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.


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.


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.


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

Happy Gardening



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