Petunias and a bit of plant snobbery

Petunias and a bit of plant snobbery

We all have opinions about plants, some we like, some we do not. We may regard some plants as rather garish, maybe too flouncy and blousy, maybe just too yellow for our taste. We make judgements on plants much the same as we make judgements on anything else. We categorise and decide what we think and it takes quite something for this to be changed.

I am the same as anyone else on this. There are plants I like and ones I definitely do not. Except I do know from experience that it is rare I can dislike a whole species of plant. So I will tell you that I do not like hostas, but there are one or two that are acceptable to me. I have never willingly bought a hosta, but a couple have crept into my garden from elsewhere and I have allowed them to stay. I also know that my taste is constantly evolving, at one time I did not understand why people like ferns, now the structural unfurlingness of them makes me just want more and more. Taste is not a static thing.

Some plants I do not like because I just do not like them, you will not catch me growing Brussel sprouts or celery as I think they are disgusting, it would be a waste of space. However I do love yellow and orange flowers, but to balance that I am not keen on green flowers. There is no rhyme or reason to these distinctions, some things just are.

I have been a member of the Thompson & Morgan trial panel now for nearly two years. I was very pleased to be accepted to do it and I have found the experience rather enjoyable. It is also rather challenging as I do not get a choice of what is being sent yet I feel a responsibility to grow what they send me come what may. From day one I have embraced the fact that this would challenge me to face some of my demon plants and that I might have to accept some of them being allowed into my garden.

Enter the petunias. I am not a petunia fan. I did find them often a bit garish and I think I considered them old fashioned in some way. This is slightly odd of me as I do not think I worry generally in terms of plant fashion, but I have thought about this quite a lot whilst sitting down to write this and it appears to be the deep-seated root of my issue with them. I have never bought any petunias but I have sometimes seen ones that I think look quite good, I remember seeing some once in a container at a rather famous garden and they looked wonderful, but I had not seen that particular variety for sale anywhere and the moment passed.

Petunias and a bit of plant snobbery

Petunia ‘Purple Velvet’

So as you will have guessed by now I was sent some petunias this year to trial. They are Petunia Purple Velvet, which came with a pyramid to grow them up. Now I confess I failed at the pyramid construction, that did not fit in with my type of gardening, but I wanted to use the petunias and give them a fair trial. So, I planted them with the sweet peas in the front garden to grow up the obelisks.

They look fantastic, the recent rain has helped them hugely and I keep them deadheaded. I am really happy with them and I would definitely grow them again, they have partnered the sweet peas perfectly. They are fantastically garish and I love the incredible depth of colour. Yes, what I thought I disliked is actually what I love about them. Yet another element of plant snobbery has been cured for me, petunias are now officially on the plant list.

Alison Levey
I am a keen amateur gardener living in the East Midlands. During the day I work in an office so I love the times I can get outside. I would not call myself an expert gardener but I am an avid learner. I have been writing a blog based on my garden and gardens that I have visited for nearly two years now and it is something I really enjoy doing. It has added an extra dimension to how I view my garden.

Pea Alexandra – huge plants, bumper crops!

Hello all you happy gardeners!

Well we’ve all had some fab weather and doesn’t it show in the gardens? The flowers and veg like to feel the warmth on them.

I just had to tell you all about the pea Alexandra I have grown as part of the Thompson & Morgan trials.

I only have a small garden and I couldn’t plant the whole packet (300 seeds), so only planted 30, all at once. I did start them off in pots first, as the weather was too cold and the soil was still frozen.

On April 12th I planted them in garden. In fact, where they are planted used to be my small lawn! I had to dig it well and added the compost from my compost bin and even forked in some of the overwintered pot compost. I had to cover the plants with a cloche to keep the rain off…yes buckets of it!

By May 24th they were growing tall and very healthy looking, so I put a support of wire mesh over them, 2′ high as they grow to 18″. On June 18th I arrived back from holiday and the plants were all lying down and clinging together, looking a mess, so after separating them (that was a job!) I put up 4′ canes and made a frame for support. By this time all the plants had lots of flowers.

Pea Alexandra - huge plants, bumper crops!

Me with the tall pea plants!

Pea Alexandra - huge plants, bumper crops!

Pea Alexandra – a close-up shot

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Just 6 days later I had to put in 6′ canes! The pea plants were now ranging from 3’10 to 5′ with pods appearing.

Pea Alexandra - huge plants, bumper crops!

Hundreds of pods!

By June 30th pods now were 4″ plus, growing all up the stem, not just on the tops.

Pea Alexandra - huge plants, bumper crops!

Long pea pods

July 6th… my first boiling, yum! Many of the pods had 8 to 10 peas in. From just 28 pods I reaped 200 peas. And yes, I had the patience to count them! Wow, they were so sweet.

Pea Alexandra - huge plants, bumper crops!

Pea harvest

Pea Alexandra - huge plants, bumper crops!

Juicy sweet peas

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These Alexandra peas are just amazing. I had no mould or little critters eating away at them, they just looked so amazingly healthy. The total weight of all pea pods was 3.5kg. I didn’t feed them (apart from the compost I added after I’d dug up the lawn), just made sure they were well watered, even twice a day when it was really hot. They just grew and grew and were the talking point of all who visited. I’ll certainly grow them again.

A note from Colin Randel, Thompson & Morgan’s vegetable product manager: “Peas, French and broad beans generally make considerably taller plants in wet seasons and cloudy, cold conditions. Adding compost or manure underneath would even increase the height by a good 12″. But I wouldn’t have expected them to grow to 5′ or more!”

Another of our trial panel members also reported a massive crop of peas and said “My peas have done very well too. Mine are not quite as tall as Shirley’s, but they are smothered in peas and I have to say that they are the sweetest peas I have grown.”

Pea Alexandra - huge plants, bumper crops!

Plants smothered in the sweetest peas

Shirley Reynolds
Shirley Reynolds is a member of Thompson & Morgan’s trial panel and loves spending time in her garden. Shirley is a big fan of container gardening and has recently dug up her lawn to grow more vegetables!

Petunias – customer trial panel update

I love petunias but with last year’s awful weather I was reluctant to grow them this year – I did not want to have another year of soggy flowers.

As usual when the T&M plants catalogue came in spring there were so many new and unusual petunias I just could not resist giving them another chance this year. And with all the sunny weather we have had recently I am so glad I did. They have gone from being bushy green leaved plants to being completely covered in flowers.

My favorites so far are the Crazytunias – ‘Wedgwood’, ‘Strawberry Cheesecake’, ‘Banoffee Pie’ and ‘Sophistica Bicolour’. It’s just amazing how Mother Nature can come up with such amazing colour combinations!

Petunia ‘Black Cherry’ is such an amazing colour, almost black! I am already thinking of plants I can combine with it for next year. And am also hoping it is still around at Halloween this year as it will make a spooky addition to the decorations!

Petunias - customer trial panel update

Petunia ‘Black Cherry’

The other reason I love petunias is their scent. They have such an spicy exotic fragrance I don’t know why more fuss isn’t made over them. I wish someone could capture this scent in a candle as I would certainly buy it.

I find the best varieties for scent are Petunia ‘Tidal Wave’ and also the ‘Tumbelina’ range which have lovely double flowers as well as strong perfume. This year I have managed to find 16 different varieties of ‘Tumbelina’ and as a result had to invest in a new hanging basket stand to hang them all from. It’s still early but the stand is already looking good!

Mesembryanthemums love the sun and the flowers are so jewel like. The leaves of these plants are so unusual too. They look like they have ice crystals all over them.

Petunias - customer trial panel update

Mesembryanthemum

I am a huge fan of exotic plants and this year I have grown schizanthus ‘Dwarf Bouquet Mixed’ from seed. The flowers are really unusual and look like mini orchids.

Petunias - customer trial panel update

Schizanthus

Also earlier this year I came across some caladium bulbs at a flower show. I have seen these plants in America but never in the UK. They were potted into pots and kept in the conservatory. The leaves are like stained glass windows and are so paper thin you can almost see through them. They are so fast growing which is really surprising, considering how little chlorophyll is actually in the leaf. I am searching everywhere for more varieties. If anyone out there knows where I can get some from please let me know!

Petunias - customer trial panel update

Caladium

Well that’s all for now. Need to get back outside and continue watering!

Bijal Mistry
As a member of Thompson & Morgan’s customer trial panel, Bijal Mistry tests plants, bulbs and seeds in his own garden on the outskirts of Manchester. He has won several awards and is happiest tending to his garden, especially the begonias and poinsettias!

Spring-summer customer trials update – Caroline Broome

Caroline Broome has been busy growing dahlias, petunias, fuchsias and many other plants as part of our customer trial panel. Read on for her latest update.

In an email to Thompson & Morgan’s customer trials co-ordinator, she wrote “I know I keep on about the dahlias from 2012 but they have been even better this year, and commented on by visitors to our NGS Open Day last Sunday. The only ones that need staking are the lemon yellow and the ‘Trebbiano’.

Spring-summer customer trials update - Caroline Broome

Dahlias with planting pouches in the background

The fuchsia ‘Twist and Shout’ is adorable and having just come into flower has plenty of buds on it.

Spring-summer customer trials update - Caroline Broome

Fuchsia ‘Twist and Shout’

Petunia ‘Balcon Mixed’ have shown remarkable resilience in the baking heat and heavy showers, albeit they are protected by the part shade of the pergola. As with all petunias they are sticky but using the T&M snips to deadhead avoids contact. Lovely fragrance at dusk as well.

Spring-summer customer trials update - Caroline Broome

Balcon petunias

Foxglove ‘Illumination’ have been planted out into the borders, and although still quite small are holding up well to the extreme temperatures. I tried half with tomato collars and half without, and the results speak for themselves: not a single hole in the protected ones and nibbles on all the others. All six are now collared and I have bought another 6 collars so that I can try echinacea and lobelias next year with confidence. I had given up trying to grow them as they were eaten away over successive years by slugs and snails.

Apple Bramley Seedling is romping away in its pot on the patio. It is now sending out side branches. Great to be able to grow apples if you only have a balcony or patio garden.

Clematis Flammula, the nasturtium comparison seed trial, blueberry Pink Lemonade and anemone ‘Queen Charlotte’ are putting on a spurt and photos should be forthcoming soon. Even the two rainbow orchid ‘Epipactis Sabine’ bare roots are growing now!

Peppers, grasses and tomatoes still sulking but fingers crossed they will catch up.”

Rebecca Tute
Rebecca works in the Marketing department as part of the busy web team, focusing on updating the UK news and blog pages and Thompson & Morgan’s international website. Rebecca enjoys gardening and learning about flowers and growing vegetables with her young daughter.

Katsura tree and clematis repens

Katsura tree and clematis repens – an update

Katsura tree and clematis repens

Leaves turning from green to pink

Katsura Tree

Two katsura trees 20″ tall arrived last August. I potted them up in 50% ericaceous and 50% multi-purpose compost and kept them in the shade in the greenhouse to give the roots a chance to establish.

I re-potted them at the beginning of March this year into large terracotta pots when the new foliage was green. It’s now turning to dark pink.

Katsura tree and clematis repens

Getting taller and prettier every day

These trees are getting taller and prettier – they’re now 4′ tall with heart-shaped leaves. I am keeping them in pots at the moment, so that I can move them around the garden to anywhere there is a space to fill.

There have been no pests, diseases or shrivelled leaves. The plants like semi shade or full sun.

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Katsura tree and clematis repens

Clematis repens

Clematis repens, the Twinkle Bell clematis

I have grown clematis in pots before, but these are now my favourites.

When they arrived I potted them into larger pots in multipurpose compost and vermiculite, 3″ deeper to stop clematis wilt. Once they were growing well I potted them into equal parts leaf mould, compost and vermiculite.

These plants don’t have any tendrils, so I have tied them into a frame and the flowers hang down like raindrops.

They are green in bud and open into 1″ bright yellow bell-shaped flowers. Even though they look delicate, the petals are very thick and waxy and totally different to the usual clematis.

Next year I am going to try them in hanging baskets and let the flowers just hang over the edges, I can’t wait.

Joy Gough
Joy Gough joined Thompson & Morgan’s trials team in 2011 and tests plants and seeds in her own garden in Wiltshire.

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