Gardening in California – A different perspective

I am spending a few weeks with my Sister who lives in Huntington Beach, California recovering from a recent fractured disc in my spine. She is a very keen gardener like me but this year has experienced many cut backs with the watering etc. and what plants will tolerate the drought. Some plants have surprised her especially her roses which are watered infrequently but have produced some wonderful flowers. There is also a blue Plumbago and American Honeysuckle which is bright orange with dark green leaves which has grown on the wall and appears to have flowered more freely. She also split her day lilies putting some in different parts of the garden in case she lost any of them, and at the moment the day lily in the tub is flowering.

honeysuckle - gardening in California

The drought in Southern California has hit people in many different ways. Gardeners can only use their sprinklers for five minutes twice a week (also only a five minute shower twice a week!!). There has been a drought for the last four years, mainly because the snow which usually falls on the Sierra Mountains has been so little therefore no water when the snow melts and California gets a lot of its water from the Sierras in good years. The last four years have been the driest with 29 inches only of rain.



As a result of the drought there have been many brush fires with terrible consequences losing many trees and shrubs as well as small animals. Unfortunately when any rain does come there is nothing to stop it from rushing straight down the hillside or mountain onto the roads and towns causing a lot of destruction. The trees are beginning to dry out and crack and split enabling bugs etc to get into the bark. Branches are falling off as well. The drought is blamed for the infestation of native bark beetles because healthy trees can usually defend against the insects. The U.S. Forest Service estimate that 22 million trees have died in California since the drought started four years ago. In Orange County where I am staying one species of Southeast Asian beetle – shot hole borer – has been particularly troublesome.

Gardeners are saving water from any gutter downpipe – (although many houses do not have gutters) and washing up water from the sink in order to be able to hand water their plants. Lantana is a very good drought tolerant plant and grows well in dry conditions once established. As does Cassia, a pretty yellow plant. Also another good idea is when the ice cube tray/box needs emptying to put the ice cubes round the plants instead of putting them into the sink to melt.

cassia - gardening in california



Milkweed is also a drought tolerant plant which is good news as the Monarch butterfly lays its eggs on the leaves of the plants which develop into small green/yellow caterpillars. These caterpillars eat the plants and when it gets around two inches long crawls to a convenient spot and hangs upside down turning into a chrysalis, where it stays for around two weeks before emerging as a beautiful Monarch butterfly. My Sister has several milkweed in her garden and we have watched the caterpillars getting bigger and sometimes even seen them emerging from the chrysalis. They usually sit on a leaf flapping their wings waiting for them to dry before flying off.

Quite a few people are moving towards growing succulents and in some cases have an entire front garden of succulents which are readily available now in garden centres and nurseries. Sometimes difficult decisions have to be made in deciding which plants to keep and what to replace as it is difficult to get small plants established in these conditions. This really makes me appreciate our climate even if we do get a lot of rain at times.




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.

Where has this year gone?

Where has this year gone? I used to hate November as it heralded the onset of winter, but since taking up gardening I now feel anticipation as well as a gentle winding down. After a quiet October, November is back to business once again, as I am on the side of Autumn Tidy Up. I like to cut back early flowering perennials to show off the late bloomers. The greenhouse needs a jolly good sweep and rinse now that the tomatoes and cucumbers have all been stripped out, but with the chilli peppers still cropping prolifically, and a family of mice having taken up residence I am loath the disrupt the happy home. I have been able to sort out my seed packets though, allocating easy-to-grow annuals for our 2016 National Gardens’ Scheme Children’s Treasure Hunt prizes, salads for the greenhouse, veggies for the allotment and flowers for the baskets. At this year’s T&M Triallists’ Open Day in August we were given a wide variety of seed packets, some of which I have never heard of so I am looking forward to experimenting next spring.

winter cobwebs

I am wondering what to do with Fuchsia ‘Eruption’ (summer 2015 trial) – shall I take my chances and leave them in their pot in the shelter of the semi-enclosed patio, or shall I defoliate and prune them and overwinter them in the greenhouse? I have never been very good at getting half hardy fuchsias through the winter so we will see……. Begonia Apricot Shades Improved (summer 2015 trials) have mostly been lifted, their tubers drying off for storage, but there is still a glorious burst of colour from one last hanging basket.

Ironically, just as they say it will be the coldest winter for years (who are They incidentally?) I chose this summer to go salvia mad, from large leaved salvia involucrata, Black and Blue and Amistad, to the small shrubby varieties, having always avoided them as semi-hardy. Oh well, I have taken cuttings and will dig up the larger leaved specimens to overwinter in the greenhouse. I don’t have a propagator and the greenhouse is unheated so I have brought the cuttings into my husband’s heated studio workshop. To protect the cuttings from overnight chill I provide bottom heat by placing a hot water bottle between two seed trays, and sit the 9cm pots in the top tray!

late colour

Having cut back the geranium phaeum from around the apple tree I was able to tackle the ivy which had grown into the shrubs beneath. In the process I liberated two cornus Winter Flame (winter 2012/3 trials), their buttery yellow leaves and fiery stems bringing colour to a dark corner. Digitalis Leopardskin and Digitalis Illumination have only just stopped flowering amongst the pulmonarias, cyclamen, alchemilla and Brunnera ‘Starry Eyes’ (spring 2014 trials). I love gardening for shade, it’s so challenging and when you get it right so rewarding, all those contrasting foliage shapes, colours and textures.

contrasting foliage

Since we planted the Dahlias Fox Mixed and Trebbiano (summer 2012 trials) on the allotment this spring they have thrived as never before, as they are in full sun on well-drained soil unlike our semi-shaded clay garden soil at home, and the number of flowers we have cut has run into hundreds!



Next year we will be adding some new dahlia tubers to the mix. The white cosmos and Californian poppies I grew from T&M seed in our sunroom this March are still flowering alongside, so I feel well encouraged to try annuals from seed next spring.

shady garden

So the gardening year has become protracted to ten active months, December & January being my hibernation period, with infrequent trips to the greenhouse to check on dormant plants and gaze longingly at the awaiting seed packets and trays in anticipation of early February sowing of sweet pea and the first bulbs emerging……. See you then!

Greenhouse Update

Hello Everyone,


At the start of October T&M asked on their Facebook page, “What do you like best about this month?” There were many comments including my own, but thinking about it a bit more now, I have to say I think I like how you still have time to grow a few more seeds in the greenhouse before winter fully sets in. We have been so lucky here lately, it has not rained since September and it’s still warm enough to go outdoors without a coat. We have had no frost, and only had to have the heating on once or twice in the last two weeks in the evening.


I am so pleased that when I order seeds from Thompson & Morgan’s website it only takes a couple of days for them to arrive, this has meant that I have been able to make a start on my early spring vegetables. I have sown in the very first week of this month Cauliflower, Calabrese/Broccoli and Cabbage. I also had some left over pea seeds Alderman Heritage, Radish, Calendula and Nigella, so they have been sown too. I was really surprised n how quick the broccoli and cauliflower and radish germinated, I am still waiting for the Pansy, Godetia, Laurentia and Knifophoas to germinate from last month.

seedsAnother surprise I had was that some tomato seeds germinated in the borders of the big greenhouse. I have no idea what variety they will be. They were near the sungolds, so I am hoping it will be them. Mark has potted them up into individual two and half inch pots and they are in the small greenhouse as I am hoping they can be kept up heated over winter in there. I thought that when it gets colder I will wrap the pots in bubble wrap to keep the roots warm. I have no idea if this will work or not as I have never had tomato seedlings germinate in October, in a greenhouse border. I am usually very vigilant in removing all fruit, stems, leaves from the borders to prevent harbouring pests and diseases. The frustrating thing is that I was sent tomato seeds from Terri that arrived literally on the same day we found the seedlings. However, seen as I really don’t think the October tomatoes will still be alive next year as I am not planning on ever having a heater installedseeds in one of the greenhouses, I am really looking forward to growing Mountain Magic it’s specifically bred to be more blight resistant. Also I certainly won’t be putting in ten tomato plants it was too many for me to handle. I know next year six tomatoes will be the maximum for the big greenhouse and maybe three for the little one.

Just today we had confirmation that workmen are going to be painting our bungalow and replacing the external doors, so we have had to remove the hanging baskets and summer pots in readiness for them next week. So some plants that have been enjoying the summer sun have now had to be moved to the big greenhouse earlier than expected to ensure their protection. I have a load of Aloes, and Money Tree plant that need to be repotted, but for now they are sat on the greenhouse path waiting my attention.

We work full time so realistically most of the gardening is done on evenings and weekends, it’s getting dark quickly now, by seven the sun is almost setting, also the temperature drops rapidly once the sun has gone down. I may be lucky to hop into the greenhouses between making the next day’s sandwiches and cooking supper between five and six, but once the clocks go back and the weather changes I find it very difficult to go out in the cold and dark. Also I will be finding out in December if I am going to be having heart surgery or not, so I am planning to grow only what I can reasonably manage to look after.

In our small greenhouse we still have a continuous supply of spinach beet, I am really pleased as it’s a brilliant source of iron and it can be eaten raw or cooked. I like to lightly steam it, or sometimes just rip a few leaves into a stir fry. I recently found a recipe for spinach and pumpkin soup which seems ideal for Halloween. The carrots are starting to raising themselves out of the soil, on T&M’s website it says that with a bit of planning carrots can be more or less grown all year round, but they need protection from the worst of the weather.


Carrots take around twelve to sixteen weeks to mature and can be left in the ground until you’re ready to eat them. By growing carrots in the later seasons it reduces the chances of being destroyed by carrot fly. Carrot flies are attracted to the plant by oils released from the leaves or stems so it’s best to pull carrots in the evening.

seedsOn the shelves I have the baby veg seedlings, sweet peas, yarrow, Californian poppies and herbs. I also have empty plastic pots ready to transplant seedlings into. I have a collection of Christmas Cacti that need to be repotted after spending the summer under hot glass; they will be brought in and put on the bathroom windowsill where they will flower from November to January. I have a spider plant that I have no room for inside; it came from Dad’s so I don’t want to lose it, but I am not sure if it will survive the winter in the greenhouse. Finally, I will need to dust off the old blue bread trays for storing the begonia bulbs this winter. The begonias are still in flower so hopefully we don’t get any frost as they don’t look ready to die back any time soon. We usually leave the gazinas and dahlias in situ as although we have frosty days, it’s been at least five years since we have had a really harsh winter. In Pembrokeshire we tend to get west/south west winds or gales and an awful lot of rain rather than snow.


Whatever the weather there’s always something that needs doing in the greenhouse!

I’ll be honest with you, the last few winters I have tended to just pick the last of the produce in October, do a big tidy up, wash the glass down then shut the door until January when I start off the sweet peas. However this year it’s going to be different, it would be a sad sight if my new greenhouse was to remain empty for at least three months. There is a plethora of veggies that can be grown now from Brassicas to Onions and Shallots, and if growing food isn’t your thing, just think of how pretty your garden will be in the summer with strong bushy flowers such as fuchsias, dahlias, or or cannas overwintered under glass.


Until next month.

Happy Gardening,

Love Amanda X

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.

Colour in the Cold: 5 Wildflowers for Winter Gardens

Winter is often regarded as a quiet time for flowering. However in mild winters we may see many stunning, vibrant plants begin to flower as early as December. An unexpected eruption of colour sprouting out from an otherwise bleak garden has the ability to lift anyone with winter dampened spirits. Find below our top five winter wildflowers for the upcoming cooler months.


Wildflowers for Winter GardensThis flowering tuber is a tough, resilient plant perfect for winter gardens. Despite this the cyclamen is well known for its delightfully quaint little scented flowers. The sophisticated five petal flowers display shades of white, purple or pink.

The flower stem twists and coils into a spiral after flowering, to bring the cyclamen fruit (which also doubles-up as a seed disperser) closer to the ground for bugs and insects to feast upon.

Cyclamen are a tad sensitive to both under and over watering. Therefore ensure the plant is placed in soil that has excellent drainage and is rich in fertile, organic matter. A spot in partial sun or full shade is the perfect place to plant cyclamen.


Wildflowers for Winter GardensThe hellebore, known also as the “Lenten rose” is a gorgeous winter flower. When it flourishes with beautiful softly shaded petals you’ll know immediately spring is near. Most hellebores have small maroon dots dispersed towards the lower portion of each petal. If you want a flower that stays blooming for a long period of time, this plant is your friend. The flowers you see in January will be the same flowers you see towards mid-spring; however they will fade slightly – sometimes to a lighter shade, sometimes darker.

The hellebore prefers shaded areas. Avoid planting the flower out in the full sun. If you’ve got a spot next to your house that’s usually difficult to plant, something that’s really dark and shady, that’ll make a good place for a hellebore.

Winter Aconite

Wildflowers for Winter GardensWinter aconite is a clump-forming tuber that holds cheerful cup-shaped flowers. Their bright golden-yellow petals may seem familiar to you; the flower is a member of the woodland buttercup family.

The flowers of the winter aconite are temperature sensitive. They’ll remain tightly closed until the winter chill is over and temperatures return above 10°C. The flowers then proceed to spread open triumphantly in all their golden glory, allowing the brave early bees to feast on their delicious pollen.

Winter aconite flourishes in both direct sunlight and below deciduous trees. The plant will be happy in most soils but particularly loves moist, chalky earth.



GardensDon’t prejudge the pansy by its name. This small but hardy plant is colourful winter to spring and wonderfully easy to grow. Whilst other flowers are freezing over, this fighter remains blooming even in light snow.

Pansies are a beginner gardener favourite. They require little maintenance and are resistant to disease. The iconic round flower has five distinct petals and is one of the oldest plants to be cultivated. They have a delightful ever so slightly minty flavour and can be used to decorate salads.

Pansies must be planted in full sun well before the first frost. This will give the roots time to develop and settle. They are hungry plants and will perform well when fed frequently. Take care when watering in winter as to prevent the soil beneath them freezing.


Wildflowers for Winter GardensOkay we’ll admit this is a long shot! The snowdrop isn’t exactly the most colourful winter wildflower. However this unique bell-shaped flower deserves a mention, being the gardener’s signal that the worst of winter is over and spring is on the horizon. Its name is certainly appropriate. To many gardeners’ surprise, snowdrops may boldly emerge from the deep, warm depths of the earth even when thin, sparse patches of snow still cover the landscape.

Snowdrops are very hardy and thrive well in dappled shade. They’ll be very happy scattered between shrubbery and beneath deciduous trees. Snowdrop bulbs are perfect for planting in the autumn time, ready to burst out after the worst of winter is behind us. They prefer moist soil with lots of humus.

So that’s our run down of our top five winter hardy plants to survive the impending frosts – Happy planting! Feeling inspired? Check out National Garden Gift Vouchers who are also running a Herb Garden Competition.


Tony Stacey
Tony is Marketing Manager at the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA), the organisation who administer the National Garden Gift Voucher Scheme. HTA are the leading trade association representing the UK garden industry. Tony is incredibly passionate about promoting gardening campaigns to children and non-gardeners to get the nation more green fingered and inspired to grow their own own food.

An update from the Greenhouse in September

Hello Everyone,

My favourite month is here. I love the September skies, especially on a sunny evening. In the greenhouse over the years I have been lucky to keep picking tomatoes, aubergines, chillies and sweet peppers for the whole month and well into October. Unfortunately this year the new greenhouse tomatoes have succumbed to late summer blight. I am really not surprised blight has struck, it’s been wet and humid for a good few weeks, and it only takes 48 hours of 70% humidity to spread the disease. Even with good air circulation the dim light was taking its toll on the plants. No amount of weekly feed or careful watering could make any difference.

This is the first time I have had blight and it is devastating. I never got to try the white opal tomatoes as the plant shrivelled and died, the sweet aperitifs tried to fight it, but towards the end of first week of September the fruits were rotting and splitting on the vines.

We quickly stripped the greenhouse of tomatoes leaving just the black opal, as this tomato showed a lot of resistance and continued to produce healthy fruits for another few weeks, before it too started to split its fruits.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, the sweet peppers are still producing fruit even with the lack of bees to pollinate, a good shake of the flowers seems to do the job. They don’t want to turn red as there is not enough heat though so I have to be content with green ones. It’s been so dismal I think the highest temperature we have had has been 18 degrees Celsius. Nights are chilly too, on several occasions it’s dipped to slightly less than 10 degrees.


My aubergines are thriving, I can pick a fruit (sometimes more than one) from a different plant each week. The last lot of radishes went to seed, so I am doing some more hopefully this weekend.

Things in the little greenhouse are picking up. My carrots have put on a lot of growth, I hope the colder weather will mean that I don’t get any carrot fly. the spinach beet has gone ballistic. It’s so quick to recover when I pick a few leaves for dinner. I have found though it’s best to not let the leaves get too big as they get a bit tough. Unfortunately I’m not the only one that likes the spinach there are a few sneaky green shield bugs hiding amongst the leaves. The basils are still growing, the Red Rubin is especially strong. Does anyone have some suggestions what I can use it for, as it’s too strong raw in a salad, it’s good for pasta dishes but I would like to try it in something different?


On the first of the month I sowed some seeds some have already germinated and I have included a photo (above), but the nights got cold quick so I think that I may have some failures. So far the Californian Poppies, achillea (yarrow) and sweet peas have germinated along with more basil for someone at work. However, I am still waiting for the pansy, godetia, laurentia and kniphofias. I spent ages with the old Dymo labelling machine making up the labels, as the old lolly sticks I used in the summer have run out. That’s after I used them a couple of times on each side. Also woodlice are partial to them and I don’t want them to overwinter in my pots, they can go in the compost bin or rotting hollyhock stumps instead.

The trouble is though this damp weather is starting to cause damping off, my compost seems to be turning a bit greenish. So I think other job for this weekend will be to repot my seedlings in fresh compost and try to water in the mornings instead of early evening. It’s dark by eightish now so it won’t be long before I will be coming home from work and not even going in the garden without a torch. Luckily my auntie has given my a huge candle lantern and candles to see my way.


We are due some more gales and torrential rain again this week. I hope the new greenhouse stands up to it. I was hoping for a beautiful crisp autumn not an early winter!

What are your thoughts on growing Christmas potatoes? A few years ago I planted grow bags in September, by November the weather had turned so bad we couldn’t even get out after work at night to move them into shelter under glass. The leaves finally tore off after a major storm in early December but the potatoes were lovely? I ask as I am thinking of putting them in grow bags again using a red variety, but putting the bags in the big greenhouse from the beginning. Being hit by blight has put me off. I don’t know if the blight virus would still be in the greenhouse or if I will end up with blight anyway because of the poor weather. Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

My new Thompson & Morgan autumn and winter, spring bulbs, and seed catalogues have arrived and I have started looking for interesting things to grow in the greenhouse next spring. The problem is I want to grow everything! I make a list and then check my seed box, half the time I have the seeds already, but I have forgotten about them. Like the bellis or rudbeckia . But sometimes an unusual variety or old fashioned plant will romance me and I know I will be on the website placing an order. Then I look at the special offers and end up buying something else. My last order was for Red Hot Poker ‘Traffic Lights’ (kniphofia) which I got, but I also ended up buying grasses. I picked lots of wavy ones. Unfortunately, I have to wait for spring to start the grasses off. I picked the grasses as our broom bushes seem to be dying off. That’s the thing with a garden, it’s never finished and it always evolves.

amandas-sept-greenhouse-4I am sorry for the slightly short blog this month, I think it’s because of the season drawing to a close. I was hoping to have more interesting things to say, but I’m in a limbo, this year has been nothing like our last few years, although I do like the challenge of these new conditions. What I had planned to write about in certain months had either happened earlier or not at all! But don’t worry I still have plans for the greenhouses in the next few months. Meanwhile I am going to find a new home for the dahlia one of my brothers bought me for my birthday a few days ago. I’ve stuck it in the little greenhouse as I don’t want it to get wrecked in the storm. I leave dahlia bulbs in the ground in the mild winters but this year guess where they will be?

Until October,
Happy Gardening.
Love Amanda x

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.

Thompson & Morgan Summer Trials – Caroline Broome

So here we are at 1st September, time to survey the successes, failures and lessons learnt this season, with one eye on bigger and better things for 2016 already!

Thompson & Morgan cucumberThe greenhouse is the most productive it’s ever been. Most of its yield goes straight into my mouth and doesn’t even reach the kitchen! Two out of the three cucumber Mini Fingers (Cucino) hit the ground running this year, one plug failing due to stem rot early on.  Growing in minimal space in a couple of old council food recycling bins, their vines are stretching around the eves of the greenhouse to about 7ft. During hot spells they were producing one fruit per day, with dozens of small fruits forming along the stems. As the days have cooled they have slowed in their tracks: I have pinched off any yellowing ones to allow the plants to concentrate their energies into the more robust ones. With no sign of mildew on the leaves I am continuing to feed and water the plants in the hope of an Indian Summer to boost their final production. I made a delicious chilled avocado & cucumber soup, with fennel and green chilli peppers from our garden, so I hope we haven’t had the last of them.
tomato sungold

I wanted to compare the merits of cordon tomatoes with bush varieties, so I chose my favourite cherry tomatoes: Sungold as cordon, versus Losetto as bush, three of each. Having fed and watered them regularly, I finally defoliated and topped them off end August, so they could concentrate on ripening their existing trusses. Sungold has three trusses per cordon, each with about 18 fruits. Although slow to ripen, they are catching up now, their fruits as sweet as ever. Losetto is disappointing, the bush method too sprawling for the confines of a small greenhouse, producing a low yield of about two small trusses per plant, reluctant to ripen & not nearly as sweet. Neither type however suffered from splitting or blossom end rot all fruits being firm and equal in size. From now on I shall stick to cordons but use the space to grow more varieties.

Sweet peppers and chillies are starting to produce in earnest. David is a chilli fiend and is enjoying Demon Red and the pretty multi-coloured basket variety Loco, both ready to harvest earlier than their larger cousins. I prefer sweet peppers and purple Tequila doesn’t disappoint. There are plenty of flowers and small fruits developing so it looks like I shall have to bring them into our sunroom for some more heat and better light levels, and with such a selection of rainbow colours they are so decorative. I just hope that cats don’t try them!

Courgette Defender, whilst always prolific on the allotment, has been a dead loss in its 12” pot in the greenhouse! After one or two fruits, it succumbed to mildew and only produced male flowers, so I composted it. Although it flowered, the aubergine did not set fruit – weather too dull and summer too short.

On the allotment Climbing bean Colourful Collection sulked at first, refusing to grow until early August, producing meagre but healthy plants. They have produced about 4 portions worth of beans, the green being the most prolific, followed by yellow & purple in equal measure. I would grow them again though as they tasted delicious!

Fruit Thompson & Morgan
Because I can’t bear to pick blooms from our garden for the vase, I created a flower patch on the allotment specifically for cutting. This summer I transplanted some four year old Thompson & Morgan dahlias from our front garden to join the tree lilies and now have no qualms about cutting them for the vase. But as I do not intend to lift them overwinter they will have to take their chances.

So all-in-all it’s been a modest but delicious harvest which has proved to me that I should concentrate on growing crops that we actually like to eat in future!

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