As this is my first blog, ever, I thought I would start by reflecting a little on where our gardening world has been going since the Second World War and, of course, where we are on the journey now!
Immediately after the war our successive Governments, of a variety of political persuasions, encouraged farmers and growers to maximise the cropping potential of every acre of land they could make productive. This move, in turn, caused what became known as the chemical treadmill. Where we applied stronger and stronger chemical products to kill off pests, diseases and weeds; that dared to attack our ever increasing acreages of crops. By the time we reached the 1970’s we had food mountains and wine lakes and had, without realising it, started to kill off wild flowers, insects, birds and wild animals in numbers that are now causing us serious concern.
Meadowland Mixture and Wildflower ‘Honey Bee Mixed’
When Rachel Carson wrote ‘The Silent Spring’ in 1962 few people listened to her concerns about the excessive use of chemical pesticides across the developed and developing world. When Dr. Chris Baines got the BBC to make the film ‘Bluetits and Bumblebees’ in the early 1980’s we all watched it but did not pick up the message. The Henry Doubleday Research Association (now Garden Organic), started in 1954 by Lawrence Hills has been encouraging amateur and professional growers to steer away from inorganic pesticides for over 60 years but who has been listening?
Now that scientific evidence and advanced knowledge of the damage that we have done to our planet over the last 60 + years has come into the public’s view, our Seed companies, breeders, researchers, nurseries and growers are seeing the potential market in offering us new strains of old favourites that require less and less pesticide attention.
Tomato ‘Mountain Magic’ and Carrot ‘Flyaway’ F1 Hybrid
Scanning through the first eleven pages of Thompson and Morgan’s 2016 Seed Catalogue, I have found five cultivars of popular vegetables that have known resistance to one problem or another. Tomato ‘Mountain Magic’ F1 is resistant to early and late blight; Carrot ‘Flyaway’ F1 is resistant to carrot root fly; Parsnip ‘Gladiator’F1 is resistant to Parsnip canker; Cucumber ‘Bella’ F1 and Courgette ‘Defender’ F1 are both resistant to powdery mildew.
Parsnip ‘Gladiator’ F1 Hybrid and Cucumber ‘Bella’ F1 Hybrid
Maybe someone will find strains of Impatiens and Aquilegias that are not devastated by Downy mildew in the future and Ash trees that are resistant to Ash dieback.
Busy Lizzy ‘Divine Mixed’ and Aquilegia ‘Swan Mixed’
This is all fantastic work on the part of breeders and growers and I feel sure that the list will get longer over the years as the pesticides gradually disappear from our Garden Centre shelves and pests and diseases become more resistant to them.
This cultural method of reducing the impact of pests and diseases should now be at the forefront in our battle with Mother Nature and, if we use physical barriers to help prevent attacks alongside the occasional use of biological control methods, we should be able to stop the use inorganic pesticides altogether.
Firstly, I would like to apologise for this blog been later than intended. I could say it was down to my gastro-flu bug, or I could blame the weather, either way it has kept me out of the greenhouse for weeks. I was reading over last February’s blog and gardening diary, and in terms of planting I am about a week behind. Last year I was tending to my indoor onions that seemed to take forever to grow, but were well worth the wait. My potatoes were in their grow bags, and I was waiting for some of my seeds to germinate.
This year my Potato ‘Charlotte’ have been growing their funny little tails in my tin cupboard next to the sink as opposed to on top of the wardrobe in egg cartons. The reason why they were in the cupboard is because I took them out of my fridge salad drawer where I had been keeping them from last year to warm up, and I put them in the cupboard in a bowl, then accidentally forgot about them, it was only when we were looking for a tin of tuna that we rediscovered them!
The weather here in Pembrokeshire has been awful – day after day of rain. We also got hit badly by Storm Imogen at the start of the month, and it came at the worst possible time. We were due to take a relative who had been staying here back to London on the Monday morning, and stay a few days with them ,as we wanted to beat the early morning traffic we set the alarm for stupid o clock and went to bed early. Unfortunately the wind was howling, around midnight, and the thunder woke us up. As a precaution we set the mobile phone alarm in case our electricity went off. We never really got back to sleep properly and when dawn came round we were dismayed to find that the storm was getting worse. We were just finishing our breakfast when Mark causally announced that he was surprised the greenhouses was still standing. To be honest so was I. We had checked the local radio announcements and they said that the Cleddau Bridge was close to all vehicles as the winds had been recorded at 95 MPH meaning we would have to go the long way round to reach the motorway and when the bridge is closed it cuts the county in half, so anyone going from Pembroke Dock to Haverfordwest and vice versa would face a 30 mile detour. Then suddenly crash. I looked at Mark, “What was that?” I asked. Another crash and splatter, the unmistakeable sound of the greenhouses exploding. It was still too dark to see anything, and as we placed the relative in her car seat, we drove away wondering just what we would come home too.
Greenhouse & Garden Damage
On the way to London, I text mum and Rachel to ask if it was safe later in the week, could they see how much damage was done, part of me wanted to know, part of me was dreading it. Rachel, unfortunately wasn’t able to check, but mums text said, it doesn’t look too bad. I think she was being optimistic as we lost 14 panes of glass and the door had popped out out of its frame, meaning that the plants had very little protection from the elements when we were away.
When we got back Mark managed to put the door back in, remarkably the glass that had popped out of it lay on the grass undamaged. We also had some spare panes from when the large greenhouse was delivered last year, so that saved a lot of money. We salvaged a piece of glass that was broken at the corners, useless for the part it had come out of but perfect for a missing triangular bit if the glazier was willing to cut it for us. We phoned our usual glazier and got no reply, so we tried a new one who said the older one was no longer in business. The new glazier was more than happy to cut the spare glass for us, he said his supplies were a bit low as everyone was calling on him. We ended up having to buy only 8 sheets at £35 so it wasn’t too expensive. Frustratingly the wind and rain meant it took another few days before it was safe enough for Mark to go out into the garden to install them.
What’s left after Storm Imogen!
As for the plants, well, I have only have 2 Sweet peas left after my September sowing. The geranium is kaput and the pepper is too. The Aloe Vera’s are perfect, the money tree and spider plant are thriving. Unbelievably there is a planter of spring bulbs in bloom, including a purple Anenome. The Yarrows and Californian Poppies were battered, wind burnt, and totally dried out, but they are resilient and they appear to be making a bit of a comeback. The Nigella sort of looks ok, and I appear to have a dandelion in another pot, which I did definitely not plant. The mystery plant that I thought was a tomato seedling is beginning to look more like a hollyhock. My begonias have finally died back, so I can now remove the tubers and get ready to plant them in fresh compost towards the end of March.
I said in my January blog that I had lots of seeds so plant and that I had bought my compost, but for some reason I was reluctant to do so, and for once my laziness has paid off, as I would have lost the lot in the storm. Besides, as the last two years have shown, we get better days in autumn then we do in spring, and so long as everything gets underway in the next two weeks it should be okay.
Seed Packets & Cosmos ‘Sensation Mixed’
One type of seed I a really looking forward to growing was kindly sent to me by Jean Willis, and this is the Chilli ‘Cayennetta’ it can be sown in Feb March and April. Mark wants to make some sweet chilli sauce. I don’t particularly love hot peppers, so I will be trying the Pepper ‘Sweet Boneta’ sauce instead. Luckily she also sent me these too.
I had some free Cosmos seeds from a magazine, and as it’s the year of the Cosmos, I definitely have to grow these. The mix is called Summer Sensation and they come in pink, carmine and white, again they are T&M seeds so I know they will be reliable.
Hopefully, March will be more productive for me, I would be interested to know if any readers were affected by the winter storms, and if like me, you are still behind with your greenhouse or gardening tasks.
Until then, Happy Gardening,
We all need a drink of water and birds are no different. During the cold months water can be scarce; so it is our job to make sure that our native and visiting birds get the water and food they need. We have been encroaching on their patch for so long now that it is time for us to step up and help these poor birdies out!
Blue tit, Robin and Blackbird
So what can we do? The best way to help the birds to enjoy a fresh drink of water is to keep a bird bath in the garden all year round. It will need to have shallow sloping sides approximately 2.5cm to 10cm (1” to 4”), so that different species can enjoy drinking and having a bath! The surface needs to be rough so the birds can hold on with their claws, but the aesthetics of the bird bath are more to please us than the birds, who won’t mind if it is an old bowl. At Thompson & Morgan we are always concerned about wildlife and the impact that we all have on them, so we have a range of bird baths to please you and the birds.
Thompson & Morgan Birdbath
The type of bird bath you have and the varieties of vegetation around it will determine the types of birds you get visiting. When birds are bathing they do get rather preoccupied and excited so it is most important to make sure they are not vulnerable to cats or other pets. The birds will need clear visibility as they bathe, and planting bushes and trees nearby will provide vital cover when they feel alarmed or scared. After bathing birds like to preen so bushes and trees will also provide a place to do this, and the higher off the ground the safer they will feel. Adding a thick layer of clippings from thorny vegetation, such as rose bushes or pyracantha, underneath the bird bath will help keep your pets away.
Try placing the bird bath around the garden to find the ideal spot. You may be lucky enough to see parent birds bringing their babies for a drink after they have fledged. The parent birds will want to show their babies where the water is. Birds can drink a large amount of water so keep it topped up regularly.
You can encourage more species of birds with a bird bath than you can with a feeder, so this is another reason to bring one into the garden. Birds such as wrens, and waxwings that eat insects and fruit don’t usually visit feeders so a bird bath will encourage these species to visit your garden. Bird baths can attract all kinds of birds including bluebirds, robins, warblers and thrushes, and you may even get an owl fly in at dawn when they are thirsty for a drink. Having the bird bath in sight of your window means you will be able to see your visitoring birds and you can enjoy watching them enjoy themselves in the bird bath.
Do take note that during droughts birds try and drink from water barrels and drinking troughs, and unfortunately many die from drowning. We recommend keeping your water containers under a lid which should encourage the birds to use the bird bath instead.
If you would like to find out more visit the RSPB who have lots of information on helping birds through the seasons.
In part one we explored a brief history of how the petunia emigrated from Argentina to Britain, but I was curious about the life of John (James) Tweedie, and I was interested to find out when T&M first started selling petunias. Luckily I had two people who were willing to give me some answers. Firstly I am indebted to Mr Graham Hardy the Serials Librarian at The Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh. When researching the early introduction of petunia seeds sent from Argentina by Tweedie, some of the reports called him John and some were calling him James, as I was worried about getting my facts wrong, I emailed Mr Hardy my query and he very kindly sent me some fascinating links including one that is an online copy of Mr Tweedie’s obituary. This document highlights what an important and extraordinary man he was. Not only was he a professional landscape gardener and held the title of Foreman in Dalkeith Gardens, but he also held the title at The Edinburgh Royal Botanic Gardens too. He didn’t travel to South America until he was fifty and he died there aged eighty seven after some remarkable plant hunting adventures. It wasn’t only the petunia seeds he sent back to Scotland, as gardeners we have a lot to thank him for.
Petunia ‘Night Sky’ and Petunia ‘Cremissimo’
I have copied the link in for you if you wish to learn more about him, with kind permission from Mr Hardy and the Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh “You can read the obituary for John Tweedie published in the Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 28 June 1862, here http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/32988793. With credit to the Biodiversity Heritage Library. BHL is a US initiative started around 2005, which provides a platform for digital versions of biological books held in US and UK libraries, it is a great thing to have access to.”**
There is also this link for his species now known as Petunia integrifolia (Hooker) Schinz & Thell. You can see herbarium specimens of this species collected by John Tweedie on RBGE’s online herbarium catalogue here: http://elmer.rbge.org.uk/bgbase/vherb/bgbasevherb.php. again printed with kind permission from Mr Hardy and The Royal Botanical Gardens.**
And by no means least a big Thank You to Anne who was working the Petunia Parade Facebook posts who kindly answered my other question When did Thompson and Morgan first sell petunias? “There were no petunias in the 1914 catalogue, but in 1915 there were quite a few. The most popular petunia sold is ‘Priscilla’ and she is twenty years old this year and is as popular as ever.”
Petunia ‘Purple Rocket’ and Petunia Crazytunia ‘Green With Envy’
The story isn’t over yet, new breeding still continues, a quick look through the Two Thousand and Sixteen Spring Catalogue from T&M shows us the introduction of eleven new Petunias. My favourites are ‘Night Sky’, ‘Cremissimo’, and ‘Anna’. So maybe it’s about time to actually take a leaf out of The Dixons Men’s Garden Club who are based in Dixon, Illinois, America and put our Petunias on Parade.
Each year they plant thousands of pink petunias along at least two miles of their main roads into Dixon. If that’s not enough Ludington residents plant thirty thousand red, white and blue petunias at their marina and downtown boulevards, and they credit Charlesvox in Michigan for the idea, as their residents plant up five miles of US 31 with these flowers each year.
Petunia ‘Stars and Stripes Mixed’
Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could get just one city, town, village or hamlet in Britain to start a real Petunia Parade too?
*Mendle’s Law quoted from Wikipedia.
** Quoted from Grahah Hardy. RBGE
Today Alan (my Husband) has put my 4 foot portable greenhouse up after being stored away for the past 8 months since it was last used. I also have a 2 foot one which just fits nicely together alongside the 4 foot one, close by the kitchen door and will be erected as the first one fills up. You will see from the photograph that Alan has made a bracket which is fitted to the front of both greenhouses and screwed into the wall, following an unfortunate experience last year when on a very rough day it lifted the greenhouse up together with all the plants! This seems to work very well now against strong winds. Updated 8th February: We have had storm Imogen whistle through today with winds of 60-70 mph here on the South Coast of Bournemouth and thankfully my greenhouse is still standing.
I also have a hexagonal greenhouse which will be near Alan`s workshop. The last two years have been unable to use it as the zip had broken and I was unable to get another cover. Towards the end of last year I managed to find a new one, so now it will used this year for extra room until the plants are big enough to be put in their baskets and containers.
Jean’s Greenhouse, chains and shoehanger
A lot of the flowers from last summer seem to have continued flowering through the last three months. Some of the Diascia in the hanging basket just keep going on and on. Erysimum, the everlasting wallflower has been in flower and is still has more flowers to come.
The bulbs that were planted last October in containers have several daffodils which have been flowering since just after Christmas and at the time of writing (the beginning of February) I have tulips in bud, although to be honest it could be a few days before they will flower and then only if the weather warms up and the sun comes out. Until 10 days ago my Lantana was still flowering, we had a very hard frost one night and it was `goodbye` to them. The Eucomis (pineapple lily plant) is shooting well, so have covered it with some new compost in case we get another hard frost.
Jean’s Bumblebee Hyacinth, Magnolia ‘Susan’ and Hyacinth
I have also been sorting out my hanging baskets – do I really have that many? A friend who has moved into a flat gave me some of the original terracotta easy fill plastic baskets, large and also smaller ones which hold six plants round the outside and three or four plants in the top. I have also cleared space for my Incredicompost® which is on order from Thompson and Morgan and is due within the next week, and the first plants should be arriving towards the end of March. This year I have also purchased two new computer timers for our watering system, the old ones finally gave up and weren`t reliable.
Spring looked as if it had come a little early a couple of days ago. My hyacinths from Thompson & Morgan were in full flower and had been left in the porch with the door open as it was a sunny day. I found three huge bumble bees fighting over the hyacinths one of which had nestled itself right into the flowers. The Magnolia Stellata has one flower out so far, a little early, but still very welcome.
Jean’s Erysium, Daffodils and Geraniums
At the end of each day when I have finished with my gardening tools, I like to clean them with a rag and spray them with a well-known lubricant oil which keeps the tools from getting rusty and always ready for use. In my small shed I have an old shoe hanger where all the small tools, trowel, hand fork etc. are kept. All the chains for the hanging baskets hang on the inside the door and are sprayed with the same lubricant as the tools at the end of the season for protection during the winter. Now if only I could keep my kitchen that tidy…I guess something has to give when you love your garden! Until the next time…Happy Gardening!