My Fascination of Plants

Have you ever really considered what attracts you to gardening or plants in general? Is it the way they look, the colours they produce, you can eat them or they were just the ones that the shop had at the time? For me it’s a bit more sciency (yes I’ve just made a new word).

We all know that you can set a seed, keep it warm and damp and it will grow. That part is no different to how we reproduce. (Well slightly but the theory is the same.) Except plants don’t just reproduce by seed. Some you can break a piece of them off, put it into water on a windowsill and it starts to shoot roots and grow more leaves. Others simply grow another version of themselves out the side of them, which you can then divide.

 

Flowers and pollinators

 

It simply fascinates me that they can do this. We can’t simply chop off a toe or take some hair and place it into water to grow another one of ourselves. If we could it might have some rather drastic consequences.

Of course we do share some similar qualities to plants in the way we present ourselves to others to be able to continue to stand as a human race. I know that sounds rather strange but we put on make-up, dress in certain ways and spray ourselves silly with perfumes and aftershaves. But plants are very special in how they do this. They get someone else to do the work for them.

 

Arum Lily & Buddleja

 

Take the bee orchid. How has it evolved to know that it needs to produce a flower that looks like the bee that pollinates it to reproduce? Or the Titan Arum which has a 10 foot tall flower and smells of rotten meat to attract its pollinators? Some plants will only open when they cane ‘hear’ the vibration of the certain insect that can pollinate it. Others make their fruits attractive to birds because they need the stomach acid to soften the seed coating before it can germinate.

Is it possible that maybe plants, although do not have a physical brain like animals, really do think and have managed to manipulate the world around them for their own advantage? This might be a bold statement but really, plants are far superior to the animal kingdom. After all they have been here thousands of years before us so they should have a good head start. I just can’t get enough of them.

Until next time Lesley

Lesley Palmer
I’m a 22 year old female horticulturalist. I studied at Easton College for two years until June 2014 and became self employed providing garden care and design in north Norfolk. I currently care for 21 gardens and have now achieved a few designs and a small landscaping project.

I am passionate about getting young people, especially primary schools, involved in gardening again. I began because of spending so much time in the garden with my granddad as a child. I was also a member of my primary school’s environment club.

I am a fan of Michael Perry and James Wong.

Storm stories from Geoff Stonebanks

We moved to Seaford back in 2004 and have now seen 13 years of winter weather. How unprepared we were though for the Winter of 2015/2016! The storms and gales along with the salt laden winds have been by far the worst we have experienced, in terms of their impact on the garden.

 

MET office weather map & phlomis

MET office weather map & phlomis

 

It all began with Storm Abigail back in November and most recently we had Storm Jake, but by far the worst to hit the garden was Storm Imogen on the 8th February. You can see from the Met Office’s weather map for the day that we got winds of up to 80mph across the south coast! I decided to take a short video clip of the storm’s impact on the garden that afternoon and you can see the evidence in the short film I posted to YouTube. It was very difficult to stand up outside the house that day with the force of the gales! Many of the protective fleeces I put on the more delicate plants, primarily for protection from the winds, rather than from the cold, were torn apart by the gales as you can see.

 

Phormium 'Platt's Black' & torn fleece

Phormium ‘Platt’s Black’ & torn fleece

 

The view out of the front porch window across the beach garden was pretty grim too! At this time of year, the garden is usually looking quite pretty with lots of things looking forward to spring. This year however it still looks pretty desolate with so much to do to tidy it up. I look out now and think it will never be as good as it was last year by the time we open the garden gate to the public in June!

 

The front seaside garden was planted to take account of the coastal weather and it is quite amazing how resilient the plants can be in such adverse conditions. The Hellebore argentifolius in the centre still managed to look radiant throughout. The large clump of Cineraria ‘Silver Dust’ by the entrance has been decimated with the relentless salt winds but amazingly still has a few signs of new growth upon it. I am hopeful it will make a recovery when the weather changes. Likewise, the Phlomis fructicosa in both front and back has been the worst impacted with all the new growth in January completely destroyed and now looking very sorry for themselves. Another casualty at the front is the badly burnt rosemary which has had all the ends browned off.

 

Orlearia & Eleagarius x ebbingeii

Orlearia & Eleagarius x ebbingeii

 

Whilst the front garden actually still looks quite good overall, the back is another story. Even old stalwarts like the eleaganus x ebbingeii and the several bay shrubs have taken a real beating with many of their leaf ends turning brown.

One of my favourite Euphorbia, Mellifera, has really been badly scorched with all new growth and even whole stems decimated by the salt, there is still some newer growth now further down the plant which is promising.

This hardy fuchsia, riccartonii had lots of new growth prior to the storms but they were all burnt off but amazingly nature is incredible and there are signs of it starting to shoot again.

 

Bay & Fuchsia riccartoni

Bay & Fuchsia riccartoni

 

There is lots of ivy around the garden too, which has taken a real beating as this picture alongside the gate at the top of the garden bears testament. Even good coastal shrubs like olearia have taken a real thrashing too this winter with many scorched leaves across the tops of the hedges.

 

Ivy & Euphorbia mellifera

Ivy & Euphorbia mellifera

 

The container of Phormium ‘Platts Black’ alongside the Summer House was right in the line of fire for the winds blowing up the garden, it is a relatively recent New Zealand Flax cultivar with leaves in the most remarkable shade of purple-brown that is almost black. One of the more compact Phormiums, this has an elegant weeping habit that makes it eminently suited to growing in a pot, lets hope we see some new growth so I can cut back the damaged leaves.

 

Physocarpus Opulifolius 'Summer Wine'

Physocarpus Opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’

 

One of the lovely shrubs in a container, Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’ has also been a victim to the weather too, even though relatively protected at the back of the house. Many gardeners know this as ninebark, an undistinguished shrub with ordinary green leaves, white flowers, and fall fruit. But ‘Seward,’ sold under the trademark name ‘Summer Wine’, has outstanding burgundy leaves and pink flowers that bloom in early summer. This plant is super tough and makes a stunning focal point, let’s see how tough it is and hope it does well again this summer. We now need a sustained period of good weather to enable me to get out and work on the garden ready for is summer visitors.

 

You can read more about the garden at www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk and see how the garden looks by the summer!

Geoff Stonebanks
Geoff Stonebanks was very lucky to be able to retire early from 30 years in Royal Mail back in 2004. He had 3 different careers with them first as a caterer, then manager of a financial analysis team and finally as an Employee Relations Manager and Personnel Manager. He sold up and moved with his partner to Bishopstone, near Seaford in East Sussex in 2004 and now spends all his time gardening and fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support. Using his multi award-winning garden as a base, first opened to the public in 2009, he has raised over £61000 for various charities in 6 years, £32300 of that for Macmillan. In his spare time, he is also Assistant County Organiser for the National Gardens Scheme and their Publicity Officer for East & Mid Sussex.

Having fun with glass jars, beads and succulents

It’s been a long while since I managed to write things down – moving house kind of got in the way and last summer was spent trying to unpack boxes and tame a rather wild garden. Now that things are slowly getting straight I have had a chance to divert my attention to playing with indoor planting.

Being a lover of gadgets and fun things, I stumbled upon a website from China and after a bit of surfing and buying some very silly things, I came across these:

 

Glass Jars

 

Obviously these stirred my curiosity and creative bones, and I decided to take the plunge and buy them. Three of the connecting ones and one each of the others (the whole lot came to less than £15!). I had a bit of trepidation about ordering fragile glass items from the other side of the world but my philosophy tends to be “if it works, great, if it doesn’t it’s a lesson learned!”

3 weeks later and I had purchased my plants, succulents http://www.thompson-morgan.com/flowers/all-other-seeds-and-plants/cacti mainly, a colleague had also suggested I try planting in aqua beads rather than soil as it would look nicer and perhaps a bit more modern. The packages arrived, all in one piece and looks amazing! I really felt quite excited about putting everything together for my soilless indoor experiment.

Here are the ingredients…

 

Ingredients needed

 

And so to work:

First thing was to gently wash away the soil from all of the plants’ roots, this was done by soaking them first and a careful rinse which removed most of it followed by a more meticulous picking away of any leftover lumps of compost which left me with this:

 

Plants are washed and ready

 

I decided to start with the large jar, on the basis that it would be the easiest and less fiddly to do, so I dropped a couple of handfuls of the hydrated aqua beads in, they are extremely slippery when at their full size and behave like toy rubber balls so if you drop one it could go anywhere, several of mine did! Once they’d been levelled off I started to place my plants, taller ones at the back and smaller at the front, hopefully I’ll get the desired effect once they start to grow. It was a case of position the plants, hold them and gently slide the roots into the mass of jelly like beads. Once they were all planted however it looked slightly anaemic and needed a bit of depth. The best solution I came up with was to sprinkle some aquarium gravel around the plants (I have fish tanks so not a problem) and this looked loads better and I was pleased with the result.

 

The end results are stunning

 

The hanging glass balls were, as I suspected, slightly more tricky to assemble, but worth it, I used a dessert spoon to put enough water beads in and did the same with the plants too as my fat fingers wouldn’t fit in.

 

Glass Jars nearly finished

 

Finished Jars And so I had planted them all up, and considering how cheap the glassware was, I am really happy with them all!

I’ll feed them once a month with a liquid feed direct into the beads which will probably dye them a blue colour, hopefully this will make them look interesting too. I’m looking forward to seeing how they develop and really hoping that some of the plants will start to trail out of the openings for the full effect to be complete.  The next project is going to be a miniature garden in an outdoor pot. Time to start collecting bits and pieces for that!

Graham.

I have been gardening since I was knee high to my Grandad, he taught me as much about gardening when I was a nipper as I learnt at school about reading and writing! I have been working as a self employed gardener/landscaper for approximately ten years. I have a passion for gardening, growing things is one of the most rewarding things anyone can do. I would like to share with you some of my experiments and who knows, they might just work!

Resistance and susceptibility

As this is my first blog, ever, I thought I would start by reflecting a little on where our gardening world has been going since the Second World War and, of course, where we are on the journey now!

Immediately after the war our successive Governments, of a variety of political persuasions, encouraged farmers and growers to maximise the cropping potential of every acre of land they could make productive. This move, in turn, caused what became known as the chemical treadmill. Where we applied stronger and stronger chemical products to kill off pests, diseases and weeds; that dared to attack our ever increasing acreages of crops. By the time we reached the 1970’s we had food mountains and wine lakes and had, without realising it, started to kill off wild flowers, insects, birds and wild animals in numbers that are now causing us serious concern.

 

Meadowland Mixture and Wildflower 'Honey Bee Mixed'

Meadowland Mixture and Wildflower ‘Honey Bee Mixed’

 

When Rachel Carson wrote ‘The Silent Spring’ in 1962 few people listened to her concerns about the excessive use of chemical pesticides across the developed and developing world. When Dr. Chris Baines got the BBC to make the film ‘Bluetits and Bumblebees’ in the early 1980’s we all watched it but did not pick up the message. The Henry Doubleday Research Association (now Garden Organic), started in 1954 by Lawrence Hills has been encouraging amateur and professional growers to steer away from inorganic pesticides for over 60 years but who has been listening?

Now that scientific evidence and advanced knowledge of the damage that we have done to our planet over the last 60 + years has come into the public’s view, our Seed companies, breeders, researchers, nurseries and growers are seeing the potential market in offering us new strains of old favourites that require less and less pesticide attention.

 

Tomato 'Mountain Magic' and Carrot 'Flyaway' F1 Hybrid

Tomato ‘Mountain Magic’ and Carrot ‘Flyaway’ F1 Hybrid

 

Scanning through the first eleven pages of Thompson and Morgan’s 2016 Seed Catalogue, I have found five cultivars of popular vegetables that have known resistance to one problem or another. Tomato ‘Mountain Magic’ F1 is resistant to early and late blight; Carrot ‘Flyaway’ F1 is resistant to carrot root fly; Parsnip ‘Gladiator’F1 is resistant to Parsnip canker; Cucumber ‘Bella’ F1 and Courgette ‘Defender’ F1 are both resistant to powdery mildew.

 

Parsnip 'Gladiator' F1 Hybrid and Cucumber 'Bella' F1 Hybrid

Parsnip ‘Gladiator’ F1 Hybrid and Cucumber ‘Bella’ F1 Hybrid

 

Maybe someone will find strains of Impatiens and Aquilegias that are not devastated by Downy mildew in the future and Ash trees that are resistant to Ash dieback.

 

Busy Lizzy 'Divine Mixed' and Aquilegia 'Swan Mixed'

Busy Lizzy ‘Divine Mixed’ and Aquilegia ‘Swan Mixed’

 

This is all fantastic work on the part of breeders and growers and I feel sure that the list will get longer over the years as the pesticides gradually disappear from our Garden Centre shelves and pests and diseases become more resistant to them.

This cultural method of reducing the impact of pests and diseases should now be at the forefront in our battle with Mother Nature and, if we use physical barriers to help prevent attacks alongside the occasional use of biological control methods, we should be able to stop the use inorganic pesticides altogether.

Graham Porter.

Graham Porter
I have worked in horticulture for the past 49 years and have become more involved with and concerned about the environmental impact that our profession has had on the world. I am married with 2 grown up children and 4 wonderful grandchildren. I am currently writing my first book that reflects my thoughts on gardening / horticulture in an environmentally friendly manner.

Clearing up after Storm Imogen!

Dear Gardeners,

Firstly, I would like to apologise for this blog been later than intended. I could say it was down to my gastro-flu bug, or I could blame the weather, either way it has kept me out of the greenhouse for weeks. I was reading over last February’s blog and gardening diary, and in terms of planting I am about a week behind. Last year I was tending to my indoor onions that seemed to take forever to grow, but were well worth the wait. My potatoes were in their grow bags, and I was waiting for some of my seeds to germinate.

This year my Potato ‘Charlotte’ have been growing their funny little tails in my tin cupboard next to the sink as opposed to on top of the wardrobe in egg cartons. The reason why they were in the cupboard is because I took them out of my fridge salad drawer where I had been keeping them from last year to warm up, and I put them in the cupboard in a bowl, then accidentally forgot about them, it was only when we were looking for a tin of tuna that we rediscovered them!

 

Potato 'Charlotte'

Potato ‘Charlotte’

 

The weather here in Pembrokeshire has been awful – day after day of rain. We also got hit badly by Storm Imogen at the start of the month, and it came at the worst possible time. We were due to take a relative who had been staying here back to London on the Monday morning, and stay a few days with them ,as we wanted to beat the early morning traffic we set the alarm for stupid o clock and went to bed early. Unfortunately the wind was howling, around midnight, and the thunder woke us up. As a precaution we set the mobile phone alarm in case our electricity went off. We never really got back to sleep properly and when dawn came round we were dismayed to find that the storm was getting worse. We were just finishing our breakfast when Mark causally announced that he was surprised the greenhouses was still standing. To be honest so was I. We had checked the local radio announcements and they said that the Cleddau Bridge was close to all vehicles as the winds had been recorded at 95 MPH meaning we would have to go the long way round to reach the motorway and when the bridge is closed it cuts the county in half, so anyone going from Pembroke Dock to Haverfordwest and vice versa would face a 30 mile detour. Then suddenly crash. I looked at Mark, “What was that?” I asked. Another crash and splatter, the unmistakeable sound of the greenhouses exploding. It was still too dark to see anything, and as we placed the relative in her car seat, we drove away wondering just what we would come home too.

 

Greenhouse damage

Greenhouse & Garden Damage

 

On the way to London, I text mum and Rachel to ask if it was safe later in the week, could they see how much damage was done, part of me wanted to know, part of me was dreading it. Rachel, unfortunately wasn’t able to check, but mums text said, it doesn’t look too bad. I think she was being optimistic as we lost 14 panes of glass and the door had popped out out of its frame, meaning that the plants had very little protection from the elements when we were away.

When we got back Mark managed to put the door back in, remarkably the glass that had popped out of it lay on the grass undamaged. We also had some spare panes from when the large greenhouse was delivered last year, so that saved a lot of money. We salvaged a piece of glass that was broken at the corners, useless for the part it had come out of but perfect for a missing triangular bit if the glazier was willing to cut it for us. We phoned our usual glazier and got no reply, so we tried a new one who said the older one was no longer in business. The new glazier was more than happy to cut the spare glass for us, he said his supplies were a bit low as everyone was calling on him. We ended up having to buy only 8 sheets at £35 so it wasn’t too expensive. Frustratingly the wind and rain meant it took another few days before it was safe enough for Mark to go out into the garden to install them.

 

Amanda's remaining plants

What’s left after Storm Imogen!

 

As for the plants, well, I have only have 2 Sweet peas left after my September sowing. The geranium is kaput and the pepper is too. The Aloe Vera’s are perfect, the money tree and spider plant are thriving. Unbelievably there is a planter of spring bulbs in bloom, including a purple Anenome. The Yarrows and Californian Poppies were battered, wind burnt, and totally dried out, but they are resilient and they appear to be making a bit of a comeback. The Nigella sort of looks ok, and I appear to have a dandelion in another pot, which I did definitely not plant. The mystery plant that I thought was a tomato seedling is beginning to look more like a hollyhock. My begonias have finally died back, so I can now remove the tubers and get ready to plant them in fresh compost towards the end of March.

I said in my January blog that I had lots of seeds so plant and that I had bought my compost, but for some reason I was reluctant to do so, and for once my laziness has paid off, as I would have lost the lot in the storm. Besides, as the last two years have shown, we get better days in autumn then we do in spring, and so long as everything gets underway in the next two weeks it should be okay.

 

Seed packets and Cosmos 'Sensation Mixed'

Seed Packets & Cosmos ‘Sensation Mixed’

 

One type of seed I a really looking forward to growing was kindly sent to me by Jean Willis, and this is the Chilli ‘Cayennetta’ it can be sown in Feb March and April. Mark wants to make some sweet chilli sauce. I don’t particularly love hot peppers, so I will be trying the Pepper ‘Sweet Boneta’ sauce instead. Luckily she also sent me these too.

I had some free Cosmos seeds from a magazine, and as it’s the year of the Cosmos, I definitely have to grow these. The mix is called Summer Sensation and they come in pink, carmine and white, again they are T&M seeds so I know they will be reliable.

Hopefully, March will be more productive for me, I would be interested to know if any readers were affected by the winter storms, and if like me, you are still behind with your greenhouse or gardening tasks.

Until then, Happy Gardening,

Love

Amanda.

My name is Amanda and I live in Pembrokeshire with my fiancé and our garden is approximately 116 meters square. I want to share with you my love for gardening and the reasons behind it, from the good to the bad and ugly. I want to do this for my own personal pleasure. If you would like to take the journey with me then please read my blogs and share with me your gardening stories.

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
Having just finished my English Degree at university I am excited to continue working for Thompson & Morgan where I have worked for more than 3 years. I am a keen gardener who wants to learn lots more!

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