Diary one – Sweet pea: the ‘root’ of success

As we gardeners know, there are many correct ways to do almost everything.  However, whether experienced or amateur, we are guilty of carrying on unquestioningly, just because that’s how we’ve always done it. We all get into habits over the years, but it often pays to question why we blindly follow the gardening advice passed down through the generations.

I hope that by reading the reports of my technical trials you will gain some helpful tips and alternative ways of growing some of the exciting varieties we offer at Thompson & Morgan.

Diary One – Sweet pea: the ‘root’ of success

Diary One – Sweet pea: The ‘Root’ of Success

Sweet pea seedlings in the Root Trainer

With the best will in the world, transplanting seedlings can be difficult to carry out in a prudent manner without damaging the delicate root system. How do we know how well our precious seedlings will cope with the unnatural movement from their nursery haven into the final container?

At the trials site I was interested in how the home gardener can overcome this problem. The best solution is to buy pre-germinated sweet pea plugs with a strong tap root. Of course you may pay a premium for such a quality plant, but would the higher price mean in terms of overall plant quality?

The trial was pretty simple and has produced some staggering results to date.


Sweet pea ‘Sweet Dreams’, selected for its outstanding fragrance, exhibition standard blooms and superb growing performance, was sown in a standard 40mm cell tray and again in our  Root Trainer plug.

Four weeks after germination plugs were potted on to their final position. Containers with a 36cm diameter and a support structure were used. Five plants of each plug type were planted into two separate pots using a good compost and general fertiliser. The plants were maintained in a sunny position and controlled water and feeding regimes were used to ensure an unbiased trial across the two pots.


Just two weeks after sowing it was clear that the extra space and form of the Root Trainer had resulted in a more vigorous root system. The seedlings were fuller and the roots double the length (plant on left).

All images in this report show a fair comparison of root trainer against standard plug. Both plug formats were sown on the same day and kept in the same environment throughout the trial.

Diary One – Sweet pea: The ‘Root’ of Success

Root comparison – Root Trainer on the left, standard plug on the right

The Root Trainer could be easily opened up for me to check on the development, great for the less patient gardener amongst us! It was clear to see by week 4 that the sweet pea’s natural tap root structure had benefited from the extra leg room of the Root Trainer plug!

Diary One – Sweet pea: The ‘Root’ of Success

Comparison of root lengths

With such overwhelming results, I was keen to get the plants into their final pots and continue to record the height and bloom count as the weeks continued.

11 weeks after germination…

Although both plugs grew away successfully the Root Trainer clearly provided the best start (shown below).  The Root Trainer format reigned supremely over the standard plug. An obvious difference in overall habit, with several more stems which held the sweetly scented flowers. The height at week 11 was 110cm, twice the height of the standard 40mm plug.

Diary One – Sweet pea: The ‘Root’ of Success

19th June – standard plug (left), Root Trainer (right)

Diary One – Sweet pea: The ‘Root’ of Success

19th June – standard plug (left), Root Trainer (right)


Bloom count up to  1 July 2013

Sweet pea ‘Sweet Dreams’ – height: 1.8m (6’), spread: 30cm (12”). Supplied cell-raised with an average of 5 sweet pea plants per cell. Pinched and ready for planting straight out.

Diary One – Sweet pea: The ‘Root’ of Success

The results after 11 weeks


Wishing you a bountiful summer, happy gardening!

Deborah Catchpole

Guest blogger Deborah Catchpole writes about her early and formative gardening experiences…

I’m a gardener. There; I’ve said it. It’s not always the first thing that a 28 year old is willing to admit, but for me, it’s something that has come to define who I am – or at least a huge part of who I am. Considering the upbringing that I had, it is perhaps unsurprising that I would have turned out to be a gardener.

Enjoying the gardens at Capel Manor

Enjoying the gardens at Capel Manor

When we were children, there was never any doubt about where we would find mum or dad at the weekends – they would always be in the garden. This isn’t a complaint – don’t get me wrong, we had plenty of holidays, and they spent huge amounts of time with us, but mum and dad would snatch every spare moment in the garden. During the summer months, when dad would come home from work, they would take a walk around the garden together – she would be showing him the work that she had done in the garden during the day, and they would just spend time enjoying the garden that they had built together. They have about half an acre – some of which is lawn, but most of it is flower beds, with a chunk of very productive vegetable garden. When we were younger there were fruit cages too – it was a marking of the end of summer when we would be called out onto the front lawn to all take a section of the fruit nets for the complicated rolling and tying of the nets, to put into storage for the next year – we worked as a family, as a team.

I have one sister – she’s older than me, and we’ve always been very lucky to get on well. I wonder whether this is down to the luck of the draw, or whether maybe it has to do with the fact that we had to get on, to do the jobs that we were given in the garden. We each had a section of garden which was ours, to do with what we wanted – I remember that mine had a small holly bush in it, and we both had an acer which was ours, and we still refer to them as ours, now that they are huge, and take up a large section of the front border. In addition to our own patches of garden, we also helped mum and dad with the harvesting of the vegetables – they would pick hundreds of peas and beans throughout the summer, and we would sit either in the garden, or in the sitting room, watching neighbours with a saucepan in our laps, or the ancient blue plastic colander and shuck peas – this was a favourite job of mine – eating them as I went – nothing like the taste of freshly picked peas, and chewing the pods too :-) Beans were a messier job – the initial excitement of the soft velvety interior of the pod, replaced by the black staining on your hands! All of the peas and beans, and then the fruit too, got bagged up and frozen, and we feasted on it throughout the rest of the year. The main point of this time spent, didn’t register in my mind as being important for self-sufficiency, or for the money that it must have saved my parents in providing us with good, nutritious food from our own garden, but more for the time spent together, the memories that we were forging.

My courtyard

My courtyard

Another thing that I particularly remember, was the sowing of seedlings. Not only does my mum always plant hundreds of seeds for plants for their own garden every year, but when we were at primary school, they used to run a plant stall every year at the school fete – so she would borrow neighbours’ greenhouses, and fill our own, and the cold frames to the gunnels with tiny plants which she would sell for charity. All of these seeds had to start from somewhere though, and there were many hours spent by her side in the greenhouses, helping to fill seed trays with compost, or watering in the new seeds, and then weeks later, pricking out the thousands of tiny green seedlings – I never knew what they would turn into, but she knew what they all were – she could tell from the shape of the leaves. I expect much of this time was spent with me chattering away, and her working alongside me, but I like to think I helped a little bit!

Even then, I would never have thought I enjoyed gardening, I would have seen it as time spent with mum and dad. It was only years later when I lived at university when we had a scrubby, rat infested yard in our student house in Liverpool – but we spent a day clearing out the flowerbeds, and planting sunflowers. I realised that there was something hugely satisfying about making something from nothing.

When I moved into my own house, the bug really hit me, I realised that what I enjoyed most about gardening, wasn’t even the finished article, it was the act of gardening itself. Six years on, and I find that every spare moment I have, I want to be out in the garden. The inevitable has happened, I have turned into my parents, I have turned into a gardener, and I couldn’t be happier.

Read Deborah’s blog: theenglishrose.blog.com

Sweet Pea tops the Best Seller list

New seed varieties proving popular with T&M customers.

Thompson & Morgan is pleased to announce the top 3 best-sellers from its list of newly-launched seed varieties.

Bestselling Sweet Pea 'Erewhon'

Bestselling Sweet Pea ‘Erewhon’

Sweet Pea ‘Erewhon’ along with Nasturtium ‘Crimson Emperor’ and Lobelia ‘Monsoon’ are currently topping Thompson & Morgan’s new seed variety ‘charts’. “We’re never surprised to see sweet pea varieties in our best-seller list”, says Michael Perry, T&M’s New Product Development Manager. “We know our customers love sweet peas, so we’re always on the look-out for unusual and exciting new varieties”.

‘Erewhon’ can certainly boast these characteristics, flying as it does in the face of convention with its unique and spectacular ‘reverse’ bi-colouring. Lobelia ‘Monsoon’ is another one-of-a-kind variety which not only produces beautiful deep blue flowers which cascade from baskets and window boxes, but offers the added bonus of attractive foliage which turns from green to bronze as the plants mature, giving them long-lasting appeal.

Lobelia 'Monsoon'

Lobelia ‘Monsoon’

Thompson & Morgan’s Flower of the Year, Nasturtium ‘Crimson Emperor’ also features in the top 3 best-seller list.

“I knew from the first time I saw ‘Crimson Emperor’ that our customers would love it and we were thrilled that Thomas Hoblyn chose to feature it in his award-winning garden at RHS Chelsea this year”.

Nasturtium 'Crimson Emperor' - Flower of the Year 2013

Nasturtium ‘Crimson Emperor’ – Flower of the Year 2013

Thompson & Morgan attributes the success of this beautiful nasturtium to its stunningly vibrant colouring as well as its lax, spreading habit which makes it ideal for planting as ground cover in borders, or allowed to tumble over walls and fences. It’s equally at home in containers or hanging baskets, making it a very versatile option for gardens next summer.

New flower and vegetable seed range available online

Our new 2013 seed range is now available and we’ve added more than 140 new seed varieties!

Sweet Pea Promise

Sweet Pea Promise

Sweet Pea ‘Promise’

With its unique red and white bicolour blooms, this fragrant beauty is perfect not only in exhibitions, but also as a cut flower. It was bred by Roger Parsons, custodian of a National Collection® of Lathyrus species. Exclusive to Thompson & Morgan, Sweet Pea ‘Promise’ is certain to become a favourite among all gardeners.

Agastache ‘Astello Indigo’

Agastache 'Astello Indigo'

Agastache ‘Astello Indigo’

Agastache are not widely grown in the UK, but according to our expert Sue, should be at the top of every gardener’s seed order. ‘Astello Indigo’ flowers all summer, right through to the first frosts and bees and other beneficial insects love it! The deep blue flower spikes smell of mint and are perfect in borders, containers, gravel gardens and wildlife borders. Agastache ‘Astello Indigo’ won the Fleuroselect Gold Medal.

Runner Bean Tenderstar

Runner Bean Tenderstar

Runner Bean Tenderstar

Another Thompson & Morgan exclusive, Runner Bean Tenderstar really takes after its name. It has been bred to grow smaller beans that are extremely tender when picked young. But even if you go away for a couple of weeks, they’ll still be very tasty and won’t go tough and stringy like most runner beans.

Pepper Cayennetta F1 Hybrid

Pepper Cayennetta F1 Hybrid

Pepper Cayennetta F1 Hybrid

These fairly hot chilli peppers look amazing in a pot – the plants are bushy and will grow up to 300 peppers per plant! Pepper Cayennetta F1 Hybrid grows well in both hot and cold weather and the dense foliage protects the fruits from being scorched by the sun. A British-bred variety that won the prestigious All American Selection award.


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