This season I have decided to start my own cutting garden, mainly because I find I am totally incapable of cutting flowers from the garden to bring into the house. I end up buying cut flowers from the supermarket because I can’t bear to denude my own garden plants. This can prove quite costly, and, by growing my own, I could save around five pounds a week, which amounts to an annual saving of around two hundred and fifty pounds. That is one very good reason to give it a go! I have also found that I have a very limited choice of variety and colour when buying flowers in a supermarket.
Cut flower varieties are chosen by professional growers, primarily for their length of vase life and their ability to withstand the rigours of long distance travel. This limits the number which would be suitable, and thus, the degree of choice in the shops. There will never be, for instance, sweet peas for sale in the local supermarket, as their vase life is only 3 – 5 days, and they are so delicate that they would be easily damaged in transit. As my cut flowers will only have to travel up the garden path, I can choose whichever varieties take my fancy. And if they die after a few days, there will be plenty more in the cutting patch to take their place.
I can also choose varieties for a specific reason, such as fragrance, which is very important to me, so I can choose flowers for their scent alone, if I want to. I love rich, jewel – like colours, so I can select a personal colour palette of purples, reds and strong blues, as well as oranges and hot pinks, which will complement each other well in a vase. I can also select for flower type, shape, size and textures to help me to achieve my ideal arrangements. There is a great creative freedom in growing your own cut flowers, which is lost in the selection of a bunch of supermarket roses.
I have already chosen and bought my seeds – many are Thompson & Morgan annuals, but I have had to go further afield for some more unusual varieties, like Bupleurum rotundifolium ‘Griffithii’, Nicotiana ‘Lime Green’, Anchusa Capensis ‘Blue Angel’ and Melianthus Major.
Choosing was an absolute labour of love and one of my favourite jobs of the whole year! Once they arrived I drew up a sowing plan, based on the sowing information given on the packet, and my own experience from previous years. I tend to wait, for instance, to sow cosmos until light levels are good, as my early sown seedlings have often been leggy and weak. Later sowings have been much more robust.
So, the propagator is on, and … there are babies! The first seeds have germinated, so they will be moved out of the propagator onto a warm, light windowsill to grow on, leaving space for the germination of the next batch of seeds. And repeat!
It must mean that spring is just around the corner …
Hoe hoe grow
Thompson & Morgan has been at the forefront of cosmos breeding for 10 years since some unusual seeds arrived from California.
The ‘Cupcakes’ series of the ever-popular cosmos was born out of a chance find in a California back yard in 2007. When Diane Engdahl discovered an unusual cosmos flower in her garden in Santa Rosa, she sent the ensuing seed to the plant breeding team at Thompson & Morgan. Instead of its flower being made up of individual petals, rather like a daisy, as with most cosmos, the petals of this unique bloom were fused together, creating one single ‘cup’.
For nearly 10 years, plant breeders at Thompson & Morgan have been busy ‘fixing’ this new trait across the cosmos colour mix, developing new shades and refining the habit of this new cosmos shape. This long-standing cottage garden favourite was celebrated in 2016’s Year of the Cosmos and visitors to RHS Garden Wisley were asked to vote in a poll to name their favourite garden cosmos as part of the Royal Horticultural Society’s annual People’s Choice Competition. Once votes were gathered, Cosmos bipannatus ‘Cupcakes White’ came out on top of the 84 varieties on show in the RHS garden. Read more about the RHS People’s Choice Competition at http://www.thompson-morgan.com/rhs-cupcakes-white
It’s easy to see why cosmos are so popular. Sales of cosmos seed and plants have increased hugely over the past 10 years. This is partly due to breakthroughs in breeding which have led to new varieties such as ‘Cupcakes’ and ‘Lemonade’ (see below), but it is also down to the fabulous garden performance of this very stylish flower. Available in so many colour ways, heights and flower types; easy to grow; not prone to disease or pest attacks – cosmos really are every gardener’s dream plant!
Initially marketed as part of Thompson & Morgan’s exclusive Cosmos ‘Cupcakes’ mix, ‘Cupcakes White’ boasts pristine white petals which are fused together to form the single ‘cup’ that is the unique trademark of the ‘Cupcakes’ series. Tall, bushy plants are free flowering; ideal for elegant border designs and container growing, and perform well in all types of weather. Cosmos make fabulous cut flowers and each plant will produce an impressive number of blooms.
During T&M’s trials, it was remarked that bees appeared to be taking shelter from wind and rain inside the flower ‘cups’, with sometimes more than one bee sharing the protection that the fused petals afford. Cosmos are always a favourite with pollinating insects, but the knowledge that bees are using this new variety to take refuge from inclement weather, makes them all the more appealing.
Top tips for growing cosmos from seed
• Sow cosmos seeds in a heated greenhouse or propagator in April.
• Good light is important to prevent ‘stretching’
• Young plants can be planted out after the very last frosts, usually in late May/early June
• Regular dead-heading will promote flowering right up to the first frosts
• When dead-heading cosmos, cut the stem right back to the first leaf rather than just pulling the flower head off
• Seed can be planted outside, where you’d like them to flower, in May or early June
Thompson & Morgan also offers a number of cosmos varieties as plants which, depending on the size of the plant at the time of delivery, can be planted straight out into the garden, or they can be potted up and grown on before transplanting.
Cosmos ‘Cupcakes White’ – 1 packet (30 seeds) £1.99
Cosmos ‘Cupcakes Mixed’ – 1 packet (100 seeds) £1.99
Height: 120cm (48″). Spread: 60cm (24″)
Also from Thompson & Morgan’s own breeding comes another stunning cosmos variety – ‘Lemonade’
To create this multi-flowering subtle yellow cosmos with a striking central white eye, T&M’s plant breeding team took a very bright yellow, but late-flowering Japanese cosmos variety and crossed it with earlier-flowering cosmos with better, shorter habits. The resulting delicate, yellow blossoms of Cosmos ‘Lemonade’ marked a major breakthrough in cosmos breeding. Flowers are produced en masse throughout the summer on short to medium-high, branching cosmos plants. Fantastic for patio pots or as a robust and floriferous border filler – its colouring and habit means that it combines well with most other plants in bedding or container displays. Cosmos ‘Lemonade’ also makes a great cut flower and looks stunning in a vase, either on its own or mixed in with other flowers.
Cosmos ‘Lemonade’ – 1 packet (30 seeds) £2.49
Cosmos ‘Lemonade’ – 30 garden-ready plants £14.99
Height: 60cm (24in). Spread: 40cm (16in)
For further information on growing cosmos, please go to Thompson & Morgan’s website and read an article by Graham Rice taken from The Seed Raising Journal from Thompson & Morgan.
Time moves on so quickly and 2017 will be the 5th year that I have been trialling plants for Thompson & Morgan in my multi-award winning seaside garden! Back in 2013, the first items I received were a Cox’s orange Pippin Apple Tree and a Plum Gage, Reine Claude. Back then we were sent whatever was chosen by the company and I feared that I would not be able to use then in my exposed coastal garden. Now, they are both established and have started to produce small amounts of fruit, always difficult here on the coast, with the wind blowing across the garden!
Another arrival that first Spring was a delicate rose ‘garden party’, which still flowers profusely in the front and back garden each Summer. Also received in the first year were Peruvian Tree Lily, Alstroemeria ‘Everest Collection’. These have been quite stunning year on year and much remarked on by our many garden visitors. They were all planted in a large container and are still doing really well. Last Summer, I was very lucky indeed to have trialled 2 brand new 2017 plants, featured in the Spring catalogue. The stunning new fuchsia ‘Icing Sugar’ on the front cover and the equally beautiful Bidens ‘Firelight’ on page 11. I’d suggested 2 names for the plants, but I’m afraid they weren’t the final ones chosen! However, my quote on the Fuchsia was used in publicity last November.
“Geoff Stonebanks, gardening writer, blogger and creator/owner of The Driftwood Garden near Lewes in Sussex, trialled ‘Icing Sugar’ for T&M last year and says: “The beautiful new fuchsia, ‘Icing Sugar’, certainly lives up to its name; a delicate and frosted gem.” Geoff added: “As an avid fuchsia lover, this delicate and frosted ‘Icing Sugar’, on show in my garden for the first time this summer, is utterly stunning.”
Both of these plants are ones I would heartily recommend for anyone’s garden this Summer.
So, what can I and my garden visitors look forward to seeing in 2017 from Thompson & Morgan? We’re set to open 14 times this summer and already have several coach trips booked into the garden as well, as a result of me and the garden being seen on BBC Gardeners’ World last Autumn. Here’s what we will be receiving in the next few months. Strawberry ‘Just Add Cream™’. Petunia Amore ‘Queen of Hearts’, Buddleja davidii ‘Wisteria Lane’, Geranium ‘Black Rose’, Osteospermum ‘Falling Stars’. Gazania ‘Shepherd’s Delight’, Calendula ‘Winter Wonders Collection’. Petunia ‘Mini Rosebud Romantic Peachy’, Sweet Pea ‘Earl Grey’ and finally Petunia ‘Night Sky’ again, as it was such a success in 2016.
The information both on-line and in the Spring catalogue certainly made me want to see these on show in the garden. Who could resist the chance to smell the intense perfume that evokes childhood memories of your first taste of a strawberry or appreciate the fashionable new sweet pea, offering stunning colour on both sides of the graduated or ‘flaked’ petals. I’m really looking forward to seeing how they all grow this Summer and will be posting update son my garden web site throughout the season. Check them out at wwww.driftwoodbysea.co.uk
Winter has arrived in my garden. It is later than expected, but just as unwelcome. Much too cold to mess about outside, but I am still thinking about my plot – winter is the perfect time to look back at the last season, and forward to the next.
What has worked? What hasn’t? A quick look through this year’s empty seed packets is revealing. Some of the seedlings made no appearance at all (although I live in hope that the perennial ones I scatter in the borders might take off at any time in years to come). I can see I need to be more selective about some of the seeds I grow, and more realistic about what will fit into my garden. And I must pay more attention to successive sowing, rather than trying to grow everything at once. (Note to self – a calendar kept in the greenhouse may help with that).
The new seed catalogues are here to provide me with inspiration. I choose a different annual colour scheme when choosing what to grow each year.
2016 was orange and black – Sweet Pea ‘Prince of Orange’, Calendula ‘Porcupine’, Escholtzia californica and Nasturtium ‘Alaska’ looked well with drifts of black opium poppies, cornflowers and hollyhocks.
For next year I’m thinking of crimson and lime green – Amaranthus caudatus ‘Pony Tails’, Nasturtium ‘Crimson Emperor’, Antirrhinum ‘Black Prince’, Cosmos ‘Pied Piper Red’ with Nicotiana langsdorffii, Zinnia ‘Envy’, Bells of Ireland and Smyrnium perfoliatum. The self-seeding black opium poppies will make a welcome addition too.
And what about veg? I grow lots of my favourite perennial artichokes and asparagus, but have little success with annuals other than sweet corn and runner beans.
Next year I will treat myself to a few varieties of plug plants, rather than leave the veg beds wanting. I like the idea of leeks, sweet peppers, aubergines and some grafted tomatoes – all will be given a better start to life than I can provide.
Throughout winter I will venture out to feed the birds and take a wander down to my greenhouse, so it will be good to have something growing there. I usually manage to succeed with grasses sown over winter, so I’ll try some different varieties of my favourite genus, Carex, to grow alongside some sweet peas I started in October.
Last week I squeezed in a large pot of young Echium pininana plants to protect them from the frost, along with cuttings of some potted up unusual hebes and buddlieas from gardening friends. I shall look forward to checking up on all of these throughout the coming months.
Over the past few weeks I have been tidying the garden, putting the containers away upside down so they don`t fill with water. Also have been putting away ornaments which were in the garden so they don`t get spoilt with the salt spray/wind that gets carried here in Bournemouth from the sea front. Sprayed them with a well known oil spray to stop them going rusty and wrapped them in fleece, putting three of them together in a black bag. Covered some of the more tender plants with fleece and waiting for my fleece bags to arrive – with thanks to Geoff Stonebanks letting me know where I could buy them.
Unnamed trailing antirrhinum trialled & Begonia ‘Apricot Shades’
I have also finished planting up some tulip bulbs, unfortunately they were being dug up as fast as I planted them. Whilst talking to friends at our coffee club who said she had a large holly bush if I would like some. I put quite a few sprigs into each container and so far this has stopped my bulbs being dug up – we shall see how long this lasts!
My patio Begonia ‘Apricot Shades’ which were planted on the edge of a narrow border have just finished flowering. I have had them growing with Senecio cineraria ‘Silver Dust’ which really filled the small border right up to the middle of November. I have cleaned off all the begonia corms that were dried off and put them away in newspaper and then wrapped in brown paper until around February when I hope to get them started for Summer 2017.
Rose ‘Golden Wedding’ & unnamed fuchsia trialled
My smaller acer trees have looked wonderful this autumn, the colours seem to change day by day, also the Rose ‘Golden Wedding’ was still managing to flower up until middle of November with slightly smaller flowers. The Fuchsia FUCHSIABERRY has lost all its leaves and almost all the fruit but there are a few fuchsia flowers still appearing. The trial of the un-named white trailing bidens is still flowering even though I have cut it back, from the same trial an un-named peachy pink antirrhinum was still flowering and as there was a frost forecast I decided to gently take it out of the basket and pot it up for the kitchen window sill, where it is continuing to thrive and grow – fingers crossed!!
We have just had the first storm of the season – Storm Angus! Trees down, roads blocked, underpasses flooded and the poor garden knocked about. That really was the end of the leaves on my acers, such a shame, now they just look like twigs. At the top of the garden I found the top part of one of my containers (which is usually fixed on its own stand) just sitting on the ground and couldn`t find the stand anywhere. Eventually found it under a fuchsia bush at the bottom of the garden, at least it didn`t tip the plants out that were still flowering. I was thrilled to bits that both my Calla Lilies (as mentioned in my previous Blog) are still flowering – end of November. I also have two cactus indoors which are flowering profusely and have been for almost a month now.
Indoor cactus plants
As we approach the end of November and in my case there is less to do in the garden, everything is turning towards the Big Man in his Sleigh and with over 30 members of our family ranging from a four year old great granddaughter to Alan who is 79 we have to start early with presents etc. and cards, I usually make all my own cards.
Here`s hoping that you all have an enjoyable and peaceful Christmas with lots of `garden` presents and a great gardening year for 2017.
…..Happy Christmas Everyone…..