Firstly, I would like to apologise for this blog been later than intended. I could say it was down to my gastro-flu bug, or I could blame the weather, either way it has kept me out of the greenhouse for weeks. I was reading over last February’s blog and gardening diary, and in terms of planting I am about a week behind. Last year I was tending to my indoor onions that seemed to take forever to grow, but were well worth the wait. My potatoes were in their grow bags, and I was waiting for some of my seeds to germinate.
This year my Potato ‘Charlotte’ have been growing their funny little tails in my tin cupboard next to the sink as opposed to on top of the wardrobe in egg cartons. The reason why they were in the cupboard is because I took them out of my fridge salad drawer where I had been keeping them from last year to warm up, and I put them in the cupboard in a bowl, then accidentally forgot about them, it was only when we were looking for a tin of tuna that we rediscovered them!
The weather here in Pembrokeshire has been awful – day after day of rain. We also got hit badly by Storm Imogen at the start of the month, and it came at the worst possible time. We were due to take a relative who had been staying here back to London on the Monday morning, and stay a few days with them ,as we wanted to beat the early morning traffic we set the alarm for stupid o clock and went to bed early. Unfortunately the wind was howling, around midnight, and the thunder woke us up. As a precaution we set the mobile phone alarm in case our electricity went off. We never really got back to sleep properly and when dawn came round we were dismayed to find that the storm was getting worse. We were just finishing our breakfast when Mark causally announced that he was surprised the greenhouses was still standing. To be honest so was I. We had checked the local radio announcements and they said that the Cleddau Bridge was close to all vehicles as the winds had been recorded at 95 MPH meaning we would have to go the long way round to reach the motorway and when the bridge is closed it cuts the county in half, so anyone going from Pembroke Dock to Haverfordwest and vice versa would face a 30 mile detour. Then suddenly crash. I looked at Mark, “What was that?” I asked. Another crash and splatter, the unmistakeable sound of the greenhouses exploding. It was still too dark to see anything, and as we placed the relative in her car seat, we drove away wondering just what we would come home too.
Greenhouse & Garden Damage
On the way to London, I text mum and Rachel to ask if it was safe later in the week, could they see how much damage was done, part of me wanted to know, part of me was dreading it. Rachel, unfortunately wasn’t able to check, but mums text said, it doesn’t look too bad. I think she was being optimistic as we lost 14 panes of glass and the door had popped out out of its frame, meaning that the plants had very little protection from the elements when we were away.
When we got back Mark managed to put the door back in, remarkably the glass that had popped out of it lay on the grass undamaged. We also had some spare panes from when the large greenhouse was delivered last year, so that saved a lot of money. We salvaged a piece of glass that was broken at the corners, useless for the part it had come out of but perfect for a missing triangular bit if the glazier was willing to cut it for us. We phoned our usual glazier and got no reply, so we tried a new one who said the older one was no longer in business. The new glazier was more than happy to cut the spare glass for us, he said his supplies were a bit low as everyone was calling on him. We ended up having to buy only 8 sheets at £35 so it wasn’t too expensive. Frustratingly the wind and rain meant it took another few days before it was safe enough for Mark to go out into the garden to install them.
What’s left after Storm Imogen!
As for the plants, well, I have only have 2 Sweet peas left after my September sowing. The geranium is kaput and the pepper is too. The Aloe Vera’s are perfect, the money tree and spider plant are thriving. Unbelievably there is a planter of spring bulbs in bloom, including a purple Anenome. The Yarrows and Californian Poppies were battered, wind burnt, and totally dried out, but they are resilient and they appear to be making a bit of a comeback. The Nigella sort of looks ok, and I appear to have a dandelion in another pot, which I did definitely not plant. The mystery plant that I thought was a tomato seedling is beginning to look more like a hollyhock. My begonias have finally died back, so I can now remove the tubers and get ready to plant them in fresh compost towards the end of March.
I said in my January blog that I had lots of seeds so plant and that I had bought my compost, but for some reason I was reluctant to do so, and for once my laziness has paid off, as I would have lost the lot in the storm. Besides, as the last two years have shown, we get better days in autumn then we do in spring, and so long as everything gets underway in the next two weeks it should be okay.
Seed Packets & Cosmos ‘Sensation Mixed’
One type of seed I a really looking forward to growing was kindly sent to me by Jean Willis, and this is the Chilli ‘Cayennetta’ it can be sown in Feb March and April. Mark wants to make some sweet chilli sauce. I don’t particularly love hot peppers, so I will be trying the Pepper ‘Sweet Boneta’ sauce instead. Luckily she also sent me these too.
I had some free Cosmos seeds from a magazine, and as it’s the year of the Cosmos, I definitely have to grow these. The mix is called Summer Sensation and they come in pink, carmine and white, again they are T&M seeds so I know they will be reliable.
Hopefully, March will be more productive for me, I would be interested to know if any readers were affected by the winter storms, and if like me, you are still behind with your greenhouse or gardening tasks.
Until then, Happy Gardening,
Fertiliser choice is the key factor in improving sweetness and flavour
When Thompson & Morgan assessed over 140 tomato varieties at its Suffolk trial grounds last summer, the aim was to gauge the plants against indoor and outdoor growing conditions. What they weren’t expecting was to hit on a simple way of vastly boosting the sweetness and flavour of home-grown tomatoes.
One aspect of the trial compared the results of different plant feeds on Tomato ‘Sweet Aperitif’. In terms of health, vigour and yield, incredicrop® stood out as the best feed for tomatoes. A single application of this season-long feed at planting time led to the best plants both in a greenhouse setting and out in the field. This was all set to be a key message at an end-of-trial event attended by gardening press, bloggers and industry figures.
Tomato ‘Sweet Aperitif’ and incredicrop®
John Burrows, director of ProVeg Seeds – a major UK trade supplier of tomato seeds and plants, attended the event with his Brix meter in hand, ready to test the sweetness levels of each variety. While passing the fertiliser trial patch, fruits of Sweet Aperitif grown with incredicrop® and another market leading fertiliser were tested – with amazing results! Fruits grown with incredicrop® registered at 12.4 Brix against a level of 10.1 from those grown with the market leader.
A taste test by those present confirmed the finding. Even organic growers among them, normally reluctant to use manufactured fertilisers, had to admit that using incredicrop® made fruits sweeter.
John Burrows and Paul Hansord – Brix Testing Tomatoes
T&M horticultural Director, Paul Hansord, said: “We already know Sweet Aperitif is the sweetest red cherry on the market, the first to consistently score over 10 on the Brix scale. We couldn’t believe the sucrose levels could be boosted even further. The findings add to an already impressive list of benefits for incredicrop®, setting it well ahead of other feed options on the market. Brix levels for Sweet Aperitif were unchanged by other feeds. Our exclusive vegetable fertiliser not only encourages stronger and healthier plants with impressive yields – the produce will also taste better.”
Notes to editors
What are Brix Levels? The Brix score for any fruit or vegetable is the number of grams of sucrose per 100 grams of solution (specifically the juice from a tomato in this study). Higher brix means better flavour and better nutrient value and is an indication that plants have been grown in a healthy soil, with sufficient nutrients and water. The measure is used widely by commercial growers but the equipment needed for testing is costly and is not a viable option for most home growers.
How does incredicrop® work?
This controlled slow-release feed utilises Double Nitrogen Technology to promote vigorous green growth and bumper crops – a single application at planting time will support strong healthy growth for 7+ months. Nitrogen is released in two phases in perfect sync with plant needs, avoiding wastage, which is often a problem with other fertilisers. Part of the nitrogen is stabilised to gradually break down over the first eight weeks to kick-start plants into piling on growth. The second part is released through polymer coated granules that deliver less or more nutrients depending on temperature and moisture levels, again matching plant needs for optimum flowering and cropping. (£12.99 for 750g tub)
Available from www.thompson-morgan.com or call 0844 573 1818
We all need a drink of water and birds are no different. During the cold months water can be scarce; so it is our job to make sure that our native and visiting birds get the water and food they need. We have been encroaching on their patch for so long now that it is time for us to step up and help these poor birdies out!
Blue tit, Robin and Blackbird
So what can we do? The best way to help the birds to enjoy a fresh drink of water is to keep a bird bath in the garden all year round. It will need to have shallow sloping sides approximately 2.5cm to 10cm (1” to 4”), so that different species can enjoy drinking and having a bath! The surface needs to be rough so the birds can hold on with their claws, but the aesthetics of the bird bath are more to please us than the birds, who won’t mind if it is an old bowl. At Thompson & Morgan we are always concerned about wildlife and the impact that we all have on them, so we have a range of bird baths to please you and the birds.
Thompson & Morgan Birdbath
The type of bird bath you have and the varieties of vegetation around it will determine the types of birds you get visiting. When birds are bathing they do get rather preoccupied and excited so it is most important to make sure they are not vulnerable to cats or other pets. The birds will need clear visibility as they bathe, and planting bushes and trees nearby will provide vital cover when they feel alarmed or scared. After bathing birds like to preen so bushes and trees will also provide a place to do this, and the higher off the ground the safer they will feel. Adding a thick layer of clippings from thorny vegetation, such as rose bushes or pyracantha, underneath the bird bath will help keep your pets away.
Try placing the bird bath around the garden to find the ideal spot. You may be lucky enough to see parent birds bringing their babies for a drink after they have fledged. The parent birds will want to show their babies where the water is. Birds can drink a large amount of water so keep it topped up regularly.
You can encourage more species of birds with a bird bath than you can with a feeder, so this is another reason to bring one into the garden. Birds such as wrens, and waxwings that eat insects and fruit don’t usually visit feeders so a bird bath will encourage these species to visit your garden. Bird baths can attract all kinds of birds including bluebirds, robins, warblers and thrushes, and you may even get an owl fly in at dawn when they are thirsty for a drink. Having the bird bath in sight of your window means you will be able to see your visitoring birds and you can enjoy watching them enjoy themselves in the bird bath.
Do take note that during droughts birds try and drink from water barrels and drinking troughs, and unfortunately many die from drowning. We recommend keeping your water containers under a lid which should encourage the birds to use the bird bath instead.
If you would like to find out more visit the RSPB who have lots of information on helping birds through the seasons.
In part one we explored a brief history of how the petunia emigrated from Argentina to Britain, but I was curious about the life of John (James) Tweedie, and I was interested to find out when T&M first started selling petunias. Luckily I had two people who were willing to give me some answers. Firstly I am indebted to Mr Graham Hardy the Serials Librarian at The Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh. When researching the early introduction of petunia seeds sent from Argentina by Tweedie, some of the reports called him John and some were calling him James, as I was worried about getting my facts wrong, I emailed Mr Hardy my query and he very kindly sent me some fascinating links including one that is an online copy of Mr Tweedie’s obituary. This document highlights what an important and extraordinary man he was. Not only was he a professional landscape gardener and held the title of Foreman in Dalkeith Gardens, but he also held the title at The Edinburgh Royal Botanic Gardens too. He didn’t travel to South America until he was fifty and he died there aged eighty seven after some remarkable plant hunting adventures. It wasn’t only the petunia seeds he sent back to Scotland, as gardeners we have a lot to thank him for.
Petunia ‘Night Sky’ and Petunia ‘Cremissimo’
I have copied the link in for you if you wish to learn more about him, with kind permission from Mr Hardy and the Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh “You can read the obituary for John Tweedie published in the Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 28 June 1862, here http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/32988793. With credit to the Biodiversity Heritage Library. BHL is a US initiative started around 2005, which provides a platform for digital versions of biological books held in US and UK libraries, it is a great thing to have access to.”**
There is also this link for his species now known as Petunia integrifolia (Hooker) Schinz & Thell. You can see herbarium specimens of this species collected by John Tweedie on RBGE’s online herbarium catalogue here: http://elmer.rbge.org.uk/bgbase/vherb/bgbasevherb.php. again printed with kind permission from Mr Hardy and The Royal Botanical Gardens.**
And by no means least a big Thank You to Anne who was working the Petunia Parade Facebook posts who kindly answered my other question When did Thompson and Morgan first sell petunias? “There were no petunias in the 1914 catalogue, but in 1915 there were quite a few. The most popular petunia sold is ‘Priscilla’ and she is twenty years old this year and is as popular as ever.”
Petunia ‘Purple Rocket’ and Petunia Crazytunia ‘Green With Envy’
The story isn’t over yet, new breeding still continues, a quick look through the Two Thousand and Sixteen Spring Catalogue from T&M shows us the introduction of eleven new Petunias. My favourites are ‘Night Sky’, ‘Cremissimo’, and ‘Anna’. So maybe it’s about time to actually take a leaf out of The Dixons Men’s Garden Club who are based in Dixon, Illinois, America and put our Petunias on Parade.
Each year they plant thousands of pink petunias along at least two miles of their main roads into Dixon. If that’s not enough Ludington residents plant thirty thousand red, white and blue petunias at their marina and downtown boulevards, and they credit Charlesvox in Michigan for the idea, as their residents plant up five miles of US 31 with these flowers each year.
Petunia ‘Stars and Stripes Mixed’
Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could get just one city, town, village or hamlet in Britain to start a real Petunia Parade too?
*Mendle’s Law quoted from Wikipedia.
** Quoted from Grahah Hardy. RBGE
Thompson & Morgan promises best year on the vegetable patch with host of innovative growing concepts for 2016
2016 product developments from the specialists at Thompson & Morgan are paving the way for the easiest ever route to fresh home grown produce this season. Whether you’re short on time, space or knowledge, there’s now an easy solution for you.
Following success with our groundbreaking Tomtato®, a hand grafted plant producing both potatoes and tomatoes, T&M has launched Egg & Chips®, a world first in duo grafting. Gardeners can now grow aubergines and potatoes on the same plant. What’s more the potato ‘root stock’ gives the aubergine part the extra energy needed to crop successfully under UK conditions. You don’t need a greenhouse to grow Egg & Chips®, a large pot on a sunny patio will produce perfect plants. £14.99 for one Egg & Chips®, £19.99 for two.
Egg & Chips®, Tomtato®, and Pea ‘Terrain’
Staying with the grafted concept a new Grafted Summer Vegetable Collection has also been launched for the season, made up of Cucumber ‘Mini Stars’, Pepper Orlas, Tomato ‘Solena Red’ and Tomato ‘Sportivo’, promising to increase yields by up to 75%. Joining a fruiting variety to a more vigorous rootstock has brought massive benefits to commercial crop production. Now T&M customers can bring the goodness of grafted veg to their own pots or plots.
Vegetable Grafted Collection
T&M Vegetable Expert, Colin Randel said: “Some vegetable varieties produce fantastic fruit but are weak growers, others are vigorous growers with poor fruits. We’ve selected the best grafting matches to bring you the best possible results from a single plant. Spend a little extra on our grafted plants and reap the rewards right through the season.” 4 plant collection £19.99.
Changes in EU regulation mean that for the first time in a long time, Thompson & Morgan is now able to offer mixed vegetable seed varieties in the same packet, creating the easiest route to success on the veg patch and the longest harvest, with no need for successional sowing.
The All Season Collections take the hard work out of crop planning. Each is made up of several toptasting and top-performing F1 varieties that can be sown in one hit, but will crop at different times to give a harvest window of up to 36 weeks. The All Season Leek Collection for example, offers a nine month harvest from a single sowing of three trusted varieties – ‘Lincoln‘, ‘Oarsman’ and ‘Below Zero’. The collections have been based around the most popular crops grown by British gardeners, including peas, beans, broccoli, sweet corn and cabbage. The collections are the perfect solution for novice gardeners and those without the time (or skills!) for detailed crop planning at the start of the season.
All Season Leek Collection
Stand out vegetable seed introductions for the season include Pea ‘Terrain’ and Tomato ‘Mountain Magic’. The T&M trials team was stunned at the results of new Pea Terrain in 2015 and are heralding the variety as the most exciting introduction since the launch of existing bestseller Hursts ‘Green Shaft’. Paul Hansord said: “We’ve been truly amazed at the outstanding performance of this powerhouse pea. Yield, pod quality and taste – Pea Terrain couldn’t be beaten in our 2015 trials, but most impressive was the resistance to both downy and powdery mildew. In a field surrounded by a dozen infected varieties, only Terrain stood clean and green, making it the best pea for late harvesting. A final sowing on 31st July lead to a mildew free harvest at the end of October. Plants would have kept going if it had not been for a frost.” 99p for 300 seeds.
Tomato ‘Mountain Magic’ and Potato ‘Jazzy’
Similarly, Tomato ‘Mountain Magic’ has shown full resistance to all blight strains currently prevailing in the UK, making it the best option for outdoor growing and late cropping. Thompson & Morgan is so impressed with the performance and flavour of the new variety, it is championing Mountain Magic as its Vegetable of the Year for 2016. £3.99 for five seeds or £9.99 for five plug plants.
Trial results and customer feedback for Potato ‘Jazzy’ have been so impressive it now comes with a Double Money Back guarantee if T&M customers fail to produce 35 potatoes or more from a single tuber. This new second early potato can be grown in small 8 litre pots to easily achieve this number, so is a great space saving option. Pricing for ‘Jazzy’ starts at £3.99.
Many of the varieties are available from selected garden centres now. All are available for order at www.thompson-morgan.com
Hobby gardener’s favourite becomes important commercial crop in race for earliest stems.
Couldn’t wait for your home-grown forced rhubarb this winter? Chances are if you relied on the first supermarket produce of the season, you’ve been eating Rhubarb ‘Thompson’s Terrifically Tasty’.
This extra early forcing variety was on sale in the wholesale markets from 30th December, beating forced rhubarb from the ‘Golden Triangle’ in West Yorkshire to stores by a full three weeks. Traditionally Golden Triangle rhubarb is the first to market every year.
The area is renowned for early rhubarb production and at its peak in the 1930s produced 90 per cent of the world’s forced winter rhubarb. It seems the region now has some tough competition from Essex growers producing commercial crops of Rhubarb ‘Thompson’s Terrifically Tasty’. And home growers could be beating the professionals at their own game too.
Rhubarb ‘Thompson’s Terrifically Tasty’
Thompson & Morgan Horticultural Director, Paul Hansord, said: “We’ve sold this top variety to home gardeners for many years, with the promise of the earliest natural harvest. Thick flavoursome stalks are produced in March –a full month ahead of all other varieties. But it now seems you could be enjoying your own fresh stalks with your Christmas leftovers!”
Industry experts agree. Fruit specialist Will Sibley said: “I cannot imagine that there is an earlier variety in commercial production. To bring the season on by a full three weeks, just goes to show the qualities of this top-tasting variety.”
If you are not already growing Thompsons Terrifically Tasty, a favourite with T&M customers, orders are now being taken for spring planting crowns, two for £9.99 or four for £17.99. Visit www.thompson-morgan.com or call 0844 573 1818
Forcing rhubarb for a late December or early January crop is simple. In late November cover crowns with straw and place a forcing pot, large tub or dustbin on top to block out the light. This will initiate out of season stem growth leading to the earliest possible harvest.