Firstly can I please say a big “Thank you” to everyone who has read my blog and given feedback. I must say I was really worried that no one apart from my mum would read my blog so it’s really nice to hear from everyone.
In this month’s blog, I am enclosing some photos of the construction phase of the greenhouse. We have been really lucky in that so far the weather has been much the same as last year, generally between one and six degrees, with rain (sometimes heavy), South Westerly winds and hardly any frost. On the thirteenth of January we had all four seasons in the same day. Lovely spring like drizzle in the morning, warm but not quite summer sun just before lunch, followed by a sudden temperature drop and wintry sleet in the afternoon, and then a beautiful autumn sunset. Have you experienced anything like this in your area?
Up until the back end of January we only had one day when the temperature was zero degrees after nine in the morning – this was great for me as I have been able to get out on the weekends to do some gardening. I work full time in the week, and the nights aren’t quite light enough to go out when I get home. Unfortunately I have only been able to plant my Thompson & Morgan Speedy Mix Salad Leaves, in pots on the kitchen windowsill, when they germinate, they will be pricked out and moved to my old greenhouse. I have selected the tomato seeds to sow next month Gardeners Delight and Sweet Aperitif, and have I been planning what else to grow from seed. For definite I will be growing Aubergine Enorma, and some Sweet Bullhorn peppers.
I haven’t decided what flowers I will grow yet, but every year I grow dahlias and a single variety of sunflowers sharing them with my brothers for their children to grow. It’s brilliant that 2015 is year of the Sunflower. I may just have a sunflower festival in our garden and grow Italian Whites, Russian and/or Mongolian Giants and some Teddy Bears. I also like the look of the Maximilas sunflower. Has anyone had any success with this perennial?
That’s the best thing about winter gardening for me; the planning. Choosing the things I want to grow and ordering them via the catalogue or using the website or having T&M vouchers to spend in their January sales. As well as looking back on last year’s successes and failures, and watching for signs that a new season is on its way.
I ordered my new greenhouse in late November, from a reputable company online, they gave me a delivery date of the Seventh of January, as this was when they were would be delivering in our area. I was happy with this as with Christmas and everything, it was something to look forward to in the New Year. Next we visited a local building supplier to order blocks to mount the base, and a ton of 6mm dust to be delivered on the same day. Both companies kept their agreement and delivered on the day. (We won’t need the whole ton of dust for the greenhouse, but that’s the quantity it comes in so we are going to re-lay the patio area so nothing is wasted.)
Using string and broken canes, Mark then pegged out, the trench he would be digging. We decided to do this after delivery In case anything went wrong with the purchase. A few days later and he had dug the trench, and that’s when I realised the enormity of our project. I could have paid extra to have a greenhouse installation team do the hard work for us, but as Mark had erected the smaller greenhouse he was happy to do this one too. I have every faith in him as the original greenhouse stood up to ninety mile an hour winds in March last year. It twisted and bucked, but I only lost two panes of glass due to a solar light being plucked from the rose border and hurled into the air. The light hit the lower pane and the top pane slid out after it.
The block laying turned into a nightmare, due to heavy rain our clay soil was unworkable as it stuck to everything it shouldn’t. Hands, feet, spade and clothes. Also we knew our garden was on slope and totally uneven and stony but one edge (the tenth foot part of the trench) had to be dug nine inches lower than its opposite side to compensate for the gradient. Each block had to be laid, and then spirit levelled, adjusted, and then measured again. There was no point in trying to lay the blocks in a line and then measure and adjust after, as it would have got even messier. But finally on the 21st of January the block laying was complete and the base secured in position. We then let the ground settle before the next phase.
Phase two, is think ahead. Where to get topsoil for the borders of the greenhouse? I have got homemade compost and will probably buy in some extra, but if we can put in some topsoil it should improve the soil structure. A phone call to my brother and the issue is resolved. Also as mentioned in my previous blog, I hate failing, and it suddenly occurred to me, that it would be just my luck for the first time for something to go wrong with my tomato plants. I had a nightmare vision of doing a blog of the new greenhouse with nothing growing in it! Again T&M came to my rescue, as in conjunction with a well known magazine they were offering six free tomato plants for just £3.20 postage and packing, as well as cucumber plants at a reduced price. I quickly ordered them along with a different offer of a free potato kit, again just paying P&P.
Phase three, the constructing of the aluminium frame, and what happens? The weather turns. The mild drizzly days are replaced by beautiful blue skies but dropping temperatures some really hard frosts and icy winds. Mark has worked outdoors all of his life, but there was no way I wanted him to freeze for me so I just said “So long as it’s constructed by the end of March I am happy to wait. After all I have the other greenhouse and I can keep the plants in there, in pots until then. Besides, it’s too cold for seed germination just yet.”
On the Seventh of February the weather broke, ironically this would have been Dad’s 70th Birthday, to take my mind off it we decided to keep active. So after grocery shopping and lunch it was time to construct the greenhouse.
The plans looked simple enough, there were a suitable amount of images and a short note stating that anyone can be reasonably expected to build the greenhouse, so long as the instructions were followed and common sense applied. I freely admit my building skills are more destroy-it-yourself than do-it-yourself, so I volunteered to be teas maid, leaving Mark to it. I just pottered around the garden and did some chores. Mark started by moving the car from the drive and laying out each section of the greenhouse in turn. Using the guide and carefully noting the number of screws, nuts and bolts needed, he started with the back panel and moved onto the sides. Each section took about twenty to thirty minutes. He constructed the door, and then said “I’m just going to put the rubber seal around the door, and I’ll do the roof tomorrow.” The seal was fiddly so Mark used a drop of Silicone spay to help ease it on to the aluminium. It was getting too chilly for me, so I went indoors. After an hour I was beginning to wonder if there was a problem as it was now late afternoon and beginning to get dark, Mark was still outdoors, I thought that sealing the door would be simple, so I sneaked to the bedroom window and was totally shocked to see all of the greenhouse frame attached to the base and the roof completed.
Mark decided, he might as well finish the job. I am at a loss as how he could manage to put it all together on his own including the ten foot roof brace. He says he just bolted the brace to one of the short edges, leant it on an attached side panel, and then bolted the other end on. He says he also had to stand on a breeze block to reach the holes as at five foot ten he wasn’t quite tall enough. If it was me I would have needed a ladder. So we have almost finished the building, we have decided, it will be easier to mark out the borders and put in the topsoil and path inside the greenhouse before the glazing goes in, firstly because of the amount of soil we need to put in there, as it will be frustrating going in through the narrow door with the barrow, and secondly I am clumsy, and will probably end up putting the spade through the window by accident when unloading the stuff.
I am starting to get really excited as I can visualise a warm July day, collecting trugs of produce and sharing them with my family and friends. In the next few weeks I will be starting off my tomato and potato plants. I have done some early sowings of aubergines and garden peas, they are currently sitting in their pots silently splitting their shells and slowly emerging through the compost. My speedy salad mix in the kitchen germinated in four days, they are growing strongly and will soon need to be pricked out. Hopefully by this time next month the glazing will be done, the soil prepared and if I am lucky be tasting my first Mizunna lettuce.
Until then, Happy Gardening.
In ‘Ho ho sow’, Jane Scorer shares some great ideas for Christmas gifts.
Are you in the midst of your Christmas shopping? If you are, then I bet you can feel an oppressive weight on your shoulders, that burden of what to buy for people this year. What do you buy for the ones who have everything they need? You’ve done pants and novelty socks to death, you’ve racked your brains for inspiration and you still haven’t got a clue.
Take my advice… buy them all seeds!
Buying seeds as Christmas gifts takes the stress out of Christmas shopping
Wisdom has it that you should choose presents which you, yourself would enjoy. Well, I can’t think of anything I would rather have than seeds – they are pure hope in a packet. The promise of colour, scent and… the return of the sun. All that optimism in a tiny, wrinkled seed!
Many of us have children to buy for, and even if they only have a tiny growing space, like a windowsill, it’s still worth choosing seeds as part of their gift. They won’t want to wait for months to see a result, and you hope to get them hooked on growing, so choose something with a quick return. You might just give them a gift which will last a lifetime – a passion for gardening and growing things. The obvious choices are mustard and cress as the results can be eaten very quickly, and they will grow happily in a tiny space. If they enjoy trying new vegetable tastes and textures, you could buy them alfalfa or mung beans so that they can be eating the germinating sprouts in days.
If the children you buy for have access to a patch of garden, then there are so many more seed options to explore. Sunflowers are an obvious choice, and there are lovely varieties to try like Thompson & Morgan’s dark reds, ‘Claret F1 Hybrid’ and ‘Velvet Queen’. The seeds themselves are very tactile, and large enough for small fingers to plant easily. Although there will inevitably be a wait for germination, that will be richly repaid after the seedling appears, as growth will be rapid – and measurable!
Sunflower seeds – the perfect Christmas gift for children
Children also enjoy novelty, so it might be worth trying Thompson & Morgan’s ‘Snake Gourds’, which produce snake like fruits that can be painted when dried. There is also an easy-to-grow ornamental cucumber, ‘Hedgehog’, which produces a fascinating variety of striped and prickly fruits.
Any seeds chosen for children to grow should germinate easily and reasonably quickly, so that success is only a seed tray away. A negative experience is hardly going to encourage a small, potential gardener. The plants themselves should be tough, vigorous and hard to kill off!
Adolescents are notoriously difficult to buy for, and unless a present hits the spot precisely, it will remain untouched and unused. Seeds are only a couple of pounds a packet though, so if your teenager’s imagination does not ignite, then you haven’t broken the bank. What might appeal? Maybe something exotic, dark and unusual, like sweet pepper ‘Black Knight’ or tomato ‘Black cherry’. Teenagers usually love to eat! Unless your teenager is an experienced gardener, then any seeds chosen would have to be easy to germinate and grow.
For adults, it is more about matching the seeds to an individual’s interests and character. A traditional vegetable grower, who sticks religiously to the same varieties every year, might relish the challenge of unusual varieties like dwarf bean ‘Purple Teepee‘, zingy ‘Rainbow Beet’ or courgette ‘Zephyr’, (which is yellow with a green tip). The same is true of the traditional annual grower, who may, without question, grow the same lobelia and marigolds every year. Encourage them to widen their horizons with new annuals such as yellow and white nemesia cheiranthus ‘Shooting Stars’, whose name describes it perfectly… and it smells of coconut!
Give unusual seeds as gifts to tempt gardeners into trying something different
Passionate gardeners love to try new things and to grow plants they have never grown before. Even someone with a tiny garden could find room for an unusual annual climber, and a good one to try is cobea scandens, with large purple or white flowers. It germinates very easily and grows on well, flowering from late summer onwards. The ‘cup and saucer’ blooms are truly spectacular. Another unusual annual climber is mina lobata or ‘Spanish Flag’, so named because it displays all the colours of the Spanish flag. It is quite vigorous and will ramble over walls and fences.
Ageing or less mobile gardeners can be a problem to buy for, but seeds solve the present predicament yet again! For example, cacti seeds are easy to grow and a mixed packet is full of surprises. It is fascinating to watch the young plants develop and grow into different shapes and sizes. They germinate more easily and quickly than you might think and within a couple of years, they will be reasonably substantial plants, requiring minimum care. Succulents and ‘living pebble’ plants (lithops) are also interesting options.
There are some seeds which you should never buy for a gardener, and I speak from personal experience here! Never buy seeds which will turn an interest into an obsession. That means no auriculas, dahlias, giant veg seeds or alpines. Buying any of those could mean that you see very little of the person you bought them for, as they will be in the greenhouse constantly, or whizzing round the country to show and exhibitions.
So, what would I like Santa to bring me, in his sack? Now, I grew ‘Bishop’s Children’ this year and was amazed by how large and floriferous the plants were in the first season. I vowed I would grow dahlias from seed every year from now on. So, I would be delighted to find dahlia variabilis ‘Redskin’ in my stocking on Christmas morning. It is a mix of dark foliaged dahlias with flowers of varying colours, all compact and free flowering.
Last summer, I visited Sissinghurst garden and fell in love with ‘love in a mist’, such a traditional annual, which is often overlooked. In my own garden I have grown an unnamed variety, saving the seed every year, and scattering it the following spring. The blue of the flowers has become more and more washed out over the years. Sissinghurst grows the most spectacular sapphire blue with a darker blue eye, and the nearest match I can find to it is nigella damascena ‘Oxford Blue’. Go on Santa, get me some!
So, there you are, all your Christmas presents sorted now, and you get a good excuse to spend hours trawling through the seed catalogues too.
You can read more of Jane’s blog posts at Hoe hoe grow
Sue Sanderson and Colin Randel, two of Thompson & Morgan’s experts give their top 5 flower and vegetable seeds for the new season…
Sue Sanderson is Thompson & Morgan’s Horticulturist and has 11 years of gardening experience.
Rudbeckia ‘Cherry Brandy’
When this was first seen in the T&M breeding trials we were all excited as this was the first time a red rudbeckia had ever been bred from seed. Not only is the colour stunning, but so is the plant – it’s bushy and robust with many burgundy red blooms adding height to annual displays and blooming all summer into autumn, whatever the weather.
Marigold ‘Durango Tangerine’
When we first trialled this variety ‘Durango Tangerine’ stood out against all others – its habit, colour and flower power were, and still are, truly outstanding. This is the only French Marigold I grow in my own garden because the colour is so vibrant, the plants are bushy and free-flowering all summer, making the perfect edging plant to my borders.
Busy Lizzie ‘Divine’
A breeding breakthrough and the answer to many gardeners’ prayers. A Busy Lizzie that does not get mildew unlike traditional varieties. ‘Divine’ is versatile – it grows well in borders, containers, flower pouches™ or window boxes. Flowers all summer until the first frost of autumn.
Cosmos ‘Sweet Sixteen’
Every garden should find a place for a few cosmos, and ‘Sweet Sixteen’ is one of the best. Easy to grow, tall plants with attractive bicoloured blooms add height to bedding displays or look attractive when interplanted amongst shrubs and perennials in the border.
Sweet Pea ‘Erewhon’
A breeding breakthrough from Keith Hammert, the world’s leading sweet pea breeder. An attractive and unusual reverse bicolour that’s full of fragrance and adds beauty to the garden or the home when used as a cut flower. ‘Erewhon’ was introduced to our range in 2013 and has become a customer favourite.
Colin Randel is Thompson & Morgan’s vegetable new product manager and what he doesn’t know about vegetables simply isn’t worth knowing!
Dwarf bean Laguna
I assessed Laguna in commercial breeder trials in 2010 and 11 and it stood out for its performance through a wide range of weather conditions and having a strong root system for vigour in a range of soil types. The pod quality, yield and taste remained consistent throughout the harvesting seasons. My notes included ‘ideal variety for all gardeners’ and it is.
Beetroot Rainbow Beet
Modern beet breeding and selections provide gardeners with virtually ‘eat all’ varieties, just cut off the taproot. Just wash young roots, stems and leaves and eat raw in salads. Leaves and stems can also be steamed, roots boiled and don’t waste the water as beet juice is good for you. Adding some peeled apple when boiling will reduce the ‘earthy’ taste of the juice if preferred. Our 5 variety mix is visually stunning. Successional sowings throughout spring to midsummer will give bountiful crops, and some roots can be left to full maturity and lifted and stored in your shed or garage overwinter. Twist tops off the roots instead of cutting to prevent ‘bleeding’ with the red beet and Bull’s Blood beet. The golden Boldor, Albina vereduna and Chioggia do not ‘bleed’. Our picture was taken from roots lifted at the end of October.
Courgette Goldmine F1
I assess a huge number of courgette varieties every year in the breeders trials, and British breeding in recent years has provided us with outstanding introductions for compact and ‘open’ plant habit, vastly reduced spines on stems and leaf petioles which allow easier picking, and good yields over a long harvesting season. You need to pick 3 times a week during peak season. Breeding for parthenocarpic habit (setting fruit without pollination from insects) has now resulted in our exclusive launch of Goldmine. The stunning gold skinned with narrow white stripes certainly catch the eye.
This variety which proved outstanding, with its red leaved counterpart Mazurosso, in our 2010 and ’11 trials. Both varieties were weatherproof, not bothered by incessant rain or periods of heatwave, and each plant made a voluminous heart of crunchy leaves which remained crunchy and bitter-free when washed under the tap and added to the salad bowl. Leaves do not go ‘limp’ like some picking varieties. The hearts just remained in perfect condition for 3 months and then rotted away without bolting (running to seed). A heart could be cut and washed and excess water shaken off and will store in the fridge for over a fortnight.
The eye appeal will win you over. The ‘cherry sized’, 15g fruits have a rich rose-pink colour with smoky overtones especially around the crowns of the fruit. The flesh is also a deep red, and the taste gives an instant hit of balanced acid/sweetness which lingers in the mouth and the thin skin melts away. Absolute joy. Best grown in the greenhouse as an indeterminate (needs support and sideshooting) but can be grown in a sunny, sheltered spot outdoors as a cordon (supported and ‘stopped’ after 4 or 5 trusses). British breeding at its best.
Grow your own – it’s not too late!
Sow petunias under glass now
Spring may be late this year, but there is still plenty of time to grow your own. In fact, waiting and sowing later when the soil and weather conditions are better means that your seeds will germinate more successfully than in cold wet soil.
With many gardeners wondering how they’re going to get the best from their gardens with such a late start to the season, we asked Sue Sanderson for her expert advice. Here’s what she said:
If the soil is warm enough and the weather conditions are favourable, you can sow hardy annuals direct outside from April, right through to the 1st week of June. If you’re really desperate to get germination underway, you could sow seeds into cell trays under cover and plant them out once the conditions outside improve. There is plenty of time, so don’t panic!
Petunias, ipomoea, nicotiana, dahlia, ageratum, lobelia and sunflowers can be sown up to mid April under glass.
Sow tomato seeds now
Marigolds, zinnias, cosmos and tagetes are the last half-hardy annuals you would sow – these can be sown under glass from April through to early May.
Sow tomatoes and aubergines up to the 3rd week of April.
It’s getting a little late to sow peppers – you’ve only really got until the end of the 2nd week of April to get them going.
Summer brassicas should be sown by now for early harvests, but late summer early autumn harvesting varieties can be sown up to early May.
Wait until the soil has warmed up to sow other vegetable seeds – you’re more likely to get a better crop.
Plant potatoes until mid May
Potatoes, especially maincrops, can be planted up until mid May.
You can give your soil a helping hand in warming with cloches and polytunnels. These will also protect your crops while they’re growing.
So don’t despair, you’ve still got time to create a fabulous display of flowers and grow a decent crop of vegetables to see you through the year.
Guest blogger Rachel Davidson-Foster’s post on her ongoing quest for the perfect garden.
Was buying a house called “Brambles” an omen?
I hope you will forgive me the women’s-magazine cliché that begins my story; 6 years ago I’m pregnant with my second child searching for a new home for the family; the forever home that will bring us back to our home town and finally (hopefully) give me that plot of land that will give me the space to stretch my gardening skills and give life to those bucolic daydreams of a self-sufficient veg plot that Monty Don would be proud of and a glamorous ‘Sarah Raven’ style cutting garden.
Frankly I’m fed-up, but just when I feel certain that the right house with the right garden will never arrive I visit a place, rather ominously for a gardener, called “Brambles”. The house, built in 1896, is a nightmare from 1980’s pub design hell and needs a load of work (and money) to put it right – but the garden is two-thirds of an acre of blankness that is just right for me. Even the dead-bunny on the lawn isn’t able to deter me (although it was a clear warning of the on-going battles I would have with its close cousins to keep them from destroying my burgeoning plant collection).
So the house is purchased, but because all of our money gets used making the house habitable I’m left with an interesting problem; how to create a fulsome Gertrude Jekyll billow of a garden with no money? The answer comes via the inspiration of Carol Klein’s writings and telly appearances and a timely direct mailing from Thompson & Morgan’s seed catalogue – I will grow all of the plants myself from seed or propagation, not allowing myself to simply purchase any full grown plant unless it fulfils the criteria of a) providing lots of material for cuttings or b) can be divided into multiple plants. The final rule is that I am allowed to accept plants as presents.
Spires of Lupins Summer 2012
My first success – Lupins (latin name Lupinus). Anyone who is plagued by bunnies cannot have failed to notice that they don’t have much of an appetite for this statuesque herbaceous perennial. This was certainly true of the examples that were happily growing in neighbours’ gardens. So Lupins were first on my ‘seed-list’ and have the advantage of being readily available as seed in most garden centres. They are robust plants that grow to a good 3 feet wide and with densely packed spires of colour that can reach up to 5 feet in the air. They are a member of the legume (pea) family and this is seen not only in the shape of the individual flowers and their seed pods but also in their ability, like all of the legume family, to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere into ammonia via a rhizobium-root nodule symbiosis, fertilizing the soil for other plants. I could pretend that this influenced my decision to grow Lupins – with my eye on the long-term horticultural health of my soil – but the truth is that I just loved the eye-popping colour combinations and their massive ‘cottage garden’ status.
Some suggest that soaking the seeds overnight prior to planting is advisable, but I’ve never done this and still had prolific success. I simply put the seeds into trays that have got good sandy seed compost and then cover over with vermiculite. The seed tray is then placed into a tray of water so that the compost can suck up the water via capillary action until the whole depth of the seed-tray is good and wet. After this it is just a case of placing in a sheltered location (away from slugs and snails that will in my experience nibble at the seedlings) and wait for the first palmate ‘real’ leaves to grow before pricking out and potting on. Keep them moving onto bigger and bigger plant pots until they are at a big enough size to withstand any unwanted wildlife advances.
Once in the ground they are pretty happy to be left alone with the only real work being to ensure they are staked against any summer storms that threaten to snap the flower spikes off and then to deadhead the fading flower-spikes which is always a good idea to do in the first year of growth to ensure that the plant concentrates on developing good root systems. That said – from my one packet of Thompson & Morgan “Band of Nobles Mixed” I have saved my own seed and subsequently grown my own colour combinations.
Next time I think I will write about my on-going struggle to grow lavender from cuttings! Or perhaps I will share how useful I have found Sisyrinchiums to be in filling up newly turf-removed flower borders! In the meantime I hope you enjoy this picture of early summer as much as I did being able to ‘live’ it!