Potatoes Win Gold at Chelsea

A Great Pavilion exhibit without a single decorative bloom on show has charmed judges into awarding a Chelsea Gold Medal to Scots potato aficionados Morrice and Ann Innes – the first gold to be awarded to a potato-only display in the show’s 150 year history.

The Potato Story, sponsored by Thompson & Morgan, acts as a simple showcase, highlighting more than 140 varieties, and traces the history and origins of the potato while drawing attention to its diversity and versatility in the garden and kitchen. Morrice of Old Town, Aberdeen, claims to have the largest private collection of potato varieties, built up over 20 years, and has long championed his favourite vegetable.

potatoes win gold at chelsea

Many of the display’s varieties come from Morrice’s own collection of tubers, and include original South American species as well as historical European heritage varieties such as Karaparea, which was taken to New Zealand by Captain James Cook in the 1770s. The exhibit is completed with modern varieties grown from Thompson & Morgan seed potatoes, including blight resistant main crop Sarpo Axona and its latest introduction, high yielding salad potato Jazzy, currently the mail order supplier’s best seller.

The modest, yet impactful display offers information boards, telling the story of the potato and highlighting its global importance as a major food source and healthy eating option. Morrice said: “We’ve tried to tell the tale of the potato by highlighting a vast array of skin colours, shapes and sizes, while suggesting the best uses of each variety and the places where they come from. You won’t find many of the varieties for sale at the supermarket. Hopefully we’ll help inspire more people to grow potatoes and to try a some of the more unusual forms while they are at it.”

potatoes win gold at chelsea

The exhibit’s sponsor has supported Morrice and Ann in the past, scooping silver and bronze medals at previous RHS shows, and is delighted to finally see a Gold Medal awarded to the nation’s favourite vegetable. Thompson & Morgan Vegetable Product Manager, Colin Randel, worked with Morrice to set a world record for the largest display of potato varieties at the 2004 Shrewsbury Flower Show. He said: “Amongst all the glitz and glamour of the world’s most prestigious flower show, it’s great to see a modest, uncomplicated homage to the humble potato stand out from the crowd to scoop a Gold Medal. Morrice and Ann have put on a fantastic display, there’s pretty much every colour under the sun on show, from very old varieties right up to our very latest introduction, Potato Jazzy.”

To celebrate the win, the mail order seed and plant specialist has launched a special lucky dip offer on seed potatoes. In time for the main crop season Thompson & Morgan customers can add a 100 lucky dip tuber collection, made up of top performing customer favourites, for just £4.99. Visit www.thompson-morgan.com/lucky-dip-potatoes

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.

RHS Chelsea; my dash for plants

4pm on a Thursday and the minutes were going by slowly. I was looking forward to getting home, putting my feet up and relaxing with a large glass of wine. The next half an hour went pretty quickly and I overheard a conversation about needing someone to go to Barcelona to collect plants for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. To be honest, all I heard was Barcelona and I said ‘I’ll go’. Never did I think I would then be rushing home to get my passport to book flights for the next morning.

7pm I arrived home with a little buzz in my stomach. It was such a great opportunity, but knowing I had the difficult task of getting the plants through security and onto the plane, well I definitely needed that large glass of wine. We tried contacting Ryan Air before hand to make sure we could get the plants on the plane; we even purchased an extra seat for our VIP plants. To our dismay, we had no luck and we were advised soil was prohibited on the plane. Now, try explaining the difference between soil and compost to a non horticulturist and you’ll need a second glass of wine!
However, we knew that our Digitalis ‘Illumination Apricot’ plants were to be the centre piece of the Pure Land Foundation Garden. After being advised HRH the Queen was going to be visiting the garden we had to try.

RHS Chelsea4am the next day I was up and on my way to Stansted airport. The taxi driver was highly amused that I was travelling to Barcelona and back just for ‘some plants’. What I didn’t realise was this would be a highly entertaining subject for the whole of my journey. I am not really the best of flyers, turbulence is my worst enemy and from a past experience with Ryan Air I was a little nervous to say the least. To top things off, as we headed for takeoff a fixture of the plane’s hand luggage holder fell right in front of me. The gentlemen to my right found it hilarious, but it is safe to say the feeling wasn’t mutual.

11.30am I was standing at Barcelona El Prat airport with our very special plants. I didn’t expect the box to be so large, so when I had a call from T&M HQ I was quick to raise my concerns, there was no way they were going to fit in the plane. With my box in tow I went for a coffee, the realisation that I had 6 hours to spend in this airport was slightly daunting. I should have spent the time learning the Spanish word for Trolley, as I could not locate one anywhere and ended up carrying this box around all day.

RHS ChelseaNow, of course, I expected some people to look at me confused. I mean it’s not every day you see someone walking through an airport with a box as large as that (which had images of fresh fruit on it I might add) and it isn’t really something you would want to see going onto your flight. However, I was stared at like a hawk! The funniest moment was trying to go to the bathroom with my box. I couldn’t leave it outside; they were too precious so they had to come with me. I took a quick bathroom selfie to send to HQ for a laugh.

The most nerve racking part was getting the box through security, it is quite funny that it soon received the label ‘The box’ not ‘The plants’, but anyway, security. I approached the x-ray machine and it was clear the box hadn’t gone unnoticed. Four guards approached me asking what was in the box; this was the part I had been so worried about. My friends joked I would be arrested for smuggling plants, of course I didn’t find it very funny! ‘Plants’ I said, ‘Garden plants’. They put them through and sent me on my way.

I had crossed one major hurdle and had one more to go, getting them on the plane! I sat in the departure gate for 3 hours talking to a gentleman about my day. He had quite a trip ahead of him also as he was flying back to the UK to pick up his car to then drive back to Barcelona. My flight was meant to be at 6.40pm, a look at my watch proved this would not be happening as it was now 7pm! We were then advised our plane hadn’t arrived yet and we were delayed by an hour. Just what I wanted hear after all the hours I had already spent waiting around.

The time came to board the plane and I was becoming more and more relieved. I knew that once I was sat on the plane, with the box next to me, we had made this crazy 3,000km round trip. I reached the door of the plane and the air steward immediately said, ‘that will not fit on the plane’. And she was right, it was far too long and the seat belt wouldn’t fit around it. So, we had no option but to put it in the hold under the plane with the rest of the luggage. Now, I don’t know if you have seen these documentaries on how our luggage is handled, or shall I say thrown on and off the plane, but my heart sank. I quickly and desperately advised they were very precious plants that would tomorrow be seen by HRH the Queen.

She very kindly advised the grounds crew that this box needed to be handled with care and they very kindly strapped it in securely upright so hopefully the journey wouldn’t cause the plants too much distress. Arriving at Stansted airport the air hostess stepped in to help once again, she told the grounds men about the box and I was assured it would be handled with care. I was standing at the baggage collection point and one by one passengers were collecting their luggage and making their way out. Still no box. Where was the box? It was like I had lost an arm, after all it had spent the best part of 6 hours glued to my side. A kind man advised it had been brought in by hand and was waiting a little further down. I saw the box in the distance; it was standing up right, no dents to be seen. The only thing to be seen was the smile on my face.

RHS Chelsea

I collected my box and went through arrivals, where Michael Perry was waiting to take photos and to take the plants off my hands and transport them to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. I was impatient and I had to see how the plants were. Without hesitation, we opened the box and WOW, they were in perfect condition. The relief was pretty astonishing; I mean they are only plants, but my 18 hour adventure was so worthwhile. The Digitalis Illumination Apricot (a new sister line to winner of the Plant of the Year 2012 Digitalis illumination Pink) looked incredible.

RHS Chelsea

Digitalis Illumination Apricot looking amazing at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

A pit stop at McDonalds and by 11pm I was tucked up in bed. What a day! I also get the honour of visiting the show on Thursday, so I will be sure to tell you all about it :)

Terri Overett
Terri works in the e-commerce marketing department assisting the busy web team. Terri manages our blog and social media pages here at Thompson & Morgan and is dedicated to providing useful advice to our gardeners. Terri is new to gardening and keen to develop her horticultural knowledge.

Scouring Europe for Chelsea centrepiece fit for a Queen

When you know there’s a chance that Her Majesty The Queen might visit your Fresh garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, the last thing you want is a gaping hole where your centrepiece plants should be on display. That was the situation faced by Fernando Gonzalez Garden Design, when UK

Thompson & Morgan's Digitalis Illumination Apricot

Thompson & Morgan’s Digitalis Illumination Apricot

stocks of Digitalis ‘Illumination Apricot’ failed to flower in time for display in the Pure Land
Foundation Garden, already being flagged as the most prestigious show gardens at this year’s event. With just four days to finish before the Queen’s annual visit to the world’s most prominent gardening event, a nationwide hunt for flowering plants threw up no leads. The plant’s creator, mail order seed and plant specialist Thompson & Morgan, stepped in to widen the search, calling on growers across Europe. Plants in perfect bloom were quickly tracked down at a nursery outside Barcelona, Spain, more than 1,500km from its Ipswich HQ!
New Product Development Manager, Michael Perry said: “Knowing our ‘Illumination Apricot’ was playing a major part in this cutting-edge show garden, we just had to help out.”At end of play Thursday it called on 250 staff, seeking a volunteer to make the mad-dash 3,000km round trip to get the plants on UK soil in time for Saturday’s big garden build. Up stepped marketing assistant Terri Overett, letting herself in for a 4am start and an 18-hour journey to get the plants to the UK in time.

First a plane ride to Barcelona El Prat, a taxi to the nursery an hour east of the city, then back to the airport to face the worry of getting them safely back to the UK in a cold cargo hold.

Terri Overett arriving at Stansted relieved to find plants had stayed in perfect condition during the flight from Barcelona.

Terri Overett arriving at Stansted relieved to find plants had stayed in perfect condition during the flight from Barcelona.

A very relieved chaperone found the plants in good condition once through customs, where colleagues were on hand to rush the plants into London in time to put finishing touches to the Pure Land Foundation Garden on Royal Hospital Way.

Michael Perry delivering the precious cargo to the Gonzalez Garden Design garden

Michael Perry delivering the precious cargo to the Gonzalez Garden Design garden

The design team’s Director, Thang Vo-Ta said: “Fernando and I are so grateful for all the effort put in by the team – they definitely thought outside the box to help get the plants in place on time. It was the company’s Chelsea Flower of the Year Award for Digitalis ‘Illumination Pink’ in 2012, that inspired us to use the new sister line “Illumination Apricot” in our garden. We can’t wait for the public to see the finished design in its full glory with stunning apricot foxgloves as a planting focal point of our Pure Land Foundation garden. Fingers crossed Her Majesty The Queen just might honour us with a visit and enjoy everyone’s efforts.”

Rise of the bedding plants

Bedding plants became incredibly popular in the Victorian era, the traditional landscape which compromised mostly grass and stone were dull and bleak and plant hunters were sent to find varieties of colour to add some interest to gardens. This coincided with the drop of the glass tax which resulted in a surge of glasshouses appearing in private gardens and gardens of the great houses as they frantically started growing bedding plants to ignite colour to their gardens.

bedding plants

Thompson & Morgan Trial Grounds 2010

New bedding plant varieties were discovered and so the craze began, wealthy houses tried to compete with their neighbours to create the most beautiful carpets of colour. Only the most fortunate could afford the material to grow these new varieties and therefore these colourful bedding plant displays became an ornate symbol of the Victorian era. However, due to changes in not only fashion but the lack of labour, bedding plants fell from favour for less formal planting schemes.

bedding plants

To my delight they are on the comeback. There are an incredible amount of bedding plant varieties available today which open the doors to garden creativity. They are no longer restricted to the wealthy and gardeners everywhere are using bedding plants in their gardens. The best part about them is the ability to create a new style every year. You can change or mix up the colour schemes as you please and can use them in beds, borders, hanging baskets, patio containers and to plug gaps in perennial or shrub borders for quick and easy colour.  Successional planting requires changing bedding displays twice a year, replanting in late spring (for summer) and early autumn (for winter/spring). For carpet bedding, you need to ensure dense planting. This will not only give you the carpet effect but will also reduce the presence of weeds!

bedding plants

Bedding plants can also be grown from seed although growing bedding plants from plug plants offers a quick and easy solution. Summer bedding plants are sown from February to April; winter and spring bedding plants are sown from May to July for planting out in autumn. Plug plants are dispatched in spring for summer bedding, and late summer for winter bedding. For more information on how to grow bedding plants click here.

TOP TIP: To get the most from your displays you must keep dead-heading as much as you can.

For more information about winter bedding plants click here.

Do you use bedding plants? Where and how do you use them? We would love to hear from you.

Terri Overett
Terri works in the e-commerce marketing department assisting the busy web team. Terri manages our blog and social media pages here at Thompson & Morgan and is dedicated to providing useful advice to our gardeners. Terri is new to gardening and keen to develop her horticultural knowledge.

Fuchsia Summer Care

Summer is almost here! We want to be able to keep our fuchsias looking good for months to come.

However to get to that situation – they do need some care and attention to keep them looking at their best! Luckily once fuchsias get going, they will flower until the first frosts or until you have had enough!

So here are my top tips for keeping your fuchsias at their best for many weeks to come!

fuchsia summer care•   Feed when it is really hot, watering becomes a priority so we tend to forget to feed on a regular basis and any goodness in the compost will tend to have been used up sometime ago. So make certain that your plants are still being fed.  A balanced feed at this time of the year will ensure lots of good flowers but also ensure that the plant is healthy and ready for the season ahead! I must admit to being a fan of the slow release fertilisers that you can add to the compost, they should last right through the summer – but if you feel the plants are starting to look tired then give them a boost with a real feed!

•   In really hot weather (it must come eventually!) and when you have to give a lot of water, the roots of the plants can be the indicator that the plant is under stress. Lift the plant out of the pot to have a look – fuchsia summer carewhite roots are a good sign – brown the fist sign of a potential problem.  The heat that builds up inside a plastic pot can damage the roots.  The modern terracotta pots that we use are thin so we need to protect the roots – poor roots equal a poor plant!  So I drop the pot into a second pot, this traps a layer of air and keeps the roots cooler, think of it as double-glazing for the roots. Alternatively growing plants in real terracotta pots can be better still as even on the hottest day of the year they still feel cool. However the only trouble is the weight, so use them for your tubs etc rather than plants that you have to move about!

•   Check that your plant is dry before you water it – in hot weather the symptoms of over watering – looking limp etc, are identical to that of a plant looking dry. So feel the compost, if it is really wet – then pop the plant in the shade for a while to reduce its stress!

•   The last few summers have tended to be windy. The plants have taken a real battering, standards can be particularly prone to problems toppling over or loosing their heads. Check their ties regularly or even pop in a second cane, it might look a little strange but at least your standard won’t lose its head.  Always make certain that the cane or support is taller than the standard so that all the head is supported.  Check the ties as they can loosen!  Most of my standards are against a fence and if they are looking a little prone to blowing over I actually tie them to the fence as in the middle of the summer they get a little top heavy.

•   Keep on deadheading your plants!  Removing dead flowers and seedpods will encourage your fuchsias to carry on flowering – it can be time consuming but it makes such a difference!

•   Juggle your plants – if something is looking tired then swap it for another – if it is part of a mixed tub then you can always replace one plant for another!

Let’s keep our plants flowering as long as possible this summer!

My family first got the fuchsia bug in 1963 when my late father stopped to admire the plants growing in a neighbour’s garden – they were fuchsias and he was hooked! Gradually the garden was overtaken by fuchsias – and in 1979 we moved as a family to a little village near Guildford, where to this day I grow lots of fuchsias (about 500 different types!)

I am Assistant Secretary of The British Fuchsia Society and involved in anything and everything to do with fuchsias!

Gardening like my mother taught me

From an early age lots of people have influenced my gardening. My grandfathers were both keen gardeners, my neighbours when I was a child and also my mother. I have to clarify this by saying that I think even my mother would admit she was not the world’s keenest gardener, but she likes her garden to look nice and has always cared about its appearance.

I, a child through the 1960s and 70s, remember spending a lot of time in the garden.  My brothers and I spent a lot of time outside, mainly playing football and cricket (I still hate cricket) playing with space hoppers, Action Men and I also remember having a Tippy Tumbles doll. My memories of our first garden are vague, but I remember the roses that I fell into and still bear the scars of. I remember also the standard roses particularly one called Peace that my mother was very proud of and I think there was one called Princess Elizabeth that was pink. I remember also the driveway and the day we had the drive tarmacked. This was a very modern thing to do and my parents were very proud of the black gooey smelly stuff with its white pebbles dotted around in it.

Every Spring my mother liked to have a hanging basket, it would be lovingly looked after all year until the frosts killed it. My mother would also supervise the annual planting of the front garden. Invariably this would involve blue lobelia and white alyssum planted alternatively up the drive. Some years there were rows of tagetes or some years there would be lipstick pink geraniums (in those days everyone called them geraniums but they are also known as pelargoniums).

My mother tried to take cuttings of the geraniums, rooting powder would be bought and plant pots of dying cuttings would line the windowsills. It was clearly an impossible task. I was amazed by this as surely plants only came from the garden centre. The thought of making new ones from existing plants seemed incredible and I still think getting a cutting to take is a magical thing.

Gardening like my mother taught me

Lobelia erinus ‘Blue Wings’

Last year I grew some alyssum by accident, they were part of an annual mix I sowed and I was charmed by the plants. They lasted for months; indeed some have got through the winter and are flowering still. I looked at them and remembered gardens past and thought it was time to revive this style of planting. I decided to grow a 1960s garden. Well, I say garden, I mean a patch of border.

Gardening like my mother taught meI am lucky to be a member of the Thompson & Morgan plant trial panel so when I got the catalogue to choose from this year I quickly ordered some blue lobelia and white alyssum and waited for the time to sow.

They are now duly sown and starting to germinate. This is very exciting for me and I am looking forward to taking this project forward.

This is one stage one, there is much to do and I am excited about how this project will develop. I will keep you informed as to progress.

Alison Levey
www.blackberrygarden.co.uk

Alison Levey
I am a keen amateur gardener living in the East Midlands. During the day I work in an office so I love the times I can get outside. I would not call myself an expert gardener but I am an avid learner. I have been writing a blog based on my garden and gardens that I have visited for nearly two years now and it is something I really enjoy doing. It has added an extra dimension to how I view my garden.

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