A few weeks ago I was asked if would help out with taking the plants to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show that Thompson & Morgan would be using on various stands in the Grand Pavilion – having never been before, I readily agreed – what a chance to go and see a bit of “behind the scenes” at the world’s most prestigious flower show!
So, at 5.45am on the Thursday, five days before the show was due to start, I met with my colleague Peter Freeman, loaded up 7 trolleys of carefully packed plants (including some that were to potentially be judged for the Plant of the Year!) into a Luton van and away we went!
The view of Chelsea from Battersea Park – Peter sitting in the queue
Unfortunately it wasn’t a smooth journey, traffic was horrendous and we eventually arrived at the main entrance to the flower show some 5 hours later (it should have taken about 2 hours!) – Only to be turned away and told to drive to Battersea Park and join the queuing system!
It wasn’t so bad, in the shade of some London Planes we patiently waited, glad that the plants were being kept cool in the back of the van, shuffling forward a few vehicles at a time until an hour later we were allowed back in!
Security was understandably tight, we were high-viz jacketed, steel toecap booted and then, suitably attired, we were scanned in and drove through.
It’s a bit busy in here!
To say it was absolute bedlam in there would be an understatement….and yet it was well organised bedlam, traffic marshals, were about, one personally led us to a place to park – somewhat amazed that we were involved in no less than 4 different stands!
There were literally vans everywhere and the air rang with the sound of circular saws, drills, cement mixers and hammers as sets were furiously being constructed, gardens created and magic was being woven into what everybody sees on the first day of the show.
Unloading the plants
Unloading the trolleys was fun as Peter and I negotiated them through tiny gaps between vans and got them into the Grand Pavilion. We immediately located Birmingham City Council’s Stand and duly gave them a huge number of Hydrangea ‘Black Diamond Shining Angel Blue’, Laurentia ‘Fizz n Pop Glowing Purple’, Orange begonias and stunning bi-coloured petunias ‘Miss Marvellous’. Peter soon located the Dahlia Society’s stand and they took their Dahlia ‘Lubega Power Tricolor’
By pure luck I spotted Mr. Peter Seabrook wandering through the throng and managed to accost him, say hello and got him to show me where the main stand for The Sun Newspaper was, the remaining plants, including a precious cargo of our SunBelievable ™ ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ , Gerberas and Hydrangea hybrid Runaway Bride® ‘Snow White’ were soon unloaded with them.
The Sun Newspaper stand under construction
Peter Seabrook absolutely loved both SunBelievable and the delightful spreading hydrangea was also greatly admired, soon both were being planned into the stand by Peter and Val, with Peter even clambering to the top with a huge pot, to see how it would look with a “river” of plants coming down the stand from the very top all the way down and then I got asked to go up too and hand him some more plants!
The last of the plants were delivered to the Horticultural Trades Association stand and we were then on hand to help with various bits and pieces, including taking some plants up to the Press Office area to “decorate” the steps. And of course to grab a much needed bite to eat!
Once the van was loaded up with the now empty trolleys we slowly (and I mean VERY slowly) wound our way off of the site. As we were going so slowly, we had a great opportunity to peek at some of the other gardens and stands under construction, all looked amazing and I can’t wait to go back and see them finished
loading up and leaving the show
I’m returning to the show on the last Saturday to help on the stand, I’ll be armed with my phone’s camera and hopefully will have a tale to tell about the experience!
Freshly grafted plants
Last year we at Thompson & Morgan started to sell grafted vegetable plants such as tomatoes and cucumbers; this year we have extended the range to include melons and watermelons too!
Too much trouble?
So why graft a plant that’s only going to be around for a season or two and then be composted? I can understand going to the trouble of grafting trees and shrubs as these will last a lifetime and are worth the trouble, but surely a tomato plant is a lot of work for little reward?
I was totally wrong of course!
Grafting is easier than I thought, especially with the soft shoots on these fruit and vegetable plants, these days there are even special snips that can cut the stems on rootstock and scion (top part) so that they match up exactly and form a perfect bond so that they graft together much faster.
Grafting onto a root stock
So why graft?
Imagine you have the best and fastest growing tomato plant that’s strong, disease resistant, grows outside with ease and also produces a huge crop of juicy tomatoes reliably every year. Now, if you could take all the qualities of that plant and then use it on another variety of tomato, that would be great! So that’s what we do. We take the rootstock of the super growing tomato plant and then graft on to it an different variety… so that all the power and vigour that comes from the roots will then go into the new variety and give it all the same traits as the original plant – a stronger growing, disease resistant plant with huge crops – up to 75% more in some cases!
One step further
So we have established that we could successfully graft tomato plants, it then made perfect sense to do the same with other favourites too, cucumbers were added to the range, and then a melon, and a watermelon too!
Quite a selection
There are now no less than eight different plants that we have available to buy as grafted veg
Tomato ‘Philona’ F1 Hybrid
Tomato ‘Philona’ F1 Hybrid
Melon ‘Perseus’ F1 Hybrid
Melon ‘Perseus’ F1 Hybrid
Watermelon ‘Mini Love’ F1 Hybrid
All of our grafted veg are sent out in June as well established plants so that all you have to do is plant them up and reap the rewards of this great idea! Give them a try and see how much of a difference it makes to your harvest this year!
As the UK’s best-known horticultural company, Thompson & Morgan is always at the cutting edge of plant innovation and welfare. We strive to give all our plants the best possible environments to grow in and we’re continually looking for new ways of bringing out the very best in our plants before we send them to our customers.
It was suggested in recent research that plants respond well to sound; from simple speech to complicated songs from all eras, so naturally we decided to put this to the test.
The results were quite astonishing!
In our trials, we have established quite quickly that today’s plants, using the latest breeding techniques, actually respond best to modern music. The results were so conclusive that our plant breeding team has set up a sound system in the polytunnels at our plant development site to play a daily Top Ten playlist to all the plants starting at midday when the sun is at its highest. At this time, the plants get maximum light and appear to be most receptive to the music.
Resident Music Expert and former DJ, Kevin Ketley, said:
It doesn’t surprise me that plants respond in this way to music. After all, it stimulates our brain activity and causes us to smile, tap our feet and so on, so plants will naturally grow better in that environment
The Top Ten Songs that our trials showed that plants are receptive to are:
- Kiss From A Rose – Seal
- Black Horse and A Cherry Tree – KT Tunstall
- Iris – Goo Goo Dolls
- I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker (With Flowers In My Hair) – Sandi Thom
- Lemon Tree – Fools Garden
- Where The Wild Roses Grow – Nick Cave & Kylie Minogue.
- Flowers – Sweet Female Attitude
- Supermarket Flowers – Ed Sheeran
- Bed Of Roses – Bon Jovi
- Build Me Up Buttercup – The Foundations
Interestingly, as you can see – and hear – the plants seem to respond better to songs that actually mention them! We feel this is really quite a breakthrough and our plant breeding team will be looking for new inspiration in the coming months – they hope to be able to increase yields on root crops by playing subterranean music!
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!