Thompson & Morgan’s Customer Triallists Open Day

For what seemed like the first time in months David and I dared to step away from the garden for a day out: a trip to Ipswich to visit Thompson & Morgan’s triallists’ Open Day. Coming up from North London is a two hour drive so, seeing as it was sunny and warm, we decided to make a day of it and visit Jimmy’s Farm beforehand. Hordes of happy toddlers and young parents enjoying the school holidays and – us! Oh well, it brings out your inner child doesn’t it?

David at Jimmy's Farm

David at Jimmy’s Farm

Adjacent to Jimmy’s Farm, the Thompson & Morgan show ground is so bright and colourful that I dare say it could be seen from space. Dozens and dozens of hanging baskets, flower pouches and containers loaded up with annuals at the peak of their performance. I felt like a kid in a sweet shop!

I recognised some of the plants as ones I have grown at home this summer, but at T&M you see how the professionals do it! In fairness they have an open sunny site and we have an enclosed semi-shaded patio, and this was reflected in the increased volume of flowers in their displays compared to ours. Having overwintered some begonias from last summer I didn’t buy any more this season, but having seen their displays of blousy Begonia ‘Fortune Peach Shades’, cascading Inferno and exotic dark leaved Flamenco, I can’t wait to place my order for 2017. I love my two towering abutilons, so when Michael showed us two annual climbers, citrusy Ipomoea lobata or Spanish Flag, and lemon dicentra, I could picture them right alongside. (Tried unsuccessfully to grow ipomoea from seed before but hey, hope over experience wins every time.) Upturned fuchsia flowers seem a contradiction in terms but somehow it works: Princess Charlotte’s perky little salmon pink flowers are a delight, but a bit too well behaved for my taste.

Caroline Broome Begonias and Ipomoea lobata


Begonia ‘Fortune Peach Shades’, cascading Inferno and Ipomoea lobata

Some of the shrubs caught my interest too, especially Hydrangea paniculata ‘Pinky Winky’, as apart from being a gorgeous plant, is named for my Sphynx cat Winky, and is a lot better looking too. Diervilla Cool Splash is a new one on me, leaves similar to a variegated cornus with creamy flowers like pittosporum Tobira. With my penchant for the unusual, I was very taken with a tropical looking Tomato Tree, unlikely to bear fruit in our climate but hell, who cares, with foliage and flowers like that it’s a terrific ornamental. Note to self: can you not develop a taste for small dainty plants; you have run out of space!

So many new things to take in, and then – and then – we were shown into the marquee for another presentation, this time, of fruit and veggies. (I can honestly say, being a Townie, I have never settled my butt on a hay bale before. I’m still picking the straw out of my cashmere cardigan darhling!)

Tomato Tree and Diervilla 'Cool Splash'

Tomato Tree and Diervilla ‘Cool Splash’

Tomatoes are my thing and I was not disappointed; lovely colourful varieties such as tomato Garnet, tomato Artisan Mixed and Indigo Cherry Drops all tasted as good as they looked. I could eat them like sweets (and become a lot slimmer to boot). Having had success with growing peas for the first time this summer I am looking forward to trying out Pea Eddy and I’ll be growing hot hot Wasabi Rocket for David.

As if that was not enough Michael and his team had laid on a fantastic afternoon tea with delicious scones the size of dinner plates, so we had ample opportunity to chat to other bloggers and twitterers (I’ve no idea if that is the correct noun). All coming at gardening from different angles and with different backgrounds, with one thing in common – the love of gardening.

Finally the afternoon was brought to a close with tempting Goodie Bags containing all manner of seed packets (hurrah, including my tomato seeds), Incredicrop© Fruit and Veg fertiliser and three 9cm pots of the most amazing shrubs: Sambucus ‘Black Tower’ (will look great alongside all those tropical climbers), Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum ‘Kilimanjaro Sunrise’ and Blechnum brasiliense ‘Volcano’ Dwarf Brazilian Tree Fern (all small enough to start off on the patio).

So thank you Michael and your team for putting on such a special day and making us feel so welcome.

Happy gardening everyone.

A blog from Driftwood with a difference!

Most of my blogs are usually about the plants that Driftwood trials for Thompson & Morgan, as one of their Customer Trial Panel gardens, but for a change I thought I’d pen a little bit about the garden’s location and some of the challenges of gardening by the sea!

Driftwood by sea blog

Room with a view

For those not familiar with Driftwood, it’s located between Seaford and Newhaven on the south coast, not that far from Brighton. It’s in the bay you can see, looking out to sea and there is the view from our bedroom window across the fields to the coast. 2015 has seen strong winds, which makes gardening a real challenge through the summer months, keeping the garden pristine for its many garden visitors. Now, as we approach the winter months, there is much to do to put the garden to bed and get it ready for its 15 scheduled openings in 2016, along with its many private visitors and coach parties.

 

It is also quite possible it may appear on a prime time gardening show on national TV too next summer! Watch this space! I like the garden to look a little different each year, as many visitors come back year after year.

Driftwood by sea blog

The central area is still looking quite smart for November, even if it lacks a bit of bright colour. This view across the garden shows a range of lovely shades of green for this time of year!

Driftwood by sea blog

The garden has many different rooms which I have been working on in recent weeks and you can see the 2 rooms on the left of the garden, the cottage garden area in the foreground and the upper patio at the back, tidied up ready for replanting next spring.

Driftwood by sea blog

 

You can see me working on the raised beds in the centre off the garden too, moving plants around to change the overall look. There are 3 Thompson & Morgan blooms looking quite amazing at the moment, they are Rose Garden Party, Alstromeira Peruvian tree Lily and Hydrangea Vanilla Fraise as you can see.

Driftwood by sea blog

 

I’ve got several ball chrysanthemums in the back garden too, but the largest of them was badly hit by the recent winds as you can see. It’s always difficult with the wind so I try and keep the planting as low as possible and create the height with some rusted metal sculptures. If you want to see more on the garden go to Driftwood by Sea.

 

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.

The Chelsea Roundup

After all the buzz of setting up, last minute polishing and- for some- the clinking of champagne glasses, Chelsea Flower Show exhibitors can now sit back and rest… well almost! Let’s hope the plants can last another day; the unprecedented hot weather this week has given many exhibitors sleepless nights, as they struggle to keep their displays in dazzling form! So here is The Chelsea Roundup.

The Chelsea Roundup

Newsfeeds were going crazy earlier this week; which celebs are at the show? What are the trends? Who’s going to win best in show? How expensive are those sandwiches…?? You simply can’t deny that Chelsea Flower Show is the most talked about horticultural event of the year, and I love how non-gardeners get on board with it too by being glued to the daily shows on BBC2.

The Chelsea Roundup

Who cares if some of the gardens are outlandish, isn’t that what this show is about? It’s a showpiece to show the best skills in garden design and horticulture. I’m convinced you can always take elements of any garden and use them in your own; planting partners, styles of planting, sculptures, create your own mini Chelsea show garden! One of my favourite gardens was the Help for Heroes garden, designed by Matt Keightley. I loved the planting, interspersed by blocks- for me; it was the perfect fusion of tradition al cottage garden and modernist!

The Chelsea Roundup

Help for Heroes garden, by Matt Keightley

I also liked the artisan garden section, mainly because it was in the shade on such a sweltering day! I loved the Virgin Roof Gardens entry, which featured red Geraniums and dwarf Marigolds from Thompson & Morgan. It was an explosion of colour, yet still cool and relaxing!

The Chelsea Roundup

Virgin Roof Gardens

Every year at Chelsea, my main focus is the floral marquee, where I do a spot of indoor plant-hunting! Here, specialist nurseries show off their skills and variety range. You can come here to see everything from gladioli to passion flowers, bonsai to sweet peas. I must admit I can’t help but feel some of the stands have looked the same for 50 years, but there were some fresh looks. How about hanging amaryllis for example??

The Chelsea Roundup

The Plant of the Year stand is in the floral marquee, where any nursery from the UK can enter. Those plants are whittled down to 20 finalists, but there can only be 1 winner. As soon as I walked up to the display, I knew that Hydrangea ‘Miss Saori’ had the leading edge, even over plants I had entered! Well, I should have visited a betting shop, as my prediction was right, and this picotee, two-tiered Hydrangea was named Plant of the Year 2014!

The Chelsea Roundup

Hydrangea ‘Miss Saori’

Then, tomorrow, it’s the BIG SELL OFF! When the stands are dismantled, and the contents auctioned off. This is an absolutely crazy few hours, and it culminates in the London Underground being filled with people hugging delphiniums…! Phew! Another great show!

The Chelsea Roundup

Michael Perry
Michael works as Thompson & Morgan’s New Product Development Manager, scouring the globe for new and innovative products and concepts to keep the keen gardeners as well as amateurs of the UK happy!

Hydrangea Glam Rock – colour changes in different soils

Hydrangea ‘Glam Rock’ – colour changes in different soils

Hydrangea 'Glam Rock' - colour changes in different soils

The ever-changing colours of hydrangea ‘Glam Rock’

One of our fastest selling shrubs ever, hydrangea ‘Glam Rock’ (sometimes also known by the tongue-twister name of ‘Schloss Wackerbarth’) is a beauty to behold!

The mop-head flowers are made up of a kaleidoscope of colours, so much so that they look artificial. But the magic doesn’t end there; the appearance of your hydrangea bloom can change depending on which type of soil you have in your garden. If it has a high pH level (alkaline), the blooms will have more of the green colouring, whereas if the soil has a low pH level (acid), the blooms will be more blue.

You can see here the effects that soils containing acid or alkaline soil can give. The best way to find out the pH level of your soil is to buy a kit from your local garden centre.

Our horticultural expert, Sue Sanderson, has the following advice: “There are lots of soil testers out there that test by either chemical or electronic means, with greatly varying prices and equally varying levels of accuracy. If you just want to know what the pH level is then you should be able to pick up a small disposable kit from your local garden centre – these are fairly inexpensive. They will tell you if it is an acid, neutral or alkaline soil. These domestic kits rely on the use of a capsule that, when mixed with water and a small quantity of your soil, produces a colour that relates to a colour scale rather than a numerical value. I have used this type of kit myself and I would recommend buying more than one capsule though as it is a good idea to test from several positions across your plot instead of just one place. The more expensive kits will be able to give you N:P:K measurements as well, but remember that these will change each time you add fertilisers and soil improvers to your plot so you will need to retest the area. The more complex and expensive test kits are aimed at farmers, professionals, and garden geeks who would just want to know everything about their soil, but these are over and above the requirements (and budgets) of most gardeners.”

Did you know you can control the colour change too? Hydrangea colourant can be watered around the plant to change the pH of the soil, and therefore change the colour of the flowers!

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.

Hydrangea ‘Schloss Wackerbarth’ is a huge hit

Enjoying a significant rise in shrub sales in general, T&M is thrilled that its customers are so enamoured with the amazing Hydrangea ‘Schloss Wackerbarth’. It has become the best-selling item from the Cottage Garden range and promises to be one of this year’s shrub successes. Named after the grand and impressive Schloss Wackerbarth, situated between Dresden and Meissen in Germany, the fabulous 3-coloured heads of this most eye-catching of shrubs have taken the gardening world by storm.

The rounded flower-heads are formed by dozens of red florets with blue-purple centres and each petal is tipped with an extraordinary shade of lime green. As with many varieties, hydrangea macrophylla ‘Schloss Wackerbarth’ produces slightly different colour tones depending on the pH of the soil.

Thompson & Morgan is putting the increase in shrub sales down to the unseasonably wet weather. This, coupled with relatively warm temperatures, means that traditional planting times for shrubs have been extended. Shrubs planted now will love the moist, warm conditions and will have lots of time to become well established before the winter frosts.

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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