Making a willow dome seating area

On a resent visit to Foxton Locks near Market Harborough, I saw a dome made up of willow with a seat. I was so impressed with it, I thought it would be nice to make a willow dome for the green belt park area where we live. I am involved in the RHS It’s Your Neighbourhood and Loughborough in Bloom and look after the green belt area.

Making a willow dome seating area

The willow dome

I decided to make one myself and, after getting the willow together, I set about making the dome by planting the willow, so that it would grow into a living shelter. Once the seat had been put in, the job was done!

Making a willow dome seating area

The finished dome

We have also recently started a wildlife area by a stream which has a lot of trees and bushes in, putting up nest boxes and also bug boxes for bees and insects.

Making a willow dome seating area

Ready to put up the bird boxes (I’m in the high-vis jacket!)

At the moment I’m getting an area ready with bee and butterfly flowers, using Thompson & Morgan’s Butterfly Mix.

Making a willow dome seating area

Wildlife area


Harry Cook
Customer trial panel member Harry Cook has many years of gardening experience, winning several awards for his own garden displays. Harry and his wife Pat are members of It’s Your Neighbourhood with Loughborough in Bloom and look after the area called ‘The Green Belt’ around their house. He made the news in 2012 when he stopped thieves from taking his award-winning petunias!

Spring is on its way

After all the horrendous rain, gales and floods I think I can at last say I believe spring is on its way. The heavy rains have stopped here in Bournemouth although we are still getting heavy showers, but in between we have had sunshine with reasonable temperatures. We have to repair a couple of panels that were damaged in one of the gales, but taking everything into account I consider myself very lucky that no other damage was done.

Spring is on its way

Cheery daffs

The daffodils are out in my garden, making it look very cheery, also many crocuses on the side of roads which makes a great difference to floods everywhere. I noticed today that several trees have their pink blossoms already – another sign that spring is here. My small acer trees, which are in containers, all have new shoots on them. I noticed also that some of my tree lilies are showing themselves – a little early.

Spring is on its way

New shoots on the acer

At last I have been able to get into the garden and cut back and feed my fuchsias and generally tidy up by sorting out the containers ready for the new season. Whilst doing that and getting some ready to be emptied I came across a window box, which at first looked as though it was full of weeds, only to discover that my strawberry plants from last year were just starting to shoot, so I tidied them up ready for the new season.

Spring is on its way

Early tree lily

On Sunday 23rd February part of the film that was made in my garden on 3rd September last year was on TV, I was watching whilst having my breakfast and there I was onscreen – I must say that it felt kind of funny watching myself!!!

Spring is on its way

The front garden in 2013

On 14th January I was presented with a cup for winning Gold First Best Container Garden 2013 in the Bournemouth in Bloom competition, and certificate for Gold Third Best Private Hanging Basket, I was thrilled as we are not told until called up to the stage.

Spring is on its way

Me being presented with the cup for Gold First Best Container Garden 2013

Looking forward to another busy season…

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.

Spring spruce up begins in Church Lane

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!

Spring spruce up begins in Church Lane

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.

Spring spruce up begins in Church Lane

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.

Spring spruce up begins in Church Lane

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.

Spring spruce up begins in Church Lane

Iris reticulata in its 3rd year

Rebecca Tute
Rebecca works in the Marketing department as part of the busy web team, focusing on updating the UK news and blog pages and Thompson & Morgan’s international website. Rebecca enjoys gardening and learning about flowers and growing vegetables with her young daughter.

A successful year at Driftwood

2013 was a very successful year for gardener Geoff Stonebanks and his garden, Driftwood!

A successful year at 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.

A successful year at Driftwood

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.

A successful year at Driftwood

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.

A successful year at Driftwood

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!

A successful year at Driftwood

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!

A successful year at Driftwood

Golden lysimachia

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!

A successful year at Driftwood

Buddleja ‘Buzz’

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.

A successful year at Driftwood


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

Rebecca Tute
Rebecca works in the Marketing department as part of the busy web team, focusing on updating the UK news and blog pages and Thompson & Morgan’s international website. Rebecca enjoys gardening and learning about flowers and growing vegetables with her young daughter.

February 2014 – an update on plants surviving the winter

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.

Steve Woodward
I am 56 yrs young, and have been married to Joy for over 35 years, We have 2 children and 3 grandchildren,and have an allotment on the Notts/Derbys border. I am RHS trained to level 2 and have also passed a course in herbalism, I have had the allotment for about 20 years, that is mainly for the veg growing, whereas at home I grow fruit and have a love of anything big leaved, exoticy looking, jungly type plants. I also help run a gardening forum at

This summer I had great success with my tomato plants!

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.

This summer I had great success with my tomato plants!

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.

Lucas Hatch
Lucas started gardening when he was 6 years old and after becoming the RHS Young Gardener of the Year 2012, his interest in gardening continues to grow. He is the youngest member of Thompson & Morgan’s customer trial panel. His latest accolade is to have taken part in the Suffolk Show’s Model Garden Competition where he won Best in Show receiving the Otley College Perpetual Challenge Trophy.

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