Geoff Stonebanks trio of triumphs

Geoff Stonebanks, one of the customer trial panelists and owner of the multi-award winning garden, Driftwood, in Bishopstone, Sussex, has had a very successful gardening year. He’s just scored a trio of triumphs in 2016.

In the November issue of a national gardening magazine his garden was judged to be a finalist and runner-up in their Garden of the Year Awards 2016 competition, in the small space category. After receiving hundreds of entries nationwide. This, coupled with Geoff and Driftwood’s appearance on the popular Gardeners’ World TV programme, back in September, and the photo shoot in June for an 8-page feature about the garden in the national lifestyle magazine Coast, next summer, has enabled Geoff to have the best year ever, since first opening his garden gate back in 2009. Not to mention of course the £15,000 raised for charity this summer alone bringing the garden total to £76,000. Geoff has been a member of the customer trial panel since 2012 and has trialled over 100 different products in that time. Many of them were on show this summer for the photo shoots and judging.

Verbena bonariensis and pinks

Verbena bonariensis and pinks

Geoff comments; ” I saw the competition advertised back in May and thought I’d give it a go. All I had to do was submit 8 pictures of the garden and complete a questionnaire answering specific questions, ranging from how I created the garden to the challenges and obstacles I had to overcome.” He went on to say, “I was utterly amazed to find out in late July that it had been shortlisted in the small space category and would be photographed before the final judging.”

When the magazine editor telephoned Geoff to tell him he was the runner-up, she said “Your entry was always a real stand-out and genuinely was knocking on the door for the top prize all the way. It will be such a pleasure to share more pictures of your garden with our readers over the coming months.

Geoff was interviewed on BBC Sussex recently, along with the editor, who explained to listeners that the competition set out to look for clever solutions and the ability to make something of unique and difficult spaces.

Geoff's garden with Buddleja 'Buzz® Magenta.' Film crew from Gardener's World

Geoff’s garden with Buddleja ‘Buzz® Magenta.’ Film crew from Gardener’s World

Needless to say, Geoff is thrilled and tells us the magazine will be featuring more of his garden in their April 2017 issue. Not only that, he can now choose up to £250 worth of garden equipment from the competition sponsors catalogue.

Then, back in September the garden was featured in a 6-minute film on Gardeners’ World too. The show had been looking at inspired planting and design in a series of small gardens and spent the day filming in late August. Geoff was able to take the presenter around the garden and talk about the different garden rooms. You can clearly see the T&M Buddleja ‘Buzz® Magenta’ and lilac in the foreground of the picture of Geoff on camera along with the Thompson & Morgan Berberis x ottawensis f. purpurea ‘Superba’ he won for blog of the month earlier in the year, sticking up behind the fig leaves.

Birds eye view of Driftwood garden

Birds eye view of Driftwood garden

Driftwood is set to open 14 times in 2017 and full details can be found at www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk  Look out for the feature next summer in Coast magazine too!

So why not make a date to visit and see both the garden and the many Thompson & Morgan plants on show for yourselves. Private visits can also be made for lunch or afternoon tea in the garden.

Geoff Stonebanks

Geoff Stonebanks
Geoff Stonebanks was very lucky to be able to retire early from 30 years in Royal Mail back in 2004. He had 3 different careers with them first as a caterer, then manager of a financial analysis team and finally as an Employee Relations Manager and Personnel Manager. He sold up and moved with his partner to Bishopstone, near Seaford in East Sussex in 2004 and now spends all his time gardening and fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support. Using his multi award-winning garden, recently featured on Gardeners’ World on TV he’s raised £76000 for various charities in 7 years, £40000 of that for Macmillan. In his spare time, he is also Assistant County Organiser for the National Gardens Scheme and their Publicity Officer for East & Mid Sussex.

RETURN OF THE MICE

I’m so excited! (Sad middle-aged woman, doesn’t get out much.) I’ve bought a large heated propagator and David has fixed up my smaller ones so I now have 5 on the go! The perennials must be quaking in their boots as I have been prowling around, secateurs in hand, eyes narrowed, snipping off as many non-flowering shoots as I could find. I have even dug out (haha, no pun intended) some (stale) organic rooting powder and added vermiculite to my potting compost to give them the best start in life.

Still looking lush & ricinus still growing

Still looking lush & ricinus still growing

First though I had to clean the greenhouse and covert it from summer to autumn function: Everything out, chillies, tomatoes and cucamelons harvested, plants composted (that’s a lie, they will be composted, but by the council, am ashamed to admit I don’t have a compost heap – I AM NOT A REAL GARDENER). Plant food, seed tins, storage boxes and general detritus out, staging and flooring swept. Someone please tell me why it is only now that the curcuma bulbs have sent up new growth, stuffed as they are into a dark corner, as no amount of encouragement during the summer had any effect?
So there I was pottering about when out of the corner of my eye a creature, at first thought a frog, threw itself against the greenhouse door before beating a hasty retreat to safety. As I suspected, the mice are back! Small burrows are appearing in the soil of the raised tomato trough, surrounded by straw and bird seed. (You have to admire their tenacity; they have gnawed a serrated circle and a mouse hole through the lid of the plastic storage bin – he who dares wins, I say.) In honour of their return I have even bought a small resin statue of a mouse.

My shed (not really!) & St. Michael on the Mount

My shed (not really!) & St. Michael on the Mount

It’s all change on the patio too. I got bored waiting for the begonias to die down so I pulled them up to dry their corms for overwintering. Turfed out the spent soil as mulch onto the back of the dry border where the cornus go to die. Crammed T & M Jonquilla daffs into every pot: Martinette, Pipit, Pueblo and Green Eyed Lady. Don’t think I have bought enough! Must have more, more, more! Breath…………..Without the colourful annuals the patio has transformed from exotic terrace to shady glen; the ferns really come into their own at this time of year, and I’ve added T & M  Blechnum brasiliense Volcano to the mix, which has been growing on in the greenhouse since The Triallist’s Open Day, waiting for its new home. Sadly most of the heucheras have come away in my hands, their roots eaten by the dreaded vine weevil (Note to self, try nematodes next year, the chemical drench lied.) I’ve put all five FUCHSIA fuchsiaberries together in one huge pot in the hope that they will establish and make more of an impact next summer, as they never really got going this year. More sun I think.

Talking of sun (good link, huh!) David and I did actually manage to have a holiday last month after all. We went to stay with our old friends-&-neighbours who have moved to Manaccan, a village – in the middle of nowhere, sorry B & P – on the Lizard peninsula in south Cornwall. (And just as fellow blogger Amanda found with her bedfellows in hospital, one of the first people we were introduced to was a keen gardener who buys from T & M and reads the blogs!) First thing I noticed was how echium are growing en masse in Bob’n’Patti’s garden, so much so that their gardener pulls’em up like weeds! They have a patch of ginger 6ft tall and 5ft round and perennial aeoniums the size of dinner plates. All of which they inherited from the previous owners.

Trebah - September 2016

Trebah – September 2016

We visited Helston Museum, one of the largest folk museums in the South West, with a vast social history collection dating from the 18th to the 20th century. My attention was naturally drawn to the gardening exhibits, some of which looked eerily like the contents of my shed, the implication being that I too am a relic!
Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens could have been on Madeira, if it wasn’t for the tell-tale view of St Michael’s Mount in the bay. Trebah Gardens was a revelation! A grand colonial style whitewashed mansion sits on the brow of the hill, overlooking the panoramic sweep of Hydrangea Valley, full of blue hydrangeas, towering palms, gunnera, tree ferns (also growing like weeds)  and towering bamboo, as it slopes down to the sea. You could be forgiven for thinking you were in some sub-tropical paradise. It reminded me of a tea plantation (not that I’ve ever been to one you understand but I have watched Indian Summers).

New T&M bidens still flowering its head off! & LGS Best Small Back Garden 2016

New T&M bidens still flowering its head off! & LGS Best Small Back Garden 2016

Having visited RHS Hyde Hall in Essex shortly after our return (needed another horticultural fix before the winter) I was bowled over by the swathes of grasses and prairie planting. All three gardens are breath-taking in their scale, but completely contrasting in environmental conditions and planting styles. England certainly punches above its weight when it comes to its wealth of different terrains!  (My uncle used to say I had swallowed a dictionary when he read my A level essays.)
So back at Chez Broome autumn has taken hold, but nobody has told the hanging baskets! The new T&M bidens is having a late flush (know how it feels) although for some strange reason the flowers are all white this time, instead of pink tinged. Petunia ‘Crazytunia Mandevilla’ and Minitunia calibrachoa ‘Crackerjack’ just keep on going so I just keep on feeding. The lime green, black and caramel coloured foliage of ipomaea are going for it in the shade so I’ll just leave them all to it!
Oh, and reader, we won: London Gardens Society Best Small Back Garden 2016. How about that!

Giant pumpkin on the move

Thompson & Morgan, after giving a call out to pumpkin growers in the UK finally entrusted the world’s most expensive pumpkin seed, to experts at the Royal Horticultural Society. The pumpkin seed was bought for a whopping £1,250, and has built-in genetics to increase the chance of breaking the world record for the largest pumpkin grown. The RHS then delegated this awesome task to Matthew Oliver, their horticulturalist, at RHS Hyde Hall. He has grown the pumpkin through the summer, with a view to breaking the world record for Thompson & Morgan and the RHS.

rhs-pumpkin-image2

There is lots of excitement surrounding this venture, both at Thompson & Morgan and the RHS, and today is the day Thompson & Morgan’s enormous pumpkin will be travelling to Southampton on the back of a lorry. The lorry has been designed to hold this type of unusual load, so the pumpkin will be secure, with no likelihood of it rolling overboard on the journey.

rhs-pumpkin-images

This journey will take all day and the pumpkin, and its carers, will arrive in Southampton tonight, where the pumpkin will have its own security guard who will be keeping a close eye on it. The Jubilee Sailing Trust Autumn Pumpkin Festival is on the 8th October 2016, where the weigh in is performed. At the festival there is competition from all over the UK for this fantastic accolade. Everyone at Thompson & Morgan is on tender hooks hoping that Matthew will bring home the UK crown. No-one more so than the Managing Director Paul Hansord, who was the original purchaser of the expensive pumpkin seed way back in February 2016. Good luck Matthew Oliver and Paul Hansord.

Wendie Alexander
I have worked for Thompson & Morgan for nearly four years. In that time I have learnt lots about gardening, but consider myself very much a novice. I have started growing veg on a colleague’s allotment and also growing windowsill seeds such as Salad Leaves and Rocket. I love gaining more knowledge about horticulture and am lucky enough to work here.

Geoff shows off his new plants

The summer is racing on at a pace, but the plants still think it’s spring! The garden here at Driftwood, is roughly 3 to 4 weeks behind where I would expect it to be at this time of year. We’ve already had 2 open days, raising money for the Mayor’s charities in Seaford and the first of 4 openings for the National Gardens Scheme this summer. Hot topics, as usual, are some of the plants from Thompson & Morgan.

Unnamed bidens & Petunia 'Night Sky'

Without doubt the top 2 so far are the stunning Petunia ‘Night Sky’, which look wonderful by the pond combined with other similar coloured plants. Right by the entrance to the back garden is a raised container with a brand new, as yet unnamed, bidens which has caused quite a stir too! It has some beautiful blooms that change in colour as the flowers develop. I look forward to hearing it’s new name announced later in the year! The comments on the petunia have  been a little mixed, with visitors saying it’s one of those “marmite” moments, you either love it or hate it! I’m pleased to say, on balance they love it.

Pennisetum 'Blackjack' & Calendula 'Power Daisy'

In the beach garden I planted out the new Pennisetum Blackjack’, which are only just starting to get going, but I’m sure they will look stunning once they are established. I had some problems with the delivery of the Calendula ‘Power Daisy’ this year and some plants were damaged. I managed to rescue three of them and they have done really well. They are just starting to bloom along the central path and are quite dazzling once they open out. A second delivery is awaited, so they should be putting on a great show later in the summer.

Hibiscus 'Luna' & fuchsia with no name!

The bare root Hibiscus ‘Luna’ was delivered back in April and has also just started to show signs of growth with new leaves bursting out. I look forward to seeing it’s large flowers as the summer goes on. I’ve been very luck this summer to have received 2 brand new plants, as yet unnamed.
The other is a fuchsia, which is also just beginning to develop it’s flower buds. It won’t be long before we can see the gorgeous flowers.

Tomato 'Sweet Aperitif'

Finally, the Tomato ‘Sweet Aperitif’ that came back in April are doing really well in the greenhouse and are already about 1 metre tall. It shouldn’t be too long before the delicious fruit appear! Later this month the garden will be part of a photo shoot, by the magazine Coast. Driftwood will be featured in it next Summer! We’ve got another 12 open days to go so plenty of opportunity for visitors to come and see the garden. If you want to read more on the garden go to www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk.

Geoff Stonebanks
Geoff Stonebanks was very lucky to be able to retire early from 30 years in Royal Mail back in 2004. He had 3 different careers with them first as a caterer, then manager of a financial analysis team and finally as an Employee Relations Manager and Personnel Manager. He sold up and moved with his partner to Bishopstone, near Seaford in East Sussex in 2004 and now spends all his time gardening and fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support. Using his multi award-winning garden, recently featured on Gardeners’ World on TV he’s raised £76000 for various charities in 7 years, £40000 of that for Macmillan. In his spare time, he is also Assistant County Organiser for the National Gardens Scheme and their Publicity Officer for East & Mid Sussex.

Size does matter: Thompson & Morgan sees shift in customer buying patterns

Busy gardeners looking for easy solutions boost Garden Ready plant sales for mail order giant

Sales of Thompson & Morgan Garden Ready plug plants have nearly tripled in the past season as gardeners look for time saving products alongside value for money. It seems gardeners still want the financial benefits of buying young plants instead of mature plants, but without the hassle of potting up and growing on before planting out.

T&M vs Competitiors Garden Ready

T&M vs Competitiors Garden Ready

 

The mail order seed and plant specialist supplied more than 4 million Garden Ready bedding plants to UK gardeners in 2015. When asked if they would be buying them again in a satisfaction survey powered by Typeform, 96 per cent said they would be back for more in spring 2016, giving the concept a 5 star rating for quality on arrival and performance in the garden.

 

The new plant sizing bridges the gap between traditional small mail order plug plants and larger retail pack bedding. Small enough to be produced and mailed as plug plants but big enough to rival and exceed pack plant performance, Garden Ready plants represent the perfect balance between convenience and value for money.

 

Thompson & Morgan Horticultural Director, Paul Hansord, says the over-sized Garden Ready plants bring many benefits in comparison to smaller plugs and larger pack plants: “Our Garden Ready bedding plants are selected and grown to give our customers the best possible performance in the garden, we send them direct from the nursery at the perfect time for planting, usually before blooms form, for quicker establishment, better root growth and flowering, and a longer, stronger display.”

Garden-Ready-Plant

Garden-Ready-Plant

 

Unlike smaller plug plant offerings sent early in the season, which remain popular with Thompson & Morgan customers who prefer a more hands on approach to their gardening, the Garden Ready plants are despatched from May onwards, already hardened off for immediate planting – just watch out for late frosts.

 

Launching the concept in 2014, the mail order specialist supplied 1.5million Garden Ready Plants to customers in the first year. That figure nearly trebled in 2015, with 4,020,000 plants sent out during the busy spring and autumn despatch windows. Expecting strong demand to continue in 2016, Thompson & Morgan is putting more varieties into Garden Ready production with 44 bestselling seasonal bedding varieties now in the range.

 

Petunia Easy Wave

Petunia’ Easy Wave’

Despite 94 per cent of customers rating garden ready as value for money, Thompson & Morgan is seeking to make these premium plugs even more economical in 2016 with a range of multi-buy deals. One 30-plant pack retails at £14.99 but three packs can be had for just £35. Customers buying three packs will also receive a £5 voucher for their next Thompson & Morgan purchase. Catering for gardeners working on bigger plots, bumper 120- and 360-plant collections have also been developed, which will take prices down to just 27p per plant for the 2016 season.

 

Gardeners can take part in Thompson & Morgan’s next big survey for a chance to win a 30 pack of Garden Ready plants, 2 x Easy Fill Hanging Baskets and 25 litres of incredicompost, together worth £45. Five lucky winners will be selected at random from entries received before 31 March 2016.

Visit www.thompson-morgan.com/hanging-basket-survey to take part

Kris Collins
Kris Collins works as Thompson & Morgan’s communications officer, making sure customers new and old are kept up to date on the latest plant developments and company news via a wide range of media sources. He trained in London’s Royal Parks and has spent more than a decade writing for UK gardening publications before joining the team at Thompson & Morgan.

Thompson & Morgan awards record-breaking £1,000 for tallest sunflower

Thompson & Morgan awards record-breaking prize money to gardener with 24ft sunflower. A gardener with a lifelong passion for sunflowers has won £1,000 following a nationwide hunt for the UK’s tallest specimen. Seed and plant specialist Thompson & Morgan announced the biggest ever cash prize for a tallest sunflower competition back in spring, in a bid to see the world record brought to UK shores.

Tallest Sunflower Thompson & Morgan

Richard Hope with his 24ft sunflowers growing in his Wigan garden. Photo: Wigan Evening Post

Tallest Sunflower Thompson & Morgan

Richard Hope with his 24ft sunflowers growing in his Wigan garden.

The bumper prize attracted entrants from around the UK, from gardeners young and old. There were some stand out specimens sitting between 12-14ft (3.7-4.3m), but the clear winner – at a staggering 24ft (7.2m) – was grown by Richard Hope. The Wigan gardener is well-known on the giant veg growing circuit, having held previous world records for the biggest swede, heaviest leek and longest parsnip. Grown against a sunny wall of his house, his giant plants reach the apex of the roof three storeys up!


Sadly, his giant entry was shy of the world record by 4ft 8in (1.4m), but Mr Hope still has his sights on beating the 8.75m (28ft 8in) sunflower grown by Hans-Peter Schiffer of Kaarst-Vorst, Germany in 2013. For the past 35 years Mr Hope has been hand pollinating his plants, saving seeds from the tallest and sowing them the following year, over time building a superior sunflower strain.Most impressive is that he grows his plants in make shift containers rather than in the soil, with no specialist feeding formula. “I use salmon boxes with large bottomless pots set over them, similar to tomato ring culture method. It gives the plants about two and half feet of compost to grow in,” he says. “There are no real tricks to feeding my plants either, I use whatever I happen have in the shed.”


You might assume Richard starts his plants off early indoors under heat and lights to get such results, but there is no such trickery. “I sow my seeds in the first week of April every year. Along with height, my seed strain has evolved a really long season of growth, so the plants keep on climbing right through to October.” In fact, due to mild autumn weather, Mr Hope’s plants piled on a further 1ft (30cm) in between entering in early October and verification at the end of the month.


Despite there being no world record breaker, the gardening experts at Thompson & Morgan were more than impressed with the winning entry, and the runners up. Horticultural Director Paul Hansord said: “We’ve not had much sunshine this year, but sunflowers have certainly done well in UK gardens. We were excited to see entries of 12,13, 14ft coming in – impressive heights by any means. When Mr Hope’s entry hit our inbox we couldn’t believe it. We sent our closest area sales manager to verify things, who quickly called to say we should get the company cheque book ready!”


Thompson & Morgan is upping the stakes for 2016 and will again be offering £1,000 for the tallest UK sunflower, but if it breaks the world record the prize money will be upped to £2,000. And if a gardener breaks the record using the mail order specialist’s incredibloom® fertiliser, the prize pot will be doubled again to a staggering £4,000. Mr Hansord added: “We’re so confident of the plant boosting abilities of our fertiliser range that we’re willing to heavily reward anyone who can grow a world record sunflower with it in 2016.”


Thompson and Morgan offers 37 different sun flower varieties from giants like ‘Tall Timbers’ F1 to multiflowering types like ‘Helios Flame’ F1, and dwarf varieties including 2ft (60cm) tall ‘Little Dorrit’ F1.

Thompson & Morgan
Since the first seed catalogue was published in 1855, Thompson & Morgan has grown to become one of the UK’s largest Mail Order Seed and Plant companies. Through the publication of our catalogues and the operation of our award-winning website, Thompson & Morgan is able to provide home gardeners with the very best quality products money can buy.

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