Sue’s (very unscientific) potato trials 

Potato 'Adessa' from Thompson & Morgan

Discover the best growing method for producing high potato yields
Image: Potato ‘Adessa’ from Thompson & Morgan

Our very own horticultural expert, Sue Sanderson, recently set up a series of informal potato trials to see which growing method produced the best yield. Using seed potatoes, Sue experimented with different sized tubers, found out what happened when she cut some in half, and compared the modern ‘lasagne method’ with traditional ‘earthing up’. While not conducted under strict scientific conditions, Sue’s trials produced some clear winners. Here’s how our resident expert recommends growing potatoes…

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Growing a fuchsia standard

Fuchsia 'Angela' from Thompson & Morgan

Standard fuchsias such as ‘Angela’ adds height & colour to your garden.
Image: Thompson & Morgan

Growing a fuchsia standard is a great way to show off these elegant, jewel-coloured flowers while adding height and colour to your border. Also ideal for containers, standard fuchsias make a statement on your patio, balcony or positioned either side of your front door. Here’s how to train your own fuchsia plants into striking standards.

What is a fuchsia standard?

Fuchsia ‘Elma’ (hardy) (standard) from T&M

Ideal for containers, fuchsia standards should be overwintered in a frost-free position
Image: Fuchsia ‘Elma’ (hardy) (standard) from Thompson & Morgan

Fuchsia standards have a clear main stem topped with a dense, round head of foliage. Created through pinch pruning, they make superb specimen plants. However patience is required as it can take up to 18 months of careful training to achieve the lollipop style shape required. Here’s how to get yours started:

  • Allow a young fuchsia stem to grow upright, whilst removing all the side shoots as they develop. Don’t remove the leaves from the main stem, as these will feed the plant.
  • Tie the main stem to a cane to provide support as it grows.
  • Once the fuchsia plant reaches 20cm (8″) taller than the desired height, pinch out the stem tip.
  • New side shoots will be produced at the top of the plant and these will form the head of the standard. Pinch out the tips of each side shoot when it produces 2 to 4 sets of leaves. Continue pinch pruning until a rounded head has formed.
  • The leaves on the main stem will be shed naturally over time, or can be carefully removed.
  • To overwinter standard fuchsias, they should be moved to a frost-free position during the winter months to protect their vulnerable stem from frost damage, regardless of how hardy the variety is.

Check out our fuchsia hub page for more information and links to online resources about growing and caring for your fuchsias.

Author: Sue Sanderson

 

A Taste For The Tropics: Creating A Jungle Garden!

If summer holidays to far-off places feel out of reach right now, maybe it’s time to plan for a holiday at home? Creating a tropical feel on your suburban patio isn’t as far-fetched as it might sound. There are plenty of exotic beauties that will flourish in our cooler climate, but still create that luxuriant leafy feel that will transport you far away on sultry summer days.

Jungle Garden

©Shutterstock – Create your own jungle paradise!

Layer up hardy plants up with frost-tender species that can be plunged (pot and all) into garden borders in summer. Plunging makes it easier to lift them later in the year when they should be brought back into the greenhouse, just as autumn begins to chill the air.

Add a few carefully selected flowering plants for a splash of colour, and suddenly you’ve created your own jungle planting scheme!

Hardy plants for structure

Some exotics are perfectly hardy, and these are ideal for creating the bare-bones of your planting scheme. These stalwarts will stay in place throughout the year providing a permanent structure.

Trachycarpus palm

© Shutterstock – Trachycarpus and Chamaerops provide year round structure.

Architectural evergreens, such as Tracycarpus fortunei and Chamaerops humilis provide year-round structure. Their enormous, fan-shaped leaves deliver plenty interest and create a fabulous canopy. Although tough and reliable, it’s worth choosing a sheltered spot where their large foliage is protected from strong winds, which can leave them looking dog-eared.

Fatsia japonica is another ‘must-have’ hardy evergreen with its large, glossy leaves that simply scream ’jungle’! Despite its leafy looks, it’s easy to grow and needs virtually no maintenance!

Fatsia and Cordyline

©Shutterstock – Phormium and Fatsia create a textural contrast.

Cordylines and Phormiums boast strappy, linear leaves that provide a good contrast to broad-leaved plants like Fatsia. They come in a bright range of colours too, delivering an explosion of foliage that arches outwards from a neat, low maintenance clump.

Frost-tender beauties

If you’re about to embark on a jungle adventure, it’s handy to have a greenhouse or conservatory available. There are many frost tender species that will bring your tropical planting scheme to life, but they will need some winter protection. 

Exotic blooms

The voluptuous foliage of a Canna, topped with its bright summer blooms can really make a statement.  Overwintering is easy – simply reduce watering and bring them indoors to a frost free location (a shed or garage will even do the trick). 

Callas (or Zantedeschia) make a great choice too and are easier to lift and store. In autumn, as they die back, lift the tubers from the soil. They can be dried off and stored in paper bags in a cool, frost free place over the winter, and replanted in the following spring.

Strelitzia, Calla and Canna

©Visions, Newey plants – Strelitzia, Calla and Canna make an exotic display!

Strelitzia is better known as the Bird of Paradise plant for its impressive bird-like blooms. This exotic perennial makes a magnificent pot plant for your jungle patio. From late autumn to late spring, it will need full protection in a warm conservatory or greenhouse – so before investing, be sure you have the space to keep it safe and snug during the coldest months.

Fabulous foliage

A jungle planting scheme needs plenty of spectacular foliage to provide that characteristic, lush and leafy feel.  Banana Plants (Musa basjoo) deliver impact in abundance! These enormous perennials grow quickly to the size of a small tree, their broad, lustrous leaves unfurling from an upright stem to create a majestic, architectural display. Although unlikely to fruit in our cooler UK climate, their distinctive looks deliver the sights and sounds of a tropical island as they wave gently in the summer breeze.

Caladiums are bang on trend right now! Forming a mound of colourful, heart-shaped leaves, they create the perfect understorey, thriving in damp, shaded conditions. Bring them indoors in winter and enjoy their funky foliage in your warm conservatory.

Caladium and Coleus

©Visions, Newey plants – Caladium and Coleus boast dazzling foliage.

If overwintering Caladiums feels like too much effort, stick to quick and easy Coleus for your dazzling foliage! Coleus is just as colourful and can be grown from plug plants of even from seed each year, making a great alternative where winter greenhouse space is limited. At the end of summer, just add them to the compost heap!

Familiar garden favourites

Splashes of colour from reliable garden favourites can inject impact into a leafy landscape. A few carefully combined Dahlias how the power to deliver a rush of adrenaline! Few plants have such a diversity of colours and flower shapes so these reliable perennials are perfect for dotting among foliage plants to surprise you with their late summer blooms. Lift them in winter, or protect them with a dry mulch of bark chips.

Begonia Santa Barbara

©Ball Colegrave – Choose Begonia boliviensis varieties such as Begonia ‘Santa Barbara’.

 If you can’t bear to be without a few hanging baskets then opt for Begonia boliviensis varieties. These trailing Begonia cascade with more subtlety than the flouncy x tuberhybrida cultivars. They are generally grown as annuals, coping well in sun or shade, and making a versatile addition to a jungle theme.  

Exotic climbers

Don’t neglect vertical spaces! Exotic climbers will cover ugly garden walls and fences. Train them as a leafy screen to enclose your favourite seating area, adding privacy and creating a tranquil paradise.

Passionflower (Passiflora caerulea) is perfect for the job, with a vigorous growth habit that will quickly cover unsightly garden structures with a cloak of evergreen foliage. Don’t be fooled by its tropical blooms – this showy climber is surprisingly hardy in the UK!

Passionflowers

©Shutterstock – Passiflora caerulea are surprisingly hardy, despite their tropical looks.

Let the scrambling stems of Gloriosa superba meander among other plants. Its flame-like blooms will add dash of unexpected colour. Each leaf has an intriguing tendril that helps it cling to its supports. This tropical climber does need warmth to start the tubers into growth, so it’s best potted up in spring and grown on a windowsill indoors until all risk of frost has passed.  In autumn, simply lift the tubers, dry it off and store it for the following year.

Creating your own tropical getaway isn’t difficult if you have a sheltered, sunny spot in the garden. Once you’ve grown just a few of these exotic beauties you’ll find yourself adding more to your display each year – they are more addictive than you might realise!

 

Garden pests and other wildlife!

Early summer is the perfect time to step out in the garden with a nice cuppa, and bathe in the satisfaction that all of that hard work this spring was worth the effort.

And so it was that whilst surveying my garden at the weekend, over a hot cup of tea, I heard the quiet munching of leaves from just behind me.  Snails!  A perennial plague in my garden! 

I took some time to admire my new friend, before launching him on the ride of his life, as far from my Dahlias as possible. I heard him land somewhere off in the distance and can only assume that he won’t be back for a while!

snails on dahlias

©Sue Sanderson – Snails have been munching the Dahlias.

I try to avoid slug pellets where possible, or at least try to use wildlife friendly slug pellets. We have a thriving population of frogs and a fair few hedgehogs, so slug pellets can have a really devastating effect.  

It seems that there has been a population explosion of garden pests this year. Aphids have been particularly bad, with Blackfly devastating my Broad Beans.  I turned to an eco-friendly combination of ladybird larvae (who love to munch Blackfly), and growing Marigold ‘Naughty Marietta’ as companion plants. The strong smell is supposed to deter aphids. This was working quite successfully – until the snails ate the marigolds!

Marigold Naughty Marietta

©Sue Sanderson – Marigold Naughty Marietta has been grown as a companion plant to deter aphids.

On the plus side, the Tomatoes and Runner Beans are doing nicely, and we have Courgettes and Pumpkins which are are growing away well, so all is not lost in the veggie garden.

Tomatoes in grow bags

©Sue Sanderson – Tomato plants are growing well this year!

I’ve been pleased with my Lilies this year. From April to May, I set about systematically eradicating Red Lily Beetle. They’re tricky little beasties to catch, dropping to the ground upside down so that you can’t see them.  My persistence has been rewarded, and this year we have barely a nibbled leaf in sight!

Lily flower

©Sue Sanderson – The Lilies have barely been eaten by Lily beetle this year.

Unfortunately a new menace has taken hold in the garden. Scale insects! This is the second year that it has infected one of my Hydrangeas.  Yesterday I found more scale insects on the Euonymous, a well as another Hydrangea.  I frequently go over each leaf, squishing the bugs as I go, but I must now admit defeat, and have just ordered some pesticide.

scale insect

©Sue Sanderson – Scale insect is a nuisance on Hydrangeas

Like most gardeners these days, I have a fair few Vine Weevil out in the garden.  Although they keep themselves out of sight, the damage is unmistakable – little U-shaped notches are cut into foliage. They seem to particularly enjoy Euonymous and Bergenia, which is slightly annoying as the damage to their evergreen foliage is a year-round reminder!  Although unsightly, they don’t seem to do as much damage here as you might expect, so I tend to turn a blind eye to  them under the mantra of live and let live.

vine weevil damage

©Sue Sanderson – Vine Weevil damage is particularly obvious on evergreen Euonymus

It’s not all bad news though. Sitting outside in the evening reminds me that my small urban garden is alive with wildlife! Last night I spotted bats, stag beetles, frogs and a multitude of fluttering moths – all in the space of a couple of hours!

Tadpoles in the pond have been abundant this year, and the birds have been busy popping in and out of nest boxes.  It reminds me that the wildlife which we label as garden pests are often the food that support the creatures that we look to encourage into our outdoor spaces. 

frog

©Shutterstock – Frog populations are flourishing in the pond

Drought-proofing my garden

The recent dry spell has really made me think about the plants I am growing. The drought has taken its toll on a favourite tree in my garden.  In truth, it has been many years since it performed at its best.  This year, I’ll be lucky if there are any leaves left come autumn! I’m blaming my thin, silty soil and a lack of regular rainfall, coupled with hot, drying winds over the past few weeks.

This has had me pondering – do I take some softwood cuttings now to replace it if it dies? Or is it better to accept what nature has given me; to find plants that naturally cope well under drought conditions. After all, the Trachycarpus (Windmill Palm) growing close by is positively flourishing.

Contrast between trees surviving drought

©Sue Sanderson, T&M – Sorbus vilmorinii (left) is suffering drought, while Trachycarpus (right) flourishes.

 

Preparing for dryer weather conditions

I’m a great believer in choosing the right plant for the right position. Why spend hours nurturing a moisture-loving plant that will never thrive on a dry soil? Unfortunately it’s far too easy to be led astray by a pretty flower in the garden centre. I’m sure I’m not the only one! So I’ve decided to let nature take its course and start planning for a more drought resilient garden…

 

Limit your plant choices

A good starting place is to look at what thrives in your garden already, and let these plants become the basis of your planting palette. This will often mean a smaller range of plants used in larger, bolder groups. Apart from being more in tune with the natural order of things, I find that planting in this way is often more attractive than a jumble of individual species, all fighting for attention.

Sempervivums (Houseleeks) are definitely ‘in’ this year. Mine seem to be flourishing since repotting them into a gritty soil mix, and ‘pups’ are popping up all over the place!

sempervivum

©Sue Sanderson, T&M – Sempervivums are resilient little plants that cope well with dry conditions.

These resilient little plants are steeped in folklore! They have been used throughout history for medicinal purposes such as using the sap from their fleshy leaves to soothe burns and abrasions – an outdoor Aloe vera, if you like!

Sempervivums come in a surprising range of colours too, like T&M’s Chick Charms Collection which would look great inserted into the cracks in my garden walls.

Sempervivum 'Chick Charms'

©Newey Plants – Sempervivum ‘Chick Charms’ will add colour to wall crevices.

 

Encourage the colonisers

Speaking of cracks in the walls, these Hart’s Tongue Ferns are definitely some of the top performers on my plot! One small plant that was introduced over a decade ago, and now they have colonised the length of the steep steps that descend to the bottom of my garden.

Take advantage of natural colonisers

©Sue Sanderson, T&M – Take advantage of natural colonisers, such as Hart’s Tongue Ferns (left) and Trachystemon (right).

Another big coloniser is my garden is Trachystemon orientalis with its coarse, heart-shaped leaves and pretty Borage-like flowers in spring. This is a great performer for dry shade and creates dense ground cover. In very dry weather the leaves will flop, but generally there is little that upsets it.

It’s related to the white flowered Symphytum orientalis, another success story that’s growing in the thin, dry soil around the edge of my pond. Both are from the Boraginaceae family, and provide a valuable supply of nectar for pollinating insects in early spring. Clearly this is a group that is worth exploring in my new planting palette!

Stipa tenuissima does well for me too. This billowing grass adds movement to borders. It self-seeds freely but is always easy to manage.

Stipa and Bergenia

©Sue Sanderson, T&M – Stipa tenuissima (left) adds texture, while Bergenia (right) makes good ground cover.

Geranium phaeum and Bergenia cordifolia have really found their stride this year too. I planted a few Bergenia many years ago and they have finally bulked up to create a pleasing clump of glossy foliage, which makes excellent ground cover.

 

Plant drought tolerant species

There has been huge interest in drought tolerant species this year, particularly succulents such as Hylotelephium takesimense ‘Atlantis’ (known to most of us as Sedum). This showy plant was awarded the prestigious honour of RHS Chelsea Plant of the Year 2019 and it certainly is eye-catching.

Sedum Atlantis

©Plantipp / Visions BV, Netherlands – RHS Chelsea Plant of the Year 2019 award went to drought resistant Sedum ‘Atlantis’

There are plenty of other Sedum available too. Given a sunny spot with good drainage, they are always happy to tough it out at the front of my dry borders, attracting pollinating insects as an added bonus!

It’s not all ground cover perennials in my garden. Euonymus is another genus that thrives here. Deciduous Euonymus europaeus is best known as our native Spindle Tree. The curious pink fruits and vibrant autumn colour make it a lovely focal point in autumn. I’m always surprised at how well this tree copes – it seems to thrive on neglect!

Euonymus plants

©Sue Sanderson, T&M – Euonymus europaeus (left) and E. japonicus (right) are surprisingly drought tolerant species.

For year round reliability, you can’t beat the variegated evergreen foliage of Euonymus japonicus ‘Ovatus Aureus’. This tough, resilient plant provides structure and colour throughout the winter months, tolerating the dry summer without issue.

 

Put the pretties in pots!

Of course, we all have to have a few delicate ‘pretties’ in our gardens, but I tend to grow mine in pots close to the house. Not only do I get to appreciate them more, but it also allows me to focus all my watering efforts in one place. As one pot fades, another fresh pot can take its place, and the tired plants can be retired to a less visible spot.    I also use saucers under each pot during the summer to catch the escaping ‘run-off’ and save on water wastage.

Flower in containers

©Sue Sanderson, T&M – Grow flowering plants close to the house to make watering less challenging.

Do you have any top tips for gardening drought-proofing your garden? We’d love to hear about your favourite drought resistant plants. Why not share your tips and pictures with us on our Facebook page?

 

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