the garden centre or florists during the autumn and winter, but the enthusiast can easily raise plants from seed sown during the summer months. Although widely known as the Poor Man's Orchid, because of the orchid-like shape and markings of the blossoms, Schizanthus is not remotely related to the orchid family. It is a fast-growing plant with much-divided soft green, somewhat fleshy foliage, and conical-shaped mounds or loose spikes of brightly coloured, usually pink, red and gold blossoms which look like small butterflies. The old-fashioned species Schizanthus wisetonensis, grows to about 1.2m (48in), but the compact hybrid mixture 'Hit Parade', and other short-growing strains scarcely exceeds 45cm (18in). These are wonderful pot plants and the ones usually sold by florists.

Being annuals, Schizanthus can be successfully grown from young plants to maturity in soil-less compost. They require regular potting on, and the taller S.wisetonensis must be staked for support once the plants have reached a height of no more than 30cm (12in). Schizanthus will tolerate low temperatures, but dislikes wide variations. Good stocky plants can be achieved with a temperature of 5º -10°C (41º-50ºF) and plenty of light. Much warmer conditions encourage them to grow out of character and become floppy, the flower stems twisting and kinking badly. When raising Schizanthus from seed always select the most vigorous young plants to grow on and discard the rest. During the growing period be ruthless and remove any plants that do not make good progress. Apart from being grown solitarily as pot plants, Schizanthus can be grouped together in a large pot for striking impact. Plant evenly developing plants together for the best effect.

Marking out an Oval

Loop a length of string around the three inner pegs and take up the slack with a short, sharp piece of bamboo cane.

The neighbours a couple of doors down the road from my parents are enthusiastic newcomers to gardening, and have enquired as to how they could accurately mark out an oval flower bed. I thought back to my early days in horticulture and working for a landscape company. Also more recently when I was photographed for a gardening encyclopaedia actually undertaking that very task, so I have dug out my old notes and relate them here for Jill and Derek, and anyone else who is interested in producing an accurate oval shape for either a flower bed or garden pond.

Knock pegs in at both ends and the intended centre point of the shape. Add two more pegs at two-thirds of the distance between the centre and end pegs.

Tie a length of string around four of the pegs. This establishes the correct length for the marker.

Loop this length of string around the three inner pegs and take up the slack with a short, sharp piece of bamboo cane.

Making sure that the string is held taut, score a line in the ground with the sharpened bamboo, moving in a curve around the centre peg.

Moving around towards the end peg will result in the bamboo cane naturally inscribing an oval shape on the ground.

Once the ground has been marked with the cane, sprinkle sand along the line in order to define it clearly.

News

Anthurium ‘Hocus Pocus Brown’
This is fascinating cultivar of this popular indoor plant. The flower gives the appearance of having two bracts, but in fact it is one. This is dark brown with red veining and has a contrasting pencil-like spadix . It grows up to 60cm (24in) high.







Sansevieria cylindrica ‘Skyline’
A novelty house plant with grey-green leaves which are both grooved and striped. The long dark green grooves run the length of leaf and the dark green stripes are horizontally. Each leaf is about 3cm (1in) thick and arranged as an upward pointing fan. Small pinkish flowers




Chukrasia tabularis ‘Sleeping Beauty’
This is a tropical tree, popularly known as Chittagong Wood , which following experimental pot culture and selection, is now being sold as a house plant. Its great attraction is that each evening it folds up its leaves and goes to sleep. Next morning it awakes and the leaves are unfurled once more.






Diary

North American Lily Society Show and Symposium
12th - 16th July
Eau Claire,
Wisconsin,
USA.
Web-site click here.




Happy Gardening

Philip

GardenMessenger

Today’s Sponsor


Photos:
Schizanthus: Suttons Seeds
Marking Out: Interpet
New Plants: Flower Council Holland

If you have enjoyed this publication, you may also like to visit the monthly SeedMessenger gardeners’ seed saving and seed exchange blog click here.
and the weekly water gardening blog PondMessenger click here.

To join the GardenMessenger gardening community
click here
.

To visit the SeedMessenger seed exchange web-site
click here
.



Directory of Gardening Blogs

Friday, May 26, 2006

The "Missing Link"? Conifers from Seed and New Plants

Amborella trichopoda - The "Missing Link"?

Scientists believe that they may have found the "Missing Link" in the evolution of flowering plants. The results of a recently published study made at the University of Colorado, Boulder, in the United States involving a "living fossil plant" that has survived on Earth for 130 million years, suggests that its novel reproductive structure may be a "missing link" between flowering plants and their ancestors. The Amborella plant, Amborella trichopoda, which is only found in the rain forests of New Caledonia in the South Pacific, has a unique way of forming "eggs" that may represent a critical link between the angiosperms (or so-called flowering plants), and their as yet unidentified extinct ancestors. Angiosperms are thought to have diverged from gymnosperms (which comprise the conifers and cycads amongst garden plants) and the dominant land plants when dinosaurs reigned in the Cretaceous and Jurassic periods roughly 130 million years ago, and to have become the dominant plants on Earth today.

"One of the biggest challenges for evolutionary biologists is understanding how these flowering plants arose on Earth," said Prof. Friedman, of Colorado University’s ecology and evolutionary biology department, whose research has just been published. "The study shows that the structure that houses the "egg" in Amborella is different from every other flowering plant known, and may be the potential missing link between flowering plants and their progenitors. In basic terms, Amborella has one extra sterile cell that accompanies the egg cell in the female part of its reproductive apparatus known as the embryo sac". The discovery of the unique configuration of the egg apparatus, which is thought to be a relic of intense evolutionary activity in early angiosperm history, "is akin to finding a fossil amphibian with an extra leg," according Prof Friedman. "The unique four-celled egg apparatus in Amborella could represent a critical link between angiosperms and gymnosperms."

The origin and evolution of flowering plants has long confounded scientists. Nearly 130 years ago, Charles Darwin, known for developing the theory of natural selection, called the appearance of flowering plants "an abominable mystery." The surprising new finding suggests flowering plants may have arisen on Earth during a time when plant evolution was "particularly flexible." The peculiar egg-forming structure seen in Amborella may eventually link the odd South Pacific shrub to gymnosperms such as conifers, thinks Prof. Friedman. "We associate this structure with a relatively primitive reproductive process," he said. Amborella is a small shrub with tiny greenish-yellow flowers and red fruit that grows only in the understory of New Caledonia rain forests. The plants are unisexual, producing either all male or all female flowers, and so cross-pollination between plants is required for the single-seed fruits to be produced.

This is fascinating information for those gardeners with a broad interest in plants that goes beyond their cultivation and decorative or economic value. However, most will also want to know whether Amborella is easy to grow and if it has any decorative merit. According to early horticultural work with the plant by the University of California Santa Cruz Arboretum, once its requirements were understood it was not particularly tricky to grow, and they suggested as long ago as 1999 that they might undertake the propagation of Amborella as a novelty plant for hobby gardeners. As far as I can discover this has not happened to any great extent and it has not become available in the horticultural trade. Clearly it is not a high flying ornamental. Unlike the living fossil, Metasequoia glyptostroboides, which was the focus of similar attention in the 1940s and has gone on to become a most valuable deciduous conifers for garden and landscape.

Conifers can be easily seed raised

It was originally conifers that I was going to write about today before being distracted by the Amborella story. This was following a note received from Mark in Bendigo, Victoria, Australia, about the best way to raise conifers from seed. Of course it is presently the season in Australia when cones are freely available on mature coniferous trees and are full of ripe seeds, although seeds of many of the most popular conifers for the garden are now widely available from seed suppliers. Irrespective of their source or where you live in the temperate world it is still an opportune time to sow seeds of conifers.

Although growing conifers from seed may seem a very long-term project, and in many cases the gardener who sows the seed is unlikely to see the mature tree in all its glory, this is nevertheless a viable and very exciting enterprise. Most conifers are easy to germinate, and amongst the most popular kinds are a number that will attain a respectable size within two or three years. Certainly of a stature that will give even the most impatient gardener the feeling that raising conifers from seed is a viable prospect. There are many kinds of conifer seeds but most are of a conventional nature and easy to handle. It is only a few like Araucaria - the Monkey Puzzle and Bunya Pine - that create any difficulty. These are oily seeds that must not be allowed to dry out if they are to retain their viability. Indeed, they often start to germinate immediately they fall from the tree, tiny embryo roots starting to emerge within a matter of days. Clearly for the best results, immediate sowing is essential.

Sow Araucaria seed directly from the cone

The more usual pine and cypress seeds are sown in a similar manner to many other garden seeds, usually being stored until the spring before sowing in order to benefit from a full growing season, although in practice they can be started at most times of the year. Although it is easier to control seedlings that are raised in pots, it is quite common to sow these directly into the open ground in a well prepared nursery bed, or else a special bed created in a cold frame. While frame protection is not necessary for cold weather, except with a few sub-tropical species, it is much easier to protect the seeds and emerging seedlings from birds and vermin in a frame structure if this is carefully netted. If pots or seed trays are used, then any compost that is suitable for seed sowing can be employed. Each kind has its advantages and disadvantages. Soil-less compost offers a perfect structural medium for maximum germination, although because of its friable nature it is often not harsh and coarse enough to remove the seed coats from emerging seedlings. Hand removal often causes damage and leaves the green tissue open to infection. Non-removal will generally lead to the demise of the seedling.

Soil-based seed composts do not always produce the same germination results as soil-less composts. However, they are usually sufficiently harsh and abrasive to remove the seed coats from seedlings as they push up towards the light. Being soil-based such composts are mostly colder, and seed germination is rarely as rapid as when a soil-less medium is used. On the other hand seedlings produced in a compost composed mostly of soil are generally much hardier and easier to handle and transplant than their soil-less raised counterparts. Both are sterilized mediums, and while this means that attacks by soil-borne pathogens are minimised and weed seeds are eliminated, it also means that the fungal associations that conifers enjoy with soil dwelling micro-organisms are unavailable, and seedling development is inhibited compared with seedlings that are raised in natural soil, especially soil where conifers have been growing previously.

It is the knowledge that conifers benefit from this association with soil-borne fungi or mychorriza that has given rise to the invention of the Dunneman Seed Bed. This is a seed bed that incorporates conifer needles and similar "forest floor" debris which is then used as a seed germination and growing on medium. Gardeners have taken this foresters’ technique for seed raising and adapted it to their own circumstances. The best way to do this is to inoculate a soil-based compost with a mixture of soil and debris from beneath a garden conifer. Mix up to half and half by volume to create an excellent seed sowing medium. This can be made into a small nursery bed in a frame, or else seeds can be sown directly into pots or trays filled with the mixture.

Conifers have an association with soil-borne fungi

Sow seeds sparingly and cover them by about their own depth with compost. All the popular garden conifer species are best germinated in cool conditions, a temperature of 7.5 -12.5ºC (45-55ºF) being perfectly adequate. The growing medium should be kept moist, but not wet. There is great variation with the period of time during which conifers will germinate. Some will emerge within a week or ten days while others make take several months. Not all will germinate uniformly, so if only a handful of seedlings appear, once they are transplanted, retain the pan or flat of compost for several months before discarding the contents as further seedlings may appear.Conifer seedlings should be transplanted as soon as they are large enough to handle. Plant in individual pots or modules so that they can develop a strong fibrous root-ball. Pot grown conifer seedlings are much easier to transplant and establish then those that are lifted bare-rooted from nursery rows.

News

Chrysanthemum ‘Osorno’
This recently introduced Chrysanthemum is the toast of the Dutch cut flower trade, already in the few months since its introduction having sold over 1 million cut stems. Now it is being considered as a prospect for the hobby gardener. Of course it may behave differently in the home garden where it will lack the sophisticated environment of the commercial cut flower grower, but the chances are that it will make a most useful addition to the green flowers that are currently available to floral art enthusiasts. ‘Osorno’ has a fairly flat flower head and medium-sized dark green leaves. It also has a strong natural resistance to disease. The name Osorno is derived from the volcano of the same name in Chile. Keep a look out for this cultivar appearing in nurseries shortly.

Nepenthes ‘Rebecca’
This is a cultivar that has been developed for the house plant trade. For the first time gardeners can buy a Nepenthes that is of neat, compact and even habit. Its pendulous pitchers are dark purple, and the foliage dark green with a deep red haze.








Diary

15th - 24th September
Toowoomba,
Queensland,
Australia.
Web-site click here.

Happy Gardening

Philip

GardenMessenger

Today’s Sponsor


Photos:
Amborella: University of Colorado
Conifers: Wikipedia
Chrysanthemum and Nepenthes: Flower Council Holland

If you have enjoyed this publication, you may also like to visit the monthy SeedMessenger gardeners’ seed saving and seed exchange blog click here.
and the weekly water gardening blog PondMessenger click here.

To join the GardenMessenger gardening community
click here
.

To visit the SeedMessenger seed exchange web-site
click here
.



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