Customer Trial Panel

Read profiles and updates from our panel of triallists – the dedicated team of customers who test our plants and seeds in their own gardens.

Welcome To The New Gardening Year 2017

I hope everyone had a great Christmas and New Year and are now ready for the new gardening year ahead.
During the summer of 2016 I planted Passiflora Caerulea and it soon grew to eight feet, must really have loved it in the full sun. I had around six flowers on it by early Autumn and then I noticed the fruit about the size of an egg appearing and turning gradually yellow. By then the days were colder but left them on the plant to see if they developed any further. The first week of January I decided to take the fruit off and cut them open and was very surprised to see that there was a lot of ripe flesh inside. I decided not to eat them as they had been around for a while and was not sure if they were edible after so long.

The Freesias I planted back in October started to grow far too quickly so I put more compost on them so the frost wouldn`t catch the tops but that only helped the local cats to use my containers as their toilet and scratched up the bulbs several times. Not wanting to to use anything that would hurt the cats but would stop them I asked a neighbour if I could have some branches of holly from her bush. That really did the trick with no damage to man nor beast.

On a mild day I checked the garden and noticed the Nemesia I had planted in a coloured pot during last summer were still growing and flowering as was some Cerinthe Major whose seeds had dropped on to the garden and had started to shoot, the plants are standing around 12” tall at the moment but I am afraid that when we get some very hard frosts it could be goodbye to them. My Hydranga `Annabelle` which had beautiful huge balls of white flowers, were still holding their own even though all the white heads are now brown, but still looking beautiful.

This Autumn I decided to plant up a couple of containers with a Winter Collection of small shrubs which gives a very nice show of various colours, and in the summer can be planted out in the garden.
My roses are in four containers but don`t really seem to be happy they all lost their leaves at one point and I did wonder if it was irregular watering that was causing it, although the bottoms of the containers were quite wet, so I am making room to put them into the border in front of a fence. If anyone has any answers re losing their leaves I would be very pleased to hear from you, this is their third year. The roses bloomed and looked great apart from the loss of leaves..

Having won Gold and Silver awards for my Container garden and hanging basket in 2016 for the Bournemouth in Bloom competition, I now have the challenge of turning the silver into gold for this year!

I have been making a provisional list of plants which I would like to grow from Thompson & Morgan for 2017 summer, I expect that will be re-written a couple of times before the final one. First of all we have to move a 5 ft.garden storage box and a small garden cupboard. The larger one is right into a corner and appears to be making the wall damp so will have to do some clearing out and moving it to under the kitchen window – fingers crossed.

I am hoping to try out a couple of Thompson & Morgan`s new Easy Fill baskets, I think the idea of having a solid piece of plastic holding the plants tight in their holes will stop the compost from falling out.

……………. so until we meet again, have fun deciding what you are going to grow this year, it`s getting lighter longer every day – hooray!!

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.

Looking Forward to 2017

Petunia 'Night Sky and Bidens 'Firelight' mixed
Time moves on so quickly and 2017 will be the 5th year that I have been trialling plants for Thompson & Morgan in my multi-award winning seaside garden! Back in 2013, the first items I received were a Cox’s orange Pippin Apple Tree and a Plum Gage, Reine Claude. Back then we were sent whatever was chosen by the company and I feared that I would not be able to use then in my exposed coastal garden. Now, they are both established and have started to produce small amounts of fruit, always difficult here on the coast, with the wind blowing across the garden!

Another arrival that first Spring was a delicate rose ‘garden party’, which still flowers profusely in the front and back garden each Summer. Also received in the first year were Peruvian Tree Lily, Alstroemeria ‘Everest Collection’. These have been quite stunning year on year and much remarked on by our many garden visitors. They were all planted in a large container and are still doing really well. Last Summer, I was very lucky indeed to have trialled 2 brand new 2017 plants, featured in the Spring catalogue. The stunning new fuchsia ‘Icing Sugar’ on the front cover and the equally beautiful Bidens ‘Firelight’ on page 11. I’d suggested 2 names for the plants, but I’m afraid they weren’t the final ones chosen! However, my quote on the Fuchsia was used in publicity last November.

Fuchsia 'Icing Sugar' Alstroemeria 'Everest Collection', Bidens 'Firelight'

“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.”

Both of these plants are ones I would heartily recommend for anyone’s garden this Summer.

So, what can I and my garden visitors look forward to seeing in 2017 from Thompson & Morgan? We’re set to open 14 times this summer and already have several coach trips booked into the garden as well, as a result of me and the garden being seen on BBC Gardeners’ World last Autumn. Here’s what we will be receiving in the next few months. Strawberry ‘Just Add Cream™’. Petunia Amore ‘Queen of Hearts’, Buddleja davidii ‘Wisteria Lane’, Geranium ‘Black Rose’, Osteospermum ‘Falling Stars’. Gazania ‘Shepherd’s Delight’, Calendula ‘Winter Wonders Collection’. Petunia ‘Mini Rosebud Romantic Peachy’, Sweet Pea ‘Earl Grey’ and finally Petunia ‘Night Sky’ again, as it was such a success in 2016.

Petunia 'Night Sky', Strawberry 'Just Add Cream', Sweet Pea 'Earl Grey'

The information both on-line and in the Spring catalogue certainly made me want to see these on show in the garden. Who could resist the chance to smell the intense perfume that evokes childhood memories of your first taste of a strawberry or appreciate the fashionable new sweet pea, offering stunning colour on both sides of the graduated or ‘flaked’ petals. I’m really looking forward to seeing how they all grow this Summer and will be posting update son my garden web site throughout the season. Check them out at wwww.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, featured on Gardeners’ World on BBC TV and finalist in Gardeners’ World Magazine Garden of the Year 2016, he’s raised £95000 for various charities in 8 years, £53400 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.

Christmas is fast approaching!

Over the past few weeks I have been tidying the garden, putting the containers away upside down so they don`t fill with water.  Also have been putting away ornaments which were in the garden so they don`t get spoilt with the salt spray/wind that gets carried here in Bournemouth from the sea front. Sprayed them with a well known oil spray to stop them going rusty and wrapped them in fleece, putting three of them together in a black bag. Covered some of the more tender plants with fleece and waiting for my fleece bags to arrive  – with thanks to Geoff Stonebanks letting me know where I could buy them.

Unnamed trailing antirrhinum trialled & Begonia 'Apricot Shades'

Unnamed trailing antirrhinum trialled & Begonia ‘Apricot Shades’

I have also finished planting up some tulip bulbs, unfortunately they were being dug up as fast as I planted them. Whilst talking to friends at our coffee club who said she had a large holly bush if I would like some. I put quite a few sprigs into each container and so far this has stopped my bulbs being dug up – we shall see how long this lasts!
My patio Begonia ‘Apricot Shades’ which were planted on the edge of a narrow border have just finished flowering. I have had them growing with Senecio cineraria ‘Silver Dust’ which really filled the small border right up to the middle of November. I have cleaned off all the begonia corms that were dried off and put them away in newspaper and then wrapped in brown paper until around February when I hope to get them started for Summer 2017.

 

Rose 'Golden Wedding' & unnamed fuchsia trialled

Rose ‘Golden Wedding’ & unnamed fuchsia trialled

My smaller acer trees have looked  wonderful this autumn, the colours seem to change day by day, also the Rose ‘Golden Wedding’ was still managing to flower up until middle of November with slightly smaller flowers.  The Fuchsia FUCHSIABERRY has lost all its leaves and almost all the fruit but there are a few fuchsia flowers still appearing. The trial of the un-named white trailing bidens is still flowering even though I have cut it back, from the same trial an un-named peachy pink antirrhinum was still flowering and as there was a frost forecast I decided to gently take it out of the basket and pot it up for the kitchen window sill, where it is continuing to thrive and grow – fingers crossed!!

Acer trees

Acer trees

We have just had the first storm of the season – Storm Angus! Trees down, roads blocked, underpasses flooded and the poor garden knocked about. That really was the end of the leaves on my acers, such a shame, now they just look like twigs. At the top of the garden I found the top part of one of my containers (which is usually fixed on its own stand) just sitting on the ground and couldn`t find the stand anywhere. Eventually found it under a fuchsia bush at the bottom of the garden, at least it didn`t tip the plants out that were still flowering. I was thrilled to bits that both my Calla Lilies (as mentioned in my previous Blog) are still flowering – end of November. I also have two cactus indoors which are flowering profusely and have been for almost a month now.

Indoor cactus plants

Indoor cactus plants

As we approach the end of November and in my case there is less to do in the garden, everything is turning towards the Big Man in his Sleigh and with over 30 members of our family ranging from a four year old great granddaughter to Alan who is 79 we have to start early with presents etc. and cards, I usually make all my own cards.
Here`s hoping that you all have an enjoyable and peaceful Christmas with lots of `garden` presents and a great gardening year for 2017.
…..Happy Christmas Everyone…..

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.

Fabulous fuchsia tipped for success in 2017

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'

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’

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.

Sonia Mermagen
Sonia has recently returned to Thompson & Morgan in the role of marketing copy writer. She is a self-proclaimed ‘reluctant’ gardener and is generally amazed if anything flourishes in her garden. Sonia is a big fan of plants marked ‘easy to grow’, ‘drought tolerant’ and ‘no pruning necessary’. In her own garden, Sonia has a ‘hands off’ approach and believes that this encourages bees, butterflies and other wildlife. (That’s her excuse anyway!)

The dreaded Autumn Colour!

 

At the end of October we took a break from the garden and went to stay with our dear friend Sonja who lives in The National Forest (imagine small thatched ginger bread house in woodland clearing – no – small but perfectly formed terrace in Swadlincote). We left home on the Friday to summer’s last hurrah; two days later we returned to autumnal gloom. Knee deep in leaf litter everywhere; it’s all very well extolling the virtues of Autumn Colour (hushed voices, deep awe), if only it would stay on the trees! Gutters blocked, paths and lawns littered, shrub canopies choked, containers swamped. And then, do you let the leaves rot down to a natural mulch in the borders or do you clear them away so they don’t rot the crowns of your prized perennials? (Neat freak, clear them away, and then add somebody else’s mulch for £4.50 a bag.)

Acers on a spectacular scale - October 2016

Acers on a spectacular scale – October 2016

Anyway, mercifully so far I have been able to sweep this year’s leaf litter up during the current dry spell. Woe betide it should rain, you take your life in your hands every time you step outside your front door! (Talking of Autumn Colour, some of the best I’ve seen has to be on the stretch of M1 motorway between Northampton and Leicester.) Autumn Colour apart, it’s the low light levels at dawn and dusk, casting their luminescent glow over the fiery landscape that gets me every year, just magical.

Coleus 'Campfire' & Hydrangea 'Zorro'

Coleus ‘Campfire’ & Hydrangea ‘Zorro’

In contrast to my androgynous gardening demeanour, Sonja, being a perfumery consultant, is a fragrant jewel! So for the first time in about 30 years I treated my feminine side to some perfume. And the point of the story is this: Wearing said perfume whilst sweeping up the dreaded Autumn Colour (and why not?) just smelled wrong! It masked the scents of the soil and natural fragrance of the flowers that I hadn’t even consciously registered before. How about that!

Now it truly is autumn in the garden

Now it truly is autumn in the garden

……Anyway, back in my gardening world, I was so excited about all the plants I was going to grow in my new propagator that I forgot one fundamental thing – to water them: Guess what, they all died! I am rubbish at cuttings, I really am, having always put it down to lazy horticultural practices. A brief knock to my confidence before taking another lot of cuttings (host plants looking a bit bald thereafter) whilst promising to learn by my mistakes. So we will see. However as insurance I have supplied a duplicate set (what is the collective for cuttings?) of salvia involucrata and confertifolia (sounds like a musical score) to the Chairman (Chair, Chairperson, whatever!) of our local Hort Soc, who is a veritable cuttings magician.
Whilst we are on the subject of my shortcomings, how many times do I have to lose my heucheras to vine weevil before I learn my lesson? Empty pots, add fresh compost, plant heucheras, feel noble. Simple! And why oh why do I put off splitting perennials for five years? A WW1 trenching tool was the only implement hefty enough to shift the clump of white phlox with a root ball the size of a wrecking ball! While we are at it, perhaps it would be a good idea to clean the greenhouse windows before the automatic lights stay on permanently. (The electricity bill has already doubled due to the heated propagators, and David’s paternal concern for the mice.)

flaming central bed & FUCHSIAfuchsiaberry

flaming central bed & FUCHSIAfuchsiaberry

Really though I cannot believe we have reached November already. Whilst David is raring to go with his festive red berry lighting for the front garden, I am so behind with my jobs: so reluctant to lift the cannas, some of which have only just come into flower; have hastily stuffed & wrapped the tree fern (oven ready?) but must must must raise the containers onto pot feet, fleece the eucomis and bring the tender salvias under cover. T & M Crackerjack petunias and new Bidens are still flowering in the hanging baskets, half hardy annuals, tender perennials and my treasured ricinus are still in full swing but surely it’s only a matter of time before they are cut down by frost. I did succumb to tulips in the end, black Paul Scherer and white Triumphator (not sure, threw the packaging away, why do I do that every year?) planted in amongst the grasses out front.

Hanging baskets just keep on going!

Hanging baskets just keep on going!

I am so reluctant to get on with it all, as it will signify the end of this amazing horticultural year for us. But no doubt I will find something to write about in December but until then have a productive autumn and be careful not to slip on those dratted leaves.

Winding down through autumn

Having had an unexpected rest from gardening due to a chest infection that has now lasted for around 6 weeks, and a computer crash following an update! Which ended up at the repairers for around nine days.  Thankfully I am now starting to recover and have managed to cut back old plants that were overdue and cleaning out pots. As I had to leave a lot of the work I noticed that plants seem to be having a second round of flowering – I guess you never give up learning especially when it comes to gardening.

Clematis' 3rd flowering of the season & unnamed trial fuchsia

Clematis’ 3rd flowering of the season & unnamed trial fuchsia

While clearing through some drawers during my enforced rest I found an old note book I had for my gardening in 1995! I had left notes to myself reminding me about getting fresh compost and not old bags because I had had a bad experience that year losing several plants. Also notes about cutting fuchsias and burying them until the spring amongst many other good ideas which obviously I took to heart as I seem to be doing them up to now..

1995 notepad & part of the container garden

1995 notepad & part of the container garden

With the weather cooling down quickly and leaves turning on my hydrangeas I noticed two Calla Lilies which have been in the garden for four years and have got to this stage in bud.  Now that a lot of the other plants have finished they are taking pride of place, and yesterday (last week October) discovered that one of them has now flowered. FUCHSIA FuchsiaBerry has had a lot of fruit.  I have tried them a couple of times and they taste quite smooth almost the texture of a cherry.

Still flowering laurentia & an unnamed trial antirrhinum

Still flowering laurentia & an unnamed trial antirrhinum

The Strawberry ‘Irresistible’ which I trialled about four years ago from Thompson and Morgan is producing fruit for the second time this year. The double antirrhinums, Sun Diascia ‘Eternal Flame’ and the three unnamed trial plants from this year – unnamed bidens, fuchsia and trailing antirrhinum are all pictured here. The latter, a peachy pink colour – have been flowering for the whole season. I wonder if they have been named yet?
In September I received an Invitation to attend the Bournemouth in Bloom presentations, thankfully Alan and I were well enough to attend. What a big surprise when I discovered I had won the Gold Award and overall winner for my Container Garden and Silver award for my Hanging Basket and Patio garden.  I was thrilled to bits and thank you Wendie Alexander for the lovely piece on Facebook.

Bournemouth in Bloom awards & Strawberry 'Irrestitible'

Bournemouth in Bloom awards & Strawberry ‘Irrestitible’

This year I have planted up some plants for the winter. We are usually visiting my Sister in California through October/November not getting home until the beginning of December, then of course we are into Christmas, so I have already planted tulips ready for the spring and thought that I would plant the daffodils in the garden so it doesn`t look so bare and then they can establish without much help.

Autumn colour & diascia's 2nd flowering

Autumn colour & diascia’s 2nd flowering

Alan has been busy taking the watering system out of the front and drying the computer timer, taking the battery out and storing for next year.  I usually throw the battery away as you can`t tell how much power is in it and it has been working for over five months. We leave the watering system in place in the back garden just putting the timer away as it is more sheltered than the front. My two tier stands have been taken down and sprayed with protective oil and the baskets cleaned and put away until next year. I take all the chains off the baskets and spray them, then hang them in my shed.

Calla Lilly & useful notes in 1995 notepad

Calla Lilly & useful notes in 1995 notepad

Now is the time to start thinking about next year`s plants etc and look forward to the new spring/summer catalogue from Thompson & Morgan so the dark evenings will be used thumbing through the catalogues…and then of course there is Christmas.  I have just received the Christmas catalogue from Thompson & Morgan and they have some wonderful flowers/plants in there, must start planning for some of them!!

Autumn tones & Tomato 'Sweet Aperitif'

Autumn tones & Tomato ‘Sweet Aperitif’

Hope all my gardening friends are keeping healthy and enjoying the autumn, take care until the next time………………….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.

Geoff Stonebanks trio of triumphs

Geoff Stonebanks, one of the customer trial panelists and owner of the multi-award winning garden, Driftwood, in Bishopstone, Sussex, has had a very successful gardening year. He’s just scored a trio of triumphs in 2016.

In the November issue of a national gardening magazine his garden was judged to be a finalist and runner-up in their Garden of the Year Awards 2016 competition, in the small space category. After receiving hundreds of entries nationwide. This, coupled with Geoff and Driftwood’s appearance on the popular Gardeners’ World TV programme, back in September, and the photo shoot in June for an 8-page feature about the garden in the national lifestyle magazine Coast, next summer, has enabled Geoff to have the best year ever, since first opening his garden gate back in 2009. Not to mention of course the £15,000 raised for charity this summer alone bringing the garden total to £76,000. Geoff has been a member of the customer trial panel since 2012 and has trialled over 100 different products in that time. Many of them were on show this summer for the photo shoots and judging.

Verbena bonariensis and pinks

Verbena bonariensis and pinks

Geoff comments; ” I saw the competition advertised back in May and thought I’d give it a go. All I had to do was submit 8 pictures of the garden and complete a questionnaire answering specific questions, ranging from how I created the garden to the challenges and obstacles I had to overcome.” He went on to say, “I was utterly amazed to find out in late July that it had been shortlisted in the small space category and would be photographed before the final judging.”

When the magazine editor telephoned Geoff to tell him he was the runner-up, she said “Your entry was always a real stand-out and genuinely was knocking on the door for the top prize all the way. It will be such a pleasure to share more pictures of your garden with our readers over the coming months.

Geoff was interviewed on BBC Sussex recently, along with the editor, who explained to listeners that the competition set out to look for clever solutions and the ability to make something of unique and difficult spaces.

Geoff's garden with Buddleja 'Buzz® Magenta.' Film crew from Gardener's World

Geoff’s garden with Buddleja ‘Buzz® Magenta.’ Film crew from Gardener’s World

Needless to say, Geoff is thrilled and tells us the magazine will be featuring more of his garden in their April 2017 issue. Not only that, he can now choose up to £250 worth of garden equipment from the competition sponsors catalogue.

Then, back in September the garden was featured in a 6-minute film on Gardeners’ World too. The show had been looking at inspired planting and design in a series of small gardens and spent the day filming in late August. Geoff was able to take the presenter around the garden and talk about the different garden rooms. You can clearly see the T&M Buddleja ‘Buzz® Magenta’ and lilac in the foreground of the picture of Geoff on camera along with the Thompson & Morgan Berberis x ottawensis f. purpurea ‘Superba’ he won for blog of the month earlier in the year, sticking up behind the fig leaves.

Birds eye view of Driftwood garden

Birds eye view of Driftwood garden

Driftwood is set to open 14 times in 2017 and full details can be found at www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk  Look out for the feature next summer in Coast magazine too!

So why not make a date to visit and see both the garden and the many Thompson & Morgan plants on show for yourselves. Private visits can also be made for lunch or afternoon tea in the garden.

Geoff Stonebanks

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, featured on Gardeners’ World on BBC TV and finalist in Gardeners’ World Magazine Garden of the Year 2016, he’s raised £95000 for various charities in 8 years, £53400 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.

RETURN OF THE MICE

I’m so excited! (Sad middle-aged woman, doesn’t get out much.) I’ve bought a large heated propagator and David has fixed up my smaller ones so I now have 5 on the go! The perennials must be quaking in their boots as I have been prowling around, secateurs in hand, eyes narrowed, snipping off as many non-flowering shoots as I could find. I have even dug out (haha, no pun intended) some (stale) organic rooting powder and added vermiculite to my potting compost to give them the best start in life.

Still looking lush & ricinus still growing

Still looking lush & ricinus still growing

First though I had to clean the greenhouse and covert it from summer to autumn function: Everything out, chillies, tomatoes and cucamelons harvested, plants composted (that’s a lie, they will be composted, but by the council, am ashamed to admit I don’t have a compost heap – I AM NOT A REAL GARDENER). Plant food, seed tins, storage boxes and general detritus out, staging and flooring swept. Someone please tell me why it is only now that the curcuma bulbs have sent up new growth, stuffed as they are into a dark corner, as no amount of encouragement during the summer had any effect?
So there I was pottering about when out of the corner of my eye a creature, at first thought a frog, threw itself against the greenhouse door before beating a hasty retreat to safety. As I suspected, the mice are back! Small burrows are appearing in the soil of the raised tomato trough, surrounded by straw and bird seed. (You have to admire their tenacity; they have gnawed a serrated circle and a mouse hole through the lid of the plastic storage bin – he who dares wins, I say.) In honour of their return I have even bought a small resin statue of a mouse.

My shed (not really!) & St. Michael on the Mount

My shed (not really!) & St. Michael on the Mount

It’s all change on the patio too. I got bored waiting for the begonias to die down so I pulled them up to dry their corms for overwintering. Turfed out the spent soil as mulch onto the back of the dry border where the cornus go to die. Crammed T & M Jonquilla daffs into every pot: Martinette, Pipit, Pueblo and Green Eyed Lady. Don’t think I have bought enough! Must have more, more, more! Breath…………..Without the colourful annuals the patio has transformed from exotic terrace to shady glen; the ferns really come into their own at this time of year, and I’ve added T & M  Blechnum brasiliense Volcano to the mix, which has been growing on in the greenhouse since The Triallist’s Open Day, waiting for its new home. Sadly most of the heucheras have come away in my hands, their roots eaten by the dreaded vine weevil (Note to self, try nematodes next year, the chemical drench lied.) I’ve put all five FUCHSIA fuchsiaberries together in one huge pot in the hope that they will establish and make more of an impact next summer, as they never really got going this year. More sun I think.

Talking of sun (good link, huh!) David and I did actually manage to have a holiday last month after all. We went to stay with our old friends-&-neighbours who have moved to Manaccan, a village – in the middle of nowhere, sorry B & P – on the Lizard peninsula in south Cornwall. (And just as fellow blogger Amanda found with her bedfellows in hospital, one of the first people we were introduced to was a keen gardener who buys from T & M and reads the blogs!) First thing I noticed was how echium are growing en masse in Bob’n’Patti’s garden, so much so that their gardener pulls’em up like weeds! They have a patch of ginger 6ft tall and 5ft round and perennial aeoniums the size of dinner plates. All of which they inherited from the previous owners.

Trebah - September 2016

Trebah – September 2016

We visited Helston Museum, one of the largest folk museums in the South West, with a vast social history collection dating from the 18th to the 20th century. My attention was naturally drawn to the gardening exhibits, some of which looked eerily like the contents of my shed, the implication being that I too am a relic!
Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens could have been on Madeira, if it wasn’t for the tell-tale view of St Michael’s Mount in the bay. Trebah Gardens was a revelation! A grand colonial style whitewashed mansion sits on the brow of the hill, overlooking the panoramic sweep of Hydrangea Valley, full of blue hydrangeas, towering palms, gunnera, tree ferns (also growing like weeds)  and towering bamboo, as it slopes down to the sea. You could be forgiven for thinking you were in some sub-tropical paradise. It reminded me of a tea plantation (not that I’ve ever been to one you understand but I have watched Indian Summers).

New T&M bidens still flowering its head off! & LGS Best Small Back Garden 2016

New T&M bidens still flowering its head off! & LGS Best Small Back Garden 2016

Having visited RHS Hyde Hall in Essex shortly after our return (needed another horticultural fix before the winter) I was bowled over by the swathes of grasses and prairie planting. All three gardens are breath-taking in their scale, but completely contrasting in environmental conditions and planting styles. England certainly punches above its weight when it comes to its wealth of different terrains!  (My uncle used to say I had swallowed a dictionary when he read my A level essays.)
So back at Chez Broome autumn has taken hold, but nobody has told the hanging baskets! The new T&M bidens is having a late flush (know how it feels) although for some strange reason the flowers are all white this time, instead of pink tinged. Petunia ‘Crazytunia Mandevilla’ and Minitunia calibrachoa ‘Crackerjack’ just keep on going so I just keep on feeding. The lime green, black and caramel coloured foliage of ipomaea are going for it in the shade so I’ll just leave them all to it!
Oh, and reader, we won: London Gardens Society Best Small Back Garden 2016. How about that!

Fruits of my harvest

Hello Gardeners,

I hope you have had a wonderful summer and are enjoying the fruits of your harvest. I have had the most successful year ever thanks to the reliable and strong seeds from Thompson & Morgan. I wish I had thought to count how many Tomato ‘Magic Mountain’ seeds we had. We had such a glut we were giving them to friends, neighbours, family and hospital staff. My mum has made me pasta sauce and tomato soup on a regular basis and my brother took some to make me a chutney although I have yet to see it!

Unfortunately, I can’t take the credit for looking after the watering and feeding of the plants as I haven’t been well enough It’s thanks to Mark and mum that the greenhouses have been kept going. The only thing I did was prune the tomato vines down to five foot, pinch out the side shoots and cut off the lower leaves as the fruits were forming.

My Uncle Vince who lives in Solva says he’s had the worst tomato crop ever. He thinks they’ve not had enough sun and they have been affected by blight. My Tomato ‘Magic Mountain’ have certainly lived up to the claim that they are blight resistant as so far there is no disease in our greenhouse and the weather is unpredictable at the moment.

Huge haul of tomatoes & delicious pasta sauce

Huge haul of tomatoes & delicious pasta sauce

Blogger Jean Willis who grows wonderful petunia displays sent me a few packets of seeds, the chillies didn’t take, they germinated well but a sudden hike in temperature when I was in hospital meant they were put under stress as they were on the hottest shelf in the greenhouse, all day. When they were watered intermittently at dusk the compost had dried out far too much,and they couldn’t recover. Mark had so much to do in the mornings I had to occasionally remind him by text to open the greenhouse doors and windows and damp down the floor. However, the Pepper ‘Sweet Bonita’ has been the best plant I have ever grown! They have even beaten the plug plants that I usually buy in terms of numbers of fruit, taste and size. Again I’m not sure if this is down to Mark looking after them, or that I have set the greenhouse planting up better than last year, by choosing the side closest to the house for the tomato vines so the heavy leaves and vigorous growth don’t shade out the sun for the slower and lower growing crops.

After carefully growing aubergines for my other brother, who still hasn’t managed to build his greenhouse (2nd year of having it) I ended up with too many plants, and I used up the last of my precious seeds. I gave a plant each to my auntie and mum, but both of them say that there are no fruits on theirs. Mum’s is outdoors as she does not have a greenhouse, and my Auntie Mary’s aubergine is in a pot in the greenhouse, but comes out to sit on the path in the day. Mum lives three miles away from me, and my auntie lives twenty odd miles away from me. I think it may be because the Enorma seeds tend to do better undercover.

Aubergine plant

Aubergine plant

I bought some cucamelons and they cropped really well, but due to having excess aubergine plants I could only grow them in a pot with a string frame in the greenhouse. They would have been better in the borders with a strong mesh support, however they did grow and fruit really well. It’s not something I will grow again though as I wasn’t keen on the taste, although it was funny watching people’s faces as they bit into the fruits and decided on what they tasted like or whether they liked them or not. Surprisingly it was my oldest niece Ffion who loved them. She even asked if she could take some home for her lunch box, I told her to take as many as she liked. This then led to her sisters Hattie and Gracie asking very sweetly if they could take some peppers, tomatoes and aubergines home to make a fruity rice dish for tea. I am glad I had more than enough for them to go home with.

This is the time of the year when I would be planning my winter crops, things like cauliflower, broccoli, onions turnip, spinach and Christmas Potatoes. I would be sowing seeds, sifting compost, and keeping an eye for spaces in the greenhouses to pop the plants into. However, the way it’s going I will still be eating summer fruits in the winter. The aubergines are still fruiting, as are the peppers and cucamelons, although I think the tomatoes will be finished by the end of the month. I also have been now banned from working with compost, and am not allowed into the greenhouses or garden without gloves on as I have started Chemotherapy. My treatment is weekly and for a possibility of eighteen weeks, with an operation after, so all I can do at the moment is delegate tasks to mum and Mark.

Just because I am having this treatment doesn’t mean that my gardening life has stopped, it’s just changed down a gear. For my birthday Mark bought me some Primula Vialii plug plants and they have been transplanted into individual three inch pots to overwinter on the shelves. These are in the small greenhouse along with three aubergines in pots, a massive begonia which is in the aloe borders. A squash plant is also in the small greenhouse, that I thought wouldn’t make it and the money tree which has put on loads of growth through the summer.

Cucamelons

Cucamelons

The big greenhouse has the tomato plants, aubergines, peppers, cucamelons and the basils. I also seem to
have a woodlice invasion too! But it’s my fault they are there as I didn’t tell Mark and mum to pick up all the dead material from the borders. Yesterday I had poor mum picking up the odd split tomato, dead leaves, spent trusses and random snails all in order to keep the greenhouse as clean as possible to help prevent diseases forming. I don’t mind the woodlice, but I occasionally heard a startled squeak from mum when she uncovered them under a leaf. I have stopped using slug pellets in the greenhouses as the plants are strong enough to cope with the irregular munch. I felt quite empowered saying snip this, cut that, compost that bit. Poor mum, but I did pay her in fresh raspberries and apples from the garden, and another tub of tomatoes.

Another great garden haul

Another great garden haul

The strangest thing to happen since I’ve being diagnosed with Cancer is that I’ve met some wonderful Thompson & Morgan customers in the three hospitals I have been in, and one of them a lovely lady called Lynne said she always reads my blogs. I was really shocked at this, because I only ever expect family or friends to read them I did say I still am as surprised as anyone else when things grow, as I’m still learning how to garden. I also had good advice from another great lady called Sally-Anne (aka Purple Pip) who insisted I get out in the fresh air as much as possible. I’ve made friends for life with Hazel, Kelly and Monica, and the support from Bloggers Geoff, Caroline and Jean has been incredible.

I am really hoping that I will have something to blog about in the next month or two if not I might just do a short winter blog, if not I will just have to rely on Geoff, Caroline, Jean and all of the other writers for my gardening fix.

Until next time, Take care, and Happy Gardening,

Love Amanda.

My name is Amanda and I live in Pembrokeshire with my fiancé and our garden is approximately 116 meters square. I want to share with you my love for gardening and the reasons behind it, from the good to the bad and ugly. I want to do this for my own personal pleasure. If you would like to take the journey with me then please read my blogs and share with me your gardening stories.

Anyone for cucamelon?

So anyway, after two weeks of tropical 30c heat, here we are in mid-September, the rain finally came and the temperature’s dropped to a respectably dull 20c. Great, I think, I can start tidying up for the autumn, and then go on holiday. But when I get outside everything has started greening up and growing again!

Anyone for cucamelon? & cucamelon and Tomato 'Tutti Fruiti'

Anyone for cucamelon? & cucamelon and Tomato ‘Tutti Fruiti’

All very confusing, for me as well as the plants! Summer: The cucamelons are overtaking the greenhouse and have taken the tomatoes hostage, the cucumber vine isn’t even mildewed yet, and the peppers are ripening. Autumn: Salvia cuttings and strawberry runners are potted up. Winter: Colocasias have been brought undercover. Spring: My T&M bulbs have arrived.

Talking of which, I‘ve gone all delicate for next spring: I’ve bought jonquilla daffs Martinette, Pueblo & Pipit, and Green Eyed Lady for the patio containers. For the raised bed out front I’ve bought scilla, aconite and puschkinia; lots and lots of them. I’m into naturalising from now on, partly to let nature increase its stocks and partly because I hate planting bulbs. Tulips are off – by the time they come into flower I’ve got bored waiting, and the minute they start to look off colour I pull’em up because I’m impatient to start planting out for summer. No point planting them in pots as Fred the Oriental eats the leaves! Alliums get on my nerves too, all those floppy leaves lying around amongst the pristine perennials. Oh didn’t I tell you? I’m a neat freak.

Poinsonous ricinus seed heads & minitunia Calibrachoa 'Crackerjack'

Poinsonous ricinus seed heads & minitunia Calibrachoa ‘Crackerjack’

However, I digress. Actually I‘ve had a lovely morning in the garden. Been around all the borders deadheading & cutting back, planting up some divisions I took earlier this year to bulk up their parent plants, reducing clumps of thugs like achillea The Pearl, and relocating perennials to rebalance displays. I’ve even pushed the boundaries of taste (my taste anyway) and planted very garish (plant label refers to them as Bold) but stunning Rudbeckia ‘Summertime Orange‘ and Helenium autumnale ‘Red Shades’. Sedums seem to be very in vogue at the moment with several new varieties on offer. I have bought Jose Aubergine, a deep burgundy type with dusky pink flowers. (Why I have bothered to plant late summer colour is a mystery to me as I‘m only likely to see it on my way to the greenhouse and back these days.)

Since our last Open Day for this year on Sept 4th I’ve barely been in the garden for more than a few minutes at a time – too hot or too busy – other than to water. The auto-watering system keeps exploding from a key joint in the pipe on the patio. (As a result, frogs have been gravitating to the cool shady moisture of the patio from the scorching heat of the borders, straight into the jaws of Winky the Sphynx. One such happy incident resulted in seven cats staking out the sofa with frog in hiding underneath. David applied the glass jar and plate method of capture, frog relocated to pond and all was well.) Back to the matter at hand, consequently the irrigation system was rendered useless during the hottest September temperatures for the last 40 years so watering had to be done with hose and sprinkler twice a day for nearly a fortnight. A heated debate ensued amongst friends, as to the relative merits of watering as a means of relaxation as opposed to deadheading. My money’s on deadheading every time!

Petunia 'Mandevilla' & Today's Catch!

Petunia ‘Mandevilla’ & Today’s Catch!

Since the summer holidays ended there has been a distinct change of pace (traffic, talks of Christmas) but my thoughts are naturally turning to Garden 2017. The summer house, currently decorated in the style of a 1930s tea room, is going to be transformed into a beach hut. On the patio we are going to fix mirrors along the boundary fence to reflect more light in and make it look bigger.

It’s time to reflect on the winners and losers of the season, now that this summer’s T&M trial period has concluded. Definitely to be repeated next summer are Petunia ‘Cremissimo’, minitunia Calabrachoa ‘Crackerjack’, Bidens ‘Bee Dance Painted Red’ and the un-named bidens which is being launched in T&M 2017 catalogue. Petunia ‘Crazytunia Mandevilla’ is not for the faint hearted, although stunningly beautiful and still going strong, it needs watering and deadheading twice a day at the height of the season and sulks if you don’t feed it every week. Although Fuchsia FUCHSIABERRY never really got going I am hopeful that it will come into its own next summer. Patti Pans ‘Summer Mixed’ have been great fun to grow and are very versatile in recipes for stir fry, roasted, in soups and pie fillings. Having initially been disappointed in Tomato ‘Tutti Frutti’, suddenly, overnight it seems, the trusses have ripened to produce colourful little fruits, not my favourites but very pretty.

Calibrachoa 'Crackerjack'

Calibrachoa ‘Crackerjack’

Ricinus communis ‘Impala’ has been a revelation, three magnificent specimens grown from seed, admired by all, and great fun to see people’s faces when you tell them that’s where the poisonous ricin comes from! But my absolute favourite product has got to be Cucamelon ‘Melothria’: A real curiosity on Garden Open Days, and second prize in the Any Other Fruits category at our Horticultural Society Autumn Show. (Hmm, David won first prize and Best In show for his Dinner Plate Aeonium, judged by the one and only Jim Butress no less.) So easy to grow from seed, three vines have produced dozens, no hundreds, of fruits that look like mini watermelons and taste like lemon flavoured cucumbers. They are delicious in salads dressed with raspberry vinegar or thrown into a gin and tonic (with lime juice ice-cubes) or Pimms. Anyone got any other recipes for cucamelon?

My next blog will be after the London Gardens Society awards in October; we have been shortlisted for Best Small Garden so fingers crossed…..In the meantime I intend to make the most of the autumn as it’s a long old winter ahead. Hope you do too!

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