Guidance on considering when to order trees and shrubs

Please read this in conjunction with the associated chart which you can download by clicking here: The Forest Garden tree availability guide

I find myself writing this item in the February / March period, unusually with 75mm of snow on the ground, as this is the time when I usually get a flurry of enquiries from people trying to fulfil their tree and shrub requirements for the forthcoming growing season.  Just as I did some years ago when I started out, potential customers can get a little frustrated when the plant of their choice is no longer available due to it being already sold out or in the case of e.g. Japanese plum and Almond trees, they can no longer be lifted because they are flowering (as is the case at this very moment).  Hence, I have produced the chart (referred to above) to help prevent you being frustrated during this process.

By studying the chart, you will note that it is not advisable to use the long winter evenings to decide which trees and shrubs you require during the approaching season. Instead, winter is the time to consider which annual plants you will require, though they do not feature in this particular chart. This chart encourages you to make your selection of trees and shrubs in the summer when you might like to obtain a species seen in someone else’s garden.

You can pre-order now for the autumn but the optimum month to order them and to ensure availability, in most cases, is August when the nurseries are organising their stock for the winter.  Please see the chart for clarification.

You can still order after the optimum months (indicated by the darker shades in the chart) but the lighter shading indicates the period when you risk the stock being no longer available for the above reasons.

Note that within the industry there are many variables so the chart is written as a guide for the majority of species and does not cover every method of propagation or size of tree or shrub available.

‘Liners’ refers to plants that are usually in a 7 to 11 cm pot (as a guide a 9cm pot is referred to as a P9) and, for all species, they are ideal for mail order as each container is of minimum weight, which is particularly helpful for ground cover plants where large quantities can be required.

After the plant has outgrown the liner size pot it will be in its second year and, most likely, be in a 1 – 2 litre pot.

Cell grown plants are seeds germinated or cuttings rooted and grown in what looks like a very deep egg tray with a typical cell being 30mm across and 100mm deep.

Young bare rooted native trees 1 to 2 rears old like wild cherry and hazel are usually known as whips or in the case of fruit trees the term ‘maiden’ is used.

The term ‘year old’ refers to a growing season.

Hardwood cuttings are usually bare root or like the seeds can be grown in cells in their first year. However many species don’t make enough size in their first year to sell but can be either bare root or containerised for the second year when most of those species are usually saleable.

It’s worth noting that due to various diseases like Ash dieback there is less movement of native species from Europe and in some nurseries demand has outstripped supply.

A future diary note will include guidance on deciding whether to order ‘Pot Grown’ or ‘Bare Root’ options.

Simon Miles NCH RHS 07/03/2018

Winter Greens

One of the most common questions asked is ‘What do you eat in the winter months when the weather is less favourable?’ Well there certainly are various leaves and tubers amongst other edible gems, and some of the top fruit lasts into February. Of course the furry skinned Kiwi (Actinidia deliciosa) being brought inside to complete its ripening process from November to February is a favourite too.

However, most abundant of all are the winter greens which will mean different things to different people. Today I would like to focus on perennial Kales, and Sea Beet.

Perennial Kales can grow to 1m plus and live for approximately five years. By now the harvest should be in full swing. Harvest down to the last 4 to 6 leaves per plant if you wish, as this will help keep the foliage at a level where the plant will be less prone to wind damage.  Staking for many locations will be essential.

Daubenton's Kale

Daubenton’s Kale

I keep three different forms of this kale including one called Taunton Dean which seems to be the tallest (1.5m) and has a slightly blue hew to it with a tinge of red to the mid rib within leaf. One called Daubenton’s variegated and is a ‘cousin’ to another called Daubenton’s which has a plain green leaf although they too can have a red mid rib when the plant is short of food.  All three as far as I am aware, and certainly here with me have not attempted to produce seed which makes them productive all year round. However all of the kales are productive in the depth of winter here in Cornwall UK in our Marine temperate 7 climate. I personally like to eat at least 6 raw leaves a day as I graze my way around the Forest Garden and nursery. However, most people cook them by lightly steaming them. Alternatively, chopping them up fine into a salad is a pleasing option.

Kales are very nutritious but most of all it’s that intake hit of Chlorophyll (that is missing from many of our diets) that I feel contributes to my uplift in energy and mental focus. It is one of the best high return food fuels that we can put into the human body.

If you study kale you can often observe a fine hew on the surface which I understand to be a fungal layer associated with the plant can, as I understand, be beneficial to the human digestive gut flora, if eaten raw.

Daubenton's variegated Kale

Daubenton’s variegated Kale

Kales are brassicas and favour lime based soils. With annual brassicas where the ph level is to low (to acidic), lime spreading has to be done annually due to the lime being lost in digging or ploughing. A perennial Kale in a no-dig bed can be limed if lime is required (check your soil ph and act accordingly) but due to the lack of digging, a single application of lime will in most cases can last the life time of the plant by acting as a slow release agent.

Plants are best planted out small from a 9cm (P9) pot or a 1 Litre pot and allowed to grow into their environment. If planting out a larger plant that has been grown under protection I have found it worth removing all of the foliage bar the lead shoots and let the plant grow fresh leaves to suit its new location. The new leaves are usually smaller but more turgid and suited to the outdoor life.

If you have a polytunnel or glass house, you can grow plants either in the ground or, for a year, they will do well in pots. Pots are at best looked at as a temporary home for most plants with the exception of those such as bonsai and others where root restriction is beneficial.

With regards to pests, slugs and snails will be tempted but amongst the standard armoury, a layer of green waste compost across the whole of your bed followed by a layer of lime (if required for ph adjustment) and then fine beach sand around the base about 300mm in diameter can be beneficial as the slugs don’t like the salt and need to expend a lot of slime to travel across it. You will have to experiment as to how often you will need to top up the sand to retain the salt content; if the lime layer is used without the salt this will also need checking to ensure it is effective. All of the above layers leave no hiding places for slugs.

Cabbage white butterflies will be tempted to lay their eggs so either use suitable netting or you can apply an organic spray two or three times a year which will make the foliage indigestible to the caterpillars.

I am informed that this spray has no known detrimental effect on humans. The spray period is usually from April to August, so there is no need to worry about your winter production as the butterflies are not airborne at this time of year.

Sea Beet harvesting should be in good production too. Sea Beet is found on the shorelines of the UK’s beaches growing where most plants would fear to tread at the top of the beach, often in sand, so they have adapted to have a tap root to insure a sufficient water supply. This plant is the perennial relative of the annual spinach plant grown in our vegetable patches and on our farms. Harvest young leaves regularly to avoid them getting weathered. Urine occasionally applied over the roots is one of the best natural fertilisers for this plant as is the occasional dose of Epsom Salts. It is useful to mulch with 40mm of green waste compost. This plant enjoys being planted in manure. Do not fret if they look like a disaster in the summer; it is just that the plants put everything into trying to make seed. For eating purposes, it is how they look in the winter months that matters.


Enjoy your Forest Gardening


Revised – 19/03/18

Cornish Apple Varieties

Below are a few of the apple tree names known as Cornish varieties. In truth, alas, there are no native named varieties of Malus domestica, the productive apple. Originating from Kazakhstan and Southern Asia, Apple trees dribbled into the British Isles most likely through trading routes. These named varieties have proved to be tolerant of the damp weather and are productive within Cornwall and most likely would do well on the west side of this country within the Marine temperate zone 7 climate. There are other national varieties that will do well in Cornwall too, but there is a far greater list of them that are poor performers away from the dry regions of the south eastern parts of the UK where the climate is classified as Temperate zone 7, without the word ‘marine’ included.

The Cornish apples listed below cover eating, cooking, dual purpose and cider varieties.

A selection of Cornish Apple varieties Flowering group Use  Description
Bens Red 1 Eating Shrub like or compact tree in habit. Flat dark red or variably striped dark red on orange/ red flush. Ripens in September. Very variable in colour on site, influenced by soil and weather conditions.
Bread Fruit 2 Eating Fairly vigorous, spreading and reliable cropping; medium green with a brownish red to carmine flush and faint red broken stripes, with strawberry flavour when ripe. A second early/ mid season dessert apple.
Cornish Aromatic 4 Eating Said to be one of the finest Cornish late season apples. Keeping until Christmas and after, medium to large yellow with orange and red plus some russet colouring; sweet/ sub acid and aromatic.
Cornish Gilly flower 4 Eating Considered one of the finest flavours of all apples but needs favourable growing conditions, weather and skill of the grower. Tip bearing, whippy and if conditions prevail can be prone to scab, but said to be worth the challenge. Late to very late ripening.
Cornish mother 5 Dual Vigorous upright & spreading. Medium pale green with dull red flush and faint darker red stripes.
Lord of the Isles Cider A sub acid/acid taste closely related if not the same as to a national variety called Newton’s Wonder.
Manaccan Primrose 1-3 Dual While being sharp enough for cooking when the sugar content rises as the season progresses they can be eaten raw. There is a claim that its slight genetic mutation makes it moderately superior to The Rattler. It produces an overwhelming number of apples in late August/ early September
Pendragon 1 Eating Initially upright and weeping tree. Blossom is red; leaves are dark red/green. The fruit is small, red with dimpled skin. The flesh is deep red. Upon eating, your palate will register both bitter and sweet. Pink juice.
The Rattler See Manaccan Primrose
Tommy Knight 1-3 Cider The apples are small, red, hard and sweet on a densely twiggy tree. The fruit looks very attractive but late in arriving on the tree. Thought to originate in St Agnes before 1861. Most likely originally used for cider making or some sort of processed food but not for eating

Remember as a guide but not a hard and fast rule, the earlier the flowering, the earlier the harvest. However the later the flowering, the later the harvest but the better the fruit tends to be for keeping.  Some can, in the correct conditions, keep through till March of the following season.

The flowering time for apple trees can be very variable and for ease of guiding the grower,  it has been divided into 5 flowering groups in the above tables; progressing through the flowering season in incremental stages from group one to group five. There is a definite start and stop but the intermediate groups overlap one another as the season unfolds

Remember a variety of different flowering times within your collection will give you a variety of fruiting times without all the fruit coming at once.

Also you need to bear in mind that you will need at least two varieties of trees of the same or similar flowering group for pollination, as most apples are diploids (requiring two different flowers for pollination.) For example, to pollinate a tree in flowering group 2 you will need another tree from flowering group 1, 2 or 3 to achieve fruiting. Each flowering group period overlaps the adjacent one and some trees cover more than 1 or 2 flowering group periods.

Should you choose to have a Bramley in the mix as well, you will need at least 2 other trees flowering at the same time to achieve pollination as a Bramley is a triploid and requires three flowers to enable fruiting to take place.

Finally the performance of all apple trees can be affected by a variety of factors including the weather, soil, exposure and aspect. The majority of all fruiting plants require sun to enable growth and ripening.

I have observed that it is by far best to plant a smaller apple tree and allow the tree to grow into its environment than plant a larger tree and have to stake it only for the tree to fail after the stake has rotted and naturally failed.

Seasonal tips for November – buying your trees

It’s November and the last of the Indian summer has gone, leaves are falling and with only 6 weeks to the shortest day, its feeling as if winter is here.

For the keen, the tree buying season is well under way and although not available if field grown until the leaves have fallen, it’s worth ordering now, if you’ve not done so already, to avoid disappointment. Availability lists from nurseries start being produced from August for the Autumn, and it is usually the most interesting plants that are in small quantities and quickly sell out.

As a rule, field grown plants are less expensive than pot grown ones, but it is the pot grown option that you will find available in the garden centres in the spring and early summer when many folk get inspired to sort out their gardens. So, at the beginning of the season, there are usually more purchases made on impulse.

The advantage of pot grown plants is that they are able to be planted all year round providing you are prepared to water accordingly.

The bare root field grown plant season usually ends in mid-March as the sap begins to rise. It is best to plant your bare root trees prior to Christmas as many species, despite looking dormant, will produce fine white roots ready for the spring surge. Late plantings of bare root stock, where this root production is lacking, may need watering during their early stages.

Here comes Autumn

Its October 11th 2017, the late summer weather is fading and with the first of the leaves turning colour at the end of September and high wind today, the first of the serious leaf fall is commencing and autumn is creeping forward.

Plants of interest at the Forest Garden at this moment include; “Crab apple Rose hip” with its brilliant orange fruit which has been looking good for the last 5 weeks. Some of the fruit looks almost too good to be real. It serves as an excellent pollinator to other apple trees nearby and its fruit, as their sugar level continues to rise, is just about ready to eat and certainly could be included in a fruit salad. My instinct, from having previously tasted crab apple wine, tells me that these fruits would make a good wine too.

The last of the blackberry cultivars “Thorne free” are still managing to ripen some fruit, and as a recent visitor said of the 25mm diameter fruits, “These taste like red wine”.  These plants are primo canes meaning they will flower on the current year’s growth. Indeed last year’s growth was cut down in April and it has managed to grow 6 metres in length, flowered and have been fruiting since mid-September; simply amazing!

Finally, for now, the plant of the month is the “Chilean guava”. It’s the last of the summer/autumn soft fruits. This plant, now in its 4th year, has over 300 very tasty red berries of approximately 8mm in diameter on it. The taste is not dissimilar to that of a strawberry flavoured Opal fruit or Starburst. This was reputed to be Queen Victoria’s favourite fruit, allegedly grown in Cornwall and sent to London for her consumption. Some forms of this plant can make a good hedge up to a metre high.

Blackberry Thorn free

Chilean guava

Crab apple Rosehip