How to get an Allotment – with Michelle Stacey

michelle stacey Hi, my name is Michelle and I was a contestant on BBC2 big allotment challenge 2014, and also BBC1 allotment wars. I have my own allotment and have done for 5 years now, the lovelies at Thompson & Morgan have asked if I would like to write an allotment blog, so I thought we would start right back at the beginning.

When applying for an allotment you need to contact your local council offices parks and gardens department. They will inform you of your nearest allotment site and availability. You can choose whether to apply online or they will send you a form in the post. Waiting times vary from site to site, I was really lucky I only waited for 4 weeks for my allotment but unfortunately for some sites people can wait for years. Sizes of plots vary massively. The traditional method of measuring an allotment is in rods, perches and poles an old measurements dating back to Anglo-Saxon times. Ten poles is the accepted size of an allotment that’s the equivalent of 250 square meters. A rod was used to control a team of oxen when working the land and measures 5.5 yards.

michelle staceyThis translated into more modern terms as 10×5 x 5×5 as an area required to produce enough vegetables to feed a family of 4 for a year, obviously a rough guide as every site is different.  I measure my allotment in ft. it works out at 120ft long and 30ft wide all this measuring fuddles my brain! Whatever space you end up with finally you always learn to maximise. When you’re weeding and digging your allotment, it always feel like you have too much space. But when you’re planting, it feels like you don’t have enough. I still remember the over excitement of receiving my letter to say plot 4b had been allocated to me, I was to meet the site rep and he will show me round. Of course I arrived on site trying to keep excitement in check. To start with I only had half a plot which is 50ft x 30ft covered in bramble 6ft high in some spots, and couch grass (a gardeners nightmare), none of that mattered to me and I couldn’t wait to get started. After much preparation I was fully equipped with a spade, fork, rake, sheers, gloves and wellies. I was ready to go to war with my plot.

This is a very small part of my allotment now, in my next post I will tell you how I went from bramble and mess to a fully productive plot.

Michelle Stacey
Hi my name is Michelle, I was a contestant on BBC2 big allotment challenge 2014, and also BBC1 allotment wars. I have my own allotment and have done for 5 years now, so I will be discussing all things allotments from locating to preparing with you.

A year in the greenhouse – Amanda

Hello everyone, my name is Amanda and this is the first of what I hope will be one of my many blogs for Thompson & Morgan. I live in Pembrokeshire with my fiancé and our garden is approximately 116 meters square. It’s situated at the top of a hill and literally a five minute walk from the Cleddau Estuary. Being so close to the Irish Sea means that we get mild temperatures in the winter, however we also have to cope with the very strong salt-laden westerly winds that can blow up at any time of the year.

I started gardening later in life, for a few reasons, they are in no particular order but I would like to share them with you.

The first reason is for my physical and mental wellbeing. As I was born with a congenital heart disorder, and didn’t want to pick up any germs, I was a little scared of gardening. Especially as a youngster – but over the years I have realised gardening is actually very beneficial. It’s a great form of exercise, it is approved by my cardiologist to help maintain a healthy weight, keep muscle tone and improve lung capacity. It helps to reduces stress, it gets me outdoors, even in the winter, and I can enjoy super fresh fruit and veg, knowing exactly where it comes from and how it was grown. Which is to say, two minutes from my kitchen and mostly organic.

I’m not sure if using water from our four foot fish tank to drench the garden is classed as organic because of the colourings that go into fish food but the plants seem to like it. I do not water the plants that are eaten raw, just the potatoes, rhubarb and pretty flowers. Has anyone else used water from a fish tank to feed their plants? I have a feeling that I read something that said goldfish water is a good fertiliser, but I can’t remember where I read it.

a year in the greenhouseThe second reason I garden is because I wanted to learn a new skill.  I didn’t think I would be very good at growing something from seed or cuttings, and I hate failing at things, but without trying I would always be wondering if it was something I could have done. Luckily Thompson & Morgan have handy growing hints and tips on their website and their products always come with detailed instructions. I started off with simple seeds like sunflowers, sweet peas and asters, then progressed onto mini plugs of more tender plants and tomatoes when I got one of those plastic pop up greenhouses. I now have a 6×6 horticultural glasshouse. After eight years or so I can now say I am okay at growing things, but I still consider myself to be a beginner. Does anyone else feel this way?

For example I can grow peppers, aubergines and tomatoes from seed every year without encountering problems. Yet, every year without fail I kill my cucumbers before they are more than a foot high.

Two years ago I tried to grow carrots, the slugs had them. Last year I beat the slugs by moving the pots around constantly, but the carrots were so small, (even though the leaves were huge) that not even a carrot fly could go to the trouble of nibbling on them. It was pretty pathetic. This is why I still feel like a beginner. I have a lot to learn.

The third reason I garden is because of tradition. My paternal grandparents ran a farm so growing crops is in our blood. Whilst my maternal grandparents worked on the land and recycled everything before it became trendy to do so – they were also fantastic cooks and grew a variety of fruit and vegetables in their garden at the back of the house and to me were able to create magical food from a surprisingly small number of ingredients. If we wanted a pudding after our meal we were told to go and eat the raspberries or suck the nectar from the nasturtiums.

Whilst the farming grandparents allowed us the freedom of playing in the barns, walking the sheep dogs, helping harvest potatoes or go running and sitting in the fields, the village dwellers who only had a small garden allowed us to collect ladybirds and caterpillars and grasshoppers and study the insect world for ourselves, so long as we didn’t break the dahlias or peony or roses in the front garden. We never played in the back; I guess we were too scared of damaging grandpa’s regimented rows of produce. Both sets of grandparents taught me lessons I would like to share in future blogs.

a year in the greenhouseThis tradition of growing is the real reason why I want to be part of the blogging community.  Almost two years ago my dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer, I wasn’t as close to him as my brothers were as my parents divorced when I was thirteen, but luckily through gardening we were able to mend our relationship. Before his illness became too aggressive I told him I was growing potatoes in a grow bag, being a farmer he thought this was the funniest thing anyone had ever told him. He said it wouldn’t work. I saw this as a challenge and gave him daily telephone updates of the potato progress along with taking photos on my phone to show him when we visited on the weekends. I didn’t realise how pleased he was until I overheard him telling his health visitor that I had fantastic food growing in the greenhouse as well as tasty spuds.

As his health began to fail he kept asking me if he could buy me another greenhouse for Christmas, I told him it was too expensive a present and that he needed to keep his money for heating, especially as the cancer had spread to his spine and shoulder bones. I tried to keep his spirits up by having a potato growing challenge – I would grow potatoes again in my grow bags if he grew two in a large plastic pot. After thinking about it he agreed saying he was wrong to say potatoes in sacks would never grow. Sadly dad died in June 2014 two weeks before our potatoes were ready. I inherited the plastic pot with them in it and at first I didn’t want to eat the spuds as that was the last thing he grew. In the end I knew he, like my grandparents, would be mad if I let good food go to waste, so ate them and they were delicious.

Dad also left us a little bit of money – I am not someone who has to have the latest tech, or have to spend it straight away. He didn’t leave us a fortune but it was enough for me to buy a new greenhouse with, it’s a 10×6 one. He also wanted me to be like his father and keep a diary of my gardening year. I have kept diary for most years but they have just been about random bits of daily life. I had no idea my granddad kept a diary of his life and farming methods, just before dad died I had the pleasure of reading the ones he had translated from Welsh from the years 1973, 1974 and 1975. So, forty years on I want to honour my past, be grateful for my present, and look forward to my future. I want to write about a year in my new greenhouse, covering everything from its construction to first fruits. I want to record everything from the good to the bad and ugly. I want to do this for my own personal pleasure. If you would like to take the journey with me then please read my blogs.

My actual diary is a physical paper journal where each day I will record things like when the greenhouse was delivered, how many blocks were laid for the base, the weather, things in bloom, and the cost of compost, anything greenhouse related. I sourced my diary on the Internet as the one I wanted includes sections for each week to record things like to do lists, weather patterns and interesting gardens to visit. Each month I will give you a concise update on my progress; I will include photos of significant events, and write some hopefully interesting things. In return all I ask is if you could share some of your gardening moments with me? Please leave me anything from comments, to hints and tips to improve my gardening, or pictures of your own plot. I promise I will try to respond to each one.

Until next month – Happy Gardening!

From Amanda.

My name is Amanda and I live in Pembrokeshire with my fiancé and our garden is approximately 116 meters square. I want to share with you my love for gardening and the reasons behind it, from the good to the bad and ugly. I want to do this for my own personal pleasure. If you would like to take the journey with me then please read my blogs and share with me your gardening stories.

Climbing fuchsias

Pop along to any garden centre and you’ll probably see the same few climbers; there’ll be some straggly honeysuckle, quite a few large-flowered, dull clematis, thugs like Virginia Creeper, and so on… Surely it’s about time there was a plant that’s a bit classier, a plant that’s easier to prune, a plant your garden hasn’t seen before? Step right up climbing fuchsias!

climbing fuchsias

Introducing our new bright spark, Fuchsia ‘Pink Fizz’, which is the best ‘climbing’ fuchsia we’ve ever seen. Before we go any further though, remember it isn’t a true climber and won’t produce sticky pads or tendrils. But, the growth is so vertical and upright that you’ll find it virtually hugs the wall, and plants will shoot up more than 5 feet in a single season.

climbing fuchsias

climbing fuchsias

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fuchsia ‘Lady Boothby’ is the predecessor to ‘Pink Fizz’, and was actually introduced back in the 1930’s, but was never very well-known, and didn’t have the flower power to back up its vigorous growth habit. New ‘Pink Fizz’ is English-bred, and the plant represents the ‘second generation’ of climbing fuchsia, with flowers appearing on almost every internode on the plant. As you can see in the photos above, the Fuchsia ‘Pink Fizz’ looks amazing when planted in one of  our Tower Pots™.

‘Pink Fizz’ isn’t just a flash in the pan though- plants will not only flower from June to September, but this hardy fuchsia variety will come back every year too, as they’re hardy down to -10C. Pruning Fuchsia ‘Pink Fizz’ is a doddle, wait until the spring and trim your plants back by a third.

So, if one of your New Year’s resolutions was to try something different in your garden, there’s no need to look any further…!

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!

Fuchsia Festival at Driftwood

It’s like a fuchsia festival every summer in my garden! I have been collecting them since inheriting 2 standard specimens from family members, one from my Aunt, Margaret Grindrod, in 2004 (plant pictured in 2005 on left) and one from my father, Ron Stonebanks, in 2007, (plant pictured in  2007 on right).  My own enjoyment of fuchsias has clearly stemmed from these very first two. Dad and Auntie Margaret can be seen, sat together in my courtyard garden in North London, back in 2003 before we moved to Bishopstone, the following year.

fuchsias at driftwood

They had been very keen gardeners themselves, so after their deaths, I needed to make sure the plants did well and lived on in my new garden here on the south coast. Dad’s, I am led to believe is an Empress of Prussia and my Aunt’s a Geneii. My mother tells me that my Dad had bought the standard Empress for their ruby wedding anniversary back in 1990. Today, I still have both their original plants and have since propagated many specimens from them to either sell on when I open for the National Gardens Scheme every summer, or indeed to plant additional specimens in my own amazing garden, Driftwood.

fuchsia winston churchillIn addition to their original plants, I probably now have over 20  different fuchsias and maybe over 50 different plants, a mixture of trailing, standard and bushes both in the ground, in pots or raised beds! Some hardy and some not! They are the perfect addition to my coastal garden and one in particular, Winston Churchill. This variety thrives really well in my front garden, which directly faces the sea and takes the brunt of the salt laden winds we have here! You can see it protected by the upturned railway sleepers acting as wind breaks.

fuchsia festivalThe back garden has been described as an exuberant yet immaculate seaside garden, split into several garden rooms. It has an eclectic palette, creating a layered tapestry of coloured plantings, beautifully integrating wooden and rusted metal features with the landscape. The heavy, dense plantings (over 600 plants) with no lawn and no exposed soil create an illusion of a much bigger garden. Fuchsias delicate and intricate blooms have always drawn attention from the 10000 plus visitors to the garden in recent years. They love a story and to hear the provenance of the plants, so the one to tell of the Empress of Prussia and Geneii, go down very well. In the picture to the left, you can see one of the Geneii here on the left an Empress on the right with magellicana versicolour centre and Quasar and Pink Temptation in the foreground and Riccartonii in the background! To the right, a flower from Empress of Prussia.

 

In 2013 Thompson and Morgan sent me some Duke of Wellington plugs and 3 are doing really well in the garden now and are very easy to grow and seem to cope well with what the weather throws at them here. As is the stunning Quasar that were sent as a trial plant in 2014. Their enormous blooms making a real statement in any garden.  I also inherited some lovely terracotta wall pots from my Aunt as well and each summer I plant them up with two of my favourite fuchsias, Pink Temptation (a bushy, trailing and floriferous fuchsia with bright, fresh looking flowers) and  Lena ( a medium-sized deciduous shrub of open habit ) They seem to flower all summer long and look so dramatic tumbling out over the wall creating a stunning display of mini ballerinas!

fuchsia duke of wellington

That said, another pretty bloom that looks great in wall pots tumbling down is Ballet Girl which I have had in the garden for the last 3 years! It really is amazing the different colour palettes to be had with fuchsias. Another pretty one we’ve had for a few years is Miss California, another that does not seem to mind the weather conditions down here on the coast! A great coloured variety that looks great in any bed, mine are grown in a raised bed and large pot, are Lady in Black with stunning dark flower heads! No matter what the type, the bees seem to love fuchsias and flock to them in the garden each summer.

fuchsia variety

Last summer I decided to create a bed dominated by fuchsias as they just do not let you down with their beautiful, long lasting displays in the garden! The 2 images above are  Ballet Girl and Duke of Wellington. Other beds last summer had  mixes of Riccartonni,  Lady Boothby, Empress of Prussia, and Lady in Black, which looked amazing all through the summer.

fuchsia varietyLast year I bought a new hardy fuchsia, Versicolour Magellicana and put one in the front garden and one in a raised bed in the back garden and both have done really well flowering prolifically until the first frosts! Here you can see it dominate the raised bed with a Quasar and Pink Temptation in the foreground.

I would have no hesitation in recommending fuchsias to any garden owner wanting long lasting and interesting colour in their garden in 2015. There are so many to choose from that there can be no question of not being able to match the colour palette you want to create.

 

So come gardeners across the UK go out and plant some stunning fuchsias for the Thompson & Morgan Fuchsia Festival 2015!

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 as a base, first opened to the public in 2009, he has raised over £47000 for various charities in 4 years, £23300 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. Every 4 weeks he writes an article about his garden for Garden News Magazine.

Great British Garden Revival

I am not sure if it is a common perception but due to working within the horticultural industry, it is clear that here in Britain we are a nation of gardeners. With the development of the industrial sector and the new homes within our largest towns and city centres; space is now at a premium. However, new and innovative concepts such as an urban gardening, balcony growing, growing plants on your windowsill, and products such as our Tower Pot™, mean that space is no longer a required component to gardening.

Episode 1 of the Great British Garden Revival discussed the nation’s favourite flower, the rose. We live in a world that seeks new innovations, whether it is having the latest smart phone or fashion trend and I think this the same for our choice of flowers. We don’t like to feel that we are missing out on something and with our focus on new varieties, traditional varieties are taking a back-seat and we are at risk of losing them from our gardens forever.

Rose the one and onlySo, roses. I have to admit I fall in love with roses every time I see them. There are over 1,000 cultivars of rose, from trailing to shrubs there is a variety to suit most requirements. The first episode featured traditional climbing rose varieties such as Crimson Glory. With deep crimson blooms, this older variety is beautiful and the fragrance is simply divine! However, even though older roses tend to have amazing fragrance, they can lack in vigour and good disease resistance. This is when we see the newer varieties take centre stage with the best of best of both worlds. Hardy rose variety Rose ‘The One and Only’ has flowers rich with crimson-red petals that give the appearance of an old-fashioned English rose. They are renowned for their scent, as this hybrid tea rose is like no other – fruity and indulgent. That being said, every rose has something to offer to the garden and we all have our own favourites. Have you got a favourite rose?

narcissue tete-a-teteEpisode 2 of the Great British Garden Revival focused on daffodils, blossom trees and shrubs. The history of daffodils dates back before the First World War, where fields were coated in a blaze of yellow. They were then cut and packed for the consumer market. The big affect on daffodil growing came after the Second World War when fields were taken over for the production of food. However, now we often see daffodils in front gardens and scattered along countryside lanes where they bring a smile to our faces as they are seen to resemble one of the first signs of Spring and the growing season ahead. I love the all time favourite Narcissus ‘Tete-a-tete’. This delightfully small variety is the perfect variety for cutting. Undemanding an easy to grow, they will make a beautiful addition to cottage gardens. What is your favourite daffodil?

 

On tonight’s episode James Wong attempts to revive a plant that has disappeared from our gardens, the rhododendron. Christine Walkden puts the case forward for the carnation, as she heads to a specialist nursery to recover some important facts.

Have you been watching? We would love to get your thoughts. Tell us if you prefer traditional or modern varieties and why.

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.

Fuchsias

It’s the beginning of Thompson & Morgan’s Fuchsia Festival; and we think you’re heading for a long, colourful and care-free summer!

In the UK, we know fuchsias quite well. Even if you’re a non-gardener, I bet you’ll have had a grandma or uncle who grew fuchsias of some kind in their garden. They are the quintessential English garden plant; for any area of the garden, sun or shade; they will sit quietly and do their thing, with minimum fuss, and often producing flowers up until the first signs frosts.

Fuchsia-Swingtime

Fuchsia ‘Swingtime’

Let me take you on a tour of the fuchsia garden, right now! First up, think about adorning the walls of your house, whether it’s with hanging baskets or window-boxes. The trailing fuchsias really come into their own for this; we have the traditional varieties such as Swingtime, Marinka and Dark Eyes, which are still much-loved and purchased in their 1000’s every year. But, the newer kids on the block are gaining momentum too. Our Giants Collection is UK-bred, so you know these plants will perform during any UK summer! The blooms are 4-6 inches across, unapologetically showy and they drip like expensive jewellery from the cascading plants.

fuchsia bella collection

Fuchsia ‘Bella Nora’

Window boxes shouldn’t be overlooked either, and our new Fuchsia ‘Bella’ range is ideal. The dinky blooms are produced in their hundreds, and are upward and outward facing, so aren’t nestled in the foliage. Pot some up into small pots and sit them onto outdoor tables. We expect this range of fuchsias to grow over the next few years; they’re naturally bushy, zero maintenance and there’s many more colours to come!

Fuchisa-hawkshead

Fuchsia Hawkshead

Don’t forget to dress the patio too; there’s a range of bushy fuchsias which are compact and adorned with jewel-like blooms throughout the summer; I love Hawkshead, which can also be grown in the garden as a mini hedge. The dainty blooms are pure white, and quite different to the loud basket fuchsias. The hardy fuchsias are also great for large patio pots, or the border. Shrimp Cocktail and Delta’s Sarah are the pick of the bunch, with fun, colourful blooms. They’re almost like miniature shrubs for the border too; easy to prune and lasting for years!

Fuchsia-Pink-Fizz

Fuchsia Pink Fizz

Lastly, and how could we forget, we have climbing fuchsias, which can fit in towards the back of the border, covering fences, walls, or even for growing over archways and up patio obelisks. Fuchsia ‘Pink Fizz’ is brand new, English-bred and grows up to 6 foot in a single season. Try something different to Clematis and Honeysuckle!

So, that’s our little fuchsia garden tour, what do you think? Will you be growing some this season?

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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