Thompson & Morgan awards record-breaking prize money to gardener with 24ft sunflower. A gardener with a lifelong passion for sunflowers has won £1,000 following a nationwide hunt for the UK’s tallest specimen. Seed and plant specialist Thompson & Morgan announced the biggest ever cash prize for a tallest sunflower competition back in spring, in a bid to see the world record brought to UK shores.
Richard Hope with his 24ft sunflowers growing in his Wigan garden. Photo: Wigan Evening Post
Richard Hope with his 24ft sunflowers growing in his Wigan garden.
The bumper prize attracted entrants from around the UK, from gardeners young and old. There were some stand out specimens sitting between 12-14ft (3.7-4.3m), but the clear winner – at a staggering 24ft (7.2m) – was grown by Richard Hope. The Wigan gardener is well-known on the giant veg growing circuit, having held previous world records for the biggest swede, heaviest leek and longest parsnip. Grown against a sunny wall of his house, his giant plants reach the apex of the roof three storeys up!
Sadly, his giant entry was shy of the world record by 4ft 8in (1.4m), but Mr Hope still has his sights on beating the 8.75m (28ft 8in) sunflower grown by Hans-Peter Schiffer of Kaarst-Vorst, Germany in 2013. For the past 35 years Mr Hope has been hand pollinating his plants, saving seeds from the tallest and sowing them the following year, over time building a superior sunflower strain.Most impressive is that he grows his plants in make shift containers rather than in the soil, with no specialist feeding formula. “I use salmon boxes with large bottomless pots set over them, similar to tomato ring culture method. It gives the plants about two and half feet of compost to grow in,” he says. “There are no real tricks to feeding my plants either, I use whatever I happen have in the shed.”
You might assume Richard starts his plants off early indoors under heat and lights to get such results, but there is no such trickery. “I sow my seeds in the first week of April every year. Along with height, my seed strain has evolved a really long season of growth, so the plants keep on climbing right through to October.” In fact, due to mild autumn weather, Mr Hope’s plants piled on a further 1ft (30cm) in between entering in early October and verification at the end of the month.
Despite there being no world record breaker, the gardening experts at Thompson & Morgan were more than impressed with the winning entry, and the runners up. Horticultural Director Paul Hansord said: “We’ve not had much sunshine this year, but sunflowers have certainly done well in UK gardens. We were excited to see entries of 12,13, 14ft coming in – impressive heights by any means. When Mr Hope’s entry hit our inbox we couldn’t believe it. We sent our closest area sales manager to verify things, who quickly called to say we should get the company cheque book ready!”
Thompson & Morgan is upping the stakes for 2016 and will again be offering £1,000 for the tallest UK sunflower, but if it breaks the world record the prize money will be upped to £2,000. And if a gardener breaks the record using the mail order specialist’s incredibloom® fertiliser, the prize pot will be doubled again to a staggering £4,000. Mr Hansord added: “We’re so confident of the plant boosting abilities of our fertiliser range that we’re willing to heavily reward anyone who can grow a world record sunflower with it in 2016.”
Thompson and Morgan offers 37 different sun flower varieties from giants like ‘Tall Timbers’ F1 to multiflowering types like ‘Helios Flame’ F1, and dwarf varieties including 2ft (60cm) tall ‘Little Dorrit’ F1.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
Tulips may not be on the top of everyone’s wish list but they certainly are on mine! With at least 100 species, they offer so much variety and when selected carefully, you can get blooms from March right through to May. Whilst tulips flower in spring, they flower at different times, so you can extend the flowering season by selecting your varieties carefully.
November is the ideal time to plant your tulip bulbs ready for a magnificent spring display. What I admire most about tulip plants is that they are incredibly versatile! They make beautiful bedding plants as well as cut flowers! There is a ‘tip’ spreading round the office like the plague that once cut, if you prick the stem just beneath the flower where the seeds form, you will stop the leaves falling off and prolong the bloom. I’m sceptical but I am going to give it go!
Tulip bulbs will grow in any moist and well drained soil, except particularly wet soils. Plant them in a sunny position that is sheltered from strong winds and when planting, avoid shallow planting as this may reduce the winter cold period that is essential for tulip bulbs to produce flowers in spring. Plant them at a depth of 15cm (6″) and at a distance of 13cm (5″) apart. Once your tulips have flowered, deadhead the faded tulip flowers and allow the foliage to die back completely before removing it in summer.
I particularly love the new tulip varieties such as ‘Mixed Parrot’. They look so exotic that you may not even recognise it as a tulip! They will certainly jazz up and add excitement to any garden beds with their ruffled blooms and intriguing colour.
Customer trialist Geoff Stonebanks shows off his Tulip ‘Silver Parrot’
A firm customer favourite is Tulip ‘Silver Parrot’. It has proved so popular that we are actually out of stock, but hopefully will be back soon. But, too good not to share with you, the magnificent rosy pink blooms actually reach up to 20cm across!
Let us know what Tulips you are growing and why you love them!
Thompson & Morgan focus on a favourite to back Year of the Cosmos
Cosmos are always a favourite option with Thompson & Morgan customers. Easy to grow, free flowering in beds and containers, a wide colour range and an excellent cut flower. Cosmos are an obvious choice for beginners and established gardeners alike.
The mail order seed and plant specialist sold more than 117,000 packets of Cosmos, across some 40 varieties, during the 2014-2015 season. It is looking to take that further next season by showing support for the industry-wide Fleuroselect Year of the Cosmos marketing campaign. The firm’s 2016 Seed Catalogue, mailing in early September, contains a dedicated inspirational spread to this popular genus, and will champion new Cosmos ‘Xanthos’ as the Thompson & Morgan Flower of the Year 2016.
Horticultural Director, Paul Hansord, said: “New cosmos are always popular with our customers – we struggled to meet demand for Cosmos ‘Cupcakes’ this season, and we’re expecting big things from ‘Xanthos’ in 2016. Yellow is a much sought after colour in the genus. With all eyes on these easy to grow summer performers thanks to the Fleuroselct campaign, we hope to see even more gardeners adding Cosmos to their schemes in 2016.”
Find out more about Cosmos ‘Xanthos’ by clicking here
Bedding plants became incredibly popular in the Victorian era, the traditional landscape which compromised mostly grass and stone were dull and bleak and plant hunters were sent to find varieties of colour to add some interest to gardens. This coincided with the drop of the glass tax which resulted in a surge of glasshouses appearing in private gardens and gardens of the great houses as they frantically started growing bedding plants to ignite colour to their gardens.
Thompson & Morgan Trial Grounds 2010
New bedding plant varieties were discovered and so the craze began, wealthy houses tried to compete with their neighbours to create the most beautiful carpets of colour. Only the most fortunate could afford the material to grow these new varieties and therefore these colourful bedding plant displays became an ornate symbol of the Victorian era. However, due to changes in not only fashion but the lack of labour, bedding plants fell from favour for less formal planting schemes.
To my delight they are on the comeback. There are an incredible amount of bedding plant varieties available today which open the doors to garden creativity. They are no longer restricted to the wealthy and gardeners everywhere are using bedding plants in their gardens. The best part about them is the ability to create a new style every year. You can change or mix up the colour schemes as you please and can use them in beds, borders, hanging baskets, patio containers and to plug gaps in perennial or shrub borders for quick and easy colour. Successional planting requires changing bedding displays twice a year, replanting in late spring (for summer) and early autumn (for winter/spring). For carpet bedding, you need to ensure dense planting. This will not only give you the carpet effect but will also reduce the presence of weeds!
Bedding plants can also be grown from seed although growing bedding plants from plug plants offers a quick and easy solution. Summer bedding plants are sown from February to April; winter and spring bedding plants are sown from May to July for planting out in autumn. Plug plants are dispatched in spring for summer bedding, and late summer for winter bedding. For more information on how to grow bedding plants click here.
TOP TIP: To get the most from your displays you must keep dead-heading as much as you can.
For more information about winter bedding plants click here.
Do you use bedding plants? Where and how do you use them? We would love to hear from you.
The RHS conducted a survey in spring 2013, in which it asked its members for their favourite scented plants.
Traditional flowers such as sweet peas, hyacinths and honeysuckle topped the list, which consisted mainly of spring-flowering plants. We’ve selected one of our own best-selling plants from each of the top 12 scented plants and, for the next two weeks*, we’re giving you 10% off when you order any of these selected scented plants from the Thompson & Morgan website!
No garden should be without sweet peas. Their fragrance fills the air and the more flowers you cut, the more will grow. They’re great for ground cover or grown against walls, fences and trellises. A simple bouquet of sweet pea blooms on a windowsill or table just can’t be beaten. Sweet pea seeds should be sown either indoors in October, which produces much stronger plants, or outdoors in March and April. If you’re buying them as plug plants you’ll need somewhere to grow them on before planting them out. Sweet Pea ‘Scent Infusion’ is a real favourite with our customers.
With their unmistakeable scent and beautiful blooms, hyacinths give a stunning spring display both in the border and in pots on the patio. They make great cut flowers too. Try ‘Breeder’s Selection’ – an exclusive mix that you can’t buy anywhere else, with shorter stems and densely packed with colour-rich flowers.
Honeysuckle comes in many shapes and sizes, from the well-known fragrant varieties to the more unusual ‘trumpet’ honeysuckle. ‘Dropmore Scarlet’ is one such variety and, while it is unscented, the striking fiery-red blooms and blue-green foliage more than make up for it. This vigorous climber flowers from June to September and is perfect for covering walls, fences and unsightly garden features.
The highly sought-after Daphne is a hardy evergreen shrub with deeply fragrant, pale pink flowers that open around Christmas. They’re a real treat at a time when the garden is usually a bit on the dull side! Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ is a slow-growing shrub that’s perfect for growing in large containers in a sunny or semi-shaded spot in the garden. These highly scented plants will grow just as happily in the border too.
Narcissus, or daffodils, are a sure sign that spring is well on its way. There are many varieties available, from the traditional bright yellow daffs t0 pink, cream, bicoloured, double and single varieties – the choice is amazing! But for real impact, narcissus ‘Replete’ takes some beating – the sumptuous double flowers open into peachy-pink ruffles up to 10cm (4in) across. Easy to grow and perfect in borders, rockeries, containers or naturalised in grass.
Most varieties of lilac flower for a few weeks, but by growing ‘Bloomerang’, you’ll have flowers for months! This dwarf lilac fits into most gardens without being overbearing and blooms from spring to summer and again from late summer to the first frosts. Butterflies love it too and it even makes a great cut flower.
Viburnum ‘Dawn’ is a winter-flowering, deciduous shrub that produces masses of dark pink blooms with a rich fragrance. The flowers fade to white before producing berries in the summer. Autumn brings a change in foliage colour to bright orange and yellow, before the flowers appear in winter again. It’s easy to grow and care for and is a perfect plant for a prominent border, where it’ll be a talking point all year round.
With their heady fragrance and impressive blooms, lilies are a great feature in both the border and cut flower arrangements. The Trumpet Tree Lily produces huge white trumpet blooms with lime green throats that have an alluring freesia-like scent.
Jasmine plants are known for their richly perfumed flowers and the variety ‘Revolutum’ is no exception. The bright yellow flowers are on show from May to August and really stand out against the semi-evergreen foliage. Planting it in a sunny spot intensifies the fragrance.
Wallflowers are just about the perfect plant! Versatile and undemanding, they’ll thrive even in the poorest of soils and bloom in the spring. Wallflower ‘Sugar Rush’, winner in the ‘Best New Bedding Plant’ category at the Grower of the Year Awards 2013, flowers twice – in spring and again in autumn, when most of the garden in dormant and giving a welcome display of fragrant blooms.
Roses need very little introduction in terms of scent and ‘Lady Marmelade’ is one of our favourites. Awarded ‘Rose of the Year 2014’, the vintage, cabbage-shaped blooms have a deliciously sweet scent, but that’s where any relation to the past stops – these scented plants have the disease resistance of modern roses.
Lily of the valley
Perfect for springtime posies, lily of the valley fills the air with its sweet fragrance. Plant the ‘pips’ out in spring and, once the plants are established, you’ll be rewarded with a low-maintenance plant that gives wonderful ground cover in woodland gardens and damp, shady areas.
*Please note, this offer only applies to selected plants and ends at midnight, Monday 10th March 2014. Enter order code TWEB44YZ to activate the discount in the ‘use order code’ box in your shopping basket.