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

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.

Reward launched for UK’s tallest sunflower

We are offering a £1,000 cash prize to find the nation’s tallest sunflower.

With Sunflowers high on everyone’s sowing list thanks to an industry-wide Year of the Sunflower Campaign, we are hoping to see the World Record for the tallest sunflower brought to UK shores, and are encouraging the nation’s gardeners to take part with the launch of a £1,000 cash prize for the tallest UK specimen grown in 2015 whether it sets a new record or not! The current Guinness World Record, a whopping 8.75m (28ft 8in) giant grown in 2013, was raised by Hans-Peter Schiffer of Kaarst-Vorst,Germany.

Gardeners looking to get their hands on the UK prize can grow any variety from any seed firm. At the end of the season, when plants are at their peak and upward growth has stopped, all you need do is take a photo of your plant and upload it to the competition page here.

Photo entries must include the whole plant from soil level to the top of the flower and you must pose alongside your plant to give an idea of scale, you’ll need to state your height and the height of your plant when submitting your entry.

We now offer more than 30 sunflower seed varieties,  including new ‘Tall Timbers’, a hybrid form of ‘Russian Giant’ offering improved vigour and more chance of growing a record breaker. Reaching 4m (13ft) with no special care, ‘Tall Timbers’ also produces impressive flowers and rivals other two towering specimens ‘Russian Giant’ and ‘Mongolian Giant’.

sunflower pictures

Mongolian Giant

Horticultural Director Paul Hansord said: Our Sunflower Competition is open to everyone. This is something the whole family can take part in, why not set up a little family rivalry and grow one plant per member of the household and see who fares best? Failing that, challenge your friends, neighbours or allotment buddies with a bit of friendly rivalry. If you are growing sunflowers this summer, this is the only competition you’ll want to take part in – £1,000 for raising a single plant from seed – that really is a cash crop worth tending to!

We will also reward the most creative use of sunflowers in a second photography competition. If towering giants aren’t your thing, why not work with smaller varieties this summer, such as ‘Helios Flame’ and the unusual basket variety ‘Inca Gold’, there will be a £50 Thompson & Morgan voucher available for the two most creative entries supplied by the end of Friday 30th October.

sunflower pictures

Helios Flame

Thinking about taking part? Why not blog about your record attempt? If you’d like to spread the word about your efforts and show off your progress through the season, please get in touch at

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.

A look into the ‘fuchsia’

When you look at how many fuchsia varieties are available in the UK, in Europe, even worldwide, you would be forgiven for thinking there’s nothing left to discover or breed. But, you are wrong.

As a product developer, I have a mental wish list that covers pretty much every Genus… and for fuchsias it’s just as long a list than any other. My dreams cover: a true yellow fuchsia, a fuchsia with tasty berries, triphyllas for hanging baskets in every colour, more exciting coloured hardy fuchsias…. you get the idea!

fuchsiaWhilst some plant breeders may be beavering away on these projects behind closed doors, they could still be 20 years or more away. However, there’s some superb fuchsias right around the corner too.

We could soon be seeing fuchsias more suited to growing in sunny borders, which could change how they can be used in the garden or the patio. For many years, fuchsias have flagged in full sun, and far prefer dappled conditions. Their versatility will grow!

One of the most interesting breeding angles to emerge recently has been one that’s responding to European tastes; table top fuchsias. These small beauties, called the Bella Series, are covered in blossom, jutting out in every direction, not just dangling and hiding in the leaves!

And then, how could you have missed it? One of the biggest developments in fuchsias, the climbers!! Well, they’re not truly climbers, as they have no tendrils, but varieties such as new ‘Pink Fizz’ have upright growth, and reach 6 feet in just a few months too! Finally, an alternative to the predictable choice of clematis!

Michael Perry
Michael works as Thompson & Morgan’s New Product Development Manager, scouring the globe for new and innovative products and concepts to keep the keen gardeners as well as amateurs of the UK happy!

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