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.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Gerberas, Chelsea Garden and New Plants

Gerberas are great cut flowers

Gerberas are wonderful plants for the gardener who enjoys cut flowers, and are especially versatile for those who grow them in large pots or a border in the greenhouse for cutting. Of course there are numerous species and cultivars and they have many uses, some of the shorter growing kinds being perfect for container growing or planting in a sunny border. If you want to learn about the rich diversity of these plants, then there are few better places to go for information than the specialist web-site of the Gerbera Association click here. However, I just want to keep here to the cut flower kinds, for there are some interesting new cut flower cultivars being released in The Netherlands, and a new simple technique for improving flower quality, production and flowering period, which ordinary gardeners can take and use from recent practices developed in the Dutch cut flower industry.

The technique, referred to as Scissor Topping, was an accidental discovery by specialist gerbera grower Gerard Vriend , who two years ago through force of circumstances, had to plant gerberas that had been cut back hard. The results were surprising, for compared with his conventionally grown leafy plants, the new plantings produced better quality flowers, with a flowering period that extended three weeks longer than usual. He has since reported that the reduction in leafy growth has also resulted in less pest problems, and topping has demonstrably increased tap root production to the ultimate benefit of the plants. So it would seem that in the case of gerberas, it is a case of getting out with the scissors and removing all leafy growth after flowering, and also at the time of re-potting in order to greatly improve the quality of our plants. It would also be worth experimenting with other plants that we grow in a similar manner. There may be lessons to be learned there too.

Experimenting with grapes

I guess it must be the small boy in me, but I love to hear of practical experiments, such as we used to conduct in the physics laboratory at school, especially when they are applied to gardening. The following note I came across yesterday, and I suspect that it will have little practical application to any reader here, unless you happen to have a vineyard. However, as my youngest son would say "I think it’s cool" and worth relating. Estimating grape yields in commercial plantings is apparently a necessary and time-consuming, but laborious affair. However, that could change, thanks to experiments by Agricultural Research Service scientists in Prosser, Washington, United States. The horticulturists there have developed an automated system for estimating grape yields based on tension changes in the trellis wire used to support the vine crop.

The team is still field-testing the system, but the hope is that the yield estimates it produces will allow growers and processors to better synchronize their pruning, watering, picking and juice-making operations. Apparently the current method of estimating grape yields involves counting berry clusters on sample vines, followed by the counting and weighing of individual berries. The averages are then compared to records from past seasons to predict the current crop's likely yield. Imprecise estimates can sometimes be costly. For example, an inflated yield estimate might lead a winery to order more barrels than it actually needs. The researchers’ automated system employs a device called a load cell to detect increases in the tension of trellis wire as grape clusters form and berries enlarge. A data logger records signals generated by the tension changes every 10 seconds, formulating an average every 15 minutes. This is then downloaded and processed for eventual use in predicting grape yield. Once validated with field tests though, the process will be completely automated, providing users with real-time information on their crop's progress. Fascinating stuff.

Chelsea Show Gardens Preview

During each of the days running up to the Chelsea Flower Show I am previewing a show garden. Although these are often regarded as garden theatre and not as sustainable under normal gardening conditions, they are often full of interesting and innovative ideas which can be taken, at least in part, and used in our gardens at home.

Natural Elements - The Green Room

This garden recreates the atmosphere of a sub-tropical forest clearing, with a contemporary twist on the English classics of a pergola and hanging baskets. Caspar Gabb, the garden designer, says that walking in Australia, New Zealand and Madeira were the inspiration for The Green Room.Mature specimen trees, tree ferns, driftwood Totems and five hanging 'tower' baskets create a sheltered clearing. The irregular paving suggests naturally textured ground. The planting is soft and informal with an emphasis on form and texture. Woven willow stems give a natural vertical background, with mirrors reflecting the abundance of greenery in the garden.


New Gerberas
As I have been discussing gerberas I thought that I would investigate a little further and see what the next cultivars available to us gardeners will be like. Of course the majority, especially of those that are grown for cut flowers, start off in the cut flower industry and we only get to see them as blooms at the florist’s. Only a few of these then get into the hands of home gardeners, but that is largely our own fault because we do not push nursery folk to seek out some of the very good cultivars that are available in the floristry trade and make them available to us. Having said that, many floricultural flowers are not suited to home garden cultivation, but with gerberas it is different, those grown commercially are well suited to home garden conditions.

‘Sandeman’ Cream flowers with black centres, 12-13cm (4-5in) diameter. Cut stems 65cm (26in).14-16days vase life.

‘Paparazzi’ Brown flowers with black centres,12-13cm (4-5in) diameter. Cut stems 70cm (27in). 12-14 days vase life.

‘Pasta' Cream flowers with green centres, 10-12cm (3-4in) diameter. Cut stems 60cm. (24in) 12-14 days vase life.

‘Suzy’ Lilac flowers with black centres 10-12cm (3-4in) in diameter. Cut stems 60cm (24in). Vase life 12-14 days.

‘Tinkerbell’ Orange flowers with black centres 10-12 cm (3-4in) in diameter. Cut stems 65cm (26in). Vase life 12-14 days.


RHS Chelsea Flower Show,
23rd-27th May
Royal Hospital Grounds,

Note: The Royal Horticultural Society state that all tickets for all days are sold out. I will bring as much interesting and varied news about the show, the gardens and the plants as I can over the coming week.

Happy Gardening



Today’s Sponsor

Gerbera: Wikipedia
Grapes: USDA
Chelsea Garden: Royal Horticultural Society
New Gerberas: Scheurs

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