Just like this time last year the season doesn’t know if it wants to be spring, autumn or winter. One minute it’s wet and windy, next it’s too hot to stand in the greenhouses for more than ten minutes. Unexpectedly the potatoes have shot up, and luckily I moved them outside before the really hot weather kicked in, however they have started to grow flowers so they will be ready sooner rather than later. It takes 12-16 weeks for Charlottes to be ready, and Dad used to say once they have flowered cut off the foliage and leave them for 7-10 days where they are. The trouble is once I know they are almost ready I just want to dive in.
Amanda’s Potato ‘Charlotte’ & Tomato ‘Magic Mountain’
The month started off with high winds and a telephone call from Rachel asking “Who’s your glazier?” My greenhouse was unscathed but she had lost a few panes. Come the Friday she said, “I found someone who does glass cheaper than yours.”
“Who?” I demanded.
It turned out that a long established garden nursery in Pembrokeshire were getting rid of 2 giant glasshouses as they are diversifying into a Glamping Eco Centre, and to raise extra funds they were selling the panes for £1 each. Rachel said ” I’m getting extra panes tomorrow, do you want some?” Of course I did. I bought £5 worth as I didn’t want to get too many hope this will last me a few years.
We have both been busy in the garden and greenhouses, I have pricked out my geraniums, hardened them off and planted them outside, along with the petunias, cosmos, Californian Poppy, sweetpeas, eating peas and a sunflower. Apart from 3 nicotianas the rest have also been put into their final growing positions. Meanwhile Mark has been mowing, edging, weeding, digging and fixing.
Trial fuchsia & bidens with Petunia ‘Night Sky’
I, like a lot of people this year seem to be struggling with seed germination. My methods usually work, but out of 20 sunflowers, only 1 has grown. There is no sign of my malvins, dahlias, Bells of Ireland, strawflowers, asters, snapdragons, cucumbers, squashes, verbena or pumpkins. I don’t know if it’s because I bought poor compost or the unpredictable weather. I usually stick to a certain brand of compost from my local Garden Centre, but they had a 3 for 2 offer on 70ltr bags of a different one. When I was sieving it, I was disappointed by how many pebbles, bits of glass and bits of wood were in it. It doesn’t hold the water and bakes hard in the sun. The other 2 bags I have mixed into the big greenhouse borders as there was no way I as using it for seed again.
As the little greenhouse is now empty Mark decided to take everything out at the weekend and give it a good clean, it was surprising how much muck was on the inside windows.
Whilst waiting for the seeds in pots to germinate, I feel a bit annoyed and let down that I didn’t buy extra pot plants, so I would have something to write about, but then something brilliant happened. Thompson & Morgan asked me to trial some plants for them. They sent me, and bloggers Caroline and Geoff, and others to trial an as-yet-unnamed set of trailing fuchsias, bidens and antirrhinums. So we planted up some hanging baskets with them and let them establish before placing them all outside. The bidens were planted with a single Petunia ‘Night Sky’ as I wanted to fill the hanging basket. The bidens are white with a yellow middle – almost daisy looking – but not all are white, some are white and mauve with a yellow middle. The scent is outstanding, on a warm day we can stand six feet away from the basket and their fragrance drifts on the air. As the baskets are attached to a boundary wall that backs on to a back lane, I don’t think it’s going to be too long before someone passes the garden and asks what is that beautiful smell.
Californian Poppy ‘Cherry Swirl’ & Dahlia ‘Bonita’
The trial fuchsias are attractive to slugs so we have had to keep using pellets in the hanging pots to keep the critters away. Although this year we seem to have more snails than slugs which is better as I can just remove these by hand, taking them into the closed down school field where they can live in peace. The plants themselves are putting on a lot of growth, but no signs of any buds yet.
The antirrhinums are also planted with a petunia, these are growing fast and appear to be starting to bud, I can’t wait to see what they look like. All of the trial flowers were repotted into their baskets/pots on the 26/04/16, using a compost that was tested with our meter to be PH7, they were watered, given a slow release feed and slug pelleted.
Typically when the greenhouse is misbehaving my nieces call and say, “Auntie Amanda, Daddy’s building our greenhouse, have you got any tomatoes we can have please…..oh and some aubergines, and peppers and basil and chives, and peas. Oh and Daddy says do you think Uncle Mark can help make the greenhouse?” Luckily I have lots of aubergines and tomatoes. I have basil and peppers, but I am now in the process of growing several different types of herbs which include basil, oregano, Lemon Balm, corriander, parsley, chives, dill and mint. Then my mum comes over for her tomatoes, aubergines, nicotianas and cosmos and geraniums, followed by my Auntie Mary who then needs aubergines as well. She asks what variety the tomatoes are (Magic Mountain) and takes one of them as well. Not that I mind, I had a packet of seeds that said, average 10 seeds, there were 14 of them, and they all grew, so I have been looking for homes for them. I have also given tomato plants to my next door neighbour and a friend at work. I can’t wait for the feedback from them as to the taste, size of fruit and quantity.
Cucumber ‘Curino’ & Squash ‘Patty Pan’
I love sharing plants, after all what’s better than teaching a younger generation where food comes from, or having a jar of homemade tomato chutney for Christmas. As I wrote in one of my earliest blogs, a generous gardener is never poor.
In the small greenhouse border the Aloes have put on a lot of growth as has the money tree. However the Peace Orchid hated it, and had to be moved back into a pot of its own, so I put a spiky cactus in there instead.
In the large greenhouse, Mark has been busy building a cane support for the tomatoes, luckily it didn’t involve a trip to A&E like last years build. I have decided to use the left border for them instead of the right border this year to see if it makes any difference to the way they grow. I want to find out if they will get more light, as although the sun shines on the greenhouse all day and last year the vines created too much shadow for the plants on the left side. Hopefully this year the aubergines, peppers and chillies which will go on the right hand side will have more early morning light.
We have already put the tomatoes, peppers and aubergines into their final growing spots. Unfortunately, the hot chillies are still tiny, no more than 2 leaves each. They are on the hanging shelves and I don’t know if I should move them into the cooler smaller greenhouse or be a bit more patient. Also on the hanging shelves are seeds still waiting to germinate and a fabulous Banksia Hookerina that is growing steadily. I keep inspecting it every day and wish I had thought to do a time lapse photo record of it.
I am waiting the arrival of some plug plants that include a cucamelon and extra chillies. The back border in the greenhouse only has some Basil ‘Lemonade’ and rueben in it to go with the toms. Rachel is threatening to share some yellow tomato plants too, but the variety she grows are delicious so I am sure I can squeeze them in.
I must remember to buy some sticky yellow traps, although I was surprised at how much they cost. I don’t really like using these though as they also end up catching the beneficial bees and butterflies. I think I might research companion planting instead where the scent of a flower or herb attracts the pest to it instead of the crop, good ones to try are marigolds, basils and borage.
I am hoping June will see more progress on the germination of the seeds, if not I am going to stop the seed sowing until it’s time to plant winter veg towards the end of August. June and July will be busy months with nipping out side shoots, pest control, watering and weeding.
On a personal level I have a number of hospital appointments coming up, a Cardiology one this week and a balance test due to my ears being damaged by the Labrynthitis virus, which I still appear to be fighting even though it’s been over 12 months. I need to have an MRI scan on my head because of the balance issues and again I will be distracting myself by thinking of all the jobs I need to do in the greenhouse to get me through the tests. I am so glad the RHS Chelsea show are doing a huge amount to promote the health and wellbeing of gardening, because not only does it offer great exercise, encourage you to eat healthily, and get fresh air but being at one with nature is nourishing and healing to the soul.
Until next month,
With the nation’s apparent obsession with gyms, healthy eating and trying to lose weight, have you considered just how much exercise that you can do carrying out the simplest of garden tasks. We all ache after a long session of hoeing, digging or weeding and that’s probably because we’ve used muscles that we don’t normally and, providing we’ve been sensible, and safe, then it has probably done us some good!
With just a few simple garden tools you can burn off the calories, tone up your body and at the same time, have a well tended, beautiful garden, be it flowers or vegetables. Here are a few ideas to get you started and all at a fraction of the price of a gym subscription!
Hand trowels and forks will tone up your triceps and biceps too when you are using these for planting and weeding your beds and borders.
Using Secateurs, Grass Shears and Pruning Saws is the best exercise you’ll get for strengthening your forearms, wear gloves though – no point pruning yourself too!
If you want to improve your chest muscles (pectorals and lats) then trim hedges and shrubs with a pair of shears and clip your lawn edges with edging shears too, although don’t take on too much at once as you will soon lose interest and won’t want to finish the job!
You can’t beat using Loppers in the garden for those tougher pruning jobs and it’s a great way of working out your biceps, although don’t be tempted to use them to cut thicker branches than they can handle, you won’t get a clean cut and you might well break them – use a pruning saw instead.
If you want to improve your legs then simply dig! Using a garden fork or spade to dig over larger areas, be it a vegetable plot or a large flower bed, will give you lots of exercise and will burn off loads of calories too. If you haven’t got a huge plot to dig over then try an edging blade to keep your lawn in shape.
Lastly, and by no means least, your back, the bit that holds everything in place, be careful with it, you can’t get a new one (yet!). We all know to lift heavy things with a straight back and bent knees etc but it is so easy to quickly bend over, grab something – and then hurt yourself! For more gentle working, use a rake on beds, or a lawn rake to pull out moss from your lawn or just a leaf rake to clear up mess in your garden.
Of course you can combine things when you use some tools, hoeing will use your back and arms, wheeling a barrow will work out your back and legs, trying to stretch whilst you are working will also help with flexibility and importantly, start slowly each time, allow your muscles to warm up before you tackle the bigger jobs. You wouldn’t leap into a heavy gym session without first warming up and you shouldn’t rush out into the garden for a hard day’s graft without warming up to it either. Maybe walk around the garden first and work out your plan of action – preferably with a cup of tea, shrug your shoulders a few times in a circular motion to loosen yourself up a bit – put the tea down first, and then start with the easier jobs first. Don’t try to do everything at once either, working a bit more the next day will help to loosen up those aching muscles rather than overdoing it. After all, “Loam wasn’t built in a day”!
Just to give you a rough idea of what working in the garden will help you achieve, below is a list of approximate calories per hour burned whilst performing some simple garden jobs, these are only rough figures that I’ve gleaned from the internet and will vary from to person:
Average calories burned per hour – based on a 10 stone person
Carrying heavy loads 490
Chopping logs quickly 1070
Collecting grass or leaves 250
Mowing lawn with a push-along mower 280
Mowing lawn with a ride-on mower 150
Planting seedlings/shrubs 250
Raking lawn 250
Pruning shrubs 280
Above all else, remember that your garden is also to be enjoyed, it’s all very well spending loads of time on a gardening/exercising regime, but you’ve grown all your beautiful flowers for a reason – so take time to relax and enjoy it too!
Spring is on its way! Every farmer, gardener and outdoor working person will be able to identify with this, there is something in the air. One day we just step outside and the air feels and smells different. Bulbs are flowering, birds are singing and there is more heat in the sun. But it’s more than that, it’s an essence of things to come.
Amanda’s Potato Sacks & T&M Potato Sacks
My greenhouses are now filling up with fruit, veg and flower seeds that have been recently set. I love this time of year. I started out by asking Mark to find my potato sacks and give them a cold shower, so that there was no risk over overwintering pests or diseases in them that could affect my crop. After leaving the sacks to dry out in the big greenhouse until the weekend, I then set about choosing which seeds to grow. I did plan in January what I wanted, but then I changed my mind again. I do understand why garden designers say to just plant a few types of seeds with the same colour palette as it gives the garden uniformity, but I don’t like this style. I agree that it looks really effective, but to me, life is too short to just grow one type or colour of something.
So come Saturday, I sowed my potatoes and put them on the path of the large greenhouse where they will stay until the frosts have passed and they have been earthed up maybe once or twice. I also potted up some hot chillies and some mild peppers.
On Sunday I emptied everything out of the smaller greenhouse and gave it a good brush out. Mark then dug the greenhouse border over for me, pulling up a few weeds that had germinated in there over winter. Whilst he did this I took a variety of different sized pots into the house to give them a warm soapy wash in readiness for refilling.
Potato ‘Charlotte’ & Chilli Pepper ‘Poblana Ancho’
While the pots were drying I then set about sieving the garden centre compost. I enjoy doing this as its a great workout for my upper body. I place about three to five scoops of soil into the sieve and then shake it like mad until I have a fine potting compost in the tray below. The rougher stuff that is left in the sieve then gets thrown into the large borders in the bigger greenhouse, as its still good stuff just not great for the seeds. Sieving the compost also shows me what quality the shop bought stuff is like. I have bought what I thought was good value compost only to find out that it’s full of twigs and hard material and vey occasionally some clippings that seeds would not be able to push through. T&M sell incredicompost® but I have not used this as yet.
It takes me at least an hour to sieve about thirty litres of compost, it thirsty work but it’s nice in the sun. Mark is cutting the lawns so I sneak off to put the kettle on. Once inside I then look through my three tins of seeds. I am banned for buying seeds, according to Mark I have enough seeds to last me a few years. I like to have a choice though, and I always grow something new each year. Although I do have my favourites that I grow each year. These include sunflowers, peas and tomatoes.
Cycad seeds, Sunflower ‘Russian Giant’ & Pea ‘Aderman’
I am probably too methodical, but once my compost is sieved, I three-quarter fill all of the clean pots, this way I can see if I have enough compost, as it annoys me when I get to the last three or so pots at the end of the day only to find I have to drag everything back out and start sieving again.
I then put my seeds packets in order and using my seed sower device that looks a bit like a syringe I plant the number of required seeds into the pots. Sometimes I will sow the whole packet, but occasionally I just like to try a few seeds, this way if they fail the first time around, or an unforeseen change in weather kills them. I can always make a second sowing.
I start by planting three pots of Geraniums, I have not grown these from seed before so am excited to see how they differ from shop bought ones. There are eleven seeds in the packet so I put three per pot. Then I plant a single pot of Basil ‘Lemonade’, I love this herb, it’s so versatile. I also do a single pot of Basil ‘Rubin’, this is a very strong burgundy basil that I want to share with my friends and family. The Sunflower ‘Russian Giant’ are next, I plant five pots, two seeds per pot. Next is another plant I have not grown before, it’s called Malvin ‘Mystic Merlin‘ and it’s a mallow. The packet says its good for cottage style gardens and back of the borders, the flowers are lilac, purple and blue. This pack of seeds was part of a gift that I had for being blogger of the month towards the end of last year. I don’t think I have ever seen this plant before, so I can’t wait to see what it looks like. The tomatoes are next on the list. I am growing the Vegetable of the Year (2016) Tomato ‘Magic Mountain’ variety. It’s the best for blight resistance and as we had blight last year because of the warm wet summer, I am hoping I will have a much better crop. It’s also Year of the Cosmos so I plant up three pots with these seeds. Summer isn’t summer without going out into the garden and eating peas from their pods so I sow ten Pea ‘Alderman’ Heritage, they go into individual one inch pots. I never grow rows of peas, I train them up a wigwam and do succession sowing during the year. This way I can avoid the pests and crop for longer in the year.
Tomato ‘Magic Mountain’ & Cosmos ‘Xanthos’
I am eager to try a new vegetable too, so I sow three pots of Patty Plum Squash. These green skinned ones look like they would be nice stuffed and roasted. They also look good for a squash soup.
Finally I plant up my Cycads Species Mixed, again a free gift from T&M, there are only three seeds in this pack and one of them is huge as large as a fifty pence. It says they take one to three months to germinate, this is another new plant for me. I have seen them growing in botanical garden greenhouses, and I am a bit dubious about how big they are going to grow, but like I stated earlier, life’s too short to just grow one type of seed. I have a plan, that if they do grow they can stay in my small greenhouse turning it into a nursery and tropical space, whilst the bigger one can be for my fruit and veg. Mark did say if it gets too big it can always go outside, but being a greenhouse plant I don’t think it will survive. The Cycads are slow growing though so hopefully I will have few years to think about what to do with them if they actually grow.
After writing out a set labels on the back of old lolly sticks for each set of seeds, I then placed the tubs in wicker baskets and cover them with cling film to help retain heat and moisture during germination. I need to find my Dymo Machine so I can make individual labels for each pot, as I can guarantee things will grow at different times and I will move things around on the staging, and before I know it, my tomatoes will be in the garden borders and peas will be in the greenhouse, as I will have muddled the labels, or worse Mark will knock the labels off whilst watering and then I will have no idea what is what.
Just when I thought I had finished, I decided I would direct sow two dozen radish into the small greenhouse border. After all the soil was looking bare.
The above list might sound excessive but in all I only planted about thirty five pots and four sacks of potatoes. This will give me a good start and add to the plants that are now recovering from last month. It also leaves me with the opportunity to sow again later in the spring.
Petunia ‘Anna’ & Petunia ‘Night Sky’
Greenhouses aren’t just for germinating seeds though, they are a great place for bringing on plug plants, I am expecting a delivery soon from T&M of Petunia ‘Anna’, Petunia ‘Night Sky’ and my favourite Nicotiana ‘Eau d’ Cologne’. I have also ordered the shrub Barnsley Baby a Lavatera x clementii I have always fancied one of these and as it was on a special offer I could not resist. It comes in a seven centimetre pot so I might need to bring it on before it gets planted in the garden.
Greenhouses come in all shapes, sizes and prices, I started out with the plastic pop up ones many years ago, and I would recommend starting with these before investing in a horticultural one as this is a great test to see if you have the time and energy to devote to gardening whilst on a budget. My brother bought a lean to greenhouse last year, but as yet he hasn’t even built it, although he says its definitely going up this year and please can I supply him and the girls with some plants including aubergines. I hadn’t got around to sowing the aubergines.
So I now have another list of other plants that I have to grow for myself and the family, Aubergines, for my brother Sweet Peas and more Cosmos for mum, and a selection of herbs for someone at work. I usually grow loads of plants anyway so what’s a few more?
Do you end up growing more than what’s on your original gardening list or is it just me?
Until next month, Happy Gardening,
Have you ever really considered what attracts you to gardening or plants in general? Is it the way they look, the colours they produce, you can eat them or they were just the ones that the shop had at the time? For me it’s a bit more sciency (yes I’ve just made a new word).
We all know that you can set a seed, keep it warm and damp and it will grow. That part is no different to how we reproduce. (Well slightly but the theory is the same.) Except plants don’t just reproduce by seed. Some you can break a piece of them off, put it into water on a windowsill and it starts to shoot roots and grow more leaves. Others simply grow another version of themselves out the side of them, which you can then divide.
It simply fascinates me that they can do this. We can’t simply chop off a toe or take some hair and place it into water to grow another one of ourselves. If we could it might have some rather drastic consequences.
Of course we do share some similar qualities to plants in the way we present ourselves to others to be able to continue to stand as a human race. I know that sounds rather strange but we put on make-up, dress in certain ways and spray ourselves silly with perfumes and aftershaves. But plants are very special in how they do this. They get someone else to do the work for them.
Take the bee orchid. How has it evolved to know that it needs to produce a flower that looks like the bee that pollinates it to reproduce? Or the Titan Arum which has a 10 foot tall flower and smells of rotten meat to attract its pollinators? Some plants will only open when they cane ‘hear’ the vibration of the certain insect that can pollinate it. Others make their fruits attractive to birds because they need the stomach acid to soften the seed coating before it can germinate.
Is it possible that maybe plants, although do not have a physical brain like animals, really do think and have managed to manipulate the world around them for their own advantage? This might be a bold statement but really, plants are far superior to the animal kingdom. After all they have been here thousands of years before us so they should have a good head start. I just can’t get enough of them.
Until next time Lesley
Thompson & Morgan is moving into its peak supply season with a spring in its step having swept the board at the Great British Growing awards for a second consecutive year.
The UK’s largest horticultural mail order supplier took four top gongs, all nominated and voted for by the gardening public. There’s no industry back slapping here, the accolades have all come about through high customer satisfaction levels and a quality range of grow your own essentials, offered via the best website in the business.
Grow Your Own British Growing Awards 2016
The nation’s army of grow-your-own gardeners voted the Suffolk business Best Online Retailer over big players in the market including the world’s largest internet retailer Amazon.
Its range of fruit and vegetable seeds was voted best in the business, as was its plug plant offering. Known and respected for bringing more new varieties to the UK than any other plant retailer, its exclusive dual-cropping Tomtato® plant scooped the Most Innovative Gardening Product Award, having taken the Best New Veg Growing Product award in 2015.
T&M Winner of: Plug Plant Range, Most Innovative Growing Product – Tomtato®
Thompson & Morgan Horticultural Director, Paul Hansord said: “Our products and services win us multiple industry awards each season, and it’s always good to be recognised by our peers, but nothing beats a nod from our customers. To be rated so highly by the great British gardening public is a true testament to all the hard work and effort the T&M teams puts in to ensure we have the best range of products that give gardeners the results they are looking for.”
Thompson & Morgan will be at the Edible Garden Show (Stoneleigh Park, 11-13 March) to collect awards for:
- Best Fruit and Veg Seed Range
- Best Plug Plant Range
- Best Online Retailer
- Most Innovative Growing Product – Tomtato®
As this is my first blog, ever, I thought I would start by reflecting a little on where our gardening world has been going since the Second World War and, of course, where we are on the journey now!
Immediately after the war our successive Governments, of a variety of political persuasions, encouraged farmers and growers to maximise the cropping potential of every acre of land they could make productive. This move, in turn, caused what became known as the chemical treadmill. Where we applied stronger and stronger chemical products to kill off pests, diseases and weeds; that dared to attack our ever increasing acreages of crops. By the time we reached the 1970’s we had food mountains and wine lakes and had, without realising it, started to kill off wild flowers, insects, birds and wild animals in numbers that are now causing us serious concern.
Meadowland Mixture and Wildflower ‘Honey Bee Mixed’
When Rachel Carson wrote ‘The Silent Spring’ in 1962 few people listened to her concerns about the excessive use of chemical pesticides across the developed and developing world. When Dr. Chris Baines got the BBC to make the film ‘Bluetits and Bumblebees’ in the early 1980’s we all watched it but did not pick up the message. The Henry Doubleday Research Association (now Garden Organic), started in 1954 by Lawrence Hills has been encouraging amateur and professional growers to steer away from inorganic pesticides for over 60 years but who has been listening?
Now that scientific evidence and advanced knowledge of the damage that we have done to our planet over the last 60 + years has come into the public’s view, our Seed companies, breeders, researchers, nurseries and growers are seeing the potential market in offering us new strains of old favourites that require less and less pesticide attention.
Tomato ‘Mountain Magic’ and Carrot ‘Flyaway’ F1 Hybrid
Scanning through the first eleven pages of Thompson and Morgan’s 2016 Seed Catalogue, I have found five cultivars of popular vegetables that have known resistance to one problem or another. Tomato ‘Mountain Magic’ F1 is resistant to early and late blight; Carrot ‘Flyaway’ F1 is resistant to carrot root fly; Parsnip ‘Gladiator’F1 is resistant to Parsnip canker; Cucumber ‘Bella’ F1 and Courgette ‘Defender’ F1 are both resistant to powdery mildew.
Parsnip ‘Gladiator’ F1 Hybrid and Cucumber ‘Bella’ F1 Hybrid
Maybe someone will find strains of Impatiens and Aquilegias that are not devastated by Downy mildew in the future and Ash trees that are resistant to Ash dieback.
Busy Lizzy ‘Divine Mixed’ and Aquilegia ‘Swan Mixed’
This is all fantastic work on the part of breeders and growers and I feel sure that the list will get longer over the years as the pesticides gradually disappear from our Garden Centre shelves and pests and diseases become more resistant to them.
This cultural method of reducing the impact of pests and diseases should now be at the forefront in our battle with Mother Nature and, if we use physical barriers to help prevent attacks alongside the occasional use of biological control methods, we should be able to stop the use inorganic pesticides altogether.