Petunias – customer trial panel update

I love petunias but with last year’s awful weather I was reluctant to grow them this year – I did not want to have another year of soggy flowers.

As usual when the T&M plants catalogue came in spring there were so many new and unusual petunias I just could not resist giving them another chance this year. And with all the sunny weather we have had recently I am so glad I did. They have gone from being bushy green leaved plants to being completely covered in flowers.

My favorites so far are the Crazytunias – ‘Wedgwood’, ‘Strawberry Cheesecake’, ‘Banoffee Pie’ and ‘Sophistica Bicolour’. It’s just amazing how Mother Nature can come up with such amazing colour combinations!

Petunia ‘Black Cherry’ is such an amazing colour, almost black! I am already thinking of plants I can combine with it for next year. And am also hoping it is still around at Halloween this year as it will make a spooky addition to the decorations!

Petunias - customer trial panel update

Petunia ‘Black Cherry’

The other reason I love petunias is their scent. They have such an spicy exotic fragrance I don’t know why more fuss isn’t made over them. I wish someone could capture this scent in a candle as I would certainly buy it.

I find the best varieties for scent are Petunia ‘Tidal Wave’ and also the ‘Tumbelina’ range which have lovely double flowers as well as strong perfume. This year I have managed to find 16 different varieties of ‘Tumbelina’ and as a result had to invest in a new hanging basket stand to hang them all from. It’s still early but the stand is already looking good!

Mesembryanthemums love the sun and the flowers are so jewel like. The leaves of these plants are so unusual too. They look like they have ice crystals all over them.

Petunias - customer trial panel update


I am a huge fan of exotic plants and this year I have grown schizanthus ‘Dwarf Bouquet Mixed’ from seed. The flowers are really unusual and look like mini orchids.

Petunias - customer trial panel update


Also earlier this year I came across some caladium bulbs at a flower show. I have seen these plants in America but never in the UK. They were potted into pots and kept in the conservatory. The leaves are like stained glass windows and are so paper thin you can almost see through them. They are so fast growing which is really surprising, considering how little chlorophyll is actually in the leaf. I am searching everywhere for more varieties. If anyone out there knows where I can get some from please let me know!

Petunias - customer trial panel update


Well that’s all for now. Need to get back outside and continue watering!

Bijal Mistry
As a member of Thompson & Morgan’s customer trial panel, Bijal Mistry tests plants, bulbs and seeds in his own garden on the outskirts of Manchester. He has won several awards and is happiest tending to his garden, especially the begonias and poinsettias!

Growing your own cut flowers

Who doesn’t love a jug of flowers on the kitchen table?

When students arrive I pop warm muffins and a pot of fresh Fairtrade coffee on the kitchen table next to a jug of flowers. It makes people feel welcome and there are always comments on how lovely the flowers are.  But when it comes to everyday flowers sometimes things just don’t make sense.  Buying imported flowers is one of the things that in the majority of instances just makes me cross. For me flying flowers thousands of miles, using who knows what amount of energy to keep the flowers cool, goodness knows what pesticides to keep them pest free and paying a pittance to a poorly treated workforce who are more often than not exploited is senseless at best and irresponsible at worst.  I grow my own or when there are none in the garden I buy Fairtrade.

Growing your own cut flowers

A welcoming sight

I appreciate that there are certain varieties of flowers that only grow in special conditions, and I understand that if you want say, roses at Christmas, then of course we don’t have the climate.  That said the revolution of local, seasonal and sustainable food is upon is and I see absolutely no reason that the same can’t be applied to the British cut flower industry.

I acknowledge that sometimes flowers like bananas, chocolate and vanilla need to be imported, but if you are going to buy imported goods this is still your opportunity to make a difference by buying Fairtrade flowers.

If you want to enjoy flowers with a totally guilt free with a free conscience the best thing to do is grow them yourself in your garden or allotment.  I like Thompson and Morgan for a wide selection of bulbs and seeds that make beautiful cut flowers.  Lilies, Sweet Peas, Sunflowers, Roses, Dianthus, Gladiolus, and Gypsophila are just a few straight forward flowers that you can grow with very little effort and if you want to take your green credentials even further then buy some of the organic seeds they sell and then the following year collect your own seeds.

Growing your own flowers can save you plenty of money especially if you give cut bouquets as gifts.  It is also hugely beneficial for bees & insects providing food and habitats insects and in turn they help to pollinate your other flowers & vegetables and helping to maintain a healthier eco-system.

Growing your own cut flowers

Growing your own cut flowers

Not everyone has the space in their garden or the time to grow their own flowers, so buying them is their only option, however there is a lot of information, much of it from the cut flower industry itself trying to convince us that cut flowers have low carbon footprints. It seems to me however that they have gone to great lengths to prove that they are a green option, and yet most of the data I have read focuses solely on the benefits of growing flowers in naturally hot countries and then flying them into the UK compared to growing them in cold countries in hothouses which of course can be very energy intensive.  If we buy varieties that need little heat such as Cosmos, Nigella, Sweet Peas and Clary Sage like the ones in the photos above then this “comparison,” is utter nonsense.

If you want to think about the real impact of importing flowers one step further then consider this  – in developing countries where poverty is endemic and access to clean water is problematic precious dwindling water supplies are used to produce exported luxury inedible crops grown.

Is it right that large corporations buy up land and claim the associated water rights, and that is before you start asking what impact large monocultures have on local biodiversity, which we know even from our own intensive farming is detrimental to the environment.

I know, I’m on my soap box now, but one of the biggest concerns I have about buying imported flowers with no certification is the well documented use of chemicals used on commercial cut flowers either to control pest & diseases or to prolong their life during transportation.  Most imported cut flowers are grown in countries where there is little pesticide regulation which means that there is no control on the use of dangerous chemicals and a vast range of pesticides, fertilisers and fumigants are used in producing cut flowers such as DDT, dieldrin, methyl bromide and methyl parathion* have been banned in the UK and the USA for many years because they are deemed too dangerous to use in the industrialised world. (*source The Ecologist)

Perhaps one of the most worrying concerns I have is the issue of child labor in the cut flower industry.  A quick Google search using the words ‘child labor in the cut flower industry’ reveals dozens of organisations fighting for changes to protect exploited children in the industry.

When I chat to people who come on courses here most people haven’t even thought about where our flowers come from, however after a few minutes explanation the penny drops and people are quick to cotton on that they are easy and cheap to grow yourself and that locally-grown flowers have similar advantages to locally produced food. The flowers are fresher, have a longer vase life and they smell much nicer.

Vanessa Kimbell
Growing your own cut flowers

Vanessa Kimbell
Vanessa Kimbell, an author and blogger, runs cookery classes at her home in Northamptonshire using either home-grown or locally produced goods and is a firm believer in sustainable, ethical food.

Boost butterfly numbers with ‘Buzz’™

‘Save Our Butterflies’ Week 18th – 26th May

Buddleja Buzz Collection - help save the butterflies

Beautiful, scented, dwarf butterfly bushes perfect for small gardens

Last summer’s disastrous impact on our butterfly population has been widely reported in recent weeks. So what can we do about dwindling butterfly numbers in ‘Save Our Butterflies’ Week?

“Plant Buddleja ‘Buzz’™!” is the resounding response from Thompson & Morgan’s horticulturist Sue Sanderson. “Buddleja – or the ‘butterfly bush’ as it is often called – is well known as the plant that attracts the most different species of butterfly”.

Experts at the charity Butterfly Conservation warn that many species may be on the brink of extinction after the ‘washout summer’ of 2012. Even before last year’s unseasonably wet weather, butterfly numbers were on the decline. Butterfly Conservation is running a series of events across the UK from May 18th to the 26th encouraging people to keep an eye out for some of our most threatened and little-known butterflies, like the Green Hairstreak and the Wood White. We’re all keeping our fingers crossed for better weather this summer, but gardeners can help by planting butterfly-friendly plants, such as buddleja, in their gardens to provide the nectar that butterflies feed on.

Already a runaway success with T&M customers, Buddleja ‘Buzz’™ was specifically bred by Thompson & Morgan plant breeders to be a dwarf variety. Multi award-winning ‘Buzz’™ is quite unlike traditional buddleja plants which have a reputation for growing too tall and taking over the garden. Dwarf and compact, Buddleja ‘Buzz’™ still boasts all the qualities its larger cousins are famous for, such as the huge sprays of attractive flowers that are known to be a vital nectar source for butterflies. Plants are smothered in flowers all summer long and grow to just three feet (one metre) high. Thompson & Morgan is urging its customers to do their bit for butterfly conservation by planting Buddleja ‘Buzz’™ in their gardens. It is offering a 3 jumbo plug plant collection comprising 3 stunning colours from the ‘Buzz’™ range for just £12.99, saving £13.98 from the rrp. Perfectly proportioned for patio pots and smaller gardens, ‘Buzz’™ is very easy to grow, problem-free and has an impressively long flowering period.

Don’t forget to take part in the Big Butterfly Count in July – this important survey helps to keep track of butterfly numbers and is really easy to do. The website has a free butterfly chart that you can download and print out to help you log the butterflies you spot.

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.

Grow your own – it’s not too late

Grow your own – it’s not too late!

Grow your own - it's not too late

Sow petunias under glass now

Spring may be late this year, but there is still plenty of time to grow your own. In fact, waiting and sowing later when the soil and weather conditions are better means that your seeds will germinate more successfully than in cold wet soil.

With many gardeners wondering how they’re going to get the best from their gardens with such a late start to the season, we asked Sue Sanderson for her expert advice. Here’s what she said:

If the soil is warm enough and the weather conditions are favourable, you can sow hardy annuals direct outside from April, right through to the 1st week of June. If you’re really desperate to get germination underway, you could sow seeds into cell trays under cover and plant them out once the conditions outside improve. There is plenty of time, so don’t panic!

Petunias, ipomoea, nicotiana, dahlia, ageratum, lobelia and sunflowers can be sown up to mid April under glass.

Grow your own - it's not too late

Sow tomato seeds now

Marigolds, zinnias, cosmos and tagetes are the last half-hardy annuals you would sow – these can be sown under glass from April through to early May.

Sow tomatoes and aubergines up to the 3rd week of April.

It’s getting a little late to sow peppers – you’ve only really got until the end of the 2nd week of April to get them going.

Summer brassicas should be sown by now for early harvests, but late summer early autumn harvesting varieties can be sown up to early May.

Wait until the soil has warmed up to sow other vegetable seeds – you’re more likely to get a better crop.

Grow your own - it's not too late

Plant potatoes until mid May

Potatoes, especially maincrops, can be planted up until mid May.

You can give your soil a helping hand in warming with cloches and polytunnels. These will also protect your crops while they’re growing.

So don’t despair, you’ve still got time to create a fabulous display of flowers and grow a decent crop of vegetables to see you through the 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.

Top 10 evergreen shrubs

Top 10 Evergreen Shrubs

Evergreen shrubs provide permanent structure in the garden and all-year-round interest. Some have beautiful flower displays or are highly scented in winter when little else is growing, and some have variegated or colourful foliage which is a perfect foil for summer perennials and a feature in itself during the winter. Grow evergreen shrubs as stand-alone specimens, as part of a mixed border or as hedging.

There are plenty of evergreen shrubs to choose from but if you need some inspiration take a look at our pick of top ten  for an easy and reliable display.

Top 10 evergreen shrubs

Daphne – extremely fragrant spring flowers

1. Daphne
Daphne plants are well loved for their small but incredibly fragrant flowers which appear in winter and early spring, when little else in the garden is growing. There are both plain-leaved and variegated varieties available, such as Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’, which has a rounded compact habit and attractive glossy, yellow-edged leaves. Daphne is fairly slow-growing making it a superb small evergreen shrub for the garden. Grow Daphne in sunny or partially-shaded mixed borders, woodland gardens and rock gardens. Daphne laureola and Daphne pontica are excellent for difficult, heavily shaded areas of the garden.


Top 10 evergreen shrubs

Box – perfect for hedges and topiary

2. Box
Box (Buxus) is a compact and versatile evergreen shrub. Box plants are superb for clipping into a small, formal hedge which can be used to edge vegetable or flower beds, or try creating your own elaborate box parterre! Being tolerant of deep shade, it’s great for awkward sunless spots or for growing beneath tall trees. Box can also be used for topiary, either in the ground or grown in patio containers. Grow box in a well-drained soil in partial or full shade. Keep the soil moist if growing box in full sun to prevent the leaves from scorching. Other similar shrubs which can be grown to the same effect include Lonicera nitida, Taxus baccata ‘Semperaurea’ or Ilex crenata.


Top 10 evergreen shrubs

Fatsia – attractive to bees

3. Fatsia
Fatsia japonica is a versatile shrub with large, glossy hand-shaped leaves borne on stout, upright stems. This exotic-looking shrub is surprisingly hardy and copes well with coastal conditions and tricky shady areas of the garden. Large stems of creamy white flowers, arranged in spherical umbels are produced in the autumn, which are attractive to bees and a great source of late season nectar. Fatsia plants are very architectural and can be grown in borders or large patio containers as an eye-catching feature.


Top 10 evergreen shrubs

Lavender – highly fragrant, very hardy

4. Lavender
A well-loved shrub grown for its fragrant summer flowers and scented silver-green foliage. Flowering in shades of purple, lilac or pink, this hardy shrub is so versatile; from edging to hedging and borders to patio containers – every garden should have lavender! The flowers are highly attractive to bees and butterflies and thanks to their Mediterranean origins, lavender plants have good drought tolerance, coping well with light, sandy soils. Use the silvery foliage as a contrast to dark foliage plants and try cutting some lavender flowers for a vase indoors, or to sprinkle on top of cakes!


Top 10 evergreen shrubs

Aucuba – one of the toughest shrubs

5. Aucuba
One of the toughest shrubs out there! Aucubas are popular evergreen shrubs valued for their tolerance of full shade, dry soils, pollution and salty coastal conditions. Although plain-leaved varieties are available, the speckled yellow cultivars are the most popular and give rise to the common name ‘Spotted Laurel’. The leaves are generally quite large, to 20cm (8″) long, leathery and glossy in appearance making them useful for achieving a tropical look in the garden. Female plants will produce bright red berries in autumn if a male pollination partner is planted nearby. Grow Aucuba as specimen plants, for hedges or in difficult heavily-shaded corners of the garden. They will even grow well in large patio containers making a fine contrast or foil to other foliage plants and flowers.


Top 10 evergreen shrubs

Camellia – elegant shrubs with early flowers

6. Camellia
A classic spring-flowering shrub originating from the woodlands of Asia. Camellias are popular for their glossy deep green foliage and abundance of large, showy flowers early in the year. Camellia flowers can be single or double and come in a wide range of colours from pink to red, through to yellow or white. Although naturally large shrubs, dwarf varieties are available and Camellias tolerate hard pruning well so can easily be controlled if outgrowing their allotted space. They are elegant shrubs, ideal for mixed planting schemes or as specimen shrubs in borders and woodland gardens where they will receive partial or dappled shade. They require an acid soil so if your soil is neutral or alkaline grow Camellias in large patio containers filled with a mixture of ericaceous compost and a soil-based compost such as John Innes No. 3.


Top 10 evergreen shrubs

Euonymus – versatile and low-maintenance

7. Euonymus
Euonymus fortunei is a versatile, low-maintenance, evergreen shrub with a multitude of uses and a tolerance of poor soils, coastal conditions and shade. Thanks to its prostrate habit this Euonymus plant can be grown as an evergreen ground cover or trained to climb a wall – it tolerates north-facing walls well. They can also be grown as hedges or free standing shrubs in garden borders and patio containers. With a variety of foliage colours available from green to variegated white or gold, Euonymus is fantastic for adding winter colour to the garden.


Top 10 evergreen shrubs

Mahonia – late winter and spring flowers

8. Mahonia
Mahonia plants have an architectural form and glossy, spiny leaves, similar to holly. They are valued for their late winter and spring flowers which are bright yellow and highly fragrant. Mahonia flowers are borne on long, elegant racemes or in clusters at the tips of branches, creating a distinctive and striking display when much of the garden is still dormant. They are also a fantastic early source of pollen and nectar for bees. Coping well with coastal conditions, clay soils and heavy shade Mahonia makes an unbeatable, low-maintenance addition to shrub borders and woodland gardens. Some species and cultivars have a low-growing habit and can be used as groundcover.


Top 10 evergreen shrubs

Photinia – great as hedging or in large containers

9. Photinia
Photinias are tough, versatile shrubs, the most popular variety being Photinia x fraseri ‘Red Robin’, whose glossy leaves are bright red when young, gradually changing to bronze-green through to deep green. Photinias light up shrub borders in the spring and make a good foil for summer-flowering plants. Grow Photinias in sunny borders, as specimen shrubs in large patio containers, or as hedging, for which Photinia x fraseri is ideal.


Top 10 evergreen shrubs

Holly – the classic evergreen shrub

10. Holly
A well-known evergreen shrub, with glossy, dark green leaves, which can be either spiny or smooth. Although best known for its classic dark green leaves and red berries at Christmas, there are many variegated forms of Holly which make outstanding specimen plants in the garden or planted as part of a mixed border. Holly plants also make a fantastic dense hedge, for which Ilex aquifolium and Ilex x altaclerensis are the best species to use. The spring flowers are highly attractive to bees and are followed by red or yellow berries on female holly bushes, if a male pollination partner is planted nearby. The berries are a good winter food source for birds. Tolerant of coastal conditions and partial shade, this tough shrub deserves a place in every garden.

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.

New plants arrived, but the weather’s too bad to plant them up!

My new strawberry runners (Flamenco, chosen by my 7-year old daughter) arrived at the end of last week and I had hoped to get out into the garden to plant them. Ha! No such luck – a few inches of snow put paid to that idea. We got off quite lightly snow-wise compared to other parts of the country, but it was enough to stop me in my tracks and wonder what on earth I was supposed to do with these new plants.

New plants arrived, but the weather's too bad to plant them out!

Plant strawberries together in one pot

You see, I haven’t got a greenhouse, cold frame or a conservatory and my windowsills aren’t very deep, so any plants I order have to be pretty robust and able to take a bit of neglect. Our garden is south-west facing and gets a lot of sun and, as long as the weather behaves itself, plants usually do ok. I never order plug plants, simply because I haven’t got anywhere to grow them on, so bareroots, bulbs and hardy seeds are best for me.

However, my poor little strawberry runners are still in their packaging, simply because I have no idea what to do with them. They seem ok at the moment, but they won’t last long if I don’t do something soon.  It made me wonder how many other gardeners are in the same situation – unfavourable weather conditions present quite a challenge to gardeners who would normally be expecting a little more sunshine at this time of year!

New plants arrived, but the weather's too bad to plant them out!

Keep plug plants frost-free and in a light spot

I emailed our horticultural expert, to ask for advice…

Strawberry runners can be plunged together into a pot of compost and then planted out when the weather improves. (Great! A fairly quick job that’ll keep the strawberries alive until I can get them in the ground).

Bareroot trees and shrubs can be temporarily ‘heeled’ into a pot or piece of ground. Plant them out into their final position when conditions are more favourable and the soil is workable. (Heeled simply means covering the root itself with soil, but not firming it in as you would when planting into the permanent spot).

Plug plants should be unpacked immediately and watered if necessary. Keep them in a frost-free place, preferably a greenhouse or a warm windowsill and pot them up as soon as possible. You’ll need to keep them in a light position, but turn the pots/containers daily to avoid leggy growth. Move them to a cooler growing position when the weather changes, but make sure it’s still light and frost-free.

Asparagus, rhubarb and artichokes crowns and roots need to be removed from the packaging on arrival. We recommend to wrap asparagus crowns in a moist towel or cloth and place them in a frost free area. Asparagus particularly has fleshy roots which must not dry out so it is important to keep the towel moist, although not wringing wet, at all times. This can safely be done for up to 3 weeks whereby, hopefully, soil conditions will be suitable to plant out. Rhubarbs are less fussy and could be potted up in suitable sized pots of moist multipurpose compost and placed in a frost free area. If artichokes are on your order then these are frost hardy so could be planted individually in smaller pots of moist compost and placed outdoors.

New plants arrived, but the weather's too bad to plant them out!

Grow garlic in pots on a windowsill

I’ve also got some garlic waiting to be planted. Sue Sanderson suggests planting them into small pots or plastic drinking cups and grown on a windowsill – even my shallow ones could cope with this! Once the shoots start to grow they can be moved outside to harden off and then planted into a pot. The same goes for onion sets.

The weather reports aren’t looking very promising for the next few days, with forecasts of more snow into Easter.

On BBC 4’s Today programme, Jon Hodder, senior gardener at Sudeley Castle in the Cotswolds stressed the importance of being patient: “Spring will come around, as sure as eggs are eggs. Anyone thinking of transplanting stuff just needs to hold on… just gently wait and keep an eye on the garden.” (Source: BBC News website)

Do you have any bad weather gardening hints to share? We’d love to hear them!



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.

Pin It on Pinterest