So many plants, so little space!

The greenhouse is packed to the gunnels with plugs-in-waiting and half hardys. With the cold spell behind us, at least for now, at last I can start thinking about hardening some of them off. I’ve managed to plant the millions (well, 2 dozen actually) of sweet peas on the allotment, as well as some more tree lilies salvaged from the carnage created by slugs and snails. Half of the postiplug Minitunias have been demolished as well, so displays will be somewhat diminished sadly. I’ve received some surprise (as yet unnamed) trailling antirrhinums, bidens and fuchsias to trial though so hopefully they will compensate. It took three 50 litre bags of compost to refill the tomato trough, but at last I can transplant the Tutti Fruttis.

Fred the cat & chillies and curcumas

Fred the cat & chillies and curcumas

The salvias and cannas can be relocated to the shelter of the patio now, so I can set up the tubs for the cucamelons. I’ve got the T & M Incredibloom® and fuchsia plant food at the ready so there should be no excuse for a poor harvest. It’s Russian Roulette as to whether I remember to open the greenhouse door in the morning (think tropical rainforest) and then close it again in the evening (frozen waste). A friend once trapped a neighbour’s cat in hers overnight but I digress!

Caroline's overflowing greenhouse & ricinus

Caroline’s overflowing greenhouse & ricinus

The sunroom is crammed with the cucamelons, courgettes De Nice A Fruit Rond, patty pans and chillies, all fed and potted on into 4” pots, ready for planting into their final positions by end May. The curcumas and eucomis are finally emerging too. I’ve got several thriving hosta divisions wedged in behind the bin store in the front garden. The helianthus Lemon Queen, run riot in one of the containers on the roof terrace, has been dug out, split and potted on for our National Gardens Scheme Open Day Plant Sale, now currently residing between shed and greenhouse. David reckons if he stands still long enough I’ll plant him too!
Tulips in pots on the patio are coming into bloom in succession (more by luck than judgement), their leaves the object of a running buffet for my Oriental cat Fred. I can’t have New Guinea impatiens, begonias or hostas at ground level as he munches on them too. (Winky the Sphynx cat is partial to chives.) I’m getting impatient with the tulips now, even as I enjoy their riot of colour, as I am already planning their replacements: all those zingy T&M petunias and bidens in waiting!

Tulips & more tulips

Tulips & more tulips

I did treat myself to some T & M perennials as well this summer. Brunnera Alexander’s Great are said to grow far bigger than Jack Frost, so we will see in due course. Following the success of Digitals Illumination I’ve also bought new Ruby Slippers. But my most anticipated plant so far this spring is the Ricinus communis Impala. The four seedlings are romping away, their leaves and stems already deep red. I shall plant one in the raised bed out front with melianthus major, grasses & ferns for an architectural effect, and one in the island Prairie bed out back combined with (yet more) grasses, thalictrum, angelica & eupatorium. But my Piece de Resistance (or dramatic flop) will be planting up the kadhai (won in a prize draw at GROW London last year and an unwanted eyesore ever since) with ricinus as a centre piece surrounded by fiery red hot pokers and cannas, on the roof terrace. It will probably end up looking like a sacrificial altar – hope it doesn’t frighten the neighbours!

Storm Imogen causing more trouble for our bloggers

As Amanda and Geoff have already mentioned the troubles of Storm Imogen and what it left behind. It took out our fence in the front garden.   On getting up early the next morning discovered that the posts had snapped clean off and one of the panels was swinging out across the public footpath so at 8am just as it was getting light I was trying to hang on to the panel while Alan unscrewed it to make it safe until the gale had died down. What a mess! It ended up with us replacing the complete fence as damage was discovered on two more posts and also the panels.


New fence, finials and water feature


Alan has been busy repainting the new fence and also this time putting in gravel boards which have been painted with a rubber solution paint and also the posts at the bottom in the hope it will stop them from rotting over the next few years. We have now bought some finials to finish the top of the posts. Two of our older grandsons spent the day putting the new fence up for us… A job well done.


Lilies, Tree lilies and Jean with lilies


On checking the border in the front of the fence found that my Tree Lily bulbs thankfully hadn`t been disturbed when putting the new fence in, hopefully they will stay there for a little longer until the better weather gets here. I have attached a few photos of the beautiful tree lilies from last year. I originally had three Clematis on the front fence but I am going to transplant them to a more convenient spot in the back garden, it will also give me more room to make it a proper `border` as it is only 15” wide and before was covered by the Clematis leaves. Does anyone else have a problem with using pencil on the plant labels (you know the ones I mean, flat white ones) it seems that during the winter the weather has wiped the names off!! I also tried using a fibre tip pen but that didn`t work either. It certainly gets frustrating as you can well imagine!


Incredicompost, tulips and Fuchsia berry


I have now received my delivery of incredicompost® which is under cover for the time being, so looking forward to be able to plant my seeds and ready for when the first plug plants arrive.

A few days ago the weather warmed up a little so spent the afternoon cutting back a lot of the plants, clearing spaces ready for the new season and getting rid of weeds… It never ceases to amaze me how fast the weeds grow and appear from nowhere in all sorts of weather with no help from fertiliser. I noticed the Clematis on the arch at the top of the back garden is now in bud and many new shoots on the climbing rose that grows with it. I was very surprised to see some of my tulips already in flower by Valentine`s Day. This year I have planted two packets of 10 tulip bulbs called Andre Rieu which is a slightly darker pink and already showing signs of buds although they will need to get a little taller first.


Peppermint Stick and Fuchsia berry


Just as we thought that the really bad weather had passed, found this morning that there had been very heavy torrential rain with very strong winds overnight. As it got light discovered that several of my empty containers, which had been stacked away for the winter, had been blown across the garden and path.   The weather was still lousy so just left them there until the weather got a little better and we were able to go out and restack them. Thankfully the new fence was still in one piece.

I had noticed that myStrawberry ‘Irrestistible’ which I first had as customer trials a few years ago, getting some leaves so put the window box outside Alan`s workshop where they always do well. Today has been a sunny day and the cold wind has dropped so have cleaned out the dead leaves etc. from the strawberry plants, fed them and a top coat of compost. This year I have bought a raspberry cane ‘Glen Prosen’ so hopefully will get some fruit this year. It will be grown in a container with a frame to support it.

According to the weather forecast it looks like a reasonable weekend so will be able to sort out all the baskets – mainly the easy fill kind – and containers and make sure they are all cleaned. Also I will sow some seeds in pots for the greenhouse. As mentioned previously I only have the plastic kind with no heat so will put the pots on the kitchen windowsill to start them off.

It is now time to put the replacement Garda Falls fountain back in place. The coating on the original one had started to peel back showing the white underneath. The garden centre where I purchased it said they needed to send it back to find out why it had happened.


Central Park, Petunia Frills & Spills and Garda Falls

**Further to my November Blog re Gardening in California and the drought they were experiencing, I am pleased to say they have had at last some measureable rain which is now making a lot of difference to their lawns as they turn green again and the plants showing how they appreciate it. There are a couple of photos, one of Peppermint Stick geranium and one of the lake in Central Park which has been dry for many months, now full of water and the wildlife love it.**

Over the past few days I have started to receive some of my postiplug plants: Fuchsia Berry, the ones where you can eat the fruit once the flower has finished, and Frills and Spills Petunias which always put on such a wonderful show, and have been busy potting them up, so now it begins…………….

Hope all the gardeners enjoy the weekend and are able to make headway in their gardens, most of all enjoy and have fun. `Til the next time………..

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.

I can’t wait for spring!

The T&M spring catalogues arrived this week and I am so excited! I have been choosing my plants for the summer customer trials. I shall concentrate my efforts on two areas – patio containers and hanging baskets and our allotment and greenhouse.


Petunia 'Cremissimo', 'Peach Sundae' and Begonia 'Garden Angels'

Petunia ‘Cremissimo’, ‘Crazytunia Mandevilla’ and Begonia ‘Garden Angels’


The theme on our patio is exotic, with year round interest provided by abutilons, ferns, fatsias, phormiums and heucheras so I have planned my selection to complement that: everything citrus coloured including NEW Petunia ‘Cremissimo’ – if its anything like last year’s ‘Peach Sundae’ then it’s going to be stunning! NEW Calibrachoa ‘Kabloom Terracotta’, NEW Petunia ‘Crazytunia Mandevilla’ and NEW Begonia ‘Garden Angels’, which look like heucheras-on-steroids! I am also going to try my hand at growing Ricinus Communis ‘Impala‘ from seed, Eucomis ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ bulbs & NEW Curcuma ‘Twister’ tuber to go with the potted ginger lilies and cannas.


Calibrachoa 'Kabloom Terracotta', Ricinus communis 'Impala' and Curcuma 'Twister'

Calibrachoa ‘Kabloom Terracotta’, Ricinus communis ‘Impala’ and Curcuma ‘Twister’


In the greenhouse we have room for half a dozen cordon tomatoes and a couple of cucumbers, so this year we’re trying Tomato ‘Tutti Fruitti Collection’ for a change, but are sticking to Cucumber ‘Cucino’ as I haven’t found a mini cucumber to rival its productivity. I am fascinated at the thought of edible fuchsia berries so we are having a go at the NEW Fuchsia Berry. More modest trials for the allotment due to time constraints makes us focus on the more unusual, so after tastings at the T&M Trials Open Day last summer, we will try growing Cucamelon ‘Melothria’, Squash [Patty Pans] ‘Summer Mix’ and Courgette ‘De Nice A Fruit Rond’.


Tomato 'Rainbow Blend' Cumcumber 'Cucino' and Fuchsia Berry

Tomato ‘Rainbow Blend’ Cumcumber ‘Cucino’ and Fuchsia Berry


Of course I couldn’t stop there without buying a couple of things that I have no room for, so NEW Brunnera ‘Alexander’s Great’ and Digitalis ‘Illumination Ruby Slippers’are on the list too!

David has been busy too, adding a small living wall to the front garden display; an area by our front door of about W:25cms x H:40cm with room for about 16 plants. It’s a north facing aspect so more ferns & grasses, and maybe a couple of hostas and herbs. Installing a drip irrigation system should be easy as the tap is situated conveniently right underneath.

The new planting scheme out front is settling in well, spring bulbs are coming up throughout and I have added a beautiful Hellebore ‘Spring Promise’ and a couple more ferns. David succeeded in finding two lovely tall containers to go either side of the front door for my Christmas present. Once installed securely I planted each one with chinodoxa bulbs for spring colour, three huge tree lilies for summer colour, infant contorted willows for year round interest (these quick growers will have to come out when we can no longer get through the front door) and hakonechloa aurea grass for good measure! Think I’ve been a bit too over-enthusiastic but hey, what the heck. David has created some unique lights too which are attracting lots of comments – using recycled bottles and jars.


Caroline's house and front garden

Caroline’s house and front garden


Today it has snowed for the first time this winter, and a long time coming too! But never to be distracted from my plant addiction I’m off to the garden centre for my ferns and grasses! Watch this space……..

A blog from Driftwood with a difference!

Most of my blogs are usually about the plants that Driftwood trials for Thompson & Morgan, as one of their Customer Trial Panel gardens, but for a change I thought I’d pen a little bit about the garden’s location and some of the challenges of gardening by the sea!

Driftwood by sea blog

Room with a view

For those not familiar with Driftwood, it’s located between Seaford and Newhaven on the south coast, not that far from Brighton. It’s in the bay you can see, looking out to sea and there is the view from our bedroom window across the fields to the coast. 2015 has seen strong winds, which makes gardening a real challenge through the summer months, keeping the garden pristine for its many garden visitors. Now, as we approach the winter months, there is much to do to put the garden to bed and get it ready for its 15 scheduled openings in 2016, along with its many private visitors and coach parties.


It is also quite possible it may appear on a prime time gardening show on national TV too next summer! Watch this space! I like the garden to look a little different each year, as many visitors come back year after year.

Driftwood by sea blog

The central area is still looking quite smart for November, even if it lacks a bit of bright colour. This view across the garden shows a range of lovely shades of green for this time of year!

Driftwood by sea blog

The garden has many different rooms which I have been working on in recent weeks and you can see the 2 rooms on the left of the garden, the cottage garden area in the foreground and the upper patio at the back, tidied up ready for replanting next spring.

Driftwood by sea blog


You can see me working on the raised beds in the centre off the garden too, moving plants around to change the overall look. There are 3 Thompson & Morgan blooms looking quite amazing at the moment, they are Rose Garden Party, Alstromeira Peruvian tree Lily and Hydrangea Vanilla Fraise as you can see.

Driftwood by sea blog


I’ve got several ball chrysanthemums in the back garden too, but the largest of them was badly hit by the recent winds as you can see. It’s always difficult with the wind so I try and keep the planting as low as possible and create the height with some rusted metal sculptures. If you want to see more on the garden go to Driftwood by Sea.


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 as a base, first opened to the public in 2009, he has raised over £61000 for various charities in 6 years, £32300 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.

Where has this year gone?

Where has this year gone? I used to hate November as it heralded the onset of winter, but since taking up gardening I now feel anticipation as well as a gentle winding down. After a quiet October, November is back to business once again, as I am on the side of Autumn Tidy Up. I like to cut back early flowering perennials to show off the late bloomers. The greenhouse needs a jolly good sweep and rinse now that the tomatoes and cucumbers have all been stripped out, but with the chilli peppers still cropping prolifically, and a family of mice having taken up residence I am loath the disrupt the happy home. I have been able to sort out my seed packets though, allocating easy-to-grow annuals for our 2016 National Gardens’ Scheme Children’s Treasure Hunt prizes, salads for the greenhouse, veggies for the allotment and flowers for the baskets. At this year’s T&M Triallists’ Open Day in August we were given a wide variety of seed packets, some of which I have never heard of so I am looking forward to experimenting next spring.

winter cobwebs

I am wondering what to do with Fuchsia ‘Eruption’ (summer 2015 trial) – shall I take my chances and leave them in their pot in the shelter of the semi-enclosed patio, or shall I defoliate and prune them and overwinter them in the greenhouse? I have never been very good at getting half hardy fuchsias through the winter so we will see……. Begonia Apricot Shades Improved (summer 2015 trials) have mostly been lifted, their tubers drying off for storage, but there is still a glorious burst of colour from one last hanging basket.

Ironically, just as they say it will be the coldest winter for years (who are They incidentally?) I chose this summer to go salvia mad, from large leaved salvia involucrata, Black and Blue and Amistad, to the small shrubby varieties, having always avoided them as semi-hardy. Oh well, I have taken cuttings and will dig up the larger leaved specimens to overwinter in the greenhouse. I don’t have a propagator and the greenhouse is unheated so I have brought the cuttings into my husband’s heated studio workshop. To protect the cuttings from overnight chill I provide bottom heat by placing a hot water bottle between two seed trays, and sit the 9cm pots in the top tray!

late colour

Having cut back the geranium phaeum from around the apple tree I was able to tackle the ivy which had grown into the shrubs beneath. In the process I liberated two cornus Winter Flame (winter 2012/3 trials), their buttery yellow leaves and fiery stems bringing colour to a dark corner. Digitalis Leopardskin and Digitalis Illumination have only just stopped flowering amongst the pulmonarias, cyclamen, alchemilla and Brunnera ‘Starry Eyes’ (spring 2014 trials). I love gardening for shade, it’s so challenging and when you get it right so rewarding, all those contrasting foliage shapes, colours and textures.

contrasting foliage

Since we planted the Dahlias Fox Mixed and Trebbiano (summer 2012 trials) on the allotment this spring they have thrived as never before, as they are in full sun on well-drained soil unlike our semi-shaded clay garden soil at home, and the number of flowers we have cut has run into hundreds!



Next year we will be adding some new dahlia tubers to the mix. The white cosmos and Californian poppies I grew from T&M seed in our sunroom this March are still flowering alongside, so I feel well encouraged to try annuals from seed next spring.

shady garden

So the gardening year has become protracted to ten active months, December & January being my hibernation period, with infrequent trips to the greenhouse to check on dormant plants and gaze longingly at the awaiting seed packets and trays in anticipation of early February sowing of sweet pea and the first bulbs emerging……. See you then!

An Amazing Year at Driftwood

What an amazing year one of our trial garden owners has had in 2015. Geoff Stonebanks had a triple whammy of a year. Not only did he celebrate the 100th opening of his award winning garden, Driftwood, this month but he also had TV gardener Christine Walkden visit in July, as well as getting his garden featured in The Sunday Telegraph in August. “Not bad” says Geoff “for a small garden (100ft by 40ft) on the south coast.” Geoff’s incredible success does not stop there! He has now seen 12,500 visitors to his patch since 2009 and raised an astonishing £61,500 for charity.

Geoff meeting Christine Walkden

Geoff meeting Christine Walkden


While achieving all this, he has been trialling a number of Thompson & Morgan plants over the last 3 years too. Here Geoff tells us of some of his successes in 2015 with some new stock and some old stock. He says “Looking at the new stock of plants, we have had many wonderful comments about the Clematis ‘New Love’ placed in a pot with wire frame. It has flowered profusely throughout the summer and drawn many comments for the visitors.” Rose ‘Sweet Spot® Calypso’ has been greatly admired too with its gorgeous blooms hanging from a pot in the centre of the garden. Another new addition has been the gorgeous Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer’, which has looked resplendent in pot under a pear tree, its blooms still glowing in late September. Fuchsia ‘Pink Fizz’ also made a dramatic appearance in Geoff’s garden this summer too with its effervescent blooms brightening up the borders.

Alstroemeria 'Indian Summer'

Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer’


Geoff came up with a fun idea this summer when a friend offered him an old fireplace surround! He placed it against a new fence, planted up and old dining room chair next to it, placed pots of tumbling petunias on the mantle, and bought an old rusty grate and filled it with Thompson & Morgan Begonia ‘Glowing Embers’. The result has been stunning, not to mention a talking point this summer. Geoff tells us the plant that has been asked about the most by visitors to his garden has been the delicate Fuchsia Arboresens or Mexican blueberry! Geoff had 3 plugs, which he placed in individual terracotta pots and they have come on well and the flowers have started to turn to berries and ultimately edible blueberries! Another crowd stopper has been the lovely petunia green edge pink.

Geoff's garden fireplace and Begonia 'Glowing Embers'

Geoff’s garden fireplace and Begonia ‘Glowing Embers’


However, when pushed for the most talked about plant this summer Geoff said, “Without doubt the single most commented on plant is the beautiful Buddleja ‘Buzz™ Magenta’. It has hit people in the face the minute they walk into the garden!”

Many of the plants from previous years are still doing well in the garden like the incredible Gazania ‘Sunbathers Tikal’ which Geoff overwintered in a covered side alley last year and its blooms have been drawing many dragonflies next to the pond this season. Another reliable eye catcher is the Alstromeria Peruvian Tree Lily now in its 3rd year and looking amazing all through the year, now on its second flowering this season. Lewisia ‘Elise Mixed’ which was delivered in 2014 has done extremely well this year in both pink and yellow becoming quite large plants now!

Lewisia 'Elise Mixed'

Lewisia ‘Elise Mixed’


Geoff’s garden seems to thrive despite its exposed location and the journalist from the Telegraph, Francine Raymond, wrote in her article, “I was overwhelmed and charmed, and wondered how so many plants have fitted into such a perfectly formed space? Geoff’s enthusiasm is catching and he and his amazing garden deserve every visitor that makes their way up his enchanting garden path.”

So if you are in Sussex in 2016 try and get along to see Geoff’s garden and some of T&M’s as well! You can read some great reviews of it on TripAdvisor too. You might even see Geoff’s helper too! Albert the Battersea rescue terrier.


Geoff's dog Albert

Geoff’s dog Albert

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 as a base, first opened to the public in 2009, he has raised over £61000 for various charities in 6 years, £32300 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.

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