January, supposedly named after the god Janus, a two headed figure who could look to both the future and the past, the reason why we make resolutions at this time of year, to change things in our life. So it’s no surprise then, that we gardeners are very probably this month perusing seed catalogues, drawing up plans, and generally getting our kit ready for the growing year.
Ianuarius – (Latin for January) translates to a doorway – and this is where I feel I am, getting ready to step out into a new adventure. I can’t believe this will be my third year for blogging for T&M! Last year was not my best gardening year due to my cancer, but this year, I really hope to catch up and transform the garden, learn new things and have a lot of fun on the way.
The first thing I learned this year is how powerful plants can be. During my final session of chemotherapy, I decided to google what goes into the drugs that are saving my life. Cabol, was a synthetic and uninteresting drug, but Taxol, as the name suggests, is derived from the Pacific Yew tree. It also contains poisonous plant alkaloids from the periwinkle (Vinca Major) and the American wild mandrake, commonly known as the May Apple. Plus it has extracts from the Asian Happy tree a 40 meter giant that is also grown in Canada – no one would choose to ingest these, no wonder I have felt so rough!
But now with the chemo over I am no longer banned from the greenhouse, so I sit with my seed tins beside me and make a list of everything I want to grow this year. I start by picking out the fruit and veg I want, I’m going to grow both yellow and red tomatoes. Yellow Stuffer, and either Mountain Magic or Sweet Aperitif. I also pick Bullhorn and Sweet Boneta peppers as well as chilli Prairie Fire. The heritage pea Alderman is also on my list. I have asked if I can trial aubergine Listada De Gendia and some melon seeds and some Calendula. I hope I am allowed.
I will also be working on my new grassy knoll area, so I will be growing Banksia Hookeriana, and Horses Tails, as well as a variety of other grasses. When it comes to flowers, I seem to be especially attracted to all things orange this year. I am thinking of buying the Dahlia Jowey Linda, I love its pom-pom shape; I will mostly likely be growing Zinnias, Star or Veldt and Cosmos too.
My other mad plan is I want to have a charity plant sale with all of the extra plants I end up growing. I want to raise money for a local cancer support group who have been amazingly helpful in the last few months. I have no idea if I can achieve everything but I’m definitely going to give it a go.
To kick start the growing year, Mark has already sieved the compost and sown the peas, peppers and chillies. Nothing has germinated yet, but they have only been in for about ten days. The weather has been unusually mild with only one or two days of frost. Most days it’s at least 8 degrees and our lawn is growing, and will probably need a cut soon.
Apart from the germinating seeds, inside the little greenhouse I have some winter flowering shrubs that I had on special offer for £10 back in December from T&M. They are Chimonanthus praecox – ‘Wintersweet’, Viburnum x bodantense ‘Dawn’ plus Sarcococca confusa. I also took advantage of a magazine offer to claim an extra Viburnum X bodantense, fertiliser and snips for just the price of P&P, so it worked out about £4 per shrub. Bargain! The shrubs can be planted any time between now and March, Mark has already repotted them into 9cm pots as the roots are establishing quickly. Ideally the bigger the rootball the better they should settle in the garden.
I am hoping to transplant them in February, I don’t want to take the risk of frost damage or high winds just yet. Also the small flowers on the Wintersweet are making the greenhouse smell divine.
There are also the ever present Aloe Veras, some mint that needs repotting badly, and the Money tree.
In the large greenhouse we have random amaranthus seedlings growing where the aubergines were last year. I have no idea how they got there. The only thing I can think of is the seeds must have lay dormant in the soil from when we grew them at the edge of the wall before the greenhouse was built. I am leaving them grow for now and will transplant them when they are bigger. Amaranthus are really hardy, I have let them dry out completely in pots and they always bounce back. They love the heat and the longer they have in the greenhouse the bigger they become. There is also a Christmas basket containing a baby conifer and an ivy. The basket also contained Poinsettia, but it didn’t seem to live very well in our house. These plants are going to go into the garden eventually, but for now they are getting used to no longer being in the central heated warmth.
Another offer that T&M did with a magazine recently was to claim 40 free Gladioli bulbs for just £5.95. I wasn’t going to order them, but then I started reading the Margery Fish Cottage Garden Plants book, and her enthusiasm rubbed off on me, so I accidentally bought them too! Whilst I have longed for a cottage style garden, her insight showed me an obvious flaw in why I can’t really have the garden I desire. A cottage garden is usually surrounded by stone walls. Walls that will hold in the heat and protect the plants, we have a wooden picket fence along our front garden meaning that although it will filter the wind and offer some protection, it’s not ideal. Although saying that I do have success growing lupins and and foxgloves so there is hope yet.
My brother, Andrew, has recently bought a Veg Trug™ and flower pouches so he and his girls can grow strawberries and vegetables this year. He also says he going to finish building his greenhouse. (This is an ongoing saga, but at least now the base has been done.) My niece was so excited when I sent her and her sisters some seeds to try. I gave them lettuce, carrots, basil and tomatoes. Things that should germinate easily and quickly so they don’t have to wait too long for the results. It’s so good to see youngsters getting involved in gardening and making the connection between the land and the plate. Hopefully it will set them up to make healthy food choices and encourage them to be outdoors rather than inside on a computer. As well growing their own produce the girls regularly help their grandparents in the greenhouse, and me in mine when they visit.
Mum has two projects on the go, firstly she wants to grow her own tomatoes this year, but she wants to raise them from seed. So she is making a cold frame from the vegetable trays from her old fridge. I like this idea of recycling the plastic boxes, as they already have drainage holes in them and they are deep enough to hold several pots. Her other task is to redesign her tiny front garden. When I say tiny, I mean it, as you can see from the picture. She wants to keep the roses and the gravel but she says she wants a new theme. I am rubbish at designing and my gardening style is too wild for her. By that I mean I grow for nature rather than myself. I have native flowers, wild flowers and stinging nettles in borders for the butterflies. I grow sedums, hebe and ivy for the bees, honeysuckle for the ladybirds and leave the seed heads on Verbena Bonarienses for the Blue Tits. I love the dandelions, buttercups, thistles, clover and daisies that grow in our lawns which most people, including Mark, hate. In return I am rarely plagued by pests. The worst I have is earwigs in the dahlias, as looking after the insects means we have a variety of other creatures visiting our garden. We have a massive family of house sparrows, as well as a resident wren, robin and collard doves. We have a family of blackbirds and magpies, plus plenty of other feathered friends too. We have bats feeding in the summer, foxes, hedgehogs, and slow worms. Not bad for an urban garden in the industrial side of Pembrokeshire.
So there’s plenty to look forward to. Soon it will be time for my daffodils, grape hyacinth and crocuses to flower, they are budding, and there is new growth coming on last year’s trial Antirrhinums, these have stayed out all winter in a hanging basket on a west facing wall. They are yet to be named, and I didn’t see them in the catalogue, so I’m intrigued to see what other trialists make of them and if they were a success. I’m hoping to start off my sweet peas next. Then the potatoes.
Until next time.
It’s been a rather busy six months for me. I can’t quite see where my time has gone. Well, I say that, I spent a lot of it working in my client gardens. Unfortunately, this meant that I wasn’t able to look after my own pots as much as I’d have liked to. It certainly put the Fuchsia Berry to the Test! It really grew lots over the summer and it bloomed lovely to my surprise.
I had my first Berries from the plant in July. Albeit only a few. Never the less, I had berries and my first victims, umm I mean candidates, to try the berries and the flowers (along with myself) were my parents and my guinea pig. I wish I had been able to record my parent’s reactions, they were priceless! I did get a snap of Oscar trying his. He wasn’t too sure.
(I will apologise if you have been following me on twitter as I am using the same pictures in this blog as I have published on there!)
We all tried the flowers first. I ate each piece individually, which is probably best when you first try them as each bit tastes different. Mum on the other hand put the whole thing in in one go and then proceeded to proclaim, while screwing her face up ‘how could you give me something so foul! You evil child!’ All in jest of course. My dad had played the tactical game waiting for our responses before he would dare to try it. Now he was a little put off by mum’s reaction but I managed to get him to try a bit and after a few small bites he said he didn’t mind it but wouldn’t rush to have another one.
The berries were a different story. We all enjoyed them and I got my Grandad to try some when I had a few more and gave him some to take home to nanny for her to try. They never made it home. I don’t think they even made it out of the door!
The berries to me taste like a cross between a blueberry and a grape. The skin has a slightly bitter taste but that maybe because I was feeding my plant with Worm Tea from my wormery.
Over the next few months I trapped more people into trying my berries. Nearly everyone who I asked to try them were dubious whether I was trying to poison them. Ye of little faith! Of course, I promised the I wasn’t and I ate them in front of them to prove that I was going to be poisoned as much as they were. Their responses were much the same as mine. They either said blueberry or grape or a mix of the two.
When it came to the flowers though a few really protested that you can’t eat Fuchsia flowers. Even with me eating them in front of them and explaining that Thompson and Morgan have tested it and verified it is safe they still wouldn’t. Those who did try them had a similar response to my dad. Although they did say that it wasn’t what they were expecting but they did taste ok and would eat them again if they were on their plate.
I think the reason why the flowers got such a bad reaction from my mum and an alternative reaction from others that tried them was because they don’t taste anything like you expect them to. They trick you. Being the hot pink and purple that they are, you expect them to be sweet like most other things of their colouring are. But don’t be fooled. When in their prime picking season, mid-summer, the stamens have a fiery kick to them, like pepper crossed with chilli and the petals and bracts taste like rocket and red mustard leaves. If you want to give your salad an exotic twist this is certainly the thing to do it with.
It was my mum’s birthday in August so, being the good daughter that I am, I made her a birthday cake. Chocolate sponge with chocolate fudge icing and chocolate sprinkle and sugar flowers. Pretty eurgh if you ask me, but then I don’t really like chocolate. More of a tomato girl. Any way just before I lit the candles and we sung the obligatory ‘Happy Birthday’ I went out into the garden and picked some Flowers along with some of my home-grown strawberries to finish the cake off. I think they added that extra little bit of pizzazz! Although mum still wouldn’t eat them even with Chocolate fudge icing on them.
The Fuchsia Berry is certainly a good conversation starter and this year I hope to see if feeding it sugar water makes a difference to how it tastes. But for now, it is tucked up in fleece inside my heated greenhouse.
I wish you all a Happy New Year and a prosperous and plentiful growing season to come,
Time moves on so quickly and 2017 will be the 5th year that I have been trialling plants for Thompson & Morgan in my multi-award winning seaside garden! Back in 2013, the first items I received were a Cox’s orange Pippin Apple Tree and a Plum Gage, Reine Claude. Back then we were sent whatever was chosen by the company and I feared that I would not be able to use then in my exposed coastal garden. Now, they are both established and have started to produce small amounts of fruit, always difficult here on the coast, with the wind blowing across the garden!
Another arrival that first Spring was a delicate rose ‘garden party’, which still flowers profusely in the front and back garden each Summer. Also received in the first year were Peruvian Tree Lily, Alstroemeria ‘Everest Collection’. These have been quite stunning year on year and much remarked on by our many garden visitors. They were all planted in a large container and are still doing really well. Last Summer, I was very lucky indeed to have trialled 2 brand new 2017 plants, featured in the Spring catalogue. The stunning new fuchsia ‘Icing Sugar’ on the front cover and the equally beautiful Bidens ‘Firelight’ on page 11. I’d suggested 2 names for the plants, but I’m afraid they weren’t the final ones chosen! However, my quote on the Fuchsia was used in publicity last November.
“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.”
Both of these plants are ones I would heartily recommend for anyone’s garden this Summer.
So, what can I and my garden visitors look forward to seeing in 2017 from Thompson & Morgan? We’re set to open 14 times this summer and already have several coach trips booked into the garden as well, as a result of me and the garden being seen on BBC Gardeners’ World last Autumn. Here’s what we will be receiving in the next few months. Strawberry ‘Just Add Cream™’. Petunia Amore ‘Queen of Hearts’, Buddleja davidii ‘Wisteria Lane’, Geranium ‘Black Rose’, Osteospermum ‘Falling Stars’. Gazania ‘Shepherd’s Delight’, Calendula ‘Winter Wonders Collection’. Petunia ‘Mini Rosebud Romantic Peachy’, Sweet Pea ‘Earl Grey’ and finally Petunia ‘Night Sky’ again, as it was such a success in 2016.
The information both on-line and in the Spring catalogue certainly made me want to see these on show in the garden. Who could resist the chance to smell the intense perfume that evokes childhood memories of your first taste of a strawberry or appreciate the fashionable new sweet pea, offering stunning colour on both sides of the graduated or ‘flaked’ petals. I’m really looking forward to seeing how they all grow this Summer and will be posting update son my garden web site throughout the season. Check them out at wwww.driftwoodbysea.co.uk
A quick update from the garden after the growing season.
So now the colder months begin and the long, darker nights draw in I am reflecting back on the last growing year at certain successes and trials in the garden and allotment sites. One of the big successes has been the runner beans. I planted 3 different Thompson & Morgan varieties – all with different coloured flowers. I planted these down at the allotment mixed up so that when they grew it created not only tasty beans but also a lovely mix of different coloured blooms on the plants too, winding up the canes. These were perfect simply chopped up and boiled for evening meals in pastas or grated for seasonal, fresh salads. I simply kept picking them every few days and they kept on growing right into end September/October which was fantastic. A real crowd pleaser both for ease of growing and for taste value too.
Another massive success was the raspberry canes. Now I know I mention these every time but it is simply because I have been so impressed by them each year in the summer. In particular the ‘Glen Moy’ variety has flourished. Fruit started appearing nice and early in the growing season and from then on gave a regular and heavy crop each week till late. I loved picking these fresh, juicy raspberries as I wandered past to feed the chickens I keep and try to save the raspberries to go with my breakfast porridge. However, most of them did not make it back into the house for cooking desserts or breakfasts as they were consumed earlier on the garden walk.
Jerusalem artichokes have been a new discovery for me this year – trying to grow and cook with them. They were easy to grow and I have experimented with cooking them in different ways. They are a faff to prepare and peel but are a nice addition to a potato gratin with tasty layers topped with cheese and cream – perfect in autumn!
The spring onion (White Lisbon variety) crop I have had this year has been immense! Simply so easy to plant and grow with little intervention apart from regular watering. I have had a formidable crop and have used them mercilessly snipped into fresh salads, mixed into potato salads and as a quirky addition to scrambled eggs on a Sunday (with wild garlic).
Overall, I cannot wait to get cracking with the next growing season and focus on one particular element next year. I haven’t decided which project yet but possibly thinking salads or unusual varieties of vegetable.
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.
Wild Bee numbers have been declining for decades in the UK. This is due to the wild grasslands of this country diminishing by a massive 97%; and the widespread use of agricultural pesticides on farmlands up and down the country. The Government has urged gardeners to do their bit and help with this serious issue. Bee experts have called for a nationwide effort to protect this threatened genus.
Aubretia ‘Cascade Purple’ & Wildflower ‘Honey-bee Flower Mixed’
So what can gardeners do to help bees survive – especially during the winter months? Well there is plenty to do to help in small ways.
The first thing to do is leave a small patch of your garden to grow wild, and make sure it will not get disturbed in any way. Make it just as nature intended it, and you can do this by letting grass grow long and allowing wild flowers to bloom. If you have a north facing bank then this is the ideal spot to allow grass to overgrow. Bees like to burrow, especially when they need to hibernate and facing north is the most suitable for their hibernation.
It is also important to grow plants which will provide an essential food source for the bees during the colder months. Such plants as spring flowering plants and winter flowering plants are a good idea. Perhaps an aubrietia or acacia dealbata. Hedera hibernica ivy is also good for wildlife gardens, fast growing it is ideal if you want to get your wildlife garden going quickly.
Echium vulgare ‘Blue Bedder’ & Wildflower mixed seeds
For your wildflower garden you can scatter seeds straight into the ground, with one of our wildflower seed mixes, so there is no need for potting up or pricking out. For early flowering plants crocus bulbs and snowdrops are perfect, they provide early springtime food supplies to sustain the bees until more spring flowers arrive.
Most bees exist in a state of near hibernation during the winter but having food to eat during this time will give them a much better chance of surviving until the next spring. Summertime flowers are frequently seen in the garden; but extending the time there are nectar rich flowers into early spring and late autumn is increasingly important for the bee’s survival.
Anemone ‘Wild Swan’ & Acacia dealbata
Lord Gardener Minister of Rural Affairs and Biosecurity has said that bees are a much loved feature of the English countryside in summertime. He also stated that they are also a crucial part of the biodiversity of this country and an essential part of our economy; and that it is vital not to forget bees’ during winter time. At Thompson & Morgan we feel that it is extremely important to provide a home and food for these wonderful little creatures that do so much for us.
If you would like to find out more about making your garden a haven for wildlife – the articles below have a vaste array of information, knowledge and inspiration >>
Bees & Butterflies Inspiration
Encouraging Wildlife including Bees
Plants for Wildlife
What to do in the Garden to Encourage Wildlife