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.
Hello everyone, my name is Amanda and this is the first of what I hope will be one of my many blogs for Thompson & Morgan. I live in Pembrokeshire with my fiancé and our garden is approximately 116 meters square. It’s situated at the top of a hill and literally a five minute walk from the Cleddau Estuary. Being so close to the Irish Sea means that we get mild temperatures in the winter, however we also have to cope with the very strong salt-laden westerly winds that can blow up at any time of the year.
I started gardening later in life, for a few reasons, they are in no particular order but I would like to share them with you.
The first reason is for my physical and mental wellbeing. As I was born with a congenital heart disorder, and didn’t want to pick up any germs, I was a little scared of gardening. Especially as a youngster – but over the years I have realised gardening is actually very beneficial. It’s a great form of exercise, it is approved by my cardiologist to help maintain a healthy weight, keep muscle tone and improve lung capacity. It helps to reduces stress, it gets me outdoors, even in the winter, and I can enjoy super fresh fruit and veg, knowing exactly where it comes from and how it was grown. Which is to say, two minutes from my kitchen and mostly organic.
I’m not sure if using water from our four foot fish tank to drench the garden is classed as organic because of the colourings that go into fish food but the plants seem to like it. I do not water the plants that are eaten raw, just the potatoes, rhubarb and pretty flowers. Has anyone else used water from a fish tank to feed their plants? I have a feeling that I read something that said goldfish water is a good fertiliser, but I can’t remember where I read it.
The second reason I garden is because I wanted to learn a new skill. I didn’t think I would be very good at growing something from seed or cuttings, and I hate failing at things, but without trying I would always be wondering if it was something I could have done. Luckily Thompson & Morgan have handy growing hints and tips on their website and their products always come with detailed instructions. I started off with simple seeds like sunflowers, sweet peas and asters, then progressed onto mini plugs of more tender plants and tomatoes when I got one of those plastic pop up greenhouses. I now have a 6×6 horticultural glasshouse. After eight years or so I can now say I am okay at growing things, but I still consider myself to be a beginner. Does anyone else feel this way?
For example I can grow peppers, aubergines and tomatoes from seed every year without encountering problems. Yet, every year without fail I kill my cucumbers before they are more than a foot high.
Two years ago I tried to grow carrots, the slugs had them. Last year I beat the slugs by moving the pots around constantly, but the carrots were so small, (even though the leaves were huge) that not even a carrot fly could go to the trouble of nibbling on them. It was pretty pathetic. This is why I still feel like a beginner. I have a lot to learn.
The third reason I garden is because of tradition. My paternal grandparents ran a farm so growing crops is in our blood. Whilst my maternal grandparents worked on the land and recycled everything before it became trendy to do so – they were also fantastic cooks and grew a variety of fruit and vegetables in their garden at the back of the house and to me were able to create magical food from a surprisingly small number of ingredients. If we wanted a pudding after our meal we were told to go and eat the raspberries or suck the nectar from the nasturtiums.
Whilst the farming grandparents allowed us the freedom of playing in the barns, walking the sheep dogs, helping harvest potatoes or go running and sitting in the fields, the village dwellers who only had a small garden allowed us to collect ladybirds and caterpillars and grasshoppers and study the insect world for ourselves, so long as we didn’t break the dahlias or peony or roses in the front garden. We never played in the back; I guess we were too scared of damaging grandpa’s regimented rows of produce. Both sets of grandparents taught me lessons I would like to share in future blogs.
This tradition of growing is the real reason why I want to be part of the blogging community. Almost two years ago my dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer, I wasn’t as close to him as my brothers were as my parents divorced when I was thirteen, but luckily through gardening we were able to mend our relationship. Before his illness became too aggressive I told him I was growing potatoes in a grow bag, being a farmer he thought this was the funniest thing anyone had ever told him. He said it wouldn’t work. I saw this as a challenge and gave him daily telephone updates of the potato progress along with taking photos on my phone to show him when we visited on the weekends. I didn’t realise how pleased he was until I overheard him telling his health visitor that I had fantastic food growing in the greenhouse as well as tasty spuds.
As his health began to fail he kept asking me if he could buy me another greenhouse for Christmas, I told him it was too expensive a present and that he needed to keep his money for heating, especially as the cancer had spread to his spine and shoulder bones. I tried to keep his spirits up by having a potato growing challenge – I would grow potatoes again in my grow bags if he grew two in a large plastic pot. After thinking about it he agreed saying he was wrong to say potatoes in sacks would never grow. Sadly dad died in June 2014 two weeks before our potatoes were ready. I inherited the plastic pot with them in it and at first I didn’t want to eat the spuds as that was the last thing he grew. In the end I knew he, like my grandparents, would be mad if I let good food go to waste, so ate them and they were delicious.
Dad also left us a little bit of money – I am not someone who has to have the latest tech, or have to spend it straight away. He didn’t leave us a fortune but it was enough for me to buy a new greenhouse with, it’s a 10×6 one. He also wanted me to be like his father and keep a diary of my gardening year. I have kept diary for most years but they have just been about random bits of daily life. I had no idea my granddad kept a diary of his life and farming methods, just before dad died I had the pleasure of reading the ones he had translated from Welsh from the years 1973, 1974 and 1975. So, forty years on I want to honour my past, be grateful for my present, and look forward to my future. I want to write about a year in my new greenhouse, covering everything from its construction to first fruits. I want to record everything 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.
My actual diary is a physical paper journal where each day I will record things like when the greenhouse was delivered, how many blocks were laid for the base, the weather, things in bloom, and the cost of compost, anything greenhouse related. I sourced my diary on the Internet as the one I wanted includes sections for each week to record things like to do lists, weather patterns and interesting gardens to visit. Each month I will give you a concise update on my progress; I will include photos of significant events, and write some hopefully interesting things. In return all I ask is if you could share some of your gardening moments with me? Please leave me anything from comments, to hints and tips to improve my gardening, or pictures of your own plot. I promise I will try to respond to each one.
Until next month – Happy Gardening!
It’s like a fuchsia festival every summer in my garden! I have been collecting them since inheriting 2 standard specimens from family members, one from my Aunt, Margaret Grindrod, in 2004 (plant pictured in 2005 on left) and one from my father, Ron Stonebanks, in 2007, (plant pictured in 2007 on right). My own enjoyment of fuchsias has clearly stemmed from these very first two. Dad and Auntie Margaret can be seen, sat together in my courtyard garden in North London, back in 2003 before we moved to Bishopstone, the following year.
They had been very keen gardeners themselves, so after their deaths, I needed to make sure the plants did well and lived on in my new garden here on the south coast. Dad’s, I am led to believe is an Empress of Prussia and my Aunt’s a Geneii. My mother tells me that my Dad had bought the standard Empress for their ruby wedding anniversary back in 1990. Today, I still have both their original plants and have since propagated many specimens from them to either sell on when I open for the National Gardens Scheme every summer, or indeed to plant additional specimens in my own amazing garden, Driftwood.
In addition to their original plants, I probably now have over 20 different fuchsias and maybe over 50 different plants, a mixture of trailing, standard and bushes both in the ground, in pots or raised beds! Some hardy and some not! They are the perfect addition to my coastal garden and one in particular, Winston Churchill. This variety thrives really well in my front garden, which directly faces the sea and takes the brunt of the salt laden winds we have here! You can see it protected by the upturned railway sleepers acting as wind breaks.
The back garden has been described as an exuberant yet immaculate seaside garden, split into several garden rooms. It has an eclectic palette, creating a layered tapestry of coloured plantings, beautifully integrating wooden and rusted metal features with the landscape. The heavy, dense plantings (over 600 plants) with no lawn and no exposed soil create an illusion of a much bigger garden. Fuchsias delicate and intricate blooms have always drawn attention from the 10000 plus visitors to the garden in recent years. They love a story and to hear the provenance of the plants, so the one to tell of the Empress of Prussia and Geneii, go down very well. In the picture to the left, you can see one of the Geneii here on the left an Empress on the right with magellicana versicolour centre and Quasar and Pink Temptation in the foreground and Riccartonii in the background! To the right, a flower from Empress of Prussia.
In 2013 Thompson and Morgan sent me some Duke of Wellington plugs and 3 are doing really well in the garden now and are very easy to grow and seem to cope well with what the weather throws at them here. As is the stunning Quasar that were sent as a trial plant in 2014. Their enormous blooms making a real statement in any garden. I also inherited some lovely terracotta wall pots from my Aunt as well and each summer I plant them up with two of my favourite fuchsias, Pink Temptation (a bushy, trailing and floriferous fuchsia with bright, fresh looking flowers) and Lena ( a medium-sized deciduous shrub of open habit ) They seem to flower all summer long and look so dramatic tumbling out over the wall creating a stunning display of mini ballerinas!
That said, another pretty bloom that looks great in wall pots tumbling down is Ballet Girl which I have had in the garden for the last 3 years! It really is amazing the different colour palettes to be had with fuchsias. Another pretty one we’ve had for a few years is Miss California, another that does not seem to mind the weather conditions down here on the coast! A great coloured variety that looks great in any bed, mine are grown in a raised bed and large pot, are Lady in Black with stunning dark flower heads! No matter what the type, the bees seem to love fuchsias and flock to them in the garden each summer.
Last summer I decided to create a bed dominated by fuchsias as they just do not let you down with their beautiful, long lasting displays in the garden! The 2 images above are Ballet Girl and Duke of Wellington. Other beds last summer had mixes of Riccartonni, Lady Boothby, Empress of Prussia, and Lady in Black, which looked amazing all through the summer.
Last year I bought a new hardy fuchsia, Versicolour Magellicana and put one in the front garden and one in a raised bed in the back garden and both have done really well flowering prolifically until the first frosts! Here you can see it dominate the raised bed with a Quasar and Pink Temptation in the foreground.
I would have no hesitation in recommending fuchsias to any garden owner wanting long lasting and interesting colour in their garden in 2015. There are so many to choose from that there can be no question of not being able to match the colour palette you want to create.
So come gardeners across the UK go out and plant some stunning fuchsias for the Thompson & Morgan Fuchsia Festival 2015!
Hi There! My name is Jack Shilley; I’m 19 years old and i have an incredible passion for horticulture and growing your own. This is my first blog for Thompson & Morgan so I thought I’d take this opportunity to share with you my horticultural story – so that you get to know me a bit better before I start sharing my Thompson & Morgan product experiences with you all.
My horticultural passion, expertise and background lies within the horticultural retail and business sectors which I adore. I also have a growing passion for journalism, media and broadcast horticulture which I hope one day will become my full time career. Oh and vegetables, fruit & tropical’s are my favourite plants to grow!
I started gardening around the age of 6 years old when my parents first bought me a small, pop up greenhouse in which I could start growing a few things. I was lucky enough to attend Ranelagh CofE School (Secondary school) where they had a thriving gardening club run by Peter Seabrook’s daughter (Alison Seabrook-Moore). As part of this gardening club, and under the guidance of Peter himself, we were lucky enough to exhibit a garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2009. This was an incredible experience for a 14 year old and turned my gardening hobby in to my long term horticultural career.
After I completed my GCSE’s and one year of A-level study, I undertook a level 3 extended diploma in horticulture at Sparsholt College Hampshire – and I’ve never looked back! Sparsholt was a great place to study and I graduated in June 2014 with a distinction star grade – you can’t get any better than that! During my second year of study I was lucky enough to once again design, build and exhibit an RHS Chelsea Flower Show garden. Being more involved this time was stressful, fun and tiring all at once. When results day came it was the greatest feeling in the world to be so highly reward for all our classes’ hard work by achieving a Gold medal and best in category! Amazing!
After graduation I was accepted for a position with the National Tropical Botanical gardens on the island of Kauai, in Hawaii. This was an amazing experience and I learned loads about one of my favourite plant categories – tropical’s! Working with these exotic plants in Kauai’s unique climate and landscape was just inspiring and the other interns who I lived and worked with were also awesome!
I am currently working in horticultural retail at a garden centre in Bagshot and I am hoping to head back to Sparsholt to attain my horticulture degree in September 2015 for 3 years. I also started YoungHort in December 2013 – which you can find out more about here.
And that’s all about Jack! (Me in a nutshell!!)
More to come ….