Flowers for our flying friends.

With all the talk about the collapse of our bee populations and the decline in the number and variety of our native butterflies, gardeners can do their bit by providing the flowers that can help to support butterflies, moths, bees and hoverflies as they journey around our gardens looking for a pollen and nectar fix.

Some years ago, the RHS developed lists of plants called ‘Perfect for Pollinators.’ The two lists are for cultivated plants and wild plants across the seasons. Check out http://www.rhs.org.uk for more details and the lists.

 

Rudbeckia 'All Sorts Mixed' & Cosmos 'Xanthos'

Rudbeckia ‘All Sorts Mixed’ & Cosmos ‘Xanthos’

 

Over the last century, gardeners, growers and breeders have concentrated some of their efforts on developing and using double flowers to increase the effect of the display and this, alongside many other factors, has not helped us to support our pollinating insects because the pollen and nectar are hidden deep in the flowers, making them inaccessible to the insects.

The ‘Perfect for Pollinators’ lists contain, for the most part, wild species of plants whose flowers are simple, single and easily accessible. Comb through your latest Thompson & Morgan seed and plant catalogues and compare them with the ‘Perfect for Pollinators’ lists. It will not take you long to find some stunning plants for your garden that will not only give you a lot of pleasure, but will help to support some of our vital flying insects as well – everyone is a winner!

 

Ageratum houstonianum 'Pincushion Mixed' & Perfect for Pollinators

Ageratum houstonianum ‘Pincushion Mixed’ & Perfect for Pollinators

 

The new Rudbeckia collection, with three fabulous cultivars that will flower from July until October, with their simple, flat, open daisy-like flowers are a perfect example of a flower design that suits all of our pollinating insects. The new yellow Cosmos ‘Xanthos’ is another excellent example to search out.

Plants that have lots of very small flowers in clusters, such as the new Ageratum ‘Pincushion Mixed’, that will flower from June to September, are perfect examples of plants that will provide that quick nectar fix that butterflies and moths need to give them the energy to search out a mate – an essential part of maintaining their populations! The 2016 catalogue contains a number of different strains of Foxgloves and I feel sure that we have all seen bumblebees struggling to clamber into one of those inviting trumpets to get their daily pollen supply and a nectar fix for energy.

 

Foxglove 'Dalmation Mixed' & Cornflower 'Classic Fantastic'

Foxglove ‘Dalmation Mixed’ & Cornflower ‘Classic Fantastic’

 

Many of our hardy annuals (HA in the catalogue), that can be sown directly into the garden in April and May, will provide hundreds of nectar and pollen rich flowers from June right up to the first frosts of autumn. Some can even be sown in September and October, lasting the winter as young plants and flowering in April, May and June. Examples to look out for include the new Nigella ‘Midnight’, Amberboa muricata, Ammi visnaga, Bupleurum ‘Green Gold’, Calendulas, Californian Poppies, Cornflowers, Cosmos and Daucus ‘Dara’ .

I will leave you to go through the rest of the catalogue yourself to discover the many other wonderful examples of plants that can provide that essential support for our butterflies, moths, bees and hoverflies. Remember that 30% of all that we eat is reliant on pollinating insects – apples, pears, plums, blackcurrants, blueberries and runner beans, to name but a few.

Graham Porter

Graham Porter
I have worked in horticulture for the past 49 years and have become more involved with and concerned about the environmental impact that our profession has had on the world. I am married with 2 grown up children and 4 wonderful grandchildren. I am currently writing my first book that reflects my thoughts on gardening / horticulture in an environmentally friendly manner.

Hydrangeas – Michael Perry picks his favourites!

Shrubs are the stalwarts of the border- they last for years and years, fill gaps and offer decorative foliage AND flowering! And, what better place to start than Hydrangeas– one of the most versatile shrubs you can find, and I’m going to show how comprehensive the range is too!

  1. Hydrangea aspera ‘Hot Chocolate’

This Hydrangea gives a colour explosion in the garden right from the word go! The foliage is long, elegant and the same colour as your favourite chocolate bar! This foliage changes with every few weeks that passes; from chocolate-brown to deep green, and then it surprises you by transforming to the most delectable amber and golden shades! ‘Hot Chocolate’ is a robust hydrangea which really fills the borders, and even performs in poor soils!

 

Hydrangea 'Hot Chocolate' and Hydrangea 'Endless Summer - Bloomstruck'

Hydrangea ‘Hot Chocolate’ and Hydrangea ‘Endless Summer – Bloomstruck’

  1. Hydrangea ‘Endless Summer’

If you really want maximum flower power from your Hydrangea shrubs, then ‘Endless Summer’ is a real breakthrough! Usually, a Hydrangea macrophylla will only flower on old wood, which means they set their flower buds for flowering in the previous summer. ‘Endless Summer’ not only does this, but it ALSO flowers on new wood, so you get a double whammy! Remember this type of Hydrangea (macrophylla) also gives different coloured blooms on different soils; expect blue on acid and pink on alkaline!

  1. Hydrangea paniculata ‘Bobo’

This type of Hydrangea is a bit more woody than most, but with that comes extra hardiness, resilience and an easier pruning method! Hydrangea paniculata ‘Bobo’ is short, compact and makes a rounded, neat specimen for the border or pretty patio pots. The snowball flowerheads almost cover the plants throughout the summer, and gently turn to bubblegum pink as the season progresses!

 

Hydrangea 'Bobo' and Hydrangea 'Miss Saori'

Hydrangea ‘Bobo’ and Hydrangea ‘Miss Saori’

  1. Hydrangea ‘Miss Saori’

Undoubtedly the star of the Chelsea Flower Show in 2014, ‘Miss Saori’ was the winner of Plant of the Year, thanks to its crystallized-effect, two-tone flowers, which look like mini tiaras! A strong-growing plant, where the flower colour is less affected by different soil types too, you know you’ll be enjoying the colour you were expecting!

  1. Hydrangea ‘Ayesha’

This Hydrangea macrophylla has a distinctive appearance; with mophead blooms where each floret is curled like a piece of popcorn! An easy to grow shrub for sun or shade, great for small gardens or large patio containers! Enjoy pink blooms on alkaline, blue blooms on acid!

 

Hydrangea 'Endless Summer - Blushing Bride' and Hydrangea 'Ayesha'

Hydrangea ‘Endless Summer – Blushing Bride’ and Hydrangea ‘Ayesha’

 

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!

RHS Chelsea; my dash for plants

4pm on a Thursday and the minutes were going by slowly. I was looking forward to getting home, putting my feet up and relaxing with a large glass of wine. The next half an hour went pretty quickly and I overheard a conversation about needing someone to go to Barcelona to collect plants for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. To be honest, all I heard was Barcelona and I said ‘I’ll go’. Never did I think I would then be rushing home to get my passport to book flights for the next morning.

7pm I arrived home with a little buzz in my stomach. It was such a great opportunity, but knowing I had the difficult task of getting the plants through security and onto the plane, well I definitely needed that large glass of wine. We tried contacting Ryan Air before hand to make sure we could get the plants on the plane; we even purchased an extra seat for our VIP plants. To our dismay, we had no luck and we were advised soil was prohibited on the plane. Now, try explaining the difference between soil and compost to a non horticulturist and you’ll need a second glass of wine!
However, we knew that our Digitalis ‘Illumination Apricot’ plants were to be the centre piece of the Pure Land Foundation Garden. After being advised HRH the Queen was going to be visiting the garden we had to try.

RHS Chelsea4am the next day I was up and on my way to Stansted airport. The taxi driver was highly amused that I was travelling to Barcelona and back just for ‘some plants’. What I didn’t realise was this would be a highly entertaining subject for the whole of my journey. I am not really the best of flyers, turbulence is my worst enemy and from a past experience with Ryan Air I was a little nervous to say the least. To top things off, as we headed for takeoff a fixture of the plane’s hand luggage holder fell right in front of me. The gentlemen to my right found it hilarious, but it is safe to say the feeling wasn’t mutual.

11.30am I was standing at Barcelona El Prat airport with our very special plants. I didn’t expect the box to be so large, so when I had a call from T&M HQ I was quick to raise my concerns, there was no way they were going to fit in the plane. With my box in tow I went for a coffee, the realisation that I had 6 hours to spend in this airport was slightly daunting. I should have spent the time learning the Spanish word for Trolley, as I could not locate one anywhere and ended up carrying this box around all day.

RHS ChelseaNow, of course, I expected some people to look at me confused. I mean it’s not every day you see someone walking through an airport with a box as large as that (which had images of fresh fruit on it I might add) and it isn’t really something you would want to see going onto your flight. However, I was stared at like a hawk! The funniest moment was trying to go to the bathroom with my box. I couldn’t leave it outside; they were too precious so they had to come with me. I took a quick bathroom selfie to send to HQ for a laugh.

The most nerve racking part was getting the box through security, it is quite funny that it soon received the label ‘The box’ not ‘The plants’, but anyway, security. I approached the x-ray machine and it was clear the box hadn’t gone unnoticed. Four guards approached me asking what was in the box; this was the part I had been so worried about. My friends joked I would be arrested for smuggling plants, of course I didn’t find it very funny! ‘Plants’ I said, ‘Garden plants’. They put them through and sent me on my way.

I had crossed one major hurdle and had one more to go, getting them on the plane! I sat in the departure gate for 3 hours talking to a gentleman about my day. He had quite a trip ahead of him also as he was flying back to the UK to pick up his car to then drive back to Barcelona. My flight was meant to be at 6.40pm, a look at my watch proved this would not be happening as it was now 7pm! We were then advised our plane hadn’t arrived yet and we were delayed by an hour. Just what I wanted hear after all the hours I had already spent waiting around.

The time came to board the plane and I was becoming more and more relieved. I knew that once I was sat on the plane, with the box next to me, we had made this crazy 3,000km round trip. I reached the door of the plane and the air steward immediately said, ‘that will not fit on the plane’. And she was right, it was far too long and the seat belt wouldn’t fit around it. So, we had no option but to put it in the hold under the plane with the rest of the luggage. Now, I don’t know if you have seen these documentaries on how our luggage is handled, or shall I say thrown on and off the plane, but my heart sank. I quickly and desperately advised they were very precious plants that would tomorrow be seen by HRH the Queen.

She very kindly advised the grounds crew that this box needed to be handled with care and they very kindly strapped it in securely upright so hopefully the journey wouldn’t cause the plants too much distress. Arriving at Stansted airport the air hostess stepped in to help once again, she told the grounds men about the box and I was assured it would be handled with care. I was standing at the baggage collection point and one by one passengers were collecting their luggage and making their way out. Still no box. Where was the box? It was like I had lost an arm, after all it had spent the best part of 6 hours glued to my side. A kind man advised it had been brought in by hand and was waiting a little further down. I saw the box in the distance; it was standing up right, no dents to be seen. The only thing to be seen was the smile on my face.

RHS Chelsea

I collected my box and went through arrivals, where Michael Perry was waiting to take photos and to take the plants off my hands and transport them to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. I was impatient and I had to see how the plants were. Without hesitation, we opened the box and WOW, they were in perfect condition. The relief was pretty astonishing; I mean they are only plants, but my 18 hour adventure was so worthwhile. The Digitalis Illumination Apricot (a new sister line to winner of the Plant of the Year 2012 Digitalis illumination Pink) looked incredible.

RHS Chelsea

Digitalis Illumination Apricot looking amazing at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

A pit stop at McDonalds and by 11pm I was tucked up in bed. What a day! I also get the honour of visiting the show on Thursday, so I will be sure to tell you all about it 🙂

Terri Overett
Terri works in the e-commerce marketing department assisting the busy web team. Terri manages our blog and social media pages here at Thompson & Morgan and is dedicated to providing useful advice to our gardeners. Terri is new to gardening and keen to develop her horticultural knowledge.

Life of a young gardener – Jack Shilley

Young HortHi There! My name is Jack Shilley; I’m 19 years old and i have an incredible passion for horticulture and growing your own. This is my first blog for Thompson & Morgan so I thought I’d take this opportunity to share with you my horticultural story – so that you get to know me a bit better before I start sharing my Thompson & Morgan product experiences with you all.

My horticultural passion, expertise and background lies within the horticultural retail and business sectors which I adore. I also have a growing passion for journalism, media and broadcast horticulture which I hope one day will become my full time career. Oh and vegetables, fruit & tropical’s are my favourite plants to grow!

Young HortI started gardening around the age of 6 years old when my parents first bought me a small, pop up greenhouse in which I could start growing a few things. I was lucky enough to attend Ranelagh CofE School (Secondary school) where they had a thriving gardening club run by Peter Seabrook’s daughter (Alison Seabrook-Moore). As part of this gardening club, and under the guidance of Peter himself, we were lucky enough to exhibit a garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2009. This was an incredible experience for a 14 year old and turned my gardening hobby in to my long term horticultural career.

After I completed my GCSE’s and one year of A-level study, I undertook a level 3 extended diploma in horticulture at Sparsholt College Hampshire – and I’ve never looked back! Sparsholt was a great place to study and I graduated in June 2014 with a distinction star grade – you can’t get any better than that! During my second year of study I was lucky enough to once again design, build and exhibit an RHS Chelsea Flower Show garden. Being more involved this time was stressful, fun and tiring all at once. When results day came it was the greatest feeling in the world to be so highly reward for all our classes’ hard work by achieving a Gold medal and best in category! Amazing!

RHS Chelsea Flower Show

After graduation I was accepted for a position with the National Tropical Botanical gardens on the island of Kauai, in Hawaii. This was an amazing experience and I learned loads about one of my favourite plant categories – tropical’s! Working with these exotic plants in Kauai’s unique climate and landscape was just inspiring and the other interns who I lived and worked with were also awesome!

I am currently working in horticultural retail at a garden centre in Bagshot and I am hoping to head back to Sparsholt to attain my horticulture degree in September 2015 for 3 years. I also started YoungHort in December 2013 – which you can find out more about here.

And that’s all about Jack! (Me in a nutshell!!)

More to come ….

Thompson & Morgan
Since the first seed catalogue was published in 1855, Thompson & Morgan has grown to become one of the UK’s largest Mail Order Seed and Plant companies. Through the publication of our catalogues and the operation of our award-winning website, Thompson & Morgan is able to provide home gardeners with the very best quality products money can buy.

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!

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