Busy summer enjoying the fruits of our labours

It’s been a busy summer, what with the new shed roof terrace, the beach hut themed patio makeover and the plans for our new front garden.

This is the first year that the greenhouse has really been used to its full potential; it’s a veritable salad factory! Our 8ft x 5ft greenhouse is home to 2 cucumber Mini Fingers Cucina, 3 bush tomatoes Losetto and 3 cordon tomatoes Sungold, along with 15 varieties of chillies and sweet peppers, a spare courgette Defender from the allotment, an aubergine and some of last year’s leftover strawberry runners. Despite cramped conditions, good housekeeping and regular attention has resulted in an early and abundant crop of cucumbers, several promising tomato trusses and dozens of peppers; even the aubergine has 4 flowers on it – beginner’s luck perhaps. Having said that, the tomatoes are trying to climb out of the skylights and the cucumber vines are being suspended across the entrance on string! I’m looking forward to harvesting the produce to make my favourite Gaspacho soup.

tree lillies
The emphasis on colour has shifted somewhat from the main body of the garden, now that the towering tree lilies have finished flowering, to the basket and container displays on the patio. Begonia Apricot Shades Improved combined with lime green and black ipomaea foliage is a winner, blooming away through drought, rain and wind, no deadheading needed. The two hanging baskets of Petunia Peach Sundae just keep on flowering; daily deadheading and the occasional haircut keeps them compact and good as new. A couple of extra plugs crammed into the window box are the perfect match for the pastel striped bench beneath, although sitting on it is out of the question now that they are trailing over its back!

begonia apricot shades

Calibrachoa Ruby Buttons, although slow to get going, is flowering away in a hanging basket brightening up a neglected corner. Bidens ‘Hawaiian Flare Orange Drop’, selected to hang above abutilons megapotamicum and Kentish Belle, has produced an abundance of vigorous ferny foliage but very few flowers, although they are starting to bud up now, better late than never. Fuchsia Eruption hasn’t stopped flowering for weeks and needs no maintenance other than the occasional feed and regular watering. Pots of begonia Glowing Embers are having a tough time due to Fred our oriental cat’s tendency to treat them like a running buffet, so perhaps they will have to be displayed in hanging baskets next year instead of ground level. I find begonia tubers really easy to overwinter so I see no reason why these ones can’t be rescued at the end of the season.

petunia peach sundae

But surely one of the most striking additions to the garden has been the planting scheme for the shed roof terrace. I’ve been able to indulge myself with all the plants that I have never been able to grow at ground level due to slugs & snails and heavy clay soil: echinacea, helianthus, red hot pokers, heleniums, rodgersia, interwoven with tall grasses – and bubbling up through them all is Nasturtium Jewel of Africa, tumbling down the sides of the shed almost to ground level, a froth of huge marbled leaves and fiery flowers! And all from one packet of seeds. That’s what I call value for money.

As for the new front garden, watch this space…..work should start in September.

February 2014 – an update on plants surviving the winter

A short update regarding a couple of plants which are still surviving the winter now in to February.

Geranium ‘T&M’s Choice Mixed’ F1 Hybrid & Petunia ‘Easy Wave’

I have 2 plants which are still alive outside now into February. One is a zonal geranium (pelargonium) and the other, which is not just one, but a number of plants of petunia. These are in various locations around the back garden, the geranium is in a clay pot on the front wall. Neither have had any special protection, other than the geranium has a wall for protection from one side, it has got a bit straggly now. Normally I would have taken this in the greenhouse late autumn for cutting material, but the longer it has lasted, the more curious I am to see how much more it can survive. The petunias actually look quite green and healthy.

To be honest, it has not been a severe winter yet, we have had a fair number of frosts around here and some bad enough to leave car windscreens in need of a defrosting before setting off for work, but not the prolonged deep frosts that usually put paid to bedders well before now. Last year wasn’t too tough a winter either, but we did get a few early severe frosts around November/December that finished off many borderline plants outside.

The pictures here are of a zonal geranium (pelargonium) which has been outside since late spring 2013, and petunia plants which are dotted around the garden in various containers.

I will update further on their progress through the winter months.

Steve Woodward
I am 56 yrs young, and have been married to Joy for over 35 years, We have 2 children and 3 grandchildren,and have an allotment on the Notts/Derbys border. I am RHS trained to level 2 and have also passed a course in herbalism, I have had the allotment for about 20 years, that is mainly for the veg growing, whereas at home I grow fruit and have a love of anything big leaved, exoticy looking, jungly type plants. I also help run a gardening forum at www.garden-friends.co.uk.

Petunias and a bit of plant snobbery

Petunias and a bit of plant snobbery

We all have opinions about plants, some we like, some we do not. We may regard some plants as rather garish, maybe too flouncy and blousy, maybe just too yellow for our taste. We make judgements on plants much the same as we make judgements on anything else. We categorise and decide what we think and it takes quite something for this to be changed.

I am the same as anyone else on this. There are plants I like and ones I definitely do not. Except I do know from experience that it is rare I can dislike a whole species of plant. So I will tell you that I do not like hostas, but there are one or two that are acceptable to me. I have never willingly bought a hosta, but a couple have crept into my garden from elsewhere and I have allowed them to stay. I also know that my taste is constantly evolving, at one time I did not understand why people like ferns, now the structural unfurlingness of them makes me just want more and more. Taste is not a static thing.

Some plants I do not like because I just do not like them, you will not catch me growing Brussel sprouts or celery as I think they are disgusting, it would be a waste of space. However I do love yellow and orange flowers, but to balance that I am not keen on green flowers. There is no rhyme or reason to these distinctions, some things just are.

I have been a member of the Thompson & Morgan trial panel now for nearly two years. I was very pleased to be accepted to do it and I have found the experience rather enjoyable. It is also rather challenging as I do not get a choice of what is being sent yet I feel a responsibility to grow what they send me come what may. From day one I have embraced the fact that this would challenge me to face some of my demon plants and that I might have to accept some of them being allowed into my garden.

Enter the petunias. I am not a petunia fan. I did find them often a bit garish and I think I considered them old fashioned in some way. This is slightly odd of me as I do not think I worry generally in terms of plant fashion, but I have thought about this quite a lot whilst sitting down to write this and it appears to be the deep-seated root of my issue with them. I have never bought any petunias but I have sometimes seen ones that I think look quite good, I remember seeing some once in a container at a rather famous garden and they looked wonderful, but I had not seen that particular variety for sale anywhere and the moment passed.

Petunias and a bit of plant snobbery

Petunia ‘Purple Velvet’

So as you will have guessed by now I was sent some petunias this year to trial. They are Petunia Purple Velvet, which came with a pyramid to grow them up. Now I confess I failed at the pyramid construction, that did not fit in with my type of gardening, but I wanted to use the petunias and give them a fair trial. So, I planted them with the sweet peas in the front garden to grow up the obelisks.

They look fantastic, the recent rain has helped them hugely and I keep them deadheaded. I am really happy with them and I would definitely grow them again, they have partnered the sweet peas perfectly. They are fantastically garish and I love the incredible depth of colour. Yes, what I thought I disliked is actually what I love about them. Yet another element of plant snobbery has been cured for me, petunias are now officially on the plant list.

Alison Levey
I am a keen amateur gardener living in the East Midlands. During the day I work in an office so I love the times I can get outside. I would not call myself an expert gardener but I am an avid learner. I have been writing a blog based on my garden and gardens that I have visited for nearly two years now and it is something I really enjoy doing. It has added an extra dimension to how I view my garden.

Petunias – customer trial panel update

I love petunias but with last year’s awful weather I was reluctant to grow them this year – I did not want to have another year of soggy flowers.

As usual when the T&M plants catalogue came in spring there were so many new and unusual petunias I just could not resist giving them another chance this year. And with all the sunny weather we have had recently I am so glad I did. They have gone from being bushy green leaved plants to being completely covered in flowers.

My favorites so far are the Crazytunias – ‘Wedgwood’, ‘Strawberry Cheesecake’, ‘Banoffee Pie’ and ‘Sophistica Bicolour’. It’s just amazing how Mother Nature can come up with such amazing colour combinations!

Petunia ‘Black Cherry’ is such an amazing colour, almost black! I am already thinking of plants I can combine with it for next year. And am also hoping it is still around at Halloween this year as it will make a spooky addition to the decorations!

Petunias - customer trial panel update

Petunia ‘Black Cherry’

The other reason I love petunias is their scent. They have such an spicy exotic fragrance I don’t know why more fuss isn’t made over them. I wish someone could capture this scent in a candle as I would certainly buy it.

I find the best varieties for scent are Petunia ‘Tidal Wave’ and also the ‘Tumbelina’ range which have lovely double flowers as well as strong perfume. This year I have managed to find 16 different varieties of ‘Tumbelina’ and as a result had to invest in a new hanging basket stand to hang them all from. It’s still early but the stand is already looking good!

Mesembryanthemums love the sun and the flowers are so jewel like. The leaves of these plants are so unusual too. They look like they have ice crystals all over them.

Petunias - customer trial panel update


I am a huge fan of exotic plants and this year I have grown schizanthus ‘Dwarf Bouquet Mixed’ from seed. The flowers are really unusual and look like mini orchids.

Petunias - customer trial panel update


Also earlier this year I came across some caladium bulbs at a flower show. I have seen these plants in America but never in the UK. They were potted into pots and kept in the conservatory. The leaves are like stained glass windows and are so paper thin you can almost see through them. They are so fast growing which is really surprising, considering how little chlorophyll is actually in the leaf. I am searching everywhere for more varieties. If anyone out there knows where I can get some from please let me know!

Petunias - customer trial panel update


Well that’s all for now. Need to get back outside and continue watering!

Bijal Mistry
As a member of Thompson & Morgan’s customer trial panel, Bijal Mistry tests plants, bulbs and seeds in his own garden on the outskirts of Manchester. He has won several awards and is happiest tending to his garden, especially the begonias and poinsettias!

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