Amanda’s January Gardening Update

Hello Gardeners,

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.
Happy Gardening,
Love Amanda.

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.

How do bees survive over winter?

Wild Bee numbers have been declining for decades in the UK. This is due to the wild grasslands of this country diminishing by a massive 97%; and the widespread use of agricultural pesticides on farmlands up and down the country. The Government has urged gardeners to do their bit and help with this serious issue. Bee experts have called for a nationwide effort to protect this threatened genus.

Aubretia 'Cascade Purple' & Wildflower 'Honey-bee Flower Mixed'

Aubretia ‘Cascade Purple’ & Wildflower ‘Honey-bee Flower Mixed’

So what can gardeners do to help bees survive – especially during the winter months? Well there is plenty to do to help in small ways.

The first thing to do is leave a small patch of your garden to grow wild, and make sure it will not get disturbed in any way. Make it just as nature intended it, and you can do this by letting grass grow long and allowing wild flowers to bloom. If you have a north facing bank then this is the ideal spot to allow grass to overgrow. Bees like to burrow, especially when they need to hibernate and facing north is the most suitable for their hibernation.

It is also important to grow plants which will provide an essential food source for the bees during the colder months. Such plants as spring flowering plants and winter flowering plants are a good idea. Perhaps an aubrietia or acacia dealbata. Hedera hibernica ivy is also good for wildlife gardens, fast growing it is ideal if you want to get your wildlife garden going quickly.

Echium vulgare 'Blue Bedder' & Wildflower mixed seeds

Echium vulgare ‘Blue Bedder’ & Wildflower mixed seeds

For your wildflower garden you can scatter seeds straight into the ground, with one of our wildflower seed mixes, so there is no need for potting up or pricking out. For early flowering plants crocus bulbs and snowdrops are perfect, they provide early springtime food supplies to sustain the bees until more spring flowers arrive.

Most bees exist in a state of near hibernation during the winter but having food to eat during this time will give them a much better chance of surviving until the next spring. Summertime flowers are frequently seen in the garden; but extending the time there are nectar rich flowers into early spring and late autumn is increasingly important for the bee’s survival.

Anemone 'Wild Swan' & Acacia dealbata

Anemone ‘Wild Swan’ & Acacia dealbata

Lord Gardener Minister of Rural Affairs and Biosecurity has said that bees are a much loved feature of the English countryside in summertime. He also stated that they are also a crucial part of the biodiversity of this country and an essential part of our economy; and that it is vital not to forget bees’ during winter time. At Thompson & Morgan we feel that it is extremely important to provide a home and food for these wonderful little creatures that do so much for us.

If you would like to find out more about making your garden a haven for wildlife – the articles below have a vaste array of information, knowledge and inspiration >>

Bees & Butterflies Inspiration

Encouraging Wildlife including Bees

Plants for Wildlife

What to do in the Garden to Encourage Wildlife

 

Wendie Alexander
I have worked for Thompson & Morgan for nearly four years. In that time I have learnt lots about gardening, but consider myself very much a novice. I have started growing veg on a colleague’s allotment and also growing windowsill seeds such as Salad Leaves and Rocket. I love gaining more knowledge about horticulture and am lucky enough to work here.

New bird care products to enjoy

In a bid to provide the gardener with everything they may need for their outdoor space, T&M have recently introduced a new bird care range.

Within the gardening community it is considered good practice to encourage wildlife, and especially birds into the garden. Not least because they are as native as we are and have as much right to be here as we do.

We often forget how truly magnificent birds are. Some birds take up the challenge of migrating thousands of miles just to be somewhere where there is a larger food stock or better nesting facilities. The UK has a fairly temperate climate, which is perfect for a wide variety of birds. This makes the UK a great place to see common and visiting birds. However, with the urbanisation of much of the country it is necessary to top up the bird’s food sources to give them a helping hand.

A variety of bird feed

A variety of bird feed

At T&M we have a variety of bird care essentials in our range, making it easy for you to order via our website. It is not just winter time that birds need help with homes and food. During the summer months we have visitors such as swallows and martins, who may need help with nesting habitat or a wider variety of food.

Although there are specific food and nesting needs for certain birds, for a beginner all you really need to do is provide food. You can then wait and see what happens! This is a great way to introduce you and the children to the joys of watching wildlife. In our range, we have bird tables, bird feeder stations and bird seed. This will provide you with endless enjoyment watching your garden visitors eat to their hearts content.

Bird tables and stations

Bird tables and stations

If you want to provide a home for birds, you can choose one of our bird boxes where they can make a nest. Watching a bird fledge for the first time is an amazing experience. But the favourite of all things bird is the bird bath. Watching a bird having a bath is one of the funniest and most enjoyable things. When birds have a bath they can get quite excited, and tend to forget themselves for a few minutes while they are soaking and cleaning themselves. It is important to provide a safe environment around your bird bath. See our bird bath blog on where to position your bird bath.

Why not have a browse through our range, choose some seed and a table or station and see what happens. We would love to see your photos of the birds that visit your garden and perhaps even start keeping a diary of what type of bird visited when. We have lots of helpful guides to encourage wildlife, which plants are best for wildlife an ideas on wildlife habitat.

Bird tables and baths

Bird tables and baths

 

Wendie Alexander
I have worked for Thompson & Morgan for nearly four years. In that time I have learnt lots about gardening, but consider myself very much a novice. I have started growing veg on a colleague’s allotment and also growing windowsill seeds such as Salad Leaves and Rocket. I love gaining more knowledge about horticulture and am lucky enough to work here.

RETURN OF THE MICE

I’m so excited! (Sad middle-aged woman, doesn’t get out much.) I’ve bought a large heated propagator and David has fixed up my smaller ones so I now have 5 on the go! The perennials must be quaking in their boots as I have been prowling around, secateurs in hand, eyes narrowed, snipping off as many non-flowering shoots as I could find. I have even dug out (haha, no pun intended) some (stale) organic rooting powder and added vermiculite to my potting compost to give them the best start in life.

Still looking lush & ricinus still growing

Still looking lush & ricinus still growing

First though I had to clean the greenhouse and covert it from summer to autumn function: Everything out, chillies, tomatoes and cucamelons harvested, plants composted (that’s a lie, they will be composted, but by the council, am ashamed to admit I don’t have a compost heap – I AM NOT A REAL GARDENER). Plant food, seed tins, storage boxes and general detritus out, staging and flooring swept. Someone please tell me why it is only now that the curcuma bulbs have sent up new growth, stuffed as they are into a dark corner, as no amount of encouragement during the summer had any effect?
So there I was pottering about when out of the corner of my eye a creature, at first thought a frog, threw itself against the greenhouse door before beating a hasty retreat to safety. As I suspected, the mice are back! Small burrows are appearing in the soil of the raised tomato trough, surrounded by straw and bird seed. (You have to admire their tenacity; they have gnawed a serrated circle and a mouse hole through the lid of the plastic storage bin – he who dares wins, I say.) In honour of their return I have even bought a small resin statue of a mouse.

My shed (not really!) & St. Michael on the Mount

My shed (not really!) & St. Michael on the Mount

It’s all change on the patio too. I got bored waiting for the begonias to die down so I pulled them up to dry their corms for overwintering. Turfed out the spent soil as mulch onto the back of the dry border where the cornus go to die. Crammed T & M Jonquilla daffs into every pot: Martinette, Pipit, Pueblo and Green Eyed Lady. Don’t think I have bought enough! Must have more, more, more! Breath…………..Without the colourful annuals the patio has transformed from exotic terrace to shady glen; the ferns really come into their own at this time of year, and I’ve added T & M  Blechnum brasiliense Volcano to the mix, which has been growing on in the greenhouse since The Triallist’s Open Day, waiting for its new home. Sadly most of the heucheras have come away in my hands, their roots eaten by the dreaded vine weevil (Note to self, try nematodes next year, the chemical drench lied.) I’ve put all five FUCHSIA fuchsiaberries together in one huge pot in the hope that they will establish and make more of an impact next summer, as they never really got going this year. More sun I think.

Talking of sun (good link, huh!) David and I did actually manage to have a holiday last month after all. We went to stay with our old friends-&-neighbours who have moved to Manaccan, a village – in the middle of nowhere, sorry B & P – on the Lizard peninsula in south Cornwall. (And just as fellow blogger Amanda found with her bedfellows in hospital, one of the first people we were introduced to was a keen gardener who buys from T & M and reads the blogs!) First thing I noticed was how echium are growing en masse in Bob’n’Patti’s garden, so much so that their gardener pulls’em up like weeds! They have a patch of ginger 6ft tall and 5ft round and perennial aeoniums the size of dinner plates. All of which they inherited from the previous owners.

Trebah - September 2016

Trebah – September 2016

We visited Helston Museum, one of the largest folk museums in the South West, with a vast social history collection dating from the 18th to the 20th century. My attention was naturally drawn to the gardening exhibits, some of which looked eerily like the contents of my shed, the implication being that I too am a relic!
Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens could have been on Madeira, if it wasn’t for the tell-tale view of St Michael’s Mount in the bay. Trebah Gardens was a revelation! A grand colonial style whitewashed mansion sits on the brow of the hill, overlooking the panoramic sweep of Hydrangea Valley, full of blue hydrangeas, towering palms, gunnera, tree ferns (also growing like weeds)  and towering bamboo, as it slopes down to the sea. You could be forgiven for thinking you were in some sub-tropical paradise. It reminded me of a tea plantation (not that I’ve ever been to one you understand but I have watched Indian Summers).

New T&M bidens still flowering its head off! & LGS Best Small Back Garden 2016

New T&M bidens still flowering its head off! & LGS Best Small Back Garden 2016

Having visited RHS Hyde Hall in Essex shortly after our return (needed another horticultural fix before the winter) I was bowled over by the swathes of grasses and prairie planting. All three gardens are breath-taking in their scale, but completely contrasting in environmental conditions and planting styles. England certainly punches above its weight when it comes to its wealth of different terrains!  (My uncle used to say I had swallowed a dictionary when he read my A level essays.)
So back at Chez Broome autumn has taken hold, but nobody has told the hanging baskets! The new T&M bidens is having a late flush (know how it feels) although for some strange reason the flowers are all white this time, instead of pink tinged. Petunia ‘Crazytunia Mandevilla’ and Minitunia calibrachoa ‘Crackerjack’ just keep on going so I just keep on feeding. The lime green, black and caramel coloured foliage of ipomaea are going for it in the shade so I’ll just leave them all to it!
Oh, and reader, we won: London Gardens Society Best Small Back Garden 2016. How about that!

Top 5 favourite hedges

A hedge is an integral part of any garden providing privacy and security for those that want it. Whilst providing wildlife with food too. Hedges offer a good way of partitioning parts of the garden without need for a fence,  keeping a natural appearance. Able to grow in difficult areas of the garden it make a good go-to plant to fill empty spaces. We have provided some of our favourites to give you an idea of what you can expect for the rest of our hedging range.

Green Beech

Green Beech

1. For good security and wildlife benefits Green Beech has to be one of our top choices. Growing to any height, it provides a good dense barrier. It only needs to be clipped or trimmed once or twice a year making it ideal for busy people. It tends to hold most of its leaves over winter, even though they have died off and sheds them in spring as the new growth appears. Loved by wildlife, Green Beech also has an Award of Garden Merit from the RHS, so you can be sure it will perform as expected year after year.

Golden Privet

Golden Privet

2. Another of our favourites is an evergreen hedge. Well known Golden Privet provides year round interest in the garden, and is the perfect hedge for protecting against bad weather and high winds. This pretty hedge will grow in sunny and deep shady positions so there is no reason not to have it in a dark corner of the garden where its golden leaves will brighten even the dreariest patch of earth. With pretty clusters of white flowers in summer if left untrimmed, this is an ideal hedge for any garden size. Easy to grow and maintain Golden Privet will give good mileage year after year and all through the seasons.

Dog Rose

Dog Rose

3. Coastal gardening can be difficult. With a different type of soil and landscape it is  important to get it right first time. Number three on our list is the Dog Rose. This simple rose has thorny stems that act as a deterrent and barrier. Easy to grow and maintain, and it is vigorous during the growing season. With pink and white flowers in summer and bright red hips in autumn this hedge is loved by birds. Some parts of this hedge are edible. Click here.

Rowan

Rowan

4.Need a hedge in a hurry? Rowan is fast growing once established and a familiar sight in Britain. It is happy to be clipped back regularly, allowing you to keep it neat and tidy. Clipping back will encourage new growth and branching out which thickens its habit, creating a delightful looking hedgerow. With springtime flowers of pink and white, it’s a pretty hedge to be enjoyed during summer when it is in full flush. Orange and red berries appear during autumn feeding birds and other wildlife.

Lombardy Poplar

Lombardy Poplar

5.Finally Lombardy Poplar. This wonderful hedge can tower over the landscape but with regular trimming it will form neat rows. Often used by farmers as screening, and regular trimming will encourage it to ‘bush out’. The almost triangular shaped leaves turn to lovely shades of yellow before they fall to reveal the rough bark. Perfect for nesting birds, and insects alike. Some parts of this hedge are edible. Click here.

Overall hedging is the perfect addition to any garden space, whether large or small,  can help to create a good nesting place and food for birds. Perfect for providing an effective barrier from the UK weather, this is just a small sample of the hedging selection we have. View our full range of hedging here. With our Hedge Planting Guide. Advice on Selecting Your Hedge.

 

Wendie Alexander
I have worked for Thompson & Morgan for nearly four years. In that time I have learnt lots about gardening, but consider myself very much a novice. I have started growing veg on a colleague’s allotment and also growing windowsill seeds such as Salad Leaves and Rocket. I love gaining more knowledge about horticulture and am lucky enough to work here.

Dead-head your flowers

This time of year is my favourite in the garden. With the long summer days behind us the light from the sun is not nearly as harsh as it was in June and July. The flowers in the garden are still blooming but with the longer shadows of early evening, it gives them more depth. I wish I could keep this month in the garden all year round! But as that is not possible I try to keep the rich colours of the garden for as long as possible. How to do this you wonder?

I dead-head many of my flowers, to keep them going. By dead-heading you are tricking the plants into believing they are still young. When you allow your plants to seed, they receive a chemical message informing them they no longer need to produce blooms and now is the time to stop.  By dead-heading them they continue to enjoy youthfulness and produce their gorgeous blooms for a while longer. Of course this does not continue indefinitely, but it does provide you with colours until the end of the month.

Penstemon 'Strawberries and Cream, Phlox 'David' and Poppy 'Bridal White'

Penstemon ‘Strawberries and Cream, Phlox ‘David’ and Poppy ‘Bridal White’

Which plants can be dead-headed and which are best left to seed? I have always found my Penstemon ‘Strawberries and Cream’ will continue to produce its flowers in September. With a gentle dead-heading I continue to enjoy the pink and white flushes of colour. Other plants include Phlox paniculata ‘David’ and Pennisetum alopecoroides.

To dead-head softer stemmed plants, all you need to do is nip the flowers between thumb and forefinger once the flowers are finished. This will work for geraniums, petunias, cosmos and chrysanthemums.

However, some plants need a little more encouragement and to dead-head you will need to get the secateurs and cut back to the stem to the next shoot down. This applies to roses and dahlias; my Rose ‘Racquel’ has responded well to this and is still happily flowering.

There are plenty of my plants that I have not dead-headed, because they do not respond too well to it. Poppy ‘Bridal White’ is having its last flush of flowers and then it will be going to seed. The seed heads create an unusual backdrop for the remaining flowers in my garden.  I am also leaving my Nigella ‘Delft Blue’, the seed heads are a show stopper all of their own. The few grasses I have such as the Verbena bonariensis are also going to seed. The insects really like living here and I don’t want to disturb them while they are happy!

Speaking of happy, don’t forget to let your Fuchsia FUCHSIABERRY go to seed, they will go on to provide you with an abundance of berries for jams and puddings. They are delicious…

So there you are, a bit more work and you have a lot more flowers.

Wendie Alexander
I have worked for Thompson & Morgan for nearly four years. In that time I have learnt lots about gardening, but consider myself very much a novice. I have started growing veg on a colleague’s allotment and also growing windowsill seeds such as Salad Leaves and Rocket. I love gaining more knowledge about horticulture and am lucky enough to work here.

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