Thompson & Morgan has been at the forefront of cosmos breeding for 10 years since some unusual seeds arrived from California.
The ‘Cupcakes’ series of the ever-popular cosmos was born out of a chance find in a California back yard in 2007. When Diane Engdahl discovered an unusual cosmos flower in her garden in Santa Rosa, she sent the ensuing seed to the plant breeding team at Thompson & Morgan. Instead of its flower being made up of individual petals, rather like a daisy, as with most cosmos, the petals of this unique bloom were fused together, creating one single ‘cup’.
For nearly 10 years, plant breeders at Thompson & Morgan have been busy ‘fixing’ this new trait across the cosmos colour mix, developing new shades and refining the habit of this new cosmos shape. This long-standing cottage garden favourite was celebrated in 2016’s Year of the Cosmos and visitors to RHS Garden Wisley were asked to vote in a poll to name their favourite garden cosmos as part of the Royal Horticultural Society’s annual People’s Choice Competition. Once votes were gathered, Cosmos bipannatus ‘Cupcakes White’ came out on top of the 84 varieties on show in the RHS garden. Read more about the RHS People’s Choice Competition at http://www.thompson-morgan.com/rhs-cupcakes-white
It’s easy to see why cosmos are so popular. Sales of cosmos seed and plants have increased hugely over the past 10 years. This is partly due to breakthroughs in breeding which have led to new varieties such as ‘Cupcakes’ and ‘Lemonade’ (see below), but it is also down to the fabulous garden performance of this very stylish flower. Available in so many colour ways, heights and flower types; easy to grow; not prone to disease or pest attacks – cosmos really are every gardener’s dream plant!
Initially marketed as part of Thompson & Morgan’s exclusive Cosmos ‘Cupcakes’ mix, ‘Cupcakes White’ boasts pristine white petals which are fused together to form the single ‘cup’ that is the unique trademark of the ‘Cupcakes’ series. Tall, bushy plants are free flowering; ideal for elegant border designs and container growing, and perform well in all types of weather. Cosmos make fabulous cut flowers and each plant will produce an impressive number of blooms.
During T&M’s trials, it was remarked that bees appeared to be taking shelter from wind and rain inside the flower ‘cups’, with sometimes more than one bee sharing the protection that the fused petals afford. Cosmos are always a favourite with pollinating insects, but the knowledge that bees are using this new variety to take refuge from inclement weather, makes them all the more appealing.
Top tips for growing cosmos from seed
• Sow cosmos seeds in a heated greenhouse or propagator in April.
• Good light is important to prevent ‘stretching’
• Young plants can be planted out after the very last frosts, usually in late May/early June
• Regular dead-heading will promote flowering right up to the first frosts
• When dead-heading cosmos, cut the stem right back to the first leaf rather than just pulling the flower head off
• Seed can be planted outside, where you’d like them to flower, in May or early June
Thompson & Morgan also offers a number of cosmos varieties as plants which, depending on the size of the plant at the time of delivery, can be planted straight out into the garden, or they can be potted up and grown on before transplanting.
Cosmos ‘Cupcakes White’ – 1 packet (30 seeds) £1.99
Cosmos ‘Cupcakes Mixed’ – 1 packet (100 seeds) £1.99
Height: 120cm (48″). Spread: 60cm (24″)
Also from Thompson & Morgan’s own breeding comes another stunning cosmos variety – ‘Lemonade’
To create this multi-flowering subtle yellow cosmos with a striking central white eye, T&M’s plant breeding team took a very bright yellow, but late-flowering Japanese cosmos variety and crossed it with earlier-flowering cosmos with better, shorter habits. The resulting delicate, yellow blossoms of Cosmos ‘Lemonade’ marked a major breakthrough in cosmos breeding. Flowers are produced en masse throughout the summer on short to medium-high, branching cosmos plants. Fantastic for patio pots or as a robust and floriferous border filler – its colouring and habit means that it combines well with most other plants in bedding or container displays. Cosmos ‘Lemonade’ also makes a great cut flower and looks stunning in a vase, either on its own or mixed in with other flowers.
Cosmos ‘Lemonade’ – 1 packet (30 seeds) £2.49
Cosmos ‘Lemonade’ – 30 garden-ready plants £14.99
Height: 60cm (24in). Spread: 40cm (16in)
For further information on growing cosmos, please go to Thompson & Morgan’s website and read an article by Graham Rice taken from The Seed Raising Journal from Thompson & Morgan.
Matthew Oliver, of RHS Hyde Hall, rows hollowed-out UK record-breaking pumpkin in daring stunt
Had aliens landed in East Anglia this morning, they might have been forgiven for thinking that they’d stumbled upon some very strange goings on. Windy weather had caused traffic chaos on the A12 and A14 in the Ipswich area and grown men and women were rowing hollowed out pumpkins on a lake in Essex.
Matthew Oliver, horticulturist at RHS Hyde Hall, Chelmsford, not content with having successfully grown the heaviest outdoor-grown pumpkin in the UK, decided to turn his record-breaker into a boat and to attempt to row it across the lake at the RHS Essex site today.
Matt Oliver and his Giant Pumpkin Boat!
Not only did Matthew launch his 1,333.8lb (95 stone or 605kg) pumpkin, he also managed to persuade 3 others to get aboard other giant pumpkins which were huge, but hadn’t grown quite big enough to break any records. Taking part were Steve Usher of Motorboat & Yachting magazine, dressed as a pirate, and 2 intrepid ladies who work at RHS Hyde Hall and who had daringly volunteered to (wo)man two of the potentially un-lake-worthy ‘boats’.
Matt Oliver scooping the pumpkin out & Matt and Paul Hansord scooping the bottom!
Having hollowed out the giant pumpkins, the valiant sailors set off, using oars to propel the cumbersome craft across the designated course. Prior to the event, Matthew had voiced some concerns about the ‘floatability’ of the giant pumpkins and how he might extract the waterlogged pumpkin hulls from the lake should they sink.
Matt and Paul Hansord from Thomspon & Morgan scooping out the bottom
However, his fears were unfounded and, whilst one pumpkin foundered at the start of the course, the other 3 made it safely over the finishing line.
Sailing on the lake in a pumpkin boat!
The seeds from Matthew’s record-breaking pumpkin will be available for purchase from Thompson & Morgan ready for next year’s growing season.
Anyone who would like to try their hand at growing a record-breaking giant pumpkin, can find Thompson & Morgan’s top tips at www.thompson-morgan.com/giantpumpkins
Matt Oliver wins again!
Pumpkin Facts & Figures
The pumpkin seed was bought for £1,250 at auction by Paul Hansord from Ipswich-based plant and seed merchant, Thompson & Morgan. The seed came from the then heaviest pumpkin in the world, which weighed 2,323 lb (166 stone) grown by Beni Meier from Switzerland in 2014.
The seed was entrusted to RHS horticulturist, Matthew Oliver back in April. Matthew then spent seven months nurturing the world’s most expensive pumpkin seed in the hope of breaking a new world record.
At the official weigh-in at Southampton on 8 October, the Pumpkin Commonwealth confirmed that Matthew’s pumpkin was the heaviest outdoor-grown pumpkin in the UK at 1,333.8 lbs
After the official weigh-in the pumpkin returned to Hyde Hall and took centre stage in a Halloween-themed pumpkin display.
The seeds will be harvested from the UK giant pumpkin with the intention that they will be available to purchase from Thompson & Morgan in time for next year’s growing season.
Cosmos has been Fleuroselect’s very successful plant of the year for 2016. With the year drawing to a close a favourite cosmos needed to be crowned.
Cosmos ‘Cupcakes White’ included in T&M’s Cosmos ‘Cupcakes’ seeds.
During August and September, over a thousand visitors at RHS Garden Wisley have been voting in a poll for their favourite garden Cosmos cultivar. The gorgeous Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Cupcakes White’ was chosen as the overall winner, with Cosmos ‘Cosmic Red’ coming second and Cosmos ‘Brightness Red’, third. Cosmos ‘Cupcakes White’ won out of a total of 85 cultivars that were shown to the visiting public during that period. The poll was part of the RHS annual People’s Choice Competition, and together with Fleuroselect they worked on the promotion and trialling of the cosmos genus.
RHS wanted to showcase the large number of varieties on offer for gardeners to grow, and with years of breeding and selection, cosmos has become an ideal plant for beginners and experts alike.
Cosmos ‘Brightness Mixed’ including ‘Brightness Red’
At the start of the year Thompson & Morgan introduced the, butter yellow, Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Xanthos’ to their large existing range. Clare Dixey Direct Marketing Manager has affirmed that the cosmos has been a wonderful success this year, with many gardeners stating they will definitely grow cosmos again next year, adding that they wanted to try a different genus or colour.
Cosmos ‘Xanthos’ and Cosmos ‘Cupcakes’
The year of the cosmos has been a fantastic success, bringing the flower to the forefront of gardeners growing lists. For 2017 Fleuroselect have chosen zinnia as their plant of the year.
What is your favourite cosmos? Do you agree with the visitors at RHS Wisley?
Thompson & Morgan, after giving a call out to pumpkin growers in the UK finally entrusted the world’s most expensive pumpkin seed, to experts at the Royal Horticultural Society. The pumpkin seed was bought for a whopping £1,250, and has built-in genetics to increase the chance of breaking the world record for the largest pumpkin grown. The RHS then delegated this awesome task to Matthew Oliver, their horticulturalist, at RHS Hyde Hall. He has grown the pumpkin through the summer, with a view to breaking the world record for Thompson & Morgan and the RHS.
There is lots of excitement surrounding this venture, both at Thompson & Morgan and the RHS, and today is the day Thompson & Morgan’s enormous pumpkin will be travelling to Southampton on the back of a lorry. The lorry has been designed to hold this type of unusual load, so the pumpkin will be secure, with no likelihood of it rolling overboard on the journey.
This journey will take all day and the pumpkin, and its carers, will arrive in Southampton tonight, where the pumpkin will have its own security guard who will be keeping a close eye on it. The Jubilee Sailing Trust Autumn Pumpkin Festival is on the 8th October 2016, where the weigh in is performed. At the festival there is competition from all over the UK for this fantastic accolade. Everyone at Thompson & Morgan is on tender hooks hoping that Matthew will bring home the UK crown. No-one more so than the Managing Director Paul Hansord, who was the original purchaser of the expensive pumpkin seed way back in February 2016. Good luck Matthew Oliver and Paul Hansord.
It’s biennial time again.
As our Aquilegias, Digitalis, Erysimums and Myosotis finish flowering, it is time once again to sow next year’s new ones to ensure that we get as good, if not better, display as this year.
Aquilegia ‘Green Apples’, Aquilegia ‘Firecracker’ & Belle perennis ‘Pomponette Mixed’
This biennial cycle goes on in our gardens almost without us noticing it, as various plants self-seed in the quieter corners of our gardens. Plants such as forget-me-nots (Myosotis) can pop up almost anywhere if we leave the parent plants to seed in May and June. This happens in the wild as well, with plants such as hedge garlic/jack-by-the-hedge (Alliaria petiolata) seeding themselves at this time of year in the bottoms of farm hedges – the seeds then germinate before winter, surviving the harsh winter weather as young plants that then flower in spring/early summer. The parent plants die as they drop their seed.
Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrid Mixed’, Foxglove ‘Silver Cub’ Myosotis ‘Symphony Blue’
So, what can you sow now that are grown as biennials? The starting point is to look for the letters HB at the beginning of the description of the plant. Sow Aquilegias cultivars now and watch out for a stunning display in May and early June – I like the look of ‘Green Apples’ and ‘Firecracker’ as interesting variations on the normal range of colours. Bellis ‘Pomponette Mixed’, although actually a perennial, is normally grown as a biennial and looks fabulous in the spring garden and in containers. It is loved by bees as well so we all win!
For something a little unusual, try Cabbage ‘Northern Lights Mixed’ with various foliage colours to delight you and your friends. If you leave them in until early summer they will flower and the yellow flowers are edible – yummy!! Dianthus barbatus, more commonly known as Sweet William, gives a stunning display in early to mid summer and there are a number of wonderful cultivars to choose from. Foxgloves (Digitalis) have come a long way in recent years from their biennial wild relatives and the range of colours and forms is worth studying, from ‘Excelsior Hybrids’ up to 1.5 metres to ‘Silver Cub’ at only 60cm high.
Dianthus barbatus ‘Excelsior Mixed’, Pansy ‘Majestic Giants Mixed’ & Viols ‘Sorbet Orange Jump Up’
Pansies and Violas are amongst of the most popular winter and spring flowering plants for containers in our gardens and, although they are classified as perennials, we do tend to grow them as biennials. The flowers are edible as well as colourful and one of my all-time favourites is ‘Majestic Giants’ with flowers up to 10cm across. Wallflowers (Erysimums) are one of the more traditional biennial plants used by local authorities and larger public gardens for spectacular spring displays. Try ‘Tom Thumb Mixed’ for an easy to manage cultivar with a wide range of flower colours from yellows to rusts and reds. It works well in a container because it only reaches 20cm high.
Cabbage ‘Northern Lights’, Calenduala officinalis nana ‘Fruit Twist’ & Nigella papillosa ‘Midnight’
Some plants can be nudged into a biennial life-cycle just by changing the sowing dates. Plants such as Calendula, Limnanthes and Nigella can be sown directly into the garden in late September, will germinate quickly in the warm soil and will then overwinter as young plants, flowering in April and May for instead of June, July and August. These plants are normally sold as hardy annuals for direct spring sowing. Give it a try and surprise yourself and your neighbours.
Whatever you grow now for your winter and spring garden, enjoy the surprises that these wonderful plants can give you.