Being a plant breeder and having a young family doesn’t leave me a lot of time for leisure gardening, but still, as an unashamed plant geek, I can’t resist indulging in a few plants and veg. This month is all about a humble potato.
In early February I started chitting tubers of a very special potato on my windowsill: La Bonnotte. Being French you may think I am a bit biased, but of all the potato varieties I have ever had the chance of tasting, this definitely tops my gourmet list. Sautéed whole in their skin, simply with salted butter and herbes de Provence, they are truly divine, with an unforgettable sea-like, sweet, citrusy and chestnutty note. It’s important to cook them in their skins to keep the taste, but the inward eyes would make peeling almost impossible anyway. I had ordered 2kg of seed potato and when they arrived, I was very tempted to cook some straight away… This was far worse than the Stanford marshmallow experiment, but I shall wait until harvest time!
La Bonnotte is normally grown on the small island of Noirmoutier, where the light sandy soil, oceanic microclimate and the addition of seaweed all participate in developing the unique flavour. It may also have to do with the absolute TLC every plant receives: La Bonnotte is planted by hand using the old technique of lazy beds – definitely not for the lazy gardener – which are essentially wide, parallel raised beds without any wooden borders. On the mere 5 hectares where they are grown, the tubers are planted on the 2nd of February and harvested before maturity 90 days later. The backbreaking job of harvesting and severing the growing tubers from the mother plant is again all done manually; machine harvest would just ruin the soft skins and delicate aromas.
With the mechanisation of agriculture in the 60s, La Bonnotte very nearly became extinct, but it was saved in extremis by passionate Noirmoutier growers and the INRA in the 90s. By April 1996, it was ready to go back on the market to the delight of chefs and gourmets alike. The first hand-harvested crop of 5 kg was auctioned and fetched the incredible price of €2,300, making La Bonnotte the most expensive potato in the world. Nowadays the price is more like €10 a kilo for the very first ones, still a high price for a spud!
Now back to reality. I very much doubt I’ll have the time and dedication to build lazy beds and add Irish moss seaweed when my own La Bonnotte tubers are finally ready for planting. I think I’ll plant some in the ground and some in bags. I’ll also be growing some tasty Jazzy as backup and comparison. Suffolk is a tad colder than Noirmoutier so I plan on planting in early March and won’t be able to taste them until the end of May. By then I’ll know if La Bonnotte tastes just as good without the influence of the sea, even if in Noirmoutier it has been nicknamed pomme de mer.
Growing roses from seeds is not the fastest method for propagating roses but has several advantages. Roses from seeds take a little longer but then you end up developing a new set of varieties. Professional hybridisers select a new line of easy to grow and disease resistant rose to propagate. However, for you, each seedling will be a surprise when they finally bloom. It is like opening your birthday present when you were a kid. You never really knew what to expect! That is the same feeling seeing those little seedlings opens up for the first time.
There are several processes one must follow when growing roses from seeds. For professionals, the process starts in the garden where they monitor the flowering and pollination process as they choose favorite varieties. For our case, we will start with the seed collection process.
The rose hips must be allowed to develop on the plant for at least four months for them to fully ripen. They have to be collected in autumn, cutting them off using the right garden tool. You can use cuticle scissors or tweezers to cut them off before cleaning them.
Rosehips ready for collecting
The ripened rose hip is then placed on a clean cutting board and cut in half to remove the seeds. Place the seeds in a clean container. Add some diluted bleach to kill off any bacteria and fungus spores. You can make the bleach by mixing drinking water with two teaspoons of household bleach. Stir the seeds well before rinsing them and using bottled water to remove all the bleach. To further clean and disinfect the seeds, put them in the container and add some hydrogen peroxide. The seeds can be soaked for up to 24 hours before rinsing them with clean water to clear all the hydrogen peroxide.
Collecting rose seeds
Soaking the seeds is a crucial step if your seeds will germinate properly and stay clear of any diseases. You MUST not mix the bleach with the hydrogen peroxide as this results in a chemical reaction. 3% peroxide for 24 hours is just fine. This is also a good time to perform the water float test. Remove all seeds that float as they might not be viable.
Starting the rose seeds
Before growing the roses from seed, the seeds have to undergo a period of stratification. This is a cold moist storage that gets the seeds ready for germination.
Chilling your seeds in a refrigerator for about six to ten weeks encourages them to germinate faster once planted. However, you must take care to avoid keeping them cold for long as they can germinate while still in the refrigerator. Place your seeds on a paper towel before moistening them. Use half purified water and half peroxide to prevent the growth of mould. You can then place them in a plastic zippered bag, mark the date and variety before placing in a refrigerator set at 1 to 3 degrees C. The paper towel should remain moist for the entire period. You can check occasionally to see if it needs remoistening. Make sure you don’t freeze the towel.
There are other ways to stratify the seeds like planting them in a tray of potting mix and refrigerating the entire tray for weeks. The tray is usually enclosed in a plastic bag to keep it moist.
Planting your seeds
When you think your seeds are ready for planting (6-10 weeks), remove the bag from the refrigerator if that was your stratification method. You will need shallow trays or small pots to plant your seeds. Whatever works between the trays and pots is fine as long they have good drainage. The ideal size of the trays or pots should be 3-4 inches deep.
You can use separate trays when planting seeds from different varieties of rose hips. You must follow your labeling all the way down from harvesting, treatment, and planting. The rose bush name and planting date are some of the details to indicate on your trays or pots.
Next fill your trays or pots with the potting soil. You can opt to use 50% sterile potting soil and 50% vermiculite, or half peat and half perlite. When the potting mix is ready in the trays or pots, this is the time to take off your seeds from the towel. Remember the seeds must not be removed from the plastic bag until they are ready to be planted. You lightly dust them before planting.
Place your seeds about ¼ inch into the soil and dust the surface again to prevent the damp off disease that kills seeds. Water them properly and place them outside in direct sunlight. If there is frost, it is advised you place your seeds under a tree or in a sheltered part of the patio to protect them. There is no need for grow lights.
Keep the soil pots or trays watered but not soggy. Do not let them dry up as this might affect the germination of your seeds.
Watch for germination
After about six weeks, the first two seed leaves will start to emerge before the true leaves can emerge. The seedling must have three to four true leaves before they can be ready for transplanting.
Planting your seedlings
Seedlings coming through the soil
When the seedlings are grown a few inches tall with at least three true leaves, they are ready to be transplanted. You can transplant them into a four-inch pot of your liking. You don’t have to plant all your seedlings but only the healthy ones. You can choose to monitor them on the tray and only transplant them when they have outgrown it.
You must monitor the seedlings as they grow in their new pots for colour, form, bush size, branching, and disease resistance. Roses with weak, unhealthy or unattractive flowers can be discarded. It will take your new seedlings at least three years before they reach maturity and develop into a big bush. However, the first flower can be seen after one or two years.
Rose floribunda ‘Blue For You’ & Rose ‘Easy Elegance – Yellow Brick’ Shrub Rose
Garden tools you will need to grow your rose seeds:
• Cotton buds
• Tweezers and cuticle scissors
• Clear plastic film canisters
• Labels for the paper and plastic bag
• Wax pencil or black permanent marker pen
Growing roses from seeds appears a pretty long process but one that is rewarding when you follow all the steps as indicated. If you are a great DIY fan, then this is a nice project for you to enjoy as you brighten your outdoor space with blooming roses.
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’
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’ 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.
Just because we have nearly reached the shortest day does not mean to say that we should only eat sprouts, cabbage and leeks between now and springtime.
With a few small pots of multi-purpose compost, a bright windowsill or cool glasshouse and as little TLC, we can all have a succession of yummy salad leaves to add to our five a day.
Cabbage Chinese ‘Natsuki’ & Leek ‘Autumn Giant 2 – Porvite
Flicking through the 2017 Thompson & Morgan catalogue, you do not have to look very far before you find Spinach ‘Perpetual,’ eaten cooked or raw, and Salad Leaves ‘Speedy Mix’ to give you a quick start. If you fancy growing your own pea shoots (they will need a few days in the dark to get them to start germinating) or spring onion seedlings to lift a posh meal to another level, why not give them a try.
If you like that wonderful peppery flavour that rocket gives, try Wasabi Rocket to spice up a boring lettuce salad. Add some colour to the salad with a few Beetroot ‘Rainbow Beet’ leaves. With a little more heat, up to 15° C and light you might try one or two of the fabulous basil varieties that are listed amongst the herbs. Coriander leaves can also be grown with that little extra TLC.
Lettuce ‘Yugoslavian Red’ & Turnip ‘Oasis’
If you like something unusual, try growing Cabbage Chinese ‘Natsuki’ and throw the leaves into a stir fry.
Check out the pages on Salad leaves for a whole collection of other salad leaves to try. If you have a cool glasshouse (10°C) with a soil bed or similar and a little more patience, why not try growing some white salad Turnip ‘Oasis,’ sown in early January. Harvest from April onwards.
Salad Leaves ‘Speedy Mix’ & Spring Onion ‘Feast’ F1 Hybrid
Remember that all most of these salads need is a bright windowsill, temperatures of between 10 and 12°C. Many are best being grown in shallow pots to avoid excessive use of compost – the plants will only be in the compost for 6 to 8 weeks and so do not need large volumes of compost.
Whichever ones you grow, enjoy your winter salads and look forward to growing more as winter turns to spring.
With the onset of the cold weather it is important to consider protecting your plants from the frost which will no doubt be on the way. Inadequate frost protection has killed too many plants, so don’t get caught out this winter, as we know the weather can change in a matter of days.
As the temperature starts to drop the cells in plants can freeze, this blocks vital fluid movement so plants no longer receive nutrients. Ice forming in cell walls will eventually dry and the plant will no doubt die. Ice can also cause sections of the plant to die back. When weather warms the thawing process damages plants. Damage is easy to see. The foliage is usually affected first, becoming discoloured, and wilting. The stem will eventually blacken and the plant turns brown and crispy.
Choosing plants wisely to begin with will always be the best method of prevention. If you live in an area that suffers from heavy frosts, extreme weather or gets water logged then buy plants that can withstand this type of environment if possible. However, if you are taken by surprise with adverse weather conditions at Thompson & Morgan we have products to aid plant protection.
Bell boy cloche & pastic tunnel cloche
Move your containers and pots with specimen plants, such as palms, to a sheltered spot in the garden. Another protection tip is to move them off the ground. Put small pieces of wood or legs underneath the pots. This will stop the roots getting cold, and the plant from becoming waterlogged. A bell boy cloche can be added on top of smaller plants.
With heavy brassicas, such as Cabbage ‘Savoy King,’ brussels sprouts, draw up soil around the base of the stem to prevent movement. If the wind does manage to rock them this can cause damage and prevent them from providing a healthy crop in the spring. Once you have drawn the soil up then add netting over them to protect them from the pigeons.
On cold nights apply horticultural fleece to hardy salad crops such as Lettuce ‘Winter Gem’ and Salad Leaves ‘Land Cress’ and Corn Salad ‘Cavallo.’ This will protect them from the harshest of the cold weather, which can blacken the leaves, or even kill them completely.
Netting & Horticultural fleece
Potted plants that can stay out over the winter can be grouped together in a sheltered spot. Put horticultural fleece, and they can be stored in a cold frame if you have one. Cold frames are usually used to protect hardy young plants such as Stenocarpus sinuatus. It is a good idea to add in any plants that are susceptible to rotting in cold, wet conditions.
If you soil is heavy clay then it could be an idea to keep some of your winter vegetables such as carrots and pak choi in a cold frame or unheated greenhouse.
Cold frame & Lean-to greenhouse
Tender perennials such as Coleus ‘Kong Mixed’ or geraniums should be lifted and stored in the greenhouse and given extra protection with horticultural fleece, and in some cases, a heated greenhouse. This type of warmth will encourage good root growth through the cold months.
Straw can be used to protect plants that cannot be moved indoors. A cloche or mini tunnel will also add extra protection from freezing conditions. Fruit such as strawberries can be covered with straw and broken twigs, this stops the frost from getting at their roots.
Moving deciduous trees and shrubs, or fruit trees while dormant, avoids damage. This allows them to be settled in to their before they start to grow again. So if you are thinking of moving a tree or shrub from one part of the garden to another, now is the time to do it.
A well documented tip during winter is to try not to over water your plants. Just a small amount every so often has proved to be the best way to keep your plants happy during this time of year.
Good luck with your over wintering. If you have any good tips for our new gardeners, please let us know.
Say Happy Christmas with Hyacinths; the nation’s favourite festive floral display
Read about the bloody origins of the UK’s favourite Christmas plant
For the 10th year in a row, Thompson & Morgan, the UK’s largest online plant retailer, is announcing that the scented hyacinth will be the Christmas Number One.
Early sales analysis of T&M’s seasonal gift catalogue shows that whilst sales of traditional Christmas plants such as amaryllis and poinsettia continue to rise steadily, the runaway favourites are the hyacinths. This is despite a number of brand-new additions to the Thompson & Morgan top 10 Christmas sellers for 2016, such as a stunning white Princettia® ‘Pure White’ and a spectacular new variegated Poinsettia.
Hyacinth ‘Pink Pearl’ & Hyacinth ‘Woodstock’ Christmas Gifts
Not everyone is aware of the bloody origins of the nation’s favourite bulbs. An ancient legend describes how two of the Greek gods, Apollo and Zephyr, admired a handsome young Greek man called Hyakinthos. When Zephyr, the god of the west wind, saw that Apollo was teaching Hyakinthos how to throw a discus, he became so jealous that he blew the discus back at the young man. It hit him in the head and killed him. The legend says that a flower grew from his blood and that Apollo, the god of the sun, named it after him.
Whilst many will remember with nostalgia keeping their hyacinth bulbs in the dark warmth of the airing cupboard to encourage them to flower earlier than nature intended, these days storage methods are more modern. Bulbs are stored in warm conditions, usually from July to August, then potted up and put back into a growing room under very specific conditions of humidity and temperature until they are ready to be dispatched. This means that the bulbs are fully ‘forced’ and ready to burst into flower just in time for the Christmas period, giving the gift of spring during the cold and gloomy winter months when it’s most needed.
Amaryllis ‘Amadeus’ & Long-lasting Hibiscus ‘Festive Flair’
Scented Hyacinth ‘Pink Pearl’ has been on T&M’s Christmas gift best seller list ever since the mail order specialist, best known as the UK’s premier mail order supplier of seeds and plants, launched its Christmas gift lines back in 1999. Thompson & Morgan Gifts Manager, Alice Speedie says: “While we’re seeing increased interest in new exotics like hibiscus and Dendrobium orchids for Christmas display, it seems you can’t beat a bit of yuletide tradition. We supply our hyacinths in bespoke containers, and give them the VIP treatment in order to guarantee quick colour and scent soon after delivery.”
Christmas gift plants such as hyacinths are great value; after enjoying them for several weeks in the house over the festive period, the bulbs can be planted out in the garden and enjoyed in springtime for years to come. They truly are gifts that keep on giving!
For tips on how to prolong the life of your indoor Christmas plants, go to www.thompson-morgan.com/bloomforlonger
Luxury Handmade Chocolate Box & Classic minlight Candles
Thompson & Morgan’s Christmas gifts catalogue offers a huge array of indoor and outdoor plants, festive cut flowers, ‘gifts for him’ and ‘gifts for her’ which include scented candles and chocolates. All items are delivered direct to friends and family if preferred, and are all presented in gift wrapping or decorative pots with a personalised gift message, providing stress-free Christmas shopping from the comfort of home with no need to hit the high street. If you are a last minute shopper, you can place orders right up until 9am on Tuesday 20th December for guaranteed delivery in time for Christmas.
For a catalogue call 0844 573 1818 or view the range online at www.thompson-morgan.com/christmas-gifts