Update from the greenhouse

Hello Gardeners,

Hope you are all well and enjoying the summer, soon it will be a time for Harvest Festivals and Halloween. I can’t believe how quickly August is going. I apologise for the lateness of this blog as I try to get it out in the middle of each month, but we went on holiday. We got on an aeroplane and flew to sunny Scotland! We spent five days there and it was fantastic.

greenhouseOur greenhouses are at their best thanks to my brilliant friend Rachel who kept an eye on things. All the plants survived our mini break and we are still picking a steady stream of aubergines, peppers, tomatoes, radish, spinach, beet, lettuce and basil. I have given away bags of tomatoes to work colleagues as well as to family and friends. I have eaten fresh food every day since the end of July and it really does taste wonderfully sweet. It’s also quite interesting to have a salad consisting of four different colours of tomatoes, bright reds of a mystery cherry tomato, yellow sungolds, dark skinned Black Opals and orange Gardeners Delights. In a few days I shall be photographing and eating my first Green Zebra ones. I can’t find any White Opals, I am wondering if this is why I have some unexplained Cherry Tomato.

Currently I have a massive flying ant problem. Ant Powder is doing nothing, thankfully the sparrows are trying to help, but if anyone has any ideas on how to combat them organically I would be hugely grateful. Sticky traps seem to help but I don’t want the bees to get stuck by accident.

greenhouseSlugs and Snails seem to want to torment me at the moment. The number I have pulled off the glass outside is ridiculous. They seem to want to crawl up the glass and through the windows then slide down the canes. I even found a slug chewing a hole in the peppers and wood lice crawled out of a hole on the other side of the pepper. Do woodlice bore holes in them? I’m not convinced it’s them as I saw earwigs in there too. Earwigs nip pretty hard if you upset them.

On returning we spent two hours in the large greenhouse removing woodlice, picking produce, tying up stems, picking out side shoots and also cutting the very tops off the plants again. There are hundreds of blooms on the tomatoes and I don’t think the season is going to allow for them to turn to fruit. Because of the damp and humid weather here, there is a high chance of blight occurring. As soon as I spot any sign of it, the plants will be uprooted. Unfortunately we have not had the six weeks of sun that we had last year. I am really hoping for a warm September and a dry October. I am in two minds as to whether or not to grow Potatoes for Christmas. Two years ago we had the worst November storms and the crop really took a battering. They did supply us with potatoes but it was too wild to and dark after work to properly take care of them. I am reluctant to overwinter them in the greenhouse as again there is a good chance of blight.

Talking of big greenhouses, when we were in Edinburgh we visited the National Botanical Gardens. The place is massive. It took us five hours to walk around it, but I don’t think we even covered it all by then! It’s best to speak to the reception staff for the seasons highlights and to pick up the maps. It’s free to walk around the Garden and only £5 per adult to go into the glass houses. We had a 2-1 voucher so it really was value for money. However, I would gladly have paid an entrance fee for the Gardens if they charged, as it really is magnificent.

greenhouseThere are ten greenhouses in all. I have included a photo of the Victorian entrance and a picture of most of the greenhouse and its plan. It’s worth visiting just to see the giant Water lilies in flower. I could talk for hours about our trip away, but apart from the Botanical Gardens it would have nothing to do with plants, unless I can include, whilst out walking near Arthur’s Seat, that I never knew, once a Thistle has flowered it seed heads are super soft. I was slightly alarmed when my Uncle Ronnie picked a thistle and said rub it under his chin. I dare you to try it the next time you see one.




Looking on the T&M website, I realise I haven’t got long to enter the Fuchsia and Sunflower competitions, I can see there is a category for unusually shaped veg, I wish there was one for massive peppers. The biggest one I have grown so far this year is eight inches. Can you beat that?


Meanwhile in my little 6 x 6 greenhouse, the spinach beet and carrots are growing rampantly. We have seen temperatures in the high teens so nothing has bolted. The pots of foxgloves are ready for pricking out and the new basil plants can be split and put into individual pots for winter cooking.

botanical gardens

Soon it will be time to bring the Christmas cacti, the spider plant and money tree back into the house once the nights start to draw in. I plan to start sowing my winter crops in early September but for now I’m happy to enjoy the last of the late sun, and plan another mini break, I think I would like to visit The Eden Project next as we have seen both the Welsh and Scottish Botanical Gardens. Is there an Irish National Botanical Garden? When we go to Europe it always astounds me how big geraniums can grow, and I love to see all of their native plants. Once in Ibiza I saw a field of poppies growing amongst the cereals and it was just beautiful.

Until next month,
Happy Gardening.
Love Amanda xx

My name is Amanda and I live in Pembrokeshire with my fiancé and our garden is approximately 116 meters square. I want to share with you my love for gardening and the reasons behind it, from the good to the bad and ugly. I want to do this for my own personal pleasure. If you would like to take the journey with me then please read my blogs and share with me your gardening stories.

Rose ‘Sweet Spot Calypso’

Rose ‘Sweet Spot Calypso’ is a very distinctive rose, and is part of a completely new breed called ‘Decorator roses’, and, as such, does not fit into any of the existing categories we are so familiar with. It is not a Hybrid Tea, or a Floribunda or a Patio  … but a Decorator rose ! The ‘Sweet Spot’ roses are being hailed as an exciting new development, as they should flower constantly from June to October, and unlike many other roses, they shed their dead petals, leaving the plant looking tidy.

rose sweet spot calypso

The single blooms are strongly coloured, with variations of tone in each flower. There is a striking ‘eye’ in the centre, made up of a darker red, surrounded by a yellow halo, with prominent stamens of a slightly darker hue.The whole effect is quite dramatic, as the colours are rich, and contrast well with each other. The flowers change shade, as they gradually fade with age.

I was fortunate enough to be asked by Thompson & Morgan if I would trial two of these roses, with the proviso that I would blog honestly about their progress. That was a year ago, and I am only just posting now, as I wanted to know how these roses would perform over time.

rose sweet spot calypso

I was sent two plants, and the photo shows how they looked straight after they were taken out of their packaging, on arrival. One appeared much more vigorous than the other, was bushier, and had more leaves. The other had some yellowing and dead leaves, and showed barer stem.

rose sweet spot calypsoI decided that I would grow the roses in different conditions to see how they responded. The smaller one was planted in a container, so that it had no competition from any other plants. It was planted in good quality compost, with a slow release rose fertiliser at its roots. The pot was placed in full sun, facing south east, in a sheltered spot next to the greenhouse.

The other plant looked as if it could cope with being planted out, so I chose an open, sunny spot in a border and planted it in a relatively big hole, complete with compost and rose fertiliser. I ensured that surrounding plants did not crowd the young ‘Sweet Spot’, as this could have hampered growth quite dramatically.


rose sweet spot calypso

Then, I sat back, watched and waited – I watered when necessary, fertilised again in the spring, and added fresh compost as a top dressing. Sadly, the rose in the pot took a dislike to me, and went into a deep decline. It turned out to be a long and lingering death, whilst I tried every trick I knew to revive it, to no avail. There were no signs of pests or disease, it just failed to thrive, and gradually died off. It just happens sometimes!

Happily the plant in the ground grew and flourished. It had one or two blooms late on in the first summer, which I was pleased about as I didn’t receive it until August.

rose sweet spot calypso

When spring growth got underway this year, I became aware that other plants were growing larger in the border, and beginning to swamp ‘Sweet Spot Calypso’, so I took the decision to lift it and pot it up, taking as large a root ball as possible, to minimise disturbance.

My rose loved the move to a pot, and began to put on growth quite quickly, growing into a compact little bush, clothed with foliage. The foliage has remained exceptionally healthy all season, and it is still as fresh as it was in spring, particularly when compared to lots of my other roses, which are looking a little ravaged by this point in the season. Even varieties which are essentially very healthy, and disease – free can dip at this time of year, but ‘Sweet Spot Calypso’ has no sign of black spot and is completely pest free. I never use chemicals on any of my roses, so what you see is completely as nature intended!

rose sweet spot calypso‘Sweet Spot Calypso’ will never be a large rose, and, as such, is ideal for the front of beds and borders, or containers. Maximum size is given as 50 cm x 50 cm. It does not need complex pruning – a haircut with the shears in late autumn or early spring, taking off approximately half its growth, is deemed to be sufficient.

My rose began to flower in June, and had an initial flush of flowers, and is just gearing up to flower again. It has buds on it now, which should open in a week or so. It has retained its bushy, compact shape, and has shown no tendency to get ‘leggy’, and show bare stems, as many roses do. The entire lengths of the stems are clothed with foliage, which really adds to its appeal.

The flowers are very unusual, and … well … subtle they are not. I guess that people will love them, or hate them. They are light years away from the traditional image of romantic, pastel roses and have a contemporary feel about them, as the colours are strong and contrasting.

On the whole, I like what I see, so far, with Rose ‘Sweet Spot Calypso’. I like the fresh, healthy looking foliage and the compact, bushy habit and I am hoping that the plant flowers more freely as it matures, as promised. So, I have to say, it really hits the spot!

I have gardened the same half acre plot for over 30 years and I have opened for the NGS (Yellow Book) scheme. I have an RHS qualification, but feel that my main qualification is the years I have spent with my hands in the soil.

A Lettuce Garden for All Seasons

lettuce for all seasonsAs daylight starts to dwindle from the June solstice onwards, thoughts are more of growing and harvesting than of sowing. Yet the later summer months, August and September, alongside those of early autumn, are still bright enough for growing a handful of hardy crops.

Lettuces, quick-maturing and tolerant of cool temperatures, are a good example. Certain varieties can be started now for a late autumn or early winter harvest. Others, like the well-known “Arctic King” or the cos variety “Winter Density”, can be sown in September and October for lush spring pickings.

I’m gardening in a ruthlessly small urban space. I have about fifteen pots, a metre by half-a-metre raised bed, and a mini greenhouse. Most of that space is now standing bare. So in this blog I want to share some advice about the lettuces I’ll be starting from seed. The hope is for a harvest before, and soon after, the year’s end…one that also makes use of all those leftover plastic pots!

What & When to Plant Lettuce

There are four main types of lettuce: cos, butterhead, loose-leaf, and crisphead. Cos and crispheads – the most popular variety in the UK is “iceberg lettuce” – both form tight hearts and take longer to mature. The butterheads, so named for their waxy leaves, and loose-leaf varieties tend to be quicker growing and can often be harvested in as little as ten weeks after sowing.

I’ll be growing cold-weather tolerant butterhead and loose-leaf varieties for a late autumn crop (October through November), and winter varieties of crisphead lettuce for an early to mid-winter one (December through February). Other slower growing varieties, like Robinson’s, Winter Gem, and aforementioned Arctic King, can be planted now and will mature in time for spring.

lettuce for all seasons

Lettuce for a late autumn crop (Oct-Dec): Any cold-resistant, fast-growing butterhead or loose-leaf. I’ll be trying Tom Thumb, All the Year Round, Marvel of Four Seasons and Valdor. I’m also going to see how Lollo Rosso fares.
Lettuce for early/mid winter crop (Jan-Mar): Crisphead varieties able to withstand cold temperatures, like Robinson, Match and Winter Purslane.
Lettuce for an early spring crop: Slow-growing and cold-hardy: Arctic King, Winter Gem, Winter Density.

Lettuce in cloches

Because I’m mainly growing outdoors, I’m a little wary of the colder weather that can set in from September onwards. My simple home-made cloches are comprised of bamboo canes and polythene sheeting held together by twist ties.

I think a lot of people hear the word “cloche” and immediately think of an overly-expensive contraption. Making one at home is a simple task. Otherwise, you can buy cheap “tunnels” online. Equally, I’ll be adding some netting to protect against birds and caterpillars. Monty Don recommends it…so it must be right!

Growing Lettuce Indoors

If you’re growing indoors, on a north, west or east-facing window sill, then you obviously don’t need to worry about either cold or pests. Make sure to water regularly, as the need is greater indoors.

Getting the Soil Just Right

They like it moist, fairly nutrient-rich (but not overly so), and non-acid. I’m using the old soil in my pots so I’ll be adding about a third of fresh compost, a few handfuls of vermiculite and perlite to assist with moisture retention and drainage, and a half-strength slow-release fish, bone and blood-meal fertilizer. After about eight weeks (six weeks is normally given), if you haven’t added any fertilizer, you will need to start a feeding regimen. Remember that, because of the waning light, growth will be slower. Use a slightly more dilute version than usual.

Composted manure, because it’s high in nitrogen, which is responsible for stimulating foliage growth, is also a good alternative to compost. A high nitrogen medium will be an obvious benefit to any plant grown for their leaves.

All of that said, if you can only get your hands on is a bag of multi-purpose compost that will do the job. I’ve grown lots of plants, including lettuces, using the simple bagged compost from B&Q. My main worry is about is about not having the roots stand in cold water, as the roots can freeze.

Harvesting Lettuce

lettuce for all seasons

Lettuces with tight hearts (the crisphead and cos types) should be harvested in one go by pulling. Loose-leaf and butterhead varieties can be harvested with a “cut and come” approach, in which leaves are snipped off about half an inch above the soil level, from which new growth emerges. With later-season growing, I’ve found it’s not always a good idea to take this approach, because light levels won’t stimulate much additional growth. I find it better to let the whole plant grow as big as possible then harvest in one go.

I live and work in London, where I try to get as much food as I possibly can out of my tiny patio garden. I write about what I’m growing on my blog Urban Turnip

Music really does help plants grow!

Some people swear by it, others are nay sayers. After a weekend at the Jimmy’s Farm Sausage and Beer Festival, we’re convinced that plants thrive on music. The plants on our Show Garden have looked great since it opened to the public in early July, but exposed to a weekend of live music from the likes of Toploader, Chas & Dave and the Ben Waters Band, all our flowering varieties seem to have hit their peak.

Thompson & Morgan garden

We’ve looked into the science of it, and there are many studies showing that music can promote stronger plant growth. We’re certainly on our way to being firm believers.

Thompson & Morgan garden

Of course, it could all be down to using Incredicompost® and Incredibloom® in every basket and container on show – our comparative compost and fertiliser trials show it is capable of producing up to 400 per cent more blooms than plants given no feed.

Thompson & Morgan garden

We have also heard that talking to your plants helps growth. Alongside Prince Charles, many of our facebook followers admit to talking to their plants to help them grow. Do you talk to your plants? Do you do it to help them grow or do you find companionship in doing so? We would love to know!

Kris Collins
Kris Collins works as Thompson & Morgan’s communications officer, making sure customers new and old are kept up to date on the latest plant developments and company news via a wide range of media sources. He trained in London’s Royal Parks and has spent more than a decade writing for UK gardening publications before joining the team at Thompson & Morgan.

What to sow in August

Whilst your garden is blooming with summer flowers, and you sit back and enjoy your hard efforts in the sun, it is easy to forget about planning your winter garden. Don’t think the work is all over, gardening is an annual hobby that requires planning all year round! In August there are a few seasonal flowers than can be direct sown outdoors and plenty of vegetable seeds that can be started in the greenhouse or sown outside.

What flowers to sow in August

We all know that during the winter months our gardens can sometimes look a bit dull, but there really is nothing we can do to about the weather. However, winter-flowering pansies can be sown now to provide your gardens with some much needed winter colour. Why not try our Pansy Matrix Mix which will provide you with colour in winter and spring.

winter pansies

What vegetables to sow in August

If you are lucky enough to have a greenhouse sow herbs such as coriander in seed trays. You can also sow winter lettuce in seed trays ready for planting later this month.

sow coriander

There are plenty of vegetable seeds that can be direct sown outside. You can continue sow salad leaves throughout summer for a continuous crop. For autumn and winter harvests, direct sow vegetables such as spinach and radish.

There are plenty of odd jobs to do in the garden in August; our helpful guide will tell you all about it.

Don’t forget to keep us updated on all your gardening adventures on our Facebook and Twitter page.

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.

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