Katy’s Autumn Garden Update

A quick update from the garden after the growing season.

So now the colder months begin and the long, darker nights draw in I am reflecting back on the last growing year at certain successes and trials in the garden and allotment sites. One of the big successes has been the runner beans. I planted 3 different Thompson & Morgan varieties – all with different coloured flowers. I planted these down at the allotment mixed up so that when they grew it created not only tasty beans but also a lovely mix of different coloured blooms on the plants too, winding up the canes. These were perfect simply chopped up and boiled for evening meals in pastas or grated for seasonal, fresh salads. I simply kept picking them every few days and they kept on growing right into end September/October which was fantastic. A real crowd pleaser both for ease of growing and for taste value too.


runner beans and raspberries

Another massive success was the raspberry canes. Now I know I mention these every time but it is simply because I have been so impressed by them each year in the summer. In particular the ‘Glen Moy’ variety has flourished. Fruit started appearing nice and early in the growing season and from then on gave a regular and heavy crop each week till late. I loved picking these fresh, juicy raspberries as I wandered past to feed the chickens I keep and try to save the raspberries to go with my breakfast porridge. However, most of them did not make it back into the house for cooking desserts or breakfasts as they were consumed earlier on the garden walk.

Jerusalem artichokes have been a new discovery for me this year – trying to grow and cook with them. They were easy to grow and I have experimented with cooking them in different ways. They are a faff to prepare and peel but are a nice addition to a potato gratin with tasty layers topped with cheese and cream – perfect in autumn!


artichoke and spring onions

The spring onion (White Lisbon variety) crop I have had this year has been immense! Simply so easy to plant and grow with little intervention apart from regular watering. I have had a formidable crop and have used them mercilessly snipped into fresh salads, mixed into potato salads and as a quirky addition to scrambled eggs on a Sunday (with wild garlic).

Overall, I cannot wait to get cracking with the next growing season and focus on one particular element next year. I haven’t decided which project yet but possibly thinking salads or unusual varieties of vegetable.

Katy Runacres
Katy is a smallholder, cook and writer. She keeps Chickens, Bantams, Meat Rabbits and has a resident cat called Podge. She takes an interest in all aspects of homesteading and has written pieces for a number of magazines including Backwoods Home, Bushcraft, Country Smallholding, Home Farmer and Smallholder. Katy is a member of the Essex and Suffolk Poultry Club and has a Diploma in Countryside Management.

Making Hypertufa

Many years ago I remember watching the great Geoff Hamilton on Gardener’s World making “fake rocks” from something called hypertufa and even though I was too young at the time to do it myself I always recall wanting to try it when I was a grown up.

I’m not quite sure I’ve ever actually “grown up” but I do love my garden and I also love trying to be creative, successfully or otherwise, it doesn’t matter, as long as I’ve had a go!

With that in mind, a few years ago I made my first batch of hypertufa, I made pots, used boxes for moulds and actually was quite pleased with the results, I have moved a few times since then and the pots either got left behind, or broken so it was about time I made some more!

The recipe

There are various mixtures all over the internet, I used 2 parts cement to 3 parts compost and 3 parts perlite, you can add some synthetic strengthening fibres to the mix but as I was only making small scale so I didn’t need them. If you are planning on making something huge then they would be a good idea to stop it breaking when you lift it.

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  • 2 parts cement
  • 3 parts perlite
  • 3 parts compost

As with any cement mix, add water and thoroughly combine the materials – the important thing with hypertufa is not to make it too wet! If your mixture is sloppy then it will crumble back to dust when it dries and all your hard work will be wasted! A consistency of clay is almost ideal, if you hold a handful, squeeze it and let go, it should hold it’s shape without falling apart or oozing between your fingers. (I should have worn gloves by the way)

Moulding and making

The mix was ready and I had found a few things to use as moulds for the first few pots, one of them was an old glass kitchen lampshade which was going to make a nice shallow bowl, I covered it with cling film – to make sure it didn’t stick later on – and started pressing handfuls of the mix inside it, starting near the middle and working my way out, I tried to make it about an inch thick all the way around until I had covered the inside completely.

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I also used an old sweet tin (sprayed inside with WD40 to stop any sticking) a small cardboard box, a fruit box and, bizarrely, I decided to fill up a latex glove with the mixture too to see what it came out like and I also made a small, free-form, shallow container too

Patience is now vital, I covered over the various pots and troughs and left them for nearly a week to completely dry out, I’m not usually this patient but I knew that to interfere with them now would probably break the things I made and mess them up completely.

It was worth the wait, with only one mishap – my tub of builders PVA came in handy at this point..

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Further waiting followed to let them cure even more, however, this was a good time to go out and buy lots of lovely plants to put in them!

I chose alpines including Sempervivum, saxifrage, mazus and delosperma, that will all look good in this particular setting, all being low growing ground cover type plants. They are low maintenance plants, making them ideal for a beginner too!

I planted up some of the pots I had made, using ordinary multi-purpose compost but not using any additional feeds etc, top dressing it all with a silver grit finished off the look nicely and I found a few large “rocks” to decorate the top a little.

Overall I’m very pleased with the result and the plants are already filling out nicely and looking very “natural” in their new homes.

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Graham Ward
I’ve been gardening for as long as I can remember, my first earliest memory being planting seeds in my Grandfather’s prestige flower bed and having a prize lettuce growing there, which he proudly left to show everyone.

Since then, gaining knowledge and experience from both my Grandfather and my Father, I’ve continued to garden, both as a hobby and later on as a professional gardener and landscaper for 12 years. I love all aspects of it, from the design and build, to the planting out of summer borders with plants you’ve either grown from seed or raised from plugs. Unusual varieties always catch my eye and I’m keen to try growing them, even if sometimes it means learning from my mistakes.

Favourite garden memory of 2012

tomato ferlineWith excitement and well drawn plans of the new year, I began 2012 with aspirations of extending my vegetable growing knowledge and growing some good crops at home in my small garden. Still a beginner and only in my second year of anything garden related… ever, I wanted to have another go at growing tomatoes, introduce some beans and grow some potatoes in bags.

My first year of growing tomatoes ended poorly with virtually all my fruits inedible and plants catching blight. However, I love tomatoes and they are very popular to grow at home; my parents always used to grow them in grow bags, so I wasn’t put off, yet!

My 3 x 1 metre raised bed which I built in my first year was tidied up in early April and ready to take my small plants which I had potted on from the young plugs I bought in March. I chose to try the variety Tomato Ferline for that extra blight resistance, plus you get a bit more substance from your crop as it’s not a cherry variety! If my limited experience in gardening was going to result in a minimal yield, I wanted it to last a few more seconds on the plate! What was picked from last year’s experiment never even made it to the kitchen.

So the weeks passed by, endless rain and little warm weather, I was beginning to feel that I was on track for another failure. The plants hadn’t put on much growth and the garden was a right mess. However, on closer inspection, I did notice that the raised bed was draining very well. Although it had been topped up with standard compost earlier in the year, I never really put any plastic lining underneath, so last year it was not retaining the water, this year it was draining it nicely!

Eventually over the summer, the plants had grown up, looking sturdy and beginning to flower – let there be tomatoes! Come early August, fruits were on show and I was eagerly waiting them to ripen and increase in mass. I did read the T&M guide to growing tomatoes very early on, so I was familiar with side shooting this cordon variety, watching the T&M How to Grow Tomatoes video on the Youtube channel also helped. You’re probably reading from top to bottom here, so you haven’t yet realised I’m part of the web team at Thompson & Morgan. I’m a bit of a techy and usually more diverse to html code than gardening, having experienced gardeners around me, spurred me on further!

On a mild, dry August evening, yes we did have a few, I stepped out of the conservatory with bated breath. The salad was already prepared and just needed some of the tomatoes from the garden. I knew they were there, but this moment hadn’t been experienced before and I was really hoping they would be great. We had my parents round for dinner and I was about to plate up some salad fruits that I grew in the garden. I was able to pick 10-12 good sized fruits from the 5 tomato plants, whilst others were left to continue to ripen. I was very impressed with their flavour, size and shape and fleshy inner. They made very good sliced tomatoes for the burgers that I also cooked that week.

Since joining T&M, I caught the gardening bug immediately but it took me until my second year to reap the reward. Growing your own veg at home is more my theme at the moment, as opposed to flowers. I was later provided with a good crop of French and runner beans which I planted over the summer alongside the tomatoes, which surprisingly required little attention, my experience was the same for potatoes really.

2013 will be another challenging year for me as I would like to introduce some lettuce and other salads like radish and spring onions, alongside my tomatoes. They sound simple enough to introduce and I’m keen to get on with it again come spring. Wish me luck… and if a gardening geek can do it, then so can you!

Why not reply with your favourite memories?

Rebecca Tute
Rebecca works in the Marketing department as part of the busy web team, focusing on updating the UK news and blog pages and Thompson & Morgan’s international website. Rebecca enjoys gardening and learning about flowers and growing vegetables with her young daughter.

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