Growing with kids: Mr Men and Little Miss seeds

Photo of Thompson & Morgan range of Mr. Happy's 'Tomato Sweet Apéritif' Seed Range

Tomatoes are one of the easiest things to grow with children
Image source: dogwooddays

Children love watching plants grow – from that miraculous moment when a tiny seed’s first leaves emerge from the ground – to enjoying the flowers and fruits that appear later in the season.

Professional garden designer Nic Wilson of dogwooddays thinks it’s a great idea to get kids involved with gardening at an early age. Here’s what she and her kids made of Thompson & Morgan’s Mr Men and Little Miss seeds when they tried them out at home.

Encouraging kids to sow and grow

Hand holding three packs of the Mr Men/Little Miss Seed Range from Thompson & Morgan - photo by dogwooddays

The seeds Nic’s children decided to start with
Image source: dogwooddays

Last year, Thompson & Morgan partnered with Mr Men and Little Miss to produce a selection of seeds and gardening products to encourage kids to grow their own. The range was launched in the fabulously colourful Mr Men themed garden at Hampton Court Flower Show – a hugely successful space loved by adults and kids alike.

The seeds include easy to grow flowers, fruit and vegetables such as Little Miss Sunshine’s Sunflower ‘Helios Flame’, Mr Sneeze’s Pepper ‘Boneta’, Mr Strong’s Broccoli ‘Bell Star’ (which Mr Strong suggests should be eaten with cheesy scrambled eggs for a fortifying meal) and Mr Tickle’s ‘Extra Curled’ Cress – simple enough for even the smallest growers to handle.

Best fruit and veg seeds for kids

Action shot of child making lollipop markets for seed pots

Making markers for seed pots is part of the fun
Image source: dogwooddays

My kids decided to start with Mr Happy’s Tomato ‘Sweet Apéritif’ – because tomatoes are one of our favourite summer snacks. We sowed the seeds in peat-free compost in newspaper pots that we’d made ourselves, and then popped them into the windowsill propagator.

Each day the kids checked the pots, and there was great excitement on the morning that the first leaves unfurled. Indoor germination makes it easy for children to get involved in watering the plants each day and watching the seedlings develop.

This week we’ll be pricking the seedlings out and the children will be growing them on in their bedrooms. We’re planning to plant them out after the first frosts and hoping for big bowlfuls of cherry tomatoes later in the summer! We’ve also sown Little Miss Giggles’ Cucumber ‘Diva’ which should give us plenty of small fruits for picnics and lunchboxes.

Best flower seeds for kids

Mr Small’s Nasturtium Whirlybird Mixed from Thompson & Morgan

Stunning cherry, rose, gold, orange, scarlet, tangerine and cream Nasturtium flowers
Image source: Mr Small’s Nasturtium Whirlybird Mixed from T&M

For a shot of colour, we decided to sow Mr Small’s Nasturtium Whirlybird Mixed. Nasturtiums are one of the best flowers to grow with young children as they have such cheerful flowers. Kids love the fact that they have edible peppery leaves and they also enjoy harvesting the petals to add to pretty summer salads.

Another flower with brightly coloured, edible petals is Mr Clever’s Calendula ‘Fruit Twist’. Calendula readily self-seeds in the garden, so in subsequent years it’s fun to see what new colours emerge as the seedlings mature.

Gardening skills for life

Child standing amongst tomato plants - photo from dogwooddays

There’s nothing quite like harvesting your own snacks as a child!
Image source: dogwooddays

Growing these easy crops and flowers teaches children how to sow seeds, prick-out seedlings and look after plants once they’re outside in the garden or greenhouse. The sense of achievement when they pick their first tomato or create a posy with their own flowers is enormous.

Even better, it has encouraged my kids to enjoy fruit and vegetables that they would have otherwise refused to try. And with 25% of each packet sold going to the Children With Cancer UK charity, growing these seeds is sure to bring a smile to everyone’s faces – not just Mr Happy’s!

If you’ve been inspired to get your kids or grandkids out into the garden this year, the Mr Men and Little Miss seed range includes:

 

How to create beautiful displays with annual flowers

image of Nigella Damascena on a summers day

Nigella damascena provides a beautiful display all summer long
Image source: Shutterstock

Once March arrives, Nic Wilson’s potting shed is launched into action as her annual flower seeds come out.

Here, the experienced gardener behind dogwooddays talks to us about the many roles that annual flowers play in her garden. Affordable, beautiful, and easy to grow, Nic shares her favourite annual flower combinations, and tips on how to use them to create a fresh new display every year.

Sowing annual flower seeds

Calendula officinalis nana 'Fruit Twist' from Thompson & Morgan

Calendula is a quick and easy annual that’s easy to grow in almost any garden
Image source: Calendula officinalis nana ‘Fruit Twist’ from Thompson & Morgan

You can sow many hardy annuals like calendula, sunflowers, nasturtiums and Californian poppy indoors from March, in seed trays or modules, then potted on and planted outdoors when they’re large enough. Alternatively, from April, sow annual flower seeds directly outdoors to create interest throughout the summer:

  • Scatter the seeds in swathes through mixed borders
  • Sow in vegetable plots to attract pollinators and as companion plants
  • Sprinkle over gravel gardens

When designing gardens, I often include annuals to add variety and fill gaps until shrubs and perennials develop. Many annuals self-seed, like nigella, borage and calendula, so they create maximum impact with minimum effort. They’re beloved by bees and butterflies, are ideal for cutting, and some provide edible flowers too. Annuals really do offer something for everyone.

Best colour combinations

blue-purple plants with a self-seeded green centre

Self-seeded nigella
Image source: dogwooddays

One breathtaking colour combination I wouldn’t be without is purple and orange. One of my favourites is the delicate bell flowers of Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’ contrasted with Calendula officinalis nana ‘Citrus Cocktail’ or Californian Poppy ‘Sun Shades’. These flowers last for months and self-seed in my garden, but are easy to remove in areas required for other plants.

Blues and whites create a cool, sophisticated combination. I particularly like the lofty umbels of Ammi majus or Orlaya grandiflora underplanted with Nigella ‘Blue starry skies’ or the diminutive cornflower ‘Dwarf Blue Midget’.

I also love velvety chocolate-purples and deep reds set against white. Try planting the opposing shades of Scabious ‘Ebony and Ivory’ or a contrasting display of sweet peas like ‘Night and Day’.

Best annual flowers for containers

Calendula ‘Snow Princess’ from Thompson & Morgan

Calendula ‘Snow Princess’ is ideal for containers
Image source: dogwooddays

One year I was given a packet of Coreopsis x hybrida ‘Incredible’ which I sowed in a spare container. The result was a blaze of colour throughout the summer – I’d definitely recommend these easy-to-grow, eye-catching flowers.

Other container successes include calendula, which I also grow in the vegetable garden.

My favourites are Calendula ‘Snow Princess’ which lasted through the winter this year, and my desert island flower, Calendula ‘Sherbet Fizz’ whose faded bronze petals I first met in Nick Bailey’s Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden at Chelsea in 2016 – it was love at first sight!

Edible delights

collection of sunflowers in a garden

Nic’s children like growing sunflowers
Image: im pany

Annuals offer quick rewards for children, both in terms of their prolific flowers and the edible qualities of many blooms. My kids like growing nasturtiums to eat their peppery leaves, petals and (later in the season) their pickled seedpods – a favourite pizza topping in our house.

They also grow sunflowers, especially the dwarf varieties and sunflower ‘Velvet Queen’ with its large, maroon-coloured heads. If you want to grow a range of different sunflowers, try sowing seeds from the T&M sunflower collection which includes ‘Harlequin’, ‘Italian White’ and ‘Velvet Queen’.

What’s your favourite annual flower? Leave us a comment and remember to tag us on your photos this summer.

How to attract birds to your garden all year round

Redwing bird on berries - photo from Nic Wilson at dogwooddays

This waxwing is a regular visitor to Nic’s garden
Image: dogwooddays

In January, Nic Wilson of dogwooddays was astonished to see a female blackcap in the garden during the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch. It was a new species for her and, even better, it turned up at just the right time to be counted! She also has regular winter visits from redwing, feeding on next door’s cotoneaster, and waxwing in the birch trees behind her house.

Here are Nic’s top tips for attracting birds to your garden, including plants that they particularly love…

How to attract birds

Ivy berries on ivy bush - photo from Nic Wilson at dogwooddays

Plan to include a few more berry-bearing plants such as Nic’s beautiful ivy
Image: dogwooddays

In the winter and early spring it’s crucial to provide food for birds, to help them survive the colder months. This can be in the form of seeds and nuts – in our garden the finches love sunflower hearts and starlings flock to feed on the fat balls – but berries, seedheads and overwintering insects also offer hungry birds sustenance in the garden.

Winter is also an ideal time to plan simple changes to your garden that will encourage birds to visit throughout the year. It’s estimated that there are 400,000 hectares of garden habitat across the UK, and this could make a real difference if it were used creatively to support birdlife.

Stock up feeding stations

redwing sitting on a bush with red berries and green leaves - photos by Nic Wilson at dogwooddays

A redwing pauses for brief respite
Image: dogwooddays

The RSPB advise us to feed birds throughout the year, but winter is a key time to keep bird feeding stations topped up and ensure that there’s plenty of fresh water to drink. In colder months, fill feeders and bird tables with sunflower and niger seeds, or a quality wild bird seed mix.

Peanuts are a good food source, but they shouldn’t be provided whole. Only purchase peanuts from a quality retailer who guarantees that they’re free from aflatoxin, a natural toxin that can kill birds. Fresh mealworms, fatballs (remove any nylon meshbags first) and fruit – soft apples and pears cut in half, or bananas – are also ideal winter fare. It’s essential that feeders are kept clean or you can do more harm than good.

Growing your own seed-bearing plants is a great way to feed birds throughout the year. Sunflowers provide huge heads of seed, while poppy, teasel, allium, echinacea, phlomis and many other garden favourites also have seeds that can be left over winter to attract birds like finches to the garden. As I write, a charm of goldfinches has descended on our verbena, bouncing on the seedheads as they pick out the seeds.

Provide nesting places

Gardman Multi-Nest Box With Apex Roof by Thompson & Morgan

Mount bird boxes in quiet, sheltered spots
Image: Thompson & Morgan’s Gardman Multi-Nest Box With Apex Roof

Supplying bird boxes is the easiest way to encourage birds to nest in the garden. We regularly hosted blue and great tits as they nested in boxes my children had made with their grandad.

Hedges and trees are important as they offer sheltered spots for birds to nest. Just be sure to avoid cutting hedges in the breeding season (early March – end of August) to protect any nests that might be in use during this period.

Encourage insects

long tailed tit on a branch photographed by Nic Wilson at dogwooddays

Birds like this long tailed tit are attracted to gardens with lots of insects
Image: dogwooddays

The more insects in your garden, the more birds will be attracted to feed. Avoid chemical products and use organic growing methods to encourage healthy ecosystems that will support large numbers of minibeasts.

A perfect, tidy garden isn’t ideal for wildlife – creating ‘wild’ areas with piles of logs, sticks and stones helps to encourage a range of insects. Leave stems and seedheads over winter to offer shelter to insects during the cold winter months.

Bring on the berries

red pyracantha hedge photographed by Nic Wilson at dogwooddays

This pyracantha hedge looks gorgeous and provides a feast of winter berries
Image: dogwooddays

Trees and plants with berries offer rich pickings for birds, and they add colour to the garden during the bleakest months. More unusual garden birds like fieldfare, redwing, mistle thrush and waxwing love to visit berry-laden shrubs, giving us fabulous views of these beautiful birds. Try planting:

If your garden is too small for trees or large shrubs, try climbers like honeysuckle ‘Hall’s Prolific’ or ivy ‘Glacier’ that grow vertically and provide nourishing berries for the birds throughout the autumn and winter.

Pruning and planting soft fruit

Nic Wilson's soft fruit growing area with obelisks and pots

Nic grows soft fruit in a cage
Image: Nic Wilson of dogwooddays

Never grown soft fruit before? Not sure what to do with your rapidly growing berry bush? We asked experienced gardener Nic Wilson how she grows such bumper crops. Her generously shared tips make growing some of the most expensive shop-bought produce as easy as pie. Here’s what she told us…

Planting tips for soft fruit

collection of blueberries in a hand

These enormous, juicy blueberries grow best in ericaceous soil
Image: Nic Wilson of dogwooddays

I’m watching a pair of blue tits flitting through the branches in the fruit cage, picking off tiny insects before disappearing through the open roof space and over next door’s fence. The industry of these little birds, cleaning the fruit bushes of overwintering pests, reminds me that there’s work to be done before the weather starts to warm in early spring.

In the early months of the new year, there’s still time to add new soft fruit to the patio, garden or allotment ready for bumper crops in the summer. I remember propagating a gooseberry from one of my plants several years ago and giving it to friends for Christmas – a bare, spiky twig – not the most extravagant looking present! But we all knew, come summer, the bare-rooted plant would look very different. True to form, the gooseberry has provided them with many crumbles since then.

Classic choices for soft fruit include raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, currants and gooseberries. Here are my planting tips for each:

Raspberries

Raspberry ‘Polka’ from Thompson & Morgan (Autumn fruiting) - available to buy now

Featured: Raspberry ‘Polka’ from Thompson & Morgan

My favourite raspberries, based on taste, are ‘Glen Ample’ (summer) and ‘Joan J’ (autumn). I’ve also added ‘Glen Coe’ this year with its deep purple summer fruits that, I’m told, taste sweet and delicious. For small gardens or patios, try summer fruiting Ruby Beauty’ or ‘Yummy’ – perfect for container growing.

Raspberries prefer slightly acid, fertile, moist soil in a sunny position, although I grow mine in alkaline soil enriched with plenty of organic matter and they crop well. Avoid planting too deeply (no more than 5cm below the surface), and ensure they’re tied into supports – usually posts and wires – as they grow.

Strawberries

Strawberry ‘Just Add Cream’ from Thompson & Morgan - Available to buy now

Featured: Strawberry ‘Just Add Cream’ from Thompson & Morgan

If you’re planting a new strawberry bed, a collection of different varieties helps to spread crops across the summer. Favourites of mine (as always, based on flavour) include ‘Just Add Cream’, ‘Honeoye’ and ‘Florence’.

If you don’t have space in the ground for strawberries, try growing them in a hanging basket like we did last year with Just Add Cream. It saves space, the pink flowers are attractive and the fruits are kept well away from hungry slugs and snails.

Currants and gooseberries

Pinkcurrant ‘Gloire de Sablon’ from Thompson & Morgan - available to buy now

Featured: Pinkcurrant ‘Gloire de Sablon’ from Thompson & Morgan

Bare root currants and gooseberries can be planted until March. Although they prefer sunny conditions, they can tolerate partial shade. Plant in fertile, moist, well-drained soil and ensure bare root blackcurrants are planted 5cm deeper than the current soil mark to encourage extra shoots from below ground level.

We grow black, red and white currants, but if you don’t have much space you could try blackcurrant ‘Ebony in a large container or pinkcurrant ‘Gloire de Sablon in place of redcurrants and whitecurrants.

These days I avoid gooseberries in our small fruit cage after too many painful encounters with sharp spines in the past, but if I had room to grow one, I’d choose a red variety like gooseberry ‘Xenia’ for sweeter fruits and fewer spines.

Blueberries

Blueberry ‘Bluecrop’ from Thompson & Morgan - available to buy now

Featured: Blueberry ‘Bluecrop’ from Thompson & Morgan

Blueberries are my favourite fruit – we grow ‘Earliblue’, ‘Patriot’, ‘Bluecrop’, the enormous ‘Chandler’ and ‘Pink Lemonade’.

They need to be planted in ericaceous soil (ours are in pots), watered with rainwater, and given an ericaceous spring top dressing and feeding once a month throughout the summer if they’re in a container. The other essential is to protect the berries from the birds – although our pinkberries were outside the fruit cage last year and nothing seemed to touch them, possibly due to their lighter colour.

Quick pruning tips for soft fruit

  • My autumn raspberries (primocane) only stopped cropping a few weeks ago – last year we picked the yellow-berried ‘All Gold’ on Christmas Day – so now’s an ideal time to cut the canes to the ground and check the new growth at the base of each plant that will become the fruiting canes for this year.
  • Summer fruiting raspberry plants (floricane) should already have been pruned last year after fruiting. Check that this year’s canes are tied in for support in windy conditions.
  • Established blackcurrants need a quarter to a third of their old branches removing now, starting with any dead, diseased, weak or crossing branches. Make the cuts as low down as possible to encourage strong, new growth.
  • Other berry fruit such as redcurrants, whitecurrants and gooseberries only need light winter pruning. As with blackcurrants, first remove any dead, diseased or weak branches, then reduce new growth by half to encourage branching.
  • Blueberries also need little winter pruning: simply remove a quarter of the old wood at the base.

Unusual soft fruit to try

Chilean guava from Nic Wilson's garden. Pink flowers on a green bush

The Chilean guava is a beautiful addition to any garden
Image: Nic Wilson of dogwooddays

Although I love the classics, I wouldn’t be without some more unusual soft fruits like honeyberries (ours cropped for the first time last year), tayberries and Chilean guava. I find it fascinating to experiment with new varieties and flavours – summer puddings are never the same in our house from one year to the next!

Dreaming of a green Christmas

Wooden wreath with berries and leaves

Simplify the season of goodwill
Image source: Galina Grebenyuk

Christmas is the season of goodwill. A time for giving, and enjoying festivities with family. But all too often it becomes the season of ‘stuff’ – unwanted presents, plastic packaging and reams of wrapping paper – symptoms of the over-consumption that has such a negative impact on the natural world.

If you want to simplify the festive season, accumulate less ‘stuff’ and reduce your carbon footprint, here are a some ideas for a greener Christmas…
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