Potatoes, Full Fruit Cages and Chickens!

planted potatoes

I have taken advantage of the long weekend to get more of my potatoes in the ground. One of my favourites is Mayan Gold, lovely knobbly potatoes with yellow flesh and ideal hot or cold. My insurance is two rows of Sarpo Mira as they are blight resistant and can stay in the ground until September. I like to grow lots of potatoes as everyone likes them and they store well all through the winter.

Fruit Cage

The fruit cage is full of flower now on all the currants , blueberries and gooseberries. Luckily one of my neighbours keeps bees so they have been busy pollinating them and the apples, plums and cherries in our very small orchard.  There are lots of small weeds in the fruit cage so an hour spent weeding now will save a lot of time later in the season.  The chickens live in the fruit cage in the winter where they are safe from Buzzards and foxes and they do a very good job of cleaning out all the pests that live in the soil and manure the ground at the same time.  At the moment they are eyeing up the asparagus ( Connover’s Colossal and Purple Pacific) so they are confined to quarters for a while.

chickens eating weeds

In the conservatory  the tomato plants are really growing on well and I have put in my Squash,( Harrier and Crown Prince) Courgette(Defender and Parador) and Cucumber ( Burpless, Bella and Cucino)seeds.  These will be ready to go into the green house in a couple of weeks. but we are forecasted some cold weather in the next few days so I have fleece and plastic to hand to protect inside and outside.

plants in conservatory

Theresa Bloomfield
I have had my hands in soil ever since I could crawl. I remember well going out into the garden and watching my Father double digging the vegetable plot and being shown how to pick caterpillars off the brassicas. You could say he was an early organic gardener. There was something nice about sneaking round behind the outhouse and pulling rhubarb and dipping it in sugar, picking raspberries and stuffing handfuls into my mouth. It is these memories of taste and smell that never leave you and make you want to grow your own fresh fruit and vegetables.

It has been something of a treat then, to find myself working for Thompson and Morgan for the past 13 years and being able to help customers to solve their gardening problems

………..and so it begins !!

One of the new begonias I am going to try this season is Daffadowndilly.  I have five corms which are just starting to shoot and will put them into a tray to develop.  My first plants – Fairy Blue Fuchsia – have arrived and are growing well in the greenhouse, hopefully it won`t be long before I can plant them out into containers and patiently wait for the beautiful blue fuchsia to appear.

plastic greenhouse - fullAt the moment I have filled one greenhouse with plants and Alan has now erected the hexagonal one to take the more advanced plants. This is one of those greenhouses that have a plastic cover and they like the extra light they get from all round, although I do put the green sunshade netting over the top when it starts to get hot.

Andre Rieu TulipsOn the front decking I have my Andre Rieu pink/purple tulips which are so straight and tall.  The daffodils are extremely tall this year, unfortunately a very high wind knocked them flat and broke the stems.  I picked about a dozen broken ones and put them in a vase inside and they looked really spring like. I must remember next time I buy any to check the height before buying.

basket standMy eldest son and his wife bought me a `Welcome` hanging basket stand for Mothers` Day and I filled it with polyanthus and daffodils which looked lovely by the front door and very welcoming.  The Raspberry Ruby Falls which I have in a hanging basket was kept in the front porch until it started to grow and then outside just by the kitchen window.  It is growing very well and is now starting to grow from the bottom making it look a lot fuller.  I do cover it every evening, although I don`t think it is absolutely necessary but a couple of nights we had a frost – so better safe than sorry!

strawberry irrisistibleLast year my `Irristible` strawberries which originally were trial plants in 2012 and were in their fourth year produced a lot of runners – as well as plenty of delicious strawberries.  I decided not to just cut them off as I have done in other years but to plant them up in another trough and over winter they have grown very well.   At the present time there have been flowers on the plants and now strawberries are forming.  This year I have ordered `Just Add Cream` strawberries so it will be interesting to taste the difference.

tinkerbirdI bought Rhododendron Tinkerbird from Thompson & Morgan, when I received it it was full of very tight buds which are now turning into beautiful flowers, very pale pink/white.  I can hardly believe that it is so small and yet produced these gorgeous flowers.  I also purchased two pink Annabelle Hydrangeas which were dormant when I received them.  I potted both up and kept them in my sunny porch for a couple of weeks until there were signs of growth.  They are now around 12” high and have given one to my Daughter in Law who loves gardening.

Alan has been busy painting the fencing and also the small edging alongside the path in the back and front garden which is blue.  Everywhere looks very fresh now and ready for the plants to flower.  He has also helped me generally tidy everything as with three fractures in my spine I am unable to lift anything very heavy.  We transplanted four roses which were in containers to the raised part of the garden alongside the fence.  Thankfully because they didn`t get disturbed roots they have taken to their new home very well and are looking healthy.  We also cleared out a garden box so we could move it and discovered a metal arch in its box still.  Goodness knows how long it has been there but I do remember it was buy one get one free.   We put it up across a corner and put my Hydrangea Saori under it with a Clematis each side that is now growing round the arch.

The fountain I bought with vouchers I won in a well known daily newspaper gardening competition, is working well, It is lovely to see the sun light catching the water, there is something satisfying about listening to water.  Mr. Roadrunner has been put back next to the fountain and alongside a small Acer tree. I have two other Acers which are in full leaf and look wonderful in the sun.

Mandie – you asked if anyone had any of their trial plants from last year –I don`t have the Antirrhinum like you but I do have one of the Icing Sugar fuchsias which is growing well at the moment.  I also bought some this year so it will be interesting to see the difference – if any – with one being in its second year.  I have also noticed that the Fuchsia Berry I had last year is also producing many new shoots and leaves.  Did you ever try the berries Mandie??

That`s about all the news for now Gardeners, enjoy the lovely weather that we are having at the moment and  enjoy Easter………..also any Easter Eggs and Hot Cross Buns that come your way!!

Jean

Jean Willis
I started gardening 65 years ago on my Dad’s allotment and now live in Bournemouth, where spend a lot of time gardening since retiring. In 2012 I won the Gold Award for Bournemouth in Bloom Container Garden. I am a member of Thompson & Morgan’s customer trial panel.

Thompson and Morgan Triallist’s Blog – April 2017

DIVIDE AND CONQUER

So last month we had spawnography, and this month we have tit wars! Honestly it’s like Animal Farm out there! We have two nesting boxes and a number of nesting pouches in the trees, but it seems the only Des Res worth considering is the one in the apple tree. So, the great tits, who have been nesting in it practically every year since we moved in, are now being dive bombed by the blue tits, who sit (perch?) in wait in the tree canopy, ready to mob them every time they try to roost. But my money is still on the GTs, as the BTs seem too flighty (haha get it?) to me, veering off in the direction of the bird table at a moment’s notice.


jitterbug the catI’ve never had so many birds in the garden as this spring; David loves the ones I mentioned above, but my heart belongs to the robin. When I’m working in the garden I can see him he flittering about in the corner of my eye, singing so quietly it’s almost as if he is humming to himself. He has another more sinister side to him though; I can see why people say that robins peck the eyes out of new-born lambs. Jitterbug our Devon Rex cat, whose intensions are not good when it comes to our feathered friends, has a love hate relationship with Robin. Being separated by only the wire netting of the catatorium, they torment each other at every opportunity.

So having said in my last Blog that all the hard work was done, I can now officially eat my hat! I have always shied away from lifting and dividing if I can possibly help it but this year I have had to knuckle down to some serious hard graft. Scuttelaria, liriope, day lillies, flag irises and phormium just got completely out of hand. I had to use my First World War trenching tool just to prize them out of the ground! When it came to splitting up the clumps I had to use David’s heavy duty saw as my dainty hand saw just bent under the strain.  The phormium and flag iris divided into over a dozen new plants each, and the day lilies were so heavy it took the two of us to lift them out of the border.  Doc Page, esteemed Chairman (person, sorry!) of our Hort Soc – he of the immaculate hostas – donated a sackful of divisions that had to be split again just to be able to pot them up into 6” pots. The Three Cannas, still bursting out of their cut off dustbin sacks, are pushing out vigorous shoots in all directions and will have to be divided an’all. But oh, the number of plants I have propagated for our plant sales is mounting up apace. Ka-ching! Think of all that money we will raise for the NGS this summer.

plant sale April 2017
This positively tropical weather has brought the garden on so fast I can’t keep up. I am not allowed to switch on the irrigation system as David is painting the summer house (Project Beach Hut is well under way, more of that next time) and the roof terrace tends to leak water down the outer walls. Nor may I have access to the hose as its mount has been removed from said walls for same reason. So it’s the watering can and moi. Now that we have stripped back most of the clematis Montana from the pergola all the pots of ferns have suddenly become exposed to direct sunlight and keep wilting pathetically. I have to say that the cats love their new sunny spots: It was especially thoughtful of me to leave the black fleece on the cannas so that Jitterbug could enjoy the afternoon sun in comfort. (Cannas not so happy, having lost all their new tips in the process).

ferns in pots April 2017Progress of a kind is being made in the greenhouse now that the mice have finally vacated.  (Not so much as a backward glance.) So now that it’s safe to uncover the seedlings do I switch off the heated propagators and risk damping off (I know all the technical terms y’know) or leave them on and roast them to a crisp? Off, and I’ll take my chances. So far so good. I haven’t managed to kill the tomato seedlings yet, in fact they have even developed their first proper pair of leaves, and last year’s begonia tubers are sprouting nicely too. Dozens of T & M plugs have been potted up, some mini plugs doubling up per 10cm pot. Oh for those surplus containers that were tossed asunder for taking up too much space last autumn. So far Bidens Collection 15 Postiplugs are putting on the strongest growth, and this year I was ready with the slug pellets to protect Petunia ‘Romantic Mini Rosebud Peachy’, which got devoured within their first fortnight last spring.

I’ve raised four seedlings of Courgettes ‘De Nice A Fruit Rond’ ready for the allotment next month, and the broad beans were transplanted onto the plot last weekend. (Do any women actually like broad beans? Mr B loves’em. I recon it’s a man thing). One long row of Pea ‘Terrain’ seeds were sown a couple of weeks ago, followed by a parallel row of Pea ‘Eddy’ seeds, sown by my allotment partners Rose and Ed – we’ve decided to conduct a controlled experiment, nothing to do with competitiveness or one-upmanship at all! Talking of which, last weekend it was like a holiday camp down there, never seen so many plot holders in one go; nothing at all to do with the imminent site inspection, I’m sure. Truth be told, I feel put to shame; on the one half of our small plot the soil has been turned and manured to perfection but on my side of the plot the soil surface has at best been scratched. Clearly I believe in the No Dig method. (Actually I believe in the No Work method, however I am in the minority here.) I brought home armfuls of daffs from previous years’ transplanting, and will add this year’s assortment of T&M jonquils, currently flowering their hearts out and wafting their fragrance all over the patio.

Narcissus

For this Spring’s trials, I have just received a new T&M potato variety, complete with Incredicompost, Incredibloom fertiliser and grow bags, as well as a couple of experimental varieties of cosmos and poppy to grow from seed. Well within my comfort zone and not too likely to embarrass me with poor results Oh well I will just have to rake my cut flower bed to a fine tilth and get down to it. Still, ever the optimist, here we go…..

Cornilla and erysmum

And in conclusion, this month’s star performance goes to Erysimum Red Jep and Coronilla glauca Citrina. Happy gardening, love, Caroline

 

 

 

 

The Lighter evenings are very welcome…….

frosted plants february

February has come and gone and on the South Coast here we had a week of freezing fog which made the garden look good but certainly not the roads.

I finished ordering my plants from Thompson & Morgan, I don`t know about anyone else but I look at the order and think where will I put them all, but of course they all find a home once they arrive, usually in my case, in hanging baskets, containers and troughs. As I don`t have room for a permanent greenhouse I have a four foot one which has a plastic cover round the frame, and also a hexagonal one which holds quite a few trays. These have worked very well in the past I just have to make sure I watch the weather forecast so I can get the small plants covered with fleece in good time. When I have finished with them they can been cleaned off and put away until needed again and I have extra space on the patio for my containers, and space to put a few more hanging baskets up. I believe some of the plug plants are due during March so that will be an exciting time checking them all out.

Alan and I have moved a lot of stored items from the patio so he could pressure wash it ready for the summer, even during the rain on one day but now it looks really good. I had almost forgotten what the original colour was. Also thinking about moving four containers which have had roses in them for three years and transplanting them along a border by the fence. I hope this will be a good move and that they will be happy in their new home.

nemesia cerinthe hydrangea

There are a couple of bedding plants from last summer that seem to have survived the winter outside, Nemesia and Cerinthe Major. I believe the latter is from seeds that have been dropped in the Autumn and the Nemesia is one that was left in a container. The frost on my Hydrangea Annabelle early one morning looked lovely but soon disappeared once the sun started to rise.

We arrived back from a close friends funeral in Somerset to find that my Incredicompost from Thompson & Morgan had been delivered. The driver had kindly stacked the bags in the porch for me instead of leaving them outside in the bad weather or worse still taking them back to the depot. My eldest Grandson thought I had over ordered until I told him that it was probably only a third of what I would need for the containers and baskets.

compost daffodils

This year I am trying the new Ruby Falls Raspberry that can been grown in a hanging basket. It has started well having been kept it in the front porch, as it arrived during the freezing weather, where it gets plenty of light and covered each night. A couple of warm days this last week has seen some of the daffodils flower but others seem to be very slow, just waiting for a little more sun!

A footnote to my Blog re California November 2015:
ducksI wrote about the awful drought that Southern California was going through when I visited my Sister in California with a lot of restrictions on the usage of water, 2 minute showers etc. They still didn`t get much rain last year until the end of the year when they had several storms following each other. To date they have had so much rain that the rivers and gardens cannot take any more. A dam in Orriville Northern California overflowed and 180,000 people were evacuated. All this before the snow has melted on the mountains which runs down to the rivers. Some wild ducks obviously took a liking to to the very wet garden and have been visiting my Sister`s garden every day and making themselves at home. The good news is, at least the drought is over for now!
That`s about all for this time gardeners, enjoy the start of Spring and all the new planting ready for the summer……..

Jean Willis
I started gardening 65 years ago on my Dad’s allotment and now live in Bournemouth, where spend a lot of time gardening since retiring. In 2012 I won the Gold Award for Bournemouth in Bloom Container Garden. I am a member of Thompson & Morgan’s customer trial panel.

An Interesting Winter Garden by the Sea

winter garden

At this time of year, it’s always difficult to maintain an interesting looking garden that you can be proud of, especially when you are located on the coast! In recent years, I’ve been extremely pleased with my beach garden, created back in 2012. The small plot sits at the front of my chalet bungalow, facing the sea, about a quarter of a mile away. It has to take everything the elements throw at it.

We get very strong winds blowing off the sea many times during the year! I’d always seen it playing second fiddle to the main back garden, but over the years I’ve begun to realise that it is always capable of holding its own and looks quite amazing, despite what the weather throws at it, especially when the sun sets over it.

More importantly, it is incredible how low the overall maintenance on this part of the garden is compared to the rest of my plot. Surprisingly, a professional garden photographer shot the beach garden this month as well. All my pictures here were taken mid-January, through to early February.

arabis, boat and bergenia

The Arabis ferdinandi-coburgi ‘Old Gold’ is looking really stunning by the steps up from the street, in amongst the grasses and the euonymus fortuneii Emerald Gaiety. You can see the horizon and the sea in the background. Dazzling along the front of the old weathered rowing boat, the bergenia flowers are quite striking. The boat itself, which is the centrepiece of the front beach garden, is now surrounded by plants and shrubs. There is a large sea buckthorn on the right of it that may have shed its leaves for the Winter but it’s silver grey frame still leaves its mark on the landscape.

cornonilla, rosemarium

Brimming over the edge of the dinghy you can see the amazing bright yellow flowers of the coronilla valentina glauca, which really catch your eye at this time of year, along with the pale lemon flowers of the large hellebore argentifolius. The eclectic mix of object d’art around the garden, old reclaimed anchors, rusty wheels, lobster pots and reclaimed groynes all help to maintain the character of the plot all year around, not to mention the large pieces of driftwood too.

miscanthus

We’ve had a lot of mist and fog hang over the garden since Christmas and it really gives an interesting, if eerie feel to the beach garden. Flowering this week by the boat are the delicate flowers of the rosemarium officianalis rosea. Not far away the elegant plumes of the Miscanthus Morning Light Maiden rise up and catch the evening sunlight perfectly.

So, if you’re looking for a relatively low maintenance garden to create yourself, maybe a beach garden is a good choice. What’s more, you don’t actually have to live by the sea. You could create your dream plot wherever you like! You can read more about the garden and when it will open for the season in 2017 at www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk

Geoff Stonebanks
Geoff Stonebanks was very lucky to be able to retire early from 30 years in Royal Mail back in 2004. He had 3 different careers with them first as a caterer, then manager of a financial analysis team and finally as an Employee Relations Manager and Personnel Manager. He sold up and moved with his partner to Bishopstone, near Seaford in East Sussex in 2004 and now spends all his time gardening and fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support. Using his multi award-winning garden, recently featured on Gardeners’ World on TV and finalist in Gardeners’ World Magazine Garden of the Year 2016, he’s raised £76000 for various charities in 7 years, £40000 of that for Macmillan. In his spare time, he is also Assistant County Organiser for the National Gardens Scheme and their Publicity Officer for East & Mid Sussex.

Thompson & Morgan Triallist’s Blog – February 2017

overall view in February

January? Where did that go?

So it’s February already and there’s been precious little activity going on of the horticultural variety! I can’t remember a year when frost was so heavy and so prolonged. The water features and borders were frozen solid for a fortnight, although mercifully not much rainfall to drown the perennials in their beds.

There are only so many times you can bring out the tubs of seed packets and file them by type/sowing
date/ indoors/outdoors etc. I was even tempted to create a spreadsheet just to keep me occupied during January. Trays and modules were washed & set up, labels pre-written, compost at the ready. I rearranged the greenhouse so that the propagators were free: Not difficult seeing as I accidently switched them off when I was repotting the lilies and most of my cuttings died!

In previous years I have sown my seeds too early; they germinated fine but became all etiolated and eventually rotted off. And because the warmest, brightest place in the house is the sunroom they had to share space with our cats, who would eat them! (Micro greens for cats?)! This year however is very different. With the addition of the propagators, I have been able to relocate to the greenhouse.

So raring to go was I, that come the first weekend in February, I was in that greenhouse like a rat up a drainpipe (unfortunate simile I know) ready for the off! Honestly it was like a military operation: Decks cleared, each tray containing its 12 cell seed tray and plastic lid. Sieved soil (extracted from the so-called mouse trough previously referred to as the tomato trough) and vermiculite. Marker pen, labels, dibber, watering can, T&M seed packets. What could possibly go wrong? Well to start with, have you ever tried sowing seeds the size of dandruff with your third fingertip resembling a black grape after slamming a window on it? Fiddly but do-able. Filling the trays with soil went well, until that is, I ‘lightly watered prior to sowing’ as instructed: the water dribbled straight over the sides.

Undeterred, I managed to sow well enough – without my glasses I had to get so close to the tomato seeds that I dared not breathe in case I blew them away – but when it came to sprinkling vermiculite, the greenhouse looked like a scene from one of those snow domes! I hadn’t realised the bag was open when I whisked it up from under the bench, and managed to get it everywhere except on the surface of the seed trays. Don’t know how Carol Klein does it and talks to the camera at the same time.

shady fernery

Here is what I have sown, and yes, those of you who know better, will be tutting about some of my timings but hey ho, nothing ventured, nothing gained:

Tomato Garnet; Tomato Indigo Cherry Drops; Tomato artisan Mix – all varieties received & tasted at last summer’s T&M Triallists’ Open Day

Sweet Pea Purple Pimpernel; Sweet Pea Fragrantissima; Sweet Pea Mollie Rilstone; Sweet Pea Night and Day – wretched seeds are like ball bearings.

Basil Sweet Green ; Basil Lemonade Something (tore the top off the packet!)

Leek Bulgaarse Reuzen Lincoln

Broad Bean Oscar – in their own 9cm pots.

Seed sowing will continue in March and April; hopefully by then I will have been able to prick out Batch No 1.

emerging hellebores

In the garden at large spring bulbs & perennials are at least a couple of weeks behind compared to last year, due to the colder weather no doubt. I was beginning to think that the five dozen T&M Jonquilla Daffs must have somehow succumbed; they are only just starting to poke through the soil of their containers. One or two aconites are in flower, but iris reticulata, snowdrops, coronilla glauca and hellebores are taking their time. Having experienced such a hiatus during January, the brisk change of pace is a shock to the system.

mossy paviers I am fighting back panic at the thought of pressure washing the slippery moss encrusted paviers, as it swamps the already soggy borders, but it’s gotta be done before everything really starts into growth. Bird boxes need to be cleaned out as the tits are already prospecting nesting sites, and the stinking water of the stagnant rill (good alliteration don’t you think) needs to be sluiced out before the frogs spawn. And I haven’t even been to the allotment since November. It’s all go here in East Finchley I can tell you; life doesn’t get much more exciting than this!

ornament hospital David’s got Spring fever too. Now that his hand is on the mend, he’s been revamping all the garden ornamentals, creating new resin tails for bunnies and metal beaks for birdies. Every time I make cutbacks in the borders, miscanthus grasses especially, we find more and more objects that had been overlooked during winter clear-up, lurking amongst the foliage. After tireless research, he has purchased an oversized copper cup and saucer over the internet, which he will turn into another water feature, to complement his copper kettle and strainer works-in-progress.

One other exciting thing I did in January (excitement is not an emotion one usually associates with January) was to place my first order for hanging basket and container annuals. After listing my first two items, Begonia Non-Stop Mocca Bright Orange & Petunia Orange Punch, Dawn in Telephone Sales observed dryly, “You like orange then!” and she wasn’t wrong: the rest of the order consists of Begonia Glowing Embers & Petunia Mini Rosebud Peachy! I may be predictable, but I believe strongly that if a formula works why change it? The last two summers’ patio displays of purple, red, yellow and orange have been electric! I’ll ring the changes with foliage plants, perhaps some more coleus, heuchera, ipomaea and hostas (haha, hope over experience).

Talking of orange, I’ve just remembered the overwintering begonia Apricot Shades tubers in the spare room dresser – back in a mo – they are already showing pips for goodness sake. Now that is exciting!

Will we plunged back in to winter before March? Who knows, watch this space. Love Caroline

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