Uses for Crab Apples

Crab apples can be used as food, for ornamental effect, to help pollination, or for the wood. The wild crab apple found individually in woods has green fruit turning golden in Autumn. Cultivated crab apples vary in habit and grow upto 10 feet. Fruiting this year looks like a bumper harvest after the wet weather earlier in the year.

Crab Apples make attractive ornamental trees with their pink or white blossom, followed by colourful autumn fruits that make delicious preserves. Varieties John Downie, Golden Hornet, Laura and Red Sentinel are all self fertile. Crab apples planted near fruiting apple trees make excellent pollinators and will help pollinating bees to increase your crops.

Crab apples are used to make jelly, pickles or can be roasted and served with meat or added to winter ale or cider. Any unpicked fruits will soften after a few frosts and will create a sumptuous food source for wild birds from late January until March. For a jelly recipe with a chillie kick try Cottage Smallholder

The timber of the crab apple is uniform in texture and if dried slowly, is excellent for woodworking. At one time it was used for making set-squares and other drawing instruments. Failing that apple wood burns in your chimenea of fire grate with a nice aroma.

Order now for winter delivery Crab Apples at Thompson & Morgan


Garden Bonfires for Gardeners

Once a regular weekend event, Garden Bonfires are now fewer and further between since recycling, reusing and composting got to the top of the green agenda.
There are still occasions when a fire is the right way to go and I use one of these dustbin burners. The holes at the bottom provide air flow and the chimney restricts the amount of flying debris.
I collect the none compostable (often diseased) wood and brash in the bin until I have a load then set fire to it. After 4-5 years the bin bottom burns through and I need a new bin.
For large chunks of wood I used to have a November 5th fire but now with chimineas and Council recycling they have gone the way of Guy Fawkes.

Burning Tips

  • Avoid excessive smoke by burning dry material not soggy wet compostable stuff.
  • Do not burn plastic, foam, paint, rubber or household rubbish.
  • Be safe by not using oil, methylated spirits, or petrol to light or encourage a fire.
  • Avoid lighting fires in unsuitable weather conditions such as damp, still days or when the wind will blow smoke over roads or into neighbours gardens
  • Try to avoid bonfires when people want to enjoy their gardens such as weekends or Bank Holidays.
  • Wood ash contains potassium and is good for root crops bulbs etc.

Strange and Attractive Autumn Shrubs

It is worth inspecting closely the plants that have waited all year to bloom or display special features.

This purple and white flower combination was covering an 8 foot high and wide bushy shrub at Thorp Perrow. It was catalogued as ‘Clerodendron trichotomum’. I have managed to kill my own Clerodendron so I was happy to see a large sweetly scented plant in such robust health. The white flowers and maroon calyces will be followed by blue berries for which the plant gets its Autumn plaudits. I would recommend this variety rather than Clerodendron bungei which is less gainly and has feotid leaves.

I am trying to work out what this shapely shrub with the long blue pods is called. Any ideas?

Cornus Kausa ‘Gold Star’ is a variety to look out for with the variegated foliage and the red seed pods in Autumn.

Other Resources

Royal Horticultural Society RHS ‘Gardening for All’
National Council for Conservation of Plants and Gardens ‘Conservation through Cultivation.’
Garden Organic National Charity for Organic Gardening.
BBC Gardening


Early Seed Sowing

Victorian gardeners seem to have coped very well with the winter conditions and were able to get seeds off to an early start. The climate was not too different 150 years ago to that which we endure today so how did Victorians cope. Seed was often sown earlier than we do now and the varieties of seed were no different except for some of our softer hybrids. ‘The answer lies in the soil’ and copious amounts of compost.

Soil Condition
Great quantities of manure, ashes, soot and household waste were added to the soil. This made the soil blacker and prone to absorb what heat there was making it warmer.
Ground was deep dug in a methodical and extensive manner and potentially this broke down the frozen soil quicker than on our compacted soils.
Bell cloches walled areas and other protective measures were taken. We could make more use of the cheap cloches now available to us, using lights and cold frames is more in tune with Victorian methods..
Some beds were dressed with straw that heats as it rots away making a fermenting hot bed to get seeds started.
The sweat of the gardeners brow also contributes to a warm garden, the more effort the more you are likely to succeed.

Hotbed Structure
Building a hotbed structure to protect delicate plants involves a lot of fresh manure, details of one method are found on Gardeners Calender


Seed Collecting in Autumn

Seed collecting can be addictive. You may quickly discover you are surrounded by drying stems and paper bags but all you need is enough seeds for your immediate needs.

Shrubs may take a couple of years to develop into larger plants but you have an opportunity to increase your stock and potentially get a new cross.
Collect when the stem moves from green through yellow to brown when the seed is mature and ready. Cut the heads or stems and take inside a greenhouse, shed or garage to finally dry out hung over a sheet of paper. If seeds do not drop out naturally shake them into a paper bag. If collecting seed from berries clean away the flesh and dry the seed.

Popular Seeds
Poppy seedheads traditionally yield thousands of small black seeds from the saltshaker type head. Catch them when dry and the seed head rattles. Cut the heads and empty into a paper bag or envelope.
Foxgloves ripen progressively up the stem so to maximise seeds you may want to collect individual seed capsules. However they produce so many seeds that you may be content with taking all that are open and discarding the rest.
Some plants have ballistic mechanisms to fire seeds away from the mother plant like Pansys, Geraniums, Aquilegia and Acanthus. They need collecting and keeping in paper bags to catch the seed.
Calendula and sunflower have large seeds and are fun for kids to collect. I like Antirrhinums and plant seeds that bare a bit different or uncommon.
Not all seeds will grow true to the parent plant. Pick natural species if you want them to come true like Salvia pratensis, Lyichnis chalcedonia or Lythrum salicaria.

Mechanics of Seed Collecting

Clean the husks and plant debris away before storing the seed.
Mark the container with the variety, date collected and any notes you want to keep.
The colder and dryer, you keep the seed, the better.
Put some silica gel crystals in a lidded tupperware box with your seeds and keep them in the fridge.
Some seeds deteriorate quickly so sow by the following spring

Uses of Seeds and Seedheads

  • Poppy, Bean, Dill and Sunflower seeds are popular to eat.
  • Many other seeds feed birds through the winter so do not collect all the seed just for the sake of it.
  • Some empty seedheads look good in flower arrangements like Honesty (Lunaria) and Alliums
  • Giving excess seed away to friends or garden clubs can help other gardeners. Give them your advice as well.
  • Guerrilla gardening involves the spreading of seed in otherwise desolate places like dumping grounds and uncared for plots but only do it with care

Autumn Chrysanthemum Show

I took my camera to the Autumn flower show and came back with some colourful pictures of great Chrysanthemums. On the doormat when I got home was a newly printed catalogue for Chrysanthemums  so I thought someone was trying to tell me something.

I have not been patient or focused enough to grow good Chrysanthemums so I hoped the catalogue would give me enough pointers to fire my enthusiasm but unfortunately not. If I want to know about growing Chrysanthemums I am going to have to consult my gardening book library. In the mean time it is a ‘ reflex’ action to continue with my usual spray chrysanths and pot mums but not focus on buying plants now for delivery from February onward in the hope of growing show plants for next Autumn.

Web Resources

National Chrysanthemum Society



Onion Family Competitions

Show Onions

  • These potential prize winning onions are uniform in size, colour and shape.
  • They are ‘to schedule’ in that they are 12 of the same variety grown by the show entrant.
  • Onions should be ripened at least a fortnight before the show and take off any extremely loose outer skin. Trim off the rootlets close to the base.
  • Presentation can be crucial at your local show. These onions have been neatly tied off at the neck with raffia and mounted in clean sand. Single onions are usually mounted on a cardboard ring (like an egg cup) on a black velvet cloth if you wish.
  • 2 lb Ailsa Craig are easier to grow and more consistent than 4 lb varieties and big size prizes are for the specialist (but at this show 3 onions weighed in at 41 lbs a lot to eat at one go!)

Leeks for Show

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Gardening Consequences of a long Holiday


Will I learn from my 4 week holiday traveling Europe by train? Probably not but I can list some of the gardening events that need to be considered next time I take off.

Short Flowering Season

  • Dahlias were just coming into full bloom as I left for my holiday. I had carefully prepared the ground this year with extra helpings of horse manure as I know Dahlias are heavy feeders, a bit like the horses themselves.
  • Without the deadheading, that I would have done, they now look well past there best and are running to seed. Never the less I have cut them back quite hard in some cases and if we get a frost free autumn I may get a subsequent flush of flowers.
  • Most flowers are genetically programmed to produce seed to continue the species and when this is done the energy for flower production goes into seed production and winter survival.

Friends and Neighbors

  • My greenhouse had been well tended in return for a supply of tomatoes. The Gardeners Delight cropped well and were sweet and juicy but the cool weather in early September  has slowed the ripening of the larger varieties.
  • I ordered some plug plants, long enough ago to have forgotten, for delivery late September.  As you would expect they arrived in August just after I had left. Fortunately they were noticed on my doorstep and taken in by a sensible friend who has saved my 150 or so plants.
  • The kids came and looked at the house and watered the houseplants once each, two days apart! So no water for 3+ weeks than a double dose.
  • I was willing to sacrifice my pot plants but unrequested watering by another friend has prolonged the begonia flowering and they look a treat.

Internet Gardeners Tips

  • Before leaving I preplanned a series of web page postings – you can predate your pages. Sorry I didn’t manage to cover the whole period but only a week has gone by with nothing.
  • I now need to get some autumn photographs to help illustrate the next batch of Gardeners tips pages.

Plant Labels, Minefield or Mine of Information

This garden centre label is colourful and was surprisingly close in colour to the plant it was selling.

Beware of faded and cracked labels as this is a sign of UV deterioration and the plant will have been with the label for far too long.

Labels should be Informative

  • Labels should show the name of the plant in botanic terms (in this case Rhododendron)  and the variety in this case ‘Golden Eagle’. It often has the common name crucially missing in this case as it is a Knapp Hill Azalea.
  • Planting Instructions are usually fairly generic, in this case it mentions acid or ericaceous soil.
  • Cultural instructions include positioning, watering, feeding and where necessary pruning guidelines should be helpful.
  • A plant description giving height and spread in inches or cm, time of flowering, habit etc. Missing in this case as unlike most rhododendrons this is deciduous not evergreen.
  • It is a growing trend to include the growers details particularly where they want to impose some rights like Plant Beeders Rights

Keeping Labels

  • As far as I know there is no hobby of collecting plant labels like match boxes.
  • I keep my labels to remind me what I planted but do not put labels in the garden. May be I should reconsider as I forget more than I remember except where the Rosemary is planted!
  • Labels sometimes include the price and that amazes me years later when I think what I spent. The pre printed white tags are good for this.
  • Cut off the white tyvek tags and any bits of elastic without damaging the plant.

See more pictures of Golden Eagle

Read more about Labels Markers and Tags


Growing Carnivorous and Insectivorous Plants

Carnivorous plants are not as hard to grow as you might imagine. There are several ways you can grow interesting displays of these consuming plants. If you want to grow Pitcher plants similar to those above read Easy Carnivorous Pitcher Plants.

Tips for Growing and Displaying

  • The top Gardeners tip for these plants is to supply plenty of rainwater. Tap water contains too many chemicals.
  • The cold greenhouse display below incorporates a stream supplied by a small garden pump and recycling filter.
  • The water helps the insects, that the plant will consume, to breed.
  • You can grow your plants in a half barrel, large terracotta pot or an old rubber trug.
  • Buy hardy varieties from a specialist nursery. Badly treated plants seldom recover.
  • Discourage flowering for a couple of season to build up the plants strength.

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