Bird Baths for the Garden

We all need a drink of water and birds are no different. During the cold months water can be scarce; so it is our job to make sure that our native and visiting birds get the water and food they need. We have been encroaching on their patch for so long now that it is time for us to step up and help these poor birdies out!

Blue tit, Robin and Blackbird

Blue tit, Robin and Blackbird

So what can we do? The best way to help the birds to enjoy a fresh drink of water is to keep a bird bath in the garden all year round. It will need to have shallow sloping sides approximately 2.5cm to 10cm (1” to 4”), so that different species can enjoy drinking and having a bath! The surface needs to be rough so the birds can hold on with their claws, but the aesthetics of the bird bath are more to please us than the birds, who won’t mind if it is an old bowl. At Thompson & Morgan we are always concerned about wildlife and the impact that we all have on them, so we have a range of bird baths to please you and the birds.

Thompson & Morgan Birdbath

Thompson & Morgan Birdbath

The type of bird bath you have and the varieties of vegetation around it will determine the types of birds you get visiting. When birds are bathing they do get rather preoccupied and excited so it is most important to make sure they are not vulnerable to cats or other pets. The birds will need clear visibility as they bathe, and planting bushes and trees nearby will provide vital cover when they feel alarmed or scared. After bathing birds like to preen so bushes and trees will also provide a place to do this, and the higher off the ground the safer they will feel. Adding a thick layer of clippings from thorny vegetation, such as rose bushes or pyracantha, underneath the bird bath will help keep your pets away.

Try placing the bird bath around the garden to find the ideal spot. You may be lucky enough to see parent birds bringing their babies for a drink after they have fledged. The parent birds will want to show their babies where the water is. Birds can drink a large amount of water so keep it topped up regularly.

You can encourage more species of birds with a bird bath than you can with a feeder, so this is another reason to bring one into the garden. Birds such as wrens, and waxwings that eat insects and fruit don’t usually visit feeders so a bird bath will encourage these species to visit your garden. Bird baths can attract all kinds of birds including bluebirds, robins, warblers and thrushes, and you may even get an owl fly in at dawn when they are thirsty for a drink. Having the bird bath in sight of your window means you will be able to see your visitoring birds and you can enjoy watching them enjoy themselves in the bird bath.

Do take note that during droughts birds try and drink from water barrels and drinking troughs, and unfortunately many die from drowning. We recommend keeping your water containers under a lid which should encourage the birds to use the bird bath instead.

If you would like to find out more visit the RSPB who have lots of information on helping birds through the seasons.

Wendie Alexander
Currently at university I have nearly finished my English Degree. I have been at Thompson & Morgan for nearly 3 years. I am a keen gardener who wants to learn lots more!

The history of the petunia (part two)

In part one we explored a brief history of how the petunia emigrated from Argentina to Britain, but I was curious about the life of John (James) Tweedie, and I was interested to find out when T&M first started selling petunias. Luckily I had two people who were willing to give me some answers. Firstly I am indebted to Mr Graham Hardy the Serials Librarian at The Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh. When researching the early introduction of petunia seeds sent from Argentina by Tweedie, some of the reports called him John and some were calling him James, as I was worried about getting my facts wrong, I emailed Mr Hardy my query and he very kindly sent me some fascinating links including one that is an online copy of Mr Tweedie’s obituary. This document highlights what an important and extraordinary man he was. Not only was he a professional landscape gardener and held the title of Foreman in Dalkeith Gardens, but he also held the title at The Edinburgh Royal Botanic Gardens too. He didn’t travel to South America until he was fifty and he died there aged eighty seven after some remarkable plant hunting adventures. It wasn’t only the petunia seeds he sent back to Scotland, as gardeners we have a lot to thank him for.

 

Petunia 'Night Sky' and Petunia 'Cremissimo'

Petunia ‘Night Sky’ and Petunia ‘Cremissimo’

 

I have copied the link in for you if you wish to learn more about him, with kind permission from Mr Hardy and the Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh “You can read the obituary for John Tweedie published in the Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 28 June 1862, here http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/32988793. With credit to the Biodiversity Heritage Library. BHL is a US initiative started around 2005, which provides a platform for digital versions of biological books held in US and UK libraries, it is a great thing to have access to.”**

There is also this link for his species now known as Petunia integrifolia (Hooker) Schinz & Thell. You can see herbarium specimens of this species collected by John Tweedie on RBGE’s online herbarium catalogue here: http://elmer.rbge.org.uk/bgbase/vherb/bgbasevherb.php. again printed with kind permission from Mr Hardy and The Royal Botanical Gardens.**

And by no means least a big Thank You to Anne who was working the Petunia Parade Facebook posts who kindly answered my other question When did Thompson and Morgan first sell petunias? “There were no petunias in the 1914 catalogue, but in 1915 there were quite a few. The most popular petunia sold is ‘Priscilla’ and she is twenty years old this year and is as popular as ever.”

 

Petunia 'Purple Rocket' and Petunia Crazytunia 'Green With Envy'

Petunia ‘Purple Rocket’ and Petunia Crazytunia ‘Green With Envy’

 

The story isn’t over yet, new breeding still continues, a quick look through the Two Thousand and Sixteen Spring Catalogue from T&M shows us the introduction of eleven new Petunias. My favourites are ‘Night Sky’, ‘Cremissimo’, and ‘Anna’. So maybe it’s about time to actually take a leaf out of The Dixons Men’s Garden Club who are based in Dixon, Illinois, America and put our Petunias on Parade.

Each year they plant thousands of pink petunias along at least two miles of their main roads into Dixon. If that’s not enough Ludington residents plant thirty thousand red, white and blue petunias at their marina and downtown boulevards, and they credit Charlesvox in Michigan for the idea, as their residents plant up five miles of US 31 with these flowers each year.

 

Petunia 'Stars and Stripes Mixed'

Petunia ‘Stars and Stripes Mixed’

 

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could get just one city, town, village or hamlet in Britain to start a real Petunia Parade too?

*Mendle’s Law quoted from Wikipedia.

** Quoted from Grahah Hardy. RBGE

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.

Preparing for the new gardening season

Today Alan (my Husband) has put my 4 foot portable greenhouse up after being stored away for the past 8 months since it was last used. I also have a 2 foot one which just fits nicely together alongside the 4 foot one, close by the kitchen door and will be erected as the first one fills up.   You will see from the photograph that Alan has made a bracket which is fitted to the front of both greenhouses and screwed into the wall, following an unfortunate experience last year when on a very rough day it lifted the greenhouse up together with all the plants! This seems to work very well now against strong winds. Updated 8th February: We have had storm Imogen whistle through today with winds of 60-70 mph here on the South Coast of Bournemouth and thankfully my greenhouse is still standing.

I also have a hexagonal greenhouse which will be near Alan`s workshop. The last two years have been unable to use it as the zip had broken and I was unable to get another cover. Towards the end of last year I managed to find a new one, so now it will used this year for extra room until the plants are big enough to be put in their baskets and containers.

Jean's Greenhouse, chains and shoehanger

Jean’s Greenhouse, chains and shoehanger

A lot of the flowers from last summer seem to have continued flowering through the last three months. Some of the Diascia in the hanging basket just keep going on and on. Erysimum, the everlasting wallflower has been in flower and is still has more flowers to come.

The bulbs that were planted last October in containers have several daffodils which have been flowering since just after Christmas and at the time of writing (the beginning of February) I have tulips in bud, although to be honest it could be a few days before they will flower and then only if the weather warms up and the sun comes out. Until 10 days ago my Lantana was still flowering, we had a very hard frost one night and it was `goodbye` to them. The Eucomis (pineapple lily plant) is shooting well, so have covered it with some new compost in case we get another hard frost.

Jean's Bumblebee Hyacinth, Magnolia 'Susan' and Hyacinth

Jean’s Bumblebee Hyacinth, Magnolia ‘Susan’ and Hyacinth

I have also been sorting out my hanging baskets – do I really have that many? A friend who has moved into a flat gave me some of the original terracotta easy fill plastic baskets, large and also smaller ones which hold six plants round the outside and three or four plants in the top. I have also cleared space for my Incredicompost® which is on order from Thompson and Morgan and is due within the next week, and the first plants should be arriving towards the end of March.   This year I have also purchased two new computer timers for our watering system, the old ones finally gave up and weren`t reliable.

Spring looked as if it had come a little early a couple of days ago. My hyacinths from Thompson & Morgan were in full flower and had been left in the porch with the door open as it was a sunny day. I found three huge bumble bees fighting over the hyacinths one of which had nestled itself right into the flowers. The Magnolia Stellata has one flower out so far, a little early, but still very welcome.

Jean's Erysium, Daffodils and Geraniums

Jean’s Erysium, Daffodils and Geraniums

At the end of each day when I have finished with my gardening tools, I like to clean them with a rag and spray them with a well-known lubricant oil which keeps the tools from getting rusty and always ready for use. In my small shed I have an old shoe hanger where all the small tools, trowel, hand fork etc. are kept. All the chains for the hanging baskets hang on the inside the door and are sprayed with the same lubricant as the tools at the end of the season for protection during the winter. Now if only I could keep my kitchen that tidy…I guess something has to give when you love your garden! Until the next time…Happy Gardening!

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.

The history of the petunia

There is always a plant that, like Marmite, you either love or loathe, and it appears that through the
ages the petunia has been this plant. As part of the Solanaceae family, it is closely related to the tobacco, cape gooseberry, tomato, potato, chilli pepper and deadly nightshade.

In the early sixteenth century when Queen Elizabeth I reigned, Spanish explorers in South America
discovered a low growing, trail forming, white flowered scented Axillaris, which in the Tupi-Guarani language was called Petun. This roughly translated from their language to the “worthless tobacco plant.” But, because of its perceived ugliness, the explorers did not think it was worth sending samples of it back to Spain. And ironically, anyone in Britain during the fifteen hundreds believed that the petunia was a symbol of the demonic power of satanism as it was reputed to harbour anger and resentment.

Petunia x hybridia 'Sparklers'

Petunia x hybridia ‘Sparklers’

Fast forward about three hundred years to Eighteen Twenty Three, during the reign of King George III. It’s just after the Napoleonic Wars and the French King, Joseph Bonaparte, (Napoleon’s Brother) has sent explores back to Argentina.  This time they send samples of the plant back to Spain, where botanists confirmed the Indian name for it and place it in the tobacco family. Just a few years later there are records that state in 1831 the great Scottish Explorer John (James) Tweedie was exploring the Americas, and he came across another genus of the Petunia the Violacea which is purple in colour. He too, took specimens of the plant and he sent them to the Glasgow Botanical Gardens.

Tweedie is also listed as a collector for the Edinburgh Botanical Gardens and out of the 35 genus of petunia, there is one named after him. Petunia Tweedia. Categorised as a Grandiflora the series is an example of this genus. He is an extraordinary and inspiring person and there is more about him in part two of this blog.  In the late eighteen hundreds breeders, especially in England Germany, America and Japan began crossing the sample of petunias they had in search of more varied colours and larger petals. These early crossings were referred to as Petunia X Hybrida although they were not strictly hybrids.

In Nineteen Hundred a well known American Seed company noted in their sales catalogue that
double petunias only occurred in twenty to thirty percent of petunias grown from seed.  Moving to Nineteen Thirty Four, a mere eighty two years ago, when King George IV reigned, the Japanese once again came to the forefront of petunia breeding, by being the first to breed the consistently double petunia. They had managed to understand and apply Mendel’s Third Law of Dominance. (In a cross between two organisms pure for any pair [pairs] of contrasting characteristics the character that appears in the F1 generation is called the dominant one).* So now you know why so many seed packets have an F1 hybrid on them.

Petunia 'Purple Wave' and Petunia 'Rainbow'

There are also F2 type Petunias and T&M’s Petunia Rainbow is an example of these. It does not mean that it is a lesser plant, it just means that its the seeds collected and grown from a F1 parent. To read more on the differences between F1 and F2 plants I would recommend you read the info pages on the T&M website. Within the same decade, German seed companies bred Grandiflora Petunias looking for colour diversity, and in the late Nineteen Thirties the American Charles Weddle discovered the fact doubleness was a dominant gene and by crossing a true double with a suitable petunia would result in seeds that would only produce double flowers.

Queen Elizabeth II is crowned in Nineteen Fifty Three and breeders are still trying to find the perfect petunia, Firstly there is Claude Hope who releases the F1 hybrid cultivator Connache. He is instrumental in the producing of the hybridisation of the single and double Grandiflora and Multiflora strains we see today, In addition there is Fred Statt who we must thank for breeding disease and weather resistant plants. In Nineteen Eighty Three a new class of petunias called Floribunda are created. In 1995 Petunia ‘Purple Wave’ is introduced and in 1996 the Milliflora is bred.

So that’s a brief history of how the petunia emigrated from Argentina to Britain, but I was curious about the life of John (James) Tweedie so read the rest of my history of the Petunia in Part Two.

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.

I can’t wait for spring!

The T&M spring catalogues arrived this week and I am so excited! I have been choosing my plants for the summer customer trials. I shall concentrate my efforts on two areas – patio containers and hanging baskets and our allotment and greenhouse.

 

Petunia 'Cremissimo', 'Peach Sundae' and Begonia 'Garden Angels'

Petunia ‘Cremissimo’, ‘Crazytunia Mandevilla’ and Begonia ‘Garden Angels’

 

The theme on our patio is exotic, with year round interest provided by abutilons, ferns, fatsias, phormiums and heucheras so I have planned my selection to complement that: everything citrus coloured including NEW Petunia ‘Cremissimo’ – if its anything like last year’s ‘Peach Sundae’ then it’s going to be stunning! NEW Calibrachoa ‘Kabloom Terracotta’, NEW Petunia ‘Crazytunia Mandevilla’ and NEW Begonia ‘Garden Angels’, which look like heucheras-on-steroids! I am also going to try my hand at growing Ricinus Communis ‘Impala‘ from seed, Eucomis ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ bulbs & NEW Curcuma ‘Twister’ tuber to go with the potted ginger lilies and cannas.

 

Calibrachoa 'Kabloom Terracotta', Ricinus communis 'Impala' and Curcuma 'Twister'

Calibrachoa ‘Kabloom Terracotta’, Ricinus communis ‘Impala’ and Curcuma ‘Twister’

 

In the greenhouse we have room for half a dozen cordon tomatoes and a couple of cucumbers, so this year we’re trying Tomato ‘Tutti Fruitti Collection’ for a change, but are sticking to Cucumber ‘Cucino’ as I haven’t found a mini cucumber to rival its productivity. I am fascinated at the thought of edible fuchsia berries so we are having a go at the NEW Fuchsia Berry. More modest trials for the allotment due to time constraints makes us focus on the more unusual, so after tastings at the T&M Trials Open Day last summer, we will try growing Cucamelon ‘Melothria’, Squash [Patty Pans] ‘Summer Mix’ and Courgette ‘De Nice A Fruit Rond’.

 

Tomato 'Rainbow Blend' Cumcumber 'Cucino' and Fuchsia Berry

Tomato ‘Rainbow Blend’ Cumcumber ‘Cucino’ and Fuchsia Berry

 

Of course I couldn’t stop there without buying a couple of things that I have no room for, so NEW Brunnera ‘Alexander’s Great’ and Digitalis ‘Illumination Ruby Slippers’are on the list too!

David has been busy too, adding a small living wall to the front garden display; an area by our front door of about W:25cms x H:40cm with room for about 16 plants. It’s a north facing aspect so more ferns & grasses, and maybe a couple of hostas and herbs. Installing a drip irrigation system should be easy as the tap is situated conveniently right underneath.

The new planting scheme out front is settling in well, spring bulbs are coming up throughout and I have added a beautiful Hellebore ‘Spring Promise’ and a couple more ferns. David succeeded in finding two lovely tall containers to go either side of the front door for my Christmas present. Once installed securely I planted each one with chinodoxa bulbs for spring colour, three huge tree lilies for summer colour, infant contorted willows for year round interest (these quick growers will have to come out when we can no longer get through the front door) and hakonechloa aurea grass for good measure! Think I’ve been a bit too over-enthusiastic but hey, what the heck. David has created some unique lights too which are attracting lots of comments – using recycled bottles and jars.

 

Caroline's house and front garden

Caroline’s house and front garden

 

Today it has snowed for the first time this winter, and a long time coming too! But never to be distracted from my plant addiction I’m off to the garden centre for my ferns and grasses! Watch this space……..

St. Mary’s Church of England Primary School and the Tomtato®

Children from St. Mary’s Church of England Primary School in Woodbridge grow our famous Tomtato®’s

St. Mary’s Church of England Voluntary Aided Primary School in Woodbridge, Suffolk received a handful of our wonderful Tomtato® plants for free. We did this to encourage and educate the children about growing their own vegetables and the enjoyment this can bring. They lovingly grew their Tomtato®’s and sent us a letter thanking us for the plants which we gave for free, and telling us how they got on. The letter was from three of the class Rebecca, Charlotte and Ettie.

Letter from St Mary's School Woodbridge

Letter from St Mary’s School Woodbridge

They also provided photographs of the plants, from which they had a bumper harvest. All the tomatoes and potatoes were then shared out between the growers and the class, so that each child was able to take some home to their parents and carers. The remainder of the produce was sold to the teachers and staff, who all said the tomatoes and potatoes were scrumptious!

St Mary's and Tomtato® Growing

St Mary’s and Tomtato® Growing

This exercise has hopefully shown the children and parents that growing your own fruit and vegetables is neither difficult nor time consuming. It brings great rewards and shows everyone how to become self sustaining, as we all know that home grown is best.

St Mary and Tomtato® Fully Grown

St Mary’s and Tomtato® Fully Grown

The children seemed to have a lot of fun and lets hope we can encourage more children to grow their own fruit and vegetables.

Thank you St. Mary’s Church of England Voluntary Aided Primary School in Woodbridge for your lovely letter and super photographs.

 

 

 

Wendie Alexander
Currently at university I have nearly finished my English Degree. I have been at Thompson & Morgan for nearly 3 years. I am a keen gardener who wants to learn lots more!

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