Customer trial panel member Caroline Broome has had a busy weekend, getting ready for spring.
At last we have had a fine weekend and I’ve been making the most of it in spades, literally! Everything is coming into leaf, notably tree peony Hong Xia, and some plants like bog sage never died down. How timely was our decision to get rid of our lawn last autumn in favour of Indian stone – it’s so much easier to access the borders now. A near neighbour’s massive ash tree, which has overshadowed our garden for years, has been hard pruned by half so I’m dying to see how much more sun we will get here. The spring spruce up begins!
Tree peony Hong Xia
Having compiled a ‘Things To Do’ list I went completely off plan by cutting back the clematis Montana by half! I know that it’s officially the wrong time to prune this clematis but it was smothering everything in its wake. Then I hard pruned the neighbouring choisya. Everything in that corner of the garden looks strangely bare, but a lot brighter.
Next I dug up congested patches of symphytum, white phlox and acanthus to make room for my new T&M trial plants: Wallflower Perfumed Collection & Digitalis Leopardskin plugs, which were overwintered in 9cm pots, now have healthy root systems poking through the bottom of their pots. Also ready for transplanting are barerooted brunnera ‘Starry Eyes’ which have been storming away in their temporary greenhouse holding beds. Can’t wait for the soil to dry out a bit so that I can plant them out. I can’t bear to throw away any potential plants so every time I lift perennials I end up with loads of divisions, which I pot up for sale at my NGS Open Day. It’s only February and I can’t move in the greenhouse for plants. Some of the plants from last autumn that died back naturally over winter are totally unidentifiable, so it’s a case of wait and see.
Digitalis and wallflowers
I planted Freesia ‘Patio Perfection’ bulbs into terracotta patio pots, but the Trumpet Lily Collection has been planted into plastic pots for sinking into the borders later. Daffodil Rainbow Butterflies Mixed is promising to put on a magnificent display; I planted dozens so I’m anticipating a show stopping display outside our sun room doors.
Daffodils and Jitterbug, the annoyed cat!
It’s a case of hope over experience with me when it comes to seed sowing, but always the optimist I have sown my Courgette Defender seeds already, along with some ‘Boogie’ peas and sweet peas ‘Old Spice Mixed’ for the allotment. Probably not my most sensible decision was to plant out the Charlotte and Maris Piper potatoes, but they were chitted and raring to go; so now I am glued to the weather forecast, fleece in hand, in case of impending frost.
A friend made a beautiful raised wooden and aluminium herb planter for our Christmas present, which has been filled with perennial herbs like sage, thyme, chives and rosemary, and I have sown purple basil and coriander to fill in the gaps in summer.
Iris reticulata in its 3rd year
2013 was a very successful year for gardener Geoff Stonebanks and his garden, Driftwood!
The back garden
It saw his garden related charity fundraising top the £32,000 mark in just 4 years, for which he became a finalist in the BBC Sussex Community Heroes Awards last December. Even in the depths of winter and the bad weather we have been experiencing, his back garden still seems to look better than most.
Charities that Geoff supports
You may recall that last year was his first year as a member of the Thompson & Morgan Customer Trials Panel, something he will be reprising in 2014, having just been invited to take part again. Geoff was thrilled to be invited for a second year. The subject of being involved was a much talked about point with visitors last summer.
He says that by far the most successful plant he trialed, by virtue of comments received from his 2000 visitors, was the Peruvian Tree Lily Alstroemeria Collection, which he took delivery of last April. The plants flowered profusely right up to early December as the picture shows although a little burnt by the wind around the petal edges! Amazingly, these stunning plants have seen off the dreadful winter weather on the south coast, which has seen gale force winds straight off the sea and never ending rain, but are already showing strong signs of growth in early February.
Another of the trial plants from 2013 was the Foxglove ‘Dalmatian Peach’, which although they took a long time to establish, arriving March and flowering in August have withstood the winter so far and they too, are showing good signs of growth in February as you can see. The dreadful gales and torrential rain have been the worse that Geoff has experienced in the 10 years he has been living and gardening on the south coast! At times he says he has lain in bed thinking the roof would blow off the house, yet the garden seems to have come through the whole thing unscathed, apart from 2 new fence posts that were needed in the back garden, along with the propping up of an old apple tree, in danger of falling down in waterlogged ground.
Foxglove ‘Dalmatian peach’
His front garden directly faces the sea between Brighton and Eastbourne as you can see. This picture was taken during one of the recent storms, yet the structure of the garden, designed to cope with the strong winds, stood firm. Geoff has used the rowing boat in the centre, along with the upturned sections of railway sleepers and some original beach groynes to create an arc of protection for the plants that are thriving in their shadow. The full force of the SW winds from the Atlantic blow up the Channel and hit the garden full on.
The front garden
One of these plants is another from last year’s trial, Rose ‘Garden Party’, and several of the other plants are already showing signs of growth again. Geoff also received many bulbs as part of the trial last Autumn, that have yet to show their faces in his garden, Tulip ‘Silver Parrot’, the Iris ensata Collection and Tulip “Ice Cream”, all of which will look quite stunning once they start to grow this spring, “that is if we ever get one!” says Geoff, who promises pictures once they have flowered!
Rose ‘Garden Party’
Other late arrivals were a range of hardy geraniums, the Hardy Doubles Collection comprising Southcombe Double, warm pink flowers, Plenum, ruffled purple/pink flowers, Double Jewel, white star shaped and Summer Skies, tightly frilled mauve/pink flowers. All will look wonderful, newly planted around the pond area in the back garden. Back in September Geoff also took delivery of Golden Lysimachia, which he chose to hang on to and plant out this spring. They are already showing signs of new growth in the greenhouse!
Three plants he bought himself last year from Thompson & Morgan were Buddleja ‘Buzz’ compact varieties, perfect for pots on the patio! They did well and have already shown significant growth in 2014!
The final plants to be delivered in 2013 were a collection of Osteospermum, Cape Daisies. These were planted out in late September and have survived the winter well so far, as you can see.
We have already advised Geoff of the plants he can expect to receive in 2014 so we will look forward to his updates on how they are progressing, once established.
Geoff has a busy year ahead, writing a monthly article about his garden for the Magazine, Garden News, fulfilling his volunteer role as an Assistant County Organiser and Publicity Officer for the National Gardens Scheme in East & Mid Sussex and preparing for his own 16 garden openings in 2014. In addition to the specific web page he records details of the Thompson & Morgan trial, you can read more of his garden at www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk
A short update regarding a couple of plants which are still surviving the winter now in to February.
Geranium ‘T&M’s Choice Mixed’ F1 Hybrid & Petunia ‘Easy Wave’
I have 2 plants which are still alive outside now into February. One is a zonal geranium (pelargonium) and the other, which is not just one, but a number of plants of petunia. These are in various locations around the back garden, the geranium is in a clay pot on the front wall. Neither have had any special protection, other than the geranium has a wall for protection from one side, it has got a bit straggly now. Normally I would have taken this in the greenhouse late autumn for cutting material, but the longer it has lasted, the more curious I am to see how much more it can survive. The petunias actually look quite green and healthy.
To be honest, it has not been a severe winter yet, we have had a fair number of frosts around here and some bad enough to leave car windscreens in need of a defrosting before setting off for work, but not the prolonged deep frosts that usually put paid to bedders well before now. Last year wasn’t too tough a winter either, but we did get a few early severe frosts around November/December that finished off many borderline plants outside.
The pictures here are of a zonal geranium (pelargonium) which has been outside since late spring 2013, and petunia plants which are dotted around the garden in various containers.
I will update further on their progress through the winter months.
Zonal geranium (pelargonium)
In previous years I have grown my tomato plants in grow bags in my mum and dad’s conservatory. I have grown various varieties including; Gardener’s Delight, Golden Sunrise, Beef Steak, Mr Stripey Tigerella, Money Maker, Alicante and tumbling tomatoes.
This year my mum and dad bought a new greenhouse for the family, and my brother and I helped to build it. We decided to cast a concrete slab as a base, but with an added open trough so we could plant directly into the ground. We improved the soil in the trough by digging out the first 6 inches of topsoil and replaced it with general multi-purpose compost. In this, I planted my Thompson & Morgan Gardener’s Delight (3 plants), and Mr Stripey (3 plants) during the third week of June. This was after I potted the seeds in early May. I used special tomato halos to promote even watering of the liquid feed to the plant roots, as well as a drip feed hose for general watering times.
Building the greenhouse with my brother
During the hot summer months I made sure the plants weren’t drying out, and I think the trough helped this, as although the greenhouse was hot the soil in the ground was able to retain its moisture longer than in previous years when I have used grow bags.
I watered my tomatoes in the morning and at night, and side shooted as necessary. I fed with Tomorite twice a week, and Phosphagen once a fortnight, and homemade liquid comphrey (that was very smelly) once a month. Something else I did was to spray mist the flowers around midday to help them set. The end result of this year’s approach and the warm summer weather produced an abundance of fruit like I’ve never had before.
Now for the taste test
The Gardener’s Delight were firm skinned with a juicy sweet flavour that were ideal for salads or just to eat on their own during a sneaky visit to the greenhouse! The Mr Stripeys were fleshier and not quite as sweet as the Gardener’s Delight, but nevertheless they were very delicious. I will definitely grow these varieties next year.
Another growing season draws to an end, well just about. I have been down the allotment this morning and I am still getting crops from beetroot, leeks, cauliflower, parsnips, chard, and turnip. The beetroot we have decided we like in a slightly different way, instead of cooking and pickling in jars we now roast in the oven as you would potato or parsnip. This produces a sweet and very tasty vegetable which we much prefer to the vinegar soaked method. In fact all of the above have been used today on the Sunday roast.
I have taken all the French and runner bean foliage down from the wigwam structures in a bit of a tidy up this morning, the wigwams are made from half inch steel bars 8’ long! These came to the company where I work as strengtheners in packing cases and were then thrown in the skip for scrap. They can stay in position all year round, will not rot, are too heavy to blow over and the best bit of all were completely free! Luckily my allotment is just across the road from the warehouse where I work.
I have been very impressed with the chard variety ‘Bright Lights’ which some of us were given to trial. I have cut some this morning and they are still cropping well, the coloured varieties seem much less prone to bolting or running to seed and both the leaves and succulent stems can be cooked and eaten. I am also looking forward to seeing if it does emerge again in the spring as promised to provide more fresh greens just when needed, this will have a well deserved row of its own in the allotment next year. Other vegetables which have also performed well this year are beetroot Boltardy, leek Musselburgh and onion Bedfordshire Champion.
Chard Bright Lights
One topical crop as it gets towards the end of October is the pumpkin! I grew T&M variety Dill’s Atlantic Giant down the allotment this year. I prefer the large varieties as I try to grow a couple of big pumpkins to carve for Halloween, the grandkids enjoy seeing one lit up on the back and I always try to attempt the scariest face possible when carving with the obligatory pointy teeth and mean eyes! But this year I went for a completely different approach and tried a kids’ favourite cartoon character. The result? Well, the grandkids absolutely loved it.
My carved pumpkin
Some things in the garden are now past their best and will need composting or cutting back if I don’t need the seed heads.
I normally have the greenhouses empty by now, but this year the tomatoes are still going strong, so leaving them a little longer.
The other greenhouse is full of new plants growing on and cuttings which I have rooted for friends, even with plants I can’t normally get to root, so it pays to keep trying.
Greenhouse full of rooted cuttings
The garden is still looking nice with late flowering annuals and perennials, I have just cut these (photo number 4) and can’t believe what is still in flower for October. The roses, over 50 of them, are still flowering and so are the fuchsias.
The red and orange pyracanthas are laden with berries making a lovely screen at the back of the garden.
The local school children have been using the garden for reading, drawing and playing and are coming back again if the weather stays fine. Some of the comments could only come from children, such as “is the grass real?” and “can I move in?” So hopefully another generation of gardeners in the making.
Cut flowers to brighten up the house
I’ve just found a photo taken in October 2006 and thought you might like to see it, this is what we started with. All good fun.
The garden in 2006