Thompson & Morgan Gardening Blog

Our gardening blog covers a wide variety of topics, including fruit, vegetable and tree stories. Read some of the top gardening stories right here.

Propagation, planting out and cultivation posts from writers that know their subjects well.

Blogs to inspire you to grow your own

Beginner or experienced veg grower? Sharing tips helps produce bumper crops
Image: Shutterstock

Not only is homegrown food healthy and nutritious, but planting and nurturing your own crops gets you out in the garden for some good old-fashioned fresh air. You’ll also get a healthy dose of vitamin D-laden sunshine, and interaction with nature is always good for your soul.

If you like the sound of all that but need a little inspiration to get you started, here are some of the best grow-your-own blogs we’ve found.

Smallest smallholding

Nasturtiums are simple to grow, beautiful – and you can eat them
Image: Smallest Smallholding

Seeking a delightful, easy-grow flower that doubles as a delicious addition to salads? Look no further than the nasturtium says blogger Lucy: “These plants are tough. But they’re so, so pretty too.” A great companion plant, like marigolds, nasturtiums also do a useful job in the garden by helping to draw pests away from your precious food crops.

In search of a frugal, debt-free existence, Lucy’s decision to live a little of the “good life” is an inspiration to all, and her blog provides a treasure trove of information and advice for anyone looking to grow their own.

The garden smallholder

Find out what’s growing in Karen and Rich’s veg patch…
Image: The Garden Smallholder

“We love collecting fresh eggs and picking seasonal food from our garden smallholding. No air miles or nasty chemicals. Just us and the soil.” Sound like the lifestyle you aspire to? Have a read of Karen and Rich’s supurb blog to see how they did it.

If you’re new to veg growing, or even if you’re not, you’ll love Karen’s “Jobs each month” category. January – order your seed potatoes ready for chitting. July – plant out your purple sprouting broccoli ready for next spring. It’s handy knowledge to have.

Rusty Duck

Find out the lengths to which blogger Jessica and hubby go to protect their crops from the depredations of “flopsy” the bunny (or bunnies) with whom they share their hillside veg plot. Luckily for the cotton-tailed raiders, these veg growers are vegetarians, or they might well find themselves becoming the ingredients of a tasty rabbit pie.

“A person decides, together with her better half, to leave behind the stressful day job and move to a simpler life in the country.”  Or not so simple as it turns out, what with the house needing more than a little renovation, the brambles and weeds, and the 45° slope. But hey – it makes for entertaining reading.

Life at no. 27

Annabelle wants to inspire more young gardeners to get growing
Image: Life at no. 27

“How good are you at avoiding the veg aisles in supermarkets during the winter months” asks blogger Annabelle? Hoping to do better by planning ahead this year, she’s putting her faith in her cauliflowers, brussels sprouts and cabbage to see her through the lean times.

As a twenty-something allotmenteer, Annabelle is a role model for younger gardeners, who she hopes to inspire to “put down their phones and pick up a spade”. To this end, the freelance writer, radio personality, blogger and vlogger is a regular at gardening events throughout the year. You’ll find a host of useful tips and advice here.

The unconventional gardener

Edible cucamelon tubers
Image: The Unconventional Gardener

Clearing old salad or vegetable beds? Avoid the temptation to strip everything and chuck it in the compost bin. Blogger and ethnobotanist, Emma took her time preparing an old salad bed ready for replanting, and was rewarded with carrots, beetroot, beet leaves and even “a little tuft of kale” – it’s surprising what you miss come harvest time.

Passionate about edible, useful plants, Emma is your go-to for information about the quirky and unusual. Did you know cucamelon tubers are edible? Emma only has the one, so she’ll over-winter it and look forward to tasting it once it’s had a chance to grow.

Claire’s allotment

Claire brings knowledge and a light-hearted sense of humour to her blog posts
Image: Claire’s allotment

If you can’t fart freely around your family…, then something is wrong” says writer and blogger, Claire. She’s talking about the annual brussels sprouts bonanza and its windy aftermath – if you’ve ever wondered how best to cook the most flatulent of veggies, look no further than this blogger’s post on the subject.

A must for anyone introducing children to the joys of gardening, blogger and allotmenteer Claire writes children’s books about growing sunflowers, carrots and pumpkins, and also runs garden workshops to help little ones get their hands dirty. For adults, Claire also produces a popular range of ebooks which are ideal for gardening beginners and improvers.

Dogwood days

Blogger Nic is an Ocaholic
Image: dogwooddaysgardener

Meet self-confessed “Ocaholic”, Nic. She’s talking about a tasty little tuber called oca, or new Zealand yam. It’s actually a native of the Peruvian, Bolivian Andes, and thanks to the fact that it’s not related to that other South American staple, potatoes, it doesn’t suffer from blight. While you won’t get bumper crops, Nic says this bright, colourful veg is great fun to grow and eat.

“Our garden is a place of fascination, experimentation and happiness. A modest space where edible and ornamental plants lovingly cohabit” Nic writes. A woman who packs a surprising amount of edible plants into a fairly small garden, this blog is a great place to stop for a browse.

The quest for veg

Sandra says she’s growing more radishes this year
Image: The quest for veg

“Vegetable plants need their space” say Andrew and Sandra. That’s because, unlike flower gardens where more is often better, overplanting a small plot means none of your plants will reach their full potential. Like when their aubergines were swamped by potatoes and courgettes which she planted too close together.

This blog is a great read for anyone looking for some gardening know-how from a couple attempting to turn a small allotment plot into a bumper cropping veg garden. Check out Sandra’s top tips for this year’s garden – including why she’ll be planting plenty of bok choy and radishes. Not forgetting to “weed, weed, weed” of course.

The veg grower podcast

Get the lowdown on propagators
Image: The veg grower podcast

And now for something completely different. If you prefer to listen rather than read, you’ve come to the right place. With over 150 gardening-related podcasts to listen to, you’re sure to find some relevant know-how to tap into here.

Like the episode about propagators – a great way to get your seeds in early – this podcaster has three heated ones and several unheated. Looking for a way to use up your leftover leeks and potatoes? Check out this soup recipe delivered the old fashioned way – the written word lives on.

We hope our round-up of vegetable growing blogs provides you with plenty of food for thought in the months ahead. Come over and join us on our Facebook page to share your top tips and success stories!

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Overwintering, indoors mainly

I’ve been off for a bit, from the garden that is.  Don’t suppose I’m the only one either. I mean – ugh – just look at it out there. The cold, grey months of Winter are here, still hanging around like overstaying party guests who can’t take the hint. I’ve tried tapping my watch, breezily declaring “Oh is that the time already?” but apparently you can’t chivvy along the eternal cycle of the seasons by appealing to its sense of social embarrassment.  Bit annoying.

So, from under a blanket, you peer outside. From my particular blanketside location in south Leicestershire, I offer you an endless greyscape of drizzle, sleet and murk. Snowfall so sudden it stoved in the coldframe roof.  No?  Then may I offer you a sludgy brownscape of heavy clay, lashed with punishing winds. Still not taken?  Alright, just close the curtains, pretend it never happened, and have a mince pie and some sloe gin. After all, it is just gone 4 in the afternoon and it’s pitch black so there’s nothing to see anyway.

If you’re one of those people with an incredible memory, you might recall my last blog a few months ago about making sloe gin. This is the end result, bottled up and actually really quite good. Not too sweet, plummy and pleasantly warming, in case you’re wondering.

Anyway, I came across a quote I liked today: ‘All gardening is landscape painting’. Serial gardening and architectural 18th century overachiever William Kent said it.  He’s the one who, amongst many other triumphs, designed Stowe Landscape Garden which isn’t that far from here and is just a little bit jaw dropping.

To contrast, our garden right now is not so much painterly and picturesque, more so The Scream.

The ground is boggy, full on welly-sucking clay.  Plants, bare and brown.  If you’ve ever had one of those paint colour charts from a DIY store, we’re in that muted and little visited section, a world away from the vibrant, partying, good time reds and yellows.  You know the kind, where it’s not called ‘Battleship Grey’, it’s inexplicably something like ‘Stoat’s Whisper’ or ‘Sad Robin’.

Even the gloriously bright berries of the Pyracantha ‘Orange Glow’ which blazed around Christmas have been pecked clear by the birds (speaking of which, do feed the birds in winter – they will love you for it).

There is one redeeming plant though, happily.  A stubbornly joyous clump of Winter Jasmine by the gate, which in an unusual feat of forwards planning, I’d pushed into the ground a few years ago exactly there where I would see it from the kitchen window during Winter.  It radiates happiness and warmth, and it’s making me look ahead to the Spring.

Be gone, mince pies and murk.  Even you, Sad Robin.

So, let’s plan and dream a bit of Spring.  The garden, even if it doesn’t look like it right now, is actually pretty full of plants.  It’s not dead really, just dormant, preserving life deep in roots ready for a rise in temperature.

Maybe, like me, you’re recently had a bunch of plant and seed catalogues plop through the door (it’s as if the marketing people are on to something, right?). There are some tempting things to be seen online too.

I am going to apply Restraint, Self-Control and a Strict Budget so have set a modest five-item limit.  I’m still clicking around like a kid at a pick and mix counter, and am drawn to the hot colour groups:

Looks like I already have a couple of items already cached in the shopping basket from the last time I was daydreaming about sunshine.  A blackcurrant (‘Big Ben’) and a redcurrant (‘Rovada’).  Hang on though, a free set of strawberry plants with my order you say?  Hmmn.  Could be tempted. 

  • Is your garden looking better than mine? Share your tips and stories here, we’d love to hear all about them.
  • Or maybe you’ve just come across a silly name for the colour of a tin of paint and want to share with the group. I know, we came for the gardening but let’s stay for the laughs. Go on, let’s hear it…
Alison Hooper

I’ve lived in various places from freezing flats in Manchester with just enough room to swing a pot rubber plant, to a Leicester semi which must have held some kind of local record for most concrete used in the garden. That took some digging out.

Now living in Market Harborough with husband Matt and two young daughters. And a cat who shows up for mealtimes.

Gardening neophyte, learning always.

12 Instagram feeds for flower lovers

spring flower arrangement

This collection’s all about the flowers
Image: shutterstock

Breathtaking blooms, inspirational arrangements and expert growing advice are yours at the swipe of a screen on Instagram. Here you’ll find growers, stylists, artists and farmers, all sharing images of their common passion – British-grown flowers.

If you’d like to add a little horticultural heaven to your feed, we’ve found 12 of the best flower Instagrammers for you to follow.


allotment florist

An arrangement in progress with the Allotment florist
Image: @theallotmentflorist

“I absolutely love growing flowers, arranging them, and just being on my plot surrounded by them,” writes Helena Willcocks. As a London florist, Helena was shocked by the quantities of flowers flown into the UK from all over the world, and the chemicals used to preserve them. She was inspired to grow her own organic flowers and thus The Allotment Florist was born. Expect dramatic arrangements and unusual specimens from her feed. Check out her ‘Black Beauty’ sunflowers – you’ll want some of your own.


Autumn, with all its bounty, by 3acre Blooms
Image: @3acreblooms

“We delight in seeing the hard graft of our gardening blossom into beautiful blooms,” write Emily Talling & Lucy Beckley. These growers and florists have cutting gardens close to Newquay in North Cornwall. The talented sisters turn their flowers into stunning arrangements for weddings and events in the South West. Follow their Instagram feed for forests of pretty snapdragons, blousy ‘café au lait’ dahlias and billowy tulips to brighten up your day.


Catherine Chenery’s December posy with Erysimum ‘Bowles mauve’
Image: catherine_clc

“One thing I love about bringing flowers in from the garden is that you see them in a new perspective,” says botanical stylist and garden designer Catherine Chenery. Follow her Instagram feed for stunning images of her flower arrangements, prize blooms – like the aeonium ‘Poldark’ or the velvety Sam Hopkins dahlia  – and some of the wonderful gardens she visits for inspiration.


A ‘floating summer garden’ by Wild Bunch Flowers
Image: @wildbunchflowers

“Happiness is picking from my garden and making a floating garden on a boat,” writes Tammy Hall. You can see her beautiful wedding arrangement pictured above. Wild Bunch Flowers started in a rambling garden of Tammy’s family farm in the Welsh Borders. The flowers now have a paddock of their own as well as Spanish-style tunnels and “dahlia marquees” to protect them from the elements. Tammy works seasonally and with nature to produce beautiful British-grown blooms.


Spectacular dahlias from My Flower Patch
Image: @myflowerpatch

Sara Willman loves a dahlia. And if you head over to her Instagram feed, you’ll fall in-love with them too. Check out her mouth-watering combination of ‘Café au Lait’, ‘Wine Eyed Jill’ and ‘Crème Brûlée’. And meet her new dahlia crush, Shiloh Noelle. It has supplanted the fashionable ‘Café au Lait’ in her affections: “The most gorgeous tones, and those curled petals!… total dahlia crush material”. Sara’s feed is beautiful, witty and a little bit addictive.


Hellebore and ranunculus arranged by Palais Flowers
Image: @palaisflowers

Drama and opulence abound in Emma Weaver’s Instagram feed. A former set-designer and trained in fine art, she brings something of the theatre to her arrangements. From a magical meadow built on a music-hall stage for a wedding with a difference, to styling opulent blooms in Louis Vuitton handbags for Telegraph Luxury, Emma’s portfolio is phenomenal.


Tangle and Thyme’s delicious autumnal arrangement
Image: @tangleandthyme

“Sometimes the best things in life are worth waiting for!” writes Kate Hargreaves of Tangle and Thyme. The latecomer in question was a phlox, wryly named Phlox of Sheep – “that was really why I bought the seed,” she admits, “as I just thought the name was so great!” Follow Kate’s feed for stunning arrangements, swoon-worthy petals and her very pretty miniature donkeys who love to join in the Instagram fun.


Pretty cottage-garden flowers by Compton Garden Flowers
Image: @comptongardenflowers

Sarah Wilson and her husband Bob have been growing their blooms in Somerset since 2016. “Our flowers are quintessentially cottage garden, grown because they make great cut flowers which ooze with colour and scent,” Sarah writes. Her feed showcases their stunning flowers and Sarah’s beautiful arrangements. It also lets us in on the working life of a dedicated British flower-grower.


British grown “with love not chemicals” by Forgotten Garden Flowers
Image: @the_forgotten_garden_flowers

“I am a bit of a nerd regarding sweet peas so grow rather a lot and would love to cover the whole area, just too many beautiful varieties!” writes Patricia Cottam of Forgotten Garden Flowers. Organic and sustainable growing is at the heart of what Patricia and her family do in their gardens on Exmoor. Expect natural blooms, pretty arrangements, and lots and lots of sweet peas.


Pretty in pink by Hooting Ash Flowers
Image: @hootigashflowers

“The Sweet Williams are such helpful little flowers and bring summer with them!” muses Emily Matcham, the farmer/florist behind Bruton-based Hooting Ash Flowers. With a degree in illustration, Emily has an artist’s eye for beauty which she shares through her Instagram feed. Whether snapping her own pretty garden flowers and romantic floral arrangements, or a meadow of wild orchids that has captured her imagination, the effect is dreamy.


A riot of colour from Bloom & Gray
Image: @bloomandgray

“There is real beauty that comes out of our hard work which is why I find growing flowers so rewarding,” writes Sarah Opie of Bloom & Gray. Sarah is a flower farmer working in East Yorkshire, growing organic, scented English country flowers. It all started two years ago when she decided to grow flowers for her own country wedding. Now she has her own flower farm! Follow Sarah as she experiments with seed saving, hand tying, and growing confetti.


Painterly photographs by Swallows and Damsons
Image: @swallowsanddamsons

“A legend in France says that young women should avoid the tuberoses after nightfall…” writes Anna Potter, “The smell is said to encourage these young women to get into trouble.” Anna is the founder florist of Swallows and Damsons, a beautiful, quirky flower shop based in Sheffield’s antiques quarter. Her Instagram feed is the stuff of fairytales. Magnificent photographs that look like 17th Century still lifes, heartbreaking beauty and inspirational arrangements, make Anna’s feed a must-follow.

We hope these floral Instagrammers have inspired you. Now it’s your turn! If you post photographs of your own blooms or follow an Instagrammer we haven’t featured here, please tell us all about it on our Facebook page.

Are you feeling the Love yet?

I’m just not feeling the love! Apart from sloping off to the greenhouse every few days to check on the cuttings (progress not great.) I’ve done nothing NOTHING, I TELL YOU! Oh the guilt! I’ve come up with every excuse: it’s too wet, too cold, too early, too late. Apart from one manic flurry of activity on 23 December, that’s it! Talking of which, having overstuffed our green bin within two hours of the last refuse collection for six weeks, it has now started to compost itself and has reduced in volume by a quarter!

Now, it’s not that the garden can’t wait – it’s hanging in a sort of suspended animation – it just feels odd not to have deadlines (self-imposed I grant you) to meet. Apart from the miscanthus, oh yes and the slimy brown kniphofia ribbons, which really could do with the chop now, the entire landscape is looking bedraggled and somehow in this dim January half-light, saps one’s enthusiasm. Due to lack of will, I never got round to pruning back the cannas on the patio and now I’m thinking I might as well leave them on as protection against inevitable cold snaps; if I cut them down all I’d end up doing is covering them with fleece anyway.

Nandina domestica & Nandina domestica ‘Twilight’

On a more positive note, I have managed to find the energy to fill up the numerous bird feeders regularly. Fussy eaters all, we have had to shop around for a particular seed mix and give away our existing supply to my mother (for her birds, not her, silly!) Mind you, seeing as she only lives 500 yards down the road, the very same birds may well chance upon this alternative food supply, only to turn their beaks up again. I have been desperate to spend some gift vouchers on a squirrel proof caged suet block feeder. Do you think I can find one? Out of stock everywhere. Still, as a consolation I treated myself to some more spring bulbs: Our local garden centre has been selling off five packets for £1 so I bought chionodoxa, puschkinia and erythronium. All I’ve got to do now is plant them. Highlight of the New Year was the arrival of T&M NEW Spring catalogues. True to form I have placed my order for all plugs orange. Begonia ‘Fragrant Falls Orange Delight’, begonia elata ‘Solenia Apricot’, begonia Non-Stop Mocca Bright Orange and petunia ‘Sweetunia Suzie Storm’. (Not to mention last year’s overwintering begonias, already showing one or two pips…..) And it’s not all gloom and doom outside. I’m quite into nandinas right now. In addition to our nandina domestica, which is covered in shiny red berries, I’ve acquired nandina domestica ‘Twilight’, part of a new range of dwarf Heavenly Bamboos ideal for containers. Talking of containers, the red cyclamen & cornus against the black grass strikes a cheerful chord amongst the brown landscape, and the papery flowers of hydrangea Zorro held on top of its black stems looks rather arty.

Red cyclamen, cornus with black grass, Hydrangea ‘Zorro’

So to while away the long boring hours indoors (lovely actually, all snuggled up on the sofa with various felines, binge watching USA plastic surgery Before and After documentaries) I’ve been cataloguing all my press cuttings (ooh, get her!) into a folder. The cupboard was so crammed with dozens of back edition publications that I was afraid wood worm would move in and eat them. What a trip down Memory Lane that has been. The first edition of Garden News to feature its readers’ 4 Corners Gardening column was published on 26 January 2005 and we have been contributing on a monthly basis ever since. Never mind the changing landscape, the range of hairstyles is breath-taking! And back then David even had hair! Happy 13th anniversary to us. I reckon we must have outlasted most of the editorial team in that time. Amazing to see how the garden has developed from Central Lawn surrounded by Narrow Borders to No Lawn overwhelmed by Plants Everywhere.

The Garden, 2005 & Now!

Clearly Nature isn’t suffering from lack of encouragement from me right now. Spurred on by writing this blog, I’ve just ventured outside to take some photos and have come back in with very mixed feelings.

Budding shrubs, Mad Melianthus and Heavenly Hellebore

  • Optimism: Hellebore hybrids are emerging, Lords and Ladies foliage marbling shady places, iris reticulata, snowdrops, narcissi all popping up.
  • Trepidation: Buds swelling on deciduous shrubs too soon already. More guilt: hardy geraniums and various withered perennials need cutting back. Relief: some of the cuttings are still alive.
  • Admiration: overwintering cannas and salvias are sending up new shoots.
  • Challenged: good grief, the hardy fuchsia, sambucus and cotinus are going to need some serious reduction. Amazement: Mad Melianthus Major has Four Fat Flower spikes on it.
  • Anticipation: my beloved roses are begging for their winter pruning; can’t wait to set my newly serviced secateurs upon them next month. Too long, too long!

So at last I can feel the sap rising. Any day now you will find me outside bonding with my garden again. A Happy New Gardening Year to you all.

10 must-follow veg growers on Instagram

grow your own veg

Grow your own is incredibly popular – and now it’s on Instagram!
Image: shutterstock

Growing your own food has never been so popular. Cheaper, healthier and better for the environment, it’s easy to see why. If you’re looking for inspiration and encouragement, Instagram is now the place to go. With ¾ million posts (and rising) hashtagged #growyourownfood, it’s fast becoming a digital mecca for horticulturalists big and small.

Here are 10 of our favourite Instagram accounts showcasing the best in seasonable, sustainable homegrown veg.


green shed diaries

Winter root love with kohlrabi, carrots, parsnips and the odd spring onion
Image: @greensheddiaries

Londoner Paula waited 12 years for her allotment but it was worth the wait: “It’s that little bit of inner peace, a magical moment on a rainy day, a natter with friends and a sense of achievement that makes my space my happy place.” Paula shares her growing adventures, like sowing ‘smiley face’ microgreens or finding out what the alien-looking markings on her kohlrabi are – they’re bits of corky material (suberin) left behind when a leaf drops off, she explains.


jims allotment

A splash of colour from Jim’s allotment
Image: @jimsallotment

Yorkshireman James Lester is a dedicated allotmenteer. Follow James for witty commentary on his horticultural exploits – like growing parsnip people in a drainpipe or creating a sunken cold frame to speed up spring growth. Always looking on the bright side of growing – “When life gives you a broken spade, take an axe to it and make it into a new bulb planter!” – he’s a real green-fingered philosopher.


hayley's lottie heaven

Hayley’s roast-dinner-veg harvest
Image: @hayleys_lottie_haven

Hayley took on her plot as a novice grower at the tender age of 22. Three years on and she’s growing thirty varieties of fruit and veg on her East Sussex allotment. She shares pictures of her rescue hens, amusingly shaped veg and harvest successes via her instafeed. There are also plenty of tips to inspire and inform. Like storing excess parsnips and carrots in sand to keep them crisp and pickling late beetroot to give as Xmas presents.


zoe's garden

December pages from Zoe’s garden journal
Credit: @zoes_garden

Illustrator Zoe’s Instagram feed is a thing of veggie loveliness. She shares beautiful photos of her horticultural triumphs, delicious recipes – beetroot crisps, anyone? – and exquisite drawings from her allotment journal. Whether she’s wondering what to do with her lazy housewife beans or musing over her romanesco broccoli’s identity crisis, there’s always something going on in Zoe’s garden.


crofters cottage

Veg and flower harvest from this Sussex kitchen garden
Image: @crofterscottage

Actor and writer Milli Proust shares stories of organic, seasonal living from her pretty Sussex kitchen garden. There is lots to inspire. Discover the Peruvian ground apple (Yacón): “Texture of a water chestnut, mild and sweet taste like an earthy pear. A prebiotic, it benefits the bacteria in the gut that boosts the immune system.” Follow Milli and learn how to turn foraged walnuts into amaretti and chestnuts into chestnut and whiskey cake with salted caramel sauce.


good life ain't easy

Winter-salad planting, with help from battery hen Debs
Image: @thegoodlifeainteasy

Rachel’s love for growing started early on when she ate her very first pea straight from the pod. Follow her Instagram feed as she attempts to live the good life: “My aims are simple. Grow organically, as much food as I can. Eat seasonal. Renew and recycle.” Meet her wonderful battery hens, including the inimitable Debs pictured above. And feel energised and uplifted thanks to this sunny, happy allotmenteer.


sowing at the stoop

A basket laden with pure goodness
Image: @sowing_at_the_stoop

I‘m no expert but I love growing my own”, says C, the instagrammer behind Sowing at the Stoop. This mum of boys came to gardening later in life when searching for something that would be just for her. She was soon hooked. Follow her adventures in growing cucamelons and cuddling carrots or visit her potato jungle and veggie waiting room. We guarantee you’ll be hooked too.


my little allotment

A basket of treats for Kirsty’s (very lucky) neighbours
Image: @my_little_allotment

For Linconshire veg-patch “newbie” Kirsty, growing her own was just what the doctor ordered: “There is something extremely therapeutic with gardening and growing your own… Whatever it is, its addictive and I’m totally smitten with it!” Share her joy as she grows her first ever beetroot or wins gold and silver at the local flower show. Find out why happiness is a perfect onion and try out her rhubarb-infused vodka with viola ice cubes.


mark diacono

A harvest of walnuts from Otter Farm
Image: @mark_diacono

Food writer, gardener and cook Mark Diacono loves growing unusual food on Otter Farm. If you want the lowdown on growing chocolate vines, pecans, or Japanese wineberries, Mark’s your man. One top tip: “As good an apple as there is, Veitches Perfection. A local variety, growing in the landscape it came from, and you can tell. Sharp/sweet, cooker/eater and BIG.” There’s some beautiful photography too. Check out his harvest of Nepalese peppercorns shining like red jewels against a white ceramic bowl.


the seasonal table

A beautiful harvest from Tom and Kathy’s smallholding
Image: @the_seasonal_table

Tom and Kathy espouse slow food and slow living on their smallholding in rural Somerset. Expect gorgeous shots of organic homegrown veg, foraged wild food and delicious seasonal recipes. There’s plenty to get the taste buds going, like their ornamental quince windfalls: “They have filled the kitchen with scents of sugar, citrus and pineapple,” or Centurion onion, leek and bay soup. With beautiful produce, fruitful foraging and happy livestock, their version of the good life look looks utterly sublime.

Are you an Instagram vegetable grower? Do you follow a grower we haven’t mentioned? Check out our own Instagram page – and send us your recommendations on Facebook.

Safety Precautions for Kids in Your Garden

safety for kids in the garden pic 1

Gardening is a useful and relaxing practice that most people enjoy doing. Not only is it fun and creative pastime activity, but it is also very educational for kids, so make sure you include your children and teach them about gardening as well. By joining you in nurturing and growing plants or simply enjoying the beautiful outdoors they are more connected to nature, happier and healthier. However, gardens are also places where kids can get injured. Still, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t let your kids experience the joy of spending time in a garden. Here are some precautionary measures you can take.

Examine the soil

The first thing you should do before you even consider having a garden is examine the soil, for the sake of your kids’ health and your own. For example, some soils were exposed to industrial contamination and they could contain harmful chemicals that can endanger your kids directly or through food.

safety for kids in the garden pic 2

Choose a safe water source

Irrigation is necessary for all gardens, regardless of the plants you plan to grow, but some water sources might be more dangerous than others. For example, wells need to be tested regularly for bacteria and other contaminants. They can also be risky for kids who love running around the garden, so you should make sure the well is always covered to prevent kids from falling inside. Running water provided by your municipality is usually safe, but you should also test it, just in case.

Kid-friendly landscaping

There are a few things you need to consider if you want to make your garden child-friendly:

  • Laying a turf: Regardless of the size and the purpose of your garden, you should have at least a small lawn for kids to play safely.
  • Choosing the plants: There are some gardening plants that are dangerous for kids. Avoid potentially poisonous plants, such as Oleander and Castor Bean. Roses with sharp and strong thorns are also not the safest choice.

Make the trees safe

Trees have always been kids’ favorite retreat and an endless source of fun activities outside in nature. Because kids will be kids, they will always want to climb the trees or insist on putting a swing on it. However, not all trees are good trees, and if you are dealing with white cedar tree (poisonous fruit) or a rotten tree with easily breakable branches, consider opting for tree removal services, and planting another, safer kind.

Store the tools

Power tools and other gardening tools present a major hazard for the kids. That’s why they need to be stored in the garage out of the reach of small kids or in a shed that can be locked. The access to electricity for power tools should also be child-proofed with outlet covers.

safety for kids in the garden pic 3

Be careful with chemicals

Like tools, chemicals you are using, such as insect and weed killers, should be stored somewhere where kids cannot reach them. Closed, locked shelves in your garage or a shed are good options. Of course, we suggest minimizing the use of chemicals and opting for more natural ways of maintaining your garden.


Finally, the best way to keep your kids safe in your garden is to be around them, so that they are always under adult supervision. This supervision doesn’t mean you should be passively observing your children in the garden, rather you should try to educate them about the appropriate behavior in the garden and slowly introduce them into the world of gardening by allowing them to help you.

So, whether you are starting your garden from scratch or just want to overhaul your old garden to make it kid-friendly, these tips should help you succeed in it.


Will Sandford

Will Sandford is a Sydney based wood architect, blogger and contributor on interior design and ecology blogs. Besides that, he is also interested in home improvement combined with green technology. Proud father of lovely girl and little boy. In his spare time, Will enjoys decorating his backyard. On free weekends, Will is visiting his parents in the countryside and helping them with their beautiful big garden and orchard. He is also a regular contributor to SmoothDecorator website.

From Rake To Bake.

Welcome to my new monthly Baking Blog. Each month will feature an in-season fruit or vegetable dish to make with a little bit of grow-your-own information on the side.

January is perfect for making Parsnip Scones!

Parsnip GladiatorThe humble parsnip, a mainstay of the Sunday Roast has been cultivated since the Ancient Greek and Roman times. Long before Sugar Canes were harvested this tapered cylindrical cream coloured vegetable acted as a sweetener for foods. Originating in Eurasia (Europe and Asia) and closely related to both carrots and Parsley this root can be eaten in both its cooked and raw forms.

Fibre-rich Parsnips contain plenty of vitamins and minerals so by baking them you can sneak one of your five-a-day into the kids’s lunchbox without too much drama.

Prep Time 10-30* minutes. Oven Temp 220°C/Fan 200°C/Gas 7. Cooking Time 15-30 minutes**

Skills Level Easy Peasy.***

  • parsnip scone ingredientsMeasuring Scales.
  • Measuring Spoons.
  • Measuring Jug.
  • Vegetable Peeler.
  • Sharp Knife. Blunt Knife.
  • Sieve.
  • Mixing Bowl.
  • Rolling pin.
  • Rolling Mat (optional).
  • Scone or pastry cutter.
  • Baking Tray.
  • Baking Parchment/grease proof paper.
  • Cooling Rack.
  • 500g of Parsnips.
  • 375g of Plain Flour.
  • 4 Teaspoons of Baking Powder.
  • 275ml of Milk.
  • 2 -3 Teaspoons of Rosemary or Mixed Herbs.
  • 1 -2 Teaspoon of Black Pepper.
  • 1-2 Teaspoons of Turmeric (optional).
  • 50-70g of your favourite cheese.
  • parsnips steamingPeel and Dice as many parsnips as it takes to measure 500g. If you have an electric steamer cook them until they are soft enough to mash around ten to twelve minutes. If you intend to boil the parsnips do not use salt as this recipe does not require salt.
  • While the parsnips cook measure out the dry ingredients. Sieve the flour and baking powder together in a mixing bowl. Add the herbs and spices and turn gently with a blunt knife or metal measuring spoon. Cover until parsnips are ready.
  • Drain and mash the parsnips allowing them to cool completely.
  • Heat the oven then add the cold parsnips to the dry ingredients and combine with a blunt knife until the mixture sticks together.
  • Gradually add the milk in 50ml increments constantly blending it with the knife. Once it begins to form a dough use your hands to knead it well. Do not worry if there is plenty of milk left over as you can use it to brush the scones with later. Leave dough to rest while you line a tray with baking parchment. (Alternatively grease tray with a little butter.)
  • Once you have a crack-free dough use a little flour on your rolling mat and pin then roll the dough into 2cm thick even layer.
  • parsnip scones - ready to bakeUse a scone/pastry cutter to cut the scones and place them on the baking tray. Re-roll the leftovers until you have used all the dough.
  • Lightly brush with leftover milk or an egg if you prefer.
  • Sprinkle cheese on top of each scone.
  • Place on middle shelf and bake for around 15 minutes or until they are a warm golden colour and the cheese has melted.
Serving Suggestions

Parsnip scones ready to eatSlice and fill with pickle/chutney and cheese.

Slice, butter and dunk into soup.

Freeze for eating with a ploughman’s salad in summer.


Grow Your Own

It couldn’t be easier to grow your own parsnips as they virtually look after themselves. To start off pick from the following varieties: Albion, Gladiator, Panorama or Tender and True all available in the The Seed Catalogue (page 54) or online. Prepare you ground over winter – they like a light weed free deep bed, in a preferably sunny and open site. Sow the seeds in March April or May 15cm apart and 13mm deep. Then thin the weakest so that once the seedlings’ first two true leaves show they are 30cm apart. Continue to hand weed to avoid root damage. Catch crops such as Radish can be sown alongside them – finally ensure the soil is kept moist to avoid the roots forking. Also consider covering with Enviromesh or horticultural fleece to protect from Carrot fly and other pests.

More information can be found from T&M online How to Grow Parsnips guide.

*Depending on if you have pre-cooked Parsnips.

**Depending on if you have pre-cooked Parsnips.

*** Easy Peasy – Basic techniques/Suitable for Children with adult supervision/help.

Treat as Tender – Intermediate Skills required/Children may need more help with this.

Seasoned Kitchen Gardener – Confident Baker/Children might not be suited to this.


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.

Happy New Year

Back in January 2017, I had this crazy idea to photograph the back garden from the same point, on the same date, each month! Some might think I’m mad, I probably did myself back then, but it is interesting, even for me, to take a look at the 12 images as a picture diary of what happened in the garden last year!  They were all taken on the 7th of the month!

January 2017

February 2017

March 2017

As you might imagine, not a lot really happens in January, February and March. The fleecing you see during these 3 months is not to protect plants from the cold but to keep them safe from the wind damage! Driftwood is just a quarter of a mile from the sea and the wind can be extremely severe. To make matters worse, it is salt laden too, so can do much damage to delicate ferns and palms.

April 2017

Now, by April you can see a real transformation. To start with, there is a bit of sun which really helps. I have begun to take all the garden ornaments and furniture out of storage from Summer House and shed! The screening, I take down each year and put back in different places, has started to emerge, helping create the different garden rooms.  You can see a few tulips in bloom, providing some splashes of colour.

May 2017

By May there are a few more leaves on the trees, a camellia is in full bloom and the white flowers of the sea kale look good in the centre! It is all starting to look a bit lush! I store many objets d’art for the winter and they all appear again in May helping to transform the garden.

June 2017

Ordinarily, I would say that June and July are the best months for colour in the back garden but as the June photo shows, that was not the case in 2017. The annuals are all planted out but not many flowering, just a few petunias and the rose, Tess of the Durbervilles on the left. We open to the public on 1st June and have seen over 17000 visitors since 2009 and raised a staggering £95000 for charity.

July 2017

Certainly, by July there was much upward growth, and more colour with Alstroemeria Indian Summer, Hydrangea Schneeball, Buddleja magenta, lilies and Shasta daisies to name but a few. Extra tables and chairs are put out on the public open days (usually 14 each year) to allow us to serve my delicious home-made tea and cakes too. I’ve baked over 7000 portions since we started!

August 2017

Unusually in August you can see that it looks the best month of all. The Shasta daisies are swamping the green table and chairs and the corridor of planting right behind the house looks the best it has looked all Summer.

September 2017

By September, I expect it to start going over, as we close the garden gate to the public on 3rd of the month after a 3-weekend art festival held in the garden, when we generally sell over £12000 art. You can see one of the large pieces near the green table. It is still looking quite good though!

October 2017

Unusually there is still much colour in October. I’d started to remove some of the dead annuals, as you can see from the empty pots on the central path. This was probably the first year in the 10 years I’ve been opening that it has looked this good at this time of the year!

November 2017

By November it is time to protect the more delicate palms again from the oncoming winter winds. Plants have been cut back and moved to sheltered areas at the back of the house. Hedges have been trimmed on the perimeter and along the central path. Looking neat and tidy for the quiet Winter months.

December 2017

December does not look much different as I don’t tend to do much work outdoors as my other passion is Christmas. This year my indoor Christmas decorations ended up in the Daily Mail, on BBC SE Today and on line with the Daily Mirror, I have a collection going back to the 1930’s which constitutes 20 crates currently being packed away.

Geoff’s Impressive Christmas Trees!

In 2018 I plan to do the same with my front beach garden too! You can read more of Driftwood and see all it’s open dates for 2018 at

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, featured on Gardeners’ World on BBC TV and finalist in Gardeners’ World Magazine Garden of the Year 2016, he’s raised £95000 for various charities in 8 years, £53400 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.

The Colour Purple

Well, technically it’s not “the colour purple” but rather Pantone Ultra Violet 18-3838, that’s predicted to be the colour of the year – but that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue now, does it?

Whilst purple is supposed to suggest the mysteries of the cosmos, intrigue and ingenuity, I am more interested in my garden. What could I do this year to play with this suggested trend by the powers that be at Pantone?

As my garden at home is quite small, I tend to concentrate on growing in pots, although some are so large I struggle to lift them when full of compost! This can limit my choice of plants slightly, but I’m not planning on growing any trees or super-large shrubs. Living in the Suffolk countryside, I can go for a nice walk along the river Stour, or Orwell, and see plenty of beautiful trees whenever I like!

So what Purple plants can I grow in pots this year? I’d like to grow some edible things too, not just the pretty bits and pieces, but who says I can’t have both?

The Flowers

The first plant that caught my eye while I was working through the new spring catalogue was the Isotoma ‘Fizz ‘n’ Pop’, these are going to look spectacular in pots against a fence or just in front of some of the larger evergreens I have growing. If I also grow another variety called ‘Indigo Stars’ with them, I’ll get a good range of purples in one area.

Another variety that definitely appealed to me was the Ostespermum “3D” varieties, one is called ‘Violet Ice” and another simply ‘Purple’  there is also a ‘Yellow’ and ‘Lemon Ice’, which would mix in nicely with the other two to make a vibrant display. If I chose a large pot, say about 2 feet in diameter, I could grow them all together and they’ll spill over the edges to make it look like a tall “mound” of flowers – If I feed them well to start with of course!

A couple of shrubs that I can grow in pots are Buddleja “Buzz” and some Hydrangeas. Of the “Buzz”, there are three varieties I can choose from to keep the theme going; they are ‘Indigo’, ‘Magenta’ and ‘Velvet’. All three are just about within the purple spectrum and have the added bonus of attracting lots of bees and butterflies to my outdoor space, which I love to see too!  I’ve grown ‘Buzz’ in pots before and they do well, the trick is feed and water, especially early in the season when the plants are stretching and getting themselves going again – a bit like us having a hearty breakfast to start the day really!

The other shrub that I have my eye on is the Hydrangea ‘Double Dutch Alkmaar’ –  – the double flowers and the blue/ violet colouring really appeal to me – it’s going to need another colour with it to bring it out I feel, but that’s an excuse to try something completely different like sunflowers or even the new ‘‘SunBelievable(TM)’ variety!

So now I’ve feasted my eyes on some beautiful purple plants, I probably ought to look at growing some tasty purple veg!

The Vegetables

First on my list is purple carrots!  This is the way they were first grown many, many years ago and we only have orange carrots through fashionable breeding and also because they were grown in Holland in honour of William of Orange!  – So ‘Purple Sun’ are going in my basket.

Next will be Tomato ‘Indigo Cherry Drops’ – a variety I can grow in a pot against the sunny fence where they will ripen nicely. They get a purple “blush” on the unripe fruit when they first start to grow, this deepens and the green turns to red, but keeps the purple too!

I can probably try and grow some aubergines too, against the same fence as the tomatoes. I can always rig up a glass or clear plastic frame if I need to help them along later in the year. They’ll look good mixed together and if I grow them in amongst the other semi tropical plants like the banana, tree fern, yucca and colocasia, hopefully the fruits will show up against the other foliage!

I would dearly love to try and grow some brassicas too; there’s purple sprouting broccolipurple cabbage, Kalettes even a Brussels Sprout called ‘Red Bull’, which I’m sure I could use at a stretch? I’ll have to use loads of feed and probably chicken pellets to get them to grow well, but I’m sure it’ll be worth it!

Good old potatoes are easy to grow in pots and I can slot them in pretty much anywhere too. A variety called ‘Salad Blue’ could be interesting, I’ve tried them roasted before and while they definitely taste slightly different to good old Desiree. They were still very nice indeed and I would happily eat them again with my Sunday roast!

Last on my list are sweet potatoes – I absolutely love growing these amazing vegetables, the foliage goes wild and I like the look of it – the same family as morning glory to give you an idea – and I always grow them in the largest pots I have, usually in a warm corner and plenty of water too!

So there’s plenty of purple choice: floral, decorative and edible – I haven’t even started on fruit, or beans and edible flowers!    I’m looking forward to a positively ultra violet year!

Graham Ward

I’ve been gardening for as long as I can remember, my first earliest memory being planting seeds in my Grandfather’s prestige flower bed and having a prize lettuce growing there, which he proudly left to show everyone.

Since then, gaining knowledge and experience from both my Grandfather and my Father, I’ve continued to garden, both as a hobby and later on as a professional gardener and landscaper for 12 years. I love all aspects of it, from the design and build, to the planting out of summer borders with plants you’ve either grown from seed or raised from plugs. Unusual varieties always catch my eye and I’m keen to try growing them, even if sometimes it means learning from my mistakes.


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