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.

The initial garden set up!

The Good Life in Practice and Thompson & Morgan – the initial garden set up!

So I have been lucky enough to get a goodie bag from Thompson and Morgan to try this growing season! Now I have used Thompson and Morgan for the last 5 years and have always had productive crops so it is good to be working with the same company – particularly as they are my local gardening company to Suffolk. This is my first update for this growing season with hopefully some ideas to get you into the garden or allotment.

A selection of the seeds which have been planted in the garden and allotment

A selection of the seeds which have been planted in the garden and allotment

I have started to plant up seeds ready in both the ground and in the greenhouse space. I have potted up Calendula Candyman orange and yellow (marigold) and Nasturiums ‘Firebird’, ‘Princess of India’ and ‘St Clements’ ready for adding to salads and baking. I love using edible flower to add a niche element to meals and to additionally add colour. I quite often bake breads adding nasturtium flowers to bring a spicy element to cheesy bread and to herb bread varieties. What’s more, the Calendula gives a great colour pop to other recipes. This includes the obvious salads and soups. However, I love using the brightly coloured petals to decorate cupcakes and want to have a go at making a natural balm with it this year-watch this space. Again, I have planted some Cornflowers ‘Blue Diadem’ as they not only look beautiful outside or as a cut flower but also add attitude to a dull salad.

Calendula 'Candyman' Orange & Yellow & Sunflower 'Helios Flame'

Calendula ‘Candyman’ Orange & Yellow & Sunflower ‘Helios Flame’

Next I have been potting up all the salad varieties to hopefully make me more self-sufficient this year; rather than having to supplement my garden with brought salad. Think this will save a lot of money and shopping trips! These are the varieties I am trying this year:
Lettuce ‘Ultimate Mixed’
Salad leaves Sorrel ‘Blood Veined’
Salad leaves ‘Bright and Spicy’
Herb Rocket
Wasabi Rocket
So far the Wasabi Rocket is growing on the windowsill – it is growing gradually; although I couldn’t resist trying a bit of a seedling – hot stuff! Can’t wait to use it as something a bit different in Thai salads and to serve with main meals. It will make an exciting addition to a vegetarian lunchbox.

Nasturtium 'Firebird', Princess of India & St. Clements

Nasturtium ‘Firebird’, Princess of India & St. Clements

As well as the edible plants, I also love cut flowers in the house. One that is rustic, sturdy or simple. Therefore I have planted some Sunflower ‘Helios Flame’ to grow gradually so I can harvest the stems later in the growing year to add colour to the house and dinner table.
Lastly, in this session I have planted up a set of Spring Onions ‘White Lisbon’ seed tape. This was so much easier than separate seeds to plant! Also it will hopefully reduce weeds that will grow around the plant and make it easier to flourish. Spring onions add a punch to summer salads – yum!
Next time I will give you an update on my allotment, how things are growing and some tasty, alternative recipes to try at home.

Lettuce 'Ultimate Mixed', Salad Leaves 'Bright & Spicy' & Spring Onion 'White Lisbon'

Lettuce ‘Ultimate Mixed’, Salad Leaves ‘Bright & Spicy’ & Spring Onion ‘White Lisbon’

Katy Runacres, The Good Life In Practice
https://thegoodlifeinpractice.wordpress.com/, Facebook: The Good Life In Practice, Twitter: @thegoodlifein

Katy Runacres
Katy is a smallholder, cook and writer. She keeps Chickens, Bantams, Meat Rabbits and has a resident cat called Podge. She takes an interest in all aspects of homesteading and has written pieces for a number of magazines including Backwoods Home, Bushcraft, Country Smallholding, Home Farmer and Smallholder. Katy is a member of the Essex and Suffolk Poultry Club and has a Diploma in Countryside Management.

So many plants, so little space!

The greenhouse is packed to the gunnels with plugs-in-waiting and half hardys. With the cold spell behind us, at least for now, at last I can start thinking about hardening some of them off. I’ve managed to plant the millions (well, 2 dozen actually) of sweet peas on the allotment, as well as some more tree lilies salvaged from the carnage created by slugs and snails. Half of the postiplug Minitunias have been demolished as well, so displays will be somewhat diminished sadly. I’ve received some surprise (as yet unnamed) trailling antirrhinums, bidens and fuchsias to trial though so hopefully they will compensate. It took three 50 litre bags of compost to refill the tomato trough, but at last I can transplant the Tutti Fruttis.

Fred the cat & chillies and curcumas

Fred the cat & chillies and curcumas

The salvias and cannas can be relocated to the shelter of the patio now, so I can set up the tubs for the cucamelons. I’ve got the T & M Incredibloom® and fuchsia plant food at the ready so there should be no excuse for a poor harvest. It’s Russian Roulette as to whether I remember to open the greenhouse door in the morning (think tropical rainforest) and then close it again in the evening (frozen waste). A friend once trapped a neighbour’s cat in hers overnight but I digress!

Caroline's overflowing greenhouse & ricinus

Caroline’s overflowing greenhouse & ricinus

The sunroom is crammed with the cucamelons, courgettes De Nice A Fruit Rond, patty pans and chillies, all fed and potted on into 4” pots, ready for planting into their final positions by end May. The curcumas and eucomis are finally emerging too. I’ve got several thriving hosta divisions wedged in behind the bin store in the front garden. The helianthus Lemon Queen, run riot in one of the containers on the roof terrace, has been dug out, split and potted on for our National Gardens Scheme Open Day Plant Sale, now currently residing between shed and greenhouse. David reckons if he stands still long enough I’ll plant him too!
Tulips in pots on the patio are coming into bloom in succession (more by luck than judgement), their leaves the object of a running buffet for my Oriental cat Fred. I can’t have New Guinea impatiens, begonias or hostas at ground level as he munches on them too. (Winky the Sphynx cat is partial to chives.) I’m getting impatient with the tulips now, even as I enjoy their riot of colour, as I am already planning their replacements: all those zingy T&M petunias and bidens in waiting!

Tulips & more tulips

Tulips & more tulips

I did treat myself to some T & M perennials as well this summer. Brunnera Alexander’s Great are said to grow far bigger than Jack Frost, so we will see in due course. Following the success of Digitals Illumination I’ve also bought new Ruby Slippers. But my most anticipated plant so far this spring is the Ricinus communis Impala. The four seedlings are romping away, their leaves and stems already deep red. I shall plant one in the raised bed out front with melianthus major, grasses & ferns for an architectural effect, and one in the island Prairie bed out back combined with (yet more) grasses, thalictrum, angelica & eupatorium. But my Piece de Resistance (or dramatic flop) will be planting up the kadhai (won in a prize draw at GROW London last year and an unwanted eyesore ever since) with ricinus as a centre piece surrounded by fiery red hot pokers and cannas, on the roof terrace. It will probably end up looking like a sacrificial altar – hope it doesn’t frighten the neighbours!

Hanging basket habits revealed

Thompson & Morgan survey reveals nation’s habits when it comes to summer hanging baskets

Love them or loathe them, nothing sets up the garden for summer like a vibrant display of hanging baskets. As the UK’s leading mail order supplier of seasonal basket plants, Thompson & Morgan has surveyed the nation’s gardeners to see how they use them to best effect in their garden, with some interesting findings.

Highlights include:
•   Red is the nation’s favourite basket flower colour
•   Begonia ‘Apricot Shades’ named best basket plant
•   Begonias, fuchsias and petunias hold the top slots but….
•   60% of gardeners are planning to try something new in their summer baskets this year
•   Hanging basket numbers per garden ranged from 1 to 28, but the average is 5.4 per plot
•   15% of gardening households don’t include hanging baskets in their summer displays

Begonia 'Apricot Shades' & Begonia 'Lotto Mixed'

Begonia ‘Apricot Shades’ & Begonia ‘Lotto Mixed’

Hanging baskets are all about showing off and adding colour to the garden scene, so Thompson & Morgan was keen to identify the nation’s favourite floral basket shades. When gardeners were invited to take the Thompson & Morgan online survey this spring, the top three flower colours were red (24%), purple (22%) and pink (17%). Just 5% prefer white flowers, and while only 10% chose yellow and 9% orange, Begonia ‘Apricot Shades’ received the most mentions as a favourite hanging basket plant, with trailing begonias, petunias and fuchsias in general filling the top slots.

Petunia 'Night Sky' & Begonia 'Illumination Mixed'

Petunia ‘Night Sky’ & Begonia ‘Illumination Mixed’

The survey findings reveal that the majority of basket gardeners use just two or three flower colours in their basket displays (38%), with only 9% sticking to one colour. 26% go all out with a riot of mixed colour in their baskets, while 27% of respondents said they employ a combination of single colours, duos, trios and mixes across their various baskets.

Hanging baskets seem to be the place for gardeners to experiment with new plants, with over 60% looking to try something different in their displays this summer. Thompson & Morgan sales analysis shows that the new edible Fuchsia Berry and the unusually speckled Petunia ‘Night Sky’ are stand out ‘experimental’ basket options for customers this season.

Petunia 'Frills & Spills™ Mixed' & Fuchsia 'Trailing Mixed'

Petunia ‘Frills & Spills™ Mixed’ & Fuchsia ‘Trailing Mixed’

Tastes in basket style are fast changing too, with just 13 per cent opting for traditional moss-lined wire baskets. Coir matting is now the preferred option for lining older style baskets, but 45% of respondents said they had no need for basket liners as they now use pre-lined wicker baskets or plastic Easy Fill Baskets that need no lining at all. These were also chosen for their durability and ease of planting and upkeep through the season.

Only 36% of basket gardeners have tried fruit or vegetables in their hanging displays, despite many edible plants being suitable for baskets. For those that do grow their own this way, strawberries, tomatoes and mixed herbs were the most common planting option, but the new edible Fuchsia Berry and basket Blackberry ‘Black Cascade’ look set to shake things up.

Fuchsia Berry & Blackberry 'Black Cascade'

Fuchsia Berry & Blackberry ‘Black Cascade’

Gardeners are savvy about the benefits of regular deadheading of basket plants to promote more flowers and extend the life of their baskets – Just 1% admitted to never deadheading, saying life is too short. But 31% dead head their basket plants on a weekly basis, and 29 % do it daily. 23% deadhead twice a week, leaving 15 percent to do it “when remembered”.

Thompson & Morgan’s survey also threw up some interesting findings when it comes to the nation’s use of winter and spring hanging baskets, to be revealed soon.

Kris Collins
Kris Collins works as Thompson & Morgan’s communications officer, making sure customers new and old are kept up to date on the latest plant developments and company news via a wide range of media sources. He trained in London’s Royal Parks and has spent more than a decade writing for UK gardening publications before joining the team at Thompson & Morgan.

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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