Acer Starfish

I’ve got a medium sized garden and have spent the past year trying to transform it from a concrete mess, to something I can sit and relax in. I’ll paint a picture of what I’m dealing with; there are two rectangular borders with good quality soil in and a large square area in the middle too. They’re surrounded by uneven patio areas and a concrete monster at the back. Unfortunately it’s not an easy task to just remove the mess at the back of the garden, so I’m working my way from the front until I can sort out the back.

The middle square patch of garden has been tormenting me for months! I really couldn’t decide what would suit this area, what I wanted and how to make it look good. However, I couldn’t help but pick up random plants and shrubs in every garden centre I visited. It also doesn’t help being signed up to T&M’s newsletters with their tempting deals every week. I’ve potted up the smaller plants and am growing them on a little bit more before deciding their final positions, and have planted out the rest in a very sporadic manner. You can clearly tell I’m an amateur gardener- but I am loving the adventure I’m on with it all!

After visiting Beth Chatto Gardens earlier in spring (highly recommend a visit – so beautiful), I came across a beautiful Acer in a large terracotta pot and fell in love. Light bulbs were going off in my head and I knew exactly how I wanted that square patch to look all of a sudden. I wanted a stunning Acer tree in the middle as a feature, and shrubs that would slowly take over the patch around it. Maybe a few stepping stones through the area would look good too.

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I already had a stunning Hosta ‘Guacamole’, a selection of Heuchera ‘Patchwork Mixed’ and ‘Purple Palace’, a Dicentra Bleeding Heart and a Hydrangea ‘Love’ which I placed close to the borders and spread out to allow room for growth. Now was my mission to find my dream pot for the main feature; my beautiful Acer. Thompson & Morgan were kind enough to suggest the Starfish Acer for me. Quirky foliage and not too large for what I had in mind. I loved the illustration of the basket container, but didn’t think it would suit my garden vision. So I went off on my mission. Unfortunately the search took much longer than I expected, and my poor Acer was left in the pot it arrived in for much longer than I wanted it to. It was starting to look a little sorry for itself – after research I think it’s due to over watering and being in a non sheltered position. I’ve quickly moved it to a semi-sunny spot where it’s protected from winds. It turns out Acers suffer from scorching and doesn’t like sunny positions where it’s hit by blazing midday sun, or windy spots. I think the middle of my patch is ideal – gets the morning sun, and is sheltered from roaring winds by the nearby wall.

So, back to pot shopping, I have to discuss my ultimate bargain with you. Everyone knows large Teracotta pots are quite expensive; maybe £50-£70 in a local garden centre or chain garden shop. Well, I found one for £25 reduced in Katie’s Garden (in Suffolk) which was pretty much exactly what I had in mind. However, it had a large chunk taken out of it, so I managed to haggle it down to £15! So chuffed with myself.

Thompson & Morgan do a great selection of pots now too which I have only just discovered. These would have been a close second choice; the bee hive planters.

bee-hive-planters

I got the pot back home and moved it, very slowly as I have tiny muscles, around the area to see where looked best before potting up my Acer in it. (Please ignore the back of the garden in the photographs! It really is hideous but by next year should have some pukka decking put in). I decided on the middle to make it the ultimate feature. I’ll see how the Acer gets on with the sunlight in that particular area, and will be happy to move it across towards the wall if needs be.

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I’ve given some more thought to what other perennial plants would look good around the Acer, rather than just buying more on a whim like I have been doing, but if you have any suggestions at all please feel free to drop a comment below. I’d love some advice from less amateur gardeners!

With some stones in the bottom for extra drainage and some John Innes compost I’ve potted up the Acer successfully. I’ve also added, temporarily, some slate stepping stones around the pot to give myself a clearer idea of how the area will look once fully finished. I’ll see how my Acer gets on over the next month or two, and I’ll come back and let you know how it’s coming along in my garden and what other changes have been made!

Karen Pratt
Karen works in the Customer Care Department at Thompson and Morgan assisting customers in their orders and gardening queries. After growing up watching her dad and granddad in the garden, she is now keen to improve her own gardening knowledge and expertise. Karen likes to try out new and quirky ideas in the garden, and appreciates any tips or advice!

Summer At Last…

Hello Gardeners,

I hope you are all enjoying the summer and your plants have all behaved as they should.

On returning from a four day break in Maastricht to see Andre Rieu in live concert and a tour of his Castle it was down to business checking how the garden had done in my absence. Just a bit of tidying and moving containers but thankfully no disasters.

This year my Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’ has been beautiful and very upright, in other years it has wanted to lay on other plants but this year is the fourth year I have had it in the garden and I have been very pleased with it and the blooms are huge. The Sun Diascia Eternal Flame have flowered freely, although I have noticed that although there was supposed to be three colours, orange, pink and white it turns out that there was no white in my pack,, but nevertheless have proved to be very successful. I do wish I had actually planted them into the garden instead of a container as they would have looked great in a border.

Jean and her Hydrangea 'Annabelle'

Jean and her Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’ plant

I bought a container, saucer and round trellis as a set from Thompson & Morgan and planted the ‘GeRainbow™ Mixed’ geraniums in it and have encouraged them to climb, so far so good, they have now reached the top of the first section. I also bought Fuchsia ‘Pink Fizz’ which are in a container with a frame and the fuchsias are doing well, having reached about 3 feet. Another success this year that I have been thrilled with are the Apricot Shade Begonia corms that I have dried from last year. I put them in a large tray in the house (no central heating) and they started to shoot towards the end of January. I then planted them into compost to bring them on gradually. I ended up transplanting them into a large trough, probably too many in one trough but I wasn`t sure if they were all going to actually succeed. I believe they must have as they appear to be cramped but don`t seem to mind it. Thankfully they are in one of the containers that on the drip system so they get watered regularly. At first, I thought the front garden of containers was going to be a great disappointment as against other years. Everything was taking so long to get going, then we had high winds and rain which kept knocking everything down again, – then – what a miracle when we got a really warm spell in June almost overnight everything was transformed, the flowers lifted their heads and everything was alright with the world!

Apricot Shade Begonias and Geranium ‘GeRainbow™ Mixed’

Apricot Shade Begonias and Geranium ‘GeRainbow™ Mixed’

I have quite a lot of Petunia ‘Night Sky’ and used one Easy Fill Hanging Basket and underneath the basket I had a triple stand which I filled with the `Night Sky`. I did understand that they would trail as described in the first summer brochure but on emailing Michael discovered that they didn`t officially trail (this was corrected in the following brochure) but did grow over the sides and also made a good effort to trail. They have been quite a talking point to passersby especially as they always seems to be changing their white flecks on the purple.

On Thursday 4th August we visited the Thompson & Morgan open day at Jimmy`s Farm in Ipswich, Suffolk. My Husband Alan and my 16 year old Grandson Jack had already arrived in Ipswich to have a few days looking around. On arrival at Jimmy`s Farm, we were met by Michael Perry. Alan and Jack went for a tour of the farm while I made my way down to the marquee in the grounds to meet other people who do the trials and also members of Thompson & Morgan who we all knew by name but then put faces to the names.

Plants at the Thompson & Morgan Open Garden

Flower Plants at the Thompson & Morgan Open Garden at Jimmy’s Farm

After an introduction, we had a tour of the grounds where the trial plants were growing and also hanging baskets and containers. It was interesting to see that even there with the professionals they seem to get similar problems that we encounter in our gardens. We were able to take photos, ask questions and make notes. I took photos of some of the plants that I would like to try next year; I did particularly like the new idea of having three plants together that fill a basket. I like the idea of the three fuchsias together and hope they will be available for next summer. We went back to the marquee where we had a cream tea and cakes, and lots of chat to our newfound friends. Thank you Michael and staff for arranging the tea that I know we all enjoyed and were thankful.

After saying our `goodbyes until next time` we were given a bag full of goodies, vegetable and flower seeds – just makes me want to get started all over again – Incredicrop® fertiliser and three plants, Blechnum ‘Volcano’, Viburnum ‘Kilimanjaro Sunrise’ and Sambucus ‘Black Tower’. I am really looking forward to seeing these grow over the course of next year and the future. As we were staying in a hotel until the Saturday, I took the plants out of their box and used the top of my craft box to fill with water so I could water them and kept them in the cool of the bathroom. They all arrived home safe and sound and are now looking good in their new coloured pots.

Blechnum ‘Volcano’, Viburnum ‘Kilimanjaro Sunrise’ and Sambucus ‘Black Tower’

Blechnum ‘Volcano’, Viburnum ‘Kilimanjaro Sunrise’ and Sambucus ‘Black Tower’

As we are reaching the middle of August and already the evenings are drawing in, I hope we all get many more happy sunny gardening days to enjoy before we have to think about winter. Keep safe and well everyone, until the next time ………..

Jean Willis
I started gardening 65 years ago on my Dad’s allotment and now live in Bournemouth, where spend a lot of time gardening since retiring. In 2012 I won the Gold Award for Bournemouth in Bloom Container Garden. I am a member of Thompson & Morgan’s customer trial panel.

Thompson & Morgan’s Customer Triallists Open Day

For what seemed like the first time in months David and I dared to step away from the garden for a day out: a trip to Ipswich to visit Thompson & Morgan’s triallists’ Open Day. Coming up from North London is a two hour drive so, seeing as it was sunny and warm, we decided to make a day of it and visit Jimmy’s Farm beforehand. Hordes of happy toddlers and young parents enjoying the school holidays and – us! Oh well, it brings out your inner child doesn’t it?

David at Jimmy's Farm

David at Jimmy’s Farm

Adjacent to Jimmy’s Farm, the Thompson & Morgan show ground is so bright and colourful that I dare say it could be seen from space. Dozens and dozens of hanging baskets, flower pouches and containers loaded up with annuals at the peak of their performance. I felt like a kid in a sweet shop!

I recognised some of the plants as ones I have grown at home this summer, but at T&M you see how the professionals do it! In fairness they have an open sunny site and we have an enclosed semi-shaded patio, and this was reflected in the increased volume of flowers in their displays compared to ours. Having overwintered some begonias from last summer I didn’t buy any more this season, but having seen their displays of blousy Begonia ‘Fortune Peach Shades’, cascading Inferno and exotic dark leaved Flamenco, I can’t wait to place my order for 2017. I love my two towering abutilons, so when Michael showed us two annual climbers, citrusy Ipomoea lobata or Spanish Flag, and lemon dicentra, I could picture them right alongside. (Tried unsuccessfully to grow ipomoea from seed before but hey, hope over experience wins every time.) Upturned fuchsia flowers seem a contradiction in terms but somehow it works: Princess Charlotte’s perky little salmon pink flowers are a delight, but a bit too well behaved for my taste.

Caroline Broome Begonias and Ipomoea lobata


Begonia ‘Fortune Peach Shades’, cascading Inferno and Ipomoea lobata

Some of the shrubs caught my interest too, especially Hydrangea paniculata ‘Pinky Winky’, as apart from being a gorgeous plant, is named for my Sphynx cat Winky, and is a lot better looking too. Diervilla Cool Splash is a new one on me, leaves similar to a variegated cornus with creamy flowers like pittosporum Tobira. With my penchant for the unusual, I was very taken with a tropical looking Tomato Tree, unlikely to bear fruit in our climate but hell, who cares, with foliage and flowers like that it’s a terrific ornamental. Note to self: can you not develop a taste for small dainty plants; you have run out of space!

So many new things to take in, and then – and then – we were shown into the marquee for another presentation, this time, of fruit and veggies. (I can honestly say, being a Townie, I have never settled my butt on a hay bale before. I’m still picking the straw out of my cashmere cardigan darhling!)

Tomato Tree and Diervilla 'Cool Splash'

Tomato Tree and Diervilla ‘Cool Splash’

Tomatoes are my thing and I was not disappointed; lovely colourful varieties such as tomato Garnet, tomato Artisan Mixed and Indigo Cherry Drops all tasted as good as they looked. I could eat them like sweets (and become a lot slimmer to boot). Having had success with growing peas for the first time this summer I am looking forward to trying out Pea Eddy and I’ll be growing hot hot Wasabi Rocket for David.

As if that was not enough Michael and his team had laid on a fantastic afternoon tea with delicious scones the size of dinner plates, so we had ample opportunity to chat to other bloggers and twitterers (I’ve no idea if that is the correct noun). All coming at gardening from different angles and with different backgrounds, with one thing in common – the love of gardening.

Finally the afternoon was brought to a close with tempting Goodie Bags containing all manner of seed packets (hurrah, including my tomato seeds), Incredicrop© Fruit and Veg fertiliser and three 9cm pots of the most amazing shrubs: Sambucus ‘Black Tower’ (will look great alongside all those tropical climbers), Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum ‘Kilimanjaro Sunrise’ and Blechnum brasiliense ‘Volcano’ Dwarf Brazilian Tree Fern (all small enough to start off on the patio).

So thank you Michael and your team for putting on such a special day and making us feel so welcome.

Happy gardening everyone.

Vacuuming The Pebbles

If you were circling North London on 16th July in a helicopter (and why wouldn’t you be?) you would have witnessed a curious phenomenon – gardeners of the Hampstead Garden Suburb on their hands and knees vacuuming their plots – the London Gardens’ Society judges were on their way! Now don’t get me wrong, we are not at loggerheads over this, indeed we have been referred to as a formidable bunch (also the Witches of Eastwick but I digress) and are at great pains to reassure each other that we are not competitive, but – well, if you believe that you will believe anything. One of us usually gets mentioned in dispatches so if you work on the theory of reflected glory then we are all winners.

Caroline Broome's Garden

Welcome to Caroline’s Garden

If anyone tells you that they don’t buy plants at the last minute for Garden Presentations then they are naughty little fibbers! A last minute decision to remove Cephalaria Gigantica, a real cuckoo in the nest, resulted in a gap with the potential for at least 5 new plants. Oh joy! And so the last plant went in @ 5pm the previous day. My revamped blue and lemon border was now complete. (Well nearly, I am sure I could heal another heuchera in if I tried).

So Judgement Day dawned bright and sunny, no strong winds, no clouds on the horizon. To deadhead or not to deadhead, that was the question: Was it better to let the judges see nature taking its course? Do recent plantings look too contrived? So anyway – I decided to deadhead – that was half the colour in the garden gone. Veronicastrum verginicum, filipendula, thalictrum, tansy, all firmly staked; hanging baskets watered, fed, deadheaded and watered again. Petunia Mandevilla is totally stunning, and so is the little unnamed trial bidens outshining its shady corner and much admired Petunia Cremissimo, a perfect match for the beach striped bench beneath. The judges came, photographed, made notes, exchanged anecdotes, and now we wait until October for the results (bit like A Levels!)

Petunia Mandevilla, Cucamelons and Fernery in Caroline's Garden

Petunia ‘Crazytunia Mandevilla’, Cucamelon’s and Shady Fernery

And lo and behold, a couple of weeks later we were doing it all again for the 2nd NGS Open Day! 31st July was a new date for us, quite late on in the season, and with summer holidays in full swing we were expecting a quieter turnout than June. Oh how Fate laughs! It was so packed at one point that I had to queue to get into my own house! We had to put extra chairs and tables on the front drive, and almost ran out of cake (rioting in the streets). Amazing day: 160 visitors and over £1000 raised for charity. Plants of the day? Ricinus communis, grown from T&M seed, Veronicastrum Virginucum Fascination covered in bees, and towering Tree Lilies in containers either side of our front door, flooding the entrance to the garden with their fragrance. Talking point? Cucamelons – one of my visitors actually pointed out my first fruits to me as I hadn’t noticed it yet.

Perhaps the most notable moment of the day for me was when one of our visitors was looking at David’s story boards of our garden adventures, and, admiring a photo of Rachel De Thame and me taken at the Perennial Fund Raiser in winter 2015, asked if she was my daughter! (Hmmm, I am 58 and I think Rachel is in her early 50s).

Caroline and Rachel De Thame

Caroline and Rachel De Thame and Caroline in her garden

Having taken the following Monday off work I ventured down to our allotment for a change of pace. I must have harvested 3kgs of blackberries (blackberry fool, blackberry coulis, blackberry ice cream – yummy), Hurst Greenshaft peas, broad beans, Patti Pans ‘Summer Mix’ F1 hybrid and Courgettes ‘De Nice A Fruit Rond’ (the latter two are fantastic in stir fries). Dozens of Tree Lilies are in flower, sweet peas keep coming and coming, and I was able to make up a small posy of dahlias & Buddleia ‘Buzz’® for my 104 year old friend Ethel, (whose brother survived the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, but that’s a whole other story.) Although Ethel had to give up gardening at the tender age of 100 because she could no longer balance on the top rung of her ladder, she did however manage the climb down her basement stairs to her wine cellar until she was 101.

Part of the reason I am able to continue trialling plants for T&M is the availability of space to experiment on my allotment. In fact really and truly I should register it in the name of T&M as most of the plants growing on it are from trials past and present! Some shrubs like the lilac are now in their third or fourth year and flowering reliably every spring. Daffodil bulbs are transplanted there after flowering on my patio, and annuals for cutting are sown to bring colour and fragrance into the house, as I won’t cut anything from the garden.

Caroline's Allotment

Buddleja ‘Buzz’®, Lilies and recent spoils from Caroline’s allotment

We have one more Open Day scheduled this summer on Sunday 4th September for The British Red Cross and then perhaps I can relax and go on holiday! As long as I have something new to try I am happy, and as gardens are never static I should be gainfully occupied for some time to come!

Katy’s The Good Life in Practice

An update from The Good Life In Practice:

So a lot has been happening in the growing season these last few months! The weather has got truly warmer and the rain has indeed helped the plants to push on. Here is a quick round up of what has been happening here…

Katy pictures

The tomato plants have well and truly flourished and I have added supports (small canes) for each of them so they can grow straight upwards-cannot wait for juicy tomatoes from these! The mixed salad seed mix, watercress seed mix and sorrel seed mix have been so easy to use too. I simply planted them in pots around the patio and they have sprouted up fresh leaves. This has been perfectly timed for making summer salads for dinners.

Katy's produce

Katy’s produce

Additionally, another supplement to salads has been the different varieties of nasturtiums I have tried. I have included some photographs of two types I have been using thus far in salads and in nasturtium leaf pesto recipes. Herbs such as chives have flowered and the beautiful, deep purple blooms on top have again been perfect for topping salads or pasta dishes. Moreover, when I get low on salad leaves between cropping’s I add pea shoots to the mix – these are so easy to simply cut off the top of pea crops and they quickly grow back. The spring onions tapes have been a triumph and are gradually growing as we speak. The easy seed tapes have meant I haven’t really had to worry about spacing or weeds as it is self-sufficient in this respect – a great, revolutionary idea.

Selection of Katy's flowers from the garden

Selection of Katy’s flowers from the garden

The big success has been the fruit bushes. My raspberry canes from Thompson & Morgan – including Glen Moy have been so successful again this year. It has been marvellous to pop down to sort the chickens of a morning and graze on fresh, plump raspberries on the journey down the garden! I have been lucky enough to have a successful blueberry bush, currants and gooseberry bush as well.

Katy's kitchen garden

Katy’s kitchen garden

The dwarf runner beans I am excited for too. They are just perfect for pots on the patio if you haven’t got a mountain of space in your garden – mine are potted up near the peas and thriving. Again runner beans are a firm favourite not just for eating on their own but also they are a great addition to chutney making.

More of Katy's great produce

More of Katy’s great produce

Lots more to share next time and hopefully some recipes too, Katy, The Good Life In Practice

Katy Runacres
Katy is a smallholder, cook and writer. She keeps Chickens, Bantams, Meat Rabbits and has a resident cat called Podge. She takes an interest in all aspects of homesteading and has written pieces for a number of magazines including Backwoods Home, Bushcraft, Country Smallholding, Home Farmer and Smallholder. Katy is a member of the Essex and Suffolk Poultry Club and has a Diploma in Countryside Management.

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