Children from St. Mary’s Church of England Primary School in Woodbridge grow our famous Tomtato®’s
St. Mary’s Church of England Voluntary Aided Primary School in Woodbridge, Suffolk received a handful of our wonderful Tomtato® plants for free. We did this to encourage and educate the children about growing their own vegetables and the enjoyment this can bring. They lovingly grew their Tomtato®’s and sent us a letter thanking us for the plants which we gave for free, and telling us how they got on. The letter was from three of the class Rebecca, Charlotte and Ettie.
Letter from St Mary’s School Woodbridge
They also provided photographs of the plants, from which they had a bumper harvest. All the tomatoes and potatoes were then shared out between the growers and the class, so that each child was able to take some home to their parents and carers. The remainder of the produce was sold to the teachers and staff, who all said the tomatoes and potatoes were scrumptious!
St Mary’s and Tomtato® Growing
This exercise has hopefully shown the children and parents that growing your own fruit and vegetables is neither difficult nor time consuming. It brings great rewards and shows everyone how to become self sustaining, as we all know that home grown is best.
St Mary’s and Tomtato® Fully Grown
The children seemed to have a lot of fun and lets hope we can encourage more children to grow their own fruit and vegetables.
Thank you St. Mary’s Church of England Voluntary Aided Primary School in Woodbridge for your lovely letter and super photographs.
I am so pleased to announce that Thompson & Morgan have allowed me to come back and write a new series about my garden entitled Another Year in the Greenhouse. To be honest, I thought I made so many basic greenhouse mistakes that they would run screaming to the hills. However, it was quite the opposite; they said they liked to hear about the failures as well as the successes; after all I am not a trained gardener. I’m just an ordinary person with an office job, who likes to escape into the greenhouse whenever I can.
I really hope I don’t make such silly mistakes though. Last year I thought it would be so easy to erect a second greenhouse and apply the same principles that I had to the original smaller one. Unfortunately I didn’t think about how the light would fall, how the sun moved on a different course or how the slope of the garden would make it look like I was standing at an angle even though the base was perfectly level, giving me horrible vertigo especially after a severe dose of Labrynthitis.
The Labrynthitis, was my worst gardening problem as it lasted months, I would stand in the greenhouse with my eyes squeezed shut hoping that I wouldn’t go crashing into the plants or glass, all the while thinking I can’t give in, I have plants to grow and a blog to write!
So this year my resolution is to do a better job than I did last year. At least I have a good amount of spring flowers and bulbs growing healthily already in them. With the extremely mild winter that we have so far had, the Californian Poppies have developed strong roots, and although they are currently a bit sleepy there does look like fresh green leaves on them.
I have no idea how the Yarrows will be potted on as they went from tiny seedlings to plug plants practically overnight. The roots are so tangled I could end up damaging them, I think the best thing I can do is to put them in bigger pots in one root ball as soon as possible and start hardening them off in February, then plant them in the old hollyhock patch in Spring.
After reading many different articles on the best time to sow sweet peas, I thought I would try a September sowing to see for myself if they would last through the dark months. Amazingly they have, although during late December I had to keep nipping the tops as they were getting too tall. They have now put out side shoots that should develop extra flowers in the summer. I only planted two seeds as I didn’t want to waste them if it went wrong, now I wish I had grown more. January is also a very good time to start off sweet peas so I am considering growing some more.
Bo t h my mum and Mark’s parents gave me garden related Christmas gifts, two sets of hanging shelves for the big greenhouse and some clever cane grips that mean I can create wigwams without having to fight with the string and scissor. So one of the first jobs Mark did this month was to wash all of the glass again because the salt laden winds have really taken its toll, and the second job was to put the shelves up. They only useful thing I did was make the tea stand in the greenhouse so he sees if I could reach them or not. My being five foot has its advantages, in that he didn’t have to stretch very far or use a step ladder to get the shelves at the height I wanted.
A quick inventory of the small greenhouse consists of the above mentioned plants plus, a red geranium that is still flowering since September, a tomato plant, two pots of Nigella, two tiny Broccoli seedlings, a spiky cactus that I forgot to bring indoors, five Aloe Vera’s, a Spider Plant that is too big for indoors, and a Thyme cutting. In the border of the small greenhouse was Spinach Beet that had got seriously big and bitter tasting so we pulled it up, as I have a new plan for this border. I will definitely grow Spinach Beet again though in the autumn as it’s so reliable and tasty. In the large greenhouse I have a Bell Pepper that is still trying to produce fruits. I don’t know if you can grow peppers for more than one year but this one hasn’t died off so, I keep picking off and composting the tiny fruit in the hope that I can move it to a sunnier spot in the greenhouse. Also overwintering is my large Aloe Vera and a Money Plant. I had hoped to utilise the space more in the winter but a late slug attack meant my cauliflowers and cabbage seedlings were destroyed.
My final jobs for January will be to start washing my slightly dusty pots, sieve the garden centre bought compost and plant some more seeds. This month is ideal for starting off Snap Dragons, Geraniums, Dianthifolia and Pennisetum and Salad leaves. I will be growing all of these from seed plus two others that I am hugely excited about. One is the half hardy shrub Banksia Hookeriana which will eventually replace a dying broom. The other is a Cycad. A truly magical greenhouse fern. I say this because when I was sent the seeds last year from Thompson & Morgan I had no idea what it was. I had to go on their website to find out and it amazed me. The cycad is a fossil, it was on Earth long before the dinosaurs, it has lived through millions of years of climate change, and evolution. It’s hard to believe I have a seed in my hands that is so ancient and yet so new. I was telling a friend about it and I said I was worried about accidentally destroying something so historically valuable. Don’t get me wrong the seeds are not hugely expensive and it’s not a rare endangered fern as the seeds wouldn’t be for sale, I just meant that I hope I can be trusted to grow something that has been around forever without getting it wrong. I think I will be doing some more research though before I open the packet though.
Finally, if I have whetted your appetite for seed sowing, then take advantage of the January sales, there are often offers for half price or even free packets or seeds. This month Thompson & Morgan are offering readers of a National Magazine twelve packets of free seeds for £3.20 P&P. They include vegetables, flowers for cutting and flowers for wildlife. I’m tempted are you?
Until next month.
2013 was a very successful year for gardener Geoff Stonebanks and his garden, Driftwood!
The back garden
It saw his garden related charity fundraising top the £32,000 mark in just 4 years, for which he became a finalist in the BBC Sussex Community Heroes Awards last December. Even in the depths of winter and the bad weather we have been experiencing, his back garden still seems to look better than most.
Charities that Geoff supports
You may recall that last year was his first year as a member of the Thompson & Morgan Customer Trials Panel, something he will be reprising in 2014, having just been invited to take part again. Geoff was thrilled to be invited for a second year. The subject of being involved was a much talked about point with visitors last summer.
He says that by far the most successful plant he trialed, by virtue of comments received from his 2000 visitors, was the Peruvian Tree Lily Alstroemeria Collection, which he took delivery of last April. The plants flowered profusely right up to early December as the picture shows although a little burnt by the wind around the petal edges! Amazingly, these stunning plants have seen off the dreadful winter weather on the south coast, which has seen gale force winds straight off the sea and never ending rain, but are already showing strong signs of growth in early February.
Another of the trial plants from 2013 was the Foxglove ‘Dalmatian Peach’, which although they took a long time to establish, arriving March and flowering in August have withstood the winter so far and they too, are showing good signs of growth in February as you can see. The dreadful gales and torrential rain have been the worse that Geoff has experienced in the 10 years he has been living and gardening on the south coast! At times he says he has lain in bed thinking the roof would blow off the house, yet the garden seems to have come through the whole thing unscathed, apart from 2 new fence posts that were needed in the back garden, along with the propping up of an old apple tree, in danger of falling down in waterlogged ground.
Foxglove ‘Dalmatian peach’
His front garden directly faces the sea between Brighton and Eastbourne as you can see. This picture was taken during one of the recent storms, yet the structure of the garden, designed to cope with the strong winds, stood firm. Geoff has used the rowing boat in the centre, along with the upturned sections of railway sleepers and some original beach groynes to create an arc of protection for the plants that are thriving in their shadow. The full force of the SW winds from the Atlantic blow up the Channel and hit the garden full on.
The front garden
One of these plants is another from last year’s trial, Rose ‘Garden Party’, and several of the other plants are already showing signs of growth again. Geoff also received many bulbs as part of the trial last Autumn, that have yet to show their faces in his garden, Tulip ‘Silver Parrot’, the Iris ensata Collection and Tulip “Ice Cream”, all of which will look quite stunning once they start to grow this spring, “that is if we ever get one!” says Geoff, who promises pictures once they have flowered!
Rose ‘Garden Party’
Other late arrivals were a range of hardy geraniums, the Hardy Doubles Collection comprising Southcombe Double, warm pink flowers, Plenum, ruffled purple/pink flowers, Double Jewel, white star shaped and Summer Skies, tightly frilled mauve/pink flowers. All will look wonderful, newly planted around the pond area in the back garden. Back in September Geoff also took delivery of Golden Lysimachia, which he chose to hang on to and plant out this spring. They are already showing signs of new growth in the greenhouse!
Three plants he bought himself last year from Thompson & Morgan were Buddleja ‘Buzz’ compact varieties, perfect for pots on the patio! They did well and have already shown significant growth in 2014!
The final plants to be delivered in 2013 were a collection of Osteospermum, Cape Daisies. These were planted out in late September and have survived the winter well so far, as you can see.
We have already advised Geoff of the plants he can expect to receive in 2014 so we will look forward to his updates on how they are progressing, once established.
Geoff has a busy year ahead, writing a monthly article about his garden for the Magazine, Garden News, fulfilling his volunteer role as an Assistant County Organiser and Publicity Officer for the National Gardens Scheme in East & Mid Sussex and preparing for his own 16 garden openings in 2014. In addition to the specific web page he records details of the Thompson & Morgan trial, you can read more of his garden at www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk
A short update regarding a couple of plants which are still surviving the winter now in to February.
Geranium ‘T&M’s Choice Mixed’ F1 Hybrid & Petunia ‘Easy Wave’
I have 2 plants which are still alive outside now into February. One is a zonal geranium (pelargonium) and the other, which is not just one, but a number of plants of petunia. These are in various locations around the back garden, the geranium is in a clay pot on the front wall. Neither have had any special protection, other than the geranium has a wall for protection from one side, it has got a bit straggly now. Normally I would have taken this in the greenhouse late autumn for cutting material, but the longer it has lasted, the more curious I am to see how much more it can survive. The petunias actually look quite green and healthy.
To be honest, it has not been a severe winter yet, we have had a fair number of frosts around here and some bad enough to leave car windscreens in need of a defrosting before setting off for work, but not the prolonged deep frosts that usually put paid to bedders well before now. Last year wasn’t too tough a winter either, but we did get a few early severe frosts around November/December that finished off many borderline plants outside.
The pictures here are of a zonal geranium (pelargonium) which has been outside since late spring 2013, and petunia plants which are dotted around the garden in various containers.
I will update further on their progress through the winter months.
Zonal geranium (pelargonium)
Another growing season draws to an end, well just about. I have been down the allotment this morning and I am still getting crops from beetroot, leeks, cauliflower, parsnips, chard, and turnip. The beetroot we have decided we like in a slightly different way, instead of cooking and pickling in jars we now roast in the oven as you would potato or parsnip. This produces a sweet and very tasty vegetable which we much prefer to the vinegar soaked method. In fact all of the above have been used today on the Sunday roast.
I have taken all the French and runner bean foliage down from the wigwam structures in a bit of a tidy up this morning, the wigwams are made from half inch steel bars 8’ long! These came to the company where I work as strengtheners in packing cases and were then thrown in the skip for scrap. They can stay in position all year round, will not rot, are too heavy to blow over and the best bit of all were completely free! Luckily my allotment is just across the road from the warehouse where I work.
I have been very impressed with the chard variety ‘Bright Lights’ which some of us were given to trial. I have cut some this morning and they are still cropping well, the coloured varieties seem much less prone to bolting or running to seed and both the leaves and succulent stems can be cooked and eaten. I am also looking forward to seeing if it does emerge again in the spring as promised to provide more fresh greens just when needed, this will have a well deserved row of its own in the allotment next year. Other vegetables which have also performed well this year are beetroot Boltardy, leek Musselburgh and onion Bedfordshire Champion.
Chard Bright Lights
One topical crop as it gets towards the end of October is the pumpkin! I grew T&M variety Dill’s Atlantic Giant down the allotment this year. I prefer the large varieties as I try to grow a couple of big pumpkins to carve for Halloween, the grandkids enjoy seeing one lit up on the back and I always try to attempt the scariest face possible when carving with the obligatory pointy teeth and mean eyes! But this year I went for a completely different approach and tried a kids’ favourite cartoon character. The result? Well, the grandkids absolutely loved it.
My carved pumpkin