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.

Spring spruce up begins in Church Lane

Customer trial panel member Caroline Broome has had a busy weekend, getting ready for spring.

At last we have had a fine weekend and I’ve been making the most of it in spades, literally! Everything is coming into leaf, notably tree peony Hong Xia, and some plants like bog sage never died down. How timely was our decision to get rid of our lawn last autumn in favour of Indian stone – it’s so much easier to access the borders now. A near neighbour’s massive ash tree, which has overshadowed our garden for years, has been hard pruned by half so I’m dying to see how much more sun we will get here. The spring spruce up begins!

Spring spruce up begins in Church Lane

Tree peony Hong Xia

Having compiled a ‘Things To Do’ list I went completely off plan by cutting back the clematis Montana by half! I know that it’s officially the wrong time to prune this clematis but it was smothering everything in its wake. Then I hard pruned the neighbouring choisya. Everything in that corner of the garden looks strangely bare, but a lot brighter.

Next I dug up congested patches of symphytum, white phlox and acanthus to make room for my new T&M trial plants: Wallflower Perfumed Collection & Digitalis Leopardskin plugs, which were overwintered in 9cm pots, now have healthy root systems poking through the bottom of their pots. Also ready for transplanting are barerooted brunnera ‘Starry Eyes’ which have been storming away in their temporary greenhouse holding beds. Can’t wait for the soil to dry out a bit so that I can plant them out. I can’t bear to throw away any potential plants so every time I lift perennials I end up with loads of divisions, which I pot up for sale at my NGS Open Day. It’s only February and I can’t move in the greenhouse for plants. Some of the plants from last autumn that died back naturally over winter are totally unidentifiable, so it’s a case of wait and see.

Spring spruce up begins in Church Lane

Digitalis and wallflowers

I planted Freesia ‘Patio Perfection’ bulbs into terracotta patio pots, but the Trumpet Lily Collection has been planted into plastic pots for sinking into the borders later. Daffodil Rainbow Butterflies Mixed is promising to put on a magnificent display; I planted dozens so I’m anticipating a show stopping display outside our sun room doors.

Spring spruce up begins in Church Lane

Daffodils and Jitterbug, the annoyed cat!

It’s a case of hope over experience with me when it comes to seed sowing, but always the optimist I have sown my Courgette Defender seeds already, along with some ‘Boogie’ peas and sweet peas ‘Old Spice Mixed’ for the allotment. Probably not my most sensible decision was to plant out the Charlotte and Maris Piper potatoes, but they were chitted and raring to go;  so now I am glued to the weather forecast, fleece in hand, in case of impending frost.

A friend made a beautiful raised wooden and aluminium herb planter for our Christmas present, which has been filled with perennial herbs like sage, thyme, chives and rosemary, and I have sown purple basil and coriander to fill in the gaps in summer.

Spring spruce up begins in Church Lane

Iris reticulata in its 3rd year

T&M raises over £1000 for EACH charity

During November and December 2013 and January 2014, staff at Thompson & Morgan took part in the EACH £50 challenge – and raised over £1000!

T&M raises over £1000 for EACH charity

Julie Rush receives a £50 note from Vanessa Bell, Suffolk Fundraiser for EACH

The challenge itself was to turn £50 into as much money for the EACH charity in 3 months. Thompson & Morgan was presented with a £50 note in November and had until 31st January 2014 to raise as much cash as possible. East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices supports children and young people with life-threatening conditions and their families.

A fundraising committee was swiftly set up and the team got to work on ideas. A couple of brainstorming and planning sessions later, and the events were ready to be organised – school dinners, silent auction, cosy day, furniture sale, and a soup and cake day.

The school dinners day was a real success – committee members made chilli con carne and fruit crumble with custard. It was cold and wet outside and a hot dinner was just what everyone needed!

On ‘Cosy Day’, staff were able to come to work in their onesies and slippers for a donation to the fundraising effort. They were treated to luxurious hot chocolate too!

T&M raises over £1000 for EACH charity

Luxury hot chocolate and cakes for Cosy Day

The ‘TM-Bay’ silent auction had some great items, including hotel stays, golf lesssons, signed books by Alan Titchmarsh, Christine Walkden and Vanessa Kimbell, a bespoke stained-glass mirror, cinema tickets and even film cells from The Lord of the Rings. This event alone raised over £400!

We’ve got some very skilled bakers at Thompson & Morgan and, once again, they turned their hands to whipping up some amazing cakes for the Soup and Cake day, the last fundraising event for the £50 challenge. The team served minestrone, leek and potato and vegetable soup and the cakes included the incredibly popular malteser bake…

T&M raises over £1000 for EACH charity

20 companies and groups in East Anglia took part in the winter challenge (there’s another one in spring, starting in April) and raised a total of £8,481.27 for EACH! We’ve also just found out that Thompson & Morgan is in 3rd position on the leaderboard!

Favourite scented plants, voted by RHS members

The RHS conducted a survey in spring 2013, in which it asked its members for their favourite scented plants.

Traditional flowers such as sweet peas, hyacinths and honeysuckle topped the list, which consisted mainly of spring-flowering plants. We’ve selected one of our own best-selling plants from each of the top 12 scented plants.

Favourite scented plants, voted by RHS members

Sweet pea
No garden should be without sweet peas. Their fragrance fills the air and the more flowers you cut, the more will grow. They’re great for ground cover or grown against walls, fences and trellises. A simple bouquet of sweet pea blooms on a windowsill or table just can’t be beaten. Sweet pea seeds should be sown either indoors in October, which produces much stronger plants, or outdoors in March and April. If you’re buying them as plug plants you’ll need somewhere to grow them on before planting them out. Sweet Pea ‘Scent Infusion’ is a real favourite with our customers.

Favourite scented plants, voted by RHS members

Hyacinth
With their unmistakeable scent and beautiful blooms, hyacinths give a stunning spring display both in the border and in pots on the patio. They make great cut flowers too. Try ‘Breeder’s Selection’ – an exclusive mix that you can’t buy anywhere else, with shorter stems and densely packed with colour-rich flowers.

Favourite scented plants, voted by RHS members

Honeysuckle
Honeysuckle comes in many shapes and sizes, from the well-known fragrant varieties to the more unusual ‘trumpet’ honeysuckle. ‘Dropmore Scarlet’ is one such variety and, while it is unscented, the striking fiery-red blooms and blue-green foliage more than make up for it. This vigorous climber flowers from June to September and is perfect for covering walls, fences and unsightly garden features.


Favourite scented plants, voted by RHS members

Daphne
The highly sought-after Daphne is a hardy evergreen shrub with deeply fragrant, pale pink flowers that open around Christmas. They’re a real treat at a time when the garden is usually a bit on the dull side! Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ is a slow-growing shrub that’s perfect for growing in large containers in a sunny or semi-shaded spot in the garden. These highly scented plants will grow just as happily in the border too.

Favourite scented plants, voted by RHS members

Narcissus
Narcissus, or daffodils, are a sure sign that spring is well on its way. There are many varieties available, from the traditional bright yellow daffs t0 pink, cream, bicoloured, double and single varieties – the choice is amazing! But for real impact, narcissus ‘Replete’ takes some beating – the sumptuous double flowers open into peachy-pink ruffles up to 10cm (4in) across. Easy to grow and perfect in borders, rockeries, containers or naturalised in grass.

Favourite scented plants, voted by RHS members

Lilac
Most varieties of lilac flower for a few weeks, but by growing ‘Bloomerang’, you’ll have flowers for months! This dwarf lilac fits into most gardens without being overbearing and blooms from spring to summer and again from late summer to the first frosts. Butterflies love it too and it even makes a great cut flower.

Favourite scented plants, voted by RHS members

Viburnum
Viburnum ‘Dawn’ is a winter-flowering, deciduous shrub that produces masses of dark pink blooms with a rich fragrance. The flowers fade to white before producing berries in the summer. Autumn brings a change in foliage colour to bright orange and yellow, before the flowers appear in winter again. It’s easy to grow and care for and is a perfect plant for a prominent border, where it’ll be a talking point all year round.

Favourite scented plants, voted by RHS members

Lily
With their heady fragrance and impressive blooms, lilies are a great feature in both the border and cut flower arrangements. The Trumpet Tree Lily produces huge white trumpet blooms with lime green throats that have an alluring freesia-like scent.

Favourite scented plants, voted by RHS members

Jasmine
Jasmine plants are known for their richly perfumed flowers and the variety ‘Revolutum’ is no exception. The bright yellow flowers are on show from May to August and really stand out against the semi-evergreen foliage. Planting it in a sunny spot intensifies the fragrance.

Favourite scented plants, voted by RHS members

Wallflowers
Wallflowers are just about the perfect plant! Versatile and undemanding, they’ll thrive even in the poorest of soils and bloom in the spring. Wallflower ‘Sugar Rush’, winner in the ‘Best New Bedding Plant’ category at the Grower of the Year Awards 2013, flowers twice – in spring and again in autumn, when most of the garden in dormant and giving a welcome display of fragrant blooms.

Favourite scented plants, voted by RHS members

Rose
Roses need very little introduction in terms of scent and ‘Lady Marmalade’ is one of our favourites. Awarded ‘Rose of the Year 2014’, the vintage, cabbage-shaped blooms have a deliciously sweet scent, but that’s where any relation to the past stops – these scented plants have the disease resistance of modern roses.

Favourite scented plants, voted by RHS members

Lily of the valley
Perfect for springtime posies, lily of the valley fills the air with its sweet fragrance. Plant the ‘pips’ out in spring and, once the plants are established, you’ll be rewarded with a low-maintenance plant that gives wonderful ground cover in woodland gardens and damp, shady areas.

 

Top 10 summer bedding plants

Top 10 summer bedding plants

Summer bedding plants don’t all have to be petunias and marigolds! As well as the more common bedding plants there are a huge range of annual bedding plants you can grow for height, scent and colour, from cornflowers and sweet peas to rudbeckia and zinnias. Some, such as petunias and geraniums (pelargoniums) are frost-tender perennials, which are treated as annuals and require frost protection; others are hardy annuals which can be sown directly outside. Nearly all summer bedding plants can be raised from seed although there is often a lot of work involved, from germination to pricking out tiny seedlings. If you don’t have the time or space for raising fiddly seedlings why not try our bedding plug plants to quickly get your garden started! It’s easy to order bedding plants online. We’ve listed our 10 best summer bedding plants below.

Learn more about growing bedding plants with our ‘How to grow bedding plants’ guide. For more information about autumn bedding plants for winter and spring flowering, take a look at our ‘Top 10 winter bedding plants’ guide. You can choose from our large range of bedding plants for sale here.

Top 10 summer bedding plants

Begonia
One of the most versatile summer bedding plants, begonias are well loved for their large flamboyant blooms in a wide range of colours, and their ability to thrive in both sun and shade. Flowering continuously throughout summer up to the first frosts, begonia bedding plants can be upright or trailing and are suitable for beds, borders, hanging baskets and window boxes. Some varieties such as begonia ‘Non-stop Mocca’ even have dark leaves to add foliage interest to bedding schemes. Tuberous begonias can be lifted and stored over winter and get bigger and better each year whereas begonia semperflorens cultivars such as begonia ‘Lotto Mixed’ are treated as annual bedding plants.

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Top 10 summer bedding plants

Sweet peas
Sweet peas make fantastic cottage garden bedding plants. Let them scramble up obelisks, wigwams or netting where they will reach heights of 1.8m (6′) or alternatively try dwarf sweet peas for groundcover at the front of beds and borders. With their delightful fragrance and wide range of colours, sweet peas are excellent summer bedding plants and also provide bunches of gorgeous fragrant cut flowers throughout summer!

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Top 10 summer bedding plants

Busy Lizzie
Incredibly valuable for shadier beds and borders, Impatiens summer bedding plants produce large flowers in a range of fruity colours, from pinks to reds through purples and white. New Guinea Impatiens have replaced the previously popular Impatiens walleriana due to busy Lizzie downy mildew, but share the same desirable characteristics – a long flowering period, bushy mounding habit and a preference for partial shade. Forming big spreading plants, busy Lizzies are superb for ground cover in beds and borders or will quickly fill patio containers with colour up to the first frosts.

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Top 10 summer bedding plants

Geranium
A common bedding plant and for good reason! These sturdy, sun-loving plants are well suited to hot, dry conditions and flower all summer through to the first frosts. Pelargoniums, commonly known as geraniums, are versatile bedding plants for summer and include trailing, climbing and upright varieties which are perfect for beds, borders, patio containers, hanging baskets and obelisks. Primarily available in vibrant shades of pink, white and red, geranium bedding plants are also available in subtle shades of lilac, apricot and rich burgundy.

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Top 10 summer bedding plants

Antirrhinum
Much loved for their architectural flower spikes and incredibly long flowering period, antirrhinums have fascinating mouth-like flowers which open when squeezed, making them a particular favourite with children. Available in a wide range of strong and vibrant colours, snapdragon bedding plants vary in height, from dwarf plants no taller than 25cm (10″) to large plants such as antirrhinum ‘Royal Bride’ which reach 90cm (35″). Tall snapdragons make superb cut flowers and add height to beds and borders; dwarf snapdragons can be used in beds, borders and patio containers. If you’re looking for bedding plants that attract bees, antirrhinums are a good nectar source, being most popular with bumble bees.

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Top 10 summer bedding plants

Lobelia
The dainty flowers of lobelia create wonderful dense waterfalls of colour in hanging baskets and containers, or grow the upright varieties for edging beds and borders. Easy to grow and long-flowering, they compliment any summer bedding scheme and look particularly pretty mingling with bedding plants in hanging baskets. Lobelia generally come in shades of cool blue, purple and white and are great if you’re looking for blue annual bedding plants.

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Top 10 summer bedding plants

Petunia
Surely the summer bedding plant with the most exciting blooms! Petunias are popular for their large trumpet flowers in a fantastic array of bright colours and patterns, including stripes and picotees. These vigorous half-hardy annuals can be trailing or upright, and look spectacular spilling from hanging baskets, window boxes and containers, or massed in beds and borders. Some such as petunia ‘Purple Tower’ can even be trained to climb a frame! Petunias are particularly useful if you’re looking for purple bedding plants, offering shades of mauve, lilac-blue or rich deep purple.

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Top 10 summer bedding plants

Rudbeckia
Annual rudbeckias, also known as coneflowers, make robust and cheerful garden bedding plants. Particularly useful as late summer bedding plants, rudbeckias flower from July through to October and add a fiery element to annual displays with their red, orange and yellow colour palette. Compact varieties such as rudbeckia ‘Toto’ are excellent in beds and patio containers; tall varieties such as rudbeckia ‘Cherry Brandy’ work well planted in sweeping drifts in beds and borders or dotted between perennials and shrubs. Not only do they look fabulous in the garden, rudbeckias also make excellent, long-lasting cut flowers for a vase indoors.

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Top 10 summer bedding plants

Californian poppy
For vibrant colour you can’t beat a Californian Poppy! This hardy annual is sown directly in beds and borders and will happily self-seed, creating effortless drifts of colour year after year. Traditionally orange, recent breeding has brought us a plethora of new colours including yellows, pinks, reds and apricot. The intensely coloured silky blooms are borne above neat clumps of feathery blue-green foliage and are attractive to bees and hoverflies. Thriving in poor, dry soils in full sun, simply scatter the seeds of these lively summer bedding plants where you want them to flower and let them take care of themselves.

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Top 10 summer bedding plants

Cosmos
If you want bedding plants that attract bees look no further than cosmos! The large saucer-shaped flowers bob prettily on slender, wiry stems and are a great source of late nectar for pollinating insects. The wispy fern-like foliage adds texture to bedding schemes and works well in an informal cottage-style bed or border. These fabulous summer bedding plants are mainly available in shades of pink, red and white, although cosmos sulphureus provides fiery yellows, oranges and reds. Cosmos bedding plants begin blooming in mid-summer and flower prolifically until mid-autumn. They also make fantastic cut flowers for a vase indoors.

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