Thompson & Morgan’s Customer Triallists Open Day

For what seemed like the first time in months David and I dared to step away from the garden for a day out: a trip to Ipswich to visit Thompson & Morgan’s triallists’ Open Day. Coming up from North London is a two hour drive so, seeing as it was sunny and warm, we decided to make a day of it and visit Jimmy’s Farm beforehand. Hordes of happy toddlers and young parents enjoying the school holidays and – us! Oh well, it brings out your inner child doesn’t it?

David at Jimmy's Farm

David at Jimmy’s Farm

Adjacent to Jimmy’s Farm, the Thompson & Morgan show ground is so bright and colourful that I dare say it could be seen from space. Dozens and dozens of hanging baskets, flower pouches and containers loaded up with annuals at the peak of their performance. I felt like a kid in a sweet shop!

I recognised some of the plants as ones I have grown at home this summer, but at T&M you see how the professionals do it! In fairness they have an open sunny site and we have an enclosed semi-shaded patio, and this was reflected in the increased volume of flowers in their displays compared to ours. Having overwintered some begonias from last summer I didn’t buy any more this season, but having seen their displays of blousy Begonia ‘Fortune Peach Shades’, cascading Inferno and exotic dark leaved Flamenco, I can’t wait to place my order for 2017. I love my two towering abutilons, so when Michael showed us two annual climbers, citrusy Ipomoea lobata or Spanish Flag, and lemon dicentra, I could picture them right alongside. (Tried unsuccessfully to grow ipomoea from seed before but hey, hope over experience wins every time.) Upturned fuchsia flowers seem a contradiction in terms but somehow it works: Princess Charlotte’s perky little salmon pink flowers are a delight, but a bit too well behaved for my taste.

Caroline Broome Begonias and Ipomoea lobata


Begonia ‘Fortune Peach Shades’, cascading Inferno and Ipomoea lobata

Some of the shrubs caught my interest too, especially Hydrangea paniculata ‘Pinky Winky’, as apart from being a gorgeous plant, is named for my Sphynx cat Winky, and is a lot better looking too. Diervilla Cool Splash is a new one on me, leaves similar to a variegated cornus with creamy flowers like pittosporum Tobira. With my penchant for the unusual, I was very taken with a tropical looking Tomato Tree, unlikely to bear fruit in our climate but hell, who cares, with foliage and flowers like that it’s a terrific ornamental. Note to self: can you not develop a taste for small dainty plants; you have run out of space!

So many new things to take in, and then – and then – we were shown into the marquee for another presentation, this time, of fruit and veggies. (I can honestly say, being a Townie, I have never settled my butt on a hay bale before. I’m still picking the straw out of my cashmere cardigan darhling!)

Tomato Tree and Diervilla 'Cool Splash'

Tomato Tree and Diervilla ‘Cool Splash’

Tomatoes are my thing and I was not disappointed; lovely colourful varieties such as tomato Garnet, tomato Artisan Mixed and Indigo Cherry Drops all tasted as good as they looked. I could eat them like sweets (and become a lot slimmer to boot). Having had success with growing peas for the first time this summer I am looking forward to trying out Pea Eddy and I’ll be growing hot hot Wasabi Rocket for David.

As if that was not enough Michael and his team had laid on a fantastic afternoon tea with delicious scones the size of dinner plates, so we had ample opportunity to chat to other bloggers and twitterers (I’ve no idea if that is the correct noun). All coming at gardening from different angles and with different backgrounds, with one thing in common – the love of gardening.

Finally the afternoon was brought to a close with tempting Goodie Bags containing all manner of seed packets (hurrah, including my tomato seeds), Incredicrop© Fruit and Veg fertiliser and three 9cm pots of the most amazing shrubs: Sambucus ‘Black Tower’ (will look great alongside all those tropical climbers), Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum ‘Kilimanjaro Sunrise’ and Blechnum brasiliense ‘Volcano’ Dwarf Brazilian Tree Fern (all small enough to start off on the patio).

So thank you Michael and your team for putting on such a special day and making us feel so welcome.

Happy gardening everyone.

Vacuuming The Pebbles

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.

Caroline Broome's Garden

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 Mandevilla, Cucamelons and Fernery in Caroline's Garden

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

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.

Caroline's Allotment

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!

Pottering on regardless

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'

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

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'

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'

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!!

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

Biennial inspirations

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'

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'

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'

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'

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.

Graham Porter

Graham Porter
I have worked in horticulture for the past 49 years and have become more involved with and concerned about the environmental impact that our profession has had on the world. I am married with 2 grown up children and 4 wonderful grandchildren. I am currently writing my first book that reflects my thoughts on gardening / horticulture in an environmentally friendly manner.

Garden Water Features

If you want to make your garden the ultimate place to relax and unwind then you can do no better than to invest in a garden water feature.

Water features create a focal point in the garden that you garden plants can be centred around.

Water feature and planter & Wishing well water feature

Water feature and planter & Wishing well water feature

With a variety of styles to choose from, such as traditional to contemporary water features, there is something for every garden. Some even have additional features such as LED lights and a place for your flowers to be planted for extra colour and texture.

Many water features are now made from hard wearing polyester resin that will not rust or rot, lasting for many years.

Stone water feature & pebble water featureStone water feature & pebble water feature

Stone water feature & pebble water feature

Most water features are supplied with power leads and pumps and are easy to install. Once installed, all you need to do is switch the pump on with the outdoor cable and the submersible pump will circulate the water. Solar powered water features are also available.

Water features create a tranquil haven for birds and other wildlife in your garden and are a perfect alternative to birdbaths.

Jug water feature & tub water feature

Jug water feature & tub water feature

If you are lucky to have LED lights built into your water feature, you will be able to enjoy your water feature at night just as much as in the daytime, enjoying the ambience of running water whenever you want.

Wendie Alexander
Having just finished my English Degree at university I am excited to continue working for Thompson & Morgan where I have worked for more than 3 years. I am a keen gardener who wants to learn lots more!

Top 10 new varieties in our autumn catalogue

Here is a selection of our favourite new varieties in the autumn catalogue. We have picked our top 10 just for you.

Clematis-'Picotee-Kiss'

Clematis ‘Picotee Kiss’

Clematis ‘Picotee Kiss’
One of the finest hardy clematis introductions in recent years, expect Clematis ‘Picotee Kiss’ to be a future classic. The dazzling pink picotee-edged blooms, each up to 15cm (6in) across, have amazed us on the trial ground, adorning the plants in abundance – once in spring and again in summer! Enjoy the first flush of blooms through May-June, then watch the plants flush into colour again though July- September. Each petal looks like a lipstick kiss! Be one of the first UK gardeners to cover walls, fences and trellis with the stand-out flowers of Clematis ‘Picotee Kiss’. Pruning group 2. Height: 2-3m (6.5-10ft).

Stenocarpus sinuata

Stenocarpus sinuata

Stenocarpus sinuata
One of Australia’s most spectacular trees now available in the UK! Despite the exotic flowers, the Firewheel Tree can be surprisingly adaptable to UK conditions. Many gardeners report getting this unusual exotic through our cold winters, but to ensure years of enjoyment we recommend moving it to a frost-free location over winter, particularly during the first few years in the garden. Thrives in full sun. Height: 2-2.5m (6.5-8ft).

Trachelospermum asiaticum 'Variegatum'

Trachelospermum asiaticum ‘Variegatum’

Trachelospermum asiaticum ‘Variegatum’
The creamy splashed, variegated foliage of this Asiatic Jasmine adds another dimension to an already handsome climbing specimen! and it becomes tinged with crimson in autumn, but – as it’s evergreen – stays on the plant! You’ll be knocked out by the potent fragrance of the twinkly little blooms too! Ideal for covering a trellis, pergola, arch or fence. Height: 3m (10ft).

Clematis 'Picotee Kiss'

Clematis ‘Picotee Kiss’

Cornus ‘Royal Red’
Flowering dogwoods have become a design staple in recent years, featuring heavily in RHS show gardens. They have gained a big following from garden designers and home gardeners alike. Be a trendsetter with this new red flowering version. Cornus ‘Royal Red’ produces a profusion of blushing ‘bracts’ around simple, nectar-laden blooms, which will draw butterflies from near and far. Height: 1.2-1.8m (6.5-8ft).

Viola 'Bunny Ears'

Viola ‘Bunny Ears’

Viola ‘Bunny Ears’
Cheeky little violas that retain that classic pansy face beneath unusually long ‘rabbit ear’ top petals. The compact plants are perfect for smaller containers or planting pockets in rockeries and borders – you can even set them in cracks in walls and paving. Despite their size these tidy viola plants pack a real floral punch, creating cushions of mounded colour in cool corners. Height: 20cm (8in).

Clematis 'Taiga'

Clematis ‘Taiga’

Clematis ‘Taiga’
The name will make you think ‘tiger’, but the blowsy double blooms shout “lion’s mane!” Clematis ‘Taiga’ is a real show off climber, producing countless blooms right through summer over a canvas of rich green foliage. Great for covering walls and fencing, this unusual clematis also suits patio container growing. It also looks great planted in a border and left to ramble through other plants in your display. Make Clematis ‘Taiga’ the king of your jungle this season! Pruning group 3. Height 2m (6.5ft).

Viola 'Plums & Peaches'

Viola ‘Plums & Peaches’

Viola ‘Plums & Peaches’
New colour blend. Pretty spring violas that carry on through summer if given shade. Try this seductive colour blend of friendly-faced violas in shady corners where other summer bedding fails to thrive. Height 20cm (8in).

Star Jasmine 'Pink Showers'

Star Jasmine ‘Pink Showers’

Star Jasmine ‘Pink Showers’
The first pink trachelospermum for UK gardeners. This pretty evergreen climber offers unique candy-pink star-shaped flowers with the same rich perfume we know and love. Star Jasmine ‘Pink Showers’ is perfect for large patio pots, grown up an obelisk or trained on trellis, and will thrive in borders against walls or fencing in sun/partial shade. We can only offer limited stocks this autumn, so make sure you’re at the front of the queue! Height: 3m (6.5-8ft).

Narcissus 'Butterfingers'

Narcissus ‘Butterfingers’

Narcissus ‘Butterfingers’
Large butter-yellow trumpets surrounded by creamy-white petals make this a choice selection for spring displays. Tall sturdy stems and good fragrance make Narcissus ‘Butterfingers’ an ideal early season cut flower. Bulb size 12/14. Height: 45cm (18in).

Camellia 'Night Rider'

Camellia ‘Night Rider’

Camellia ‘Night Rider’
A little shrub offering big impact! The size of most camellias rule them out for many gardeners, but everyone has the space to grow Camellia ‘Night Rider’. This compact form is one of the most exciting developments in camellia breeding for many years. Not only is it small in size, it also offers some of the darkest blooms in the genus. Velvety, cup-shaped, maroon flowers smother the glossy, evergreen foliage from February through April, bringing a contemporary look to container displays and mixed border plantings. For those with the space for mixed shrub displays, ‘Night Rider’ makes a perfect underplanting for larger rhododendron and camellia varieties. We have secured limited stock for the this season – order today to reserve your prized specimen! Height: 1.2m (4ft).

Wendie Alexander
Having just finished my English Degree at university I am excited to continue working for Thompson & Morgan where I have worked for more than 3 years. I am a keen gardener who wants to learn lots more!

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