Thrive – Phil’s Story

One of Thrive’s regular client gardeners, Phil Banbury, is a shining example of how, with the charity’s help and the love of family and friends, there is still much happiness to be had whilst living with a disability.


A former physicist and university lecturer, when Phil was told he had Alzheimer’s, the diagnosis came as no surprise.

At first, several symptoms were put down to ageing as it’s a disease that often develops slowly over many years and is not always obvious at the start. However, being an intelligent and scientific man Phil had already suspected that all was not right, so when the diagnosis was made after seven years of experiencing difficulties, he took the news quite well.

Being physically active has always been important to Phil and his wife Jean who were already keen gardeners, growing their own vegetables and looking after two raised beds at home. Up until a few years ago they also had an allotment which they had lovingly tended for 18 years.

When their local Memory Clinic run by the NHS told them about Thrive, the idea appealed to both of them. Now Phil attends weekly and Jean says the impact has been noticeable.

“There are the inevitable changes with Phil because of his Alzheimer’s – even making a cup of tea is becoming a chore. Sometimes I say to Phil ‘I miss the old you’ and he replies ‘so do I’. But knowing Phil loves coming here, is enjoying himself and is so well looked after makes me very happy and also means I can have a few precious hours to myself,” wife Jean.

For Phil, his visits to the Thrive gardens in Beech Hill, near Reading, provide a sense of adventure within a safe and supportive environment. The exercise helps him sleep at night and his circulation has improved. Thrive focuses on personal achievement and with the support of horticultural therapist Vicki, Phil has become highly proficient at potting on! Vicki, said: “I first met Phil last year when he joined our weekly Dementia Group for the summer here at our Trunkwell Centre in Beech Hill. Phil enjoyed it so much, his wife Jean felt he would miss it if he stopped, so he has carried on throughout most of the winter.

As long as he doesn’t need to tackle tasks involving bending, Phil is very capable, so we use raised beds and potting benches to make everything accessible. The weather can be a challenge at times so we create enjoyable indoor craft projects such as making lavender bags from the flowers we grew in the summer.

Phil’s so helpful and it’s a joy to see his confidence build as he tackles new tasks. Recently he chose flowers from the Thrive garden and made a posy for his wife. He can’t manage to order flowers for her anymore so it was touching to see the care he put into this. It certainly brightened Jean’s day when he got home!

If you’ve been moved by Phil’s story and would like to help, please make a donation to Thrive here.

Thompson & Morgan will also be selling Sweet Pea ‘Eleanore Udall’ in 2016, with sales going towards Thrive training programs at the charity’s four regional centres and local community venue.

ThriveGardening with Alzheimers or Dementia

With careful planning, people with Alzheimers and Dementia can undertake a wide range of activities. As the illness begins to show signs of deterioration people can continue to garden at home, however, it is best to have a structure in place so stimulation can still be gained in a safe way, although this maybe in a different way.

Before you start the following points need to be considered. Activities need to be planned for short sessions, e.g. 1hour or less and have an element of fun to them. This can support the individual to remain focused and engaged. Sometimes things may not work, but you must not give up hope.

Activities can include:

  • Planting a large pot with a choice of plants chosen by the individual, this can encourage an individual to take ownership of their pot
  • The choice of plants can provide opportunities for the individual to reminisce. Especially, by choosing old varieties, or heritage seeds. A wider variety of plants can also trigger people’s memory
  • Growing vegetables to prepare and eat the produce
  • Care of plants can provide the individual with a valuable role, such as weeding or watering
  • Seed sowing is a focused job, and can allow people to learn new skills, especially if they are passionate and motivated about the subject
  • Indoor gardening, for people who may be in the more advance stages, such as table top gardening which could be propagation or harvesting vegetables in pots
  • Caring for indoor house plants can be an easy introduction to gardening, eg propagation of Spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum)


Many activities can be chosen to increase mental awareness and stimulation, but essentially they must all bring a sense of fun into the activity. Bringing the family together can also contribute to the learning experience

For hints and tips on how gardening could help you or somebody you know visit or the main website

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.

An update from the Greenhouse in September

Hello Everyone,

My favourite month is here. I love the September skies, especially on a sunny evening. In the greenhouse over the years I have been lucky to keep picking tomatoes, aubergines, chillies and sweet peppers for the whole month and well into October. Unfortunately this year the new greenhouse tomatoes have succumbed to late summer blight. I am really not surprised blight has struck, it’s been wet and humid for a good few weeks, and it only takes 48 hours of 70% humidity to spread the disease. Even with good air circulation the dim light was taking its toll on the plants. No amount of weekly feed or careful watering could make any difference.

This is the first time I have had blight and it is devastating. I never got to try the white opal tomatoes as the plant shrivelled and died, the sweet aperitifs tried to fight it, but towards the end of first week of September the fruits were rotting and splitting on the vines.

We quickly stripped the greenhouse of tomatoes leaving just the black opal, as this tomato showed a lot of resistance and continued to produce healthy fruits for another few weeks, before it too started to split its fruits.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, the sweet peppers are still producing fruit even with the lack of bees to pollinate, a good shake of the flowers seems to do the job. They don’t want to turn red as there is not enough heat though so I have to be content with green ones. It’s been so dismal I think the highest temperature we have had has been 18 degrees Celsius. Nights are chilly too, on several occasions it’s dipped to slightly less than 10 degrees.


My aubergines are thriving, I can pick a fruit (sometimes more than one) from a different plant each week. The last lot of radishes went to seed, so I am doing some more hopefully this weekend.

Things in the little greenhouse are picking up. My carrots have put on a lot of growth, I hope the colder weather will mean that I don’t get any carrot fly. the spinach beet has gone ballistic. It’s so quick to recover when I pick a few leaves for dinner. I have found though it’s best to not let the leaves get too big as they get a bit tough. Unfortunately I’m not the only one that likes the spinach there are a few sneaky green shield bugs hiding amongst the leaves. The basils are still growing, the Red Rubin is especially strong. Does anyone have some suggestions what I can use it for, as it’s too strong raw in a salad, it’s good for pasta dishes but I would like to try it in something different?


On the first of the month I sowed some seeds some have already germinated and I have included a photo (above), but the nights got cold quick so I think that I may have some failures. So far the Californian Poppies, achillea (yarrow) and sweet peas have germinated along with more basil for someone at work. However, I am still waiting for the pansy, godetia, laurentia and kniphofias. I spent ages with the old Dymo labelling machine making up the labels, as the old lolly sticks I used in the summer have run out. That’s after I used them a couple of times on each side. Also woodlice are partial to them and I don’t want them to overwinter in my pots, they can go in the compost bin or rotting hollyhock stumps instead.

The trouble is though this damp weather is starting to cause damping off, my compost seems to be turning a bit greenish. So I think other job for this weekend will be to repot my seedlings in fresh compost and try to water in the mornings instead of early evening. It’s dark by eightish now so it won’t be long before I will be coming home from work and not even going in the garden without a torch. Luckily my auntie has given my a huge candle lantern and candles to see my way.


We are due some more gales and torrential rain again this week. I hope the new greenhouse stands up to it. I was hoping for a beautiful crisp autumn not an early winter!

What are your thoughts on growing Christmas potatoes? A few years ago I planted grow bags in September, by November the weather had turned so bad we couldn’t even get out after work at night to move them into shelter under glass. The leaves finally tore off after a major storm in early December but the potatoes were lovely? I ask as I am thinking of putting them in grow bags again using a red variety, but putting the bags in the big greenhouse from the beginning. Being hit by blight has put me off. I don’t know if the blight virus would still be in the greenhouse or if I will end up with blight anyway because of the poor weather. Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

My new Thompson & Morgan autumn and winter, spring bulbs, and seed catalogues have arrived and I have started looking for interesting things to grow in the greenhouse next spring. The problem is I want to grow everything! I make a list and then check my seed box, half the time I have the seeds already, but I have forgotten about them. Like the bellis or rudbeckia . But sometimes an unusual variety or old fashioned plant will romance me and I know I will be on the website placing an order. Then I look at the special offers and end up buying something else. My last order was for Red Hot Poker ‘Traffic Lights’ (kniphofia) which I got, but I also ended up buying grasses. I picked lots of wavy ones. Unfortunately, I have to wait for spring to start the grasses off. I picked the grasses as our broom bushes seem to be dying off. That’s the thing with a garden, it’s never finished and it always evolves.

amandas-sept-greenhouse-4I am sorry for the slightly short blog this month, I think it’s because of the season drawing to a close. I was hoping to have more interesting things to say, but I’m in a limbo, this year has been nothing like our last few years, although I do like the challenge of these new conditions. What I had planned to write about in certain months had either happened earlier or not at all! But don’t worry I still have plans for the greenhouses in the next few months. Meanwhile I am going to find a new home for the dahlia one of my brothers bought me for my birthday a few days ago. I’ve stuck it in the little greenhouse as I don’t want it to get wrecked in the storm. I leave dahlia bulbs in the ground in the mild winters but this year guess where they will be?

Until October,
Happy Gardening.
Love Amanda x

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.

An Amazing Year at Driftwood

What an amazing year one of our trial garden owners has had in 2015. Geoff Stonebanks had a triple whammy of a year. Not only did he celebrate the 100th opening of his award winning garden, Driftwood, this month but he also had TV gardener Christine Walkden visit in July, as well as getting his garden featured in The Sunday Telegraph in August. “Not bad” says Geoff “for a small garden (100ft by 40ft) on the south coast.” Geoff’s incredible success does not stop there! He has now seen 12,500 visitors to his patch since 2009 and raised an astonishing £61,500 for charity.

Geoff meeting Christine Walkden

Geoff meeting Christine Walkden


While achieving all this, he has been trialling a number of Thompson & Morgan plants over the last 3 years too. Here Geoff tells us of some of his successes in 2015 with some new stock and some old stock. He says “Looking at the new stock of plants, we have had many wonderful comments about the Clematis ‘New Love’ placed in a pot with wire frame. It has flowered profusely throughout the summer and drawn many comments for the visitors.” Rose ‘Sweet Spot® Calypso’ has been greatly admired too with its gorgeous blooms hanging from a pot in the centre of the garden. Another new addition has been the gorgeous Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer’, which has looked resplendent in pot under a pear tree, its blooms still glowing in late September. Fuchsia ‘Pink Fizz’ also made a dramatic appearance in Geoff’s garden this summer too with its effervescent blooms brightening up the borders.

Alstroemeria 'Indian Summer'

Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer’


Geoff came up with a fun idea this summer when a friend offered him an old fireplace surround! He placed it against a new fence, planted up and old dining room chair next to it, placed pots of tumbling petunias on the mantle, and bought an old rusty grate and filled it with Thompson & Morgan Begonia ‘Glowing Embers’. The result has been stunning, not to mention a talking point this summer. Geoff tells us the plant that has been asked about the most by visitors to his garden has been the delicate Fuchsia Arboresens or Mexican blueberry! Geoff had 3 plugs, which he placed in individual terracotta pots and they have come on well and the flowers have started to turn to berries and ultimately edible blueberries! Another crowd stopper has been the lovely petunia green edge pink.

Geoff's garden fireplace and Begonia 'Glowing Embers'

Geoff’s garden fireplace and Begonia ‘Glowing Embers’


However, when pushed for the most talked about plant this summer Geoff said, “Without doubt the single most commented on plant is the beautiful Buddleja ‘Buzz™ Magenta’. It has hit people in the face the minute they walk into the garden!”

Many of the plants from previous years are still doing well in the garden like the incredible Gazania ‘Sunbathers Tikal’ which Geoff overwintered in a covered side alley last year and its blooms have been drawing many dragonflies next to the pond this season. Another reliable eye catcher is the Alstromeria Peruvian Tree Lily now in its 3rd year and looking amazing all through the year, now on its second flowering this season. Lewisia ‘Elise Mixed’ which was delivered in 2014 has done extremely well this year in both pink and yellow becoming quite large plants now!

Lewisia 'Elise Mixed'

Lewisia ‘Elise Mixed’


Geoff’s garden seems to thrive despite its exposed location and the journalist from the Telegraph, Francine Raymond, wrote in her article, “I was overwhelmed and charmed, and wondered how so many plants have fitted into such a perfectly formed space? Geoff’s enthusiasm is catching and he and his amazing garden deserve every visitor that makes their way up his enchanting garden path.”

So if you are in Sussex in 2016 try and get along to see Geoff’s garden and some of T&M’s as well! You can read some great reviews of it on TripAdvisor too. You might even see Geoff’s helper too! Albert the Battersea rescue terrier.


Geoff's dog Albert

Geoff’s dog Albert

Geoff Stonebanks
Geoff Stonebanks was very lucky to be able to retire early from 30 years in Royal Mail back in 2004. He had 3 different careers with them first as a caterer, then manager of a financial analysis team and finally as an Employee Relations Manager and Personnel Manager. He sold up and moved with his partner to Bishopstone, near Seaford in East Sussex in 2004 and now spends all his time gardening and fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support. Using his multi award-winning garden as a base, first opened to the public in 2009, he has raised over £61000 for various charities in 6 years, £32300 of that for Macmillan. In his spare time, he is also Assistant County Organiser for the National Gardens Scheme and their Publicity Officer for East & Mid Sussex.

A beginner’s guide to being a beginner gardener

Well hello there. I am Helen and I am new at gardening. Very new. Newer than Newton from Stoke Newington on his way to Newton Abbott. So new.

In my capacity as an ultra newbie I will be guest blogging for Thompson & Morgan. I am now your go to absolute-beginner-novice-don’t-know-what-I’m-talking-about gardener. Everyone needs one of those.

beginner gardener

This is me being new and enthusiastic

If you’re new too I’m so glad you’re here! We can be like the loners who bond over the buffet at an event where we don’t know anyone else; discussing the crudités and the cheese and such like. Except in this instance our topics of conversation will be more soil based.

It’s hard not to let the enthusiasm take over when you’re at the starting line isn’t it?! As one of the world’s newest owners of a garden in glorious London I’m like a pushy mum. This garden is my first baby and I have totally over ambitious visions for it that culminate in my mind in some sort of mythical, magical Enid Blyton inspired/Secret Garden level of bloom-tastic wonder. Then I have to remind myself that I am a total novice with a lonnnnng way to go.

The first thing to acknowledge here is that, in the words of Fawlty Towers’ Manuel: ‘I know nothing!!’

I do not know my Perennials from my Alpines (maybe they are the same thing? I don’t know. All I know is they sound posh and I like it) nor do I know why it insists on being called a trowel and not just ‘a small spade’. In fact I have a feeling my foray into gardening for the first time in my life is going to be a little Fawlty Towers-esque.

For instance; I have only owned my garden for approximately 6 weeks and, already, one pretty daisy plant (acquired from the wholly inspiring but scarily over crowded Chelsea Flower Show) has fallen victim to my not-so-green fingers. I think it was the lack of watering that did it… Oops. It does seem to have a few green shoots doing their best to be with us all above ground so it’s not total despair just yet. Hopefully said daisy will be one of those ‘hardy’ plants I keep hearing about and turn back into a thing of beauty instead of this light brown deep fried crispy scenario:

beginner gardener Helen Sorren

Now here is the trouble when you’re brand new; you know nothing and it’s really hard to admit you know nothing. If I’m being honest all I’ve ever actually known about gardening is that lawn mowers exist – and (mostly) dads use them – that honeysuckle smells really nice and that sitting in a garden to eat your breakfast is one of life’s simplest pleasures.

The designing, preparing, planting, growing and tending to bit is the big mystery. How exciting that you can join me at the very beginning of this journey of discovery!

I thought it might be useful at the starting line to share my three realisations for anyone else in my position. We really know nothing do we? But it’s OK.

1) The guilt factor

You kill stuff. You don’t really know what it is or what to do with it so you do the wrong thing (eg ‘look at me! I’m ‘pruning’! Oh I’m so clever to be ‘pruning’! I’m so gardeney. Wow I’m really channelling The Titchmarsh here! Look at me go!’) and inevitably you go too far or it’s the wrong time of year and you destroy it in the process. It’s OK. It’s just a garden. Stuff will grow back.

beginner gardener Helen Sorren

This is me looking positively dangerous with a pair of Secutures (also known as garden scissors. Is that how you spell them?)


2) The loss of the concept of time

When you plant stuff one day and you wake up the next morning like it’s Christmas and you’re six and you think it’s all going to have burst forth over night and you skip to the garden because your beds will surely be filled with colourful delights!… and then you get there and realise most stuff takes weeks if not months if not years to really become anything. It’s OK. Have patience little one.

beginner gardener Helen Sorren

This is me being impatient with my minuscule hydrangea

3) The ‘I know what you mean’ nod

When you mention to a friend or family member or just acquaintance that you have been doing a spot of gardening and they jump in with their latest warning on how their perennials are just ‘out of CONTROL this year ho ho ho’ and you just nod sagely as if to agree but you’re thinking ‘perennial? What’s that?’ Its OK. They probably don’t really know what a perennial is either.

beginner gardener Helen Sorren

This is me wondering whether this is a Perennial…

So it’s time for us beginners to just be beginners!

We wander around B&Q with our new wellies on looking like we know what we’re doing, picking up random pots and great sacks of ‘top soil’ (who knew there were so many different types of soil??) when really we are just a bunch of Manuels trying to avoid the next horticultural disaster.

I think what I’m trying to say is: don’t be scared that you don’t know anything – embrace it!! – because when we start out aren’t we all a little bit Manuel?

Follow my (slow) progress on my blog.

Helen Sorren is an actress and comedian. She also presents on Hoxton Radio every Saturday 10am-12pm Follow on Twitter @helensorren
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.

Gardening, a challenging few months



This spring has proved the most challenging gardening season in all my gardening years. In November 2014 whilst on holiday at my Sister`s in Huntington Beach, California, I had a bad fall and fractured my spine. I`ve always wanted an extended holiday but not quite like this – flat on my back. Getting the garden ready had to be done in short bursts so I could rest but with the help of my Husband Alan, who did all of the lifting, moving and digging I managed to get the garden sorted.

I am growing the TomTato® again this year as it was very successful last year with almost 5 kg of tomatoes as well as the potatoes harvested. I started it off indoors but as soon as the weather was right transferred it into the larger container of Incredicompost® in a sunny but sheltered position.

Begonia apricot shades

Begonia ‘Apricot Shades’

I ordered `garden ready` plants this year as I wasn’t sure how much I would be able to do in the early months. They arrived this last week and look wonderful, very fresh and ready for planting. I love Begonia ‘Apricot Shades’ and have planted these into a triple basket, 12”/14”/16” and now in position in the front garden. They are very easy to handle and you don`t have to worry about growing them on first which might have been a problem as I couldn’t stand for very long.

I am planning to use three troughs at the side of the front garden but looking at them they really looked worse for wear, then I wondered if they could be painted with the blue paint we have on our decking, no sooner said than done as Alan painted them last night now they just need planting up and they look like new troughs.

I have also planted a triple stand with black and red petunias and red diascia as a tribute to our local football team – AFC Bournemouth who have just been promoted to the Premier League from being almost bankrupt six years ago. I am patiently waiting for these plants to start flowering so I can see the full effect.

April here in Bournemouth on the South Coast was very dry and warm everything in the garden really sat up and took notice flowering quite early in some cases. May, unfortunately has been cold and wet. In March my 90 year old neighbour died, I have been looking after her front garden for several years. I was very kindly given two stone planters which stood either side of her front door. They now take pride of place in my back garden.

stone planter

My Strawberry ‘Irresistible’ which I had on trial about three years ago are doing exceptionally well and now have the fruit formed – and to think they almost got thrown out as they had been covered in leaves in the winter and couldn’t see the plants!!

Here`s hoping that the rest of the summer is going to be kind to us all especially the gardeners. Enjoy!

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.

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