Saturday, 10 February 2018


As a kid, I remember coming home from school and some plant or other in the garden that was lookin great in the morning would have been hacked horribly, its dignity lost, possibly at risk of never coming back. That would see me fuming with my father, the perpetrator. I knew nothing about plants back then, except generically liking them. I never asked why he did that.

I went on, living my life without knowing anything about plants pretty much until I came to the UK and got my first garden.

Five years ago I was thought how to prune at Kew (mainly by Rossana Porta and Tom Freeth) and by amazing Bob Lever for the London Orchard Project. That will stay with me forever.

It got me the best compliment I could wish for: I was asked to cut a Garrya by half that was shading windows on the side of a building. After I finished, my boss said you could not tell it had been pruned at all. Oh the satisfaction!

A little bit more I learnt at Wisley with the Fruit team. And after all I took from my teachers, I have been trying to spread the word. Of course I do it for the plants!

This year, the lovely people on my new plot, the Sunnyside Allotment Society, organised for me to give a couple of demonstrations. The first one was this afternoon, in the most annoying drizzle ever experienced on the British Isles... lovely participants nonetheless, and some braved it out till the very end, too!

Proof of the miserable weather
and the patience of the participants!
Pics by Andy

Anyway, for anyone that might be interested, here are the notes from the session, and a compendium of all the pruning posts on this blog.

Natural shape fruit pruning

Fruit pruning leaflet

Using secateurs

The art and science of pruning

Some notes on where to cut

All about apple pruning

About containing a pyramid Prunus

Pole pruning for restoration, formative pruning in an orchard

Blackcurrants and big bud

Cane management


Trained fruit

Trained apple and pears

Gooseberry cordons pruning and propagation

Maintenance of a trained fig

Of spindles

Double Guyot vines

Indoors trained vines part I, part II


Cloud pruning

Even roses, if you fancy

Friday, 21 August 2015

Putting the culture back into horticulture

Breeding for biodiversity and sustainability with the help of the public.
The case of Oxalis tuberosa.
Part of the coursework for my RHS Special Option Certificate in Fruit and Vegetable Cultivation took the form of a dissertation, so I made use of the opportunity to explore a topic that I had at heart.

For the last year I have been supporting the launch of a collaborative breeding project for oca (Oxalis tuberosa) in the UK: the Guild of Oca Breeders. Oca is an Andean crop which starts tuberising when days get shorter at the end of the summer. However, in temperate climates, the underground growth of the tuber is checked by frost, which kills the leaves above the ground. The same happened to the potato when it was first introduced in Europe, before day-neutral varieties were bred. The Guild aims to breed oca, which is a delicious tuber, in the same direction as the potato was. Because breeding is a resource-intensive process, and since there is little or no commercial interest in sponsoring it, the project wants to mobilise the help of voluteers.

As I explored the various aspects of the project, I realised that a great deal of interesting topics had to be touched upon:
  • the relationship between culture and agriculture: people plants and the land; 
  • the breeding requirements for small and sustainable growers: resilient, locally adapted varieties, rather than uniform crops suitable for shipping around the world (which are favoured by "conventional", industrial agriculture)
  • the intricacies and costs related to plant breeding rights and their impact on access to seeds;  
  • issues of financial viability for small breeders and the opportunities from the "citizen science" movement.

With limited time on top of a full time job and plenty of other coursework, I could only scratch the surface, but I think my dissertation works as a very high level introduction to the topics above, referencing some rather interesting articles - so I decided to publish it here.

The table of contents goes as follows:

Putting the culture back into horticulture

  • Edible crops for the future
  • Sustainability, knowledge and culture
  • Biodiversity for resilience
Plant breeding and participatory models
  • Issues with current breeding methods and legislation
  • Breeding for low input and marginal lands
  • Participatory Plant Breeding
  • Citizen science, open source, open data
Oca breeding and the Guild of Oca Breeders
  • Oca a crop for the future
  • Small scale oca breeding
  • The Guild of Oca Breeders