Give new perennial bedding plants a try

Foxglove ‘Mixed’ from T&M

Plant foxgloves in the summer border
Image: Foxglove ‘Mixed’ from Thompson & Morgan

For a fresh take on traditional bedding plant displays, try these tall perennials at the back of your beds and borders. Pollinator friendly, long-lasting and easy to care for once established, these great value plants will provide effortless colour, structure and interest all summer long.

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Bedding plants – a revival

Begonia elatior 'Frivola Pink'

Begonia ‘Frivola Pink’ looks great in beds, borders, or in patio containers
Image: Thompson & Morgan

If you enjoyed watching ‘The Great British Garden Revival’ then you’ll be aware of Christine Walkden’s passionate campaign to bring back ornamental bedding plants. The magnificent displays often seen at grand country houses like Waddesdon Manor and seaside towns like Eastbourne are still incredibly popular.

Descended from the Victorians’ love of the art of ornamental bedding, these “eye-catching displays were the gardening ‘bling’ of yesteryear,” explained Christine. Here’s how to stage your own mini-revival, using the latest cutting-edge bedding plants bred for size, colour, disease-resistance and longevity.

The evolution of bedding plants

Gardening news - Great British Garden Revival

Michael Perry and Christine Walkden talk ornamental bedding in T&M’s trial grounds

As part of Christine’s Revival of Ornamental Bedding, she visited Thompson & Morgan’s trial grounds to meet with product development manager, Michael Perry. T&M’s trial grounds are home to over 500 new types of plants. This is where the company tests whether new plants are true to type, and where new varieties are grown and compared to existing ones to track and monitor improvements.

Despite new varieties becoming available each year, T&M finds that traditional plants continue to be most popular. Michael says that “people recognise the names and know that they’ll work in their gardens, but we’d really like people to move towards newer varieties that perhaps perform better, or have better disease resistance.”

Michael explains that Marigold ‘Jesters Mixed’ is a great example of this: “It’s so much bigger than the traditional one – you get much more plant for your money. It stops the weeds coming through, so it’s a natural weed suppressant. It also mulches the ground, so you’ll need to water a lot less as you’re covering the ground naturally and won’t have so much bare soil that needs to be maintained.

Breeding disease-resistant bedding plants

Busy Lizzie ‘Divine Mixed’ from T&M

Busy Lizzie ‘Divine’ quickly covers beds and borders
Image: Busy Lizzie ‘Divine Mixed’ from Thompson & Morgan

A few years ago, the UK’s best selling annual bedding plant, the Busy Lizzie, was struck down and destroyed by an epidemic. The disease was ‘downy mildew’, an airborne disease that most of the common Walleriana Busy Lizzies were susceptible to. It was so bad that this former stalwart of British bedding that sold almost 35m plants a year was removed from garden centres nationwide. Michael Perry said, “the plants literally melted and were unrecoverable, so the only solution was to grow resistant varieties.

In answer to the problem, T&M developed Busy Lizzie ‘Divine’ which has completely different genetics to traditional Busy Lizzies. It was bred to produce bigger and better flowers, and to be more resilient to all sorts of weather conditions – hot, dry, wet or cold. “It really is a ‘super Busy Lizzie’. The traditional varieties prefer shade, but ‘Divine’ loves both sun and shade, making it even more versatile,” according to Michael.

Bedding plants bred for performance

Begonia semperflorens 'Lotto Mixed' from Thompson & Morgan

New and improved begonias like ‘Lotto Mixed’ flower right through until October
Image: Begonia semperflorens ‘Lotto Mixed’ from Thompson & Morgan

If you want to revive the ornamental bedding display in your garden, T&M is continually cultivating new varieties that are cheaper and easier to grow. Here are Michael’s top tips for new and improved versions of popular plants suitable for any sized garden…

Begonias

The traditional bedding begonia semperflorens ‘Organdy’ has blooms that never fully open, stunted growth, and it isn’t really weatherproof. However, begonia ‘Lotto’ (image above) delivers much bigger plants, spreads into landscape-style growth, has large clear flowers and leaves like water lily pads, and is happy in any weather.

Antirrhinum vs Penstemon

Annual antirrhinums die down to the ground every year. The traditional snapdragons are lovely and pretty, but they don’t flower for long. A good alternative is a perennial hardy penstemon, such as ‘Wedding Bells’, which flowers for a staggering 5-6 months. This variety is also really tough and resilient in the garden.

Alstroemeria

Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer’, also known as Peruvian lily, flowers for 5-6 months and hosts lovely bronze foliage. The plants are compact with an upright habit, yet still produce stems which are a good length for cutting.

Gerberas

Gerberas are very exciting, and brand new breeding brings us gerbera ‘Sweet Collection’. Growing gerberas outside was unthinkable 10 years ago, yet modern breeding has enabled varieties like this to be grown in the border all year round. This variety is hardy down to -10C and the plants will come back every year with lovely big, florist quality, daisy-like blooms, which are twice the size of other hardy gerbera flowers.

A revival really is taking place, bedding is changing and your choices are much wider than they used to be. There is no limit to what you can do with ornamental bedding. Visit our begonias hub page for links to begonia growing and care information. For more bedding recommendations and tips to create a fantastic display, head over to our bedding plant hub.

World’s first electricity-generating sunflower!

Thompson & Morgan’s horticultural innovators who won the Plant of the Year at the Chelsea Flower Show 2012 and introduced the amazing TomTato® have done it again!

They have now developed a brand new strain of sunflower which generates its own electricity from the central stem.

The PowerFlower can charge mobile phones and tablets or can be used for lighting. Plants are supplied 12 inches high, and in bud. Customers can buy a “SunCharge” model, which features a unique waterproof USB port, pre-installed into the stem, for charging a range of devices with USB connections. Alternatively, the “SunLight” model is available, where the main flower head has a light bulb socket pre-installed, meaning the plant can be used for lighting in the home.

World’s first electricity-generating sunflower!

This dwarf, potted PowerFlower is the first step in a whole new world of electricity. A strong charge is created due to friction built up in the fibrous tissue of the plant stem. However, the exact technology of the patented “S-Stem” is being kept a closely guarded secret for the moment; however it’s guaranteed that the PowerFlower will change the face of gardening and energy sources across the globe.

With the release of the taller versions (estimated as 2016), gardens could be dedicated to just growing this variety and powering people’s homes, with an underground network of power leads filling borders. Gone are the days of mass fields of sunflowers growing across France for cut flowers, there will now be fields generating power for the world.

Masterminded by Thompson & Morgan’s development team with the help of leading scientist Professor Paolo Rilf, the PowerFlower is a long blooming variety, which lasts up to 4 weeks in flower. Even when the petals fall and the seed head begins to develop, the whole plant is still producing electricity within the S-Stem.

New Product Development Manager, Michael Perry said “The PowerFlower is capable of producing unlimited electricity over an 8 week period. With a dose of Thompson & Morgan’s exclusive new Incredibloom® fertiliser technology, you can increase the strength of that electricity by up to 4 times.”

Thompson & Morgan is planning to release this variety during late 2014. When buying a PowerFlower, customers can choose between the “SunCharge” USB pack, or the “SunLight” table lamp unit, and plants are ready for producing electricity immediately. Prices are yet to be confirmed.

Tweet using #PowerFlower.

Weekend project – making a bird bath

Inspired by a photo of a homemade bird bath I’d seen on Pinterest a while ago, I decided to put the pile of bricks at the side of my house to good use and make one myself!

We’re trying to be much more mindful of wildlife in our garden (I often refer to it as a wildlife garden, when in fact it’s just a bit untidy…) and this was the perfect project. It also had the added bonus of making me clear out a load of bits and bobs we’d kept hold of ‘just in case they come in handy’.

I started off by digging a small trench where the first layer of bricks was going to go. Our garden slopes a lot, so we chose the flattest, sturdiest spot, which also happens to be next to the buddleja that self-seeded from a neighbour’s garden and attracts dozens of bees and butterflies every year. After getting the first layer as level as I could, I set my daughter the task of choosing the best bricks in the pile – some were starting to crumble, some had lumps of mortar stuck to them – and giving them a quick brush. 8 layers later, it was ready for the bird bath to be added. My daughter put some pebbles into the bath itself for bees to land on – we’d read that bees are thirsty little creatures, but either need very shallow water or somewhere to land.

Weekend project - making a bird bath

It was really easy – it probably took us half an hour or so to make, so it’s the perfect project to do with children. Interesting and different enough for them to want to be involved, but not so difficult or time-consuming that they get bored.

We’re really pleased with the finished result, even though it is a tiny bit wonky. It goes very nicely in our ‘rough and ready’ garden, now all we’ve got to do is wait for the birds and bees. It could take a couple of weeks for worker bees to find it, so we’ll just have to be patient!

Weekend project - making a bird bath

Gardening on a budget

In his first blog post for Thompson & Morgan, gardener Richard Laker writes about the challenges of gardening on a budget…

My name is Richard Laker, I am (just) the better side of 30. I live on the North Essex coastline and this is the start of my second full year gardening at this house.

I should probably explain that I have a wife and two children, two dogs and a cat, all of whom (apart from the wife) throw unexpected challenges on my gardening aspirations and also require feeding, which sadly leaves less than desired money to spend on the next project.

Gardening on a budget

View from the back door

When we moved in, in late August 2012 I was recovering from complications following surgery and couldn’t wait to start getting the garden in a happier and healthier state, but in the process it has received many ‘tweaks’ which has kept me busy.

Gardening on a budget

The damaged fence

Last year was a challenging one as we got our first family dog, a working welsh sheepdog puppy, called Kiyo, which soon taught me that things were going to have to change if I ever wanted to see a full plant life cycle ever again.

Gardening on a budget

Kiyo

Being on a very tight budget requires a lot of improvisation when different challenges arise. Stopping Kiyo from eating the various garden plants and shrubs that are poisonous to dogs and running through the different beds was one of them.

I started to try to dog-proof the garden by raising the flower beds on the patio section, for which I needed a cheap and effective boundary that I could try and train him from jumping on. I thought about and priced up a number of ideas to raise the beds but my finances couldn’t stretch as far as I had hoped, so I improvised. This time it was with some bricks left over from a neighbour’s building work. I literally dug a five inch trench alongside the path and plonked the brinks on their edges and started to fill the borders with a mixture of compost and well rotted manure. It mightn’t be as aesthetically pleasing as it could’ve been but it was a cheap, effective and environmentally friendly way of sorting the problem. Luckily Kiyo was a very quick learner and learnt that past the bricks was off limits!

Gardening on a budget

My 1st place T&M award winning Begonia ‘Inferno’ hanging basket and my stunning Tree Lilly ‘Yellow Rocket’

I then decided that I needed to separate the garden in half: dog end and dog-free end. I started to divide the two ends of the garden with old pieces of wooden slats that were laying around (from my son’s bed) and made an awful attempt at a picket fence.

Gardening on a budget

First fence attempt!

It did the job for a couple of weeks before Kiyo realised that, if he ran at it fast enough, it would collapse. The next idea I had was to try something I hadn’t done before and that was to set three fence posts into the ground and fit 6X6 trellis panels to securely cordon off the two areas. First I wanted to move the existing garden path from the edge of the garden to the centre which would help me fit the posts to provide most support to the panels. I was in the planning stages when I was given a large black gate which, coincidentally, was the exact size for the gaps in the trellis panels and this is the semi-finished result.

Gardening on a budget

Nearly finished…

The summer continued to present more troubles but I hope to explain more in my next blog.

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