Drought-proofing my garden

The recent dry spell has really made me think about the plants I am growing. The drought has taken its toll on a favourite tree in my garden.  In truth, it has been many years since it performed at its best.  This year, I’ll be lucky if there are any leaves left come autumn! I’m blaming my thin, silty soil and a lack of regular rainfall, coupled with hot, drying winds over the past few weeks.

This has had me pondering – do I take some softwood cuttings now to replace it if it dies? Or is it better to accept what nature has given me; to find plants that naturally cope well under drought conditions. After all, the Trachycarpus (Windmill Palm) growing close by is positively flourishing.

Contrast between trees surviving drought

©Sue Sanderson, T&M – Sorbus vilmorinii (left) is suffering drought, while Trachycarpus (right) flourishes.


Preparing for dryer weather conditions

I’m a great believer in choosing the right plant for the right position. Why spend hours nurturing a moisture-loving plant that will never thrive on a dry soil? Unfortunately it’s far too easy to be led astray by a pretty flower in the garden centre. I’m sure I’m not the only one! So I’ve decided to let nature take its course and start planning for a more drought resilient garden…


Limit your plant choices

A good starting place is to look at what thrives in your garden already, and let these plants become the basis of your planting palette. This will often mean a smaller range of plants used in larger, bolder groups. Apart from being more in tune with the natural order of things, I find that planting in this way is often more attractive than a jumble of individual species, all fighting for attention.

Sempervivums (Houseleeks) are definitely ‘in’ this year. Mine seem to be flourishing since repotting them into a gritty soil mix, and ‘pups’ are popping up all over the place!


©Sue Sanderson, T&M – Sempervivums are resilient little plants that cope well with dry conditions.

These resilient little plants are steeped in folklore! They have been used throughout history for medicinal purposes such as using the sap from their fleshy leaves to soothe burns and abrasions – an outdoor Aloe vera, if you like!

Sempervivums come in a surprising range of colours too, like T&M’s Chick Charms Collection which would look great inserted into the cracks in my garden walls.

Sempervivum 'Chick Charms'

©Newey Plants – Sempervivum ‘Chick Charms’ will add colour to wall crevices.


Encourage the colonisers

Speaking of cracks in the walls, these Hart’s Tongue Ferns are definitely some of the top performers on my plot! One small plant that was introduced over a decade ago, and now they have colonised the length of the steep steps that descend to the bottom of my garden.

Take advantage of natural colonisers

©Sue Sanderson, T&M – Take advantage of natural colonisers, such as Hart’s Tongue Ferns (left) and Trachystemon (right).

Another big coloniser is my garden is Trachystemon orientalis with its coarse, heart-shaped leaves and pretty Borage-like flowers in spring. This is a great performer for dry shade and creates dense ground cover. In very dry weather the leaves will flop, but generally there is little that upsets it.

It’s related to the white flowered Symphytum orientalis, another success story that’s growing in the thin, dry soil around the edge of my pond. Both are from the Boraginaceae family, and provide a valuable supply of nectar for pollinating insects in early spring. Clearly this is a group that is worth exploring in my new planting palette!

Stipa tenuissima does well for me too. This billowing grass adds movement to borders. It self-seeds freely but is always easy to manage.

Stipa and Bergenia

©Sue Sanderson, T&M – Stipa tenuissima (left) adds texture, while Bergenia (right) makes good ground cover.

Geranium phaeum and Bergenia cordifolia have really found their stride this year too. I planted a few Bergenia many years ago and they have finally bulked up to create a pleasing clump of glossy foliage, which makes excellent ground cover.


Plant drought tolerant species

There has been huge interest in drought tolerant species this year, particularly succulents such as Hylotelephium takesimense ‘Atlantis’ (known to most of us as Sedum). This showy plant was awarded the prestigious honour of RHS Chelsea Plant of the Year 2019 and it certainly is eye-catching.

Sedum Atlantis

©Plantipp / Visions BV, Netherlands – RHS Chelsea Plant of the Year 2019 award went to drought resistant Sedum ‘Atlantis’

There are plenty of other Sedum available too. Given a sunny spot with good drainage, they are always happy to tough it out at the front of my dry borders, attracting pollinating insects as an added bonus!

It’s not all ground cover perennials in my garden. Euonymus is another genus that thrives here. Deciduous Euonymus europaeus is best known as our native Spindle Tree. The curious pink fruits and vibrant autumn colour make it a lovely focal point in autumn. I’m always surprised at how well this tree copes – it seems to thrive on neglect!

Euonymus plants

©Sue Sanderson, T&M – Euonymus europaeus (left) and E. japonicus (right) are surprisingly drought tolerant species.

For year round reliability, you can’t beat the variegated evergreen foliage of Euonymus japonicus ‘Ovatus Aureus’. This tough, resilient plant provides structure and colour throughout the winter months, tolerating the dry summer without issue.


Put the pretties in pots!

Of course, we all have to have a few delicate ‘pretties’ in our gardens, but I tend to grow mine in pots close to the house. Not only do I get to appreciate them more, but it also allows me to focus all my watering efforts in one place. As one pot fades, another fresh pot can take its place, and the tired plants can be retired to a less visible spot.    I also use saucers under each pot during the summer to catch the escaping ‘run-off’ and save on water wastage.

Flower in containers

©Sue Sanderson, T&M – Grow flowering plants close to the house to make watering less challenging.

Do you have any top tips for gardening drought-proofing your garden? We’d love to hear about your favourite drought resistant plants. Why not share your tips and pictures with us on our Facebook page?


DIY Dahlia Festival

It always intrigues me how different plants come in and out of fashion. Dahlias are one such plant that has ridden the roller coaster of popularity over the last century – but right now, they are definitely on the up!


Dahlias at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – Dahlias at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire.


I for one, am glad of their revival. So are the huge numbers of visitors to Anglesey Abbey’s Dahlia Festival, in Cambridgeshire each September.  I’ve visited on several occasions with my equally plant-obsessed friend who lives next door, with all kids in tow. In fact, it’s become a bit of an annual event for us all!  Each time these magnificent plants astonish me with their vibrant colours and huge variety of flower shapes.

It’s not just the plants that impress me. The gardeners that grow them to perfection deserve enormous credit, and the creativity with which they are displayed is breath-taking.


Dahlias decorate the trunks of trees at Anglesey Abbey.

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – Dahlias decorate the trunks of trees at Anglesey Abbey.


You might think that taking young children to a flower festival would be a recipe for disaster – I know I did. How wrong I was! In addition to the borders, many of the displays use cut Dahlia flowers placed into test-tube style vases. These can be attached to trees, inserted into lawns and displayed in all manner of other creative ways. It makes for a much more interactive experience which appeals to the children and grown-ups alike.   


Dahlias appeal to young and old

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – A creative display of Dahlias appeals to young and old!


Sadly we missed it last year, but as luck would have it, my friend was bequeathed an enormous number of rather large Dahlia tubers. They were unwanted by their previous owners.  Crazy, I know! So, it was decided … this year she would create our own Dahlia festival!


Dahlia tubers were potted up

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – Dahlia tubers were potted up in late spring.


The Dahlia tubers overwintered in crates in the greenhouse, and she planted them up into large pots this spring.  When they emerged from the greenhouse the Dahlia plants looked quite magnificent.  They were planted with care, watered well and given a good mulch of manure.  Sturdy stakes were inserted in the ground to support them as they grow.


Rows of Dahlia plants in the garden

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – Rows of Dahlia plants have been planted in the garden.


On a side note, if you are wondering what the straw-like material is; it’s just a pile of dead weed and grass that was cleared from the site. When my friend went to remove it we discovered ground-nesting bees had made a home there.  Always keen to live and let live, the bees and their nest have been left well alone. These helpful little insects are under threat and need all the help we can give them.

However, there are other garden creatures, that we could well do without.  Slugs and snails thrive in our gardens, and unfortunately they have a particular taste for Dahlias!


Slug damage on Dahlia plant

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – Slug damage on Dahlia plant.


With the Dahlia festival under threat, it was necessary to take sensible precautions! A combination of slug pellets and copper slug collars has been put in place, and so far there has been very little damage.


Slug and snail control around Dahlia plants

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – Slug and snail control around Dahlia plants.


By September, there should be a fabulous display of dazzling Dahlias. Whilst not on the same grand scale as Anglesey Abbey, I’m certain that it will still be impressive. 

Are you growing Dahlias this year? Let us know how you are getting on at our Facebook page.


Heavenly Hydrangeas!

If there’s one genus that I am utterly in love with then it’s Hydrangeas! Every year as we head into ‘Hydrangea season’ I begin muttering eulogies to these beauties… ‘What a stunner!’ ‘Isn’t it gorgeous?’ ‘Wow, look at the flowers on that!!!’

I don’t really know when my love for Hydrangeas began. I bought my first, Hydrangea ‘King George V’, many years ago and it still sits in a big pot outside my back door. Its performance always reflects the care (or neglect) that it receives throughout the year. In a good year it is fabulous, covered in white buds that open to reveal rosy, pink-edged blooms.  The flowers darken as they age to rich red-pink.  


Pink Hydrangea flowers of 'King George V'

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – Hydrangea macrophylla ‘King George V’


It’s always at its best, if it has been repotted in the spring and fed and watered liberally. Sadly this year it has been plagued with Hydrangea Scale and looks pale and chlorotic, with few flowers forming.  Scale insects suck the sap of plants, weakening their growth.


Hydrangea Scale insect

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – Hydrangea Scale insect can be seen on plants in early summer.


I’ve been squishing the white waxy clusters that cover the eggs whenever I see them. I usually leave the stems and flowers intact over winter, but this Autumn I will cut them all back to destroy any overwintering nymphs.  Fingers crossed for a better display next year!

Luckily, it’s better news on the other side of the patio where Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Madame Emile Mouillère’ is flowering her heart out.  I found her years ago on a visit to the nursery at Great Dixter Garden in East Sussex.  It’s funny how plants remind you of people and places that you’ve know, isn’t it?


Hydrangea macrophylla 'Madame Emile Mouillère'

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Madame Emile Mouillère’ in full bloom.


This really is an elegant variety with large flower heads that open apple green and mature to dazzling white, before taking on a gentle pink tint to the oldest flower heads.

I’m rather excited about my latest acquisition of Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Princess Diana’. Now I know they look small right now – but given a few years of TLC they will produce fabulous double, pink flowers with an unusual star shape. I’ve only ever seen this variety in pictures so I can’t wait for the real thing!


Hydrangea macrophylla 'Princess Diana'

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Princess Diana’ will produce starry, double flowers at maturity.


My enthusiasm for Hydrangeas is being fueled by these two beautiful specimens on display here at T&M. Sadly I can’t tell you the variety as they are unlabelled, but there is no denying that they really are magnificent. One plant is so large that I asked my colleague, Sonia to appear in the picture for scale! Both are grown in large pots, and fed and watered liberally – it just goes to show how a proper care can make all the difference.


Spectacular Hydrangeas grown in large pots

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – Hydrangeas make superb container plants.


You may have noticed that I haven’t included any blue Hydrangeas in this blog so far. The soil in my garden shows no hint of acidity! An acid soil will turn the blooms of most pink macrophylla varieties to varying shades of blue or purple.  I could pot a Hydrangea plant into ericaceous John Innes compost, water only with rainwater, and apply regular drenches of colourant… but I learned long ago that I’m rather a lazy gardener, so I prefer to work with what nature has given me!

It doesn’t stop me from admiring blue hydrangeas though. Here’s a stunning example from our ‘Your TM garden’ photo competition by this month’s winner, Diana Eastwood.


Beautiful blue Hydrangea flower

©Diana Eastwood – Hydrangea macrophylla sp. produce blue flowers on acid soils.


Hydrangeas really do have a lot to offer. Aside from the large, flamboyant blooms in summer, they also have lovely autumn colour.

In fact, I think they make the perfect gift plant. Here’s a double one that I recently gave for a friend’s birthday called Hydrangea macrophllya ‘Mademoiselle’ – I hope she gets as much enjoyment from Hydrangeas as I do!


Hydrangea macrophylla 'Mademoiselle'

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – Hydrangeas make wonderful gift plants.


Have I missed one of your favourite varieties? Why not share your beautiful Hydrangea pictures with us on our Facebook page?


We’ve teamed up with SmartPlant™ to provide customers with online expert advice

Have you ever been left puzzled for days on end, trying to remember the name of that plant in your border? We’ve all been there – racking our memory for an elusive plant name! What if you could catalogue your plants online so that their names were all there at your fingertips? Even better, if you received personalised, timely care information to tell you exactly what needs doing in your garden.

And then there’s all that time spent trawling books to figure out what those bugs are? Wouldn’t life be simpler if you could just message a ‘real-life’ horticultural expert and get a fast, personal reply?

Well, all of that is now possible with an impressive app called SmartPlant™. Whether you are new to gardening or a green-fingered guru, this innovative app makes plant care simple.

The SmartPlant™ app offers plant identification, a calendar of growing tips tailored to your own garden, pest and disease identification and advice, expert chat, and plant suggestions based around your gardens growing conditions. Better still, you can connect SmartPlant™ with your Alexa device to receive your plant care advice, even if you’re up to your eyeballs in soil! With so much to offer, it’s easy to see why Thompson & Morgan have teamed up with SmartPlant™, to help their customers get the very best from their house and garden plants.

PLUS, Thompson & Morgan customers can access a month of premium membership for FREE with promo code tmsp

Get started now by downloading on the iTunes app store or Google play

Get growing in the garden this Easter!

The long Easter weekend conjures thoughts of Easter egg hunts, family roasts, and the promise of warmer weather. But Easter is also the beginning of the gardening year for many, as they make use of the bank holidays to get the garden sorted – before things really get out of hand!

Easter egg hunt

©Sue Sanderson. Set up an Easter egg hunt for the kids in your garden.

Get mowing!

If you haven’t started already, then it’s definitely time to get the lawnmower out. Your first cut of your grass is probably overdue, so raise the blades to their highest setting and get mowing. While you’re at it, give the lawn a feed to set it up for the season ahead.

Mow the lawn

Begin mowing the lawn again this month – set the blades to their highest setting.

Divide and conquer!

By now, most perennials have poked fresh shoots above ground and new growth is well underway. Now is a great time to tidy up any remaining plant debris from last year and have a good tidy up. Borders that looked tired last year can be given new life with a spring redesign. Lift and divide overcrowded clumps of perennials before they put on too much growth, and then fill any gaps with new plants.

replant perennial borders

©Carly Holloway. Lift and divide perennials now, before they put on too much growth.

Don’t forget that they will need watering while they establish. It’s worth installing a seeper hose now if you live in a dry area – you’ll be glad you did by the middle of July! A layer of mulch will also bring dividends later in the year, providing nutrients and retaining moisture in the soil – as well as making the whole border look much smarter.

Grow, grow, grow!

April is the month for potting up and potting on! Plug plants are the perfect way to get a head start on seasonal bedding. Make sure you have plenty of pots and fresh compost to hand, so that you can get them potted up as soon as they arrive. Never use up half used bags of last year’s compost as this is the perfect overwintering site for pests and diseases. Old compost is best used as a mulch on your borders.

pots of plug plants and seedlings

Pot up plug plants and keep on top of seed sowing throughout this month.

While you’re at the potting bench, it’s time to take out those Dahlia tubers that you were storing overwinter, and start them into growth. Use decent sized pots (2-3 litre) to allow the roots to develop well. If you’ve lost some then there’s still time to replace them with some new Dahlia tubers. Dahlias are having a surprising resurgence in popularity, with events such as the Anglesey Abbey Dahlia Festival which are always popular. Why not create your own festival in your flower borders this summer!

Dahlia flowers

©Sue Sanderson. Create your own Dahlia festival for a fabulous display of colour.

The next 2 months will see a peak in seed sowing – especially for the vegetable growers out there! It’s a good idea to take half an hour to put your seed in order. Keep them in a storage box, ordered by sowing period, with dated dividers. Week by week you can see exactly which seed needs sowing, and this should prevent any being missed.

A breath of fresh air!

Greenhouse with door open

Open greenhouse doors and vents to prevent plants overheating on warm days.

With so many young plants crammed into the greenhouse, it’s important to ventilate, especially as you may well still be using a greenhouse heater at night. An automatic greenhouse vent opener makes a great investment at this time of the year, reducing the risk of your young plants overheating in a hot greenhouse. Open the greenhouse door in the morning, but remember to close it by late afternoon as there is still a nip in the air at night. If you are visited by cats then it’s a good idea to fix a mesh across the door to prevent them snuggling up on top of your new plants!

And relax…

With the garden tidy and everything in order, you can bring out the garden furniture, sit back and relax. Don’t forget to set up that Easter Egg Hunt for the kids. There’s nothing more satisfying than watching the whole family enjoying the outdoor space that you’ve created!


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