Pottering on regardless

I am sitting looking out at the rain searching for inspiration. If another person says to me, “…but all this rain is good for the garden” I shall not be responsible for my actions. I have become obsessed with on-line weather forecasting sites, checking them morning, noon and night, going from one to another if I don’t like what I see, but they remain remarkably accurate! So let’s get the moaning over and done with shall we: Rose buds are all balled, saturated shrubs are drooping over the underplanting cutting out all the light, hanging baskets are limp. I can’t remember the last time I sat outside and admired the view, and worst of all I dread having to do tasks that I usually enjoy, like deadheading and just fiddling about.

Tomato 'Tutti Frutti' & Rose 'For Your Eyes Only'

Tomato ‘Tutti Frutti’ & Rose ‘For Your Eyes Only’

Right that’s enough of that then! According to theory we still have July, August, September and even October to enjoy summer before it all starts going downhill. I still have gaps in the borders to fill with new discoveries. I don’t have to keep watering the allotment and it’s a good job I couldn’t be bothered to shade paint the greenhouse – the automatic night light actually comes on when I enter during the day! In all truth the garden looks amazing, flowering away to itself, a far cry from the normal mid-season slump. OK maybe a little less colour but certainly the most verdant high summer I can remember.

Rose 'For Your Eyes Only' & selection of begonias

Rose ‘For Your Eyes Only’ & selection of begonias

Cordon Tomato ‘Tutti Frutti’ are very well behaved, hardly any side shoots, trusses forming evenly and since David ran wire supports around the apex of the greenhouse roof I have been able to train them vertically. Last year they kept turning right and climbing out of the automatic window and then getting chopped off when it shut. Despite their delicate appearance cucamelons are scrambling away with tiny fruits forming all over.  No sign of any insects either (too cold!)

 

Petunia 'Cremissimo' & Petunia 'Mandevilla'

Petunia ‘Cremissimo’ & Petunia ‘Mandevilla’

By some miracle the afternoon of our NGS Open Day was dry, we raised nearly £1000 and welcomed 130 visitors. The roses were spectacular, Rose ‘For Your Eyes Only’ being the star of the show.(Good job too as virtually nothing else had come into flower yet.) This year we allowed visitors access to the roof terrace as the grasses and tall perennials created privacy for our neighbours. (You get a good view the church spire – and the small bit of wasteland adjacent to our garden which I wish I had bought from next door when I had the chance.) A guest suggested that we should have some seating up there so David is building a chest out of decking with storage for hanging baskets and such like in the winter. The surrounding canopies of Plum ‘Victoria’ and apple tree have created such shelter that it’s virtually 100% secluded. With the fridge underneath in the Man Shed there is no excuse not to enjoy a drink à deux one of these days.
We usually get through about eight cakes on the Open Day but for some strange reason this year cake upon cake kept arriving from supportive neighbours and friends; we had two gluten frees and even a lactose free. Shop bought cake will be spotted a mile off and reviled.  (It’s a funny thing but there is a lot of cake rivalry amongst fellow Garden Openers you know!) If we didn’t do teas I don’t think anyone would come.

Petunia 'Mandevilla' & Digitalis 'Illumination Ruby Slippers'

Petunia ‘Mandevilla’ & Digitalis ‘Illumination Ruby Slippers’

Trial results of this summer’s annuals vary greatly to date. Petunia ‘Mandevilla’ flowers are spectacular and bounce back after the rain and their stalks are long and robust so are easy to snap off. Petunia ‘Cremissimo’ is very dainty, but every single minitunia Calibrachoa ‘Kabloom Terracotta’ has been eaten by snails. Bidens ‘BeeDance Painted Red’ looks really good with Begonia ‘Glowing Embers’. But with so little sunshine (she’s moaning again) the gingers, eucomis, fuchsias and cannas are almost static. I’m so glad that I planted loads of ferns and heucheras on the patio as they are thriving. Even the hostas and begonias are still in one piece as our herbivore cat Fred is too rain-phobic to venture outside, preferring to laze all day in the sunroom with his harem, watching the return of the door mice and the toing and froing of the blackbirds nesting in the viburnum.

Caroline's cats having a really hard life & Fred doing what Fred does best - nothing!!

Caroline’s cats having a really hard life & Fred doing what Fred does best – nothing!!

The nasturtiums have covered the living wall by our front door and the strawberries in the single column on the opposite side are starting to fruit; David’s observation that “those plants look just like strawberries” is a testament to his horticultural knowledge. But then again I should have realised what I was letting myself in for – when we first started creating the garden I asked him what colour he liked the least, he did say green!
So having taken stock, after all, I think the garden will cope with whatever the weather throws at it. By mid-July I shall be revving up for our next NGS Open Day 31st July but for another couple of weeks I intend to relax and potter about as much as I can. Happy gardening to one and all!

Thompson & Morgan Blog: July 2016

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.

Gardening is great therapy

Summer greetings gardeners,

Hope you are all well. I have spent the last two weeks sitting in my garden everyday in hot sunshine, I’ve eaten breakfast, lunch and dinner on the patio with family and friends and I’m loving every minute of it.

I have a confession to make though, Mark and my mum have been doing the greenhouse duties for me. I have decided to be supervisor until I am stronger. Unfortunately not long after writing Mays blog I was struck with a medical emergency (not related to my heart condition) that put me in hospital for nine days. It also coincided with the hottest week of the year, a delivery of plants, and a build it yourself solar lighted trellis planter. Poor Mark would spend most of the day at the hospital with me, return home to feed himself and water the plants then rush back to the hospital to be with me. To be honest I don’t know how he and the plug plants, potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines, and numerous plant pots and hanging baskets survived.

Digitalis

Unfortunately, not all of the plants survived, I have lost my Banksia Hookerensia and most of my seedlings, apart from some mint and dill. The first thing I did when I came out of hospital was a garden inspection. I cried when I saw my wildlife border it was so pretty filled with poppies, foxgloves, corncockles and lupins. Then I tied in the eating peas and sweet peas.

The next day I asked mum to help with the new planter Mark had built one evening, that I had from Thompson & Morgan as I had nicotianas, sweetpeas, petunia, and a dwarf mallow that needed potting up, as well as the geraniums. Seeing all the failed germinated seedlings also made me sad, so I asked mum to empty the soil into the established outdoor pots rather than waste the compost.

Inside the little greenhouse I have the mint and dill, a few hebes that we have collected from around the garden and growing on so that we can make a new hedge, our aloe border and two cucamelons and a small pot of lettuce. At least Mark thinks they are, he can’t remember if they were them or the squashes as ‘they all looked the same”, he says.

Amanda's garden

In the big greenhouse we have the basils, aubergines, chillies, sweet peppers and tomatoes all romping away happily in the borders, there is possibly a cucamelon in there too. Mark has pinched out the tips on the tomatoes, but needs to get in there and cut back some of the stems. There are flowers forming on the trusses as well as tiny fruits.

Amanda's Garden

As I have had so many people back and forth to see me these last few weeks, I feel a bit of a fraud as my greenhouses are not looking their best. And it’s amazing how many people just want to have a look at what’s inside them. It a big compliment but dirty pots and clutter is not the look I wanted. As I said to mum I’ve never had such an empty small greenhouse in June. Sadly I can’t plan any seed sowing and growing at the moment as my illness means I will be going for surgery and possibly further treatments. It’s not fair to ask Mark or mum to look after the plants as well, as look after me. I’m just happy to watch the things we already have growing.

Amanda's Garden

Being part of the T&M social community has really helped
( Wendie and the rest of the team have been supportive too), because if I can’t get out into my own garden, I can read the other blogs or connect to their Facebook pages and look at photos of other people’s gardens. When I was in hospital my garden and greenhouses seemed to be calling for me to get better and get back out there. I so wanted to see the new planter and my potatoes and flowers and I even had a discussion with the Radiographer about how successful my aubergine seed germination was, he said his was terrible, we also discussed what else was thriving during a particularly painful procedure.

Amanda's Garden

My blogs might be on hold for a while as I have to concentrate on fighting my illness and getting stronger, but I promise you, if I am well enough to get into the garden, then I will be well enough to supervise Mark and write about our greenhouses once again, in the meantime, please keep posting your gardening endeavours – it really does cheer up my day.

Until next time,

Happy Gardening,

Love Amanda xxx

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.

May madness with Amanda Davies in the garden

Hello Gardeners!

Just like this time last year the season doesn’t know if it wants to be spring, autumn or winter. One minute it’s wet and windy, next it’s too hot to stand in the greenhouses for more than ten minutes. Unexpectedly the potatoes have shot up, and luckily I moved them outside before the really hot weather kicked in, however they have started to grow flowers so they will be ready sooner rather than later. It takes 12-16 weeks for Charlottes to be ready, and Dad used to say once they have flowered cut off the foliage and leave them for 7-10 days where they are. The trouble is once I know they are almost ready I just want to dive in.

 

Amanda's Potato 'Charlotte' & Tomato 'Magic Mountain'

Amanda’s Potato ‘Charlotte’ & Tomato ‘Magic Mountain’

The month started off with high winds and a telephone call from Rachel asking “Who’s your glazier?” My greenhouse was unscathed but she had lost a few panes. Come the Friday she said, “I found someone who does glass cheaper than yours.”

“Who?” I demanded.

It turned out that a long established garden nursery in Pembrokeshire were getting rid of 2 giant glasshouses as they are diversifying into a Glamping Eco Centre, and to raise extra funds they were selling the panes for £1 each. Rachel said ” I’m getting extra panes tomorrow, do you want some?” Of course I did. I bought £5 worth as I didn’t want to get too many hope this will last me a few years.

We have both been busy in the garden and greenhouses, I have pricked out my geraniums, hardened them off and planted them outside, along with the petunias, cosmos, Californian Poppy, sweetpeas, eating peas and a sunflower. Apart from 3 nicotianas the rest have also been put into their final growing positions. Meanwhile Mark has been mowing, edging, weeding, digging and fixing.

Trial fuchsia & bidens with Petunia 'Night Sky'

Trial fuchsia & bidens with Petunia ‘Night Sky’

I, like a lot of people this year seem to be struggling with seed germination. My methods usually work, but out of 20 sunflowers, only 1 has grown. There is no sign of my malvins, dahlias, Bells of Ireland, strawflowers, asters, snapdragons, cucumbers, squashes, verbena or pumpkins. I don’t know if it’s because I bought poor compost or the unpredictable weather. I usually stick to a certain brand of compost from my local Garden Centre, but they had a 3 for 2 offer on 70ltr bags of a different one. When I was sieving it, I was disappointed by how many pebbles, bits of glass and bits of wood were in it. It doesn’t hold the water and bakes hard in the sun. The other 2 bags I have mixed into the big greenhouse borders as there was no way I as using it for seed again.

As the little greenhouse is now empty Mark decided to take everything out at the weekend and give it a good clean, it was surprising how much muck was on the inside windows.

Whilst waiting for the seeds in pots to germinate, I feel a bit annoyed and let down that I didn’t buy extra pot plants, so I would have something to write about, but then something brilliant happened. Thompson & Morgan asked me to trial some plants for them. They sent me, and bloggers Caroline and Geoff, and others to trial an as-yet-unnamed set of trailing fuchsias, bidens and antirrhinums. So we planted up some hanging baskets with them and let them establish before placing them all outside. The bidens were planted with a single Petunia ‘Night Sky’ as I wanted to fill the hanging basket. The bidens are white with a yellow middle – almost daisy looking – but not all are white, some are white and mauve with a yellow middle. The scent is outstanding, on a warm day we can stand six feet away from the basket and their fragrance drifts on the air. As the baskets are attached to a boundary wall that backs on to a back lane, I don’t think it’s going to be too long before someone passes the garden and asks what is that beautiful smell.

Californian Poppy 'Cherry Swirl' & Dahlia 'Bonita'

Californian Poppy ‘Cherry Swirl’ & Dahlia ‘Bonita’

The trial fuchsias are attractive to slugs so we have had to keep using pellets in the hanging pots to keep the critters away. Although this year we seem to have more snails than slugs which is better as I can just remove these by hand, taking them into the closed down school field where they can live in peace. The plants themselves are putting on a lot of growth, but no signs of any buds yet.

The antirrhinums are also planted with a petunia, these are growing fast and appear to be starting to bud, I can’t wait to see what they look like. All of the trial flowers were repotted into their baskets/pots on the 26/04/16, using a compost that was tested with our meter to be PH7, they were watered, given a slow release feed and slug pelleted.

Typically when the greenhouse is misbehaving my nieces call and say, “Auntie Amanda, Daddy’s building our greenhouse, have you got any tomatoes we can have please…..oh and some aubergines, and peppers and basil and chives, and peas. Oh and Daddy says do you think Uncle Mark can help make the greenhouse?” Luckily I have lots of aubergines and tomatoes. I have basil and peppers, but I am now in the process of growing several different types of herbs which include basil, oregano, Lemon Balm, corriander, parsley, chives, dill and mint. Then my mum comes over for her tomatoes, aubergines, nicotianas and cosmos and geraniums, followed by my Auntie Mary who then needs aubergines as well. She asks what variety the tomatoes are (Magic Mountain) and takes one of them as well. Not that I mind, I had a packet of seeds that said, average 10 seeds, there were 14 of them, and they all grew, so I have been looking for homes for them. I have also given tomato plants to my next door neighbour and a friend at work. I can’t wait for the feedback from them as to the taste, size of fruit and quantity.

Cucumber 'Curino' & Squash 'Patty Pan'

Cucumber ‘Curino’ & Squash ‘Patty Pan’

I love sharing plants, after all what’s better than teaching a younger generation where food comes from, or having a jar of homemade tomato chutney for Christmas. As I wrote in one of my earliest blogs, a generous gardener is never poor.

In the small greenhouse border the Aloes have put on a lot of growth as has the money tree. However the Peace Orchid hated it, and had to be moved back into a pot of its own, so I put a spiky cactus in there instead.

In the large greenhouse, Mark has been busy building a cane support for the tomatoes, luckily it didn’t involve a trip to A&E like last years build. I have decided to use the left border for them instead of the right border this year to see if it makes any difference to the way they grow. I want to find out if they will get more light, as although the sun shines on the greenhouse all day and last year the vines created too much shadow for the plants on the left side. Hopefully this year the aubergines, peppers and chillies which will go on the right hand side will have more early morning light.

We have already put the tomatoes, peppers and aubergines into their final growing spots. Unfortunately, the hot chillies are still tiny, no more than 2 leaves each. They are on the hanging shelves and I don’t know if I should move them into the cooler smaller greenhouse or be a bit more patient. Also on the hanging shelves are seeds still waiting to germinate and a fabulous Banksia Hookerina that is growing steadily. I keep inspecting it every day and wish I had thought to do a time lapse photo record of it.

I am waiting the arrival of some plug plants that include a cucamelon and extra chillies. The back border in the greenhouse only has some Basil ‘Lemonade’ and rueben in it to go with the toms. Rachel is threatening to share some yellow tomato plants too, but the variety she grows are delicious so I am sure I can squeeze them in.

I must remember to buy some sticky yellow traps, although I was surprised at how much they cost. I don’t really like using these though as they also end up catching the beneficial bees and butterflies. I think I might research companion planting instead where the scent of a flower or herb attracts the pest to it instead of the crop, good ones to try are marigolds, basils and borage.

I am hoping June will see more progress on the germination of the seeds, if not I am going to stop the seed sowing until it’s time to plant winter veg towards the end of August. June and July will be busy months with nipping out side shoots, pest control, watering and weeding.

On a personal level I have a number of hospital appointments coming up, a Cardiology one this week and a balance test due to my ears being damaged by the Labrynthitis virus, which I still appear to be fighting even though it’s been over 12 months. I need to have an MRI scan on my head because of the balance issues and again I will be distracting myself by thinking of all the jobs I need to do in the greenhouse to get me through the tests. I am so glad the RHS Chelsea show are doing a huge amount to promote the health and wellbeing of gardening, because not only does it offer great exercise, encourage you to eat healthily, and get fresh air but being at one with nature is nourishing and healing to the soul.

Until next month,

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.

Flowers for our flying friends.

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'

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

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'

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.

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.

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