Hope you are all well? Spring has sprung; the days are getting longer and warmer weather (hopefully) is on its way.
It’s National Gardening week, and I am so chuffed that I can now, in my best Pembrokeshire Welsh accent say “I declare the New Greenhouse OPEN ! ” Not because it’s National Gardening Week, but because Mark and I have finally completed the construction of it. We have even moved the water butt to attach another hose kit so that we can collect rainwater from both greenhouse roofs. As you can see from the photo there were a lot of panes of glass to install, sixty, in fact. It took three hours as the clips kept pinging off the glass and one of us would have to look for ages to find it. I am sure some of them are still in the Rose and Herb Garden.
We have put top soil and compost into the borders the path has been laid, the edging is done, and we have even erected the new shelving, the shelving was the easiest job out of everything. One of my aunties gave us a giant lightweight wooden lantern and we have hung it from one of the beams along with a glass wind chime from my mum. I don’t think they will stay there once the tomatoes and other veggies are in place, as, even being only five foot one and a bit, I keep banging my head on them.
As yet the part of the shelving is still in the old greenhouse as I have had so many seedlings to transplant, I am sort of moving things between them until I know what is going where and when. So far in the new greenhouse I have one set of shelves a mini spade, trowel , fork, and plant feed pellets, five pots of overwintering, soon-to-be-moved-out pots of Strawberry Sweetheart’s, seven bags of potatoes, two large blue terracotta pots of sunflower “Colour Parade” and stocks “Sugar and Spice.” I am wondering if this might be a good planting combination. I want something to take the attention away from the sunflower stalks for a while.
I am really looking forward to the T&M Sunflower competition, not that the blue pot combo will be entered as a photo, I have a totally different plan that I hope will work, but sorry, I can’t share that one with you! All of the above plants are being hardened off at the moment, but our weather is still a bit unpredictable. Last week we hit twenty two degrees Celsius only for it to drop to nine degrees by the end of the week. We haven’t had any frost but the winds have been blustery and cold.
After looking after me last month and doing the hard graft, last Saturday was a chance for Mark to do what he loves the most, joining his friends from the club on a metal detecting rally, this meant I had the garden to myself! Selfish I know, but I love this quiet time, just the birds singing, and insects buzzing, I spent a good half hour just walking around the garden, seeing what was in bloom, and what needed attention. I then decided to construct a pea wigwam using canes and string, the garden peas have really shot up. Next I transplanted some mini plugs and earthed up and fed the spuds. My friend Rachel arrived with a selection of tomatoes she grew from seeds, including White Opal, a wise man once said “A generous Gardener is never poor.” And I totally agree, so in return for her gift, she had a pot of baby lettuces from me. This wise man’s saying has now become a motto for me, I love sharing and swapping plants with people. For a long time I admired my next door neighbour’s poppies, one year he was getting rid of some them and he gave me a slab of the root cuttings, he said “I don’t know if they will grow my girl, but bury them in the ground and see what happens.” They did grow and they get stronger every year. What’s the best garden swap you have had?
I possibly may have germinated too many seeds, I have at least two hundred Amaranthus seedlings, I bought them from T&M a few years ago and they are beautiful. I love the burgundy leaves, and it’s worth growing them for the foliage alone, but come midsummer they will produce a soft feathery spike that can stand up to anything the weather throws at them. Each year I collect a spike of seeds and keep it to sow the following year. The seeds are loved by the birds too so I have to be quick. I held back and only planted around ten radishes; this is because I don’t know if I like them. I haven’t eaten them since I was a child and I was convinced the little red thing in the salad bowl was a cherry and I had to have it before my brothers, so I put the whole thing in my mouth and it practically blew my head off. We were having lunch with some people and I was too polite to spit it out. I never tried radish again, Mark likes them though so I am giving them a go.
I also have a second sowing of peas, fifty or so sunflowers, seven aubergines, and some Zinnias that I had free with a magazine. I also have 300 mini plugs. HELP! I am not very good at thinning out seedlings; I tend to keep them all potting them on and give them away when they are bigger.
I received five plug plants from Terri at T&M of Fuchsia Garden News. I potted them on straight away as they were so robust that the roots were trying to escape through the packaging almost. It’s quite exciting that there is a Fuchsia Festival, I have learned so much about these shrubs from the information on the website.
Writing this blog has made me realise I need a plan. Each evening after work I have spent an hour in the greenhouses potting on, watering, or plant labelling but it’s on the weekends that I really have to pull my socks up and do some serious work. I usually try to dedicate an afternoon just for gardening. My diary helps as it has a section to list my to-do tasks but I think a more detailed plan is needed, so a sheet of A4 paper and a pen is needed. Do you plan what to do in the greenhouse, or do you just get on with tasks in hand?
I am hoping that by this time next month I will have even more greenhouse news to share with you. Fingers crossed that the tomatoes are big enough to be put in their final beds, with their growing frames neatly installed, I hope that the aubergines have got bigger, that I have eaten my first lettuce leaves with radish or white onion and cheese sandwiches. The rhubarb whilst not in the greenhouse should be ready for pulling, and I can stew that to make a jelly or just have it with custard. This is why I love gardening, the anticipation of what’s to come. Is there anything you would like to see more or less of in my blogs? I love having you feedback, please send me pictures or comments on how your greenhouse/garden is doing. I would be really interested in what you have achieved.
Until next month,
There is nothing we love more than hearing customer success stories and seeing your delightful gardening photos via our Facebook and Twitter pages. So, when we got this letter from a very loyal customer we were overwhelmed and had to share it with you.
‘Over the past 20 years we have been a customer of Thompson & Morgan, we would like to show you the success of your business are achievements we have had as man and wife to prove your plants and seeds have been phenomenal and consistent’
Alma and her husband, who is 78 years young, have shared their love of gardening through growing T&M plants and entering numerous competitions. Here are just some of the prizes they have won;
1984 – 1st Place for best allotment (out of 31 sites)
2008 – National 1st place for best allotment in England run by Garden News
2008 – Kitchen Garden award for first Community Garden.
2008 – First in Black Country (Toby Inn competition for Healthy Foods)
2009 – Wolverhampton Gold Award at Britain in Bloom
2011-2012, 2014 – First in city and second in city 8 times.
Other shield and cups are won in local shows around the West Midlands.
It is wonderful to see that their love for gardening never dwindled, and at 78 years old they are still going strong. Thank you Alma for sharing your story with us.
If you have any gardening success stories we would love to hear them, email@example.com.
When I started this blog in January, I promised you the good, the bad and the ugly. Unfortunately, this month is the bad and the ugly. Things had been running smoothly. The frame of the greenhouse was completed, the window vents installed, the soil was on order and the seeds were germinating on the kitchen windowsill and in the smaller greenhouse. Then I went and caught viral labyrhinitis. A middle ear infection that makes the world spin round, and not just a little bit either, three solid days of not been able to stop the movement. It’s impossible to do even the most simplest of tasks such as get out of bed without falling. I can’t walk to the bathroom without help and I can’t even read as a tiny bit of eye movement makes it 100% worse.
A trip to the doctors for some anti sickness medication nearly kills me. I spend the next week staring at the walls with sunglasses on. The second week I start to feel better, because I am partially deaf it’s taking a really long time for my balance to readjust I have on and off dizziness and can’t go anywhere on my own, I must be feeling better though as I remember my lettuce seedlings, I have three pots of them in the kitchen. Mark transplants one lot to the old greenhouse borders and we give the rest away. I decide to get my gardening fix by reading some of the other Thompson & Morgan blogs. I am amazed by Michael Perry’s trek across the Sahara Desert for Dementia, the flowers he has photographed are amazing. I would love to have that kind of stamina, but right now getting across the room is a challenge.
The next blog I read is from customer service advisor Graham, he recycles interesting items to grow plants and herbs in. I left a post on his blog and he kindly responds with a suggestion of what unusual fruit I can grow in an old colander. I know I’m on the mend, when I order some mock strawberry seeds for said colander. It’s the weekend before I return to work after two weeks of being unwell; I call my brother and ask him about the soil delivery for the greenhouse, we haven’t put the glass in as we are still waiting for him. He says he hasn’t forgotten, he also tells me he is getting a lean to greenhouse himself to teach his daughters to grow tomatoes, I am really excited for him and promise him plenty of plants.
I am all motivated and set myself the tasks of starting of my potatoes under cover and also the
Begonia Apricot Shades which arrived sometime during my illness. I find the potato kits are different to ones I have had before, whereas before I had a massive potato bag to plant 5 tubers, this kit has a 12-15inch bag for a single tuber. This is so much simpler as it’s easier to measure out the Chempak fertiliser for one potato, and also very easy to carry a smaller sack once they germinate and need to be moved outside. It can help to prevent overcrowding and the possible spreading of disease. I follow the instructions, and plant up the Charlottes, I am really excited to see how they compare to a bigger grow bag I have of 5 Rooster potatoes. Included in the potato kit are 5 packets of salad veg, including more lettuce, because the lettuce are so easy I am going to give them to my brother for my nieces to grow. The begonias take no more than five minutes to pot up, and once I place them on the staging I take ten minutes to look at how the rest of my seeds are doing. It’s not good, I realise that my aubergines and dahlias have damped off; a disgusting green slime covers the soil. I have no option but to start again with them. Thankfully my garden peas are okay, but I feel like I would like more than 6 plants so I plant a few more in extra pots.
My first week back in work and I am shattered. I still get dizzy so it’s still challenging to go up the steps to the greenhouse. I have to ask Mark to carry the full watering can as I can’t balance to do this. I stare at the new greenhouse and feel annoyed, I say to Mark, well my blog is going to be a bit dismal this month. He cheers me up by taking me to the DIY store to look at the cost of paving slabs for the path in the greenhouse; we also look at wooden edging that may be used to hold back the soil. He makes a start on setting a hardcore base for the path.
I am really hoping that April will be a better month, in terms of my greenhouse actually getting finished and having a more interesting blog for you. Yes there have been a few setbacks this month but luckily it’s still early in the season. The aubergines I planted last week have germinated, so have the peas, I have started off my sunflowers and my potatoes are showing tiny green leaves.
That’s the thing with gardening; it gives me hope, that even when things are going a bit wrong, with a bit of planning, they can be put right.
Until next month,
Firstly can I please say a big “Thank you” to everyone who has read my blog and given feedback. I must say I was really worried that no one apart from my mum would read my blog so it’s really nice to hear from everyone.
In this month’s blog, I am enclosing some photos of the construction phase of the greenhouse. We have been really lucky in that so far the weather has been much the same as last year, generally between one and six degrees, with rain (sometimes heavy), South Westerly winds and hardly any frost. On the thirteenth of January we had all four seasons in the same day. Lovely spring like drizzle in the morning, warm but not quite summer sun just before lunch, followed by a sudden temperature drop and wintry sleet in the afternoon, and then a beautiful autumn sunset. Have you experienced anything like this in your area?
Up until the back end of January we only had one day when the temperature was zero degrees after nine in the morning – this was great for me as I have been able to get out on the weekends to do some gardening. I work full time in the week, and the nights aren’t quite light enough to go out when I get home. Unfortunately I have only been able to plant my Thompson & Morgan Speedy Mix Salad Leaves, in pots on the kitchen windowsill, when they germinate, they will be pricked out and moved to my old greenhouse. I have selected the tomato seeds to sow next month Gardeners Delight and Sweet Aperitif, and have I been planning what else to grow from seed. For definite I will be growing Aubergine Enorma, and some Sweet Bullhorn peppers.
I haven’t decided what flowers I will grow yet, but every year I grow dahlias and a single variety of sunflowers sharing them with my brothers for their children to grow. It’s brilliant that 2015 is year of the Sunflower. I may just have a sunflower festival in our garden and grow Italian Whites, Russian and/or Mongolian Giants and some Teddy Bears. I also like the look of the Maximilas sunflower. Has anyone had any success with this perennial?
That’s the best thing about winter gardening for me; the planning. Choosing the things I want to grow and ordering them via the catalogue or using the website or having T&M vouchers to spend in their January sales. As well as looking back on last year’s successes and failures, and watching for signs that a new season is on its way.
I ordered my new greenhouse in late November, from a reputable company online, they gave me a delivery date of the Seventh of January, as this was when they were would be delivering in our area. I was happy with this as with Christmas and everything, it was something to look forward to in the New Year. Next we visited a local building supplier to order blocks to mount the base, and a ton of 6mm dust to be delivered on the same day. Both companies kept their agreement and delivered on the day. (We won’t need the whole ton of dust for the greenhouse, but that’s the quantity it comes in so we are going to re-lay the patio area so nothing is wasted.)
Using string and broken canes, Mark then pegged out, the trench he would be digging. We decided to do this after delivery In case anything went wrong with the purchase. A few days later and he had dug the trench, and that’s when I realised the enormity of our project. I could have paid extra to have a greenhouse installation team do the hard work for us, but as Mark had erected the smaller greenhouse he was happy to do this one too. I have every faith in him as the original greenhouse stood up to ninety mile an hour winds in March last year. It twisted and bucked, but I only lost two panes of glass due to a solar light being plucked from the rose border and hurled into the air. The light hit the lower pane and the top pane slid out after it.
The block laying turned into a nightmare, due to heavy rain our clay soil was unworkable as it stuck to everything it shouldn’t. Hands, feet, spade and clothes. Also we knew our garden was on slope and totally uneven and stony but one edge (the tenth foot part of the trench) had to be dug nine inches lower than its opposite side to compensate for the gradient. Each block had to be laid, and then spirit levelled, adjusted, and then measured again. There was no point in trying to lay the blocks in a line and then measure and adjust after, as it would have got even messier. But finally on the 21st of January the block laying was complete and the base secured in position. We then let the ground settle before the next phase.
Phase two, is think ahead. Where to get topsoil for the borders of the greenhouse? I have got homemade compost and will probably buy in some extra, but if we can put in some topsoil it should improve the soil structure. A phone call to my brother and the issue is resolved. Also as mentioned in my previous blog, I hate failing, and it suddenly occurred to me, that it would be just my luck for the first time for something to go wrong with my tomato plants. I had a nightmare vision of doing a blog of the new greenhouse with nothing growing in it! Again T&M came to my rescue, as in conjunction with a well known magazine they were offering six free tomato plants for just £3.20 postage and packing, as well as cucumber plants at a reduced price. I quickly ordered them along with a different offer of a free potato kit, again just paying P&P.
Phase three, the constructing of the aluminium frame, and what happens? The weather turns. The mild drizzly days are replaced by beautiful blue skies but dropping temperatures some really hard frosts and icy winds. Mark has worked outdoors all of his life, but there was no way I wanted him to freeze for me so I just said “So long as it’s constructed by the end of March I am happy to wait. After all I have the other greenhouse and I can keep the plants in there, in pots until then. Besides, it’s too cold for seed germination just yet.”
On the Seventh of February the weather broke, ironically this would have been Dad’s 70th Birthday, to take my mind off it we decided to keep active. So after grocery shopping and lunch it was time to construct the greenhouse.
The plans looked simple enough, there were a suitable amount of images and a short note stating that anyone can be reasonably expected to build the greenhouse, so long as the instructions were followed and common sense applied. I freely admit my building skills are more destroy-it-yourself than do-it-yourself, so I volunteered to be teas maid, leaving Mark to it. I just pottered around the garden and did some chores. Mark started by moving the car from the drive and laying out each section of the greenhouse in turn. Using the guide and carefully noting the number of screws, nuts and bolts needed, he started with the back panel and moved onto the sides. Each section took about twenty to thirty minutes. He constructed the door, and then said “I’m just going to put the rubber seal around the door, and I’ll do the roof tomorrow.” The seal was fiddly so Mark used a drop of Silicone spay to help ease it on to the aluminium. It was getting too chilly for me, so I went indoors. After an hour I was beginning to wonder if there was a problem as it was now late afternoon and beginning to get dark, Mark was still outdoors, I thought that sealing the door would be simple, so I sneaked to the bedroom window and was totally shocked to see all of the greenhouse frame attached to the base and the roof completed.
Mark decided, he might as well finish the job. I am at a loss as how he could manage to put it all together on his own including the ten foot roof brace. He says he just bolted the brace to one of the short edges, leant it on an attached side panel, and then bolted the other end on. He says he also had to stand on a breeze block to reach the holes as at five foot ten he wasn’t quite tall enough. If it was me I would have needed a ladder. So we have almost finished the building, we have decided, it will be easier to mark out the borders and put in the topsoil and path inside the greenhouse before the glazing goes in, firstly because of the amount of soil we need to put in there, as it will be frustrating going in through the narrow door with the barrow, and secondly I am clumsy, and will probably end up putting the spade through the window by accident when unloading the stuff.
I am starting to get really excited as I can visualise a warm July day, collecting trugs of produce and sharing them with my family and friends. In the next few weeks I will be starting off my tomato and potato plants. I have done some early sowings of aubergines and garden peas, they are currently sitting in their pots silently splitting their shells and slowly emerging through the compost. My speedy salad mix in the kitchen germinated in four days, they are growing strongly and will soon need to be pricked out. Hopefully by this time next month the glazing will be done, the soil prepared and if I am lucky be tasting my first Mizunna lettuce.
Until then, Happy Gardening.
Ray and Sharon
A year ago when Ray came to Thrive, he was at a complete loss and couldn’t see a future for himself.
Following a career in the army, including particularly tough tours of duty in Northern Ireland where he lost two close friends, Ray was left battling severe depression whilst trying to hold down two jobs to support his disabled wife and family. The future felt bleak. When he heard about Thrive at a veteran’s group session run by Combat Stress, Ray was interested but it still took him considerable courage to actually come along to the charity.
Thrive offered him a place on the “Down to Earth” programme at Saltwell Park, Gateshead which supports veterans living with a wide range of physical and mental health difficulties and is funded by The Royal British Legion. The programme combines practical physical work with gaining horticultural skills and a qualification if desired. It also encourages shared experiences and the forging of friendships. This is what social and therapeutic horticulture is all about and Ray says he can’t believe the difference in his outlook on life.
In the beginning, Ray was quite timid, quiet and reserved, and was experiencing memory issues, but fitted in with Thrive right from the word go. Ray said; “Even though it all sounded great, it was so difficult for me to start with, but I persevered as I knew it would be good for me………… and I am so glad I did!”
There has been a marked improvement in Ray’s memory and a noticeable reduction in his levels of anxiety. He enjoys sharing his life experiences and skills with the rest of the group and by doing so has gained confidence. So much so that on a recent therapy break with Combat Stress in Scotland he attended a horticultural session with other veterans and was able to showcase the skills he had acquired at Thrive. He apparently shone and led some sessions, even showing their ‘experts’ how we do it!
“I love it here so much I that I even get to Saltwell Park an hour before it all starts so I can check on the plants and look at the gardening books! We all work at our own pace and never face any pressure. It makes me relaxed and comfortable which makes me want to learn. ”
That desire to learn has inspired Ray to gain a further qualification and he is now working towards the City and Guilds Work Based Horticulture Level 2 Diploma which could open the door to a new career – all linked to the gardening he clearly loves. For Ray, the future is looking brighter every day!
Sharon, a Senior Horticultural Therapist at Thrive’s site at Saltwell Park in Gateshead, said: “It’s been a real pleasure working closely alongside Ray and seeing how gardening has helped change his outlook on life. Ray’s story is a journey from dark despair to confidence and hope – it’s been an emotional journey from the early days to where we are now, sharing emotions, fears and experiences and I am so proud of what Ray has achieved.”
“I have really enjoyed learning the proper way to do things in the garden and the lads and lasses who volunteer here are a real help. I am confident, take pride in what I do, and see real benefit in growing things. It’s been brilliant therapy for me.”
Although Ray continues to live with mental health difficulties and cope as a carer for his disabled wife, he never misses a session and that is a huge compliment to us as it shows his enjoyment in attending and commitment to the project. He has grown in so many ways and is a valuable asset to the project.
Thrive continues to raise funds to help people like Ray at its four regional centres. If you can help, please visit the website.
Last year I bought the Thompson & Morgan Fuchsia ‘Giant Collection’. It included some of the biggest fuchsia flowers I had ever seen, Bella Rosella, Bicentennial, Quasar, Seventh Heaven and voodoo. It amazed me how quickly they grew and how well they flowered.
Why I love fuchsias
I like how fuchsias look very exotic especially the ones with variegated blooms. The standard fuchsias look great and give added height to flower beds. I like fuchsias because they are not too difficult to take cuttings from, but they need good attention daily. I would recommend you buy the garden ready plants.
Top tips on growing your fuchsias
You will need to use good compost like the standard multipurpose compost, with plenty of grit to improve drainage, or John Innes No.1.
When you come to potting your fuchsias up, I recommend that you add some of Thompson & Morgan’s Incredibloom®. I had great success with this product when I was preparing petunias for my show garden last year – masses of blooms!
To encourage the development of bushy side shoots and to be covered in summer flowers, it is essential to pinch out the soft growing tips of the fuchsia plant. I had read somewhere if you pinch out the tips a couple of times, it will stop the plants becoming too leggy and continue an abundance of flowers through into autumn. This really needs to be done April-June. It just takes a few minutes per plant.
If you want to grow in a greenhouse or a conservatory, make sure you don’t crowd them to allow ventilation. Make sure your greenhouse or conservatory is well ventilated in warm weather, and make sure you don’t over-water them. If they are grown in a greenhouse or conservatory, check regularly for fungal and insect attack and treat as appropriately. Remember always to dead head your fuchsias to prolong the flowering period.
In the future I am keen to try some other varieties. I will let you know how I get on.