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!

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.

Thompson & Morgan Plant Breeder honoured

Chelsea Plant of the Year 2012, ‘Illumination Pink’, has been renamed to recognise the work of its creator, Thompson & Morgan plant breeder Charles Valin.

charles valin

Foxglove ‘Illumination Pink’ has taken the gardening world by storm since its launch in 2012. Unusual blooms, repeat flowering and multiple stems keep this unusual cross-breed high on the Thompson & Morgan best seller list. But it has left the experts scratching their heads when it comes to classification.

In recognition of the work carried out by Charles Valin in creating this unique cross as part of Thompson & Morgan’s breeding programme, James Armitage, Principal Scientist of Horticultural Taxonomy at RHS Garden Wisley, has announced Digitalis x valinii as the correct botanical naming convention for all existing and future crosses of D. purpurea and D. canariensis. He said: “The clever use of island species in the creation of D. x valinii has paid rich dividends.”

charles valin foxglove

Lauded as a revolutionary hybrid by RHS taxonomists, it was felt that a reclassification was needed to distinguish all present and future crosses of the UK native Digitalis purpurea and the exotic D. canariensis, while smoothing out confusion over previous naming conventions for its Canary Island parent. 19th Century taxonomists named the Canary Island foxglove Isoplexis canariensis in 1829, recognising its morphological and behavioural differences compared to others in the Digitalis genus, namely a shrubby and candelabra habit and differences in petal shape and flower positioning on the stem.

Modern studies have since indicated that the two genera should not be treated separately, and in 2012 the RHS recognised all Isoplexis as Digitalis, just as the first commercial cross was launched to the public by Thompson & Morgan. This reclassification outdated early naming suggestions for ‘Illumination Pink’ and its sister lines, such as  Digiplexis, while Digitalis ‘Illumination Pink’ just didn’t do justice to the work involved in creating it. It’s common for new cultivars to be named after people, but to have a species named in your honour doesn’t happen very often and was more common in the era of the great plant hunters. Charles said: “I am humbled and grateful to receive such recognition for my work on Digitalis. Having a plant named after you certainly doesn’t happen every day!”

During his time with Thompson & Morgan, Charles has developed over 40 unique creations across a wide range of genera, while overseeing the seed and plant mail order specialist’s unique breeding programme.  View a full list of Charles’ currently available introductions, but key lines alongside ‘Illumination Pink’ include the dwarf Buddleja ‘Buzz’ Series, the world’s first black double petunia ‘ Black Night’ and Cosmos ‘Cupcakes’. Several of Charles’ latest creations are being launched in the Thompson & Morgan 2016 Spring Catalogue. Watch this space!

Thompson & Morgan
Since the first seed catalogue was published in 1855, Thompson & Morgan has grown to become one of the UK’s largest Mail Order Seed and Plant companies. Through the publication of our catalogues and the operation of our award-winning website, Thompson & Morgan is able to provide home gardeners with the very best quality products money can buy.

Scouring Europe for Chelsea centrepiece fit for a Queen

When you know there’s a chance that Her Majesty The Queen might visit your Fresh garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, the last thing you want is a gaping hole where your centrepiece plants should be on display. That was the situation faced by Fernando Gonzalez Garden Design, when UK

Thompson & Morgan's Digitalis Illumination Apricot

Thompson & Morgan’s Digitalis Illumination Apricot

stocks of Digitalis ‘Illumination Apricot’ failed to flower in time for display in the Pure Land
Foundation Garden, already being flagged as the most prestigious show gardens at this year’s event. With just four days to finish before the Queen’s annual visit to the world’s most prominent gardening event, a nationwide hunt for flowering plants threw up no leads. The plant’s creator, mail order seed and plant specialist Thompson & Morgan, stepped in to widen the search, calling on growers across Europe. Plants in perfect bloom were quickly tracked down at a nursery outside Barcelona, Spain, more than 1,500km from its Ipswich HQ!
New Product Development Manager, Michael Perry said: “Knowing our ‘Illumination Apricot’ was playing a major part in this cutting-edge show garden, we just had to help out.”At end of play Thursday it called on 250 staff, seeking a volunteer to make the mad-dash 3,000km round trip to get the plants on UK soil in time for Saturday’s big garden build. Up stepped marketing assistant Terri Overett, letting herself in for a 4am start and an 18-hour journey to get the plants to the UK in time.

First a plane ride to Barcelona El Prat, a taxi to the nursery an hour east of the city, then back to the airport to face the worry of getting them safely back to the UK in a cold cargo hold.

Terri Overett arriving at Stansted relieved to find plants had stayed in perfect condition during the flight from Barcelona.

Terri Overett arriving at Stansted relieved to find plants had stayed in perfect condition during the flight from Barcelona.

A very relieved chaperone found the plants in good condition once through customs, where colleagues were on hand to rush the plants into London in time to put finishing touches to the Pure Land Foundation Garden on Royal Hospital Way.

Michael Perry delivering the precious cargo to the Gonzalez Garden Design garden

Michael Perry delivering the precious cargo to the Gonzalez Garden Design garden

The design team’s Director, Thang Vo-Ta said: “Fernando and I are so grateful for all the effort put in by the team – they definitely thought outside the box to help get the plants in place on time. It was the company’s Chelsea Flower of the Year Award for Digitalis ‘Illumination Pink’ in 2012, that inspired us to use the new sister line “Illumination Apricot” in our garden. We can’t wait for the public to see the finished design in its full glory with stunning apricot foxgloves as a planting focal point of our Pure Land Foundation garden. Fingers crossed Her Majesty The Queen just might honour us with a visit and enjoy everyone’s efforts.”

Plants on trial – a sneaky peak

I have always been a fan of over the top, in your face bedding displays and every year I plant out hundreds of plants in beds, pots and baskets. Over the last few years, due to work commitments, I have been finding the up keep a bit difficult.

Alstromeria

Alstroemeria ‘Planet Mix’

Last year I planted Alstroemeria ‘Planet Mix’ in one of the beds. They gave a great show last year and have been in flower since May this year. Each week I can easily cut 20 stems of flowers without harming the display. Gaillardia ‘Arizona Sun’ has also come back bigger and better this year. I just love the combination of red and yellow in the flowers.

Gaillardia

Gaillardia ‘Arizona Sun’

Early this year I converted another two beds to display perennial plants. Considering it’s only the first summer after planting I am really surprised at how mature it all looks. I have used cottage garden plants along with Penstemon ‘Wedding Bells’ and Foxglove which were both sent as trial plants last year. The spotty markings in the foxglove are just fab!

Foxglove

Foxglove

Begonias have to be my favourite plant. I am so glad that Thompson & Morgan are reviving these plants as they truly are amazing. Glowing Embers, Peardrop and Giant Picotee have all started to flower. A few years ago I trialled a trailing fragrant variety of begonia. I still have some of these tubers left and this year I have planted them in a window box under the kitchen window. The sweet scent is lovely in the warm muggy evenings we have been having.

Begonias

Another favourite are petunias. I just love how T&M find new amazing colour combos in the flowers each year.  I have  planted Black Cherry in my Begonia Apricot Shades baskets. I am hoping the black of the flower will contrast well with the citrus colours of the begonias. The scent of petunias is just intoxicating too. The dark varieties seem to have the strongest. I wish someone could capture this and put it into a candle.

Petunias

I do not plant as many containers for the winter season, so once all the plants had finished I would empty the compost into the large tonne bags you can get from the builders. This year as I have drastically reduced the amount of summer containers I have planted I still have a full tonne bag of compost left. Not knowing what to do with it I decided to plant veg in it. I think I have gone a bit over the top by planting tomatoes, chillies, aubergines, sweet corn, marrow and cucumbers in it. I have also planted climbing beans around the edge. The idea being they will trail and cover the sides.

Veg-planter

So far everything is growing superbly. I have already harvested tomatoes, cucumber and chillies. The sweetcorn is almost 5 foot tall! In separate planters I have peas almost ready to pick and the tomato also has fruit setting.

Well, I must get back to the watering. I hope to update you all on the garden very soon!

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!

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