Anyone for cucamelon?

So anyway, after two weeks of tropical 30c heat, here we are in mid-September, the rain finally came and the temperature’s dropped to a respectably dull 20c. Great, I think, I can start tidying up for the autumn, and then go on holiday. But when I get outside everything has started greening up and growing again!

Anyone for cucamelon? & cucamelon and Tomato 'Tutti Fruiti'

Anyone for cucamelon? & cucamelon and Tomato ‘Tutti Fruiti’

All very confusing, for me as well as the plants! Summer: The cucamelons are overtaking the greenhouse and have taken the tomatoes hostage, the cucumber vine isn’t even mildewed yet, and the peppers are ripening. Autumn: Salvia cuttings and strawberry runners are potted up. Winter: Colocasias have been brought undercover. Spring: My T&M bulbs have arrived.

Talking of which, I‘ve gone all delicate for next spring: I’ve bought jonquilla daffs Martinette, Pueblo & Pipit, and Green Eyed Lady for the patio containers. For the raised bed out front I’ve bought scilla, aconite and puschkinia; lots and lots of them. I’m into naturalising from now on, partly to let nature increase its stocks and partly because I hate planting bulbs. Tulips are off – by the time they come into flower I’ve got bored waiting, and the minute they start to look off colour I pull’em up because I’m impatient to start planting out for summer. No point planting them in pots as Fred the Oriental eats the leaves! Alliums get on my nerves too, all those floppy leaves lying around amongst the pristine perennials. Oh didn’t I tell you? I’m a neat freak.

Poinsonous ricinus seed heads & minitunia Calibrachoa 'Crackerjack'

Poinsonous ricinus seed heads & minitunia Calibrachoa ‘Crackerjack’

However, I digress. Actually I‘ve had a lovely morning in the garden. Been around all the borders deadheading & cutting back, planting up some divisions I took earlier this year to bulk up their parent plants, reducing clumps of thugs like achillea The Pearl, and relocating perennials to rebalance displays. I’ve even pushed the boundaries of taste (my taste anyway) and planted very garish (plant label refers to them as Bold) but stunning Rudbeckia ‘Summertime Orange‘ and Helenium autumnale ‘Red Shades’. Sedums seem to be very in vogue at the moment with several new varieties on offer. I have bought Jose Aubergine, a deep burgundy type with dusky pink flowers. (Why I have bothered to plant late summer colour is a mystery to me as I‘m only likely to see it on my way to the greenhouse and back these days.)

Since our last Open Day for this year on Sept 4th I’ve barely been in the garden for more than a few minutes at a time – too hot or too busy – other than to water. The auto-watering system keeps exploding from a key joint in the pipe on the patio. (As a result, frogs have been gravitating to the cool shady moisture of the patio from the scorching heat of the borders, straight into the jaws of Winky the Sphynx. One such happy incident resulted in seven cats staking out the sofa with frog in hiding underneath. David applied the glass jar and plate method of capture, frog relocated to pond and all was well.) Back to the matter at hand, consequently the irrigation system was rendered useless during the hottest September temperatures for the last 40 years so watering had to be done with hose and sprinkler twice a day for nearly a fortnight. A heated debate ensued amongst friends, as to the relative merits of watering as a means of relaxation as opposed to deadheading. My money’s on deadheading every time!

Petunia 'Mandevilla' & Today's Catch!

Petunia ‘Mandevilla’ & Today’s Catch!

Since the summer holidays ended there has been a distinct change of pace (traffic, talks of Christmas) but my thoughts are naturally turning to Garden 2017. The summer house, currently decorated in the style of a 1930s tea room, is going to be transformed into a beach hut. On the patio we are going to fix mirrors along the boundary fence to reflect more light in and make it look bigger.

It’s time to reflect on the winners and losers of the season, now that this summer’s T&M trial period has concluded. Definitely to be repeated next summer are Petunia ‘Cremissimo’, minitunia Calabrachoa ‘Crackerjack’, Bidens ‘Bee Dance Painted Red’ and the un-named bidens which is being launched in T&M 2017 catalogue. Petunia ‘Crazytunia Mandevilla’ is not for the faint hearted, although stunningly beautiful and still going strong, it needs watering and deadheading twice a day at the height of the season and sulks if you don’t feed it every week. Although Fuchsia FUCHSIABERRY never really got going I am hopeful that it will come into its own next summer. Patti Pans ‘Summer Mixed’ have been great fun to grow and are very versatile in recipes for stir fry, roasted, in soups and pie fillings. Having initially been disappointed in Tomato ‘Tutti Frutti’, suddenly, overnight it seems, the trusses have ripened to produce colourful little fruits, not my favourites but very pretty.

Calibrachoa 'Crackerjack'

Calibrachoa ‘Crackerjack’

Ricinus communis ‘Impala’ has been a revelation, three magnificent specimens grown from seed, admired by all, and great fun to see people’s faces when you tell them that’s where the poisonous ricin comes from! But my absolute favourite product has got to be Cucamelon ‘Melothria’: A real curiosity on Garden Open Days, and second prize in the Any Other Fruits category at our Horticultural Society Autumn Show. (Hmm, David won first prize and Best In show for his Dinner Plate Aeonium, judged by the one and only Jim Butress no less.) So easy to grow from seed, three vines have produced dozens, no hundreds, of fruits that look like mini watermelons and taste like lemon flavoured cucumbers. They are delicious in salads dressed with raspberry vinegar or thrown into a gin and tonic (with lime juice ice-cubes) or Pimms. Anyone got any other recipes for cucamelon?

My next blog will be after the London Gardens Society awards in October; we have been shortlisted for Best Small Garden so fingers crossed…..In the meantime I intend to make the most of the autumn as it’s a long old winter ahead. Hope you do too!

Top 5 favourite hedges

A hedge is an integral part of any garden providing privacy and security for those that want it. Whilst providing wildlife with food too. Hedges offer a good way of partitioning parts of the garden without need for a fence,  keeping a natural appearance. Able to grow in difficult areas of the garden it make a good go-to plant to fill empty spaces. We have provided some of our favourites to give you an idea of what you can expect for the rest of our hedging range.

Green Beech

Green Beech

1. For good security and wildlife benefits Green Beech has to be one of our top choices. Growing to any height, it provides a good dense barrier. It only needs to be clipped or trimmed once or twice a year making it ideal for busy people. It tends to hold most of its leaves over winter, even though they have died off and sheds them in spring as the new growth appears. Loved by wildlife, Green Beech also has an Award of Garden Merit from the RHS, so you can be sure it will perform as expected year after year.

Golden Privet

Golden Privet

2. Another of our favourites is an evergreen hedge. Well known Golden Privet provides year round interest in the garden, and is the perfect hedge for protecting against bad weather and high winds. This pretty hedge will grow in sunny and deep shady positions so there is no reason not to have it in a dark corner of the garden where its golden leaves will brighten even the dreariest patch of earth. With pretty clusters of white flowers in summer if left untrimmed, this is an ideal hedge for any garden size. Easy to grow and maintain Golden Privet will give good mileage year after year and all through the seasons.

Dog Rose

Dog Rose

3. Coastal gardening can be difficult. With a different type of soil and landscape it is  important to get it right first time. Number three on our list is the Dog Rose. This simple rose has thorny stems that act as a deterrent and barrier. Easy to grow and maintain, and it is vigorous during the growing season. With pink and white flowers in summer and bright red hips in autumn this hedge is loved by birds. Some parts of this hedge are edible. Click here.

Rowan

Rowan

4.Need a hedge in a hurry? Rowan is fast growing once established and a familiar sight in Britain. It is happy to be clipped back regularly, allowing you to keep it neat and tidy. Clipping back will encourage new growth and branching out which thickens its habit, creating a delightful looking hedgerow. With springtime flowers of pink and white, it’s a pretty hedge to be enjoyed during summer when it is in full flush. Orange and red berries appear during autumn feeding birds and other wildlife.

Lombardy Poplar

Lombardy Poplar

5.Finally Lombardy Poplar. This wonderful hedge can tower over the landscape but with regular trimming it will form neat rows. Often used by farmers as screening, and regular trimming will encourage it to ‘bush out’. The almost triangular shaped leaves turn to lovely shades of yellow before they fall to reveal the rough bark. Perfect for nesting birds, and insects alike. Some parts of this hedge are edible. Click here.

Overall hedging is the perfect addition to any garden space, whether large or small,  can help to create a good nesting place and food for birds. Perfect for providing an effective barrier from the UK weather, this is just a small sample of the hedging selection we have. View our full range of hedging here. With our Hedge Planting Guide. Advice on Selecting Your Hedge.

 

Wendie Alexander
Having just finished my English Degree at university I am excited to continue working for Thompson & Morgan where I have worked for more than 3 years. I am a keen gardener who wants to learn lots more!

Garden Water Features

If you want to make your garden the ultimate place to relax and unwind then you can do no better than to invest in a garden water feature.

Water features create a focal point in the garden that you garden plants can be centred around.

Water feature and planter & Wishing well water feature

Water feature and planter & Wishing well water feature

With a variety of styles to choose from, such as traditional to contemporary water features, there is something for every garden. Some even have additional features such as LED lights and a place for your flowers to be planted for extra colour and texture.

Many water features are now made from hard wearing polyester resin that will not rust or rot, lasting for many years.

Stone water feature & pebble water featureStone water feature & pebble water feature

Stone water feature & pebble water feature

Most water features are supplied with power leads and pumps and are easy to install. Once installed, all you need to do is switch the pump on with the outdoor cable and the submersible pump will circulate the water. Solar powered water features are also available.

Water features create a tranquil haven for birds and other wildlife in your garden and are a perfect alternative to birdbaths.

Jug water feature & tub water feature

Jug water feature & tub water feature

If you are lucky to have LED lights built into your water feature, you will be able to enjoy your water feature at night just as much as in the daytime, enjoying the ambience of running water whenever you want.

Wendie Alexander
Having just finished my English Degree at university I am excited to continue working for Thompson & Morgan where I have worked for more than 3 years. I am a keen gardener who wants to learn lots more!

Flowers for our flying friends.

With all the talk about the collapse of our bee populations and the decline in the number and variety of our native butterflies, gardeners can do their bit by providing the flowers that can help to support butterflies, moths, bees and hoverflies as they journey around our gardens looking for a pollen and nectar fix.

Some years ago, the RHS developed lists of plants called ‘Perfect for Pollinators.’ The two lists are for cultivated plants and wild plants across the seasons. Check out http://www.rhs.org.uk for more details and the lists.

 

Rudbeckia 'All Sorts Mixed' & Cosmos 'Xanthos'

Rudbeckia ‘All Sorts Mixed’ & Cosmos ‘Xanthos’

 

Over the last century, gardeners, growers and breeders have concentrated some of their efforts on developing and using double flowers to increase the effect of the display and this, alongside many other factors, has not helped us to support our pollinating insects because the pollen and nectar are hidden deep in the flowers, making them inaccessible to the insects.

The ‘Perfect for Pollinators’ lists contain, for the most part, wild species of plants whose flowers are simple, single and easily accessible. Comb through your latest Thompson & Morgan seed and plant catalogues and compare them with the ‘Perfect for Pollinators’ lists. It will not take you long to find some stunning plants for your garden that will not only give you a lot of pleasure, but will help to support some of our vital flying insects as well – everyone is a winner!

 

Ageratum houstonianum 'Pincushion Mixed' & Perfect for Pollinators

Ageratum houstonianum ‘Pincushion Mixed’ & Perfect for Pollinators

 

The new Rudbeckia collection, with three fabulous cultivars that will flower from July until October, with their simple, flat, open daisy-like flowers are a perfect example of a flower design that suits all of our pollinating insects. The new yellow Cosmos ‘Xanthos’ is another excellent example to search out.

Plants that have lots of very small flowers in clusters, such as the new Ageratum ‘Pincushion Mixed’, that will flower from June to September, are perfect examples of plants that will provide that quick nectar fix that butterflies and moths need to give them the energy to search out a mate – an essential part of maintaining their populations! The 2016 catalogue contains a number of different strains of Foxgloves and I feel sure that we have all seen bumblebees struggling to clamber into one of those inviting trumpets to get their daily pollen supply and a nectar fix for energy.

 

Foxglove 'Dalmation Mixed' & Cornflower 'Classic Fantastic'

Foxglove ‘Dalmation Mixed’ & Cornflower ‘Classic Fantastic’

 

Many of our hardy annuals (HA in the catalogue), that can be sown directly into the garden in April and May, will provide hundreds of nectar and pollen rich flowers from June right up to the first frosts of autumn. Some can even be sown in September and October, lasting the winter as young plants and flowering in April, May and June. Examples to look out for include the new Nigella ‘Midnight’, Amberboa muricata, Ammi visnaga, Bupleurum ‘Green Gold’, Calendulas, Californian Poppies, Cornflowers, Cosmos and Daucus ‘Dara’ .

I will leave you to go through the rest of the catalogue yourself to discover the many other wonderful examples of plants that can provide that essential support for our butterflies, moths, bees and hoverflies. Remember that 30% of all that we eat is reliant on pollinating insects – apples, pears, plums, blackcurrants, blueberries and runner beans, to name but a few.

Graham Porter

Graham Porter
I have worked in horticulture for the past 49 years and have become more involved with and concerned about the environmental impact that our profession has had on the world. I am married with 2 grown up children and 4 wonderful grandchildren. I am currently writing my first book that reflects my thoughts on gardening / horticulture in an environmentally friendly manner.

Our Symbiotic Relationship with Birds and Bees

I provide garden care in North Norfolk and trained at Easton College, as it states in my bio below. Just because I have my Diploma it doesn’t mean I know it all. I am constantly learning new things and am intrigued by a great deal. College doesn’t teach you about our relationship and need for animals and insects in our gardens and horticulture. But, through my work, I have learned how much we rely on them and how much they rely on us – and how exploitive of us they can be too!

I often stop when I see a bee and watch as it carefully lands on a flower then oh-so delicately extracts the sweet nectar that it beholds. How could we do all that pollinating without them? And how could they live without us planting for them? There’s a big push at the moment for planting wild flowers in gardens and leaving bare patches for the bees to make their homes in. Birds love it too!

 

Wildflower Meadow

Wildflower Meadow

 

We can spend £100’s on feeders, fat balls, meal worms, baths, tables, bug hotels, insect feeders and nest boxes all in a year. Just so we can see the flutter of a butterfly, chaffinch, blue tit and but most often than not those blooming pigeons!

In one garden I care for, I have a friend. She follows me around like my shadow. Often pushing her way into where I am working to get the good stuff. I am talking about Athena, the very bold female Black Bird (True Thrush/Turdus merula).

 

Bug Hotel

Bug Hotel

 

This week I was digging up ground elder (Aegopodium podagraria) and she walks right up to me sitting on the ground, working away with my hand fork, to find her lunch. She filled her beak many times! Athena was with me for nearly two hours, coming and going, filling her beak (and stomach) and watching the three Robins (Erithacus rubecula) fight over who’s “turf” it was that I was providing dinner on. It’s a wonderful feeling when it happens.

 

Female Blackbird

Female Blackbird

 

Many people with think I’m daft but I always talk to them, bees, birds, butterflies and the odd squirrel that visits when I’m in another garden. After all the birds help to keep those pesky aphids and slugs at bay and the bees do the hard work for us! (Not too sure what the squirrels do?)

I love my job because not only do I help people to enjoy their gardens again, as most are of the age where they are not able to do it themselves, but I am helping nature to help me. It makes me proud of what I do. And I hope that the rest of you gardeners are too, whether amateur or professional!

So smile, you’re doing something that really matters.
Lesley

Lesley Palmer
I’m a 22 year old female horticulturalist. I studied at Easton College for two years until June 2014 and became self employed providing garden care and design in north Norfolk. I currently care for 21 gardens and have now achieved a few designs and a small landscaping project.

I am passionate about getting young people, especially primary schools, involved in gardening again. I began because of spending so much time in the garden with my granddad as a child. I was also a member of my primary school’s environment club.

I am a fan of Michael Perry and James Wong.

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