The greenhouse is packed to the gunnels with plugs-in-waiting and half hardys. With the cold spell behind us, at least for now, at last I can start thinking about hardening some of them off. I’ve managed to plant the millions (well, 2 dozen actually) of sweet peas on the allotment, as well as some more tree lilies salvaged from the carnage created by slugs and snails. Half of the postiplug Minitunias have been demolished as well, so displays will be somewhat diminished sadly. I’ve received some surprise (as yet unnamed) trailling antirrhinums, bidens and fuchsias to trial though so hopefully they will compensate. It took three 50 litre bags of compost to refill the tomato trough, but at last I can transplant the Tutti Fruttis.
Fred the cat & chillies and curcumas
The salvias and cannas can be relocated to the shelter of the patio now, so I can set up the tubs for the cucamelons. I’ve got the T & M Incredibloom® and fuchsia plant food at the ready so there should be no excuse for a poor harvest. It’s Russian Roulette as to whether I remember to open the greenhouse door in the morning (think tropical rainforest) and then close it again in the evening (frozen waste). A friend once trapped a neighbour’s cat in hers overnight but I digress!
Caroline’s overflowing greenhouse & ricinus
The sunroom is crammed with the cucamelons, courgettes De Nice A Fruit Rond, patty pans and chillies, all fed and potted on into 4” pots, ready for planting into their final positions by end May. The curcumas and eucomis are finally emerging too. I’ve got several thriving hosta divisions wedged in behind the bin store in the front garden. The helianthus Lemon Queen, run riot in one of the containers on the roof terrace, has been dug out, split and potted on for our National Gardens Scheme Open Day Plant Sale, now currently residing between shed and greenhouse. David reckons if he stands still long enough I’ll plant him too!
Tulips in pots on the patio are coming into bloom in succession (more by luck than judgement), their leaves the object of a running buffet for my Oriental cat Fred. I can’t have New Guinea impatiens, begonias or hostas at ground level as he munches on them too. (Winky the Sphynx cat is partial to chives.) I’m getting impatient with the tulips now, even as I enjoy their riot of colour, as I am already planning their replacements: all those zingy T&M petunias and bidens in waiting!
Tulips & more tulips
I did treat myself to some T & M perennials as well this summer. Brunnera Alexander’s Great are said to grow far bigger than Jack Frost, so we will see in due course. Following the success of Digitals Illumination I’ve also bought new Ruby Slippers. But my most anticipated plant so far this spring is the Ricinus communis Impala. The four seedlings are romping away, their leaves and stems already deep red. I shall plant one in the raised bed out front with melianthus major, grasses & ferns for an architectural effect, and one in the island Prairie bed out back combined with (yet more) grasses, thalictrum, angelica & eupatorium. But my Piece de Resistance (or dramatic flop) will be planting up the kadhai (won in a prize draw at GROW London last year and an unwanted eyesore ever since) with ricinus as a centre piece surrounded by fiery red hot pokers and cannas, on the roof terrace. It will probably end up looking like a sacrificial altar – hope it doesn’t frighten the neighbours!
With all the talk about the collapse of our bee populations and the decline in the number and variety of our native butterflies, gardeners can do their bit by providing the flowers that can help to support butterflies, moths, bees and hoverflies as they journey around our gardens looking for a pollen and nectar fix.
Some years ago, the RHS developed lists of plants called ‘Perfect for Pollinators.’ The two lists are for cultivated plants and wild plants across the seasons. Check out http://www.rhs.org.uk for more details and the lists.
Rudbeckia ‘All Sorts Mixed’ & Cosmos ‘Xanthos’
Over the last century, gardeners, growers and breeders have concentrated some of their efforts on developing and using double flowers to increase the effect of the display and this, alongside many other factors, has not helped us to support our pollinating insects because the pollen and nectar are hidden deep in the flowers, making them inaccessible to the insects.
The ‘Perfect for Pollinators’ lists contain, for the most part, wild species of plants whose flowers are simple, single and easily accessible. Comb through your latest Thompson & Morgan seed and plant catalogues and compare them with the ‘Perfect for Pollinators’ lists. It will not take you long to find some stunning plants for your garden that will not only give you a lot of pleasure, but will help to support some of our vital flying insects as well – everyone is a winner!
Ageratum houstonianum ‘Pincushion Mixed’ & Perfect for Pollinators
The new Rudbeckia collection, with three fabulous cultivars that will flower from July until October, with their simple, flat, open daisy-like flowers are a perfect example of a flower design that suits all of our pollinating insects. The new yellow Cosmos ‘Xanthos’ is another excellent example to search out.
Plants that have lots of very small flowers in clusters, such as the new Ageratum ‘Pincushion Mixed’, that will flower from June to September, are perfect examples of plants that will provide that quick nectar fix that butterflies and moths need to give them the energy to search out a mate – an essential part of maintaining their populations! The 2016 catalogue contains a number of different strains of Foxgloves and I feel sure that we have all seen bumblebees struggling to clamber into one of those inviting trumpets to get their daily pollen supply and a nectar fix for energy.
Foxglove ‘Dalmation Mixed’ & Cornflower ‘Classic Fantastic’
Many of our hardy annuals (HA in the catalogue), that can be sown directly into the garden in April and May, will provide hundreds of nectar and pollen rich flowers from June right up to the first frosts of autumn. Some can even be sown in September and October, lasting the winter as young plants and flowering in April, May and June. Examples to look out for include the new Nigella ‘Midnight’, Amberboa muricata, Ammi visnaga, Bupleurum ‘Green Gold’, Calendulas, Californian Poppies, Cornflowers, Cosmos and Daucus ‘Dara’ .
I will leave you to go through the rest of the catalogue yourself to discover the many other wonderful examples of plants that can provide that essential support for our butterflies, moths, bees and hoverflies. Remember that 30% of all that we eat is reliant on pollinating insects – apples, pears, plums, blackcurrants, blueberries and runner beans, to name but a few.
Thompson & Morgan donates world’s most expensive pumpkin seed to Hyde Hall vegetable grower
Following a nationwide hunt to find a gardener brave enough to sow the world’s most expensive pumpkin seed, Thompson & Morgan has delivered a seed of the current world record-breaking pumpkin (2,323lb, grown by Beni Meier in 2014) to the vegetable garden at RHS Hyde Hall, Essex. The mail order seed and plant specialist paid a record £1,250 for the seed at auction at the World Pumpkin Commonwealth Conference earlier in the season, in a bid to boost UK pumpkin genetics and see a world record contender grown on UK shores for the first time.
Paul Hansord handing over the giant pumpkin seed to Matthew Oliver
Thompson & Morgan director Paul Hansord delivered the precious seed to RHS horticulturist, Matthew Oliver, on 13 April. Armed with a crib sheet of Thompson & Morgan’s tips for success he promptly set the seed into potting compost, eager to make a start on the giant undertaking. Adding to the pressure, all this was carried out in front of a film crew from BBC Inside Out East, who will be following his progress through the season. A full report will be aired on the BBC1 show in the build up to Halloween.
Fortunately Matthew already has some good experience under his belt. Hyde Hall has become renowned for its pumpkin patch in recent years. Around 60 varieties of pumpkins, squash and gourds are grown at the Chelmsford garden each year, with thousands of visitors attending events through autumn to see the produce on display.
Matthew said: “Our largest pumpkins always draw a crowd, so I have been concentrating more time and effort on growing giant specimens in recent years. In 2015 I produced a 530lb giant and I already had big plans for 2016. We’ve built a larger patch (150x40ft) giving me space to grow four giant plants. Soil conditions have been improved and so have the irrigation systems, wind shelter and feeding programmes have all been planned to encourage the heaviest fruits.”
Sanding down the seed coating for quicker germination
Growing outdoors, Matthew admits he is unlikely to break the world record, but has set a personal target around the 1,000lb mark, which would make his attempt the heaviest outdoor pumpkin ever grown in the UK. He also hopes his attempt will encourage others to try in the future. He said: “Outdoor growing is much more achievable for home gardeners, and once they see the results at Hyde Hall I hope others will take up the challenge in their own gardens and allotments. Pumpkins are such a rewarding hobby plant.”
Matthew now has until 8th October to grow the biggest possible specimen and get it to the UK official weigh in at the Autumn Pumpkin Festival, Royal Victoria Country Park, Netley, Southampton.
The pumpkin patch will be on show to all Hyde Hall garden visitors through the season.
Thompson & Morgan was swamped with requests to grow the seed. Impressed with the passion of many of the entrants, it has sent seeds from several other heavyweight pumpkins (1689-2008lb specimens) to five other interested growers: Joanne Jackson, Cheshire; Guy French, Essex; Anthony & Sally Pooley, Suffolk, George Richardson, County Durham, and Mr Hill, Cantubury
I hope you are all well.
These last few weeks have been really busy, April is an inspiring month. Before I set out to write this I had a quick read of my April 2015 diary and last years blog, as I was convinced that I was lagging behind in the greenhouse. However, according to my journal we had only just finished constructing the big greenhouse and we only had potatoes growing in sacks, onions and strawberry plants in the greenhouse so it turns out I’m actually a little ahead this year.
It’s hard to know where to start so I will begin by saying that my plug plants from Thompson & Morgan arrived, they include a Barnsley Baby Mallow, Nicotianas and Petunias. They have been potted on and are growing rapidly. To make room for my ever increasing seedlings, last September I sowed Yarrow, Californian poppies and nigella which have been hardened-off and planted either straight into the borders or into decorative pots. I have saved a few for mum as I like to share my plants with her in return for cookery lessons.
The September sown sweet peas have been pinched out and I would recommend reading Kris Collins sweetpea diary for some really good tips on successful sweet pea growing. The geraniums have germinated and are taking on that distinct leaf shape that makes them so identifiable. Before long they will be transplanted into pots of their own so they can establish into healthy specimens before being moved outdoors. I thought I planted a pot of red and a pot of green basil but one pot has nothing in it whilst the other has both in it! The variety shown looks really pretty together and I’m wondering if I have stumbled across a new summer taste sensation Basil Lemonade and Rubin mixed with fresh tomatoes. Has anyone else combined two basil tastes together?
Only one sunflower has germinated I’m not sure why this would be as they are in the same small greenhouse. I have sown more as these are one of my favourite plants. I’m still waiting for Malvin Mystic Merlin. I am also waiting for the Dahlia Cactus Flower, the Hot Chilli Peppers Prairie Fire, the Cycads, most of the Squashes and the Perennial Sunflower Helianthas Maximilian.
I have very recently sown two cucumber seeds, two pots of Baby Leave Lettuces, more Spencer Sweet peas, five pots of Everlasting Strawflowers, five pots of the half-hardy annual Bells of Ireland, three pots of Snapdragons, as well as several pots of Verbena Bonarienses as although this hardy perennial will happily self seed in our garden, last year the Blue Tits stripped the seeds and we have only two or three plants left out of the many we grew from an original seed packet at least six years ago. I have also sown some Asters as I love that it flowers mid summer to late autumn so it’s perfect for pollinating insects. In addition I have also taken the Begonia bulbs out of storage and put them in individual pots of compost to bring into growth.
We are really impressed with the Tomato ‘Magic Mountain’, all the seeds have germinated and there is rapid growth. I decided to plant a whole packet on the basis that they might not all grow, but I should of had more faith. Luckily I can give some plants to family and friends as well as keeping three for myself. The Aubergines have germinated and so has the Sweet Bonita Pepper. These have been moved onto the hanging shelves in the big greenhouse and they are loving their new position. Also on the shelves are the Aloes, Cactuses and Spider plants, as well as a germinated Banksia Hookerenia, I can’t wait to see how long it takes for this to grow into a decent sized plant, at the moment they have a pair of leaves that seem to be opening wider apart and getting bigger each day. I have trays of germinating seeds on the shelves too, a mixture mostly of the flowers mentioned above. What has surprised me most is that as the shelves are nearer the roof the plastic tubs stay hotter for longer, meaning that the compost warms up quicker hopefully giving the seeds a more temperate state. One drawback is though that they do dry out a lot quicker.
Also in the bigger greenhouse are the Charlotte Potatoes. They have, in the last month, grown so rapidly I cannot earth them up any more as the sacks are full. The leaves are strong and vibrant, although I am tempted to put them outside I always wait until the farmers in our neighbourhood take the plastic off their crops before I even think of hardening them off.
As I mentioned I am waiting for most of the squashes but I do have one Patty’s Pan that has grown, albeit a little weedy. Not everything has worked out unfortunately. My direct sown two dozen radishes shot up for about two weeks then died. I don’t know if it was the rapid change of temperature from cold to very warm and then back to very cold again or the fluctuating light levels. Either way they are no more. I don’t know if I will grow any more of them. I don’t have a specific veg patch in the garden so perhaps I will wait until early autumn and try them in the bigger greenhouse in pots on the shelves.
The final job we did before I wrote this blog was to decide what to do with my massive Peace Lily, Money Plant and Aloe Vera. They had outgrown their pots, and last summer I let them live outside, and apart from the Peace Lily the others successfully overwintered in the large greenhouse. Unfortunately they are now too big for the windowsills in my bungalow. My home is compact so we try not to have too many pots or ornaments cluttering the shelves. So I asked Mark if I could dig up the expired radishes in the border in the small greenhouse and settle them in the soil in there. I have no idea if this is a good idea or not, but I really didn’t know what to do with them. I didn’t want to give them away or plant them outside. I am hoping that it might make my small greenhouse look tropical and provide evergreen foliage throughout the year. I am hoping the heat they may generate will keep the seedlings warmer at night. I’m hoping it’s not a decision I live to regret!
I still have plenty of other jobs to do. I need to build my cane and string wigwam for my eating peas, keep an eye on the long term weather, as believe it or not there are sleet and snow showers forecast as well as frosty nights. I have to find and wash the bigger pots for the next stage of transplanting. If that’s not enough, I also want to keep up with all of the other cracking blogs on the T&M community page, and take a look at some of the growing guides. Whilst sorting out some DVD’s last weekend I came across the T&M E-zee Guide to planting Flower Pouches, I must watch this again as I would like to be able to gaze up at my ‘Night Sky’ Petunias.
Soon it will be May, another busy month, what with watering, thinning out, and repotting. But for now, I’m going to continue to enjoy the longer lighter evenings, pottering about after work with sieving, sowing and settling plants, sitting on a stool listening to the blackbird singing his evening song. The best things in life are definitely free.
Until next month,
Love Amanda X
I provide garden care in North Norfolk and trained at Easton College, as it states in my bio below. Just because I have my Diploma it doesn’t mean I know it all. I am constantly learning new things and am intrigued by a great deal. College doesn’t teach you about our relationship and need for animals and insects in our gardens and horticulture. But, through my work, I have learned how much we rely on them and how much they rely on us – and how exploitive of us they can be too!
I often stop when I see a bee and watch as it carefully lands on a flower then oh-so delicately extracts the sweet nectar that it beholds. How could we do all that pollinating without them? And how could they live without us planting for them? There’s a big push at the moment for planting wild flowers in gardens and leaving bare patches for the bees to make their homes in. Birds love it too!
We can spend £100’s on feeders, fat balls, meal worms, baths, tables, bug hotels, insect feeders and nest boxes all in a year. Just so we can see the flutter of a butterfly, chaffinch, blue tit and but most often than not those blooming pigeons!
In one garden I care for, I have a friend. She follows me around like my shadow. Often pushing her way into where I am working to get the good stuff. I am talking about Athena, the very bold female Black Bird (True Thrush/Turdus merula).
This week I was digging up ground elder (Aegopodium podagraria) and she walks right up to me sitting on the ground, working away with my hand fork, to find her lunch. She filled her beak many times! Athena was with me for nearly two hours, coming and going, filling her beak (and stomach) and watching the three Robins (Erithacus rubecula) fight over who’s “turf” it was that I was providing dinner on. It’s a wonderful feeling when it happens.
Many people with think I’m daft but I always talk to them, bees, birds, butterflies and the odd squirrel that visits when I’m in another garden. After all the birds help to keep those pesky aphids and slugs at bay and the bees do the hard work for us! (Not too sure what the squirrels do?)
I love my job because not only do I help people to enjoy their gardens again, as most are of the age where they are not able to do it themselves, but I am helping nature to help me. It makes me proud of what I do. And I hope that the rest of you gardeners are too, whether amateur or professional!
So smile, you’re doing something that really matters.
With the nation’s apparent obsession with gyms, healthy eating and trying to lose weight, have you considered just how much exercise that you can do carrying out the simplest of garden tasks. We all ache after a long session of hoeing, digging or weeding and that’s probably because we’ve used muscles that we don’t normally and, providing we’ve been sensible, and safe, then it has probably done us some good!
With just a few simple garden tools you can burn off the calories, tone up your body and at the same time, have a well tended, beautiful garden, be it flowers or vegetables. Here are a few ideas to get you started and all at a fraction of the price of a gym subscription!
Hand trowels and forks will tone up your triceps and biceps too when you are using these for planting and weeding your beds and borders.
Using Secateurs, Grass Shears and Pruning Saws is the best exercise you’ll get for strengthening your forearms, wear gloves though – no point pruning yourself too!
If you want to improve your chest muscles (pectorals and lats) then trim hedges and shrubs with a pair of shears and clip your lawn edges with edging shears too, although don’t take on too much at once as you will soon lose interest and won’t want to finish the job!
You can’t beat using Loppers in the garden for those tougher pruning jobs and it’s a great way of working out your biceps, although don’t be tempted to use them to cut thicker branches than they can handle, you won’t get a clean cut and you might well break them – use a pruning saw instead.
If you want to improve your legs then simply dig! Using a garden fork or spade to dig over larger areas, be it a vegetable plot or a large flower bed, will give you lots of exercise and will burn off loads of calories too. If you haven’t got a huge plot to dig over then try an edging blade to keep your lawn in shape.
Lastly, and by no means least, your back, the bit that holds everything in place, be careful with it, you can’t get a new one (yet!). We all know to lift heavy things with a straight back and bent knees etc but it is so easy to quickly bend over, grab something – and then hurt yourself! For more gentle working, use a rake on beds, or a lawn rake to pull out moss from your lawn or just a leaf rake to clear up mess in your garden.
Of course you can combine things when you use some tools, hoeing will use your back and arms, wheeling a barrow will work out your back and legs, trying to stretch whilst you are working will also help with flexibility and importantly, start slowly each time, allow your muscles to warm up before you tackle the bigger jobs. You wouldn’t leap into a heavy gym session without first warming up and you shouldn’t rush out into the garden for a hard day’s graft without warming up to it either. Maybe walk around the garden first and work out your plan of action – preferably with a cup of tea, shrug your shoulders a few times in a circular motion to loosen yourself up a bit – put the tea down first, and then start with the easier jobs first. Don’t try to do everything at once either, working a bit more the next day will help to loosen up those aching muscles rather than overdoing it. After all, “Loam wasn’t built in a day”!
Just to give you a rough idea of what working in the garden will help you achieve, below is a list of approximate calories per hour burned whilst performing some simple garden jobs, these are only rough figures that I’ve gleaned from the internet and will vary from to person:
Average calories burned per hour – based on a 10 stone person
Carrying heavy loads 490
Chopping logs quickly 1070
Collecting grass or leaves 250
Mowing lawn with a push-along mower 280
Mowing lawn with a ride-on mower 150
Planting seedlings/shrubs 250
Raking lawn 250
Pruning shrubs 280
Above all else, remember that your garden is also to be enjoyed, it’s all very well spending loads of time on a gardening/exercising regime, but you’ve grown all your beautiful flowers for a reason – so take time to relax and enjoy it too!