The Lighter evenings are very welcome…….

frosted plants february

February has come and gone and on the South Coast here we had a week of freezing fog which made the garden look good but certainly not the roads.

I finished ordering my plants from Thompson & Morgan, I don`t know about anyone else but I look at the order and think where will I put them all, but of course they all find a home once they arrive, usually in my case, in hanging baskets, containers and troughs. As I don`t have room for a permanent greenhouse I have a four foot one which has a plastic cover round the frame, and also a hexagonal one which holds quite a few trays. These have worked very well in the past I just have to make sure I watch the weather forecast so I can get the small plants covered with fleece in good time. When I have finished with them they can been cleaned off and put away until needed again and I have extra space on the patio for my containers, and space to put a few more hanging baskets up. I believe some of the plug plants are due during March so that will be an exciting time checking them all out.

Alan and I have moved a lot of stored items from the patio so he could pressure wash it ready for the summer, even during the rain on one day but now it looks really good. I had almost forgotten what the original colour was. Also thinking about moving four containers which have had roses in them for three years and transplanting them along a border by the fence. I hope this will be a good move and that they will be happy in their new home.

nemesia cerinthe hydrangea

There are a couple of bedding plants from last summer that seem to have survived the winter outside, Nemesia and Cerinthe Major. I believe the latter is from seeds that have been dropped in the Autumn and the Nemesia is one that was left in a container. The frost on my Hydrangea Annabelle early one morning looked lovely but soon disappeared once the sun started to rise.

We arrived back from a close friends funeral in Somerset to find that my Incredicompost from Thompson & Morgan had been delivered. The driver had kindly stacked the bags in the porch for me instead of leaving them outside in the bad weather or worse still taking them back to the depot. My eldest Grandson thought I had over ordered until I told him that it was probably only a third of what I would need for the containers and baskets.

compost daffodils

This year I am trying the new Ruby Falls Raspberry that can been grown in a hanging basket. It has started well having been kept it in the front porch, as it arrived during the freezing weather, where it gets plenty of light and covered each night. A couple of warm days this last week has seen some of the daffodils flower but others seem to be very slow, just waiting for a little more sun!

A footnote to my Blog re California November 2015:
ducksI wrote about the awful drought that Southern California was going through when I visited my Sister in California with a lot of restrictions on the usage of water, 2 minute showers etc. They still didn`t get much rain last year until the end of the year when they had several storms following each other. To date they have had so much rain that the rivers and gardens cannot take any more. A dam in Orriville Northern California overflowed and 180,000 people were evacuated. All this before the snow has melted on the mountains which runs down to the rivers. Some wild ducks obviously took a liking to to the very wet garden and have been visiting my Sister`s garden every day and making themselves at home. The good news is, at least the drought is over for now!
That`s about all for this time gardeners, enjoy the start of Spring and all the new planting ready for the summer……..

Jean Willis
I started gardening 65 years ago on my Dad’s allotment and now live in Bournemouth, where spend a lot of time gardening since retiring. In 2012 I won the Gold Award for Bournemouth in Bloom Container Garden. I am a member of Thompson & Morgan’s customer trial panel.

Y Mis Bach – The little month

Hello Gardeners,

Hope you are all well. I’m writing this from the comfort of my living room as Storm Doris rages across the UK. Luckily there is no damage to the greenhouses but our rotary washing line has snapped in two.

In Welsh February is sometimes known as “Y Mis Bach” meaning little month or short month, so maybe it’s not a coincidence that February’s flower is the primrose, a short little thing that brings a lot of cheer. Our primroses aren’t flowering yet, but I do have Bergenia, Daffs, Crocuses the purple Daphne in flower. The Dutch Iris leaves are at least two feet high as are the flag irises. The Japanese Maple and weeping cherry tree has tiny buds forming. Last year’s tulips in pots are magically regrowing and are a few inches high already.

daphne tulips

I’m afraid I’m behind in my seed planting, all because of Valentine’s Day, no I wasn’t treated to a romantic break at a luxury Parisian hotel. I spent it at hospital having my tumour removed as part of my final cancer treatment, now although I am allowed in the garden I’m not allowed to lift anything heavier than a cup for 4 weeks and then nothing heavier than a bag of sugar for a further 12 weeks. I’m determined my blog is not going to have to be renamed A Year Not Allowed in the Greenhouse, so again I will be recruiting Mark to do the jobs for me.

The following is a list of things to be done by the end of the month:

  • Sow tomato and herb seeds.
  • Plant the Gladioli bulbs that I have been delivered early.
  • Send someone up the garden centre for aubergine seeds.
  • Sow the seed potatoes that have chitted themselves in my food cupboard
  • Plant up the Camellia my Auntie Mary gave me as a get well gift.
  • Plant up my Christmas Flowering shrub collection

In the large greenhouse a clump of daffodils have shot up in one of the borders, they look very pretty but I’m not sure how the bulbs have got in there, I’m going to let them flower then when the leaves die back Mark will dig up the bulbs and plant them elsewhere in the garden. On the shelf there is a Spider plant that’s looking unhealthy I think the frosty weather got to it, however they are quite tough plants so I think if mum cuts off the dead bits it may still grow. Additionally there is an Ivy that we had for Christmas that is growing well in the basket it came in, soon it can be transplanted to our west facing wall. I love native Ivy for its scented flowers and shiny black berries, but I love it more when it’s being pollinated by bees, wasps, butterflies and hover-flies as the whole wall sounds like it’s being electrified. It’s a great place too for spiders to hunt in, and often at the base where the Ivy is at its thickest both the wren and the blackbirds dart in and out looking for tasty bugs.

In the small greenhouse I’m still waiting for my seeds to germinate, again due frosty weather and me being over keen to get things growing I may have sown them to early. The aloes are starting to respond to the longer days and do not appear to be as dark a green as they were last month. However, part of the money tree has broken off and the leaves have turned a bit yellow. We cut out all the dead bits so I’m hoping it just a phase and it will pick up again.

daffodils leeks

Soon it will be St David’s Day, (1st March) and this is usually the start of spring for me. Growing up in St David’s we would celebrate the day in the way youngsters down there still do; girls dressing in traditional Welsh Woman’s costume of a skirt, thick shawl and black bonnet, and boys with thick shorts/trousers shirts and flat caps, then with morning lessons cut short to attend a celebration day mass at the Cathedral, each child or adult would have either a fresh daffodil or piece of leek attached to their lapel. After the service we would walk the half mile back from the cold cathedral to school for a warming bowl of Cawl, (Thick root vegetables, potatoes and meat broth) bread and cheese, followed by Hot Welsh Cakes. Perfect. From then on adult conversations would change from the hardships of winter to early potatoes and lambing. I moved from St David’s in my 20s but went back to visit just before my operation I went to St Non’s healing well which is reputed to have sprung up on the day St David was born. There was a beautiful clump of snowdrops on the
path down to the well and I was so tempted to pick some I love flowers in the wild.

My nieces have informed me that they are having a potato growing competition at home. They are trying the Albert Bartlett variety, but they told me they spent ages with daddy looking at the different ones in the shops. I told them I would be growing Charlottes as they make a delicious potato salad. I will let you know what their results are, the girls are pretty competitive so I’m sure there will be a lot of stories along the way.

The final gardening thing that I have done this month is to send off for sone free tree seeds from the Woodland Trust. They recently sent an email explaining they would like volunteers to take part in growing, monitoring and reporting on five different species and I was lucky enough to be able to take part. The seeds come in their own plug of compost with detailed instructions on how to germinate them and bring the saplings on. I did think carefully about whether or not I have room for five more trees as we already have a weeping cherry, a standard cherry, a Japanese maple,a Canadian maple, plus two dwarf apples and a dwarf pear, and a yet to fruit plum tree. I also have many shrubs including the four new ones, but in the end I decided I will use them to make a new native hedge between us and next door, it will take a few years for them to reach maturity and it will be a long term project to look forward to.

Until next month,
Love Amanda xx

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.

Nutritious knobbly tuber is surprise best-seller

oca tuber

An odd-looking tuber vegetable is proving to be a surprise best-seller for mail order horticultural firm, Thompson & Morgan.

ocaOca is a knobbly root vegetable that looks a bit like an artichoke. Don’t worry though; they don’t have the same windy after effect! The tubers have a tangy lemon taste which becomes deliciously nuttier when cooked. The red-skinned variety available from T&M have a crisp pale orange or creamy-coloured flesh – fans of ‘eating raw’ can simply wash and slice their oca tubers into salads or crunch them as a tasty and wholesome snack. Oca becomes more starchy when cooked and can be enjoyed similarly to potatoes – boiled, baked, mashed and fried – whilst the shoots and the attractive shamrock-shaped leaves can be added to salads for a tasty citrusy tang.

‘We think that people are buying oca in response to more information being available about it’, commented Paul Hansord, T&M’s commercial director. ‘Oca is easy-to-grow and nutritious and, thanks to some good press recently, it seems to be increasingly appealing to health-conscious gardeners and foodies alike’.

Oca – aka New Zealand yam (it is grown commercially in New Zealand, hence its alternative moniker) – is cultivated extensively in the Andes where it is second only to the potato in terms of the most widely-grown root vegetable. T&M’s trials showed that the perennial oca plant performed well in the UK climate and did not suffer from blight or any noticeable pests. Oca is known to tolerate poor soils and different climatic conditions, which makes it ideal for any British kitchen garden. Plants are attractive too, so gardeners can also cultivate their oca in containers on the patio or decking area.

new zealand yamThe nutritional and health-promoting benefits of oca make it well worth growing. It boasts a wide range of micro and macro nutrients including Vitamin C, iron, zinc, calcium, flavonoids, B vitamins and fibre. It is an excellent source of carbohydrates and phosphorus, as well as essential amino acids that promote the health and proper function of muscles, organs, nails, hair, skin and more. Oca is also notably low in calories.

Oca or New Zealand yam is available from Thompson & Morgan’s website www.thompson-morgan.com/oca . Due to the popularity of this nutritious, knobbly tuber and as T&M is only despatching oca until the end of March, customers are being offered 5 tubers for £4.50 and 10 tubers for £6.50 – half their original price. Gardeners will find full growing details for oca on the T&M website www.thompson-morgan.com//how-to-grow-oca-new-zealand-yam

Recipe idea
Rosemary roasted oca: Preheat oven to 200°C/Gas 6. Wash and then cut any larger oca into chunks so that they’re all roughly the same size. Toss in just enough olive or sunflower oil to coat and then sprinkle with fresh rosemary leaves. Season with salt and pepper. Roast for about 15 minutes for very small ones, 20-25 minutes or so for larger oca. They’re ready when they feel tender when pierced with a knife.

Sonia Mermagen
Sonia has recently returned to Thompson & Morgan in the role of marketing copy writer. She is a self-proclaimed ‘reluctant’ gardener and is generally amazed if anything flourishes in her garden. Sonia is a big fan of plants marked ‘easy to grow’, ‘drought tolerant’ and ‘no pruning necessary’. In her own garden, Sonia has a ‘hands off’ approach and believes that this encourages bees, butterflies and other wildlife. (That’s her excuse anyway!)

La Bonnotte – Chitting the most expensive potato in the world?

Being a plant breeder and having a young family doesn’t leave me a lot of time for leisure gardening, but still, as an unashamed plant geek, I can’t resist indulging in a few plants and veg. This month is all about a humble potato.

In early February I started chitting tubers of a very special potato on my windowsill: La Bonnotte. Being French you may think I am a bit biased, but of all the potato varieties I have ever had the chance of tasting, this definitely tops my gourmet list. Sautéed whole in their skin, simply with salted butter and herbes de Provence, they are truly divine, with an unforgettable sea-like, sweet, citrusy and chestnutty note. It’s important to cook them in their skins to keep the taste, but the inward eyes would make peeling almost impossible anyway. I had ordered 2kg of seed potato and when they arrived, I was very tempted to cook some straight away… This was far worse than the Stanford marshmallow experiment, but I shall wait until harvest time!

la bonnotte

La Bonnotte is normally grown on the small island of Noirmoutier, where the light sandy soil, oceanic microclimate and the addition of seaweed all participate in developing the unique flavour. It may also have to do with the absolute TLC every plant receives: La Bonnotte is planted by hand using the old technique of lazy beds – definitely not for the lazy gardener – which are essentially wide, parallel raised beds without any wooden borders. On the mere 5 hectares where they are grown, the tubers are planted on the 2nd of February and harvested before maturity 90 days later. The backbreaking job of harvesting and severing the growing tubers from the mother plant is again all done manually; machine harvest would just ruin the soft skins and delicate aromas.

With the mechanisation of agriculture in the 60s, La Bonnotte very nearly became extinct, but it was saved in extremis by passionate Noirmoutier growers and the INRA in the 90s. By April 1996, it was ready to go back on the market to the delight of chefs and gourmets alike. The first hand-harvested crop of 5 kg was auctioned and fetched the incredible price of €2,300, making La Bonnotte the most expensive potato in the world. Nowadays the price is more like €10 a kilo for the very first ones, still a high price for a spud!

Now back to reality. I very much doubt I’ll have the time and dedication to build lazy beds and add Irish moss seaweed when my own La Bonnotte tubers are finally ready for planting. I think I’ll plant some in the ground and some in bags. I’ll also be growing some tasty Jazzy as backup and comparison. Suffolk is a tad colder than Noirmoutier so I plan on planting in early March and won’t be able to taste them until the end of May. By then I’ll know if La Bonnotte tastes just as good without the influence of the sea, even if in Noirmoutier it has been nicknamed pomme de mer.

Charles Valin
During his time with Thompson & Morgan, Charles has developed over 40 unique creations across a wide range of genera, while overseeing T&M’s unique breeding programme. It can take many years to develop a new variety that would be suitable for us to share with our customers and so we are always thrilled when a brand new variety is ready to add to our catalogue.
One of Charle’s proudest achievements is the Multi Award Winning Foxglove ‘Illumination Pink’ which not only was winner of ‘Plant of the Year 2012’ at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show but also Best New Product at the Anglian Business Awards and Best New Product at the Garden Retail awards. In addition to all these awards, James Armitage, Principal Scientist of Horticultural Taxonomy at RHS Garden Wisley, has announced Digitalis x valinii as the correct botanical naming convention for all existing and future crosses of D. purpurea and D. canariensis.

How to Choose The Best Plants to Compliment Your Pond

Getting the right balance of plants is essential for a healthy and thriving pond habitat.

To achieve good visual interest, you may wish to consider getting a combination of foliage and flowers sitting at different levels in and around your pond; bearing in mind that most plants only flower for a few months out of the year.

It is therefore useful to take a note of the height or planting depth, spread, and flowering season of your favourite varieties of pond plant, in order to plan effectively.

You will also need to calculate the pond surface area and depth, to avoid overcrowding, and to ensure that the plants grow to the perfect height in the water.

The positioning of plants is a crucial aspect and will depend on the plant type.

waterlily

Area Surrounding the Pond

Bog plants nest in the watery area surrounding the pond. Whilst the soil needs to be wet for the plants to thrive, it should not be submerged, so take care to ensure that the border does not fill with water after a downpour.

A few examples of plants that work well in boggy conditions include Astilbe varieties, such as the Astilbe chinensis which has lilac plumes between July and September, and grows to around 30cm high; Typha, also known as bulrush, which feature a round brush like flower on a spiky stem; and Gunnera manicata, which are suitable for larger ponds, with their huge, dramatic leaves.

Shallow Areas at the Edge of the Pond

Marginal plants sit on the edges of the pond, with their roots submerged in the shallow water.

Plants that are ideal include several varieties of Iris, such as the Japanese Iris, which produces dramatic coloured flowers around May to June; the Alisma plantago-aquatica, which is known as the water plaintin, and produces small flowers between June and August; the Calla palustris, which has beautiful large white flowers from June to August; and Mentha aquatica, also known as water mint, which produces many dense clusters of tiny purple flowers between July and October, and grows to 90cm. The latter spreads quickly, so you may need to plant it in a basket to restrict its growth.

The Deepest Areas of the Pond

The most popular deep water plants are of course, water lilies. However, it is important to be aware that there are many different types. You will need to choose your water lilies based on the depth of the pond, as they grow to different heights.

The Nymphaea Alba has large white flowers, and can be planted at 60cm to around 3 metres; whereas the Nymphaea caerulea only needs to be planted at around 20cm, and will produce beautiful blue flowers. There are also red lilies and yellow lilies available that grow to different heights, so your pond can be covered with a burst of colour in the summer.

As well as being beautiful, lilies are also useful. They also provide valuable shade for fish from the hot summer sun, and as their leaves cover the pond, the reduction of sunlight will help restrict algae growth.

Algae can also be stifled by hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum) and water violets (Hottonia palustris), as they are good examples of plants that feed on the nutrients that algae need to survive.

pond

Choosing Plants for Pond Life

If you are going to keep fish, or just want to encourage natural pond life, then you will need to choose good oxygenators; plants which are fully submerged in the pond and produce oxygen.

These plants make use of the nitrates created from fish waste, and the carbon dioxide released by fish during respiration, converting them into food.

Maintaining this delicate ecosystem is vital for the success of your pond. If you have too many plants, or too many fish, the whole cycle could collapse.

A great plant to start with is Anacharis, as all you need to do is weight the plant, and drop it into the pond. It is a vigorous grower, so make sure you trim it back every now and again to keep it in check. One bunch per square foot should be sufficient for a small pond.

Other varieties of oxygenators include Groenlandia densa, or opposite-leaved pondweed; and Callitriche hermaphroditica or water starwort, although this may grow too rapidly for a small pond. Water cress is also a good oxygenator.

Aftercare

The final step is to ensure you have sufficient time to maintain the pond after you have planted it up. Many of the plants will require specific aftercare, such as trimming back, or cutting away seed heads, and gaining this knowledge at the planning stage will help you to stay on top of the maintenance of your pond.

Please visit my Lifestyle Blog for more pond plant ideas and inspiration.

Linda Firth
Linda Firth is a keen gardener and owner of a mature garden with a fish pond. She runs the Lifestyle blog for LoveMyVouchers.co.uk, where she documents and shares her gardening experiences and insights.

Chronicles of Kate – Garden Design: Dilemmas, Delphiniums and Monty Don

I love to look at garden magazines- in fact this is one of the highlights of my Sunday morning along with listening to Gardener’s Question Time on BBC Radio 4. I find the programme both amusing and informative and being on the radio makes it even better.

Why is this? Because at least on the radio I am not looking at the gardens while the topic of the programme is, for example, on the use of herbaceous perennials in borders. I am interested in this very subject because I have been struggling to get my borders to look good and it has taken quite a long time. I had a few things in the main one last year – it is south facing so good for anything that needs a lot of sun but can get really hot plus the soil is not great at all; dry and full of small stones.

lavenders

Since I started my garden, I have become quite a gardening geek when it comes to making sure I plant what will grow there versus what I would like to grow. In fact, I have gone so far as to plant things I don’t really like i.e. 48 lavender plug plants (can you honestly tell the difference between a Hidcote and a Munstead?) I couldn’t go into my living room for a week and when I did it made me feel sick – there was nothing soothing or relaxing about it – except for when I had to get outside for a relaxing walk to get rid of my headache (isn’t lavender meant to help you relax?). I just found the whole lavender thing really stressful in the end but I thought I would try them since they do well on poor soil.

vegetables

I am not a fan of either cucumbers or runner beans – possibly courgettes in the form of cake smothered in lemon poppy seed icing. But I have a small garden and a lot of the easy to grow vegetables recommended for small spaces are not what I would like to grow, in fact last year caused me more effort than if I had just grown a patch of mint or other herbs – thyme for example – useful for just about any culinary adventure. Note! Do not plant courgettes or cucumbers if you don’t have an outdoor tap – and are not prepared to lug buckets and bucket of water outside. (I am now on more than friendly terms with Thames Water).

My point to this is that you should not be persuaded to plant what you don’t want to because it is recommended in a magazine and because it is easy to grow. Who is growing these vegetables and what is the definition of easy? Turn to Monty Don and his very easy crop of cucumbers – the kind suitable for a small space – usually these are the F1 Hybrid types – I still don’t know what the F stands for but I am sure every gardener trying to grow these easy veg could come up with a few words and I don’t think it would be fork, fertilizer or farmyard. An aside here- why are gardeners put into this stereotype of passive types poking around in the veg patch looking complacent conjuring up imagines of Franciscan friars taking time off from prayers to check out the grapes for the next wine harvest. It sounds ideal- but isn’t the picture in my garden or I would think in a lot of gardens. Gardeners come in all forms but I can imagine there are a few Gardening versions of Gordon Ramsey- in fact Alan Titchmarsh made a few comments about this in one of his monthly articles in Gardeners World magazine pointing out that some of the expletives coming out of the garden shed would make your hair curl or at least get your tomatoes to ripen a few months earlier than anticipated.

show garden

Leaving the F1 hybrids aside, let’s take a look at the influence of gardening magazines. Why is it that every time I sit down to flip through the pages of the latest copy of a gardening magazine I go from looking forward to the helpful advice of the expert gardeners to putting my tea down and almost crying by the time I get to the page 3 centre fold garden of the month- of which the garden belongs to a reader of the magazine that has sent the photo in as a standard to strive for and an indication of what all gardeners can do with a bit of determination and a bag of money received after discovering the Roman coin in the poor soil. I ask you. I am not convinced that having a half acre garden on Scilly where the front entrance is adorned with massive pots of banana plants is a very practical example. Moving on to the next shot of the two owners standing on a lawn surrounded by herbaceous borders growing 5 foot delphiniums ( tip- these make a stunning display at the back of a border) does it need to be said?

soil testerIf you are happy to go ahead with the soil you have then I would suggest that you take the time to do a soil test to find out the type. I made this mistake with the lavender because after all the fuss about it and the time it took to bring on all the plug plants and after taking the time to read up on the type of soil conditions which involved mixing in a good amount of horticultural grit- after all of this they haven’t done very well because I forgot about testing to find out the type of soil- acidic or alkaline. I will be taking a look at this topic in my next post along with how to improve your soil after you are familiar with it giving you more choice of what to grow using basic composts and organic matter without over doing it and spending too much money but keeping in mind plants that will grow well in the specific type including conditions i.e. clay, poor drainage, silty etc.

I look forward to any comments and while talking about delphiniums – should we have a Delphinium growing contest? Or how about Larkspurs?

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