Having heard Prime Minister, Teresa May, speaking earlier this week about her plans to ‘transform’ attitudes to mental health and to provide improved support to sufferers, I was remembering that someone told me once that spider plants were great to have around, at home and in the office, as they could help lift mood and alleviate depression. We’ve all heard about the therapeutic value of gardening and I even heard on the radio recently that some enlightened GPs are actually giving suitable patients prescriptions for mental health-promoting gardening projects.
I wondered if there was any scientific evidence that supports the idea that plants are good for mental health. Certainly, when I did an internet search for ‘mental health and plants’, it threw up a long list of articles, research and advice. The general consensus seems to be that having plants in your home and in your work space can really improve negatives such as anxiety, depression and tension, whilst improving productivity and reducing fatigue.
The areas in which plants can have a positive effect on our mood and productivity are many and varied according to the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). It appears that the benefits of living and working around indoor plants have been shown to include:
– Improved mood
– A reduction in stress
– Increased productivity
– Improvements in attention span and concentration
Physical health improvements have been shown to include:
– Reductions in breathing problems
– Reductions in blood pressure levels
– Reductions in levels of fatigue and headaches
And the fact that patients in hospital rooms with plants report better pain tolerance is a bit spooky, but brilliant! There’s science to prove this; research from Kansas State University in 2008 showed that hospital patients treated in rooms where plants were situated, needed lower levels of pain killers
It appears that the plants trap and filter air pollutants in the home – kitchen products, air fresheners, faulty boilers – and at work – bacteria, dust, cleaning products, creating better air quality. Apparently just one plant per 3 employees can improve air quality in an office and can reduce CO2, dust and bacteria. I even found a study by NASA no less, saying that they’d found that plants are able to absorb and break down even quite harmful chemicals in the air through their leaves, creating a healthier indoor eco-system.
It sounds like a no-brainer! If we’re going to be happier and healthier in the home or at work if we import a few plants, let’s do it! Obviously we don’t want to live and work in a semi-forest environment, but within reason, it’s not difficult or costly to bring a bit of greenery into your life.
It seems that the visual benefits – and hopefully the health benefits too – of bringing plants inside is being recognised by retail companies and restaurants. We’ve noticed that various eateries and shops seem to have jumped on the vertical garden trend bandwagon. Here’s a fabulous wall of greenery that we spotted in west elm on London’s Tottenham Court Road.
Leigh Hunt, one of the authors of the RHS paper which discussed the benefits of bringing plants inside, said that you don’t need to surround yourself with exotic or expensive plants, ‘a spider plant is a good choice, or even common English ivy’. I can’t say I’d want ivy growing in my house – I’m in a long-running battle with ivy growing over our shed – but it was good to read that Mr Hunt has confirmed my long-held, but unsubstantiated view that the humble spider plant was thought to be a good mood-enhancing house plant to grow.
Prime Minister, Teresa May’s speech also emphasised the need to provide more help and support for young people with mental health issues. Having read about research showing that plants and greenery can help to reduce stress and blood pressure in students and young people whilst encouraging their concentration, I plan to continue with my practice of giving my children and their friends a home-grown spider plant as a ‘going off to university’ gift.
I love spider plants. Not only do they have a kind of ‘70s kitsch thing about them, which adds a bit of nostalgic fun, but they are incredibly easy to grow and seem to be virtually immune to neglect. And I should know! I don’t remember to water mine as often as I should, but they still seem to sprout their ‘babies’ at the ends of their long tendrils. They look great perched on a shelf at home or at work, and if you need a new one (for aforementioned students or others in need of a mood lift) you can just snip off one of the ‘babies’ and stick it in some compost in a pot, water it when you remember and hey presto! a new spider plant grows.
Other plants that are suitable for indoor growing, and which would suit an office environment too, are aloe, cacti, succulents, ivy, rubber plants and peace lilies. These are generally fairly low maintenance and should support conditions produced by air conditioning and possible neglect during times when the office might be empty.
I’ve got a spider plant positioned on top of my in-tray on my desk at work now, so I’ll have to let you know if I notice marked improvements in my productivity and general cheeriness!
Thompson & Morgan has been at the forefront of cosmos breeding for 10 years since some unusual seeds arrived from California.
The ‘Cupcakes’ series of the ever-popular cosmos was born out of a chance find in a California back yard in 2007. When Diane Engdahl discovered an unusual cosmos flower in her garden in Santa Rosa, she sent the ensuing seed to the plant breeding team at Thompson & Morgan. Instead of its flower being made up of individual petals, rather like a daisy, as with most cosmos, the petals of this unique bloom were fused together, creating one single ‘cup’.
For nearly 10 years, plant breeders at Thompson & Morgan have been busy ‘fixing’ this new trait across the cosmos colour mix, developing new shades and refining the habit of this new cosmos shape. This long-standing cottage garden favourite was celebrated in 2016’s Year of the Cosmos and visitors to RHS Garden Wisley were asked to vote in a poll to name their favourite garden cosmos as part of the Royal Horticultural Society’s annual People’s Choice Competition. Once votes were gathered, Cosmos bipannatus ‘Cupcakes White’ came out on top of the 84 varieties on show in the RHS garden. Read more about the RHS People’s Choice Competition at http://www.thompson-morgan.com/rhs-cupcakes-white
It’s easy to see why cosmos are so popular. Sales of cosmos seed and plants have increased hugely over the past 10 years. This is partly due to breakthroughs in breeding which have led to new varieties such as ‘Cupcakes’ and ‘Lemonade’ (see below), but it is also down to the fabulous garden performance of this very stylish flower. Available in so many colour ways, heights and flower types; easy to grow; not prone to disease or pest attacks – cosmos really are every gardener’s dream plant!
Initially marketed as part of Thompson & Morgan’s exclusive Cosmos ‘Cupcakes’ mix, ‘Cupcakes White’ boasts pristine white petals which are fused together to form the single ‘cup’ that is the unique trademark of the ‘Cupcakes’ series. Tall, bushy plants are free flowering; ideal for elegant border designs and container growing, and perform well in all types of weather. Cosmos make fabulous cut flowers and each plant will produce an impressive number of blooms.
During T&M’s trials, it was remarked that bees appeared to be taking shelter from wind and rain inside the flower ‘cups’, with sometimes more than one bee sharing the protection that the fused petals afford. Cosmos are always a favourite with pollinating insects, but the knowledge that bees are using this new variety to take refuge from inclement weather, makes them all the more appealing.
Top tips for growing cosmos from seed
• Sow cosmos seeds in a heated greenhouse or propagator in April.
• Good light is important to prevent ‘stretching’
• Young plants can be planted out after the very last frosts, usually in late May/early June
• Regular dead-heading will promote flowering right up to the first frosts
• When dead-heading cosmos, cut the stem right back to the first leaf rather than just pulling the flower head off
• Seed can be planted outside, where you’d like them to flower, in May or early June
Thompson & Morgan also offers a number of cosmos varieties as plants which, depending on the size of the plant at the time of delivery, can be planted straight out into the garden, or they can be potted up and grown on before transplanting.
Cosmos ‘Cupcakes White’ – 1 packet (30 seeds) £1.99
Cosmos ‘Cupcakes Mixed’ – 1 packet (100 seeds) £1.99
Height: 120cm (48″). Spread: 60cm (24″)
Also from Thompson & Morgan’s own breeding comes another stunning cosmos variety – ‘Lemonade’
To create this multi-flowering subtle yellow cosmos with a striking central white eye, T&M’s plant breeding team took a very bright yellow, but late-flowering Japanese cosmos variety and crossed it with earlier-flowering cosmos with better, shorter habits. The resulting delicate, yellow blossoms of Cosmos ‘Lemonade’ marked a major breakthrough in cosmos breeding. Flowers are produced en masse throughout the summer on short to medium-high, branching cosmos plants. Fantastic for patio pots or as a robust and floriferous border filler – its colouring and habit means that it combines well with most other plants in bedding or container displays. Cosmos ‘Lemonade’ also makes a great cut flower and looks stunning in a vase, either on its own or mixed in with other flowers.
Cosmos ‘Lemonade’ – 1 packet (30 seeds) £2.49
Cosmos ‘Lemonade’ – 30 garden-ready plants £14.99
Height: 60cm (24in). Spread: 40cm (16in)
For further information on growing cosmos, please go to Thompson & Morgan’s website and read an article by Graham Rice taken from The Seed Raising Journal from Thompson & Morgan.
Grow your own dramatically different Christmas veg.
Let’s face it; like Brussels sprouts, brassicas like broccoli and cabbage, have had a bit of a bum rap over the years. However, they have recently been enjoying some really good press and are even looking quite cool in the vegetable ‘it crowd’, trending heavily and inventively in culinary circles, restaurants and in those classic Christmas gift favourites, the celebrity chef cook book.
So why not give these colourful and super nutritious vegetables a place at your Christmas dinner table this year? In festive magazines and online, you’ll find numerous interesting and tasty recipes to present them at their best. And then you can grow some yourself ready for next Christmas!
Cauliflower has had a bit of a rebrand in the last year or so; no longer the bland horror of school dinners, but now appearing on menus sliced, seasoned with chilli, garlic and cumin and served as a ‘steak’; or grated, sautéed and used instead of rice as part of one of the low-carb diets that are doing the rounds.
Broccoli too has a new friend in the Instagram fitness sensation, Joe Wicks, aka The Body Coach. His speedy, tasty and nutritious recipes often include ‘midget trees’ – broccoli florets – and indeed a 25% increase in tenderstem broccoli has been attributed in part to the online nutrition coach’s Lean in 15 recipe programme.
But the real star in the brassica family has to be broccoli’s handsome Italian cousin, the stunning romanesco. With its whirling, almost alien-looking spirals, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this vivid green marvel is some kind of genetically engineered vegetable. In fact, romanesco has been around since the 16th century and predates broccoli and cauliflower. Sometimes referred to as caulibroc or broccoflower, the flavour of cooked romanesco sits somewhere between cauliflower and broccoli, but with an added tasty ‘nuttiness’. Needless to say, it’s full of good stuff: super-rich in antioxidants, vitamin C, fibre – you name it. The thing is, due to its fabulous pointed, whorled spears, romanesco doesn’t travel terribly well. Supermarkets find it difficult to store and package. You might find them on a nice farmers’ market stall, but the best way to get your hands on these fabulous green natural marvels, is to grow your own.
So if you’re ready to up your brassica game at home, take a look at the wide range of varieties available from Thompson & Morgan. Whether you choose to grow broccoli, cauliflower or romanesco, you’ll find brassicas are easy to grow.
Here are some top tips for growing brassicas from Thompson & Morgan’s Veg Guru, Colin Randell:
- Grow your cauliflower, broccoli and romanesco in soil that’s been well prepared.
- Keep well watered especially during dry spells.
- Brassicas enjoy a fortnightly liquid feed, particularly a seaweed feed, if possible.
- If feeding or watering is erratic, this may mean head development is not as good.
- Pick cauliflower and romanesco heads when young – you can keep a watchful eye on how they are developing by peeling back the protective leaves.
- Many gardeners use protective garden fleece, especially when growing small cauliflower and romanesco.
To grow your own visually stunning and super tasty romanesco, click here. Seeds are available for £2.29 for 125 seeds. And to check out Thompson & Morgan’s full brassica range, go to www.thompson-morgan.com/brassicas
Master plant breeder, Charles Valin, head of Thompson & Morgan’s award-winning plant breeding programme, gives his top picks for 2017. Charles’ plant breeding accomplishments include the world’s first white bidens, the first properly dwarf buddleia, the first intensely scented trailing violas and the first ever bright blue verbascum.
1. Strawberry ‘Just add Cream’.
I’ve got high hopes for this fabulous new strawberry variety bred by us here at T&M. I’m confident that the exceptional flavour and aroma will make it the new favourite of chefs and gardeners alike.
2. Lily ‘Corsage’.
This stunning lily dates from 1961, but is still among the most elegant Asiatic Hybrids ever created. Each soft pink flower has delicate spots and a subtle eyeliner edge. It is also pollen-less, so there is no danger of staining if you use it as a cut flower and it is safe for cats.
3. Petunia ‘Mini Rosebud Romantic’.
Like a miniature version of the classic double petunia, this lovely variety is ideal if you don’t like dead heading petunias due to their stickiness – this one is absolutely non-stick!
4. Coreopsis ‘Sunkiss’.
The brightest yellow flowers and largest central blotching of any C. grandiflora type to date. This is a breakthrough in seed-raised coreopsis, allowing it to be better priced compared to traditional cutting-raised young plants. Combines well with other plants.
5. Dianthus ‘Dynasty’.
A double-flowered, more elegant version of the classic Sweet William, ‘Dynasty’ is perennial and perfect for cottage gardens. It has a lovely fragrance too and makes a fabulous cut flower.
6. Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer’.
This variety has been around for a while, but I think it’s still the best performing Alstroemeria for the garden. The contrasting bronze foliage and never-ending blooms are hard to beat!
7. Coronilla valentina subsp. glauca ‘Citrina’.
This plant is a gardeners’ dream: it has nice glaucous blue evergreen foliage, flowers for nine+ months of the year and its strong Narcissus fragrance wafts quite a distance even on the dullest of winter days.
8. Wasabi Rocket.
This popular salad green has even more of a kick than the traditional rocket and it’s much easier to grow than the real Japanese Wasabi plant in our climate. Just what sushi lovers have been waiting for!
9. Pepper Padron.
I have personally tried this one in Spain. It is served gilled as tapas and has become a sort of edible version of Russian roulette: they are so tasty and mild, so you tuck in confidently, thinking they’ll all be the same, but roughly 1 in 10 of them is devilishly hot! This is bound to be a favourite with chilli fans.
10. Scabious Kudos.
In my opinion, this is the best performing Scabious around; it just flowers and flowers and flowers. It performs equally well in the garden and in containers. Kudos is also a Mecca for bees and butterflies which we all need to attract to our gardens.
Fabulous Fuchsia ‘Icing Sugar’ tipped for success in 2017: will this year’s cover outdo last year’s best seller?
T&M will give customers DOUBLE their money back if they don’t agree that this is the best fuchsia they’ve ever grown.
When Paul Hansord, horticultural director of Thompson & Morgan gifts the UK’s largest online plant retailer, saw Petunia ‘Night Sky’ last year, he immediately tipped it for success and featured it on the front cover of T&M’s spring catalogue. Sales of the spectacularly different petunia, which was a world first in flower patterning, exceeded all expectations with over 175,000 plants despatched last season. Retailers commented that they could have sold many, many more plants than stock levels allowed.
This year a fabulous new fuchsia is gracing the cover of Thompson & Morgan’s spring 2017 catalogue, and forecasts suggest that it will be the mail order specialist’s best seller for next season. Paul Hansord says: “I’m so convinced of the performance and flower power of Fuchsia ‘Icing Sugar’ that I’ll give our customers double their money back if they don’t believe that this is the best fuchsia they’ve ever grown!”*
Fuchsia ‘icing Sugar’
Paul’s confidence in Fuchsia ‘Icing Sugar’ is understandable. With its stunning frosted purple and cerise blooms and its compact habit, it is perfect for large patio pots and eye-catching border planting. Thousands of blooms are produced over the summer on a tidy cushion of dense foliage giving gardeners a great value, full season of colour. What also makes this fuchsia so special is that the rich, true fuchsia-pink sepals unfurl to reveal an unusual two-tone, twisting central corolla that has an intriguing frosted sheen to it.
Geoff Stonebanks, gardening writer, blogger and creator/owner of The Driftwood Garden near Lewes in Sussex, trialled ‘Icing Sugar’ for T&M last year and says: “The beautiful new fuchsia, ‘Icing Sugar’, certainly lives up to its name; a delicate and frosted gem.” Geoff added: “As an avid fuchsia lover, this delicate and frosted “Icing Sugar”, on show in my garden for the first time this summer, is utterly stunning.”
Petunia ‘Night Sky’
Petunia ‘Night Sky’ has not, as is often the case after a loud launch and high initial sales, dropped off the best seller list and T&M forecasts the continued success of this very special petunia. Unlike the markings of other varieties, which can be inconsistent, the speckled stars of ‘Night Sky’ are consistent across all the blooms with every flower offering a different astral constellation. When Petunia ‘Night Sky’ was first introduced, some gardeners speculated that the images of had been digitally ‘enhanced’ until they grew the plants and saw the stunning markings for themselves.
Petunias and fuchsias are top of the UK’s list of favourite bedding and container plants and consistently come first in consumer surveys. With Petunia ‘Night Sky’ winning a People’s Choice Competition at Thompson & Morgan’s show garden at Jimmy’s Farm, in Suffolk last summer, there is every hope that Fuchsia ‘Icing Sugar’ will have similar success as T&M’s lead cover item this year. Paul Hansord’s confidence in offering a ‘double your money back’ guarantee would suggest that he is in no doubt that it will be a big hit in gardens this summer.
For information on how to grow fuchsias, go to www.thompson-morgan.com/growfuchsias
*see website for terms and conditions.