Hello Everyone. This is my first blog for T&M and I approached them because I want to try something new and grow something edible in my vastly overcrowded cottage garden.
We live in a 1920’s terrace house in North London and have a cottage garden front and back. We feel very fortunate to have a long front garden path and a back garden big enough to eat out in.
This is how it looked in 1988 when we moved in.
And this is how it looks now.
Here is a picture of the front
And here is the back
I fell in love with this style when I saw Geoff Hamilton on TV years ago building his Paradise Garden at Barnsdale. I was hooked. My style is to cram everything I like in to the borders and pots including scented shrubs, easy perennials, simple herbs, clematis and honeysuckle, Spring bulbs and autumn colour. Some of my favourites are hardy geraniums, pulmonaria, primroses, euphorbia of all kinds, heleniums and sedums.
Ideas for this year
So now my idea is to start small and grow something I can eat. After hours of browsing I’ve decided salad crops and maybe strawberries might be the best to start with. I don’t think I get enough sun for tomatoes and as you can see I have no greenhouse or cold frame.
Two problems spring to mind. As the borders become so abundant in summer any crops in the beds would surely get smothered. Secondly I do have to contend with rats, squirrels and pigeons running around the beds and pots. I don’t have a problem with slugs as I avoid growing anything they like to eat but if I want to grow salad crops how will I manage?
I intend to get all the advice I can from T&M and elsewhere and in my next blog I shall report my progress.
Until then, lots of research and planning awaits me but it will be worth it in the end!
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.
I hope everyone had a great Christmas and New Year and are now ready for the new gardening year ahead.
During the summer of 2016 I planted Passiflora Caerulea and it soon grew to eight feet, must really have loved it in the full sun. I had around six flowers on it by early Autumn and then I noticed the fruit about the size of an egg appearing and turning gradually yellow. By then the days were colder but left them on the plant to see if they developed any further. The first week of January I decided to take the fruit off and cut them open and was very surprised to see that there was a lot of ripe flesh inside. I decided not to eat them as they had been around for a while and was not sure if they were edible after so long.
The Freesias I planted back in October started to grow far too quickly so I put more compost on them so the frost wouldn`t catch the tops but that only helped the local cats to use my containers as their toilet and scratched up the bulbs several times. Not wanting to to use anything that would hurt the cats but would stop them I asked a neighbour if I could have some branches of holly from her bush. That really did the trick with no damage to man nor beast.
On a mild day I checked the garden and noticed the Nemesia I had planted in a coloured pot during last summer were still growing and flowering as was some Cerinthe Major whose seeds had dropped on to the garden and had started to shoot, the plants are standing around 12” tall at the moment but I am afraid that when we get some very hard frosts it could be goodbye to them. My Hydranga `Annabelle` which had beautiful huge balls of white flowers, were still holding their own even though all the white heads are now brown, but still looking beautiful.
This Autumn I decided to plant up a couple of containers with a Winter Collection of small shrubs which gives a very nice show of various colours, and in the summer can be planted out in the garden.
My roses are in four containers but don`t really seem to be happy they all lost their leaves at one point and I did wonder if it was irregular watering that was causing it, although the bottoms of the containers were quite wet, so I am making room to put them into the border in front of a fence. If anyone has any answers re losing their leaves I would be very pleased to hear from you, this is their third year. The roses bloomed and looked great apart from the loss of leaves..
Having won Gold and Silver awards for my Container garden and hanging basket in 2016 for the Bournemouth in Bloom competition, I now have the challenge of turning the silver into gold for this year!
I have been making a provisional list of plants which I would like to grow from Thompson & Morgan for 2017 summer, I expect that will be re-written a couple of times before the final one. First of all we have to move a 5 ft.garden storage box and a small garden cupboard. The larger one is right into a corner and appears to be making the wall damp so will have to do some clearing out and moving it to under the kitchen window – fingers crossed.
I am hoping to try out a couple of Thompson & Morgan`s new Easy Fill baskets, I think the idea of having a solid piece of plastic holding the plants tight in their holes will stop the compost from falling out.
……………. so until we meet again, have fun deciding what you are going to grow this year, it`s getting lighter longer every day – hooray!!
It’s been a rather busy six months for me. I can’t quite see where my time has gone. Well, I say that, I spent a lot of it working in my client gardens. Unfortunately, this meant that I wasn’t able to look after my own pots as much as I’d have liked to. It certainly put the Fuchsia Berry to the Test! It really grew lots over the summer and it bloomed lovely to my surprise.
I had my first Berries from the plant in July. Albeit only a few. Never the less, I had berries and my first victims, umm I mean candidates, to try the berries and the flowers (along with myself) were my parents and my guinea pig. I wish I had been able to record my parent’s reactions, they were priceless! I did get a snap of Oscar trying his. He wasn’t too sure.
(I will apologise if you have been following me on twitter as I am using the same pictures in this blog as I have published on there!)
We all tried the flowers first. I ate each piece individually, which is probably best when you first try them as each bit tastes different. Mum on the other hand put the whole thing in in one go and then proceeded to proclaim, while screwing her face up ‘how could you give me something so foul! You evil child!’ All in jest of course. My dad had played the tactical game waiting for our responses before he would dare to try it. Now he was a little put off by mum’s reaction but I managed to get him to try a bit and after a few small bites he said he didn’t mind it but wouldn’t rush to have another one.
The berries were a different story. We all enjoyed them and I got my Grandad to try some when I had a few more and gave him some to take home to nanny for her to try. They never made it home. I don’t think they even made it out of the door!
The berries to me taste like a cross between a blueberry and a grape. The skin has a slightly bitter taste but that maybe because I was feeding my plant with Worm Tea from my wormery.
Over the next few months I trapped more people into trying my berries. Nearly everyone who I asked to try them were dubious whether I was trying to poison them. Ye of little faith! Of course, I promised the I wasn’t and I ate them in front of them to prove that I was going to be poisoned as much as they were. Their responses were much the same as mine. They either said blueberry or grape or a mix of the two.
When it came to the flowers though a few really protested that you can’t eat Fuchsia flowers. Even with me eating them in front of them and explaining that Thompson and Morgan have tested it and verified it is safe they still wouldn’t. Those who did try them had a similar response to my dad. Although they did say that it wasn’t what they were expecting but they did taste ok and would eat them again if they were on their plate.
I think the reason why the flowers got such a bad reaction from my mum and an alternative reaction from others that tried them was because they don’t taste anything like you expect them to. They trick you. Being the hot pink and purple that they are, you expect them to be sweet like most other things of their colouring are. But don’t be fooled. When in their prime picking season, mid-summer, the stamens have a fiery kick to them, like pepper crossed with chilli and the petals and bracts taste like rocket and red mustard leaves. If you want to give your salad an exotic twist this is certainly the thing to do it with.
It was my mum’s birthday in August so, being the good daughter that I am, I made her a birthday cake. Chocolate sponge with chocolate fudge icing and chocolate sprinkle and sugar flowers. Pretty eurgh if you ask me, but then I don’t really like chocolate. More of a tomato girl. Any way just before I lit the candles and we sung the obligatory ‘Happy Birthday’ I went out into the garden and picked some Flowers along with some of my home-grown strawberries to finish the cake off. I think they added that extra little bit of pizzazz! Although mum still wouldn’t eat them even with Chocolate fudge icing on them.
The Fuchsia Berry is certainly a good conversation starter and this year I hope to see if feeding it sugar water makes a difference to how it tastes. But for now, it is tucked up in fleece inside my heated greenhouse.
I wish you all a Happy New Year and a prosperous and plentiful growing season to come,
Christmas? Well thank goodness that’s over! So used to being outdoors am I (virtuous, smug) that being confined to quarters made me as sleepy as a dormouse. I reckon I was spending 14 hours a day either in or on the bed! Buoyed up by the prospect of increased day length (1 minute per day, yippee!) I have taken to mooching around the garden, peering at the earth for signs of life. And I haven’t been disappointed: crocus, snowdrops, narcissi; pulmonaria, cyclamen, Lords and Ladies; hellebores, scuttelaria integrifolia (Blue Helmet, cross between mint and salvia – look it up, it’s a thug but great for shade), sedum; and at eye level Clematis Freckles, little darling it is!
At this time of year there is no hiding place for hangers on I can tell you! I have been stalking around, beady eye looking out for howlers and as a result have a lovely list of removals in the offing: A variegated Philadelphus in a patio container never flowers well due to lack of bright sunlight and contributes nothing of interest to the winter displays. Where to put it in the borders though? It’s like the Domino effect here, what can I move on to make room for it? David reckons if he stands still too long he won’t be safe either! I can’t wait to get that clumsy spotted laurel out after sneering at it for years (ruthless terminator!) and replace it with Cornus Kousa Robert’s Selecte. The tree peony will be looking for a good home too. It doesn’t warrant its position as focal point of the fernery. Poor thing has only produced 3 flowers in its 5 year existence due to low light levels. I am rubbing my hands together in glee at the boundless planting possibilities: Maybe the T&M Blechnum Brasiliensis Volcano?
No more excuses! The miscanthus has to be lifted and divided in spring before it swallows up neighbouring thalictrum and euphatorium. Oh the effort, the mess, the clearance! Ah, but once it’s done think of the extra space. (Do you have two little green men on your shoulders arguing away behind your back? Only wish they could do the digging as well.) And bidens Hannay’s Lemon Drop is creeping through the salvia uliginosa and has to be stopped before it takes over. Trouble is, that whole section of bed will have to come up to separate them all. Perleeease! I’m exhausted already!
Some things seem to be a bridge too far though, like resolving to grow culinary herbs outside the back door. Trouble is, they start off vigorously enough in Spring, but by summer the passiflora canopy has shaded them out, and or the cats have been grazing on them. Maybe hanging baskets?
It’ll be a month or so before I can really get stuck in, but I shall console myself during the frosts by scouring the new Spring T&M catalogue. Plenty of sumptuous ideas for container planting, as well as delicious new tomato and veg varieties. A Must-Have addition to the allotment will be strawberry Just Add Cream, introduced to us at last Summer’s T&M Triallist’s Open Day. But more about the forthcoming year’s trials in my next blog.
In the meantime, here are some of my personal favourites from our garden throughout 2016:
Time moves on so quickly and 2017 will be the 5th year that I have been trialling plants for Thompson & Morgan in my multi-award winning seaside garden! Back in 2013, the first items I received were a Cox’s orange Pippin Apple Tree and a Plum Gage, Reine Claude. Back then we were sent whatever was chosen by the company and I feared that I would not be able to use then in my exposed coastal garden. Now, they are both established and have started to produce small amounts of fruit, always difficult here on the coast, with the wind blowing across the garden!
Another arrival that first Spring was a delicate rose ‘garden party’, which still flowers profusely in the front and back garden each Summer. Also received in the first year were Peruvian Tree Lily, Alstroemeria ‘Everest Collection’. These have been quite stunning year on year and much remarked on by our many garden visitors. They were all planted in a large container and are still doing really well. Last Summer, I was very lucky indeed to have trialled 2 brand new 2017 plants, featured in the Spring catalogue. The stunning new fuchsia ‘Icing Sugar’ on the front cover and the equally beautiful Bidens ‘Firelight’ on page 11. I’d suggested 2 names for the plants, but I’m afraid they weren’t the final ones chosen! However, my quote on the Fuchsia was used in publicity last November.
“Geoff Stonebanks, gardening writer, blogger and creator/owner of The Driftwood Garden near Lewes in Sussex, trialled ‘Icing Sugar’ for T&M last year and says: “The beautiful new fuchsia, ‘Icing Sugar’, certainly lives up to its name; a delicate and frosted gem.” Geoff added: “As an avid fuchsia lover, this delicate and frosted ‘Icing Sugar’, on show in my garden for the first time this summer, is utterly stunning.”
Both of these plants are ones I would heartily recommend for anyone’s garden this Summer.
So, what can I and my garden visitors look forward to seeing in 2017 from Thompson & Morgan? We’re set to open 14 times this summer and already have several coach trips booked into the garden as well, as a result of me and the garden being seen on BBC Gardeners’ World last Autumn. Here’s what we will be receiving in the next few months. Strawberry ‘Just Add Cream™’. Petunia Amore ‘Queen of Hearts’, Buddleja davidii ‘Wisteria Lane’, Geranium ‘Black Rose’, Osteospermum ‘Falling Stars’. Gazania ‘Shepherd’s Delight’, Calendula ‘Winter Wonders Collection’. Petunia ‘Mini Rosebud Romantic Peachy’, Sweet Pea ‘Earl Grey’ and finally Petunia ‘Night Sky’ again, as it was such a success in 2016.
The information both on-line and in the Spring catalogue certainly made me want to see these on show in the garden. Who could resist the chance to smell the intense perfume that evokes childhood memories of your first taste of a strawberry or appreciate the fashionable new sweet pea, offering stunning colour on both sides of the graduated or ‘flaked’ petals. I’m really looking forward to seeing how they all grow this Summer and will be posting update son my garden web site throughout the season. Check them out at wwww.driftwoodbysea.co.uk