What’s new in the garden?

new ideas in the garden

Are you stepping out of your comfort zone this year to try something new?
Image source: Tom Gowanlock

Are you looking for fresh inspiration? It’s easy to get stuck in the trap of repeating successful plants, flowers and crops year after year, rather than trying new things.

We caught up with a few gardening bloggers to see what they’re trying differently this summer. And as there’s nothing quite like learning from mistakes, we’ll catch up with them later in the year to find out how things went! In the meantime, check out these pioneering ideas to see if anything takes your fancy…

Know your onions

onions planted in bunches

Try planting in bunches rather than individually
Image: Mark’s Veg Plot

Mark of Mark’s Veg Plot is test-planting onions in bunches of half a dozen, rather than planting them individually, which is what he’s been doing up until now. The advantages? A saving of space, and no fiddly pricking out – but at the potential cost of smaller veg, as they don’t have quite as much room to spread out.

To be properly scientific, Mark’s also growing individual onions so he can compare results. He’s testing out the Ailsa Craig variety, which often grow into large, globe-shaped bulbs, so it’ll be interesting to see how they fare when planted so closely. We’ll find out later in the year!

Starting from scratch

hurtled to 60's allotment

Ronnie’s got plans for her new allotment
Image: hurtledto60.com

Having moved house in 2018, Ronnie’s starting from scratch, and shifting her gardening habits to an allotment plot. It’s early days yet, but this Hurtled to 60 blogger has already established a cottage garden with a small wildlife pond, and is currently inundated with dahlia and sweet pea seedlings!

Determined to cultivate some food as well, she’s decided to set up ‘Christmas lunch beds’, where parsnips, carrots, beans, peas and more are growing. We look forward to catching up with her closer to the time to see how her festive feast shapes up.

Flowers and feasts

Dahlia 'black beauty'

Dahlia ‘Black Beauty’ – Sally’s favourite from last year!
Image: Thompson & Morgan

Sally of Sally’s Garden Blog is always looking for new ideas, and her focus for the next season is very clear:

“I will be growing as much food [as I can] for my family and visiting wildlife this year.”

So root-bound fruit trees in pots have been finally planted out, and an old, plastic fish container is now home to dill, chives and marjoram – all perfect for a fish dish!

Much of Sally’s outside space consists of containers in a paved yard, which she moves around for variety. If you’re a container lover, take a tip from her and reorganise the space regularly. One new idea she’s kept from last year, though, is to grow Dahlia ‘Black Beauty’ again – there’s no point changing something you love simply for change’s sake!

Chickpeas and competitions

chickpeas about to be sown

Chickpeas on their way!
Image: The Veg Grower Podcast

Richard at The Veg Grower Podcast is up for a challenge – and this year, it’s chickpeas! So far, the seeds have germinated, and are “growing into some rather attractive plants” – so he’s got his fingers crossed they’ll soon become something edible.

He’s also entered into a competition with fellow bloggers, Lee, Kirsty and Lucy. The rules are simple. They each have a vegepod, and all have to grow the same plants. The winner will be the gardener who manages to produce the most food – so it’s all down to growing techniques. We’re intrigued to find out what works best.

Are you feeling competitive? Perhaps your local gardening club has something beyond prize marrows to wager your green fingered reputation on…

A word to the wilds

starling nest box

Just for the starlings
Image: Dogwooddays

Nic at Dogwooddays has a new mission on her to-do list this year:

“…adding holes in the fences and a gate for hedgehogs…

She’s also installed a selection of nest boxes around her garden to help a range of bird species find a good home.

The commitment to supporting wildlife doesn’t end there. She and her family are developing a wildflower area, along with a pond, and log piles for insects to inhabit. They’re even planting brassicas just for the large white, small white and green-veined white butterflies!

Having made the commitment to accommodate as much wildlife as possible, they’ll be surveying the biodiversity in the garden later this year to try and measure the success. You can follow their highs and lows on Nic’s blog, and we look forward to hearing her tips once they’ve had a chance to get everything up and running.

Are you trying something new in your garden or veg plot this year? Drop us a line to let us know at blog@thompson-morgan.com or pop over to our Facebook page.

8 great gardening podcasts

Man watering plants in a greenhouse listening to podcasts/music on his headphones

Get inspiration in the garden with these eight horticultural podcasts
Image: PavelKant

Gardening podcasts are a fabulous source of horticultural entertainment and inspiration. They make perfect rainy-day listening and can also get you through the most mundane of gardening tasks.

So pop in your headphones and join us as we visit eight of the best gardening podcasts around.

 

Pot and Cloche

Logo of Pots and Cloche Garden Podcasts

Cotswold-based horticulturalist Joff Elphick has worked in some of the country’s finest gardens, including Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Barnsley House, and Sir Chris Evans’ private estate. He’s also the host of the popular Pot and Cloche podcast.

Joff speaks to authors, head gardeners and “other interesting horty types” about all things gardening. The subject mix is eclectic – with Pam Ayres talking hedgehogs, Tomorrow’s World’s Judith Hann on herbs, and writer Stephen Anderton on nymphs, fauns and wenches.

 

 

 

 

Growing Wild

Logo of the Growing Wild podcast

Charlotte Petts is an engaging speaker with a talent for getting the most from her interviewees. Her award-winning podcast, Growing Wild, showcases the benefits of connecting with nature – covering community gardening, wild food and foraging, to wild swimming and outdoor adventure.

Learn everything you need to know about soil health and improvement, alongside an expert panel comprising Liz Bowles, Soil Association; Lucy Nixon, Brighton composter, and Jackie Stroud, Rothamsted Research. “You need more paper than you’d think to produce a good compost,” remarks Nixon. Tune into this monthly podcast for more nuggets like this.

 

 

 

A Sustainable(ish) Life

Logo of the Sustainable(ish) podcast by Jen Gale

“Do you want to reduce your impact on the planet but you’re just not sure where to start?” asks Sustainable(ish) podcaster Jen Gale. This podcast features chats with sustainable-living heroes about the small, achievable changes we can all make to look after our planet.

Jen created Sustainable(ish) for people who care about the environment but struggle to do anything about it. “It’s very easy to have all good intentions, and to WANT to do things differently, but when we’re busy and frazzled, those good intentions can all too easily fall by the wayside.” This podcast is the solution to that. Start with her 5(ish) Minute Guide to Creating New Sustainable Habits.

 

 

 

The Garden Log

Logo of TheGardenLog podcast

“Some of the excitement in pruning apples is that’s it’s a job that has genuine potential for disaster,” says podcaster and horticulturist Ben Dark. In fact, says Ben, you can destroy an apple tree with poor pruning. With that in mind, The Garden Log’s guide to pruning your apple trees is essential listening. Be warned: there should be “no gratuitous cutting”.

This podcast started when gardener Ben Dark got the job of turning three good gardens into three amazing gardens. He decided to share the journey and this audio show is the result. Over 50 episodes later, The Gardening Log has become cherished listening for many. And given the quality content and Ben’s relaxing, mellow tones, it’s easy to see why.

 

 

Roots and All

Logo of Roots and All podcast

How much do you really know about what’s in your garden manure? Podcaster Sarah Wilson talks with Matthew Appleby about vegan gardening on her Roots and All podcast. It’s a thought-provoking episode – did you know that animal muck can contain pesticides from the food they’ve been eating, plus viable pathogens from infected animals?

Roots and All began when Sarah, “had the niggling feeling that things could be done better to introduce people to horticulture.” A talented interviewer and gardener, there are some real delights here. Have a listen to Poisonous Plants with Dr Liz Dauncey. You’ll find out that the castor oil plant is one of the most deadly, but only if you chew the seeds.

 

 

 

Skinny Jean Gardener

new logo of Skinny Jean Gardener

You’d probably recognise Lee Connelly’s face from the TV. He was Blue Peter’s gardener for three years, built the kitchen garden for fellow Essex boy Jimmy Doherty of Jimmy’s Farm, and is the garden expert on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch. He’s also the Skinny Jean Gardener behind his eponymous podcast.

Lee’s show has a relaxed (skinny-jean) vibe. Tune into his weekly podcast for expert interviews, live phone-ins and plenty of garden inspiration for adults and children.

 

 

 

Gardens, weeds & words

Logo of the gardens, weeds & words podcast

If you like your podcasts low key, meditative and infused with the sounds of nature doing her thing, you’ll love Gardens, weeds & words. Listen as host Andrew O’Brien waxes lyrical about just enjoying your garden in its entirety “…you never get to enjoy your garden in all its fullness until you learn to stop…listen…stare at nothing in particular…and just be.” A wonderful reminder of the simple joy of just living in the moment.

Andrew describes his podcast as: “A blend of slow radio, gardening advice and conversation, and readings from the best garden and wildlife writing.” If you’re looking to embrace seasonal living, we’d recommend Andrew’s interview with Almanac, a seasonal guide to 2019 author, Lia Leendertz.

 

 

 

National Trust Podcast

Logo of the National Trust podcast

Fancy a quick stroll around Bodnant Garden in Conwy, Wales? If so, you’re in for a listening treat, courtesy of the National Trust Podcast. Bodnant was the creation of Henry Pochin, a renowned plant collector who favoured the Welsh estate for its mild microclimate and protected valley location. Take an audio tour from the comfort of your armchair as National Trust Head Gardener, Alan Power explores this high-Victorian formal garden.

The National Trust Podcast is a true gem – painting intimate audio portraits of some of the nation’s most treasured homes and gardens. It’s a wonderful archive you’ll want to revisit time after time.

 

 

 

We hope you’ve discovered some gardening podcasts that you’re itching to tune into. If you have any favourites that we have overlooked here, we’d love to hear about them. Share them on our Facebook page.

Introducing Thompson & Morgan’s little book of garden wisdom

thompson & morgan's little bok of garden wisdom cover

Thompson & Morgan’s little book of garden wisdom – ready to download now!

Imagine having a team of gardening experts by your side, whenever you need a little help. Imagine having their accumulated knowledge and experience at your fingertips. Well, that’s what we’re bringing you with Thompson & Morgan’s little book of garden wisdom”.

Sixty of the UK’s leading gardening bloggers have shared their sage advice, innovative ideas and hard-learned lessons in this free, downloadable book.

You’ll find helpful hints on growing the best fruit, veg and flowers, and expert advice on allotment growing, container growing and growing from seed.

There are sections on looking after your soil, your tools and the local wildlife, as well revolutionary ways to banish weeds from your garden for good.

We believe our little book of garden wisdom is a great resource for all gardeners and we hope you agree. Please download it, print a copy for your shed, share it with friends, and tell your allotment pals all about it. Help us spread this valuable wisdom to as many gardeners as possible.

We’d like to thank all our experts for taking the time to make the book possible. We know their generous contributions will help you get the most from your garden or allotment for years to come. And if you’d like to join the conversation, send us your own top tips through our Facebook page,Twitter or Instagram. Let’s continue to share our garden wisdom!

The secret life of plants

cross section of the date palm's primary root

The root structure of the date palm is a thing of beauty.
Image source: The Hidden Half project, University of Nottingham

Gardening could be described as bending nature to our will. It’s the selection, planting, shaping, pruning, training, pollinating, pinching, grafting, thinning out and harvesting of plants to suit our requirements. But what happens above the ground is only the tip of the iceberg – half the story. How much more goes on beneath the earth that we never get to see?

partial cross section of an alpine strawberry primary root

The root anatomy of an alpine strawberry.
Image source: The Hidden Half project, University of Nottingham

In a recent study, a team at the University of Nottingham were curious to find out. Using cutting-edge imaging techniques (and a pile of seeds from Thompson & Morgan) they investigated a variety of plant roots without having to dig them up. The results are out of this world!

For the first time, these X-ray CT images showcase the diversity and complexity of plant root systems in their undisturbed soil environment. What no-one was expecting, is just how strikingly beautiful these images of everyday plants, vegetables and flowers actually are.

Why study plant roots?

three pictures showing the main stem of a grapevine and the roots of a grapevine and a cross section of the primary root of a grapevine

A study of the grapevine.
Image source: The Hidden Half project, University of Nottingham

Producing safe, nutritious food to feed the world’s growing population is a huge challenge for the future. We need to develop new, resilient crops, and do do that, we need better knowledge.

When we properly understand how plants grow, and have identified how specific features (e.g. root depth, thickness, angle or number of lateral roots) can be improved, this knowledge can be applied to allow more efficient food production. Particularly in regions with limited water or nutrient supply.

Finding out what happens beneath the soil could help eliminate hunger and famine around the globe. But in the quest for scientific breakthrough, it’s the beauty and resilience of nature that has been revealed in these never-before seen images – the secret life of plants.

Check out the full directory of images of plant root systems at The Hidden Half website, and follow their Twitter feed at @UoNHiddenHalf to get updates on their work. But for now, just scroll down and enjoy some of the incredible pictures the boffins have shared with us.

 

partial cross section of an alpine strawberry primary root

The root anatomy of an alpine strawberry.
Image source: The Hidden Half project, University of Nottingham

 

congo grass roots

Congo grass roots 
Image source: The Hidden Half project, University of Nottingham

growth of a date palm root

The growth of a date palm root
Image source: The Hidden Half project, University of Nottingham

coloured image highlighting the three main root structures of the freesia alba

Three distinct root structures of a freesia alba
Image source: The Hidden Half project, University of Nottingham

cross section of the freesia alba's primary root

The cross section of the primary root of a freesia alba
Image source: The Hidden Half project, University of Nottingham

cross section of a maize crown root

The cross section of a maize crown root
Image source: The Hidden Half project, University of Nottingham 

full diagram of a pea plants roots

A pea plant’s root structure.
Image source: The Hidden Half project, University of Nottingham 

full picture of a norway spruce including roots and stem

A full picture of a Norway Spruce
Image source: The Hidden Half project, University of Nottingham  

spinach root structure with main tap root highlighted

Spinach root structure with its main tap root highlighted
Image source: The Hidden Half project, University of Nottingham 

cross section of a tomato root

Cross section of a tomato root
Image source: The Hidden Half project, University of Nottingham 

cross section of a sugar beets primary root

Cross section of a sugar beet’s primary root
Image source: The Hidden Half project, University of Nottingham 

Planting tips from wildlife gardening experts

Cotoneaster berries feed birds through even the bleakest winters.
Image source: Artush

If you’d love to encourage wildlife to visit your garden but aren’t sure what plants to grow, this is the place for you. We asked some of our favourite wildlife gardening bloggers for their planting tips and here’s what they came up with – what to grow to encourage birds, bees, moths and butterflies to share your outside space.

Moths

Willowherb is loved by moths and butterflies.
Image source: Real Moment

Nocturnal insects love plants whose scent makes them easy to locate in the darkness. Wildlife blogger Dan Rouse says:

Plants like lavender are great for attracting moths, which in turn will attract their predators: bats!

Nic who writes Dogwood Days was just a two-year-old in red wellies when her father introduced her to banks of rosebay willowherb alongside the vegetable beds. She says:

Willowherb brings in moths and butterflies – especially the beautiful elephant hawk moth caterpillars with their extendable snouts.

Another favourite for attracting moths is honeysuckle. Bill at Frodsham Marsh Bird Blog says: “A large potted Honeysuckle is brilliant for attracting many types of moth species on those sultry warm summer evenings, and they in turn provide food for the local bats.

Butterflies

The Brimstone butterfly particularly loves Alder Buckthorn.
Image source: Butterfly Conservation

Attracting butterflies to flutter about your garden is all about planting the right blooming plants whose nectar they’ll sup. Remember – the greater the variety of plants and fungi you grow in your garden, the great the range of butterflies, and other insects you’ll get to see.

Lisa at Edulis Wild Food says encouraging wildlife to thrive is all about “Mimicking nature in her timing and choice of habitat.” In her garden she grows:

Alexanders, sweet cicely, japonica quince, wild raspberry, wild garlic, primroses, sweet violets, horse mushrooms, chicken of the woods, oyster mushrooms and scarlet elf cups.

Emma at Never Mind the Burdocks, meanwhile favours “ground elder, wild mints, and Galium species such as odorata which fill a borders edges perfectly and are easy to maintain.”

Providing myriad food sources is a great way to garden for wildlife, but if there’s a particular butterfly you’d like to see gracing your patch, often you’ll need to provide a specific food source. Dave at Why Watch Wildlife shares this example:

A Brimstone is looking for Alder Buckthorn, so think about planting it. Not only will it benefit the butterfly, but in autumn birds will eat the berries too.

Birds and bees

Forget-me-nots are a vital early source of nectar for bees.
Image source: Ian Grainger

As well as enjoying the host of tasty insects living on your wildflowers, birds need winter foodstuffs to keep them going when the nights draw in and the temperature plummets. To help out our feathered friends, Bill says he planted Cotoneaster. He says it’s quite mature now:

In the winter it retains enough berries to entice the local Blackbirds, wintering Blackcaps and once a small flock of Waxwing to feast on its berries.

Bill says the bees and hoverflies love the alliums he buried last year, and Julie of Garden Without Doors is a great advocate of early wildflowers like: “forget-me-nots, green alkanet and deadnettle”. She says the great advantage of spring flowers is that they’re: “beloved by bees and available to them before other flowers start blooming.”

Worried that by filling your borders with spring wildflowers, you’ll have less blooms to enjoy during the summer months? Don’t be. Julie says:

Your spring wildflowers will die back in time for other flowers to take over.

Do you have any wildlife-friendly planting suggestions to share? If so we’d love to hear from you. Just pop over to our Facebook page and leave us a message.

In the meantime, we’ll leave the last word to Alan at the Scottish Wildlife Garden who, once the butterflies have enjoyed his thistles, finds they “have delicious, tender, juicy hearts that are quite easy to prepare once you have the knack.” As he says, that’s one way to “Have your garden and eat it”.

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