The Rough Guide to Beans by Real Men Sow

The Rough Guide to Beans
Are you an allotment beginner, getting ready for your first season as a veg grower?

Well, let me recommend starting with beans. Beans were the biggest success of my first season, and I’ve loved growing them ever since.

They’re easy to grow, very healthy and one of the most prolific croppers on any vegetable patch.

So, if you’re new to growing veg and fancy some lovely legumes on your plot, here’s the Real Men Sow Rough Guide to Beans:

Broad Beans
Broadies are the first beans of the new season, and very welcome after the hungry gap.

Sow undercover into small pots of multipurpose compost in February, or early spring outside, and plant out once the plants reach 9 inches or so in height.

For the earliest crops, try overwintering a hardier variety such as Aquadulce. Broad beans are susceptible to blackfly, but many gardeners will tell you that overwintered broad beans suffer much less grief from the aphids.

If you do see any signs of blackfly, squirt off them off with warm soapy water as quickly as you can.

I like to enclose my broad beans within blocks, using stakes and strong string. This lets the plants support each other.

My favourite thing to do with broad beans is parboil, and then grind up into a mash with feta, olive oil and mint. It makes a very tasty toast topping. A spring time minty risotto with peas is also delicious.

The rough guide to beans

Broad beans

French Beans
French beans are one of the most prolific croppers on my plot. I regularly walk home with a carrier bag full during peak harvesting time.

I also love growing French beans as they’re not particularly fussy. French beans will stomach drier, poorer conditions than other veg, so will grow well if space is tight and you’re planting where other veg has been taken out.

Sow two seeds in pots of multipurpose compost any time during late spring (earlier if undercover) to late summer, before planting out when six inches or so high.

Climbing varieties are available, but I prefer the dwarf Tendergreen, which is great for kitchen gardens. French beans grow tall and thin, so plant close together so they can support each other.

French beans freeze well, and I sow a late crop in July/August purely for this purpose.

Keep an eye on the plants though, they crop fast! Pick regularly, when the beans are small and tender, otherwise they become stringy and tough.

The rough guide to beans

French beans

Runner Beans
What could be more traditional than runner beans growing up a wigwam? I love runners for the interest they add to a plot, and their red, white and pink flowers make them a really attractive veg to grow.

Runner beans are deep rooted and require rich soil for best results. Some gardeners make trenches during the winter, and fill them with kitchen scraps to give their runner plants a boost.

Don’t be tempted to sow runners too early. Earlier sowings can sometimes struggle to set flowers, and subsequently don’t crop as heavily. I sow my runners into multipurpose compost in mid May, with the aim of planting out in June.

Like French beans, runners grow at quite a pace, so keep an eye on your crop and pick early for the sweetest bean.

Fancy something a bit more adventurous?
How about the striking Borlotto bean, an Italian variety with cream and pink pods? Or for more of a challenge, try the spectacular yard long bean.

Yes, it really can grow to a yard long…

Happy Sowing.

About Jono and his blog
In 2007, I took on a redundant allotment plot with my gardening-mad mum. As all good mums do, she went along with it, but I don’t think she held out much hope.
However, six years on, and mum now lets me work without watching over my shoulder, so I must be doing something right.
I’ve found that there’s something joyful about allotments, growing your own food, and living within the seasons. I do my best to try and capture that feeling on my blog, Real Men Sow.

Bedding plants – a revival

Gardening news - Great British Garden Revival

Michael Perry and Christine Walkden

If you watched the Great British Garden Revival last night then you will have seen Christine Walkden’s passion for ornamental bedding plants and her campaign for their revival. The magnificent displays of Waddesdon Manor and much-loved seaside displays at Eastbourne have descended from the Victorian’s love of the art of ornamental bedding. “Eye catching displays were the gardening bling of yesteryears”, Christine enthused.

As part of Christine’s Revival of Ornamental Bedding, she visited Thompson & Morgan’s trial grounds and shared her passion with Michael Perry, new product development manager.

Thompson & Morgan’s trial grounds are home to over 500 new types of plants. The trial grounds are used to grow the company’s products to ensure that they are true to type, and to compare new varieties with older, existing ones to see if they are indeed an improvement.

Bedding plants - a revival

Thompson & Morgan’s trial grounds

Despite many new varieties being available, Thompson & Morgan still sees many traditional plants being popular with customers. As Michael says, “people recognise the names and know that they will work in their gardens, but we really want people to move towards newer varieties that perhaps perform better in gardens or have better disease resistance.”

Michael suggests that Margiold ‘Jesters Mixed’ is a great example of this: “It is so much bigger than the traditional one, you get more plant for your money. It stops the weeds coming through, so it is a natural weed suppressant. Also it mulches the ground, so you will need to water your soil a lot less as you are covering the ground naturally. You have not got the bare soil that you have got to keep on maintaining all of the time.”

Bedding plants - a revival

Downy mildew-affected plants (left), busy lizzie ‘Divine’ (right)

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’ which is an airborne disease and most of the common walleriana busy lizzies that we’ve known for years were susceptible to it. It was so bad that the stalwart of British bedding that sold almost 35m plants a year has now been removed from garden centres nationwide. As Michael Perry says, “the plants literally melted and were unrecoverable, there is no treatment for it at the moment, what you need to do is grow resistant varieties.”

Through breeding work, T&M has developed Busy Lizzie ‘Divine’, which has completely different genetics to the usual busy lizzies. It has been bred on so that it is bigger and better and more resilient to all sorts of weather conditions, hot, dry wet or cold. “It really is almost the super busy lizzie. Traditional busy lizzies love shade, but ‘Divine’ loves both sun and shade, making it even more versatile”, according to Michael.

There are lots of plants that can be used to create an ornamental display and Thompson & Morgan is always cultivating new varieties that are cheaper and easier to grow.

Here’s an excerpt from the show:

Here are Michael’s bedding ‘movers and shakers’

The traditional bedding begonia semperflorens ‘Organdy’ has blooms that never fully open, growth is quite stunted and plants are never weather proof. However, begonia ‘Lotto’ delivers much bigger plants, has more landscape-style growth, big clear flowers, leaves like water lily pads and is perfect for any weather.

Antirrhinum vs Penstemon
Annual antirrhinums die down to the ground every year. The traditional snapdragons are lovely and pretty, but they do not 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 ‘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 producing stems which are a good length for cutting.

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.

L-R: Begonia ‘Lotto’ Mixed, oenstemon ‘Wedding Bells’, alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer’, gerbera ‘Sweet Collection’

T&M wins Grow Your Own magazine awards

T&M wins Grow Your Own awards

We’re thrilled to have been voted the winner in FOUR categories of the Grow Your Own magazine awards for 2013. We’re particularly proud to have won Best Online Retailer. Knowing that we’re up against some pretty serious competition in the horticultural online marketplace, it really means a lot. Thompson & Morgan was also named winner of the Best Vegetable Seed Range, Best Fruit Plant or Tree Range and Best Customer Service categories. The awards are voted on by Grow Your Own magazine’s readers and online visitors.

Callum Burgess, of GYO Magazine’s publishers, Aceville, said that they had been overwhelmed by the rise in the number of readers and online visitors who had taken the time to nominate and then vote for their favourite companies in these awards. He added ‘..with a record number of people voting this year, these Awards are truly deserved..’.

It’s always a pleasure to win awards, but we really appreciate receiving the ones that have been voted on by our gardening customers.

We’re excited to have recently been shortlisted for 4 of this year’s UK Grower Awards.

And the nominations are:

Petunia ‘Black Night’ in the category Best New Variety: Bedding Plants/Pot Plants.

Hydrangea ‘Glam Rock’ in the category Best New Variety: Hardy Nursery Stock.

Helianthus ‘Inca Gold’ in the category Best New Variety: Bedding Plants/Pot Plants.

Penstemon ‘Orchestra Mixed’ in the category Best New Variety: Bedding Plants/Pot Plants.

L-R: Petunia ‘Black Night’, Hydrangea ‘Glam Rock’, Helianthus ‘Inca Gold’, Penstemon ‘Orchestra Mixed’

What to plant in 2014

What to plant in 2014 – Thompson & Morgan’s New Year’s Honours List

With Christmas over and a new year beginning, Thompson & Morgan is looking forward to a bumper year in gardens up and down the country. So what are the hot tips for 2014 in the plant world?

What to plant in 2014


In 1st place – the real ‘must have’ plant for 2014 is Thompson & Morgan’s breeding phenomenon, the fabulous TomTato®. Interest in this amazing innovation has been immense – it’s been featured in the press all around the world. Orders are coming in thick and fast for this fabulous plant which produces tomatoes above ground and potatoes below!

Also featuring significantly in both of Thompson & Morgan’s New Year’s Honours Lists are gardeners’ favourites – begonias. The Big Begonia Revival  gets off to a great start with ‘Fragrant Falls Improved’, ‘Lotto Mixed’, Begonia ‘Raspberry Cream’ and ‘Apricot Shades’ all making an appearance in the horticultural honours list.

Thompson & Morgan is predicting a revolution in hanging baskets this summer. Cascading begonias will be leading the way, followed closely by the fabulous petunias ‘Surfinia’, ‘Crazytunia’ and ‘Frills & Spills’. Patio pots and FlowerPouches™ will be in for a treat too; Lobelia ‘T&M’s Choice’, a new and improved mix, exclusive to Thompson & Morgan is so versatile – it works just as well in containers as it does in borders. Gardeners looking for a clematis that really delivers in terms of flower power, should consider Clematis ‘Top to Bottom’. No more bare lower stems with this variety; as the name suggests, it produces flowers all the way up the plant!

What to plant in 2014

Begonia ‘Whopper’ Mixed

Always on the look-out for plants with bigger and better blooms, Thompson & Morgan brings a couple of ‘jumbo’ choices to gardeners looking for some big impact. Begonia ‘Whopper’ and spectacular Giant Flowered Fuchsia are conspicuous in their size compared to regular varieties. They’re also surprisingly good value.


What to plant in 2014

Begonia ‘Apricot Shades Improved’

Thompson & Morgan’s Hot Tips
New and exciting varieties everyone will want in their garden in 2014.

1. TomTato®
2. Begonia ‘Fragrant Falls Improved’
3. Petunia ‘Crazytunia’ Collection
4. Begonia ‘Raspberry Cream’
5. ‘Tasty Pansy F1’ Collection
6. Penstemon ‘Wedding Bells’
7. Begonia ‘Whopper’ Mixed
8. Clematis ‘Top to Bottom’
9. Begonia ‘Apricot Shades Patio Improved’
10. Petunia ‘Black Night’

What to plant in 2014

Giant fuchsias

Thompson & Morgan’s Hall of Fame
Plants that consistently stand the test of time and are always featured amongst customers’ favourites.

1. Begonia ‘Apricot Shades Improved’
2. New Guinea Impatiens ‘Divine’
3. Giant Flowered Fuchsias
4. Trailing ‘Surfinia’ Petunia
5. Antirrhinum ‘Madame Butterfly’ F1
6. Begonia ‘Lotto Mixed’
7. Geranium ‘T&M’s Choice’
8. Lobelia ‘T&M’s Choice’
9. Petunia ‘Frills & Spills’
10. Tomato Sungold

Celebrating 21 years of Duchy Originals

In September, Thompson & Morgan received an invitation to Clarence House to celebrate 21 years of Duchy Originals, as a thank you for being involved in the organic business venture started by HRH The Prince of Wales.

A keen gardener himself, the Duke of Cornwall spent some time talking to the guests from Thompson & Morgan about various vegetables he likes to grow and eat, including Sarpo potatoes, stringless runner beans and purple carrots. Paul Hansord, horticultural director, said “He’s very knowledgeable and knows his stuff – and he knows what he likes, so I recommended some varieties for him try! Purple carrots are his favourite, he said they have the best flavour.”

Thompson & Morgan started selling Duchy Originals organic seeds in 2008 with a range of 51 varieties. The current range includes cucumbers, runner beans, tomatoes, leeks, carrots, onions and many more.

Celebrating 21 years of Duchy Originals

T&M guests l-r: Christine Wilcock, Neil Sharpe, Paul Hansord, John May

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