Suffolk train stations back in bloom

The colour has again returned to Ipswich and Stowmarket train stations thanks to a partnership between train operator Abellio Greater Anglia, local seed and plant specialist Thompson & Morgan and Ipswich-based charity Activlives. In a repeat of last year’s hanging basket displays of Begonia ‘Apricot Shades’, volunteers, work placements and young learners from ActivLives have been busy this spring growing baskets of Thompson & Morgans’ best selling begonia, but looking to add scent as well as colour to the platforms for 2016 Begonia ‘Fragrant Falls’ has been added to the mix.

Ipswich Station Thompson Morgan, ActivLives' gardeners and Jackie Station Manager at Ipswich

Ipswich Station Thompson Morgan, ActivLives’ gardeners and Jackie Station Manager at Ipswich

Not only will the baskets brighten up the journeys of everyone who passes through the stations on the London to Norwich mainline, the project has provided local young people with valuable horticultural experience. Participants from a number of organisations, including WS Training, Talent Match and Seetec, take part in training programmes at ActivLives’ two garden projects in Ipswich to gain skills for work.

The Activlives team planted up the baskets back in April. They have since tended the choice Begonia blooms at the glasshouses in the walled garden at Chantry Park, bringing them into peak condition for display at the rail stations.

Ipswich Station Thompson Morgan with ActivLives' gardeners

Ipswich Train Station with Thompson & Morgan Blooms

Thompson & Morgan Horticultural Director, Paul Hansord said: “We were pleased with last year’s baskets, but Activlives has outperformed themselves this year, with bigger better baskets for the best impact. Planted in incredicompost® and fed with incredbloom® at planting time, these baskets are looking stunning and will continue to perform right through to autumn, with minimal care from station staff – spent flowers simply fall off to be replaced by fresh new blooms. The addition of Begonia ‘Fragrant Falls’ should really lift the spirits of workers on their daily commute and make a warm welcome for visitors and tourists passing through both stations.”

Begonia 'Fragrant Falls' & Begonia 'Fragrant Falls' at Ipswich Station

Begonia ‘Fragrant Falls’ & Begonia ‘Apricot Shades’ at Ipswich Station

Kris Collins
Kris Collins works as Thompson & Morgan’s communications officer, making sure customers new and old are kept up to date on the latest plant developments and company news via a wide range of media sources. He trained in London’s Royal Parks and has spent more than a decade writing for UK gardening publications before joining the team at Thompson & Morgan.

Decorative dual cropping veg plant holds its own against latest flower introductions

Innovative Egg & Chips® plant makes the finals in two of gardening’s most prestigious floral awards

Thompson & Morgan is celebrating a second time in as many weeks, following the industry success of its latest dual cropping creation, Egg & Chips®.
The innovative potato and aubergine graft has been well received by all sectors of the industry and customers alike, with strong sales in its first season on the market. Already an announced finalist in the RHS Chelsea Flower Show Plant of the Year, the Ipswich-based seed and plant specialist has just been informed that Egg & Chips® has also been shortlisted as one of the five finalists in the prestigious Fleuroselect Fleurostar awards.

Egg & Chips®

Egg & Chips®

Traditionally a bedding plant event, organisers where so impressed with the unique attributes of Egg & Chips® that it is being pitted against four new floral creations in this year’s ceremony; Argyranthemum ‘Grandaisy’, Dahlia x hybrida ‘Dahlegria Red Yellow Bicolor’, Dianthus caryophyllus ‘Capitán Colón’ and Begonia hybrid ‘Miss Malibu’.
Thompson & Morgan new product development manager, Michael Perry said; “We’re really pleased to see recognition being given to this very special creation. Previous finalists of these two prestigious awards, such as Petunia ‘Night Sky’ and Viburnum ‘Kilimanjaro Sunrise’, have gone on to become top-sellers for the industry, so expect to see Egg & Chips® widely grown on allotments, patios and gardens across the UK. Our recent focus on dual cropping vegetable plants has opened up home growing to everyone. Both our Egg & Chips® and Tomtato® plants allow home grown crops to be produced in the smallest of spaces. As long as you have room for a large patio pot, you have the space to grow your own potatoes and aubergines or potatoes and tomatoes.”

Egg & Chips®

Egg & Chips®

Michael says these quirky plants could be the answer to encouraging the next generation of gardeners too.  He adds: “These plants really capture the imagination of children. Grow Egg & Chips® with your kids or grandkids this summer and see their amazement as they harvest large shiny aubergines from the top and a crop of large white potatoes from the pot below.”

Egg & Chips®

Egg & Chips®

The FleuroStar Contest will be held at nine locations in The Netherlands and Germany as part of the annual Flower Trials open days. More than 30 professionals working in plant breeding, production and retail, as well as trade journalists and marketing specialists, will choose the ‘Winner with the Wow Factor’ based on the highest average score on commercial potential and point of sale attractiveness. The winner will be announced on 16th June at the Green Inspiration Event at RAI Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Egg and Chips® can be grown outside in a sunny sheltered spot and will crop right through to the first frosts of autumn – even longer if you can bring the pot indoors later in the season. So there is still time to grow Egg & Chips® this season. Visit www.thompson-morgan.com and search ‘Egg & Chips®’ to order yours.

Kris Collins
Kris Collins works as Thompson & Morgan’s communications officer, making sure customers new and old are kept up to date on the latest plant developments and company news via a wide range of media sources. He trained in London’s Royal Parks and has spent more than a decade writing for UK gardening publications before joining the team at Thompson & Morgan.

Golden Wonder!

RHS Chelsea Flower Show Gold two years in a row for amateur potato growers

A Great Pavilion exhibit without a single decorative bloom on show has again charmed judges into awarding a Chelsea Gold Medal to Scots potato aficionados Morrice and Ann Innes.

The exhibit, sponsored by Thompson & Morgan, acts as a simple showcase, highlighting more than 140 varieties, and traces the origins of the potato while drawing attention to its diversity and versatility in the garden and kitchen. Morrice of Old Town, Aberdeen, claims to have the largest private collection of potato varieties, built up over 20 years, and has long championed his favourite vegetable.

In 2015 Morrice and Ann took the first ever Gold Medal for a potato-only display in the show’s 150 year history. Having followed judges recommendations for 2016 by giving the tubers more breathing space on a bigger stand, they have done it again.

potatoes-chelsea-1

Many of the potatoes on display this year come from Morrice’s unofficial national collection of over 300 varieties, and include original South American species as well as historical European heritage varieties such as Karaparea, which was taken to New Zealand by Captain James Cook in the 1770s. The exhibit is completed with some 50 modern varieties grown from Thompson & Morgan seed potatoes including blight resistant main crop Sarpo Axona and high-yielding salad potato Jazzy, currently the mail order supplier’s best seller.

The modest, yet impactful display also includes several plants of wild potato species which were the starting point of many of today’s cultivated varieties. Seeds of these species varieties were supplied by The James Hutton Institute and grown in containers by Thompson & Morgan’s horticultural team in Ipswich. Visitors to the show have commented on the surprisingly pretty flowers of these wild forms.

potatoes-chelsea-2

Morrice said: “We’ve tried to tell the tale of the potato by highlighting a vast array of skin colours, shapes and sizes, while suggesting the best uses of each variety and the places where they come from. You won’t find many of the varieties for sale at the supermarket. Hopefully we’ll help inspire more people to grow potatoes and to try some of the more unusual forms while they are at it.”

Thompson & Morgan has worked with Morrice and Ann in the past, scooping silver and bronze medals at previous RHS shows, and is delighted to see a second Gold Medal awarded to the nation’s favourite vegetable. Thompson & Morgan Vegetable Product Manager, Colin Randel, worked with Morrice to set a world record for the largest display of potato varieties at the 2004 Shrewsbury Flower Show. He said: “Amongst all the glitz, glamour and colour of the world’s most prestigious flower show, it’s great to see a homage to the humble potato stand out from the crowd to scoop another Gold Medal. Morrice and Ann have put on a fantastic display again this year. There’s pretty much every potato colour under the sun on show, from very old varieties right up to our latest hot potato, Jazzy.”

Kris Collins
Kris Collins works as Thompson & Morgan’s communications officer, making sure customers new and old are kept up to date on the latest plant developments and company news via a wide range of media sources. He trained in London’s Royal Parks and has spent more than a decade writing for UK gardening publications before joining the team at Thompson & Morgan.

Show Time

I’m one of the lucky few who get to visit the RHS Chelsea Flower Show the day before it opens to the general public. I attend most years, but took a break in 2015.

The break did me good. When you visit year on year it can start to feel a little samey – exhibitors in the same spot as the year before, doing little different to the year before. This year I had fresh eyes for the show and took plenty of planting ideas away with me.

Chelsea Plant of the Year is always my first point of call. It was great to see T&M’s very own Egg & Chips® plant making it through as a finalist – particularly when there is such focus on a plant’s ornamental value in the garden. Judges praised Egg & Chips® for its unique dual cropping (potatoes and aubergines from the same plant), and its value in small gardens, balconies and patio settings.

Left: Egg & Chips®, Right: Tomtato®

Egg & Chips® and Tomtato®

With Plant of the Year under my belt its time for my favourite part of the show – the Grand Pavilion. This is where the plants are the stars (not some designer you may or may not have heard of). This is where nurseries and growers show off their skills and their wonderful collections – all brought on to perfection, often flowering outside of their natural cycle to the delight of the thousands of visitors who flock to the show each May. I could spend a whole day and more in the pavilion.

Particular highlights for me were Peter Seabrook’s Sun Flower Square (four front gardens featuring 80 different container plants, plus much more, brought together with the help of school children. It was great to see the Thrive charity sweet pea, ‘Eleanore Udall’ on display alongside pots of Petunia ‘Night Sky’, Bidens ‘Bee Dance Painted Yellow’ and Marigold Strawberry Blonde’.

Marigold 'Strawberry Blonde' and Petunia 'Night Sky'

Marigold ‘Strawberry Blonde’ and Petunia ‘Night Sky’

At home I’m trying my hardest to encourage my children into gardening, so anything that helps nuture their interest is good in my books.

The Miracle-Gro’wers Urban School Garden featured many vegetables from the T&M range including Egg & Chips®, Tomtato®, Fuchsia ‘Berry’ and many more. Miracle Gro aimed to bring the benefits of school gardening to the fore and certainly did that. The exhibit highlights the wide range of fruit and veg that can be grown in an urban school garden and spreads the 5-a-day message.

Fuchsia Berry

Fuchsia Berry

What little time I don’t spend in the pavilion I then use for a whistle stop tour of the show gardens. It’s taken me many years to get my head around these displays. As a true hands on gardener (as opposed to a flouncy designer) I’ve always viewed these gardens as unachievable – flowers are forced to bloom out of season and the hard landscaping is so high-end that most households would need a second mortgage to get the same look.

I came at things with a different approach this year, viewing each show garden as a living art installation and I appreciated them much more than I ever have in the past.

Working with plants every day, Chelsea can be a bit of a busman’s holiday for me, so one aspect I really take advantage of on the Monday press day is the celeb spotting. I didn’t do as well as I have in previous years, but there were plenty of stars to be seen among the flowers – Dame Judi Dench, Rob Brydon, Ainsley Harriot, Richard E Grant, Jerry Hall, to name a few, plus of course the usual gardening gang; Carol Klein, Toby Buckland, Alys Fowler and the man himself Mr T! I took a few blurry candid snaps of celebs, but I’m not brave enough to run up to them paparazzi style or ask for a selfie!

Kris Collins
Kris Collins works as Thompson & Morgan’s communications officer, making sure customers new and old are kept up to date on the latest plant developments and company news via a wide range of media sources. He trained in London’s Royal Parks and has spent more than a decade writing for UK gardening publications before joining the team at Thompson & Morgan.

Hanging basket habits revealed

Thompson & Morgan survey reveals nation’s habits when it comes to summer hanging baskets

Love them or loathe them, nothing sets up the garden for summer like a vibrant display of hanging baskets. As the UK’s leading mail order supplier of seasonal basket plants, Thompson & Morgan has surveyed the nation’s gardeners to see how they use them to best effect in their garden, with some interesting findings.

Highlights include:
•   Red is the nation’s favourite basket flower colour
•   Begonia ‘Apricot Shades’ named best basket plant
•   Begonias, fuchsias and petunias hold the top slots but….
•   60% of gardeners are planning to try something new in their summer baskets this year
•   Hanging basket numbers per garden ranged from 1 to 28, but the average is 5.4 per plot
•   15% of gardening households don’t include hanging baskets in their summer displays

Begonia 'Apricot Shades' & Begonia 'Lotto Mixed'

Begonia ‘Apricot Shades’ & Begonia ‘Lotto Mixed’

Hanging baskets are all about showing off and adding colour to the garden scene, so Thompson & Morgan was keen to identify the nation’s favourite floral basket shades. When gardeners were invited to take the Thompson & Morgan online survey this spring, the top three flower colours were red (24%), purple (22%) and pink (17%). Just 5% prefer white flowers, and while only 10% chose yellow and 9% orange, Begonia ‘Apricot Shades’ received the most mentions as a favourite hanging basket plant, with trailing begonias, petunias and fuchsias in general filling the top slots.

Petunia 'Night Sky' & Begonia 'Illumination Mixed'

Petunia ‘Night Sky’ & Begonia ‘Illumination Mixed’

The survey findings reveal that the majority of basket gardeners use just two or three flower colours in their basket displays (38%), with only 9% sticking to one colour. 26% go all out with a riot of mixed colour in their baskets, while 27% of respondents said they employ a combination of single colours, duos, trios and mixes across their various baskets.

Hanging baskets seem to be the place for gardeners to experiment with new plants, with over 60% looking to try something different in their displays this summer. Thompson & Morgan sales analysis shows that the new edible Fuchsia Berry and the unusually speckled Petunia ‘Night Sky’ are stand out ‘experimental’ basket options for customers this season.

Petunia 'Frills & Spills™ Mixed' & Fuchsia 'Trailing Mixed'

Petunia ‘Frills & Spills™ Mixed’ & Fuchsia ‘Trailing Mixed’

Tastes in basket style are fast changing too, with just 13 per cent opting for traditional moss-lined wire baskets. Coir matting is now the preferred option for lining older style baskets, but 45% of respondents said they had no need for basket liners as they now use pre-lined wicker baskets or plastic Easy Fill Baskets that need no lining at all. These were also chosen for their durability and ease of planting and upkeep through the season.

Only 36% of basket gardeners have tried fruit or vegetables in their hanging displays, despite many edible plants being suitable for baskets. For those that do grow their own this way, strawberries, tomatoes and mixed herbs were the most common planting option, but the new edible Fuchsia Berry and basket Blackberry ‘Black Cascade’ look set to shake things up.

Fuchsia Berry & Blackberry 'Black Cascade'

Fuchsia Berry & Blackberry ‘Black Cascade’

Gardeners are savvy about the benefits of regular deadheading of basket plants to promote more flowers and extend the life of their baskets – Just 1% admitted to never deadheading, saying life is too short. But 31% dead head their basket plants on a weekly basis, and 29 % do it daily. 23% deadhead twice a week, leaving 15 percent to do it “when remembered”.

Thompson & Morgan’s survey also threw up some interesting findings when it comes to the nation’s use of winter and spring hanging baskets, to be revealed soon.

Kris Collins
Kris Collins works as Thompson & Morgan’s communications officer, making sure customers new and old are kept up to date on the latest plant developments and company news via a wide range of media sources. He trained in London’s Royal Parks and has spent more than a decade writing for UK gardening publications before joining the team at Thompson & Morgan.

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