I moved with my job from Great Sutton to Aberdeen at the beginning of 1993 and would like to describe some of the cultural (and other) differences I had experienced in my first year up here in the north of Scotland.
We moved from Great Sutton, near Chester, on 30th December 1992. Initially we went into a rented house while we searched for a more permanent home. The move involved bringing my already boxed early and late stools to the rented house - unfortunately there was no greenhouse, no cold-frames and no protection. January in Aberdeen is not the ideal time to leave stools outside unprotected! The late stools remained in the garage, in total darkness except at weekends when I carried them outside, weather permitting. Needless to say the lates were a complete failure as far as propagation was concerned. The early stools were treated luxuriously by comparison. I commandeered the central heating boiler and several window ledges and achieved some success in rooting; but with poor quality cutting material, due to lack of light, the resultant plants were far from ideal.
This is when the phone came in useful. Within a couple of hours I had organised supplies of rooted cuttings to cover all my needs for both earlies and lates. By the end of February my plants were beginning to arrive almost daily, parcels appeared from Great Sutton, Chester, Wrexham, Llandudno and Denton Burn.
Space, or rather the lack of it, proved to be my next problem. With 80 + earlies and 70 or so lates now in 3" pots or standard trays the window ledges were in short supply. It would have to be cold frames; two were hastily constructed by making lightweight wooden frames covered in clear polythene sheeting. Problem solved? Not so! March in Aberdeen is far from warm and the sun is still so Iow in the sky that if your garden is surrounded by trees, as mine was, then there are very few places where the sun actually reaches the ground level. The result of this was an absence of root development in a number of cutivars due to prolonged cold, damp conditions and of lack of light. In some cultivars (Roy Coopland, Primrose Sam Vinter, John Wingfields) the roots began to turn brown and die off. I was also concerned at this time that the healthiest plants would become thin and drawn so a growth retardant was used to keep them short and stocky.
The cutivars which came through this treatment reasonably well were Marian Gosling, Chempak Rose, Gillette, Ginger Nut and Matlock in the Earlies, and West Broms. and Corngold in the lates. My next concern was stopping. I knew that my Chester dates would be far too late here in Aberdeen and thought that 4-6 weeks earlier should be about right. This meant stopping between end March and mid April for my Earlies, with similar dates for the first stop for lates which I planned to flower on second crown. The dilemma was that while I knew that stopping should be done now the plants just weren't ready - no vigour, no root development and no chance of breaks coming away quickly. I decided to stop them anyway on the basis that any further time lost would probably not be made up during the growing season.
During March/April we found a house to buy and moved in on 30th April. All plants were still in 3" pots or standard trays at this stage. I had delayed moving them on for several reasons. Firstly, the problems in handling over 150 plants in 5" pots, but secondly, and more importantly, they weren't ready, still very slow root development in most cultivars. Things began to improve by the end of April/early May as temperatures improved and days lengthened, most cultivars were in 5" pots by this stage, some were even looking quite promising, especially West Broms., Gillette and Marian Gosling.
The next job was to get my greenhouse up quickly. This presented some problems as, while the garden faces south it also has a considerable slope which complicated the footings and brickwork for the greenhouse base. These problems were overcome with ingenuity from the local builder and by early June the greenhouse was in place. The reason why this is important is because for several years I have been growing my earlies under glass in my greenhouse from planting to flowering. During flowering time the top row of glass is removed from each side and several panes removed from each end to allow for air circulation. To prevent temperatures going too high I also used several cold fans. This technique caused a little interest with some local growers as they'd not seen this approach used before. One comment, from Donald Buchan just about summed up the climate when he said, "Och laddie, you'll nae be needing cold fans, it'll be heat that you want", and he was referring to the earlies!
By June 16th my earlies were planted, some 85+ plants in a 16x8 greenhouse -it's a bit tight at flowering time as you've probably guessed. By 20th June some 70 pots of lates had been potted up and now stood on the standing area. At last there was time to sit back and take things easy.
Growth in the earlies progressed well but it was apparent by the end of July that I was 3-4 weeks behind where I would normally be at this time. My past records indicated that the lates were similarly behind. The daylength at this time is particularly long, some 19-20 hours during midsummer. I wondered what effect this would have on both earlies and lates come flowering time.
I'd made contact with the local society shortly after arriving in Aberdeen and this paid dividends as the need to obtain show schedules became necessary. Those I couldn't obtain locally were soon supplied following a phone call to George Anderson down in Perth. By the end of August I had plenty of shows to choose from but no flowers to show. This proved to be the case until 26th September when the first flowers of any quality were cut and taken to Anstruther. Another batch were cut the following week for the St Andrews show on 2nd October. Both these shows involved a 180 mile round trip! The cultivars used at this time were Wingfields, Ginger Nuts, Peter Rowe and Gillette.
Following the St. Andrews show I decided that the need to house the lates was greater than the need to show the remaining blooms of earlies. Early October is no time to leave lates outside unprotected as frost can be very localised and quite severe at this time. The earlies were cut down and boxed, the greenhouse lined with bubble film and the lates housed over the weekend of 9/10th October. Two electric fan heaters were installed in addition to the cold fans which remained running at all times.
As far as plants went the lates looked good, if a bit behind in terms of securing buds. I had reasonable expectations. Unfortunately the lates seemed to be more affected by the climate than the earlies, which apart from timing, were comparable with the earlies I've grown back in Great Sutton. Some late cultivars virtually changed form; Corngold, normally a reasonably presentable incurving intermediate, adopted a reflexed form, only incurving at the tips of the petals. William Florentine also performed badly and appeared to be over-petalled, even on 2nd crown. Blooms were mis-shapen, small and nothing like the incurving form I had expected. Roy Coopland and Primrose Sam Vinter produced quite big flowers, perhaps 6"-7" across bur only 3"-4" in depth as a result of the first petals failing to drop back to the stem and eventually showing signs of age before the completion of bloom development. John Wingfields, on 2nd crown were a disappointment. Blooms were small, petals had no length and were rounded at the end, a bit like a New Stylist petal. Eventually many of the petals started to lift, even point upwards leaving these cultivars unshowable.
But it's not all bad news. West Brom. and Primrose West Brom. were excellent, beautiful form, minimum dressing with good size. Probably the best I've grown of these two cultivars. Stockton - again very good, finished well, not over big grown three up but with good colour throughout. Stan Addison and Winter Queens all looking good, but too late for the shows. I'll try them again next year with earlier rooting and stopping in an attempt to get them on the bench. Alexis also looks good at this time, it's about half out as I write these notes on 29th November.
In summary, for earlies essentially not a lot of difference, rooting and stopping dates need to be refined to take account of the Iow light/Iow temperature conditions during the first three months of the year. (I know that the growers in Fraserburgh, about 40 miles north of Aberdeen began their rooting programme early/mid December followed by a March stop). That apart, with the exception of Oysters which rotted and Peter Rowe which although still a reasonable incurve did not quite have the petal lay I would have liked, all the cUltivars I showed were comparable with blooms produced in Great Sutton.
For lates some serious thinking is required here. The most successful cultivars I saw shown in the dec. classes were October classified such as Rileys' Dynasty shown by Jim Cathcart of Anstruther at Perth Late Show, probably the best Dynasty I've ever seen. Other cultivars were Rebecca Walker and Shirley McMinn from Alan Ainsworth at the Brechin Late Show, again excellent blooms.
The problem areas with lates appear to be daylength during mid summer followed by lack of light from September onwards. I believe the Iow light factor to be the more significant problem. The absence of sunshine, therefore energy, being a major contributor to slow bloom development and subsequent ageing of lower petals before some cultivars reached a showable state. I now know why I'm the only grower of lates in Aberdeen and the only grower north of Brechin!
It is not possible to complete these notes about my first year in Aberdeen without mentioning the shows and the people. At every show I attended, from the RHS show in Aberdeen to the Cupar Late show, as exhibitor or member of the viewing public, there was a warm and friendly welcome with many offers of advice and stock should I need it. New friends were met, perhaps too many to mention them all, but nevertheless some who deserve a special thanks for their help and perseverence with this Sassenach interloper. Thanks therefore to Donald Buchan and Stewart Farmerey of Aberdeen, George Anderson of Perth, Tom Buchan of Fraserburgh, Jim Cathcart of Anstruther and the members and committee of the Cupar Society.
Finally, special thanks have to go to friends back home, as without their provision of plants in the early part of the year there would have been no 1993 showing season for me. Thanks to Colin, Paul, Charlie, Wyn and Ron of Chester Society and Mike Robbie of Newcastle.
This article was written and first published in 1994 in the NCS Autumn Bulletin.
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Last updated on 16 December, 2001