Biennial inspirations

It’s biennial time again.
As our Aquilegias, Digitalis, Erysimums and Myosotis finish flowering, it is time once again to sow next year’s new ones to ensure that we get as good, if not better, display as this year.

Aquilegia 'Green Apples', Aquilegia 'Firecracker' & Belle perennis 'Pomponette Mixed'

Aquilegia ‘Green Apples’, Aquilegia ‘Firecracker’ & Belle perennis ‘Pomponette Mixed’

This biennial cycle goes on in our gardens almost without us noticing it, as various plants self-seed in the quieter corners of our gardens. Plants such as forget-me-nots (Myosotis) can pop up almost anywhere if we leave the parent plants to seed in May and June. This happens in the wild as well, with plants such as hedge garlic/jack-by-the-hedge (Alliaria petiolata) seeding themselves at this time of year in the bottoms of farm hedges – the seeds then germinate before winter, surviving the harsh winter weather as young plants that then flower in spring/early summer. The parent plants die as they drop their seed.

Foxglove 'Excelsior Hybrid Mixed', Foxglove 'Silver Cub' Myosotis 'Symphony Blue'

Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrid Mixed’, Foxglove ‘Silver Cub’ Myosotis ‘Symphony Blue’

So, what can you sow now that are grown as biennials? The starting point is to look for the letters HB at the beginning of the description of the plant. Sow Aquilegias cultivars now and watch out for a stunning display in May and early June – I like the look of ‘Green Apples’ and ‘Firecracker’ as interesting variations on the normal range of colours. Bellis ‘Pomponette Mixed’, although actually a perennial, is normally grown as a biennial and looks fabulous in the spring garden and in containers. It is loved by bees as well so we all win!
For something a little unusual, try Cabbage ‘Northern Lights Mixed’ with various foliage colours to delight you and your friends. If you leave them in until early summer they will flower and the yellow flowers are edible  – yummy!! Dianthus barbatus, more commonly known as Sweet William, gives a stunning display in early to mid summer and there are a number of wonderful cultivars to choose from. Foxgloves (Digitalis) have come a long way in recent years from their biennial wild relatives and the range of colours and forms is worth studying, from ‘Excelsior Hybrids’ up to 1.5 metres to ‘Silver Cub’ at only 60cm high.

Dianthus barbatus 'Excelsior Mixed', Pansy 'Majestic Giants Mixed' & Viols 'Sorbet Orange Jump Up'

Dianthus barbatus ‘Excelsior Mixed’, Pansy ‘Majestic Giants Mixed’ & Viols ‘Sorbet Orange Jump Up’

Pansies and Violas are amongst of the most popular winter and spring flowering plants for containers in our gardens and, although they are classified as perennials, we do tend to grow them as biennials. The flowers are edible as well as colourful and one of my all-time favourites is ‘Majestic Giants’ with flowers up to 10cm across. Wallflowers (Erysimums) are one of the more traditional biennial plants used by local authorities and larger public gardens for spectacular spring displays. Try ‘Tom Thumb Mixed’ for an easy to manage cultivar with a wide range of flower colours from yellows to rusts and reds. It works well in a container because it only reaches 20cm high.

Cabbage 'Northern Lights', Calenduala officinalis nana 'Fruit Twist' & Nigella papillosa 'Midnight'

Cabbage ‘Northern Lights’, Calenduala officinalis nana ‘Fruit Twist’ & Nigella papillosa ‘Midnight’

Some plants can be nudged into a biennial life-cycle just by changing the sowing dates. Plants such as Calendula, Limnanthes and Nigella can be sown directly into the garden in late September, will germinate quickly in the warm soil and will then overwinter as young plants, flowering in April and May for instead of June, July and August. These plants are normally sold as hardy annuals for direct spring sowing. Give it a try and surprise yourself and your neighbours.
Whatever you grow now for your winter and spring garden, enjoy the surprises that these wonderful plants can give you.

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.

ITV and new trial plants – update from Driftwood

Since my last blog for Thompson & Morgan, back at the beginning of July, so much has happened in the garden! Not only have we seen over 2,200 visitors over the summer, but have raised over £16,000 for charity, this year alone! The icing on the cake came when ITV’s Good Morning Britain filmed live from the garden on the 14th July. All weather girl, Laura Tobin’s, 9 reports that day came live from the garden, here in Sussex. Overall the garden had 10 minutes coverage on the show. I was also very fortunate to be interviewed twice by Laura on live ITV TV too! All the details of the film shoot along with the gossip can be seen on my web site .


Then, in early October, the new local TV station in the Brighton area, Latest TV, agreed to a weekly gardening segment of about 10 minutes on their Latest Homes Live show each week. So far they have filmed a dozen segments in the garden and aired about half of them! Once again they can be viewed via my web site!


Dahlia ‘Fire & Ice’

All this excitement along with seeing the wonderful trial plants from Thompson & Morgan flourishing in the garden too.  All these images shown were taken in mid to late October 2014 and the flowers have looked quite amazing this year! Some from 2013, like the Dahlia Fire & Ice, Rose Garden Party, Peruvian tree lilly and Fuchsia Duke of Wellington have looked utterly stunning for a second year!  The Osteospermum Tresco Purple, delivered last Autumn really took off in the spring and are still looking amazing in November in several clumps around the garden.


Rose Garden Party

New for 2014 were the Penstemon Wedding bells which flowered very late in the season. The Antirrhinum Candy cane have been amazing as well in white, red and yellow.  The stunning red ones are looking incredible with the Begonia Crispa Marginata in front of it in a pot in the garden.  Other amazing flowers have been the enormous blooms on the fuchsia Quasar, which have had many comments from garden visitors. There is a clump of osteospermum bronze as visitors entered the garden and they had many positive comments, looking amazing throughout the later summer months.


Begonia Crispa Marginata

Winter is fast approaching and the strong winds and rain here on the south coast has meant a real change in the garden in the last few days but there has been time to get out and start to tidy it up. First on the list was the trimming of the 3 large New Zealand Flax in the garden, which you can see me working on here.


There have been some new plants delivered this autumn to trial, like the Hydrangea Love, Camelia Cupido, Clematis ‘New Love‘ and Rose ‘Sweet Spot Calypso’ , all now planted out in the garden ready to amaze visitors in 2015. So here’s to a great year in 2015 both for the Thompson & Morgan plants and the garden generally.

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.

Clematis – how, when and where?

Clematis is such a versatile plant and can be grown in containers, borders and even trained up walls. You should now be thinking about planting clematis in early autumn, for flowers next winter and late summer.  Autumn is the perfect time for planting clematis as the weather is cooler and the soil is moist meaning roots will be well established in time for spring. This results in bigger and better displays for next year and also means you will save on watering! They are easy to grow and to look after.

How to plant clematis  

Clematis thrives in a well drained and fertile soil in full sun or partial shade.  It is beneficial to place a mulch around the base of your plant with pebbles. Incorporating some well rotted manure or compost into the soil before planting will help aid fertility and improve drainage.

Plant large-flowered clematis varieties such as Clematis ‘Top to Bottom’ with the tops of their root balls about 5cm (2″) below the soil surface. This will help the plant recover if it ever suffers from damage or diseases such as clematis wilt.

Water your plant regularly during spells of dry weather, especially in the first few seasons after planting.


How to prune clematis

Clematis plants are often categorised in groups according to their pruning requirements. The correct time for pruning depends upon the type of flowering wood that the plant produces. Knowing when to prune clematis will ensure you get the best flowering possible.

Clematis Pruning Group 1 – Early flowering clematis

Group 1 includes winter flowering clematis that bloom in winter and spring on the previous year’s growth. These early flowering clematis varieties include, napaulensismontana and their cultivars. This group also includes evergreen clematis such as armandii.

Start pruning clematis from group 1 immediately after flowering. Remove any damaged or dead stems and reduce the remaining growth to fit the available space.

clematis freckles

Clematis Pruning Group 2 – Large flowered clematis

The large flowered cultivars in group 2 bear flowers on new shoots that emanate from the previous year’s stems in late spring and summer. Some cultivars will produce a second flush at the tips of the current year’s growth in late summer and autumn.

Prune group 2 in spring before they start into active growth, and again in early summer after the first flush of flowers. In early spring, remove any damaged, dead or weak stems, cutting back to a pair of healthy buds. Avoid heavy pruning at this stage as you may reduce the early flowers.
In early summer, after the first flush of flowers has finished, prune back flowered stems to a set of strong healthy buds or a side shoot just below the faded blooms. This encourages healthy new growth. This is also the time to prune overgrown plants to reduce their size. Reduce overgrown plants gradually over several years.

clematis top to bottom

Pruning Group 3 – Late flowering clematis

Group 3 contains the late flowering species and their cultivars that bloom from summer to late autumn on the current years stems. This group also contains the herbaceous clematis species.

Group 3 are arguably the easiest to prune. These plants can simply be cut back to a pair of strong buds about 20cm (8”) above ground level, removing all of the previous year’s growth. Prune group 3 in spring before they start into active growth.

clematis new love

Terri Overett
Terri works in the e-commerce marketing department assisting the busy web team. Terri manages our blog and social media pages here at Thompson & Morgan and is dedicated to providing useful advice to our gardeners. Terri is new to gardening and keen to develop her horticultural knowledge.

Autumn Plants Teaser

Our autumn plants range boasts spectacular spring bedding plants, shrubs and perennial plants and with such a huge variety available you will be spoilt for choice. We asked our gardening guru Michael Perry for his top 10 plants from our autumn range, so that we can bring you our autumn plants ‘behind the scenes’.

Primrose-Planets-mixedPrimrose ‘Planets’ Mixed

This is a primrose mixture like no other! I first saw the red-eyed variety at a trade show about 5 years, and just knew we had to offer it to our customers! Since that first sighting, more colours have been added to the range, each with that distinctive eye. It’s modern, contemporary, and isn’t something you’ll be able to find in the shops! The contrasting inner ring has never been seen before in primroses and makes ‘Planets’ the perfect variety for lighting up your spring borders and pots.

Hydrangea LoveHyrdangea ‘Love’

I’m sure you’ve all seen the Chelsea Flower Show Plant of the Year Hydrangea ‘Miss Saori’, well this is the sister variety ‘Love’. First seen in hydrangea trials, this variety stood out thanks to the 2-tiered blooms in punchy, candy pink. So, if you thought all Hydrangea plants were boring, then you need to think again!


Begonia Garden AngelsBegonia ‘Garden Angels’

Now, a hardy begonia is not a new concept, species forms have been around for years. But they aren’t often very showy, but ‘Garden Angels’ is from the amazing breeder and selector Dan Heims, who has created a begonia for your perennial borders, with metallic, patterned foliage as well as sprays of begonia blooms!


Clematis Blue RiverClematis ‘Blue River’

I love cut flowers, and I love trying out new and different cut flowers. ‘Blue River’ is, would you believe it, a cut flower clematis! I remember seeing a glorious vase of them on the breeder’s trade stand in Germany a few years ago. It’s one of those informal Clematis too, which will weave through borders, helping your other plants to look good!!


Rose-Sweet-Spot-CalypsoRose ‘Sweet Spot Calypso’

Now, don’t say I never bring you new roses! This is wildly different. All the way from a plant selection company in Australia, this rose plant has been tested for many years, in almost every climate around the world! It isn’t ashamed to be colourful either, with paint-splashed blooms in psychedelic colours, that’s why they call it the ‘decorator rose’! I think this rose will change the way we use roses in the UK!


Clematis-Top-to-Bottom-BlueClematis ‘Top to Bottom’

Despite the cheeky name, this clematis makes a lot of sense! Usually, your large-flowered clematis plant would only produce flowers from about the 2 foot mark, and have … ahem.. a bare bottom! However, these new French varieties have been selected for having blooms from the top to the bottom! A huge advance in clematis, and will hopefully be the benchmark for new clematis varieties in the future!

Tulip-Cupcakes-MixTulip ‘Cupcakes’ Mixed

This mixture came about in a rather serendipitous manner, as our reception just picked some tulips from our trials and placed them in a vase. She seemed to choose the blousy, peony-flowered types, and the colours worked really well together, so when I walked past, I knew we had a new Tulip blend on our hands!


Heteropappus-BlueHeteropappus ‘Blue Knoll’

Now, this is one we have been offering for a few years now. The first seed was sourced from a botanical university, and we found that- not only are the flowers like a pure blue chrysanthemum- but the plant also blooms quite late, September to October. This is just brilliant, as it injects colour into the border way after most bedding and perennial plants have faded.


Rose-of-MayDaffodil ‘Rose of May’

I remember this being on the front cover of the very first plant catalogue I worked on, and that was back in 1998! A favourite with customers for many years, as each flower has a really unusual, and somewhat surprising, gardenia fragrance!! For a dramatic spring spectacle, grow Daffodil ‘Rose of May’ in bold drifts naturalised in grass. Narcissus flowers are also excellent for cutting for a lovely springtime arrangement indoors.

Ranunculus-XXL_PolkaRanunculus ‘XXL Collection’

These definitely have the wow factor! The difference with this selection is they’re super big blooms, and the claws (type of bulb) are supplied with shoots on already, so growing them on could not be easier! Grow your own uber gorgeous cut flowers, and show off a bit!


To see our full autumn range you can request or beautiful autumn catalogue here.

Terri Overett
Terri works in the e-commerce marketing department assisting the busy web team. Terri manages our blog and social media pages here at Thompson & Morgan and is dedicated to providing useful advice to our gardeners. Terri is new to gardening and keen to develop her horticultural knowledge.

Autumn colour is coming

Autumn colour is coming…

I am sitting looking out at the garden and there seems to be a funny tinge to the trees. They have a kind of lightness in their colour, but only here and there. Underneath one of the trees there is a scattering of leaves, the trees are shaking off the leaves from the summer which provided such wonderful shade on those long hot days we were lucky enough to have in the summer. But the winds are changing, there is a breeze which is rattling the branches as I write. The autumn is hastening on. I have taken to wearing my woolly tights to work, and there is a definite chill in the air.

Autumn colour is coming

My favourite thing about this time of year is what happens to nature. There are so many exciting things to look at with conkers, and hips, and by no means least – the leaves. The colour of the changing leaves never fails to take my breath away. It’s not the yellow, or the orange, or the red. It is the myriad of colours and hues in between that seem to pervade each leaf. The way in which the leaves start to curl up at the edges, knowing that their job is done.

Sweet chestnuts are another real treat at this time of year, along with pumpkins of course! It doesn’t matter how old I get, I am still always excited to carve a pumpkin for Halloween. This year I have promised myself that I won’t waste the flesh though, and will make a pumpkin pie, or some soup.

Although spring is a time for promise in the garden, I see autumn as a time of bounty.

Deborah Catchpole
I’m a 30 year old, writer, photographer, gardener, and sweetpea obsessive! I did a degree in English Literature at The University of Liverpool, and when I am not writing I’m often found in my garden.

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