The sunshine is here at last – but don’t let conservatory and greenhouse chillies frazzle in the excessive heat. Temperatures hit 48C in my south-facing conservatory yesterday and I’m expecting even higher temperatures today. Luckily I had the foresight to move my chillies outside onto the patio before I left for work, where a fresh breeze kept them cooler in the summer sunshine. I’ve done the same today and given them a good drink to get them through the day.
If you can’t move your plants outside during peaks of hot weather, make sure to water them heavily in the morning during hot spells – check them again in the evening for dryness. In a greenhouse you can ‘dampen down’ to raise humidity and lower temperatures, this simply means wetting all surfaces – floors, glass, benching etc.
This isn’t practical in a conservatory. But you can do a couple of things to cool things down and raise the humidity. Firstly, spray foliage with a fine mist of water to keep them cool. You can also sit your pots on a tray of damp gravel or clay pebbles (hydroleca) this will create a humid micro climate around you plants, reducing the risk of leaf frazzle during the midday sun.
With the sun out, I’m bringing a touch of Spain to my dinner tonight. My first lot of padron peppers are ready to pick tonight, so I’ll be making a classic tapas dish to eat alfresco this evening – padrons lightly fried in olive oil, sprinkled in salt and eaten hole (minus the stalks!) – Simple but delicious!
I’m getting so excited right now, as it’s almost time to cut the ribbon on our new Thompson & Morgan trials garden at the world famous Jimmy’s Farm.
Keen customers of Thompson & Morgan will have noticed that we stopped holding our annual open weekend a few years ago. We became short of space when we built a bigger warehouse at our main HQ, and our new trials site was located so deep in the countryside nobody would be able to find it.
However, the brainwave of teaming up with Jimmy’s Farm meant we could again show off our plants to the public. There’s nothing better than being able to see plants for real! We do our best with the photography in our catalogues, but it can be difficult to show scale and the true beauty of some flowers. Now, you can visit our Thompson & Morgan garden, with our best-sellers such as Begonia Apricot Shades and climbing Petunia Tidal Wave; also get the first look at brand new 2016 varieties. But, I’m not giving anything away, you’ll have to come and see for yourself!
Behind the scenes we are putting the finishing touches to the site; to ensure you’ll be able to enjoy flowers and vegetables throughout July and August. Although we are opening the garden from 1st July, I’d advise you to hold on a week or two though. A few more weeks of warm weather will really get those beds filling out, and the pots billowing with colour, and occasionally fragrance. Why not come and smell our fragrant Begonias for real?!
So, the invitation is there. Come and spend the summer with us in the Thompson & Morgan garden. Once you’re there, we’ll tell you how to share your favourite flowers on social media too, and you’ve got the chance to win a prize.
See you soon!
Herb gardens are becoming increasingly popular as gardeners discover how easy they are to grow and maintain. You don’t even need a large piece of land to grow your own herbs in your garden as they will happily thrive in beds, containers, windowsills and even hanging baskets.
When growing an herb garden it is worth thinking about which herbs you are going to use, annual, perennial or biennial. Annual herbs such as basil, coriander, dill and chervil are fast growing and may need to be sown at intervals throughout spring and summer to ensure you have a continuous fresh supply.
How to grow Basil
Basil seed can be sown from February to June, or for indoor cultivation sown throughout the year out of season. Basil requires sustained warmth so it is best kept on a sunny windowsill, in a propagator at a temperature of 15-25C (59-77F) or seal the container inside a polythene bag until after germination, which takes 14-21 days. When they are large enough to handle, transplant seedlings into 7.5cm (3in) pots and grow basil plants on in cooler conditions.
Perennial plants such as mint, thyme, sage and chive are slower growing than annual herbs and require more of a permanent location.
How to grow Mint
Mint is an easy to grow perennial herb, requiring minimal attention and returning year after year. Sow mint seeds indoors or under glass from winter to early summer. Place the seed tray in a propagator at a temperature of 21-24C (70-75F) and when seedlings are large enough to handle, transplant into 7.5cm (3″) pots and grow on in cooler conditions. Once all risk of frost has passed gradually acclimatise before placing outside.
Growing herbs in containers
Growing herbs in containers is the perfect option for those who are limited on space. They will be most convenient placed on the patio by your back door, where they are within easy reach when cooking. For larger herbs such as rosemary, make sure you use a larger pot so they are less likely to dry out. The best compost to grow herbs in is loam-based compost such as John Innes and feed your pot-grown herbs regularly with a balanced fertiliser throughout the growing season.
Top tips for growing herbs
1. Trimming herbs in the spring will encourage a flush of new healthy leaves.
2. Dead-head your herbs as the flowers start to fade to channel their energy into leaf growth.
3. In the autumn it’s best to leave any dead foliage on the plant to help protect it throughout winter.
4. Re-pot after a few years if your herb plants start to look weak and dry out quickly.
5. When harvesting herbs, remove foliage from the outside of the plant, allowing new leaves to develop in the centre.
After living without any outdoor space of my own for 5 years, last year we moved and I gained an empty balcony. A blank canvas. When you live without any outdoor gardening space you realise just how much you previously took it for granted. I had never been a gardener, despite my mother avidly encouraging me through my youth. However, spurred on by the gift of some blueberry bushes and the notion of ‘feeding off my (rented) land’ I decided to give growing a go.
After hearing tales of how difficult growing veg could be, and knowing little about the ‘correct’ growing methods I started out with low expectations, perhaps I’d have a tomato or two by the end of summer.
I started from seed, nurturing them on the windowsill. A few days on, a rippling on the soil surface and the breakthrough of greenery caused a grin to adorn my face. The pure pleasure of watching something grow from next to nothing is one of life’s simple satisfactions.
A few factors influenced my plant choices; what couldn’t I buy from supermarkets (purple carrots), what was expensive to buy (mangetout), what tasted significantly better fresh (runner beans), and what could I fit on a balcony! Many venture into growing-your-own with tomatoes so I threw in some seeds. Far, far too many seeds as it turned out when I had around 50 tomato seedlings to try and re-home! A learning curve…
A learning ‘curve’
Of course I made many errors, none were detrimental. I remember exclaims from my boyfriend’s mother, “You didn’t harden off your tomatoes?!”. ‘Harden off’ meant nothing to me (for novices and others not ‘in-the-know’ this refers to the process of acclimatising your plants to the outer world). As a result my tomatoes grew slowly, but they still fruited. Nothing lost, some more knowledge gained.
By the end of summer, we had enjoyed plentiful runner beans, mangetout and tomatoes. They tasted incredible, perhaps enhanced by the knowledge of where they’d grown and what they’d been exposed to. There’s something incredibly rewarding about stepping outside and harvesting your crop to eat then and there. No more than a few paces between plant and pan.
Mangetout, purple-podded peas, runner beans
If you think you don’t have enough space, think outside the box. Even a windowsill can flourish with chilies, herbs, lettuce leaves to name a few. If you think you can’t grow anything, try it anyway, maybe it’ll work. Get inspired by what others do, I watched a TED talk on growing salad in a New York apartment with no space using vertical, hydroponic platforms. Incredible!
So, one summer on I’ve learnt what did and didn’t work for me. Carrots can’t just be plonked in soil and expected to grow as a single straight root, they need more care and soil preparation which at the moment I don’t have time for. Shelling peas didn’t give me a good yield, I got approximately 30 peas from a whole summer – it wasn’t worth it, especially compared to the mangetout yield which kept us going for weeks. So this year I’m eager to try more – sweetcorn, peppers, courgettes, broad beans. Maybe they’ll work, maybe they won’t.
It is amazing what a difference you can make to any outdoor space with pots and baskets, regardless of whether you have a garden or not. I personally fill my patio full of different planters and baskets as the summer arrives and I have spent the last few months nurturing seedlings ready to plant out.
I am a firm believer that if you don’t have enough space to grow things in the ground then pots and baskets are a great way to bring any type of plant into your garden. I want to talk about how you can make your pots and baskets interesting, pretty and productive.
There are lots of different planter sizes, shapes and colours to choose from on the market, so you can pretty much buy the pots to suit your outdoor area. Don’t forget there are variations for windows if you don’t have a yard or patio area or if you live in a flat, and of course you can go for hanging baskets by your front or back doors. If money is tight why not make your own pots and planters out of old pallets which look great painted up and most companies are happy to give away pallets for free. I also like to use builders rubble buckets which come in some really funky colours, and they are a fraction of the price of bespoke planters (don’t forget to add drainage hole).
I like to plant my baskets and tubs with a striking mixture of flowers and veg plants (there is no reason why a tub should look glum). In my summer pots this year I will be growing lots of different veg including baby sweetcorn, dwarf beans, beetroots, salads and courgettes. The varieties I choose are all small so will grow quite well together in a large pot or container, and the leaf structures and varying growing habits really complement each other. In order to add plenty of colours to my pots I love to interplant flowers such as dwarf sweet peas, aubrietia, violas, nasturtiums and much more.
There is nothing better than picking fresh tomatoes so I will be growing some tumbling toms in my baskets, alongside, rocket, nasturtiums, violas and basil. The nasturtiums will trail, the violas provide colour and the basil, rocket and tomatoes will be handy to pick for the salad plate (chives and spring onions also make a nice alternative or strawberry plants and mint for a sweet treat). Where possible I like to use flowers that are edible. My baskets are always colourful and useful, and different plants can be used to brighten up any wall.
When planting up either tubs or baskets you have to be mindful that they need watering and feeding regularly. In my pots I use a good quality multipurpose compost with some slow release fertiliser and water retaining crystals to help hold in moisture. I have never gone for any of those fancy composts unless I am planting something on a more permanent basis such as a shrub or fruit bush. If you can get down to your local farm for some well rotted horse manure this will always enrich any tub.
There are a number of innovative pots and baskets that now have water canals built into them so this takes the strain off watering, but ordinarily I would water baskets daily regardless of weather and tubs every few days unless the weather is hot and then it would be every day. I find the best thing to keep food in pots is a tomato feed which contains all the right nutrients for flowers and fruits, however in recent years I have also made comfrey tea which has had great results and is free so double bonus.
So now I am at the point where my baskets and tubs are planned out and I have started to plant them up. It is still a little early for them to be put outside in Manchester as the threat of frost is not gone until the end of May. Until they are ready to be safely put outside keep them in a cool shed or greenhouse over night.
As your plants grow and develop keep an eye out for pests and diseases such as aphids as they do like to feast on the succulent young plants. I find the best thing to use to get rid of most pests is a garlic spray or a weak solution of water and washing up liquid so no need to spend lots of money on expensive chemicals and these won’t hurt the bees and lady birds.
I will bring you updates on my baskets throughout the summer and let you see the yields they have produced at the end of July and August.
Just remember you can grow anything in pots and most dwarf varieties in baskets, but be mindful that you need to water religiously and keep the food levels up as they get exhausted quickly. Keep an eye on them, keep them deadheaded and you will have lovely colour and tasty treats all summer long.