Beat plant snobbery with an extra special petunia

Petunia ‘Surfinia’ collection from T&M

Petunias are loud and proud hanging basket heroes
Image: Petunia ‘Surfinia’ collection from T&M

Petunias are the quintessential summer bedding plants, bringing superb flower power and a luxurious trailing habit to containers and hanging baskets. Here, popular blogger Alison Levey of the Blackberry Garden explains how one new variety turned her from ‘plant snob’ to petunia advocate!


Gardening like my mother taught me

From an early age lots of people have influenced my gardening. My grandfathers were both keen gardeners, my neighbours when I was a child and also my mother. I have to clarify this by saying that I think even my mother would admit she was not the world’s keenest gardener, but she likes her garden to look nice and has always cared about its appearance.

I, a child through the 1960s and 70s, remember spending a lot of time in the garden.  My brothers and I spent a lot of time outside, mainly playing football and cricket (I still hate cricket) playing with space hoppers, Action Men and I also remember having a Tippy Tumbles doll. My memories of our first garden are vague, but I remember the roses that I fell into and still bear the scars of. I remember also the standard roses particularly one called Peace that my mother was very proud of and I think there was one called Princess Elizabeth that was pink. I remember also the driveway and the day we had the drive tarmacked. This was a very modern thing to do and my parents were very proud of the black gooey smelly stuff with its white pebbles dotted around in it.

Every Spring my mother liked to have a hanging basket, it would be lovingly looked after all year until the frosts killed it. My mother would also supervise the annual planting of the front garden. Invariably this would involve blue lobelia and white alyssum planted alternatively up the drive. Some years there were rows of tagetes or some years there would be lipstick pink geraniums (in those days everyone called them geraniums but they are also known as pelargoniums).

My mother tried to take cuttings of the geraniums, rooting powder would be bought and plant pots of dying cuttings would line the windowsills. It was clearly an impossible task. I was amazed by this as surely plants only came from the garden centre. The thought of making new ones from existing plants seemed incredible and I still think getting a cutting to take is a magical thing.

Gardening like my mother taught me

Lobelia erinus ‘Blue Wings’

Last year I grew some alyssum by accident, they were part of an annual mix I sowed and I was charmed by the plants. They lasted for months; indeed some have got through the winter and are flowering still. I looked at them and remembered gardens past and thought it was time to revive this style of planting. I decided to grow a 1960s garden. Well, I say garden, I mean a patch of border.

Gardening like my mother taught meI am lucky to be a member of the Thompson & Morgan plant trial panel so when I got the catalogue to choose from this year I quickly ordered some blue lobelia and white alyssum and waited for the time to sow.

They are now duly sown and starting to germinate. This is very exciting for me and I am looking forward to taking this project forward.

This is one stage one, there is much to do and I am excited about how this project will develop. I will keep you informed as to progress.

Alison Levey

Alison Levey

Guest blogger Alison Levey writes about her vegetable eating and growing experiences and the satisfaction of growing sweetcorn from seed…

The joy of sweetcorn

I have to begin this post with a confession, there are far more vegetables I do not like than I actually do.  In terms of vegetables it is fair to say I have an immature palate.  As a child in the 1960s if it was not in a tin, involving lots of sugar and preferably some sort of day-glo food colouring, I probably was not going to eat any vegetable you put in front of me.  So that I now grow a fair amount of my own vegetables is quite an achievement.

I did improve and start to eat fresh (and frozen) vegetables after a while and I also discovered sweet corn.  We never had sweet corn in my house when growing up, it was quite expensive at that point and largely available in tins involving a rather tall green man on the label.  As often, with many new things that I discovered food-wise, I was at a friend’s house for tea and in order to be polite I knew I had to try and eat it, I found out I loved it.  Years of sweetcorn buying ensued, largely the frozen sort as I had moved beyond my love of the tinned and it was more available to buy in general.

Guest blogger - Alison Levey

Sweetcorn plants

Add to this a conversation some-time ago with a work colleague, who was describing the fun of growing sweetcorn.  He told me that it had to be sown in a grid pattern to ensure that that the cobs were pollenated by the breeze.  I liked the sound of this and thought one day I would like to grow sweetcorn.

Guest blogger - Alison Levey

Sweetcorn – getting bigger!

I had also read about the three sisters, the planting of sweetcorn, beans and squash in the same plot as they grow well together and support each other, I believe this practice was first carried out by native americans.  This beneficial companion planting seemed ideal to me and I liked its practicality and the sisterhood of it all.

Guest blogger - Alison Levey

Growing sweetcorn is really satisfying!

I do have a further confession, that whilst I said I grow my own vegetables I could not be considered a major vegetable grower or indeed an expert one.  I have played at growing vegetables for several years.  I began growing the odd sprouted potato as a child and that wonder has never left me.  I do now possess some raised vegetable beds in the garden and over the past few years I have been refining what I grow and my care of them.  In general I grow easy vegetables that I like to eat.  I am fairly self-sufficient in onions and garlic and I do well with potatoes, french beans and peas.  Courgettes are always grown too.  This year I decided I would give sweetcorn a go.  I bought the kernels and duly sowed them.  The mouse that had taken up residence in the greenhouse duly ate them.  The mouse then also ate a ricinus bean and that took care of the mouse.  I resowed the sweetcorn and was amazed at how quickly and easily it germinated.

Guest blogger - Alison Levey

Getting there…

Once the frosts were over I planted it outside in a grid pattern.  I deliberately only grew four plants this year and I had no idea how successful they would be.  I planted with them some cobra beans and some courgettes (ok, not squash, but I don’t like squash very much), so sort of two sisters and a cousin.

They grew well; their tops took on the definite likeness of an old television aerial.  At this point I have an ever larger confession; I was not actually certain where in the plant the cobs formed.  When I saw them coming out at different angles on the stem I was actually surprised.

I was even more surprised when two of them actually ripened enough to be eaten; they were without doubt the best I have ever tasted.  This has not been the hottest summer we have ever had and I did not expect them to do well.

Guest blogger - Alison Levey

Ta dah!

It has to be said that four plants leading to two cobs is not the most productive vegetable you will find.  Next year I will grow more than four as this year was definitely the pilot project.  I know now though that I will not probably get a huge yield.  I do not mind this, they are fun to grow.  I wished in some way that my children were younger as they seem ideal vegetables for a child to grow.  The kernels are easy to handle and they germinate like a dream.  If anyone asks me now what vegetable should they get children to grow, I would put sweet corn on the list.  For me they certainly induce a child-like wonder and I think I will grow them for many years to come.

My blog can be found at:

Pin It on Pinterest