Geoff Stonebanks attends Macmillan Cancer Support Volunteers Reception at Buckingham Palace, Hosted by HRH The Prince of Wales
Macmillan Cancer Support’s Patron, HRH The Prince of Wales hosted a reception at Buckingham Palace on 31 January. The event recognised and thanked exceptional volunteers for their life-changing contributions to helping people living with cancer.
The reception focused on the contribution these supporters have made, and celebrated the vital role volunteers play at Macmillan. One of our long serving customer trial members from Seaford, Geoff Stonebanks, was extremely lucky to be one of those invited to attend this prestigious event. Geoff is a local gardener and active fundraiser for the charity through his Driftwood Fundraising Group. Macmillan said that all of those who attended had gone above and beyond their volunteer role.
Geoff raises money for The Macmillan Horizon Centre, over £54000 to date, through events in his own garden, Driftwood, and by single-handedly organising an annual Macmillan Coastal Garden Trail of approximately 25 gardens each year between Brighton and Seaford.
Geoff recounts how he brought the smile to The Prince’s face by telling him of a trick he had picked up for his own garden after a visit to Highgrove a couple of years ago. The Prince has some large urns at the back of the house which were looking a little faded and tired. As Geoff watched on, a couple of gardeners came up with a tractor and trailer loaded with pots of perfectly primed tulips, just about to burst into flower! They lifted out the tired, inner container from the urn and replaced it with one of tulips. Instant impact! This principle is something that Geoff now adopts, not on such a grand scale, in his own award-winning garden each season, where he has over 200 different containers. The Prince smiled.
Image by Paul Burns Photography, Courtesy of Clarence House
“This was a once in a lifetime opportunity and so totally unexpected. Never ever did I imagine I would visit Buckingham Palace and engage in conversation on one of my favourite pastimes with The Prince of Wales, utterly magical! Thank you, Macmillan!”
Image by Paul Burns Photography, Courtesy of Clarence House
The royal connection does not end there though! Geoff was dumbstruck in January to receive an invitation to The Queen’s Royal Garden Party, also at Buckingham Palace, in June, for his services to the local community in Seaford, where he lives.
You can see Geoff’s own garden and discuss with him the tips he pinched from Highgrove when it opens 8 times for various charities this Summer. You can also see and discuss the plants he will be trialling for Thompson & Morgan too! www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk
Well, technically it’s not “the colour purple” but rather Pantone Ultra Violet 18-3838, that’s predicted to be the colour of the year – but that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue now, does it?
Whilst purple is supposed to suggest the mysteries of the cosmos, intrigue and ingenuity, I am more interested in my garden. What could I do this year to play with this suggested trend by the powers that be at Pantone?
As my garden at home is quite small, I tend to concentrate on growing in pots, although some are so large I struggle to lift them when full of compost! This can limit my choice of plants slightly, but I’m not planning on growing any trees or super-large shrubs. Living in the Suffolk countryside, I can go for a nice walk along the river Stour, or Orwell, and see plenty of beautiful trees whenever I like!
So what Purple plants can I grow in pots this year? I’d like to grow some edible things too, not just the pretty bits and pieces, but who says I can’t have both?
The first plant that caught my eye while I was working through the new spring catalogue was the Isotoma ‘Fizz ‘n’ Pop’, these are going to look spectacular in pots against a fence or just in front of some of the larger evergreens I have growing. If I also grow another variety called ‘Indigo Stars’ with them, I’ll get a good range of purples in one area.
Another variety that definitely appealed to me was the Ostespermum “3D” varieties, one is called ‘Violet Ice” and another simply ‘Purple’ there is also a ‘Yellow’ and ‘Lemon Ice’, which would mix in nicely with the other two to make a vibrant display. If I chose a large pot, say about 2 feet in diameter, I could grow them all together and they’ll spill over the edges to make it look like a tall “mound” of flowers – If I feed them well to start with of course!
A couple of shrubs that I can grow in pots are Buddleja “Buzz” and some Hydrangeas. Of the “Buzz”, there are three varieties I can choose from to keep the theme going; they are ‘Indigo’, ‘Magenta’ and ‘Velvet’. All three are just about within the purple spectrum and have the added bonus of attracting lots of bees and butterflies to my outdoor space, which I love to see too! I’ve grown ‘Buzz’ in pots before and they do well, the trick is feed and water, especially early in the season when the plants are stretching and getting themselves going again – a bit like us having a hearty breakfast to start the day really!
The other shrub that I have my eye on is the Hydrangea ‘Double Dutch Alkmaar’ – – the double flowers and the blue/ violet colouring really appeal to me – it’s going to need another colour with it to bring it out I feel, but that’s an excuse to try something completely different like sunflowers or even the new ‘‘SunBelievable(TM)’ variety!
So now I’ve feasted my eyes on some beautiful purple plants, I probably ought to look at growing some tasty purple veg!
First on my list is purple carrots! This is the way they were first grown many, many years ago and we only have orange carrots through fashionable breeding and also because they were grown in Holland in honour of William of Orange! – So ‘Purple Sun’ are going in my basket.
Next will be Tomato ‘Indigo Cherry Drops’ – a variety I can grow in a pot against the sunny fence where they will ripen nicely. They get a purple “blush” on the unripe fruit when they first start to grow, this deepens and the green turns to red, but keeps the purple too!
I can probably try and grow some aubergines too, against the same fence as the tomatoes. I can always rig up a glass or clear plastic frame if I need to help them along later in the year. They’ll look good mixed together and if I grow them in amongst the other semi tropical plants like the banana, tree fern, yucca and colocasia, hopefully the fruits will show up against the other foliage!
I would dearly love to try and grow some brassicas too; there’s purple sprouting broccoli, purple cabbage, Kalettes even a Brussels Sprout called ‘Red Bull’, which I’m sure I could use at a stretch? I’ll have to use loads of feed and probably chicken pellets to get them to grow well, but I’m sure it’ll be worth it!
Good old potatoes are easy to grow in pots and I can slot them in pretty much anywhere too. A variety called ‘Salad Blue’ could be interesting, I’ve tried them roasted before and while they definitely taste slightly different to good old Desiree. They were still very nice indeed and I would happily eat them again with my Sunday roast!
Last on my list are sweet potatoes – I absolutely love growing these amazing vegetables, the foliage goes wild and I like the look of it – the same family as morning glory to give you an idea – and I always grow them in the largest pots I have, usually in a warm corner and plenty of water too!
So there’s plenty of purple choice: floral, decorative and edible – I haven’t even started on fruit, or beans and edible flowers! I’m looking forward to a positively ultra violet year!
Giant pumpkins are the order of the day!
Recently, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to talk to Ian Paton about his success at growing record-winning pumpkins. Last year Ian and his twin brother Stuart broke the UK record for the heaviest pumpkin grown indoors, which weighed in at a whopping 2252lbs (160.9 stone, or 1,021kg)! This year they are hoping to do even better.
The process started back in April when a dozen specially selected seeds were planted, around the time of Thompson & Morgan’s nominated National Pumpkin Sowing Day. The best 6 plants were then selected and whisked away to the ‘PRD’ (Pumpkin Research & Development) where they start their journey to potential enormity.
Ian’s growing a giant!
Each plant is trimmed and trained in much the same way you would expect a tomato plant to be grown initially, except that every leaf nodule is placed over a pot of compost, and encouraged to produce a new root to help feed the plant.
Pollination takes place in June. The fruit is set and the race begins in earnest. Each plant, sporting 900 plus leaves, each with its own root, starts to feed the newly formed pumpkin.
“There are one hundred and ten days in the growing season, so everything has to be perfect for the pumpkin”
At the peak of the growing period, 100 gallons of water go into the plant and the pumpkin puts on 58lbs in weight PER DAY – that’s the equivalent of a bag of cement each day!
*Fun Fact – The Paton brothers’ first pumpkin, grown when they were 12 years old, weighed 57lbs!*
As the pumpkin growing season slows down, its water intake reduces by about a quarter. However, at this vital stage it is essential that the plant NEVER dries out. A dry pumpkin can split when watered – resulting in disaster and tears!
Each pumpkin is grown on a large bed of sand, which allows the pumpkin to slide easily as it grows. A bow wave appears around each giant fruit as it pushes sand ahead of it, making it look like it’s ‘surfing’ in very slow motion!
The all-important weigh-in
As the weigh-in day approaches, Ian and Stuart send pumpkins abroad to take part in the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth. Recently a pumpkin weighing an estimated 1950lb was sent to Holland; another, at approximately 2000lbs, is en route to France. The biggest however, is kept for the local weigh-in, held in Hampshire!
Transporting these giant fruit is no easy task, though, and comes with risks. As Stuart told me:
“We were devastated that the pumpkin split on its journey to Holland, classing it as ‘damaged’ ”
The Paton brothers have high hopes for this year’s contender. It was grown from a seed from the world record giant pumpkin, grown by Mathias Willemijns last year and weighing in at 2624.6lbs. The pumpkin that Ian and Stuart are growing currently has some impressive stats, measuring an incredible 486 inches in circumference – that’s about the same as the length of a double decker bus – and is only 9 inches short of its record breaking pumpkin parent! Although Ian remains modest about the final weight, he feels confident that it may well beat their personal best – so another record breaker perhaps!
The giant pumpkin weigh-in is on Saturday 14th October at the Jubilee Sailing Trust Autumn Pumpkin Festival, at the Royal Victoria Country Park in Southampton.
Do you want to try to grow a prize-winning pumpkin? Check out our giant pumpkin guide here, and try your hand with some Wallace’s Whoppers If you’ve already got yours going, share some of your pictures on our Facebook page – we love to see what you grow.
So this week is National Allotment week, it brings back happy memories of my first allotment that we decided would be a wonderful idea ( myself and my partner at the time), we would be self sufficient in vegetables and it would be such fun to do!
Oh my goodness…..
We were really lucky as some local allotments out where I live in (very) rural Suffolk hadn’t been used for years and so were quickly available. In fact, we were told we could have two! So I quickly drove to see the local chap who ran the allotments and handed over my £10 for the year for both ( I know, how cheap was that!) and we were on our way.
Humming the tune to “The Good Life” we went down, armed with spades, hoes and various tools that we thought we’d need, we had seen the allotments from the footpath but never actually set foot on them until now. It turned out that a more suitable variety of tools would have been dynamite, a JCB and a flame thrower! Mare’s tail was everywhere, bindweed, fat hen towering over our heads, nettles galore and brambles that were actually deliberately trying to trip us at every opportunity. However – my partner and I were determined to make a start, and we did just that, slashing digging raking all commenced in earnest! Followed by bonfires and flasks of tea, rolls, oh, and blisters, hot baths and plasters too.
It was incredibly worth it though, after clearing the worst, we hired a huge tiller and we turned over the whole site, raked and removed root clumps, tilled again and repeated over and over for an entire weekend until we actually had a useable area.
We couldn’t wait to plant all sorts, starting with onion sets brassicas, lots of spuds and even butternut squashes, peas, beans and a pumpkin that we’d been growing in the greenhouse back at home.
I won’t say it was easy, but my goodness it was rewarding, being able to go down to the allotment after work, a flask of tea and some snacks and do some gardening was good for the soul, being able to sit and look over the river in the distance after doing a couple of hours’ weeding felt like an accomplishment and eating the fruits of our labours (literally) was the best feeling in the world. That was usually after giving away loads of fresh veg to our neighbours too! Who knew that 15 years later, I’d be lucky enough to work at Thompson & Morgan and be reminded today of those amazing days.
What were your first experiences of allotmenteering ? I’d love to hear them, feel free to share in the comments below.
All the best
Many people at work here at T&M know that I am an avid dancer, I’ve even encouraged a few others from my office to come along and try Ceroc (the dance I love to do) and they’ve enjoyed it too!
This got me thinking recently, as I start to plan out my garden pots for this year; why not have a section dedicated to dance, after all, if I can combine my two passions, dancing and gardening then surely I’ve got the best of both worlds?
Googling “Dancing Plants” will firstly come up with Desmondium gyrans, which is known as the “dancing plant” or “telegraph plant”. This unusual botanical wonder actually has leaves which move about in search of the best source of daylight in the morning, but will also move quite visibly when played music too! So it is a must on my list, although it’s a tender annual so will probably live with me indoors and dance along when I play my music.
So to more practical varieties that I can plant outside in my theme. Just typing in the word “dance” on the T&M website gave me some great choices. Amaryllis ‘Dancing Queen’, I’ve grown before outside in the summer, packing half a dozen bulbs into a large pot, the stems didn’t grow quite as tall as I’d have liked, but what an impressive show they were! And, as long as you keep them away from the frosts, give them a good feed and look after them, they’ll come back again, in a similar way that crinum will.
I must admit that Loropetalum chinense var. rubrum ‘Fire Dance’ has really caught my eye, early flowering , so I’ll have missed it this year, but what stunning foliage too! I think keeping it in a large pot at the back is going to provide me with the perfect backdrop for my other plants. I’ll keep a Clematis ‘Dancing Smile’ in a tower pot next to it which will sort out the height I’m going to need and I’ll still get some nice blooms from the clematis too!
I do like bright colours in my garden, which is why I think at the front of my dancing themed display I’m going to have Bidens ‘BeeDance Painted Red’ and also Trollius ‘Dancing Flame’, these will also fit in nicely with my ideas as one of the main colours in the ceroc logo is orange too, so it’s win, win! Red Hot Poker ‘Fire Dance’ is also a contender too, as the leaves will hang around all year, I’ll have to see how it copes with being in a large pot, I’m sure it’ll be fine!
There are also a couple of very nice dance based sculptures that we sell, I’m loving the “ballroom grace” one, maybe I’ll hint for it as a birthday present!
So it looks like this year – in the words of a famous TV show – I’ll “Keep Dancing”