I hope you are all well.
These last few weeks have been really busy, April is an inspiring month. Before I set out to write this I had a quick read of my April 2015 diary and last years blog, as I was convinced that I was lagging behind in the greenhouse. However, according to my journal we had only just finished constructing the big greenhouse and we only had potatoes growing in sacks, onions and strawberry plants in the greenhouse so it turns out I’m actually a little ahead this year.
It’s hard to know where to start so I will begin by saying that my plug plants from Thompson & Morgan arrived, they include a Barnsley Baby Mallow, Nicotianas and Petunias. They have been potted on and are growing rapidly. To make room for my ever increasing seedlings, last September I sowed Yarrow, Californian poppies and nigella which have been hardened-off and planted either straight into the borders or into decorative pots. I have saved a few for mum as I like to share my plants with her in return for cookery lessons.
The September sown sweet peas have been pinched out and I would recommend reading Kris Collins sweetpea diary for some really good tips on successful sweet pea growing. The geraniums have germinated and are taking on that distinct leaf shape that makes them so identifiable. Before long they will be transplanted into pots of their own so they can establish into healthy specimens before being moved outdoors. I thought I planted a pot of red and a pot of green basil but one pot has nothing in it whilst the other has both in it! The variety shown looks really pretty together and I’m wondering if I have stumbled across a new summer taste sensation Basil Lemonade and Rubin mixed with fresh tomatoes. Has anyone else combined two basil tastes together?
Only one sunflower has germinated I’m not sure why this would be as they are in the same small greenhouse. I have sown more as these are one of my favourite plants. I’m still waiting for Malvin Mystic Merlin. I am also waiting for the Dahlia Cactus Flower, the Hot Chilli Peppers Prairie Fire, the Cycads, most of the Squashes and the Perennial Sunflower Helianthas Maximilian.
I have very recently sown two cucumber seeds, two pots of Baby Leave Lettuces, more Spencer Sweet peas, five pots of Everlasting Strawflowers, five pots of the half-hardy annual Bells of Ireland, three pots of Snapdragons, as well as several pots of Verbena Bonarienses as although this hardy perennial will happily self seed in our garden, last year the Blue Tits stripped the seeds and we have only two or three plants left out of the many we grew from an original seed packet at least six years ago. I have also sown some Asters as I love that it flowers mid summer to late autumn so it’s perfect for pollinating insects. In addition I have also taken the Begonia bulbs out of storage and put them in individual pots of compost to bring into growth.
We are really impressed with the Tomato ‘Magic Mountain’, all the seeds have germinated and there is rapid growth. I decided to plant a whole packet on the basis that they might not all grow, but I should of had more faith. Luckily I can give some plants to family and friends as well as keeping three for myself. The Aubergines have germinated and so has the Sweet Bonita Pepper. These have been moved onto the hanging shelves in the big greenhouse and they are loving their new position. Also on the shelves are the Aloes, Cactuses and Spider plants, as well as a germinated Banksia Hookerenia, I can’t wait to see how long it takes for this to grow into a decent sized plant, at the moment they have a pair of leaves that seem to be opening wider apart and getting bigger each day. I have trays of germinating seeds on the shelves too, a mixture mostly of the flowers mentioned above. What has surprised me most is that as the shelves are nearer the roof the plastic tubs stay hotter for longer, meaning that the compost warms up quicker hopefully giving the seeds a more temperate state. One drawback is though that they do dry out a lot quicker.
Also in the bigger greenhouse are the Charlotte Potatoes. They have, in the last month, grown so rapidly I cannot earth them up any more as the sacks are full. The leaves are strong and vibrant, although I am tempted to put them outside I always wait until the farmers in our neighbourhood take the plastic off their crops before I even think of hardening them off.
As I mentioned I am waiting for most of the squashes but I do have one Patty’s Pan that has grown, albeit a little weedy. Not everything has worked out unfortunately. My direct sown two dozen radishes shot up for about two weeks then died. I don’t know if it was the rapid change of temperature from cold to very warm and then back to very cold again or the fluctuating light levels. Either way they are no more. I don’t know if I will grow any more of them. I don’t have a specific veg patch in the garden so perhaps I will wait until early autumn and try them in the bigger greenhouse in pots on the shelves.
The final job we did before I wrote this blog was to decide what to do with my massive Peace Lily, Money Plant and Aloe Vera. They had outgrown their pots, and last summer I let them live outside, and apart from the Peace Lily the others successfully overwintered in the large greenhouse. Unfortunately they are now too big for the windowsills in my bungalow. My home is compact so we try not to have too many pots or ornaments cluttering the shelves. So I asked Mark if I could dig up the expired radishes in the border in the small greenhouse and settle them in the soil in there. I have no idea if this is a good idea or not, but I really didn’t know what to do with them. I didn’t want to give them away or plant them outside. I am hoping that it might make my small greenhouse look tropical and provide evergreen foliage throughout the year. I am hoping the heat they may generate will keep the seedlings warmer at night. I’m hoping it’s not a decision I live to regret!
I still have plenty of other jobs to do. I need to build my cane and string wigwam for my eating peas, keep an eye on the long term weather, as believe it or not there are sleet and snow showers forecast as well as frosty nights. I have to find and wash the bigger pots for the next stage of transplanting. If that’s not enough, I also want to keep up with all of the other cracking blogs on the T&M community page, and take a look at some of the growing guides. Whilst sorting out some DVD’s last weekend I came across the T&M E-zee Guide to planting Flower Pouches, I must watch this again as I would like to be able to gaze up at my ‘Night Sky’ Petunias.
Soon it will be May, another busy month, what with watering, thinning out, and repotting. But for now, I’m going to continue to enjoy the longer lighter evenings, pottering about after work with sieving, sowing and settling plants, sitting on a stool listening to the blackbird singing his evening song. The best things in life are definitely free.
Until next month,
Love Amanda X
Spring is on its way! Every farmer, gardener and outdoor working person will be able to identify with this, there is something in the air. One day we just step outside and the air feels and smells different. Bulbs are flowering, birds are singing and there is more heat in the sun. But it’s more than that, it’s an essence of things to come.
Amanda’s Potato Sacks & T&M Potato Sacks
My greenhouses are now filling up with fruit, veg and flower seeds that have been recently set. I love this time of year. I started out by asking Mark to find my potato sacks and give them a cold shower, so that there was no risk over overwintering pests or diseases in them that could affect my crop. After leaving the sacks to dry out in the big greenhouse until the weekend, I then set about choosing which seeds to grow. I did plan in January what I wanted, but then I changed my mind again. I do understand why garden designers say to just plant a few types of seeds with the same colour palette as it gives the garden uniformity, but I don’t like this style. I agree that it looks really effective, but to me, life is too short to just grow one type or colour of something.
So come Saturday, I sowed my potatoes and put them on the path of the large greenhouse where they will stay until the frosts have passed and they have been earthed up maybe once or twice. I also potted up some hot chillies and some mild peppers.
On Sunday I emptied everything out of the smaller greenhouse and gave it a good brush out. Mark then dug the greenhouse border over for me, pulling up a few weeds that had germinated in there over winter. Whilst he did this I took a variety of different sized pots into the house to give them a warm soapy wash in readiness for refilling.
Potato ‘Charlotte’ & Chilli Pepper ‘Poblana Ancho’
While the pots were drying I then set about sieving the garden centre compost. I enjoy doing this as its a great workout for my upper body. I place about three to five scoops of soil into the sieve and then shake it like mad until I have a fine potting compost in the tray below. The rougher stuff that is left in the sieve then gets thrown into the large borders in the bigger greenhouse, as its still good stuff just not great for the seeds. Sieving the compost also shows me what quality the shop bought stuff is like. I have bought what I thought was good value compost only to find out that it’s full of twigs and hard material and vey occasionally some clippings that seeds would not be able to push through. T&M sell incredicompost® but I have not used this as yet.
It takes me at least an hour to sieve about thirty litres of compost, it thirsty work but it’s nice in the sun. Mark is cutting the lawns so I sneak off to put the kettle on. Once inside I then look through my three tins of seeds. I am banned for buying seeds, according to Mark I have enough seeds to last me a few years. I like to have a choice though, and I always grow something new each year. Although I do have my favourites that I grow each year. These include sunflowers, peas and tomatoes.
Cycad seeds, Sunflower ‘Russian Giant’ & Pea ‘Aderman’
I am probably too methodical, but once my compost is sieved, I three-quarter fill all of the clean pots, this way I can see if I have enough compost, as it annoys me when I get to the last three or so pots at the end of the day only to find I have to drag everything back out and start sieving again.
I then put my seeds packets in order and using my seed sower device that looks a bit like a syringe I plant the number of required seeds into the pots. Sometimes I will sow the whole packet, but occasionally I just like to try a few seeds, this way if they fail the first time around, or an unforeseen change in weather kills them. I can always make a second sowing.
I start by planting three pots of Geraniums, I have not grown these from seed before so am excited to see how they differ from shop bought ones. There are eleven seeds in the packet so I put three per pot. Then I plant a single pot of Basil ‘Lemonade’, I love this herb, it’s so versatile. I also do a single pot of Basil ‘Rubin’, this is a very strong burgundy basil that I want to share with my friends and family. The Sunflower ‘Russian Giant’ are next, I plant five pots, two seeds per pot. Next is another plant I have not grown before, it’s called Malvin ‘Mystic Merlin‘ and it’s a mallow. The packet says its good for cottage style gardens and back of the borders, the flowers are lilac, purple and blue. This pack of seeds was part of a gift that I had for being blogger of the month towards the end of last year. I don’t think I have ever seen this plant before, so I can’t wait to see what it looks like. The tomatoes are next on the list. I am growing the Vegetable of the Year (2016) Tomato ‘Magic Mountain’ variety. It’s the best for blight resistance and as we had blight last year because of the warm wet summer, I am hoping I will have a much better crop. It’s also Year of the Cosmos so I plant up three pots with these seeds. Summer isn’t summer without going out into the garden and eating peas from their pods so I sow ten Pea ‘Alderman’ Heritage, they go into individual one inch pots. I never grow rows of peas, I train them up a wigwam and do succession sowing during the year. This way I can avoid the pests and crop for longer in the year.
Tomato ‘Magic Mountain’ & Cosmos ‘Xanthos’
I am eager to try a new vegetable too, so I sow three pots of Patty Plum Squash. These green skinned ones look like they would be nice stuffed and roasted. They also look good for a squash soup.
Finally I plant up my Cycads Species Mixed, again a free gift from T&M, there are only three seeds in this pack and one of them is huge as large as a fifty pence. It says they take one to three months to germinate, this is another new plant for me. I have seen them growing in botanical garden greenhouses, and I am a bit dubious about how big they are going to grow, but like I stated earlier, life’s too short to just grow one type of seed. I have a plan, that if they do grow they can stay in my small greenhouse turning it into a nursery and tropical space, whilst the bigger one can be for my fruit and veg. Mark did say if it gets too big it can always go outside, but being a greenhouse plant I don’t think it will survive. The Cycads are slow growing though so hopefully I will have few years to think about what to do with them if they actually grow.
After writing out a set labels on the back of old lolly sticks for each set of seeds, I then placed the tubs in wicker baskets and cover them with cling film to help retain heat and moisture during germination. I need to find my Dymo Machine so I can make individual labels for each pot, as I can guarantee things will grow at different times and I will move things around on the staging, and before I know it, my tomatoes will be in the garden borders and peas will be in the greenhouse, as I will have muddled the labels, or worse Mark will knock the labels off whilst watering and then I will have no idea what is what.
Just when I thought I had finished, I decided I would direct sow two dozen radish into the small greenhouse border. After all the soil was looking bare.
The above list might sound excessive but in all I only planted about thirty five pots and four sacks of potatoes. This will give me a good start and add to the plants that are now recovering from last month. It also leaves me with the opportunity to sow again later in the spring.
Petunia ‘Anna’ & Petunia ‘Night Sky’
Greenhouses aren’t just for germinating seeds though, they are a great place for bringing on plug plants, I am expecting a delivery soon from T&M of Petunia ‘Anna’, Petunia ‘Night Sky’ and my favourite Nicotiana ‘Eau d’ Cologne’. I have also ordered the shrub Barnsley Baby a Lavatera x clementii I have always fancied one of these and as it was on a special offer I could not resist. It comes in a seven centimetre pot so I might need to bring it on before it gets planted in the garden.
Greenhouses come in all shapes, sizes and prices, I started out with the plastic pop up ones many years ago, and I would recommend starting with these before investing in a horticultural one as this is a great test to see if you have the time and energy to devote to gardening whilst on a budget. My brother bought a lean to greenhouse last year, but as yet he hasn’t even built it, although he says its definitely going up this year and please can I supply him and the girls with some plants including aubergines. I hadn’t got around to sowing the aubergines.
So I now have another list of other plants that I have to grow for myself and the family, Aubergines, for my brother Sweet Peas and more Cosmos for mum, and a selection of herbs for someone at work. I usually grow loads of plants anyway so what’s a few more?
Do you end up growing more than what’s on your original gardening list or is it just me?
Until next month, Happy Gardening,
Thompson & Morgan promises best year on the vegetable patch with host of innovative growing concepts for 2016
2016 product developments from the specialists at Thompson & Morgan are paving the way for the easiest ever route to fresh home grown produce this season. Whether you’re short on time, space or knowledge, there’s now an easy solution for you.
Following success with our groundbreaking Tomtato®, a hand grafted plant producing both potatoes and tomatoes, T&M has launched Egg & Chips®, a world first in duo grafting. Gardeners can now grow aubergines and potatoes on the same plant. What’s more the potato ‘root stock’ gives the aubergine part the extra energy needed to crop successfully under UK conditions. You don’t need a greenhouse to grow Egg & Chips®, a large pot on a sunny patio will produce perfect plants. £14.99 for one Egg & Chips®, £19.99 for two.
Egg & Chips®, Tomtato®, and Pea ‘Terrain’
Staying with the grafted concept a new Grafted Summer Vegetable Collection has also been launched for the season, made up of Cucumber ‘Mini Stars’, Pepper Orlas, Tomato ‘Solena Red’ and Tomato ‘Sportivo’, promising to increase yields by up to 75%. Joining a fruiting variety to a more vigorous rootstock has brought massive benefits to commercial crop production. Now T&M customers can bring the goodness of grafted veg to their own pots or plots.
Vegetable Grafted Collection
T&M Vegetable Expert, Colin Randel said: “Some vegetable varieties produce fantastic fruit but are weak growers, others are vigorous growers with poor fruits. We’ve selected the best grafting matches to bring you the best possible results from a single plant. Spend a little extra on our grafted plants and reap the rewards right through the season.” 4 plant collection £19.99.
Changes in EU regulation mean that for the first time in a long time, Thompson & Morgan is now able to offer mixed vegetable seed varieties in the same packet, creating the easiest route to success on the veg patch and the longest harvest, with no need for successional sowing.
The All Season Collections take the hard work out of crop planning. Each is made up of several toptasting and top-performing F1 varieties that can be sown in one hit, but will crop at different times to give a harvest window of up to 36 weeks. The All Season Leek Collection for example, offers a nine month harvest from a single sowing of three trusted varieties – ‘Lincoln‘, ‘Oarsman’ and ‘Below Zero’. The collections have been based around the most popular crops grown by British gardeners, including peas, beans, broccoli, sweet corn and cabbage. The collections are the perfect solution for novice gardeners and those without the time (or skills!) for detailed crop planning at the start of the season.
All Season Leek Collection
Stand out vegetable seed introductions for the season include Pea ‘Terrain’ and Tomato ‘Mountain Magic’. The T&M trials team was stunned at the results of new Pea Terrain in 2015 and are heralding the variety as the most exciting introduction since the launch of existing bestseller Hursts ‘Green Shaft’. Paul Hansord said: “We’ve been truly amazed at the outstanding performance of this powerhouse pea. Yield, pod quality and taste – Pea Terrain couldn’t be beaten in our 2015 trials, but most impressive was the resistance to both downy and powdery mildew. In a field surrounded by a dozen infected varieties, only Terrain stood clean and green, making it the best pea for late harvesting. A final sowing on 31st July lead to a mildew free harvest at the end of October. Plants would have kept going if it had not been for a frost.” 99p for 300 seeds.
Tomato ‘Mountain Magic’ and Potato ‘Jazzy’
Similarly, Tomato ‘Mountain Magic’ has shown full resistance to all blight strains currently prevailing in the UK, making it the best option for outdoor growing and late cropping. Thompson & Morgan is so impressed with the performance and flavour of the new variety, it is championing Mountain Magic as its Vegetable of the Year for 2016. £3.99 for five seeds or £9.99 for five plug plants.
Trial results and customer feedback for Potato ‘Jazzy’ have been so impressive it now comes with a Double Money Back guarantee if T&M customers fail to produce 35 potatoes or more from a single tuber. This new second early potato can be grown in small 8 litre pots to easily achieve this number, so is a great space saving option. Pricing for ‘Jazzy’ starts at £3.99.
Many of the varieties are available from selected garden centres now. All are available for order at www.thompson-morgan.com
I’m writing this from the best seat in the world, well maybe not the world but definitely the best place in my world. I’m on the bench in the front garden surrounded by the warm setting sun, bird song, the bumbling of bees and an occasional rustle of wind through the poppies, lupin and corncockles. On each side of the bench are pots of nicotiana and linaria, and hanging baskets of violas, pansy and fuchsia. I have a cup of cinnamon and hazelnut coffee and a small bowl of cherries, what else does a girl need?
It’s hard to believe its June already, we have reached the summer solstice. It’s a year since my dad passed away, and the greenhouse and garden have kept me from being too downhearted. I have harvested my potatoes and can proudly say that T&M were 100% correct in saying you get a bigger harvest from their potato grow bags than from other larger ones. I harvested almost double the weight from putting single potato in each of the five bags than I did from a large bag with five potatoes sown in it. I used Charlottes for both types of bags. I also grew a large bag with five redskin potatoes which were either a Rooster or a Desiree just to see if there would be any difference in the bigger bags, but again although each spud was bigger I had less volume overall.
In the small greenhouse there is a steady turnover of radishes, peas, amaranths zinnias and the Aloe Vera’s waiting to be moved to bigger homes outside. Terri kindly sent me some Basil Lemonade Seeds and I cannot wait for these to grow. Its zesty lemon flavour should taste amazing with strawberry jelly and fresh strawberries set in it. It may even taste great in a glass of water or frozen in ice cubes on a hot summers day. My next trial will be to compare how well Lemonade grows to Basil Red Rubin.
Now is the time to start off foxgloves undercover for next year’s display. I am off for a week so will be sowing Foxglove Alba, as well as raiding my seed box for late summer sowing plants. As I discovered, gardening makes you think ahead, but sometimes there is so much to do, that I forget to look ahead and then look at seeds in my box in September that says sow April to June. Although the way the weather is here I can probably get away with sowing them in early July. Last year we had six weeks of constant sun from the 10th of June, this year it’s looking more like six days altogether if we are lucky.
Thinking ahead, I am looking for veggies I can grow in the greenhouses from November onwards. I am wondering if spinach, beet and possibly turnips are any good in the greenhouse. Have you any suggestions or have you growing any winter hardy veg in the greenhouse? We get some cracking winter sunshine and the last few years have been very mild.
In our “mahoosive” greenhouse, as my mum calls it, I have fruit and flowers on nearly all of the tomatoes, even through lack of sunny days they are about four feet. The only two that are a bit slow is Green Zebra and Black Opal, the Sungold, Gardeners Delight and White Opal are rampant. I have also put half dozen radishes into a spare corner of the greenhouse as the soil was bare where an aubergine inexplicably gave up the ghost. They are sprouting well, fingers crossed for tasty treats. There is a family competition on as my Uncle Derek has produced radishes the size of golf balls that taste amazingly sweet. I do not plan to compete with that. Do you have friendly or fierce competitions with family or friends, or grow anything unusual in your greenhouse? I would love to know.
As the months progress, I am learning so much more about the differences between my greenhouses. Firstly I understand my smaller greenhouse as having it for a number of years, I understand its capabilities. One thing that is clear though, it gets a lot less sun than I originally thought. I know it’s a great place to germinate seeds from January to early November. I know I can grow tomatoes aubergines peppers or chillies in its border and get a tasty crop with just watering three to four times a week. Secondly, the big greenhouse and I are only just getting acquainted. I realise that I chose to write a blog about my journey with this one from start to finish, but I hadn’t a clue what I was letting myself in for! So I apologies to you in advance for accidentally killing any of my plants or getting things wrong or dodgy photos, but I am only halfway through my journey and the road is a bit bumpy.
Whilst the greenhouses are almost side by side, the door to the big one is on the longest side of the small one so the aspects are completely different. It is ten foot, stretches from North to South so the sides get the sun from East to West the whole day. Also due to us being at the top of a hill our neighbours gardens both next door and opposite roll away from us, so the bigger greenhouse is about a foot or so on higher ground than the other one meaning the sun takes longer to go behind our bungalow giving it a distinct light advantage. The borders are a lot wider so I could have planted a bit denser which would have reduced the need for almost daily watering as I have too much bare soil. This will be rectified by the basil but it’s useless for lettuce as it’s far too hot in there. I was watching Monty Don’s Small Garden Big Dreams the other night when I realised I had a hot house instead of a greenhouse. Maybe next year I could try watermelons they like the heat don’t they?
It takes me a lot longer to complete my tasks in here not just because of the size of it, but because I spend ages thinking about light & heat, pollinators and just looking at my plants. I consider what I would like to grow, do I have the time to grow it now, or is it something for winter or even next year. I’ve even been known to take my I-Pad and a chair into the greenhouse and listen to the T&M radio pod casts whilst simultaneously writing my blog on the pretence of just checking the greenhouse. At the end of the evening I say goodnight to my plants and hope no one else hears me. It’s funny how I can totally switch off in there, and sometimes do my best thinking too. I do not regret in any way buying a second greenhouse. The only thing I am worried about is you reading a blog from someone who appears to not have a clue, but with six months to go before the end of the year, and with help from T&M’s customer service, online videos and guides and Facebook posts and their customers comments, I hope that I can learn loads more about my new greenhouse, and share it with you.
For now, Happy Gardening until next month.
Love Amanda x
A Great Pavilion exhibit without a single decorative bloom on show has charmed judges into awarding a Chelsea Gold Medal to Scots potato aficionados Morrice and Ann Innes – the first gold to be awarded to a potato-only display in the show’s 150 year history.
The Potato Story, sponsored by Thompson & Morgan, acts as a simple showcase, highlighting more than 140 varieties, and traces the history and origins of the potato while drawing attention to its diversity and versatility in the garden and kitchen. Morrice of Old Town, Aberdeen, claims to have the largest private collection of potato varieties, built up over 20 years, and has long championed his favourite vegetable.
Many of the display’s varieties come from Morrice’s own collection of tubers, and include original South American species as well as historical European heritage varieties such as Karaparea, which was taken to New Zealand by Captain James Cook in the 1770s. The exhibit is completed with modern varieties grown from Thompson & Morgan seed potatoes, including blight resistant main crop Sarpo Axona and its latest introduction, high yielding salad potato Jazzy, currently the mail order supplier’s best seller.
The modest, yet impactful display offers information boards, telling the story of the potato and highlighting its global importance as a major food source and healthy eating option. Morrice said: “We’ve tried to tell the tale of the potato by highlighting a vast array of skin colours, shapes and sizes, while suggesting the best uses of each variety and the places where they come from. You won’t find many of the varieties for sale at the supermarket. Hopefully we’ll help inspire more people to grow potatoes and to try a some of the more unusual forms while they are at it.”
The exhibit’s sponsor has supported Morrice and Ann in the past, scooping silver and bronze medals at previous RHS shows, and is delighted to finally see a Gold Medal awarded to the nation’s favourite vegetable. Thompson & Morgan Vegetable Product Manager, Colin Randel, worked with Morrice to set a world record for the largest display of potato varieties at the 2004 Shrewsbury Flower Show. He said: “Amongst all the glitz and glamour of the world’s most prestigious flower show, it’s great to see a modest, uncomplicated homage to the humble potato stand out from the crowd to scoop a Gold Medal. Morrice and Ann have put on a fantastic display, there’s pretty much every colour under the sun on show, from very old varieties right up to our very latest introduction, Potato Jazzy.”
To celebrate the win, the mail order seed and plant specialist has launched a special lucky dip offer on seed potatoes. In time for the main crop season Thompson & Morgan customers can add a 100 lucky dip tuber collection, made up of top performing customer favourites, for just £4.99. Visit www.thompson-morgan.com/lucky-dip-potatoes