I have just potted on thirty six tomato seedlings of seven varieties. Mountain Magic for its blight resistance, Country Taste for those big tasty fruits, Sweet Aperitif and Sungold for the delicious little mouthfuls, Red Alert a bush tomato that fruits very early on the bench outside and San Marzano for the best tasting pasta sauce to see me through the year.
I also spent some time in the sunshine yesterday digging bean trenches and filling them with compost from the heap, it will have time to settle before putting in the canes. The chickens enjoyed that, pulling out a few worms, wireworms, ants and those tiny black slugs that only they seem to see.
More compost was laid on the flower beds around the herbaceous perennials and shrubs to help keep down the weeds and retain moisture. We do have very dry summers here in East Anglia and every drop of water is precious. Three IBC (Intermediate Bulk Container) tanks with a watering system attached are in the fruit and vegetable garden but the flowers have to fend for themselves so mulching is a great help. We channel all our surface water collected in water butts to a large underground storage tank and from there it can be pumped into the IBC’s throughout the season. How lucky am I to have a very practical husband!
January, supposedly named after the god Janus, a two headed figure who could look to both the future and the past, the reason why we make resolutions at this time of year, to change things in our life. So it’s no surprise then, that we gardeners are very probably this month perusing seed catalogues, drawing up plans, and generally getting our kit ready for the growing year.
Ianuarius – (Latin for January) translates to a doorway – and this is where I feel I am, getting ready to step out into a new adventure. I can’t believe this will be my third year for blogging for T&M! Last year was not my best gardening year due to my cancer, but this year, I really hope to catch up and transform the garden, learn new things and have a lot of fun on the way.
The first thing I learned this year is how powerful plants can be. During my final session of chemotherapy, I decided to google what goes into the drugs that are saving my life. Cabol, was a synthetic and uninteresting drug, but Taxol, as the name suggests, is derived from the Pacific Yew tree. It also contains poisonous plant alkaloids from the periwinkle (Vinca Major) and the American wild mandrake, commonly known as the May Apple. Plus it has extracts from the Asian Happy tree a 40 meter giant that is also grown in Canada – no one would choose to ingest these, no wonder I have felt so rough!
But now with the chemo over I am no longer banned from the greenhouse, so I sit with my seed tins beside me and make a list of everything I want to grow this year. I start by picking out the fruit and veg I want, I’m going to grow both yellow and red tomatoes. Yellow Stuffer, and either Mountain Magic or Sweet Aperitif. I also pick Bullhorn and Sweet Boneta peppers as well as chilli Prairie Fire. The heritage pea Alderman is also on my list. I have asked if I can trial aubergine Listada De Gendia and some melon seeds and some Calendula. I hope I am allowed.
I will also be working on my new grassy knoll area, so I will be growing Banksia Hookeriana, and Horses Tails, as well as a variety of other grasses. When it comes to flowers, I seem to be especially attracted to all things orange this year. I am thinking of buying the Dahlia Jowey Linda, I love its pom-pom shape; I will mostly likely be growing Zinnias, Star or Veldt and Cosmos too.
My other mad plan is I want to have a charity plant sale with all of the extra plants I end up growing. I want to raise money for a local cancer support group who have been amazingly helpful in the last few months. I have no idea if I can achieve everything but I’m definitely going to give it a go.
To kick start the growing year, Mark has already sieved the compost and sown the peas, peppers and chillies. Nothing has germinated yet, but they have only been in for about ten days. The weather has been unusually mild with only one or two days of frost. Most days it’s at least 8 degrees and our lawn is growing, and will probably need a cut soon.
Apart from the germinating seeds, inside the little greenhouse I have some winter flowering shrubs that I had on special offer for £10 back in December from T&M. They are Chimonanthus praecox – ‘Wintersweet’, Viburnum x bodantense ‘Dawn’ plus Sarcococca confusa. I also took advantage of a magazine offer to claim an extra Viburnum X bodantense, fertiliser and snips for just the price of P&P, so it worked out about £4 per shrub. Bargain! The shrubs can be planted any time between now and March, Mark has already repotted them into 9cm pots as the roots are establishing quickly. Ideally the bigger the rootball the better they should settle in the garden.
I am hoping to transplant them in February, I don’t want to take the risk of frost damage or high winds just yet. Also the small flowers on the Wintersweet are making the greenhouse smell divine.
There are also the ever present Aloe Veras, some mint that needs repotting badly, and the Money tree.
In the large greenhouse we have random amaranthus seedlings growing where the aubergines were last year. I have no idea how they got there. The only thing I can think of is the seeds must have lay dormant in the soil from when we grew them at the edge of the wall before the greenhouse was built. I am leaving them grow for now and will transplant them when they are bigger. Amaranthus are really hardy, I have let them dry out completely in pots and they always bounce back. They love the heat and the longer they have in the greenhouse the bigger they become. There is also a Christmas basket containing a baby conifer and an ivy. The basket also contained Poinsettia, but it didn’t seem to live very well in our house. These plants are going to go into the garden eventually, but for now they are getting used to no longer being in the central heated warmth.
Another offer that T&M did with a magazine recently was to claim 40 free Gladioli bulbs for just £5.95. I wasn’t going to order them, but then I started reading the Margery Fish Cottage Garden Plants book, and her enthusiasm rubbed off on me, so I accidentally bought them too! Whilst I have longed for a cottage style garden, her insight showed me an obvious flaw in why I can’t really have the garden I desire. A cottage garden is usually surrounded by stone walls. Walls that will hold in the heat and protect the plants, we have a wooden picket fence along our front garden meaning that although it will filter the wind and offer some protection, it’s not ideal. Although saying that I do have success growing lupins and and foxgloves so there is hope yet.
My brother, Andrew, has recently bought a Veg Trug™ and flower pouches so he and his girls can grow strawberries and vegetables this year. He also says he going to finish building his greenhouse. (This is an ongoing saga, but at least now the base has been done.) My niece was so excited when I sent her and her sisters some seeds to try. I gave them lettuce, carrots, basil and tomatoes. Things that should germinate easily and quickly so they don’t have to wait too long for the results. It’s so good to see youngsters getting involved in gardening and making the connection between the land and the plate. Hopefully it will set them up to make healthy food choices and encourage them to be outdoors rather than inside on a computer. As well growing their own produce the girls regularly help their grandparents in the greenhouse, and me in mine when they visit.
Mum has two projects on the go, firstly she wants to grow her own tomatoes this year, but she wants to raise them from seed. So she is making a cold frame from the vegetable trays from her old fridge. I like this idea of recycling the plastic boxes, as they already have drainage holes in them and they are deep enough to hold several pots. Her other task is to redesign her tiny front garden. When I say tiny, I mean it, as you can see from the picture. She wants to keep the roses and the gravel but she says she wants a new theme. I am rubbish at designing and my gardening style is too wild for her. By that I mean I grow for nature rather than myself. I have native flowers, wild flowers and stinging nettles in borders for the butterflies. I grow sedums, hebe and ivy for the bees, honeysuckle for the ladybirds and leave the seed heads on Verbena Bonarienses for the Blue Tits. I love the dandelions, buttercups, thistles, clover and daisies that grow in our lawns which most people, including Mark, hate. In return I am rarely plagued by pests. The worst I have is earwigs in the dahlias, as looking after the insects means we have a variety of other creatures visiting our garden. We have a massive family of house sparrows, as well as a resident wren, robin and collard doves. We have a family of blackbirds and magpies, plus plenty of other feathered friends too. We have bats feeding in the summer, foxes, hedgehogs, and slow worms. Not bad for an urban garden in the industrial side of Pembrokeshire.
So there’s plenty to look forward to. Soon it will be time for my daffodils, grape hyacinth and crocuses to flower, they are budding, and there is new growth coming on last year’s trial Antirrhinums, these have stayed out all winter in a hanging basket on a west facing wall. They are yet to be named, and I didn’t see them in the catalogue, so I’m intrigued to see what other trialists make of them and if they were a success. I’m hoping to start off my sweet peas next. Then the potatoes.
Until next time.
Autumn is the time of year to think about cleaning and maintenance. To help with this, we have listed a number of tasks and tools to use. This is not an exhaustative list but includes some hints and tips to get you started.
Greenhouse, gardening & all-purpose cleaner
Greenhouse: The greenhouse is an important part of your autumn/winter plans. If you don’t already have one, now is the time to invest. If you are lucky enough, then it is time to have a cleanup. When most of your plants have died back, it is the perfect time to give the greenhouse a sweep. This removes any unwanted old compost, and decayed plant matter, making sure you keep those garden pests, such as wood lice, at bay. Get a good broom, and strong handle, lift all the old pots and containers off the floor, and sweep around. Give the floor and windows a good clean with a strong cleaning agent or disinfectant. This will rid your greenhouse of anything unwanted from the previous season. If you have completely cleared out the greenhouse, you could even use a pressure washer. When the greenhouse is empty, put in some insulation to keep everything warm over the autumn and winter seasons. If you have pots lying around, give them a wash and any old and broken pots can be used for drainage in new pots. For a treat, why not add a potting bench or bench tidy to the greenhouse for when you start sowing seeds.
Potting bench & bench tidy
Tidy Borders: Prune any late-flowering shrubs, or climbing roses, unless they are repeat flowerers, then prune when finished. Either sharpen secateurs and pruning shears, or invest in new, they perform better the sharper they are. After tidying borders, add well rotted manure to add nutrients to the ground, spent mushroom compost to insulate plant roots. Add a mulch with bark chips to suppress weeds during winter and the coming season. Clear overhanging plants from pathways to maintain access routes. Make time to trim evergreen hedges before winter sets in completely. This will keep them neat and tidy through the season. You could even install solar lighting to see your garden in the dark evenings.
Lawn mower & garden fork
Lawn Maintenance: Initially invest in a suitable lawn mower for your garden. Mow any long grass, ensuring you raise the height of the mower blades as grass growth is slowing down at this time of year. Try aerating your lawn with a garden fork, as this helps to improve drainage and aeration. Remove any thatch from the surface with a garden rake, and repair dead patches with grass seed. Use a lawn scarifier if you have a large area to cover. In January, try adding lawn edging to create a neat and tidy appearance, making maintenance easier during the coming months.
Secateurs & solar lighting
Compost bin: In preparation for all the fallen leaves and dead plant material to come over the coming months, buy a compost bin. Autumn leaves are a good addition to compost bins and ideal for leaf mould. However don’t compost rose leaves in case they have diseases such as black spot. If you are adding woody pruning to compost bins, shred or chop it first as they are slow to decompose.
Pond wizard & netting for brassicas
Fish and Bird Care: It is a good idea to add netting to your ponds to prevent leaves from falling in. Clean pond weed, and lay it out next to the pond for a couple of days to allow the wildlife to get back into the water. Add a bird bath, keeping it topped up with fresh water all through autumn and winter. Consider adding a bird feeder in the garden, keeping it topped up with bird seed and fat balls. Birds are real friends to the gardener keeping pest numbers down.
We hope these hints and tips help you to get your autumn and winter gardening underway. For more ideas, visit our What To Do In The Garden This Month, or our Top 10 Winter Tips.
I hope you have had a wonderful summer and are enjoying the fruits of your harvest. I have had the most successful year ever thanks to the reliable and strong seeds from Thompson & Morgan. I wish I had thought to count how many Tomato ‘Magic Mountain’ seeds we had. We had such a glut we were giving them to friends, neighbours, family and hospital staff. My mum has made me pasta sauce and tomato soup on a regular basis and my brother took some to make me a chutney although I have yet to see it!
Unfortunately, I can’t take the credit for looking after the watering and feeding of the plants as I haven’t been well enough It’s thanks to Mark and mum that the greenhouses have been kept going. The only thing I did was prune the tomato vines down to five foot, pinch out the side shoots and cut off the lower leaves as the fruits were forming.
My Uncle Vince who lives in Solva says he’s had the worst tomato crop ever. He thinks they’ve not had enough sun and they have been affected by blight. My Tomato ‘Magic Mountain’ have certainly lived up to the claim that they are blight resistant as so far there is no disease in our greenhouse and the weather is unpredictable at the moment.
Huge haul of tomatoes & delicious pasta sauce
Blogger Jean Willis who grows wonderful petunia displays sent me a few packets of seeds, the chillies didn’t take, they germinated well but a sudden hike in temperature when I was in hospital meant they were put under stress as they were on the hottest shelf in the greenhouse, all day. When they were watered intermittently at dusk the compost had dried out far too much,and they couldn’t recover. Mark had so much to do in the mornings I had to occasionally remind him by text to open the greenhouse doors and windows and damp down the floor. However, the Pepper ‘Sweet Bonita’ has been the best plant I have ever grown! They have even beaten the plug plants that I usually buy in terms of numbers of fruit, taste and size. Again I’m not sure if this is down to Mark looking after them, or that I have set the greenhouse planting up better than last year, by choosing the side closest to the house for the tomato vines so the heavy leaves and vigorous growth don’t shade out the sun for the slower and lower growing crops.
After carefully growing aubergines for my other brother, who still hasn’t managed to build his greenhouse (2nd year of having it) I ended up with too many plants, and I used up the last of my precious seeds. I gave a plant each to my auntie and mum, but both of them say that there are no fruits on theirs. Mum’s is outdoors as she does not have a greenhouse, and my Auntie Mary’s aubergine is in a pot in the greenhouse, but comes out to sit on the path in the day. Mum lives three miles away from me, and my auntie lives twenty odd miles away from me. I think it may be because the Enorma seeds tend to do better undercover.
I bought some cucamelons and they cropped really well, but due to having excess aubergine plants I could only grow them in a pot with a string frame in the greenhouse. They would have been better in the borders with a strong mesh support, however they did grow and fruit really well. It’s not something I will grow again though as I wasn’t keen on the taste, although it was funny watching people’s faces as they bit into the fruits and decided on what they tasted like or whether they liked them or not. Surprisingly it was my oldest niece Ffion who loved them. She even asked if she could take some home for her lunch box, I told her to take as many as she liked. This then led to her sisters Hattie and Gracie asking very sweetly if they could take some peppers, tomatoes and aubergines home to make a fruity rice dish for tea. I am glad I had more than enough for them to go home with.
This is the time of the year when I would be planning my winter crops, things like cauliflower, broccoli, onions turnip, spinach and Christmas Potatoes. I would be sowing seeds, sifting compost, and keeping an eye for spaces in the greenhouses to pop the plants into. However, the way it’s going I will still be eating summer fruits in the winter. The aubergines are still fruiting, as are the peppers and cucamelons, although I think the tomatoes will be finished by the end of the month. I also have been now banned from working with compost, and am not allowed into the greenhouses or garden without gloves on as I have started Chemotherapy. My treatment is weekly and for a possibility of eighteen weeks, with an operation after, so all I can do at the moment is delegate tasks to mum and Mark.
Just because I am having this treatment doesn’t mean that my gardening life has stopped, it’s just changed down a gear. For my birthday Mark bought me some Primula Vialii plug plants and they have been transplanted into individual three inch pots to overwinter on the shelves. These are in the small greenhouse along with three aubergines in pots, a massive begonia which is in the aloe borders. A squash plant is also in the small greenhouse, that I thought wouldn’t make it and the money tree which has put on loads of growth through the summer.
The big greenhouse has the tomato plants, aubergines, peppers, cucamelons and the basils. I also seem to
have a woodlice invasion too! But it’s my fault they are there as I didn’t tell Mark and mum to pick up all the dead material from the borders. Yesterday I had poor mum picking up the odd split tomato, dead leaves, spent trusses and random snails all in order to keep the greenhouse as clean as possible to help prevent diseases forming. I don’t mind the woodlice, but I occasionally heard a startled squeak from mum when she uncovered them under a leaf. I have stopped using slug pellets in the greenhouses as the plants are strong enough to cope with the irregular munch. I felt quite empowered saying snip this, cut that, compost that bit. Poor mum, but I did pay her in fresh raspberries and apples from the garden, and another tub of tomatoes.
Another great garden haul
The strangest thing to happen since I’ve being diagnosed with Cancer is that I’ve met some wonderful Thompson & Morgan customers in the three hospitals I have been in, and one of them a lovely lady called Lynne said she always reads my blogs. I was really shocked at this, because I only ever expect family or friends to read them I did say I still am as surprised as anyone else when things grow, as I’m still learning how to garden. I also had good advice from another great lady called Sally-Anne (aka Purple Pip) who insisted I get out in the fresh air as much as possible. I’ve made friends for life with Hazel, Kelly and Monica, and the support from Bloggers Geoff, Caroline and Jean has been incredible.
I am really hoping that I will have something to blog about in the next month or two if not I might just do a short winter blog, if not I will just have to rely on Geoff, Caroline, Jean and all of the other writers for my gardening fix.
Until next time, Take care, and Happy Gardening,
As this is my first blog, ever, I thought I would start by reflecting a little on where our gardening world has been going since the Second World War and, of course, where we are on the journey now!
Immediately after the war our successive Governments, of a variety of political persuasions, encouraged farmers and growers to maximise the cropping potential of every acre of land they could make productive. This move, in turn, caused what became known as the chemical treadmill. Where we applied stronger and stronger chemical products to kill off pests, diseases and weeds; that dared to attack our ever increasing acreages of crops. By the time we reached the 1970’s we had food mountains and wine lakes and had, without realising it, started to kill off wild flowers, insects, birds and wild animals in numbers that are now causing us serious concern.
Meadowland Mixture and Wildflower ‘Honey Bee Mixed’
When Rachel Carson wrote ‘The Silent Spring’ in 1962 few people listened to her concerns about the excessive use of chemical pesticides across the developed and developing world. When Dr. Chris Baines got the BBC to make the film ‘Bluetits and Bumblebees’ in the early 1980’s we all watched it but did not pick up the message. The Henry Doubleday Research Association (now Garden Organic), started in 1954 by Lawrence Hills has been encouraging amateur and professional growers to steer away from inorganic pesticides for over 60 years but who has been listening?
Now that scientific evidence and advanced knowledge of the damage that we have done to our planet over the last 60 + years has come into the public’s view, our Seed companies, breeders, researchers, nurseries and growers are seeing the potential market in offering us new strains of old favourites that require less and less pesticide attention.
Tomato ‘Mountain Magic’ and Carrot ‘Flyaway’ F1 Hybrid
Scanning through the first eleven pages of Thompson and Morgan’s 2016 Seed Catalogue, I have found five cultivars of popular vegetables that have known resistance to one problem or another. Tomato ‘Mountain Magic’ F1 is resistant to early and late blight; Carrot ‘Flyaway’ F1 is resistant to carrot root fly; Parsnip ‘Gladiator’F1 is resistant to Parsnip canker; Cucumber ‘Bella’ F1 and Courgette ‘Defender’ F1 are both resistant to powdery mildew.
Parsnip ‘Gladiator’ F1 Hybrid and Cucumber ‘Bella’ F1 Hybrid
Maybe someone will find strains of Impatiens and Aquilegias that are not devastated by Downy mildew in the future and Ash trees that are resistant to Ash dieback.
Busy Lizzy ‘Divine Mixed’ and Aquilegia ‘Swan Mixed’
This is all fantastic work on the part of breeders and growers and I feel sure that the list will get longer over the years as the pesticides gradually disappear from our Garden Centre shelves and pests and diseases become more resistant to them.
This cultural method of reducing the impact of pests and diseases should now be at the forefront in our battle with Mother Nature and, if we use physical barriers to help prevent attacks alongside the occasional use of biological control methods, we should be able to stop the use inorganic pesticides altogether.
Ground cover plants are useful in the garden for covering bare patches of soil beneath trees or shrubs or for covering steep banks where access is difficult. Their roots also help to stabilise soil on steep slopes. Ground cover plants brighten up otherwise dull areas and will suppress weeds, making them ideal for a low-maintenance garden. We’ve put together a list of some of the best ground cover plants, which are fast-growing and make an effective dense covering.
Ground cover plants for shade
From foliage to flowers there are plenty of colourful ground cover plants to light up a shady spot in your garden. Even vigorous plants may grow more slowly in heavier shade so don’t be too concerned if they are taking their time to spread. You may need to be more vigilant in weeding whilst these plants become established as the soil will be bare for some time. Once they do establish however, they will form an impenetrable mat.
Bergenia ‘Dragonfly Sakura’
Bergenia ‘Dragonfly Sakura’ is a hardy evergreen ground cover plant with incredible winter colour! The pretty blooms provide invaluable food for pollinating insects early in the year, and make dainty cut flowers too. Plant Elephant’s Ears in any well-drained soil in sun or dappled shade.
Heuchera ‘Patchwork’ Mix are prized for their colourful leaves, these versatile semi-evergreen perennials make excellent drifts of ground cover, adding a distinctive splash of colour to the front of borders, or even brightening winter containers.
Lily of the Valley
Lily of the Valley is a scented ground cover plant. Each delicate arching stem carries a flurry of snow-white, bell shaped blooms with a powerful, timeless fragrance. Set against of a carpet of lush green foliage, the exquisite blooms of Convallaria majalis make a wonderful cut flower for scented, springtime posies.
Ground cover plants full sun
From annual to evergreen ground cover plants, there are plenty of options for a sunny spot in the garden. Plants growing in full sun benefit from mulching in their first year to help retain moisture at their roots. If the weather is very hot and dry make sure you water your new plants regularly to help them establish. It’s also essential to keep on top of weeds so there is no competition for nutrients and water.
Delosperma ‘Hardy Mixed’
Delosperma ‘Hardy Mixed‘, Hardy ice plant, is fantastic for those hot, dry problem areas where many other plants would fail to establish.
Lily ‘Colour Carpet™ Mixture’
Lily ‘Colour Carpet™ Mixture’ is the only ground cover Lily that will flower within 10 weeks. These short stemmed dwarf lilies are a ‘must have’ for creating vibrant ground cover in exotic gardens, or edging paths and borders.
For more information take a look at our ground cover plants guide.