Thompson & Morgan Gardening Blog

Our gardening blog covers a wide variety of topics, including fruit, vegetable and tree stories. Read some of the top gardening stories right here.

Propagation, planting out and cultivation posts from writers that know their subjects well.

Hedge Funds!

After a frozen start to the month, this week has brought sunshine and birdsong – spring is definitely in the air! As the weather improves, the sap begins to rise, and before you know it there will be a new flush of foliage everywhere you look!

This signals that the bare root season will soon be drawing to a close. But there’s still time to plant bare root shrubs and trees if you’re quick about it.

Hedging plants

©Thompson & Morgan Hedging plants

Bare roots are often far cheaper than potted plants. These young ‘whips’ establish quicker than more mature specimens, and will soon catch up in size. Bare root hedging is by far one of the greatest savings you can make in the garden.

Given the quantity of plants that are normally required to create a hedge, it’s a ‘no brainer’ to buy your plants as bare roots. Time to spend that hedge fund!

I often think the value of hedging is overlooked by many gardeners. Hedges provide the bare bones of the garden creating structure, securing boundaries and providing a backdrop for your borders. The right hedging plants will attract wildlife and create wind breaks in gusty locations.

Beech is one of my favourites – it forms a dense deciduous hedge that stays neat and manageable, but retains its tawny brown autumn leaves for months over the winter. So you are never faced with completely bare branches.

Fagus sylvatica f. purpurea

© Shutterstock Fagus sylvatica f. purpurea

If you prefer an evergreen hedge then Yew is the traditional choice for a formal look, or try Privet for a quick growing, trouble free hedge that will thrive in most conditions. Box is always a popular choice, but in recent years the fungal disease Box Blight has decimated Box hedges up and down the UK. A good alternative, with a similar growth rate and appearance, is Ilex crenata or Euonymus japonicus.

Euonymus japonicus Jean Hughes

© Shutterstock Euonymus japonicus Jean Hughes

Wherever possible, choose species that will benefit wildlife. Hedges are essential wildlife corridors allowing birds, mammals and insects to travel freely between areas. Hawthorn and Blackthorn both provide berries for birds, nectar for insects, and shelter for many different species. Better still, these thorny plants also make very effective security hedges too.

Prunus spinosa

©Shutterstock Prunus spinosa

Whatever type of hedge you need, there are plenty to choose from at Thompson & Morgan. Take a look at our range of hedging plants online. For advice on how to plant a hedge, check out this helpful guide

Sue Sanderson

Plants and gardens have always been a big part of my life. I can remember helping my Dad to prick out seedlings, even before I could see over the top of the potting bench. As an adult, I trained at Writtle College where I received my degree, BSc. (Hons) Horticulture. After working in a specialist plantsman’s nursery, and later, as a consulting arboriculturalist, I joined Thompson & Morgan in 2008. Initially looking after the grounds and coordinating the plant trials, I now support the web team offering horticultural advice online. I have a keen interest in drought resistant plants and a passion for perennials, particularly hardy Geraniums. I’m a regional secretary for the International Plant Propagation Society which gives me lots of opportunities to see what other horticulturalists are up to in their nurseries and gardens.

Five tips for planting for pollinators

peacock butterfly against a green background

Important pollinators like bees, butterflies and moths are in decline
Image: Marek Mierzejewski

Bees, butterflies and other pollinators are under threat, so there’s never been a better time for gardeners to help by adding a few plants to support them. Here, Mandy Bradshaw shares five simple tips to help make your garden a refuge for pollinators.

1. Be part of the solution

bumblebee on a yellow foxglove

Residential gardens and allotments are an important lifeline for pollinators
Image: Paul Stout

I love watching the bees in my garden squeezing into a foxglove flower, noisily feasting on opium poppies in the veg plot or enjoying the winter honeysuckle.

Gardening without chemicals and trying to choose nectar-rich flowers means bees and other pollinators are often buzzing around my plot – good to watch and helping my flowers and veg set fruit or seed.

Increasingly, our gardens are becoming an important lifeline for these beneficial insects and go some way to counter the effects of natural habitat loss and the use of pesticides.

A recent study found that urban allotments and gardens are vital sources of food for pollinators – especially when they have native plants such as brambles and dandelions, and traditional favourites like lavender and marigolds.

So, to hear the sound of bees in your garden, make the decision to actively support our pollinators – it’s the first important step.

2. Choose the right plants

bench in the middle of a wildflower garden in England

A quiet corner of this walled garden has been dedicated to wildflowers
Image: Shutterstock

The very best plants for pollinators are ‘species’, as modern cultivars can be sterile or have low nectar and pollen levels. If you grow vegetables, try to include some heritage varieties among the modern cultivars.

When it comes to the flower garden, plants with open, single blooms are better than double flowers where the nectar can be difficult to reach.

Incorporate some wildflowers in your garden, or even leave a corner where you allow weeds such as nettles and dandelions to thrive. Let your grass wait a little longer before you get the lawnmower out, to allow the clover to flower. Allowing ivy to flower will also provide important food for bees.

Think about adding a few flowers to your vegetable patch to help pollinate your crops. I edge my beds with the common marigold (Calendula officinalis). It looks pretty and draws in those helpful insects.

3. Give a good mix

Mahonia x media collection from Thompson & Morgan - available now

The mahonia’s large yellow flower spikes bloom from November through to March
Image: Mahonia x media collection from Thompson & Morgan

Different insects like different plants, so make sure you have a range of flower shapes to ensure your garden helps them all. Some bees, for example, have long tongues to cope with plants such as aconitum.

Grow a mix of perennials and annuals and don’t forget trees and shrubs. Both can be excellent sources of nectar for bees and butterflies.

Think about planting to cover the seasons. Like the gardener, pollinators need food all-year-round, so it’s important to plant for more than just the summer! Early spring and autumn are the seasons when nectar can be particularly short in supply, but adding just a few of the right plants can make all the difference. Good spring plants are crocus and hellebores, while a winter feast can be provided by snowdrops, mahonia or sarcococca.

Take a look at Thompson & Morgan’s Perfect for Pollinators range which includes a selection of seed and plant varieties known to attract bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects.

4. Ditch the pesticides

Achillea millefolium 'Summer Pastels' (Yarrow) from Thompson & Morgan - available now

Yarrow attracts ladybirds and hoverflies
Image: Achillea millefolium ‘Summer Pastels’ (Yarrow) from Thompson & Morgan

Try to garden without using pesticide sprays as they often kill beneficial insects alongside the pests.

Instead, encourage birds, ladybirds and other gardeners’ friends in to deal with any problems. For instance, the larvae of hoverflies voraciously consume aphids. Similarly, when they hatch, ladybird larvae can eat up to 5,000 aphids as well as attacking red spider mites.

To attract these helpful insects plant things like marigolds, alyssum, cosmos, dill, yarrow, penstemon and fennel.

5. Give them a home

Garden Life Wooden Insect Hotel from Thompson & Morgan - available now

Insect hotels are beautiful and functional
Image: Garden Life Wooden Insect Hotel from Thompson & Morgan

Make or buy an insect house to give solitary bees and others somewhere to nest. Something as simple as an old terracotta plant pot filled with lengths of bamboo can be used as a bee hotel.

I hope this has given you plenty of food for thought. Just a few simple changes can turn your garden into a wildlife sanctuary that provides vital food and shelter for our precious pollinators.

How to grow Heuchera

multicoloured heuchera plant - Heuchera 'Patchwork' Mix available from Thompson & Morgan

Cultivate heuchera to spice up the darker corners of your garden
Featured Image: Heuchera ‘Patchwork’ Mix from Thompson & Morgan

If you’re looking for a wonderful shade plant to add colour and interest to the darker corners of your garden, look no further than heuchera. This hardy native of North America can withstand the cold, offers a wide range of colourful foliage all year round, and wispy flowers on long stems in the spring. Also known as coral bells or alumroot, this evergreen perennial is a must, and as an autumn bedding plant, is hard to beat. Here’s how to grow and care for it.

About heuchera

collection of brightly coloured heuchera plants

Heuchera comes in a variety of colours – ideal for any planting colour scheme.
Image: Buquet Christophe

Heuchera grows in a wide variety of habitats in its native North America, from the salty shores of California to arid Arizona and New Mexico. It likes shade and semi-shade best, but some varieties will grow in full sun. It’s not particularly fussy about soil type either, although it doesn’t like to get too wet or too dry..

Growing from a crown at ground level, the foliage is this plant’s main attraction. Think purples, red, and burnt umbers at one end of the spectrum, and limes, yellows, and greens at the other, with every kind of variegation you could possibly wish for.

Firm favourites

green and grey variety of heuchera - Heuchera 'Stormy Seas' available from Thompson & Morgan

Try the moodier palette of Heuchera ‘Stormy Seas’ for a subtle flash of colour.
Featured Image: Thompson & Morgan

Heuchera ‘Berry Smoothie’ is a real treat. With its pink leaves and claret veins, it offers a vibrant splash of colour which only deepens as the foliage darkens through late summer and into autumn and winter. Come the spring, you’ll find this plant’s creamy white flowers a delight and a true contrast against the bright leaves.

Fancy something to suit with a verdant palette? Take a look at this Heuchera/ Tiarella hybrid, ‘Solar Power’. With its evergreen yellow lime foliage mottled with dark red markings, it’s a great way to liven up a shady border.

For more subtle coverage of difficult spots, give Heuchera ‘Stormy Seas’ a try. This hardy perennial features maroon and green leaves with silver variegation and creamy white flowers which bloom on tall spikes during the summer.

Where to plant heuchera

mixed perennial border with hostas, heuchera and day lily

Heuchera normally prefer shade, but some varieties can cope with higher levels of sunlight.
Image: Maria Evseyeva

Heuchera is a shade-loving plant, but with so many varieties to choose from, there is considerable variation in terms of how much sunlight different specimens can cope with. As a rule of thumb, the colour of the leaves gives you a good clue as to where to site your plant; darker leaves are better at withstanding the sun’s rays.

A great plant for those who garden in coastal areas where salt-laden winds are an issue, the only thing heuchera really doesn’t like is heavy, wet ground which causes the crown to rot, or very sandy soils which can quickly dry out. Improve your soil by adding plenty of organic matter, choose well-drained soil, and water regularly but sparingly.

When to plant heuchera

Closeup of man in green welly boots digging hole in the ground ready for planting

Dig a hole that’s twice the size of the root ball for planting.
Image: Shutterstock

You can plant heuchera any time the soil’s not waterlogged or frozen, but for best results, put yours in the ground during the spring or early autumn to allow it to establish without risk of frost damage. Dig a hole about twice the size of the root ball and add a handful of organic matter or blood, fish, and bone to give your plant a good start.

Remove your heuchera from its pot and gently massage the roots to separate them before planting and covering until the soil reaches the same level as it did in the pot. Avoid covering the crown itself or there’s a chance it will rot.

How to prune heuchera

closeup shot of leggy heuchera getting pruned by gardening secateurs

Prune your heuchera to keep it from getting leggy
Image: GardenTags

After a couple of years your heuchera may start to become rather clumped and leggy. When you part the leaves, you’ll discover woody stems that lead back to the crown of the plant. To prune, cut the stems back to a just above buds of fresh growth at the top of the crown.

To propagate your cuttings, snip away any dead wood until you come to the sappy part of the stem before planting in potting compost; general purpose compost with added grit and a slow release fertiliser will also work. Roots will develop in three to four weeks.

Heuchera rust

image of dark red heuchera plants in a border

Ensure you don’t introduce infected Heuchera plants into your garden.
Image: AliScha

Although it’s a tough plant, in recent years, the fungal disease, Puccinia heuchera, otherwise known as heuchera rust has become widespread in the UK. It’s a particular problem during wet summers and appears mainly as sunken spots on the top of leaves with orange rust coloured pustules on the underside.

If you’re buying new plants to supplement other, uninfected, heuchera in your garden, it’s a good idea to quarantine the new plants for three to four weeks to be sure they are unaffected. Check your plants regularly for signs of the disease, removing any affected material and destroy rather than compost it.

Because heuchera rust likes damp conditions, pay close attention to soil drainage, plant your heuchera where there’s plenty of air circulation, and water early in the morning so the leaf surfaces have a chance to dry during the day.

You can’t beat heuchera for glorious foliage which provides both vibrant colour and structure to your autumn planting scheme.

For further flower growing advice, check out our collection ‘How to’ gardening guides.

Thompson & Morgan

Since the first seed catalogue was published in 1855, Thompson & Morgan has grown to become one of the UK’s largest Mail Order Seed and Plant companies. Through the publication of our catalogues and the operation of our award-winning website, Thompson & Morgan is able to provide home gardeners with the very best quality products money can buy.

Spread The Love

I’m really not a fan of the aforementioned festive season, but I’ve suddenly realised that I lurve January! The inclement weather gives me the perfect excuse to be bone idle guilt free. Mind you, some things can’t wait, especially when you are up against the horticultural prowess of Diane, she of the London Gardens Society Best Large Back Garden 2016/17/18. (When will it end?) The task at hand is simple muck spreading. (Some might say we are experts in the wider sense already!) So I was galvanised into action after a phone call from Diane on New Year’s Day to tell me, smugly, that she had managed to lay seven bags of well-rotted horse manure over her borders that very day. And I, readers, hadn’t even placed my order yet! Quelle horreur! Within the week I had spread three-bags-full but more supplies were required on both sides so off we went to Crews Hill, Horticultural Retail Epicentre of The World. A dozen bags duly loaded into the vehicle, off we went to Myddleton House, home of celebrated horticulturalist E A Bowles, (ancestral connection with our very own Duchess of Cornwall having never occurred to me before).

Myddleton House Border

Myddleton House Border.
© Caroline Broome

What a lovely way to spend a dull January morning. The grounds were empty bar a couple of in-house landscapers who were rebuilding a dry-stone wall. We wandered around admiring the snowdrops and hellebores in the crisp echoey stillness of a typical winter’s day, the fragrance of hamamelis contorta and chimonanthus praecox filling the air. Mistletoe was abundant in the tree canopies but also at ground level, where we were fascinated to see how it grafts naturally onto its host. The ornamental grass borders looked so orderly combined with sedum spectabile – my sedum never looks that erect even when it’s in its prime. The hot houses were full of exotic succulents, tillandsias and cacti in pristine form. Reminded me of when I was a gel; I lived opposite Broomfield Park in North London and used to love to sneak into their huge lofty greenhouse. Somehow it seemed forbidden and eerie, with its seemingly bottomless irrigation channels sunk into the floor under the benches. (Didn’t care a hoot about the plants but just loved the otherworldliness of it.)

Contorted hazel, mistletoe and tillandsias at Myddleton House

Contorted hazel, mistletoe and tillandsias at Myddleton House. © Caroline Broome

…But the rivalry doesn’t end there. There’s even Green Bin One-Upmanship! With the regular collections having been suspended for six weeks over the New Year, it’s a competition as to who’s created the most waste: “I’ve filled up my two garden bins as well as my two allotment bins.” “Well, I’ve filled up our bin and ALL the other neighbours’ bins in the entire street!” And now she informs me she’s had her silver birch trimmed. I tell you, she doesn’t let the grass grow under her feet (boom boom!)

Anyway, back to the matter at hand. There’s something so satisfying about spreading the mulch. Apart from the opportunity it gives you to get up close and personal with your plants, to get a sneak preview of spring as bulbs, shoots and buds start appearing, the borders look so finished once its down. (Reminds me of the flattering effect a layer of moisturising foundation can bring to one’s tired and dull complexion, my dear!) Mind you, it seems impossible to imagine the garden at full tilt in high summer with so much bare earth exposed right now. And of course there is the small matter of my digging up half the garden last autumn ‘cos I was bored with it all. Pity the poor transplanted perennials cowering their pots, exposed to the elements, until I’m ready to replant. (Hmm, wonder how soon I can start – steady on, its not even Valentine’s Day yet!) Seems everyone’s at it now, Rosie’s been out mulching the borders in her garden in all weathers. I really can’t be lagging behind so it‘s off to the nursery to buy bark chippings for the fernery and gravel for the stumpery.

Every year, a clever acquaintance makes a note of all plants flowering in her garden on New Year’s Day. Wish I’d the wits to think of that. So here’s my list of flowers for mid-January instead, some bang on target, some way off the mark seasonally speaking:

  • Hesperantha Major formerly known as schitzostylus (so annoying all these name changes.)
  • Salvia Black and Blue insinuated itself up the fence alongside a variegated trachylospurnum, its flowers cascading like wisteria. Hope I can bring that through the frosts, what a combination!)
  • Salvia confertiflora
  • Salvia Uliginosa
  • Coronilla glauca Citrina
  • Rosa Mutabilis ish, one or two bedraggled blooms amongst the orange hips.
  • Viburnum tinus Eve Price
  • Hellebore hybrid Spring Promise aptly named and much admired in the front garden, underneath the contorted hazel.
  • Fuchsia thalia on the patio
  • Fuchsia thymifolia
  • Snowdrops
  • Aconites
  • Melianthus major no natural timing this one, always produces buds just before the first frosts!
Hellebore hybrid Spring Promise and Caroline's front garden border.

Hellebore hybrid Spring Promise and Caroline’s front garden border. © Caroline Broome

There are an amazing amount of little treasures to be seen out there if you go looking. Over the holiday season David and I did our usual New Year’s Resolution walks in Kenwood on Hampstead Heath. Some might find the low light levels rather bleak but I love the paired down landscape, the bare trees, clear ponds and uninterrupted views of The City. You share your strolls with every dog and his man, chitchatting with owners and catching snatches of conversation as your pass. Cormorants and parakeets, magpies and crows, sparrowhawk.

Kenwood, Hampstead Heath

Kenwood, Hampstead Heath. © Caroline Broome

Talking of birds, I’m looking forward to introducing three newcomers to the results of my Big Garden Birdwatch: goldfinches, starlings and a black cap. Must be the extensive array of seeds on offer, costing me a fortune. Black sunflower seeds, white sunflower hearts, meal worms, three flavours of fat block, oh and mixed birdseed for the squirrels. So worth it.

I feel quite inspired now, so it’s back to the T&M Spring Catalogue to place my Trial Plant Order. Colour colour colour 2019.

Roll on Spring! Love, Caroline

Ducks, B-sides and Blackadder

White Duck

© Alison Hooper

We’re in that slow part of the year when not much appears to be happening. Leaves have fallen, fruit and veg long since picked. It’s all a bit grey and samey, like the turgid mid-section of an album’s B-side. You love that album, but frankly there are eight tracks to get through before you get to the A-side again where all your favourites live. And seeing as the seasons aren’t yet available for digital download, we have to listen and go through it one track at a time, a day at a time and take the positives where we find them.

Anyway, much as this is a bit of a reflection on the passing and transformation of the seasons, I don’t intend to get all heavy and depressing and stuff. I pledge there will be *cute animals* further down this piece. Adorable, cute and fluffy animals which go quack. But more of that later.

 

 

Fun facts!

1. Back to the autumn and something for word nerds everywhere now. I was pleased, more than I should be most likely, to discover that the word ‘Fall’, which we commonly think of as an Americanism for the ‘English’ word ‘Autumn’, is in fact…not. Fall was the word used back in 16th century England before it hopped on board ship and travelled across the Atlantic where it took root and flourished, just as we back home had our head turned by the chiselled Roman good looks of the word Autumn and dropped it sharpish

2.One for any foragers who have ever had purple-stained fingers. The study of blackberries is called batology. You’re welcome.

Enough verbiage. The point of this rambling – there is one, trust me – is that things progress, change, appear to be completely separated but then turn out it’s all interconnected and reliant on its constituent parts and processes to work. So there is beauty in decay, amazement in atrophy.

Take this Rhus typhina. This one is in our back garden, it’s super common and you may well have one too.

Rhus typhina leaves and a conker

Rhus typhina leaves and a conker – © Alison Hooper

Arguably, it’s at its best in autumn for a vanishingly short period before all that colour disappears. Leaves turn from green to yellow to red. As sunlight fades, chlorophyll levels drop meaning the other leaf pigments present get to take centre stage. Exit green, enter yellows and oranges, purples and reds. Those dazzling colours had always been there all along, and if I were more philosophical that could be quite poignant.

Also, the humble horse chestnut. The tree is at its best when the candle-like flowers give way to shiny conkers in their bright green spiky cases (which always strike me as a prototype for some kind of medieval weapon. Just me?) Without this, there is no regeneration.

And then there’s that extraordinary quality of light you get in autumn. Amid the long bleak periods, a sudden surprising beam of crystal clear warm brightness, illuminating everything around to remind us of what has been and what is to come again.

And so to winter when the garden is put to bed.

Bare exposure reveals the true state of the garden. Branches bereft, revealing the hidden underpinning structures, shapes and – whilst we’re on about honesty – all that plastic garden junk which seems to mass throughout the year. Maybe work on reducing that waste in 2019. That same light which, sometimes joyous, sometimes a bit embarrassing, also shines a little too intensely on your recycling bin full of post-Christmas clanking empties.

So, like dry January, the intervening months of autumn to winter have a transformational effect. Very brown, the only colour making an effort now is the Winter Jasmine and the grass has been left long ahead of the expected frosts.

But just as the garden hits its weary head to the pillow – and I did promise you cute animals – we take noisy delivery of four ducks. Yard ducks to be precise, a cross somewhere between a mallard and Indian running ducks. They’re on loan to us for ten days whilst their proper owners go on holiday, and we naively and excitedly volunteered to look after them in our small back suburban garden. Frankly it’s a bit of a social let down for them, but that’s life.

Winter Jasmine and Ducks

Winter Jasmine and Ducks – © Alison Hooper

Just as the mood of this blog was getting a little quiet and contemplative, the arrival of these ducks punctures all of that with a huge, celebratory QUACK. Picture Blackadder’s Lord Flashheart crash landing by means of a rope swing into a genteel Edwardian tea room. Pearls may be clutched. Or picture something worse. The same, but with the kids.

The ducks are somewhat non-plussed at having us as their temporary landlords, and a bit huffy at having children intermittently race around them excitedly and at speed, taking shelter in their cage when it all gets a bit much.

As pest control goes, they’re as eco as it gets. They hoover through what surely must be thousands of slugs between them, and even turn the soil over. Great job, Flashhearts.

And the best part about duck sitting is being able to hand them back at the end of their stay. They’ve done an excellent job and all that really remains is the garden is literally covered in feathers, like someone shot a duvet there. So they’re constantly snacking, a bit noisy from time to time, a lot cute and leave loads of mess behind. So that kids analogy is still working for me. Like doting grandparents, we miss them already. I’d pour a small glass of Baileys as a toast to them, but it turns out the bottle’s in the recycling.

Alison Hooper

I’ve lived in various places from freezing flats in Manchester with just enough room to swing a pot rubber plant, to a Leicester semi which must have held some kind of local record for most concrete used in the garden. That took some digging out.

Now living in Market Harborough with husband Matt and two young daughters. And a cat who shows up for mealtimes.

Gardening neophyte, learning always.

Top 10 best-selling plants of 2018

white hydrangea flowers on green foliage. Hydrangea 'Runaway Bride' available to buy from Thompson & Morgan

This pretty hydrangea won the nation’s hearts and Chelsea’s Plant of the Year 2018
Image: Hydrangea ‘Runaway Bride’ by Thompson & Morgan

Are you looking for some garden inspiration? Or just curious about which plants were gardeners’ favourites last year? Here are our ten best-selling plants of 2018. The majority are flowers – including two of our own prize-winning hybrids – but there are a couple of fruits in there too – can you guess which they are?

 

Hydrangea 'Runaway Bride' by Thompson & Morgan

This captivating hydrangea won Chelsea Flower Show plant of the year 2018

Hydrangea Runaway Bride®

Awarded the prestigious title of Plant of the Year for 2018 at Chelsea Flower Show, our Hydrangea hybrid Runaway Bride® ‘Snow White’ is one of the most floriferous and vigorous hydrangeas you’ve ever seen. It’s the only hydrangea to produce flowers from every leaf joint – producing up to 6 large, beautiful blooms per branch and a spectacular showy display. We’re so proud of this beautiful hydrangea with its pure white lace-cap flowers, flushed with pale pink. It makes an elegant border shrub and is equally stunning in hanging baskets and containers. The Runaway Bride® has stolen many hearts this year, has it stolen yours?

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Sunflower 'Sunbelievable Brown Eyed Girl' by Thompson & Morgan - Available to buy now

‘Sunbelievable Brown Eyed Girl’ took third prize in Chelsea Flower Show’s Plant of the Year 2018

 

Sunflower SunBelievable™ Brown Eyed Girl

Our ‘Sunbelievable™ Brown Eyed Girl’ sunflower won third place in Chelsea’s Plant of the Year 2018 category. This stunning new hybrid sunflower doesn’t waste time setting seed but puts all its energy into flowering. This pretty sunflower is perfect for pots and borders. It produces masses of beautiful, dainty blooms all the way through to November. Our head breeder Charles says: “I’ve crossed the very best with the very best to really boost its flower power.”

Click here for more details.

Tree Lily 'Pretty Woman Red' from Thompson & Morgan - available to buy now

‘Pretty Woman Red’ brings huge pink blooms and sweet fragrance to your garden

Tree Lily Pretty Woman

Tree lilies create a striking display in the garden. These impressive plants are giants of the flower world, their stunning blooms towering at up to 8ft (2.4m) tall by their third year. Sturdy and prolific, each tree lily plant produces around 30 trumpet-shaped flowers. But with a relatively narrow spread (45cm or 18”), they fit nicely into even narrow borders. The Pretty Woman Tree Lily comes in red, yellow and white varieties, all of which offer a deliciously sweet fragrance.

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Clematis florida 'Taiga' by Thompson & Morgan - available to buy now

This spiky clematis might be a real show off but it’s very easy to look after

Clematis Taiga

When clematis ’Taiga’ was launched at Chelsea Flower Show in 2017, it caused quite a stir. Its hand-sized blooms with multi-layered purple petals tipped with lime/cream unfurl into stunning spikey rosettes. This Japanese-bred cultivar loves to climb, producing countless blooms through the summer. But don’t let its show-off credentials fool you – clematis ‘Taiga’ may look exotic but it’s completely hardy, easy to prune and undemanding.

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Fuchsia 'Giant Flowered Collection' by Thompson & Morgan - available to buy now

Our giant fuchsia collection makes a stunning display of hanging baskets

Fuchsia Giant-Flowered Collection

With masses of pretty pendant flowers that bloom all summer long, fuchsias are a firm favourite for beds, borders and hanging baskets. Our giant-flowered collection features the ‘Deep Purple’, ‘Swingtime’, ‘Seventh Heaven’, ‘Holly’s Beauty’ and ‘Peachy’ varieties. The huge blooms measure up to 10cm (4”) across and combine purples, reds and pinks in frosted, marbled and striped petals. This collection of fuchsias produces a beautiful show of colour from June to September.

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Begonia Apricot Shades Improved F1 Hybrid from Thompson & Morgan - available to buy now

These easy-to-care-for begonias produce gorgeous apricot blooms all summer long

Begonia Apricot Shades Improved F1 Hybrid

Begonias are easy to care for and produce continuous colour throughout the summer and well into autumn. This Begonia ‘Apricot Shades Improved’ variety produces gorgeous apricot and orange large double blooms that will cascade from your containers and hanging baskets, bringing colour and impact to your garden. And for the culinarily adventurous among you, their brightly coloured petals bring a lemony hint and crisp texture to salads and sandwiches.

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Strawberry 'Just Add Cream' by Thompson & Morgan - available to buy now

This decorative strawberry plant produces pretty pink flowers and sweet fruit

Strawberry Just Add CreamTM

These decorative strawberries look beautiful tumbling from a hanging basket, with masses of pretty pink flowers and delicate fruit. But they don’t just look great, they also taste delicious – combining the sweetness of home-grown strawberries with the distinctive flavour of wild woodland varieties. Just Add Cream™ strawberries have an intense flavour and aroma that will take you right back to childhood and your first memory of tasting this fruit. These generous plants fruit early and will keep on cropping from early May through to the first frosts.

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Begonia Non-Stop Mixed by Thompson & Morgan - available to buy now

These cheerful begonias will flower non-stop throughout the summer

Begonia Non-Stop Mixed

If you’re looking for a riot of colour throughout the summer months and well into autumn, look no further than non-stop mixed begonias. These compact, vigorous double flowers grow to up to 7cm across and come in a glorious range of shades. Deadhead them throughout the growing season and they’ll continue to flower into October. Non-stop begonias are perfect for containers, beds and borders and their blooms are long lasting and weather resistant.

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Busy Lizzie 'Divine Mixed' (New Guinea) by Thompson & Morgan - available to buy now

These pretty, robust plants quickly spread to fill containers and borders

Busy Lizzie Divine Mixed

Busy Lizzie ‘Divine’ is every gardener’s friend. Flowering endlessly from June to November in a beautiful bright colour mix, these flowers are self cleaning and require virtually no deadheading. What’s more, they’re robust and downy-mildew resistant. Spreading willingly, these busy lizzies quickly fill up pots and baskets and cover beds and borders. And giant blossoms, in a range of vivid colours, contrast pleasingly with their attractive bronze-green foliage.

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Tomato 'Sweet Aperitif' by Thompson & Morgan - available to buy now

Tomato ‘Sweet Aperitif’ will produce up to 500 sweet, red fruits!

Tomato Sweet Aperitif

The ‘Sweet Aperitif’ tomato produces up to 500 red-skinned, bite-sized fruits – that’s about 6kg (300lb)! These cherry tomatoes might be the sweetest you’ll ever eat, but their flavour delicately balances a high sugar content with a pleasingly refreshing tang. This is a cordon variety of tomato, which grows up to 200cm (79”) in a greenhouse or sheltered, sunny spot in the garden.

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From the delicate and understated to the showy and opulent, there’s something for everyone in our 2018’s top-selling plants list. We hope you’ve found one or two (or ten) that you’d like to add to your own garden.
Thompson & Morgan

Since the first seed catalogue was published in 1855, Thompson & Morgan has grown to become one of the UK’s largest Mail Order Seed and Plant companies. Through the publication of our catalogues and the operation of our award-winning website, Thompson & Morgan is able to provide home gardeners with the very best quality products money can buy.

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!

Nic Wilson is a writer, garden designer and Garden Media Guilds Awards nominee (Best Blog, 2018). She enjoys growing flowers and unusual fruit, vegetables and herbs, and loves to encourage nature into the garden. She also blogs at dogwooddays.

Growing sweet peas

field shot of pink sweet pea flowers

Fill your garden with fragrant sweet peas
Image: Vic and Julie Pigula

Sweet peas are top of my desert island plant list. I love them for their soft papery flowers, pretty pastel shades, and that stunning scent. Summer just wouldn’t be right without them. Here are The Chatty Gardener’s, aka Mandy Bradshaw’s, excellent tips for growing healthy, prolific and beautifully fragranced sweet peas from seed in your garden.

The scent of a sweet pea

red and white sweet peas, little red riding hood variety

Most sweet peas are beautifully scented
Image: Sweet Pea ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ from Thompson & Morgan

Theyre easy to grow from seed and I raise dozens of plants each year – old favourites along with just a few new varieties added to the mix. It gives a much better choice than buying plants from a nursery and means I can choose my own colour combinations.

Among my favourites are ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, which has pretty pink and white flowers, and Lathyrus odoratus ‘Cupani’, which dates back to the 17th century. Its violet and maroon flowers may be tiny but little else has the same strong scent. If it’s scent you’re after, take care not to confuse the annual sweet pea, Lathyrus odoratus, with the perennial pea, Lathyrus latifolius, which has a pretty flower but no fragrance.

Sowing for success

pink and purple sweet peas in a basket. Sweet Pea 'Fragrantissima' from Thompson & Morgan

Sweet peas are tougher than they look.
Image: Sweet Pea ‘Fragrantissima’ from Thompson & Morgan

Surprisingly, despite their delicate appearance, sweet peas are tough, and autumn-sown plants will come through winter with ease and just a little care.

I prefer to start mine in January or early February, as life is too busy to keep an eye on them in the run-up to Christmas. It also gives me something to sow in the dark days of winter. Seeing new shoots is guaranteed to lift my mood.

Warmth and light

Train your sweet peas with homemade root trainers
Image: Ian Grainger

Sweet peas have a long root system so a deep pot is needed. Root Trainers are ideal, or, if you’re cutting down on plastic, try the cardboard inner tubes from toilet rolls. The advantage of using them is that the whole thing is planted – the cardboard will break down as the plant grows – so there’s no root disturbance.

Use a good quality compost and plant a couple of seeds per pot. Some gardeners pre-germinate the seeds on damp kitchen paper but I’ve never bothered and germination is fine. Make sure you label them clearly!

I use a heated propagator to get them off to a good start but a sunny windowsill would do, just pop the pots into a polythene bag, or cover with a piece of glass. Uncover them when the first shoots appear.

Once the plants are about an inch high, I get them out into cold frames to toughen them up a little and free up space in the greenhouse. Just make sure they get good light to stop them getting leggy.

Top tips for successful sweet peas

Grow your sweet peas vertically with an obelisk
Image: Shutterstock

  • Pinching out the growing tip when there are two pairs of true leaves will give you bushier plants and, ultimately, more flowers.
  • Make sure you harden plants off gradually before planting them out towards the end of April, or once the ground has warmed up a bit.
  • It pays to get the soil right before you plant out. Sweet peas are both hungry and thirsty so improving the nutrients and water-retention of your ground will mean a better performance.
  • As well as adding homemade compost to the planting hole, I put a thick layer of newspaper, which is then watered well. This then acts as a ‘sump’ – important on my thin, sandy soil.
  • Plants can be grown up netting stretched between bamboo poles or on wigwams. If you don’t have space in the borders, try plants in a large container on a patio and there are even trailing varieties suitable for a hanging basket. Mine are grown on obelisks in the vegetable garden where they’re easy to pick, add colour and bring in pollinators.
  • Once the plants are in, protect them against slugs and snails until they get established and then feed and water regularly and keep picking! The plants will stop producing flowers if seeds are allowed to set.

So, make sure you check your plants every day and fill your home with their scent. After all, it wouldn’t be summer without vases of sweet peas.

 

About the author:

Cotswold-based, Garden Media Guild member, Mandy Bradshaw is also known as the Chatty Gardener. Passionate about gardening and writing, her beginnings are in football reporting for her primary school, and Mesembryanthemum planting with her mother. Winner of the ‘Garden Journalist of the Year’ in the 2018 Property Press Awards, she writes for not only her own blog but also newspapers, magazines and other sites.

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…
read more…

Nic Wilson is a writer, garden designer and Garden Media Guilds Awards nominee (Best Blog, 2018). She enjoys growing flowers and unusual fruit, vegetables and herbs, and loves to encourage nature into the garden. She also blogs at dogwooddays.

Ellen Mary’s Top 5 Houseplants

Houseplants are bang on trend at the moment and rightly so because not only are they aesthetically pleasing and a great way to soften interiors but they are unbelievably good for us to have around. Many house plants remove large amounts of common toxins from the air around us. My own house is full of them; somewhere in the region of 100 plus cuttings, but who’s counting!? There is a plant for everyone, but these are my top five favourites for any home.


Aloe Vera
Aloe vera

Always top of the list! Not only does Aloe look fantastic, but it’s super easy to look after and needs minimal watering. Not only that, but the gel inside those fleshy stems can be scraped out and used to ease numerous skin conditions, heal burns and many other common health complaints. I store some in the fridge at all times. Aloe also helps to remove Benzene from the air which is found in paint and cleaning products.


Senecio String of Pearls
Senecio (String of Pearls)

A perfect trailing plant that looks great on a shelf or in a hanging basket. These always make an impact because they look so cool, especially in a macramé hanger. The long thin stems have small, round, beaded foliage, hence the name. Needing very little water and just indirect sunlight, it will suit most homes and always draws attention.


Monstera deliciosa
Monstera deliciosa

The highly-desired ‘Swiss Cheese plant’ has made a huge comeback. From dark green, glossy foliage to the much-sought-after white Monstera, they are a stunning addition and really very easy to care for. If you place one in bright, indirect sunlight and away from draughts, it will reward you with long climbing stems and huge heart-shaped leaves. If you start with a smaller plant and pot up as it grows, make sure you have the ultimate spot for it because they can get beautifully big.


Strelitzia reginae Bird of Paradise
Stretlitzia reginae

The stunning ‘Bird of Paradise’ is one of my absolute favourite plants. It may take some years to flower, but when it does, it’s so worth the wait! That tropical feel can’t be beaten as the exotic flower head blooms into the shape of a bird. Mine sits nicely in my office which is also a garden room, so ideal for a conservatory and can even go outside in the summer.


Sansevieria trifasciata var. laurentii
Sansevieria or Mother-in-Law’s Tongue!

Here’s another plant that removes toxins from the air. In fact NASA found that just one ‘Mother in Law’s Tongue’ reduced Benzene levels by over 50% and Trichloroethylene by over 13% in just 24 hours. It’s a great plant to have in your bedroom, which is where I have a few, because they are one of the few plants that continues to convert CO2 to oxygen at night time. Sweet dreams!

The list could be endless as I am also a massive fan of orchids, ferns and easy-to-look-after bryophyllum’s. My cuttings are lined up on bookcases and I can’t help but check them every day. It’s exciting to enjoy houseplants and they’re a trend I hope becomes just a way of life for everyone one day.

Ellen has loved gardens and gardening since she was a child. By her own admission, she now lives and breathes gardening – writing garden and travel content, hosting a horticultural radio show, producing and presenting on television – generally promoting the ways that nature and gardening can benefit well-being. Follow @ellenmarygardening on Instagram

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