If you were circling North London on 16th July in a helicopter (and why wouldn’t you be?) you would have witnessed a curious phenomenon – gardeners of the Hampstead Garden Suburb on their hands and knees vacuuming their plots – the London Gardens’ Society judges were on their way! Now don’t get me wrong, we are not at loggerheads over this, indeed we have been referred to as a formidable bunch (also the Witches of Eastwick but I digress) and are at great pains to reassure each other that we are not competitive, but – well, if you believe that you will believe anything. One of us usually gets mentioned in dispatches so if you work on the theory of reflected glory then we are all winners.
Welcome to Caroline’s Garden
If anyone tells you that they don’t buy plants at the last minute for Garden Presentations then they are naughty little fibbers! A last minute decision to remove Cephalaria Gigantica, a real cuckoo in the nest, resulted in a gap with the potential for at least 5 new plants. Oh joy! And so the last plant went in @ 5pm the previous day. My revamped blue and lemon border was now complete. (Well nearly, I am sure I could heal another heuchera in if I tried).
So Judgement Day dawned bright and sunny, no strong winds, no clouds on the horizon. To deadhead or not to deadhead, that was the question: Was it better to let the judges see nature taking its course? Do recent plantings look too contrived? So anyway – I decided to deadhead – that was half the colour in the garden gone. Veronicastrum verginicum, filipendula, thalictrum, tansy, all firmly staked; hanging baskets watered, fed, deadheaded and watered again. Petunia Mandevilla is totally stunning, and so is the little unnamed trial bidens outshining its shady corner and much admired Petunia Cremissimo, a perfect match for the beach striped bench beneath. The judges came, photographed, made notes, exchanged anecdotes, and now we wait until October for the results (bit like A Levels!)
Petunia ‘Crazytunia Mandevilla’, Cucamelon’s and Shady Fernery
And lo and behold, a couple of weeks later we were doing it all again for the 2nd NGS Open Day! 31st July was a new date for us, quite late on in the season, and with summer holidays in full swing we were expecting a quieter turnout than June. Oh how Fate laughs! It was so packed at one point that I had to queue to get into my own house! We had to put extra chairs and tables on the front drive, and almost ran out of cake (rioting in the streets). Amazing day: 160 visitors and over £1000 raised for charity. Plants of the day? Ricinus communis, grown from T&M seed, Veronicastrum Virginucum Fascination covered in bees, and towering Tree Lilies in containers either side of our front door, flooding the entrance to the garden with their fragrance. Talking point? Cucamelons – one of my visitors actually pointed out my first fruits to me as I hadn’t noticed it yet.
Perhaps the most notable moment of the day for me was when one of our visitors was looking at David’s story boards of our garden adventures, and, admiring a photo of Rachel De Thame and me taken at the Perennial Fund Raiser in winter 2015, asked if she was my daughter! (Hmmm, I am 58 and I think Rachel is in her early 50s).
Caroline and Rachel De Thame and Caroline in her garden
Having taken the following Monday off work I ventured down to our allotment for a change of pace. I must have harvested 3kgs of blackberries (blackberry fool, blackberry coulis, blackberry ice cream – yummy), Hurst Greenshaft peas, broad beans, Patti Pans ‘Summer Mix’ F1 hybrid and Courgettes ‘De Nice A Fruit Rond’ (the latter two are fantastic in stir fries). Dozens of Tree Lilies are in flower, sweet peas keep coming and coming, and I was able to make up a small posy of dahlias & Buddleia ‘Buzz’® for my 104 year old friend Ethel, (whose brother survived the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, but that’s a whole other story.) Although Ethel had to give up gardening at the tender age of 100 because she could no longer balance on the top rung of her ladder, she did however manage the climb down her basement stairs to her wine cellar until she was 101.
Part of the reason I am able to continue trialling plants for T&M is the availability of space to experiment on my allotment. In fact really and truly I should register it in the name of T&M as most of the plants growing on it are from trials past and present! Some shrubs like the lilac are now in their third or fourth year and flowering reliably every spring. Daffodil bulbs are transplanted there after flowering on my patio, and annuals for cutting are sown to bring colour and fragrance into the house, as I won’t cut anything from the garden.
Buddleja ‘Buzz’®, Lilies and recent spoils from Caroline’s allotment
We have one more Open Day scheduled this summer on Sunday 4th September for The British Red Cross and then perhaps I can relax and go on holiday! As long as I have something new to try I am happy, and as gardens are never static I should be gainfully occupied for some time to come!
An update from The Good Life In Practice:
So a lot has been happening in the growing season these last few months! The weather has got truly warmer and the rain has indeed helped the plants to push on. Here is a quick round up of what has been happening here…
The tomato plants have well and truly flourished and I have added supports (small canes) for each of them so they can grow straight upwards-cannot wait for juicy tomatoes from these! The mixed salad seed mix, watercress seed mix and sorrel seed mix have been so easy to use too. I simply planted them in pots around the patio and they have sprouted up fresh leaves. This has been perfectly timed for making summer salads for dinners.
Additionally, another supplement to salads has been the different varieties of nasturtiums I have tried. I have included some photographs of two types I have been using thus far in salads and in nasturtium leaf pesto recipes. Herbs such as chives have flowered and the beautiful, deep purple blooms on top have again been perfect for topping salads or pasta dishes. Moreover, when I get low on salad leaves between cropping’s I add pea shoots to the mix – these are so easy to simply cut off the top of pea crops and they quickly grow back. The spring onions tapes have been a triumph and are gradually growing as we speak. The easy seed tapes have meant I haven’t really had to worry about spacing or weeds as it is self-sufficient in this respect – a great, revolutionary idea.
Selection of Katy’s flowers from the garden
The big success has been the fruit bushes. My raspberry canes from Thompson & Morgan – including Glen Moy have been so successful again this year. It has been marvellous to pop down to sort the chickens of a morning and graze on fresh, plump raspberries on the journey down the garden! I have been lucky enough to have a successful blueberry bush, currants and gooseberry bush as well.
Katy’s kitchen garden
The dwarf runner beans I am excited for too. They are just perfect for pots on the patio if you haven’t got a mountain of space in your garden – mine are potted up near the peas and thriving. Again runner beans are a firm favourite not just for eating on their own but also they are a great addition to chutney making.
More of Katy’s great produce
Lots more to share next time and hopefully some recipes too, Katy, The Good Life In Practice
Hope you are all well, and enjoying the beautiful summer days. Our weather in Neyland has been erratic, if there’s one thing we can bet on at the moment is that there are no two days the same. If it’s not twenty seven degrees Celsius and cloudless it’s foggy, damp humid and uncomfortable. Oh and don’t forget the heavy rain, thunder and winds. The poor plants have taken a battering. Although luckily for me most have bounced back, it’s only Petunia ‘Anna’ that seems to be struggling.
Petunia ‘Anna’, Cosmos ‘Xanthos’ & Hollyhock ‘Excelsior Hybrid Mixed’
Like last month I have not done as much in the greenhouses as I would have liked to, this is because I have been unwell again for over two weeks, with a gastric bug, that put me in hospital for five days and because I was in my local hospital the specialist hospital sixty miles away had to cancel my operation as I was too unwell to attend, which is frustrating as I have to wait for a new admission date.
Whilst in hospital I used my visualisation technique to help me through the procedures including trying to name in alphabetical order plants growing in my garden whilst I was having a brain scan. I was quite impressed on two accounts; one that I only got to the letter K before the procedure was over, and two I have a brain! In case your interested I have apples, biden, cosmos, Dianthus ‘Elephants Ear’, foxglove, gazania, hollyhock, ivy, Viola ‘Jonny Jump Up’ and as for K well it was all over then. I am saving the rest of the alphabet for when I go for surgery.
I was discharged on Friday the fifteenth and as soon as I got home I did another garden inspection. The corcockles had gone to seed as had most of the wildflower border, the peas had finished and the Lambs Ears had flowered.
On Saturday I felt really well so I thought I would spend ten minutes in the greenhouse cutting the lower leaves off the tomatoes as they had gone wild. It was warm in there but not uncomfortable, when I got to tired to continue, I realised I had been thirty minutes instead of ten, which really made me smile as it made me feel that I was stronger than I thought I was, happy, relaxed and grateful to be alive. And I was rewarded with my first ripe Tomato ‘Magic Mountain’.
Amanda’s Tomato ‘Magic Mountain’ in different stages of growth
To eat my first tomato of the season was so special, firstly because it’s a new variety for 2016 and it’s the first tomato I have ever grown from seed (I usually buy plug plants,) and secondly because there had been days when I thought I would never get to try them as I felt so ill. Tomato ‘Magic Mountain’ are really tasty, the smell of the vine stays on them long after they are picked, which makes them feel super fresh even if you eat them a day or two after picking. They are bigger than a cherry tomato but smaller than a salad one. The skin was a little bit hard, but that may be due to not having enough sun here. The flesh is thick for a small tomato, but it’s firm and succulent. There are hardly any pips, so fussy eaters should be happy. As there have only been one or two that have been ready since Friday they didn’t get as far as a sandwich or anything more interesting, however, I can’t wait to fry them with some butter, mushrooms, aubergine, sweet peppers basil and oregano. Then scatter them with some cheddar cheese on a warm crusty roll.
Talking about aubergines, the ones opposite my tomato vines are doing much better than last year, the leaves are bigger and they are now starting to flower, the reason they are doing better is because they are receiving a lot more sunlight from early morning than they were in the opposite side of the greenhouse, and as we have kept the tomatoes to only four to five feet tall they are getting the sun for longer in the afternoon too.
The peppers seeds ( T&M Sweet Bonita) that Blogger Jean Willis gave me, have produced some of the best pepper plants I have ever grown, and they are 100% better than last year’s garden centre plant bought. The leaves are even and shiny, within no bare patches or uneven growth. There are a lot more flowers on them than other varieties I have grown, and which the bees are happy to pollinate for me.
Unfortunately, the Rubin be Lemonade Basils have bolted, but the flowers are so pretty I’ve just let them continue as they are. The leaves taste slightly more bitter, but I am wondering if I should collect their seeds to see if they have cross pollinated. It would be amazing if I could come up,with a green and burgundy striped basil, or a new tasting one. Knowing my luck though I’d probably end up with something that tastes disgusting and looks like an alien.
Sweet Pepper ‘Bonita’ & Cucamelon ‘Melothria
The cucumelons and squashes that I had from another company, really are not doing that well at all. They are small and weak growing, and the leaves seem to be more of a pale green than they should be,they are having the same care and attention as any other plants we have, with the same watering and feed. Carelessly whoever packed the plants sent the wrong instructions too, as they sent me the leaflet for how to grow your tomatoes and peppers! I have used the company before, but I won’t by plug plants from them again. However the cucamelons in the small greenhouse seem to be ok. The chilli plant that I had from them died after a few weeks too. Poor Mark won’t have any sweet chilli chutney this year as I lost my baby chilli plants when I first got ill in May.
In the small greenhouse the money tree is really thriving, as are the Aloe Vera’s. The shelves are still bare, as I haven’t done any seed sowing, and I’m feeling frustrated as now would be a good time to start off the winter veg, such as cabbage, turnips and swede. I know we are lucky in this region that I can sow seeds even up to September and October and still get a good crop, but I hate seeing things empty. I did think about setting some seeds, but I know in the next few weeks they won’t have my full attention so it would be a bit of a pointless exercise.
Bidens ‘Pink Princess’ & Gazania ‘Big Kiss White Flame’ F1 Hybrid
For the first time in years, I have nothing to plant in the bare soil now my corncockles have been dug up. Usually the space is filled with dahlias, amaranthus, marigolds and any other plants I happen to be growing, so I am tempted to go to the garden centre and buy some bedding plants. At least these will be established and I can plant them straight away. I did think of getting them from T&M special offers, but being on the cancellation list at the hospital I can’t take the chance on waiting for delivery.
My trial Bidens are still flowering, they are still white, pink, and pink and white ringed. They have taken the wildly fluctuating temperatures, the winds and rain and as long as they are deadheaded regularly continue to bloom.
The trial antirhinums that were in with a pot of petunias survived two days upside down on the grass when the bracket holding the heavy pot fell out of the wall. Not sure how the bracket fell out though, Mark is usually good at DIY. The plants were not damaged at all which really impressed us.
The trial trailing fuschias are just beautiful. The ones in pots out the front aren’t growing as well as the ones that are in the more sheltered back garden. Every morning I open my bedroom curtains and look out at three pots of pinky/purple/red fuschias, roses, veronica, poppies, sage, mint and lavender, the scent in the mornings is delicious.
I am hoping by August my operation will have been done, and that I am on the road to recovery. I have promised my nieces to bring down fresh peppers and aubergines. My brother still hasn’t put up his greenhouse so mum is babysitting his tomato plants, and his aubergines are in pots in my small greenhouse. I have a sneaky feeling he won’t finish his greenhouse until next year.
So here’s looking forward to new and tasty fresh vine fruit and veg, time spent with the family and long sunny days.
Take care, and happy gardening,
PS Thank you to everyone who continues to share their gardening adventures with me on Facebook, I love the photos from Geoff and Caroline’s open days for McMillan and NGS open days, to T&Ms Jimmys Farm posts. I love hearing people’s successes as well as problem solving hints and tips. Believe me, it really does make my day.
The colour has again returned to Ipswich and Stowmarket train stations thanks to a partnership between train operator Abellio Greater Anglia, local seed and plant specialist Thompson & Morgan and Ipswich-based charity Activlives. In a repeat of last year’s hanging basket displays of Begonia ‘Apricot Shades’, volunteers, work placements and young learners from ActivLives have been busy this spring growing baskets of Thompson & Morgans’ best selling begonia, but looking to add scent as well as colour to the platforms for 2016 Begonia ‘Fragrant Falls’ has been added to the mix.
Ipswich Station Thompson Morgan, ActivLives’ gardeners and Jackie Station Manager at Ipswich
Not only will the baskets brighten up the journeys of everyone who passes through the stations on the London to Norwich mainline, the project has provided local young people with valuable horticultural experience. Participants from a number of organisations, including WS Training, Talent Match and Seetec, take part in training programmes at ActivLives’ two garden projects in Ipswich to gain skills for work.
The Activlives team planted up the baskets back in April. They have since tended the choice Begonia blooms at the glasshouses in the walled garden at Chantry Park, bringing them into peak condition for display at the rail stations.
Ipswich Train Station with Thompson & Morgan Blooms
Thompson & Morgan Horticultural Director, Paul Hansord said: “We were pleased with last year’s baskets, but Activlives has outperformed themselves this year, with bigger better baskets for the best impact. Planted in incredicompost® and fed with incredbloom® at planting time, these baskets are looking stunning and will continue to perform right through to autumn, with minimal care from station staff – spent flowers simply fall off to be replaced by fresh new blooms. The addition of Begonia ‘Fragrant Falls’ should really lift the spirits of workers on their daily commute and make a warm welcome for visitors and tourists passing through both stations.”
Begonia ‘Fragrant Falls’ & Begonia ‘Apricot Shades’ at Ipswich Station
I am sitting looking out at the rain searching for inspiration. If another person says to me, “…but all this rain is good for the garden” I shall not be responsible for my actions. I have become obsessed with on-line weather forecasting sites, checking them morning, noon and night, going from one to another if I don’t like what I see, but they remain remarkably accurate! So let’s get the moaning over and done with shall we: Rose buds are all balled, saturated shrubs are drooping over the underplanting cutting out all the light, hanging baskets are limp. I can’t remember the last time I sat outside and admired the view, and worst of all I dread having to do tasks that I usually enjoy, like deadheading and just fiddling about.
Tomato ‘Tutti Frutti’ & Rose ‘For Your Eyes Only’
Right that’s enough of that then! According to theory we still have July, August, September and even October to enjoy summer before it all starts going downhill. I still have gaps in the borders to fill with new discoveries. I don’t have to keep watering the allotment and it’s a good job I couldn’t be bothered to shade paint the greenhouse – the automatic night light actually comes on when I enter during the day! In all truth the garden looks amazing, flowering away to itself, a far cry from the normal mid-season slump. OK maybe a little less colour but certainly the most verdant high summer I can remember.
Rose ‘For Your Eyes Only’ & selection of begonias
Cordon Tomato ‘Tutti Frutti’ are very well behaved, hardly any side shoots, trusses forming evenly and since David ran wire supports around the apex of the greenhouse roof I have been able to train them vertically. Last year they kept turning right and climbing out of the automatic window and then getting chopped off when it shut. Despite their delicate appearance cucamelons are scrambling away with tiny fruits forming all over. No sign of any insects either (too cold!)
Petunia ‘Cremissimo’ & Petunia ‘Mandevilla’
By some miracle the afternoon of our NGS Open Day was dry, we raised nearly £1000 and welcomed 130 visitors. The roses were spectacular, Rose ‘For Your Eyes Only’ being the star of the show.(Good job too as virtually nothing else had come into flower yet.) This year we allowed visitors access to the roof terrace as the grasses and tall perennials created privacy for our neighbours. (You get a good view the church spire – and the small bit of wasteland adjacent to our garden which I wish I had bought from next door when I had the chance.) A guest suggested that we should have some seating up there so David is building a chest out of decking with storage for hanging baskets and such like in the winter. The surrounding canopies of Plum ‘Victoria’ and apple tree have created such shelter that it’s virtually 100% secluded. With the fridge underneath in the Man Shed there is no excuse not to enjoy a drink à deux one of these days.
We usually get through about eight cakes on the Open Day but for some strange reason this year cake upon cake kept arriving from supportive neighbours and friends; we had two gluten frees and even a lactose free. Shop bought cake will be spotted a mile off and reviled. (It’s a funny thing but there is a lot of cake rivalry amongst fellow Garden Openers you know!) If we didn’t do teas I don’t think anyone would come.
Petunia ‘Mandevilla’ & Digitalis ‘Illumination Ruby Slippers’
Trial results of this summer’s annuals vary greatly to date. Petunia ‘Mandevilla’ flowers are spectacular and bounce back after the rain and their stalks are long and robust so are easy to snap off. Petunia ‘Cremissimo’ is very dainty, but every single minitunia Calibrachoa ‘Kabloom Terracotta’ has been eaten by snails. Bidens ‘BeeDance Painted Red’ looks really good with Begonia ‘Glowing Embers’. But with so little sunshine (she’s moaning again) the gingers, eucomis, fuchsias and cannas are almost static. I’m so glad that I planted loads of ferns and heucheras on the patio as they are thriving. Even the hostas and begonias are still in one piece as our herbivore cat Fred is too rain-phobic to venture outside, preferring to laze all day in the sunroom with his harem, watching the return of the door mice and the toing and froing of the blackbirds nesting in the viburnum.
Caroline’s cats having a really hard life & Fred doing what Fred does best – nothing!!
The nasturtiums have covered the living wall by our front door and the strawberries in the single column on the opposite side are starting to fruit; David’s observation that “those plants look just like strawberries” is a testament to his horticultural knowledge. But then again I should have realised what I was letting myself in for – when we first started creating the garden I asked him what colour he liked the least, he did say green!
So having taken stock, after all, I think the garden will cope with whatever the weather throws at it. By mid-July I shall be revving up for our next NGS Open Day 31st July but for another couple of weeks I intend to relax and potter about as much as I can. Happy gardening to one and all!
Thompson & Morgan Blog: July 2016
It’s biennial time again.
As our Aquilegias, Digitalis, Erysimums and Myosotis finish flowering, it is time once again to sow next year’s new ones to ensure that we get as good, if not better, display as this year.
Aquilegia ‘Green Apples’, Aquilegia ‘Firecracker’ & Belle perennis ‘Pomponette Mixed’
This biennial cycle goes on in our gardens almost without us noticing it, as various plants self-seed in the quieter corners of our gardens. Plants such as forget-me-nots (Myosotis) can pop up almost anywhere if we leave the parent plants to seed in May and June. This happens in the wild as well, with plants such as hedge garlic/jack-by-the-hedge (Alliaria petiolata) seeding themselves at this time of year in the bottoms of farm hedges – the seeds then germinate before winter, surviving the harsh winter weather as young plants that then flower in spring/early summer. The parent plants die as they drop their seed.
Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrid Mixed’, Foxglove ‘Silver Cub’ Myosotis ‘Symphony Blue’
So, what can you sow now that are grown as biennials? The starting point is to look for the letters HB at the beginning of the description of the plant. Sow Aquilegias cultivars now and watch out for a stunning display in May and early June – I like the look of ‘Green Apples’ and ‘Firecracker’ as interesting variations on the normal range of colours. Bellis ‘Pomponette Mixed’, although actually a perennial, is normally grown as a biennial and looks fabulous in the spring garden and in containers. It is loved by bees as well so we all win!
For something a little unusual, try Cabbage ‘Northern Lights Mixed’ with various foliage colours to delight you and your friends. If you leave them in until early summer they will flower and the yellow flowers are edible – yummy!! Dianthus barbatus, more commonly known as Sweet William, gives a stunning display in early to mid summer and there are a number of wonderful cultivars to choose from. Foxgloves (Digitalis) have come a long way in recent years from their biennial wild relatives and the range of colours and forms is worth studying, from ‘Excelsior Hybrids’ up to 1.5 metres to ‘Silver Cub’ at only 60cm high.
Dianthus barbatus ‘Excelsior Mixed’, Pansy ‘Majestic Giants Mixed’ & Viols ‘Sorbet Orange Jump Up’
Pansies and Violas are amongst of the most popular winter and spring flowering plants for containers in our gardens and, although they are classified as perennials, we do tend to grow them as biennials. The flowers are edible as well as colourful and one of my all-time favourites is ‘Majestic Giants’ with flowers up to 10cm across. Wallflowers (Erysimums) are one of the more traditional biennial plants used by local authorities and larger public gardens for spectacular spring displays. Try ‘Tom Thumb Mixed’ for an easy to manage cultivar with a wide range of flower colours from yellows to rusts and reds. It works well in a container because it only reaches 20cm high.
Cabbage ‘Northern Lights’, Calenduala officinalis nana ‘Fruit Twist’ & Nigella papillosa ‘Midnight’
Some plants can be nudged into a biennial life-cycle just by changing the sowing dates. Plants such as Calendula, Limnanthes and Nigella can be sown directly into the garden in late September, will germinate quickly in the warm soil and will then overwinter as young plants, flowering in April and May for instead of June, July and August. These plants are normally sold as hardy annuals for direct spring sowing. Give it a try and surprise yourself and your neighbours.
Whatever you grow now for your winter and spring garden, enjoy the surprises that these wonderful plants can give you.