RHS gardener sows seed of hope for UK record-breaking pumpkin

Thompson & Morgan donates world’s most expensive pumpkin seed to Hyde Hall vegetable grower

Following a nationwide hunt to find a gardener brave enough to sow the world’s most expensive pumpkin seed, Thompson & Morgan has delivered a seed of the current world record-breaking pumpkin (2,323lb, grown by Beni Meier in 2014) to the vegetable garden at RHS Hyde Hall, Essex. The mail order seed and plant specialist paid a record £1,250 for the seed at auction at the World Pumpkin Commonwealth Conference earlier in the season, in a bid to boost UK pumpkin genetics and see a world record contender grown on UK shores for the first time.

Paul Hansord handing over the giant pumpkin seed to Matthew Oliver

Paul Hansord handing over the giant pumpkin seed to Matthew Oliver

Thompson & Morgan director Paul Hansord delivered the precious seed to RHS horticulturist, Matthew Oliver, on 13 April. Armed with a crib sheet of Thompson & Morgan’s tips for success he promptly set the seed into potting compost, eager to make a start on the giant undertaking. Adding to the pressure, all this was carried out in front of a film crew from BBC Inside Out East, who will be following his progress through the season. A full report will be aired on the BBC1 show in the build up to Halloween.

Fortunately Matthew already has some good experience under his belt. Hyde Hall has become renowned for its pumpkin patch in recent years. Around 60 varieties of pumpkins, squash and gourds are grown at the Chelmsford garden each year, with thousands of visitors attending events through autumn to see the produce on display.

Matthew said: “Our largest pumpkins always draw a crowd, so I have been concentrating more time and effort on growing giant specimens in recent years. In 2015 I produced a 530lb giant and I already had big plans for 2016. We’ve built a larger patch (150x40ft) giving me space to grow four giant plants. Soil conditions have been improved and so have the irrigation systems, wind shelter and feeding programmes have all been planned to encourage the heaviest fruits.”

Sanding down the seed coating for quicker germination

Sanding down the seed coating for quicker germination

Growing outdoors, Matthew admits he is unlikely to break the world record, but has set a personal target around the 1,000lb mark, which would make his attempt the heaviest outdoor pumpkin ever grown in the UK. He also hopes his attempt will encourage others to try in the future. He said: “Outdoor growing is much more achievable for home gardeners, and once they see the results at Hyde Hall I hope others will take up the challenge in their own gardens and allotments. Pumpkins are such a rewarding hobby plant.”

Matthew now has until 8th October to grow the biggest possible specimen and get it to the UK official weigh in at the Autumn Pumpkin Festival, Royal Victoria Country Park, Netley, Southampton.
The pumpkin patch will be on show to all Hyde Hall garden visitors through the season.

Thompson & Morgan was swamped with requests to grow the seed. Impressed with the passion of many of the entrants, it has sent seeds from several other heavyweight pumpkins (1689-2008lb specimens) to five other interested growers: Joanne Jackson, Cheshire; Guy French, Essex; Anthony & Sally Pooley, Suffolk, George Richardson, County Durham, and Mr Hill, Cantubury

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.

Expert tips for bigger and better sweet peas

3 simple tips for bigger sweet peas

Left to their own devices sweet pea plants will work their way up their supports, going on to produce masses of colour and scent. However, with a few simple training tricks you can turn an every-day display into a real show-stopper!

My tips here will encourage the fastest growth and the biggest blooms on the longest stems. You can see the difference my training tricks bring about in the photo below.

 

Training difference in sweet peas

Training difference in sweet peas.

 

Sweet Pea ‘Turquoise Lagoon’ in the left hand pot has been left to its own devices, while Sweet Pea ‘Eleanore Udall’ on the right has received some regular attention from me – and what a difference it makes. When I get home this evening I’ll have to add the next tier to the Tower Pot frame, it will be another couple of weeks before I have to do that for ‘Turquoise Lagoon’.

If you want the same results, simply carry out my three easy maintenance tips:

Remove side shoots: Check plants every few days for side shoot development. These divert energy away from the main stem, which delays flowering and reduces eventual flower size. Use snips or your thumb and forefinger to pinch out shoot growth as close to the main stem as possible.

 

Remove sideshoots

Remove sideshoots

Remove tendrils: Sweet pea plants put a lot of energy into producing tendrils and latching on to available supports. Divert that energy back into the main stem by snipping off tendrils before they latch on to a support.

 

Remove tendrils

Remove tendrils

 

Tie in: With no tendrils to hold up stems you’ll have to provide an alternative. I use sweet pea rings to keep my stems in place. They are quick and easy to put around both stems and supports, with plenty of room left between them. Therefore, avoiding any stem damage, and the rings can be used again and again. It is so much easier to work with than fiddly twine or raffia.

Sweet pea rings

Sweet pea rings

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.

Our Symbiotic Relationship with Birds and Bees

I provide garden care in North Norfolk and trained at Easton College, as it states in my bio below. Just because I have my Diploma it doesn’t mean I know it all. I am constantly learning new things and am intrigued by a great deal. College doesn’t teach you about our relationship and need for animals and insects in our gardens and horticulture. But, through my work, I have learned how much we rely on them and how much they rely on us – and how exploitive of us they can be too!

I often stop when I see a bee and watch as it carefully lands on a flower then oh-so delicately extracts the sweet nectar that it beholds. How could we do all that pollinating without them? And how could they live without us planting for them? There’s a big push at the moment for planting wild flowers in gardens and leaving bare patches for the bees to make their homes in. Birds love it too!

 

Wildflower Meadow

Wildflower Meadow

 

We can spend £100’s on feeders, fat balls, meal worms, baths, tables, bug hotels, insect feeders and nest boxes all in a year. Just so we can see the flutter of a butterfly, chaffinch, blue tit and but most often than not those blooming pigeons!

In one garden I care for, I have a friend. She follows me around like my shadow. Often pushing her way into where I am working to get the good stuff. I am talking about Athena, the very bold female Black Bird (True Thrush/Turdus merula).

 

Bug Hotel

Bug Hotel

 

This week I was digging up ground elder (Aegopodium podagraria) and she walks right up to me sitting on the ground, working away with my hand fork, to find her lunch. She filled her beak many times! Athena was with me for nearly two hours, coming and going, filling her beak (and stomach) and watching the three Robins (Erithacus rubecula) fight over who’s “turf” it was that I was providing dinner on. It’s a wonderful feeling when it happens.

 

Female Blackbird

Female Blackbird

 

Many people with think I’m daft but I always talk to them, bees, birds, butterflies and the odd squirrel that visits when I’m in another garden. After all the birds help to keep those pesky aphids and slugs at bay and the bees do the hard work for us! (Not too sure what the squirrels do?)

I love my job because not only do I help people to enjoy their gardens again, as most are of the age where they are not able to do it themselves, but I am helping nature to help me. It makes me proud of what I do. And I hope that the rest of you gardeners are too, whether amateur or professional!

So smile, you’re doing something that really matters.
Lesley

Lesley Palmer
I’m a 22 year old female horticulturalist. I studied at Easton College for two years until June 2014 and became self employed providing garden care and design in north Norfolk. I currently care for 21 gardens and have now achieved a few designs and a small landscaping project.

I am passionate about getting young people, especially primary schools, involved in gardening again. I began because of spending so much time in the garden with my granddad as a child. I was also a member of my primary school’s environment club.

I am a fan of Michael Perry and James Wong.

Storm Imogen causing more trouble for our bloggers

As Amanda and Geoff have already mentioned the troubles of Storm Imogen and what it left behind. It took out our fence in the front garden.   On getting up early the next morning discovered that the posts had snapped clean off and one of the panels was swinging out across the public footpath so at 8am just as it was getting light I was trying to hang on to the panel while Alan unscrewed it to make it safe until the gale had died down. What a mess! It ended up with us replacing the complete fence as damage was discovered on two more posts and also the panels.

 

New fence, finials and water feature

 

Alan has been busy repainting the new fence and also this time putting in gravel boards which have been painted with a rubber solution paint and also the posts at the bottom in the hope it will stop them from rotting over the next few years. We have now bought some finials to finish the top of the posts. Two of our older grandsons spent the day putting the new fence up for us… A job well done.

 

Lilies, Tree lilies and Jean with lilies

 

On checking the border in the front of the fence found that my Tree Lily bulbs thankfully hadn`t been disturbed when putting the new fence in, hopefully they will stay there for a little longer until the better weather gets here. I have attached a few photos of the beautiful tree lilies from last year. I originally had three Clematis on the front fence but I am going to transplant them to a more convenient spot in the back garden, it will also give me more room to make it a proper `border` as it is only 15” wide and before was covered by the Clematis leaves. Does anyone else have a problem with using pencil on the plant labels (you know the ones I mean, flat white ones) it seems that during the winter the weather has wiped the names off!! I also tried using a fibre tip pen but that didn`t work either. It certainly gets frustrating as you can well imagine!

 

Incredicompost, tulips and Fuchsia berry

 

I have now received my delivery of incredicompost® which is under cover for the time being, so looking forward to be able to plant my seeds and ready for when the first plug plants arrive.

A few days ago the weather warmed up a little so spent the afternoon cutting back a lot of the plants, clearing spaces ready for the new season and getting rid of weeds… It never ceases to amaze me how fast the weeds grow and appear from nowhere in all sorts of weather with no help from fertiliser. I noticed the Clematis on the arch at the top of the back garden is now in bud and many new shoots on the climbing rose that grows with it. I was very surprised to see some of my tulips already in flower by Valentine`s Day. This year I have planted two packets of 10 tulip bulbs called Andre Rieu which is a slightly darker pink and already showing signs of buds although they will need to get a little taller first.

 

Peppermint Stick and Fuchsia berry

 

Just as we thought that the really bad weather had passed, found this morning that there had been very heavy torrential rain with very strong winds overnight. As it got light discovered that several of my empty containers, which had been stacked away for the winter, had been blown across the garden and path.   The weather was still lousy so just left them there until the weather got a little better and we were able to go out and restack them. Thankfully the new fence was still in one piece.

I had noticed that myStrawberry ‘Irrestistible’ which I first had as customer trials a few years ago, getting some leaves so put the window box outside Alan`s workshop where they always do well. Today has been a sunny day and the cold wind has dropped so have cleaned out the dead leaves etc. from the strawberry plants, fed them and a top coat of compost. This year I have bought a raspberry cane ‘Glen Prosen’ so hopefully will get some fruit this year. It will be grown in a container with a frame to support it.

According to the weather forecast it looks like a reasonable weekend so will be able to sort out all the baskets – mainly the easy fill kind – and containers and make sure they are all cleaned. Also I will sow some seeds in pots for the greenhouse. As mentioned previously I only have the plastic kind with no heat so will put the pots on the kitchen windowsill to start them off.

It is now time to put the replacement Garda Falls fountain back in place. The coating on the original one had started to peel back showing the white underneath. The garden centre where I purchased it said they needed to send it back to find out why it had happened.

 

Central Park, Petunia Frills & Spills and Garda Falls

**Further to my November Blog re Gardening in California and the drought they were experiencing, I am pleased to say they have had at last some measureable rain which is now making a lot of difference to their lawns as they turn green again and the plants showing how they appreciate it. There are a couple of photos, one of Peppermint Stick geranium and one of the lake in Central Park which has been dry for many months, now full of water and the wildlife love it.**

Over the past few days I have started to receive some of my postiplug plants: Fuchsia Berry, the ones where you can eat the fruit once the flower has finished, and Frills and Spills Petunias which always put on such a wonderful show, and have been busy potting them up, so now it begins…………….

Hope all the gardeners enjoy the weekend and are able to make headway in their gardens, most of all enjoy and have fun. `Til the next time………..

Jean Willis
I started gardening 65 years ago on my Dad’s allotment and now live in Bournemouth, where spend a lot of time gardening since retiring. In 2012 I won the Gold Award for Bournemouth in Bloom Container Garden. I am a member of Thompson & Morgan’s customer trial panel.

Sweet pea diary – part 2

Just over 4 weeks from sowing, Kris’s sweet peas are ready for potting on. Here’s his daughter Ruby showing off the healthy young plants. The Haxnicks root trainers have encouraged really strong root growth, leading to fast, vigorous shoot growth.

 

Sweet pea root trainer and Ruby with the Sweet Pea ‘Eleanore Udall’

Sweet pea root trainer and Ruby with the Sweet Pea ‘Eleanore Udall’

 

Looking to produce the earliest flowers possible, the plants are now in a Tower Pot. All but the strongest side shoots have been retained, concentrating plant energy into a single stem for the fastest growth.  A few hours of supplementary lighting in the morning and evening should see the plants quickly cover the frame.

 

Tower Pot for Sweet peas

Tower Pot for Sweet peas

 

There’s still plenty of time to sow sweet peas for summer. The easy-sow seeds can be sown outside through March and April, where they are to grow. Why not join Kris and Ruby and grow Sweet Pea ‘Eleanore Udall’. Not only will you have a garden full of scent and colour this summer, you’ll be raising vital funds for the charity Thrive, which uses therapeutic horticulture to bring positive change to those with ill health or disability, or are isolated, disadvantaged or vulnerable.

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.

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