Potatoes – First earlies are great for beginners?

Potatoes are one of the easiest things to grow when you get your first plot of land for cropping. The early potatoes grow fairly quickly, in approximately 10 weeks. Check our Potato Selector Guide to find out which variety is the best one for you, and don’t forget it depends on the time of year you are growing them too. You also need to decide if you want to grow in bags, or in the ground. Potato ‘Rocket’ is a good first early. It has good all round disease resistance and can be grown in bags or in the ground.

Potato growing kit & T&M potash fertiliser

Potato growing kit & T&M potash fertiliser

Once you have decided where you are planting your potatoes, you need to prepare the ground or get the bags and compost, you can buy a Patio Potato Growing Kit which has all you will need for this choice.  For comprehensive instruction on growing potatoes in bags, see our guide. If you want to see the difference between growing in the ground or bags then read Sue’s (very unscientific) potato trials.

Potato 'Rocket' grown & cooked

Potato ‘Rocket’ grown & cooked

When growing in the ground potatoes are not too fussy on soil type. An acidic soil is preferable but not essential; add sulphur to the tops of the potato ridge if the soil is alkaline. This will deter skin blemishes like Common Scab that is a problem in alkaline conditions. You can get a kit to tell you the type of soil you have. Choose an open position in full sun on fertile, well drained soil. Avoid soil where potatoes have grown for two years in succession, as this will increase the risk of disease. Begin preparing the planting site well in advance. A couple of months before planting is ideal to allow the soil to settle. Remove all weeds and dig the site thoroughly and deeply, lifting out any large stones, and incorporating plenty of well rotted organic matter like leaf mould and high potash fertiliser.

Ph tester kit & potato growing bags

Ph tester kit & potato growing bags

When your potatoes arrive you will need to ‘chit’ them. This is essentially just growing shoots out of the tubers prior to planting. The benefit is they will produce faster growth and heavier crops. Do it as soon as you get them. Remove packaging; lay them out in a cool bright, frost-free position. Pop them in egg boxes or seed trays; you will notice that the immature shoots are all at one end (called the rose end). Place the potatoes with this end facing upwards. By the time that you are ready to plant them, they will have produced shoots up to 25mm (1″) in length.
Remember seed potatoes (tubers) can be cut if they have shoots at both ends, this will make 2 tubers, so you will get more potatoes from your crop.
Plant your first earlies in February; you will need to dig a trench to a depth of about 10cm (4″) and place the seed potatoes into the trench with the rose end facing upwards. Fill the trench with soil to cover the potatoes. The potash fertiliser purchased at the beginning of the year, which you added to the ground, is fine to put over the top of the trench.

Potato sacks - paper & hessian

Potato sacks – paper & hessian

It is important to ‘earth up’ potato crops as the shoots emerge above ground, to protect them from frosts which blacken the shoots and delays production. Simply draw some soil over the top of the shoots to cover them again. first early crops need plenty of water during prolonged dry weather especially when tubers are starting to form. When the stems reach a height of 23cm (9″) above ground they should be earthed up again to prevent tubers near to the soil surface from turning green.

Plannting and lifting guide times

Plannting and lifting guide times

Start to harvest first earlies as ‘new potatoes;’ when the plants begin to flower, approximately 10 weeks from planting around late May. Tubers will generally become larger the longer their growing period. It is worth having a gentle dig below the surface to check the potato sizes – if they’re too small simply leave them for another week or so, otherwise lift them and enjoy!
After harvesting, leave the tubers on the soil surface for a few hours to dry and cure the skin. Once dry store them in paper or hessian sacks in a dark, cool but frost free place. Avoid storing in polythene bags as potatoes will ‘sweat’ and rot.
Then all you have to do is enjoy them!

Pack size info: 1kg equates to approximately 15 potato tubers of grade 35:55.

Wendie Alexander
Having just finished my English Degree at university I am excited to continue working for Thompson & Morgan where I have worked for more than 3 years. I am a keen gardener who wants to learn lots more!

Winding down through autumn

Having had an unexpected rest from gardening due to a chest infection that has now lasted for around 6 weeks, and a computer crash following an update! Which ended up at the repairers for around nine days.  Thankfully I am now starting to recover and have managed to cut back old plants that were overdue and cleaning out pots. As I had to leave a lot of the work I noticed that plants seem to be having a second round of flowering – I guess you never give up learning especially when it comes to gardening.

Clematis' 3rd flowering of the season & unnamed trial fuchsia

Clematis’ 3rd flowering of the season & unnamed trial fuchsia

While clearing through some drawers during my enforced rest I found an old note book I had for my gardening in 1995! I had left notes to myself reminding me about getting fresh compost and not old bags because I had had a bad experience that year losing several plants. Also notes about cutting fuchsias and burying them until the spring amongst many other good ideas which obviously I took to heart as I seem to be doing them up to now..

1995 notepad & part of the container garden

1995 notepad & part of the container garden

With the weather cooling down quickly and leaves turning on my hydrangeas I noticed two Calla Lilies which have been in the garden for four years and have got to this stage in bud.  Now that a lot of the other plants have finished they are taking pride of place, and yesterday (last week October) discovered that one of them has now flowered. FUCHSIA FuchsiaBerry has had a lot of fruit.  I have tried them a couple of times and they taste quite smooth almost the texture of a cherry.

Still flowering laurentia & an unnamed trial antirrhinum

Still flowering laurentia & an unnamed trial antirrhinum

The Strawberry ‘Irresistible’ which I trialled about four years ago from Thompson and Morgan is producing fruit for the second time this year. The double antirrhinums, Sun Diascia ‘Eternal Flame’ and the three unnamed trial plants from this year – unnamed bidens, fuchsia and trailing antirrhinum are all pictured here. The latter, a peachy pink colour – have been flowering for the whole season. I wonder if they have been named yet?
In September I received an Invitation to attend the Bournemouth in Bloom presentations, thankfully Alan and I were well enough to attend. What a big surprise when I discovered I had won the Gold Award and overall winner for my Container Garden and Silver award for my Hanging Basket and Patio garden.  I was thrilled to bits and thank you Wendie Alexander for the lovely piece on Facebook.

Bournemouth in Bloom awards & Strawberry 'Irrestitible'

Bournemouth in Bloom awards & Strawberry ‘Irrestitible’

This year I have planted up some plants for the winter. We are usually visiting my Sister in California through October/November not getting home until the beginning of December, then of course we are into Christmas, so I have already planted tulips ready for the spring and thought that I would plant the daffodils in the garden so it doesn`t look so bare and then they can establish without much help.

Autumn colour & diascia's 2nd flowering

Autumn colour & diascia’s 2nd flowering

Alan has been busy taking the watering system out of the front and drying the computer timer, taking the battery out and storing for next year.  I usually throw the battery away as you can`t tell how much power is in it and it has been working for over five months. We leave the watering system in place in the back garden just putting the timer away as it is more sheltered than the front. My two tier stands have been taken down and sprayed with protective oil and the baskets cleaned and put away until next year. I take all the chains off the baskets and spray them, then hang them in my shed.

Calla Lilly & useful notes in 1995 notepad

Calla Lilly & useful notes in 1995 notepad

Now is the time to start thinking about next year`s plants etc and look forward to the new spring/summer catalogue from Thompson & Morgan so the dark evenings will be used thumbing through the catalogues…and then of course there is Christmas.  I have just received the Christmas catalogue from Thompson & Morgan and they have some wonderful flowers/plants in there, must start planning for some of them!!

Autumn tones & Tomato 'Sweet Aperitif'

Autumn tones & Tomato ‘Sweet Aperitif’

Hope all my gardening friends are keeping healthy and enjoying the autumn, take care until the next time………………….Jean

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.

Geoff Stonebanks trio of triumphs

Geoff Stonebanks, one of the customer trial panelists and owner of the multi-award winning garden, Driftwood, in Bishopstone, Sussex, has had a very successful gardening year. He’s just scored a trio of triumphs in 2016.

In the November issue of a national gardening magazine his garden was judged to be a finalist and runner-up in their Garden of the Year Awards 2016 competition, in the small space category. After receiving hundreds of entries nationwide. This, coupled with Geoff and Driftwood’s appearance on the popular Gardeners’ World TV programme, back in September, and the photo shoot in June for an 8-page feature about the garden in the national lifestyle magazine Coast, next summer, has enabled Geoff to have the best year ever, since first opening his garden gate back in 2009. Not to mention of course the £15,000 raised for charity this summer alone bringing the garden total to £76,000. Geoff has been a member of the customer trial panel since 2012 and has trialled over 100 different products in that time. Many of them were on show this summer for the photo shoots and judging.

Verbena bonariensis and pinks

Verbena bonariensis and pinks

Geoff comments; ” I saw the competition advertised back in May and thought I’d give it a go. All I had to do was submit 8 pictures of the garden and complete a questionnaire answering specific questions, ranging from how I created the garden to the challenges and obstacles I had to overcome.” He went on to say, “I was utterly amazed to find out in late July that it had been shortlisted in the small space category and would be photographed before the final judging.”

When the magazine editor telephoned Geoff to tell him he was the runner-up, she said “Your entry was always a real stand-out and genuinely was knocking on the door for the top prize all the way. It will be such a pleasure to share more pictures of your garden with our readers over the coming months.

Geoff was interviewed on BBC Sussex recently, along with the editor, who explained to listeners that the competition set out to look for clever solutions and the ability to make something of unique and difficult spaces.

Geoff's garden with Buddleja 'Buzz® Magenta.' Film crew from Gardener's World

Geoff’s garden with Buddleja ‘Buzz® Magenta.’ Film crew from Gardener’s World

Needless to say, Geoff is thrilled and tells us the magazine will be featuring more of his garden in their April 2017 issue. Not only that, he can now choose up to £250 worth of garden equipment from the competition sponsors catalogue.

Then, back in September the garden was featured in a 6-minute film on Gardeners’ World too. The show had been looking at inspired planting and design in a series of small gardens and spent the day filming in late August. Geoff was able to take the presenter around the garden and talk about the different garden rooms. You can clearly see the T&M Buddleja ‘Buzz® Magenta’ and lilac in the foreground of the picture of Geoff on camera along with the Thompson & Morgan Berberis x ottawensis f. purpurea ‘Superba’ he won for blog of the month earlier in the year, sticking up behind the fig leaves.

Birds eye view of Driftwood garden

Birds eye view of Driftwood garden

Driftwood is set to open 14 times in 2017 and full details can be found at www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk  Look out for the feature next summer in Coast magazine too!

So why not make a date to visit and see both the garden and the many Thompson & Morgan plants on show for yourselves. Private visits can also be made for lunch or afternoon tea in the garden.

Geoff Stonebanks

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, recently featured on Gardeners’ World on TV he’s raised £76000 for various charities in 7 years, £40000 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.

Cosmos ‘Cupcakes White’ favourite with RHS visitors

Cosmos has been Fleuroselect’s very successful plant of the year for 2016. With the year drawing to a close a favourite cosmos needed to be crowned.

Cosmos 'Cupcakes White' included in T&M's Cosmos 'Cupcakes' seeds.

Cosmos ‘Cupcakes White’ included in T&M’s Cosmos ‘Cupcakes’ seeds.

During August and September, over a thousand visitors at RHS Garden Wisley have been voting in a poll for their favourite garden Cosmos cultivar. The gorgeous Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Cupcakes White’ was chosen as the overall winner, with Cosmos ‘Cosmic Red’ coming second and Cosmos ‘Brightness Red’, third. Cosmos ‘Cupcakes White’ won out of a total of 85 cultivars that were shown to the visiting public during that period. The poll was part of the RHS annual People’s Choice Competition, and together with Fleuroselect they worked on the promotion and trialling of the cosmos genus.

RHS wanted to showcase the large number of varieties on offer for gardeners to grow, and with years of breeding and selection, cosmos has become an ideal plant for beginners and experts alike.

Cosmos 'Brightness Mixed' including 'Brightness Red'

Cosmos ‘Brightness Mixed’ including ‘Brightness Red’

At the start of the year Thompson & Morgan introduced the, butter yellow, Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Xanthos’ to their large existing range. Clare Dixey Direct Marketing Manager has affirmed that the cosmos has been a wonderful success this year, with many gardeners stating they will definitely grow cosmos again next year, adding that they wanted to try a different genus or colour.

Cosmos 'Xanthos' and Cosmos 'Cupcakes'

Cosmos ‘Xanthos’ and Cosmos ‘Cupcakes’

The year of the cosmos has been a fantastic success, bringing the flower to the forefront of gardeners growing lists. For 2017 Fleuroselect have chosen zinnia as their plant of the year.

What is your favourite cosmos? Do you agree with the visitors at RHS Wisley?

Wendie Alexander
Having just finished my English Degree at university I am excited to continue working for Thompson & Morgan where I have worked for more than 3 years. I am a keen gardener who wants to learn lots more!

New bird care products to enjoy

In a bid to provide the gardener with everything they may need for their outdoor space, T&M have recently introduced a new bird care range.

Within the gardening community it is considered good practice to encourage wildlife, and especially birds into the garden. Not least because they are as native as we are and have as much right to be here as we do.

We often forget how truly magnificent birds are. Some birds take up the challenge of migrating thousands of miles just to be somewhere where there is a larger food stock or better nesting facilities. The UK has a fairly temperate climate, which is perfect for a wide variety of birds. This makes the UK a great place to see common and visiting birds. However, with the urbanisation of much of the country it is necessary to top up the bird’s food sources to give them a helping hand.

A variety of bird feed

A variety of bird feed

At T&M we have a variety of bird care essentials in our range, making it easy for you to order via our website. It is not just winter time that birds need help with homes and food. During the summer months we have visitors such as swallows and martins, who may need help with nesting habitat or a wider variety of food.

Although there are specific food and nesting needs for certain birds, for a beginner all you really need to do is provide food. You can then wait and see what happens! This is a great way to introduce you and the children to the joys of watching wildlife. In our range, we have bird tables, bird feeder stations and bird seed. This will provide you with endless enjoyment watching your garden visitors eat to their hearts content.

Bird tables and stations

Bird tables and stations

If you want to provide a home for birds, you can choose one of our bird boxes where they can make a nest. Watching a bird fledge for the first time is an amazing experience. But the favourite of all things bird is the bird bath. Watching a bird having a bath is one of the funniest and most enjoyable things. When birds have a bath they can get quite excited, and tend to forget themselves for a few minutes while they are soaking and cleaning themselves. It is important to provide a safe environment around your bird bath. See our bird bath blog on where to position your bird bath.

Why not have a browse through our range, choose some seed and a table or station and see what happens. We would love to see your photos of the birds that visit your garden and perhaps even start keeping a diary of what type of bird visited when. We have lots of helpful guides to encourage wildlife, which plants are best for wildlife an ideas on wildlife habitat.

Bird tables and baths

Bird tables and baths

For information on everything bird visit the RSPB website.

Wendie Alexander
Having just finished my English Degree at university I am excited to continue working for Thompson & Morgan where I have worked for more than 3 years. I am a keen gardener who wants to learn lots more!

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