Hanging basket habits revealed

Thompson & Morgan survey reveals nation’s habits when it comes to summer hanging baskets

Love them or loathe them, nothing sets up the garden for summer like a vibrant display of hanging baskets. As the UK’s leading mail order supplier of seasonal basket plants, Thompson & Morgan has surveyed the nation’s gardeners to see how they use them to best effect in their garden, with some interesting findings.

Highlights include:
•   Red is the nation’s favourite basket flower colour
•   Begonia ‘Apricot Shades’ named best basket plant
•   Begonias, fuchsias and petunias hold the top slots but….
•   60% of gardeners are planning to try something new in their summer baskets this year
•   Hanging basket numbers per garden ranged from 1 to 28, but the average is 5.4 per plot
•   15% of gardening households don’t include hanging baskets in their summer displays

Begonia 'Apricot Shades' & Begonia 'Lotto Mixed'

Begonia ‘Apricot Shades’ & Begonia ‘Lotto Mixed’

Hanging baskets are all about showing off and adding colour to the garden scene, so Thompson & Morgan was keen to identify the nation’s favourite floral basket shades. When gardeners were invited to take the Thompson & Morgan online survey this spring, the top three flower colours were red (24%), purple (22%) and pink (17%). Just 5% prefer white flowers, and while only 10% chose yellow and 9% orange, Begonia ‘Apricot Shades’ received the most mentions as a favourite hanging basket plant, with trailing begonias, petunias and fuchsias in general filling the top slots.

Petunia 'Night Sky' & Begonia 'Illumination Mixed'

Petunia ‘Night Sky’ & Begonia ‘Illumination Mixed’

The survey findings reveal that the majority of basket gardeners use just two or three flower colours in their basket displays (38%), with only 9% sticking to one colour. 26% go all out with a riot of mixed colour in their baskets, while 27% of respondents said they employ a combination of single colours, duos, trios and mixes across their various baskets.

Hanging baskets seem to be the place for gardeners to experiment with new plants, with over 60% looking to try something different in their displays this summer. Thompson & Morgan sales analysis shows that the new edible Fuchsia Berry and the unusually speckled Petunia ‘Night Sky’ are stand out ‘experimental’ basket options for customers this season.

Petunia 'Frills & Spills™ Mixed' & Fuchsia 'Trailing Mixed'

Petunia ‘Frills & Spills™ Mixed’ & Fuchsia ‘Trailing Mixed’

Tastes in basket style are fast changing too, with just 13 per cent opting for traditional moss-lined wire baskets. Coir matting is now the preferred option for lining older style baskets, but 45% of respondents said they had no need for basket liners as they now use pre-lined wicker baskets or plastic Easy Fill Baskets that need no lining at all. These were also chosen for their durability and ease of planting and upkeep through the season.

Only 36% of basket gardeners have tried fruit or vegetables in their hanging displays, despite many edible plants being suitable for baskets. For those that do grow their own this way, strawberries, tomatoes and mixed herbs were the most common planting option, but the new edible Fuchsia Berry and basket Blackberry ‘Black Cascade’ look set to shake things up.

Fuchsia Berry & Blackberry 'Black Cascade'

Fuchsia Berry & Blackberry ‘Black Cascade’

Gardeners are savvy about the benefits of regular deadheading of basket plants to promote more flowers and extend the life of their baskets – Just 1% admitted to never deadheading, saying life is too short. But 31% dead head their basket plants on a weekly basis, and 29 % do it daily. 23% deadhead twice a week, leaving 15 percent to do it “when remembered”.

Thompson & Morgan’s survey also threw up some interesting findings when it comes to the nation’s use of winter and spring hanging baskets, to be revealed soon.

RHS gardener sows seed of hope for UK record-breaking pumpkin

Thompson & Morgan donates world’s most expensive pumpkin seed to Hyde Hall vegetable grower

Following a nationwide hunt to find a gardener brave enough to sow the world’s most expensive pumpkin seed, Thompson & Morgan has delivered a seed of the current world record-breaking pumpkin (2,323lb, grown by Beni Meier in 2014) to the vegetable garden at RHS Hyde Hall, Essex. The mail order seed and plant specialist paid a record £1,250 for the seed at auction at the World Pumpkin Commonwealth Conference earlier in the season, in a bid to boost UK pumpkin genetics and see a world record contender grown on UK shores for the first time.

Paul Hansord handing over the giant pumpkin seed to Matthew Oliver

Paul Hansord handing over the giant pumpkin seed to Matthew Oliver

Thompson & Morgan director Paul Hansord delivered the precious seed to RHS horticulturist, Matthew Oliver, on 13 April. Armed with a crib sheet of Thompson & Morgan’s tips for success he promptly set the seed into potting compost, eager to make a start on the giant undertaking. Adding to the pressure, all this was carried out in front of a film crew from BBC Inside Out East, who will be following his progress through the season. A full report will be aired on the BBC1 show in the build up to Halloween.

Fortunately Matthew already has some good experience under his belt. Hyde Hall has become renowned for its pumpkin patch in recent years. Around 60 varieties of pumpkins, squash and gourds are grown at the Chelmsford garden each year, with thousands of visitors attending events through autumn to see the produce on display.

Matthew said: “Our largest pumpkins always draw a crowd, so I have been concentrating more time and effort on growing giant specimens in recent years. In 2015 I produced a 530lb giant and I already had big plans for 2016. We’ve built a larger patch (150x40ft) giving me space to grow four giant plants. Soil conditions have been improved and so have the irrigation systems, wind shelter and feeding programmes have all been planned to encourage the heaviest fruits.”

Sanding down the seed coating for quicker germination

Sanding down the seed coating for quicker germination

Growing outdoors, Matthew admits he is unlikely to break the world record, but has set a personal target around the 1,000lb mark, which would make his attempt the heaviest outdoor pumpkin ever grown in the UK. He also hopes his attempt will encourage others to try in the future. He said: “Outdoor growing is much more achievable for home gardeners, and once they see the results at Hyde Hall I hope others will take up the challenge in their own gardens and allotments. Pumpkins are such a rewarding hobby plant.”

Matthew now has until 8th October to grow the biggest possible specimen and get it to the UK official weigh in at the Autumn Pumpkin Festival, Royal Victoria Country Park, Netley, Southampton.
The pumpkin patch will be on show to all Hyde Hall garden visitors through the season.

Thompson & Morgan was swamped with requests to grow the seed. Impressed with the passion of many of the entrants, it has sent seeds from several other heavyweight pumpkins (1689-2008lb specimens) to five other interested growers: Joanne Jackson, Cheshire; Guy French, Essex; Anthony & Sally Pooley, Suffolk, George Richardson, County Durham, and Mr Hill, Cantubury

Expert tips for bigger and better sweet peas

3 simple tips for bigger sweet peas

Left to their own devices sweet pea plants will work their way up their supports, going on to produce masses of colour and scent. However, with a few simple training tricks you can turn an every-day display into a real show-stopper!

My tips here will encourage the fastest growth and the biggest blooms on the longest stems. You can see the difference my training tricks bring about in the photo below.


Training difference in sweet peas

Training difference in sweet peas.


Sweet Pea ‘Turquoise Lagoon’ in the left hand pot has been left to its own devices, while Sweet Pea ‘Eleanore Udall’ on the right has received some regular attention from me – and what a difference it makes. When I get home this evening I’ll have to add the next tier to the Tower Pot frame, it will be another couple of weeks before I have to do that for ‘Turquoise Lagoon’.

If you want the same results, simply carry out my three easy maintenance tips:

Remove side shoots: Check plants every few days for side shoot development. These divert energy away from the main stem, which delays flowering and reduces eventual flower size. Use snips or your thumb and forefinger to pinch out shoot growth as close to the main stem as possible.


Remove sideshoots

Remove sideshoots

Remove tendrils: Sweet pea plants put a lot of energy into producing tendrils and latching on to available supports. Divert that energy back into the main stem by snipping off tendrils before they latch on to a support.


Remove tendrils

Remove tendrils


Tie in: With no tendrils to hold up stems you’ll have to provide an alternative. I use sweet pea rings to keep my stems in place. They are quick and easy to put around both stems and supports, with plenty of room left between them. Therefore, avoiding any stem damage, and the rings can be used again and again. It is so much easier to work with than fiddly twine or raffia.

Sweet pea rings

Sweet pea rings

Incredicompost®: best growing media on the market

Independent sowing and growing trials confirm incredicompost® can’t be beaten on performance

It takes confidence to launch a new product in a crowded market while claiming to have the best in the business, but consumer champion Which? has confirmed what Thompson & Morgan already knew: the mail order specialist’s incredicompost® really is the best overall compost for sowing seeds and raising young plants.

The premium-grade compost was officially launched in March 2015 in response to increased levels of Thompson & Morgan customer disappointment with existing blends on the market, which were leading to poor performance in their gardens from the mail order specialist’s core range of seeds and young plants. Following extensive in-house comparison trials incredicompost® was launched along with incredibloom® and incredicrop® fertilisers, promising the healthiest of plants with up to 400 per cent more flowers and fruit.

incredirange - incredicompost®

incredicompost® – prices from £9.99

Justifiably the trials team at Which? Gardening was keen to put the claims to the test. Their independent trials, carried out during the 2015 growing season, have named incredicompost® as the best overall compost for sowing seeds and raising young plants. It was given a score of 95 per cent for sowing seeds, setting it well ahead of the next best performer, which scored 80 per cent. It came miles ahead of the worst seed sowing performer, labelled a ‘Don’t Buy’ product by the trials team having scored just 33 per cent. For raising young plants incredicompost® also gained a high 90 per cent test score, leading to a Which? Best Buy.

Two seed varieties, antirrhinum and cabbage, were sown in the Which? trial and two plant varieties, fibrous begonias and tomatoes, were chosen for growing on. According to the trial report incredicompost® “had the highest germination rate by far for the antirrhinum seed and close to perfect germination for cabbage seed. The seedlings were all very healthy. The young begonias were the best in the test and the tomatoes were robust plants.”

In another Which? Gardening compost test looking at container performance, incredicompost® was listed as a recommended product: “The bedding plants [grown in incredicompost®] were dazzling. They shot away and were larger and flowered better than in most other composts early in the season. They were also superb in August.”

Thompson & Morgan's incredicompost® trials

Comparison shot from Thompson & Morgan’s own trial programme

Thompson & Morgan Horticultural Director Paul Hansord said: “We always knew we were on to a winner with our first move into the compost market. Our aim with incredicompost® has been to develop a premium-quality product that brings consistency and reliability back to the market – something that has been missing since the increased use of green waste materials in a bid to reduce peat content in many well-known brands. Gardeners are keen to reduce their peat use but many have reported poor results with green-waste products.”

He adds: “To reduce the peat in our blend we have instead included wood fibre, sourced from Irish saw mills, actually making use of a surplus by-product. This wood fibre is graded by chip size, so each time we make a new batch we can guarantee consistency from our ingredients, leading to consistent performance from the compost, no matter the time of year or which ‘batch’ our customers are supplied from.”

incredicompost® comes packed with trace elements and minerals and like many other composts includes wetting agent for easy watering, plus a little pre-mixed fertiliser to ensure good early growth. What sets it out from the crowd is a pre-packed sachet of incredibloom® in every bag for mixing in at planting time, ensuring strong healthy growth for 7+ months – a little goes a long way! Separating the feed into a sachet prevents degradation (leading to either a lack of nutrients for plants or nutrient scorch), a common problem with other pre-mixed, long lasting composts.

If you can’t afford failure in the garden, choose incredicompost® for the best performance from all your seeds and plants. Click here to view incredicompost®. Prices from £9.99.

Full coverage of the compost trials can be found in the Jan/Feb 2016 and April 2016 issues of Which? Gardening

Introducing the Gin & Tonic Tree™

The latest innovation from the Thompson & Morgan Grafting Programme

Juniper berries and quinine bark from the same tree? Following the success of the dual-cropping Tomtato® (tomatoes and potatoes from one plant) and Egg & Chips® (aubergines and potatoes on one plant), Thompson & Morgan is pleased to introduce its latest innovation in grafting technology: The Gin & Tonic Tree™.

Gin & Tonic Tree™

It may sound impossible (so did the Tomtato® concept!), but UK gardeners can now grow juniper berries and quinine bark on the same plant, thanks to a major breakthrough in grafting technique.

The mail order seed and plant specialist has cornered the market for dual-cropping grafted plants in recent years having invested heavily in a grafting development programme at its Suffolk trial grounds.

The project has come on in leaps and bounds under the stewardship of Rolf Paoli, who joined the firm in spring 2015, bringing with him a reputation for creating the seemingly impossible.


The Gin & Tonic Tree™ is set to be the first in a series of grow-your-own beverages. Expect to see the Vermouth Vine and Sherry Cherry following in future years.

A limited stock of the Gin & Tonic Tree™ has been made available for the spring despatch season. A further 100,000 plants will be made available this summer for autumn delivery.

Thompson and Morgan recommends growing The Gin & Tonic Tree™ alongside a lemon tree to complete the ingredient list. For a bit of fun this was our 2016 April Fools joke. We hope you enjoyed it?

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