March winds blow and April showers bring forth slugs eating my flowers! I ignore the greenhouse for one night to discover the next morning that out of eighteen baby leaf lettuces I am left with four. What’s worse, something has also eaten my entire radish, including the roots. I am convinced that the culprits are woodlice, until I read in a magazine that woodlice are often wrongly accused of this; woodlice in your garden are a healthy sign. So where are the slugs? There are surprisingly, no slimy trails, and I can’t see them on the soil. I look in horror at my jeans to find one fat critter has attached itself to me, probably when I was on my knees looking for them. It gets flicked off my leg with a dibber, slightly cruel but it’s a reaction to mild disgust that this thing with no legs is slithering up me. It’s a bit too late to get Nematodes to save what’s left of my lettuces so I sprinkle slug pellets around the remaining leaves and sow more radish and rocket seeds.
May is an exciting month, everything is gearing-up for summer, it’s RHS Chelsea week and our established fruit trees, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, gooseberries and currents are putting on flowers and early fruit is forming. There’s plenty of blossom on the apple trees and I really hope the wind pollinates it rather than blows it away. The ornamental trees are in full leaf, the grass is always in need of a trim and the shield bugs, bees, butterflies and other insects are making themselves known.
The weather has gone potty, one minute it’s almost summer, then its back to heavy winds, lashing rain and chilly nights. We haven’t had frost but it’s going down to one degree some nights. I am trying to harden off my plants but they seem to stop growing then have massive growth spurts. I have lost a load of sunflowers so I have decided to just vent the greenhouses in the day rather than drag the plants out before work, have a change in weather halfway through the day, and come home to ruined plants. I do look at the weather forecast, but to be honest they don’t always get it right in our area. My dad-in-law says the best way to see what the weather is doing is to look out of the window! He actually means look at the height of the clouds depending on how high they are; you should be able judge if it’s going to rain in the next half hour. The other way we can tell if we are in for bad weather, is by the behaviour of the house sparrows at the feeding station. If they completely stuff themselves, even on a really calm morning we know that we are in for stormy weather within a few hours; if they just flit back and forth throughout the day we know the weather will be fine for a few days. Do you have any natural weather indicators?
In the big greenhouse the sweet peppers, tomatoes and aubergines are situated in their final growing positions, there are pots and hanging baskets planted up ready with viola, pansy, nemesia and linaria to be shown off to the neighbours once the weather settles. The Fuchsia ‘Garden News’ has been transplanted into glazed pots and adorn the area by our front door. The Begonia Apricot Shades are still in the greenhouse and the leaves are growing by the day.
Our small greenhouse has been transformed, there is now only one border as the rest is under paving slabs, new staging has been installed and rapidly germinating seed is being monitored for damp-off, pest and diseases.
The remaining border in the small greenhouse is still home to the onions. During an afternoon last December, cleaning, I found sets sprouting in a cupboard under the kitchen sink. I made a decision to plant them in the old greenhouse in hope that they would grow – they seem really happy so for now I am letting them get on with it. I hope they don’t bolt. I keep referring to the instruction leaflet that came with them as I have no experience of growing them. On the weekend I noticed they were trying to send out a flower stem from their centres, I nipped these out, and can happily report they are using their energy to make the bulbs instead.
My cucumbers have arrived from T&M so the onions have a few weeks to finish off what they are doing as I need the space for my cucumbers. I want to keep them separate from the tomatoes and peppers and aubergines as they don’t appear to like the humidity of the other plants. I need to feed the soil after the onions finish. After my garden peas have finished outside I am going to use the soil for growing either lettuce or radish as legumes put nitrogen back into the soil.
My list of jobs is growing as quickly as the plants. Each evening, I go outside and inspect every plant. I have a three year old Goji Berry that has recently being moved as it didn’t like its position in the garden; it now sits behind a Tayberry. I have never eaten Tayberry before so I am really excited, especially as it was in the bargain bucket for £2.49 last year from a well-known home improvement store. I have never tried a fresh Goji Berry either as it hasn’t fruited at all. This is my fault for not putting it in the correct place to start with.
Next everything in the greenhouses gets a watering. I then do the stomach muscles workout of watering pots, bags, baskets and beds in the garden with a two gallon watering can. A hose fixed to a water supply would be easier, but I really enjoy the exercise. It helps my arms and chest muscles too. Mark fixed a tap at the bottom of the water butt so that I don’t have to go up and down the steps to fill the watering can from the top of the barrel all of the time. Also as I had to lean in quite far sometimes over the barrel I think he was worried I might end up head first in it. It’s easier as the top and back garden get water from the top of the barrel and the front and side garden get water from the bottom of the barrel.
I discovered that medical rubber gloves which are really thin, work well for doing fiddly things on my list like getting at the side shoots of the tomatoes or potting on nicotiana and sunflowers as the hairs slightly irritate my skin. The gloves can last anything between one and five uses, unless I forget them in the greenhouse and they melt in the heat.
I am trying the potatoes at the front of the house as it gets the sun from just before midday until sunset. It’s really comical when people stop and ask “Errm what plants are they?” I tell them and then they ask “Do potatoes really grow in bags like that?” I think the pictures speak for themselves. I noticed that there is a competition for the biggest potato crop on the T&M website I don’t think I will have the biggest crop, but I am really interested in the results as, mentioned in my previous blog, I have two different types of grow bags to compare.
I have picked and stewed some rhubarb, it’s was sweet; I ate it with Greek yoghurt and honey. Mark hates rhubarb so it was all mine! I wish I could say that my lettuces and radish were nice but I never got to try them thanks to the slugs. Looks like I will have to wait a bit longer. Has anyone else had any disasters in the greenhouse this month or is it just me?
Between now and the end of the year my greenhouses, gardening diaries and this blog are going to be even more important to me; I recently went for my cardiology consultation and the news though not unexpected, was not the best. As I am forty and I had my main heart surgery when I was seven, there was always a chance that as I got older I would need, what the specialists now politely term, an intervention, I am going for further tests, with the one due mid June, and although I feel fit and well, I have to err on the side of caution. My cardiologist said to carry on as normal and that includes going to work, gardening and generally getting on with it. I am not going to feel sorry for myself, and I certainly don’t want people to feel sorry for me. People with congenital disorders are used to hospitals and test and procedures, it’s a way of life, but that does not mean that we are not affected by it. For me gardening gives me something positive to focus on, and to share it with others is incredibly rewarding. It’s also useful during a long MRI to keep the claustrophobia away by trying to name all of the plants that are currently flowering in the plot, or visualising myself there rather than in a noisy machine.
I love my garden and it has many challenges, although after last Saturday Mark has decided it’s too dangerous for him. Unexpectedly, he ended up in A&E after trying to put together a homemade bamboo cane support frame for the tomatoes. He was cutting off a strip of insulation tape holding a bunch of canes when the canes rolled in his hands. The Stanley Knife sliced easily through the tape and just as easily through his finger. He is a first aider at work so he gave me instructions on stopping the blood flow and how to bandage him. It settled, but started bleeding again and again. After two hours we decided maybe he needed stitches. The nurse said it needed two to three stitches but unfortunately two doctors were unable to stitch it as there wasn’t enough thickness in the skin. They glue stripped it instead. Talk about blood, sweat and tears!
Next month is early summer, the start of the potato and pea harvest in our garden, it’s also a time when I can unwind with a cup of coffee in warm evenings sitting on my bench hid behind the wildflower and Lupin border watching the world go by.
Love Amanda xx
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.
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.”
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
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.
4am 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.
Now, 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.
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.
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 🙂
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
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
• 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 – white 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!