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.

Dahlia Dreaming

two dahlia flowers blooming

Dahlias blaze into colour just as other flowers are going over.
Image source: Shutterstock

After weeks of hot summer days, the grass is brown and withered, the summer raspberries have shrivelled into dessicated husks and the roses have gone over, but my dahlias are only just beginning. We’ve had the first brazenly crimson flower on ‘Con Amore’.

I’ve just started reading the sumptuous monograph ‘Dahlias’ by Naomi Slade, published earlier this month, and now I’m impatient to convert my dahlia dreaming into reality. I came to dahlias quite late in the day after picking up a few tubers of the charismatic Dahlia ‘Firepot’ at the school fete and I’ve been hooked ever since. They’re such a versatile flower – working equally well in mixed borders, containers or as bedding plants. Last year I also grew dahlias in the vegetable patch, and used the blooms for cut flowers.

Cut flowers

bloomed cafe au lait dahlia

‘Café au lait’ is a favourite for cut flower arrangements.
Image source: Nic Wilson

My favourites include the sophisticated duo ‘Henriette’ and ‘Café au Lait’. ‘Henriette’ is a semi-cactus washed with apricot tones and ‘Café au Lait’, a double decorative with a soft pink blush which Naomi Slade describes as ‘rich as a cream liqueur on ice’.

Their elegant flowers last well in arrangements – either as an off-white display or mixed with the deep burgundy shades of ‘Thomas A. Edison’ and ‘Downham Royal’. These darker dahlias also create fiery contrasts with the neon punctuation of ‘New Baby’ and burnished orange of ‘David Howard’. Growing flowers in these three tonal ranges allows me to create harmony and contrast in different rooms as the mood takes me.

Borders

group of bishop of llandaff dahlias flowers

‘Bishop of Llandaff’ brings a striking scarlet accent to your borders.
Image source: Thompson & Morgan

Dahlias bring extra colour to late summer borders and their foliage is a valuable addition even before the flowers, especially with the rich chocolate purples and greens of the Bishop Series. If I could only grow one dahlia, it would be ‘Bishop of Canterbury’ – it has the same dark foliage as the more popular ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, but with luscious magenta-pink flowers.

For a more elegant border dahlia, ‘Twynings After Eight’ retains the dark chocolate foliage alongside single white flowers with a saturated yellow central boss.

Containers and bedding

dahlia scura flower

The smaller dahlia ‘Scura’ is ideal for containers.
Image source: Nic Wilson

Smaller dahlias are well suited to container growing and bedding displays. For punchy colour try ‘Scura’, one of the Mini Bishop Group, which has deep orange petals with apricot undertones, or ‘Happy Single Date’ with its cheerful tangerine flowers flushed with red at the centre.

Fire and Ice’ creates its own contrast with vibrant red and white striped flowers on sturdy plants and you can’t beat the semi-double flowers of ‘Sunny Reggae’ in all shades from buttery apricot through to vivid red to liven up any area of the garden.

Dahlia care

two happy single date dahlias

Dahlia ‘Happy single date’ is easily accessible to bees in a wildlife-friendly garden.
Image source: Nic Wilson

Whether you’re planting dahlia tubers in containers from late winter/early spring or in the ground after the last frosts, they need little attention apart from feeding and comprehensive defense against the gastropodic arts. I begin all my tubers in containers – this year’s spring rain (hard to remember now) attracted the slugs and snails who wreaked havoc on the emerging shoots. My normal barriers of copper tape and wool pellets proved futile and I had to resort to placing all the dahlias on the patio table with copper tape circling each leg.

The plants need liquid feeding throughout the growing season – a high nitrogen feed initially, followed by a high potassium feed when they start flowering. Once autumn frosts begin in earnest, lift the tubers, cut back the stems and dry upside down before storing in sand or compost in a frost-free place. In milder areas, tubers can be left in the ground and well mulched with compost, manure or straw.  Most years this works for me, with occasional losses in particularly wet, cold winters.

Anticipation

thomas a edison dahlia

‘Thomas Edison’ is a beautiful addition to cut flower displays.
Image source: Nic Wilson

In the next few weeks I’ll be waiting impatiently for ‘Karma Choc’ and ‘Daisy Duke’ to flower, both new for me this year. And I’m already planning my dahlia selection for 2019. How can I resist just a few tubers of ‘Sierra Glow’ – described by Naomi Slade as the “most gorgeous bronze, brushed with coppery pink and with hints of dusty rose”? I suspect, with tens of thousands of cultivars available, I’ll be indulging in dahlia dreaming for many years to come.

Nic Wilson is a writer, garden designer and Garden Media Guilds Awards nominee (Best Blog, 2017). She enjoys growing flowers and unusual fruit, vegetables and herbs, and loves to encourage nature into the garden. She also blogs at www.dogwooddays.net

A Life in the Garden of….Suffolk businessman, Jeremy Scowsill

Ipswich-based property developer doubles as self-sufficient organic gardener

 

Isn’t it funny how, at a certain age, you realise that many of the people you’ve known for years have apparently ‘suddenly’ got into gardening? I’m not sure if it’s actually an age thing – it clearly isn’t as the growing number of young gardening bloggers shows – or just the fact that you’re hearing more about your friends’ gardens and seeing the results of their gardening endeavours thanks to social media.

I recently noticed that an old friend (‘less of the old’, he’ll say!) was posting some amazing pictures of his garden and the things he’s been growing on Instagram (@jemsgardening). I’ve known Jeremy and his wife Julia for years, since our children were in junior school, and as far as I knew, Jeremy was a very busy businessman, and not someone I’d imagined digging a veg patch or pottering in a potting shed, so I got in touch to find out more.

I started by asking Jeremy when he’d got interested in gardening? I was interested to find out if it was a new thing for him or if he’d gardened with his parents or a grandparent?

“I really started gardening about fifteen years ago. When I was a child, my father grew some vegetables and fruit, but I was more interested in getting him to play football with me than actually helping him in the garden! I did a day’s gardening course some years ago with my wife Julia, and having eaten the freshly-grown food as part of the day, we realised that home-grown food is just so much tastier than shop-bought food. So it’s fair to say that my real interest started in my adult years.”

Jeremy lives in a lovely house just outside Ipswich in Suffolk and I wondered if he had laid out his beautiful kitchen garden or if it had already been there when he and his family moved in.

“I actually started with just a small area of the garden where I planted some herbs, along with a few simple salad and vegetable seeds. I quickly learnt some simple lessons – like don’t plant mint without restricting it! Although the amount of produce was initially small, it was, as I’d hoped, so much tastier than anything we could buy and I quickly became hooked. After a couple of years, I had outgrown my mini-plot and decided to convert the old ‘kitchen garden’ back to its original use. I prepared a simple plan on paper, creating a design of raised beds and fruit cages. I already had a greenhouse (actually a vinery) with a mature grape vine inside – but this was just loads of work and produced grapes that I am sure would have made excellent wine, but really weren’t sweet enough to eat raw. So I took out the vine and installed some simple wooden benches. This became my working area under glass, although controlling the heat was a bit of a problem on occasions. About three years ago, we built a potting shed which gave me a few more options and took the messy side of gardening away from the garden itself.

I had seen from Jeremy’s social media posts that he was gardening organically and so I asked him if he’d set out right from the start to keep his garden organic and what his motives were.

“I definitely set out to garden organically as it was quite clear that shop-bought salad leaves in particular simply don’t stay fresh without some fairly serious ‘additives’ being applied. Knowing more about what we were eating as a family and knowing how it had been grown suddenly became more important to me. There has been the odd occasion over the last fifteen years where I have resorted to using a non-natural pesticide, but this is now pretty rare. I think the only times I have resorted to chemicals is when I have been confined by time – as I am still pretty busy with work – or if I really can’t deal with the issue with an effective natural or organic solution.”

I wondered which were Jeremy’s favourite vegetables to grow and which he finds to be the most successful.

“In my earlier gardening years, I tried growing all sorts of things and whilst I am always experimenting, the basic premise is that I only grow things that we as a family want to eat. So there are a few things we no longer grow at all, although I have been known to grow things just because they look nice! My standard year’s crop would comprise about five varieties of lettuce, four or five different varieties of tomato, cucumbers, beetroot, onions, shallots, broad beans, sweetcorn, artichokes, leeks, aubergines, various varieties of squash, marrows and spinach. I rarely grow carrots as my predominantly clay soil is not conducive to growing good carrots – and to get the right conditions for them will require a bit of extra hard work – which will have to wait until I have a bit more time to spare! I also have a bed which provides a constant supply of fresh herbs.”

Jeremy says that he also grows lots of fruit…and has time to grow and maintain a wonderful cutting garden.

“I have fruit cages where I grow redcurrants, blackcurrants, gooseberries, raspberries, strawberries, tayberries and some cultivated blackberries. We have some apple and plum trees in the garden which I largely leave to their own devices – pruning probably every three years, rather than yearly which I would definitely not recommend, but I do get a good crop from them occasionally!”

“As well as growing flowers in the cutting garden, we deliberately allow certain of our vegetables to go to seed to produce wonderful seed heads which we combine with other flowers from the garden to decorate indoors. Leeks and artichokes are our favourites for this.”

I was interested to know how Jeremy and his wife, Julia, managed the gardening chores – including dealing with their abundant crops.

“Julia and I share the bottling, blanching, freezing and preserving of our crops – whatever we don’t eat! We live off salads in the summer and always have a bowl of Sungold tomatoes available for ‘Scooby snacks’ from July to October. If there was one thing I would recommend growing lots of, it would be these – they are just like sweets and you don’t feel guilty eating them!”

Knowing that Jeremy is generally busy with a number of business projects on the go at once, I asked him how much time he is able to spend in the garden.

“Depending on the weather, I probably spend about six or seven hours a week in the garden between March to October. I do have some help at the end of the season when we have a clear-up and dig in our own compost, which we carefully create over a two to three year period.”

He adds:

“I find gardening a very relaxing pastime – watching things grow and sometimes helping them along if they’re struggling, is very therapeutic. Sometimes I put on some music or listen to some sport while I’m gardening; other times, I just use it for thinking time. It entirely depends upon my mood and how much time I have available. It is without question a de-stressing time of the day for me and, except during periods of really bad weather, I will usually make at least two trips out to the garden during the day to either do something specific, or just to potter!”

A big thank you to Jeremy and we look forward to hearing more from him. All the images in the blog are from Jeremy’s instagram account @jemsgardening

Sonia Mermagen

Sonia works at Thompson & Morgan in the role of press and communications officer. She is a self-proclaimed ‘reluctant’ gardener and is generally amazed if anything flourishes in her garden. Sonia has a ‘hands off’ approach to gardening and believes that this helps to encourage bees, butterflies and other wildlife. (That’s her excuse anyway!)

July – Anyone for Blackberry Jam?

So here we are in early August, it’s 33c outside, and I’m making blackberry jam! What on earth is going on? No sooner had the strawberries finished fruiting than the blackberries were ripe for picking! Is it me or has there been a worldwide conspiracy perpetuating the mysteries of jam making? 10 minutes, some jam sugar and fruit and it’s done. How simple was that. I’ve even gone on to make blackberry coulis. No doubt the apples will be rotting off the trees by the end of the month so I’ll try my luck at Apple Cheese. Blackberry and apple pie in a heatwave is just a bridge too far.

As we enjoy a glorious respite in the garden I’m reflecting upon our eventful summer: first our Hort Soc coach trip to Kent and East Sussex, then Thompson & Morgan Press Open Day, followed by our NGS Open Day hot on the heels of the London Gardens Society competition.

Amazing trees at Goodnestone Park Gardens

On July 1st, 29 of us set off on our three day Jolly amid gardens great and small, no responsibilities, no driving, no phone calls, no housework, no gardening. Yikes, what about the watering? Our irrigation system (aka leaky hose, some lengths leakier than others, due to careless forkage) only runs along the back of the borders. The central island bed, fernery, front borders and containers all need daily watering, if not twice daily. (Yeah, I know, Right Plant Right Place, but what exactly constitutes The Right Plant for this searing heat in clay soil, eh?) Patio no problem; the veterinary nurse who comes in to minister to ours cats’ needs (go on, say it, They Have Their Own Nurse Maid?) was happy to water. But the garden beyond is out of bounds (my Dearly Beloved bolts the gate with an iron bar to ward off intruders) so at the eleventh hour, he managed to rig up a timer onto our oscillating sprinkler (had to look that up, I had no idea what those up-and-over sprinklers were called, did you?). Next decision: which part of the border gets lucky? In the end we opted for the hot border that was about to come into flower and all was well.

T&M Press day!

A couple of weeks later, as T&M plant triallists, we were invited to attend Press Day, held at RHS Hyde Hall. T&M’s new show ground is so breathtakingly colourful that surely you could see the floral displays from space.  Swathes of vibrant flowers and foliage to inspire and motivate you. A new range of echinacea, improved alstroemerias, petunias and begonias. And of course hydrangea ‘Runaway Bride Snow White’, winner of Chelsea Flower Show Plant of the Year 2018. New trends for 2019 include Climate Gardening, Stress Relief and Extending Summer. Venerable British gardening writer and TV broadcaster Peter Seabrook was there (I do love a celebrity, don’t you) to present an award to T&M’s very own veg guru, Colin Randell for 50 years in the horticultural industry. Most of all though it was lovely to meet the team and talk about future plans.

Ready for NGS and looking great!

Back on the home front, it was time to start preparing the garden for the London Garden Society judges and NGS Open Day visitors alike, and that included filling the gaps that I had left for some last minute judicious planting. And boy, did I heal’em in! The long awaited day of the annual Chenies Manor Plant Fair dawned. Over 30c it was, quite hideous in fact, but did it put me off, no way. Plants were purchased and abandoned for collection later by my long suffering DB (David Broome/Dearly Beloved – get it!?) Such is my bewildering sense of direction I had to photograph the plant stalls on my phone so that we could find them again later! A sudden urge to redesign the planting on the roof terrace meant loads of new grasses and red hot pokers. I felt sorry for the plantsman who was selling the elusive willowy rudbeckia Prairie Glow; I swooped upon him with such excitement he must have thought I was unhinged. Friends Yvonne and Marjorie, clearly also in the throes of plant lust, filled up the car with their finds until it steamed up. The back seat was dominated by towering lythrum, showering its flowers like confetti in an attempt to pollinate the upholstery.

The drying barn at Great Dixter & Hydrangea ‘True Blue’ at Goodestone

Long story short, after weeks and weeks of subtropical temperatures, the day before our NGS Open Day the heavens opened, the winds blew. Saturday morning I was out there in my babydolls, staking and stringing up the wayward thalictrum, filipendula, lythrum. (Felt like stringing myself up actually.) Having baked cakes all the previous week, max temp 35c, and bought a glass drinks dispenser with tap to serve elderflower cordial (for visitors) and Pimms (for after party-party-party), come the morning in question it was heavy rain, thick cloud and gusty wind! Bitter sweet or what? I’m not bitter…..Two cakes stayed in the freezer and out came the tea urn. (Why oh why is there always one visitor who wants decaffeinated tea?) But by 2pm opening time it had cleared and in point of fact the general consensus was that cool air had brought the visitors out whereas 90c would have kept them away. Could have done with those two cakes an’all. Still, you never can tell. 120 visitors, £1000 donated to NGS charities. Result!

The very next day the heat wave resumed and here we are in August, enjoying the slower pace of school holidays: roads and back gardens are quiet, parking is a joy, watering goes on and on. After such intense preparation I feel as if I’m neglecting the garden but in truth, apart from regular deadheading, feeding and watering, its doing its own thing quite happily with the minimum of intervention.  Actually I feel like a spare part.

One or two loose ends. I regret to admit that as far as T&M trial tomatoes are concerned there’s not an awful lot to report. Despite the better light levels, regular feeding, damping down and watering in the greenhouse, I have about a grand total of half a dozen trusses resulting from six cordons. And they are climbing out of the window! Cucumber Nimrod is another story – lovely fruits and loads more to come. I have managed to make a gazpacho so all is not lost.

More by luck than judgement my patio theme 2018 has been very definitely Red! Red T&M begonias – what was I going to do with 36 Non Stop Mocca red begonias? No problem, they are everywhere, front and back, punctuating all the container displays – red thalia fuchsias, red salvias, red cannas, red coleus Campfire, red ricinus communis, red seat cushions, red framed wooden wall art, red hose and watering can even. Of course when it came to the LGS judge’s observation that this simple colour theme was strikingly effective in it simplicity, I had to concur, didn’t I.

And finally…..on our aforementioned coach trip we visited fellow T&M triallist Geoff Stonebanks’ Driftwood garden in Seaford. What a showman, a great host with a larger than life garden, with quirky plants and ornamentals everywhere. No wonder he’s been so successful in his charity fundraising. Well done Geoff, keep up the good work. We’re having a year off next year. Eat your heart out!

 

 

The Summer of 2018 will be remembered with mixed feelings, but one thing’s for sure, once the heatwave has gone and the nights start drawing in, we’ll miss it, you know.

Family visit to Hyde Hall

Last weekend we headed down to Hyde Hall to visit Thompson and Morgan’s Floral Fantasia.

My children were very keen to see all the plants that I had planted, they had seen the pictures I had taken for the previous blog.

We love visiting Hyde Hall, taking a picnic and spending the day together. The children’s plant knowledge is growing, both common names and Latin. I love being able to share this with them.

The lawns were impeccable, green and lush. We all walked bare footed over them as did a lot of other visitors.

Walking through the entrance into Floral Fantasia, certainly had that ‘wow factor’. The bright, glorious colours, bees buzzing and the varying heights across the site sent your eyes on a journey. My daughter stood with her mouth open!

 

 

The beds were in full bloom, the planting had settled down and had grown on well. The different sections of bedding had blended well. All the gaps had filled in.

The SunBelieveable looked amazing, a huge bank of beautiful sunflowers. They definitely drew the crowds.

 

 

 

The pots were all full and colourful, you often heard people discussing the different plants and wanting to ‘try those next year’. The pouch pyramid, was breath taking. Huge and unmissable. Some new seeds I have decided to grow next year have to be, Nicotiana sylvestris for height in the borders and Cosmos Cupcakes as the children loved them. Also need many more Rudbeckias too!!

It was a very hot day in the garden and my son found Crocosmia ‘Scorchio’

We finished our trip with a family picture in the Thompson and Morgan deckchair. Will be visiting again before the children go back to school.

Sue Russell

One of my earliest memories; helping my Mum and Dad weed the veggie plot and collecting chicken eggs from the chooks at the end of the garden. I grew up on a farm as a child and always had my own piece of land to grow and learn with, so I suppose its in the blood!
In my mid twenties, I re trained in Horticulture (Professional Gardening ANCH) and set up my own Gardening business working for clients in the Suffolk/Essex area. For the last thirteen years Ive had the pleasure of working on a private twenty five acre estate tending to the grounds.
Most recently, eighteen months ago, I joined the team at Thompson and Morgan in the Customer Care department.
Also season ticket holder at Ipswich Town Football Club!!

The secret life of plants

cross section of the date palm's primary root

The root structure of the date palm is a thing of beauty.
Image source: The Hidden Half project, University of Nottingham

Gardening could be described as bending nature to our will. It’s the selection, planting, shaping, pruning, training, pollinating, pinching, grafting, thinning out and harvesting of plants to suit our requirements. But what happens above the ground is only the tip of the iceberg – half the story. How much more goes on beneath the earth that we never get to see?

partial cross section of an alpine strawberry primary root

The root anatomy of an alpine strawberry.
Image source: The Hidden Half project, University of Nottingham

In a recent study, a team at the University of Nottingham were curious to find out. Using cutting-edge imaging techniques (and a pile of seeds from Thompson & Morgan) they investigated a variety of plant roots without having to dig them up. The results are out of this world!

For the first time, these X-ray CT images showcase the diversity and complexity of plant root systems in their undisturbed soil environment. What no-one was expecting, is just how strikingly beautiful these images of everyday plants, vegetables and flowers actually are.

Why study plant roots?

three pictures showing the main stem of a grapevine and the roots of a grapevine and a cross section of the primary root of a grapevine

A study of the grapevine.
Image source: The Hidden Half project, University of Nottingham

Producing safe, nutritious food to feed the world’s growing population is a huge challenge for the future. We need to develop new, resilient crops, and do do that, we need better knowledge.

When we properly understand how plants grow, and have identified how specific features (e.g. root depth, thickness, angle or number of lateral roots) can be improved, this knowledge can be applied to allow more efficient food production. Particularly in regions with limited water or nutrient supply.

Finding out what happens beneath the soil could help eliminate hunger and famine around the globe. But in the quest for scientific breakthrough, it’s the beauty and resilience of nature that has been revealed in these never-before seen images – the secret life of plants.

Check out the full directory of images of plant root systems at The Hidden Half website, and follow their Twitter feed at @UoNHiddenHalf to get updates on their work. But for now, just scroll down and enjoy some of the incredible pictures the boffins have shared with us.

 

partial cross section of an alpine strawberry primary root

The root anatomy of an alpine strawberry.
Image source: The Hidden Half project, University of Nottingham

 

congo grass roots

Congo grass roots 
Image source: The Hidden Half project, University of Nottingham

growth of a date palm root

The growth of a date palm root
Image source: The Hidden Half project, University of Nottingham

coloured image highlighting the three main root structures of the freesia alba

Three distinct root structures of a freesia alba
Image source: The Hidden Half project, University of Nottingham

cross section of the freesia alba's primary root

The cross section of the primary root of a freesia alba
Image source: The Hidden Half project, University of Nottingham

cross section of a maize crown root

The cross section of a maize crown root
Image source: The Hidden Half project, University of Nottingham 

full diagram of a pea plants roots

A pea plant’s root structure.
Image source: The Hidden Half project, University of Nottingham 

full picture of a norway spruce including roots and stem

A full picture of a Norway Spruce
Image source: The Hidden Half project, University of Nottingham  

spinach root structure with main tap root highlighted

Spinach root structure with its main tap root highlighted
Image source: The Hidden Half project, University of Nottingham 

cross section of a tomato root

Cross section of a tomato root
Image source: The Hidden Half project, University of Nottingham 

cross section of a sugar beets primary root

Cross section of a sugar beet’s primary root
Image source: The Hidden Half project, University of Nottingham 

Watering, watering, watering

So, with the recent heat wave (when I say “heat wave” it felt more like someone was blow-torching the back of my neck – through the factor 50) and with all the watering I had to do. Not only my own garden by the way, but also for friend who is away in the south of France for a month – for some cooler weather – which was taking an hour a day. I got to wondering what better alternatives we sell at work for this chore we do for the plants we love.

Some of them are fairly obvious; whilst others are absolute genius if you ask me and I’ve already put my “staff order” in to help me out.

First and foremost, I have to say that I treated myself to a new hose this year. I got so fed up with the kinks, knots and tangles of my good old normal hosepipe that I decided to try something a bit different. I’d seen the “expanding hoses” on TV before but as they were a new innovation at the time; they were fairly expensive compared to a normal hose.

Watering with the Easy Hose

This is no longer the case, I ordered one of our Easy Hoses and quite frankly, I’m amazed! This weird looking cloth covered hose “crinkles” up to next to nothing when it’s not in use and looks like it wouldn’t reach my back door, let alone the sweet potatoes at the end of the garden. But turn on the tap and it literally “grows” to over 3 times its size! What’s more, it can’t kink and seems to untangle itself too, so I’m one happy chappie with it! Plus when you turn it off again it shrinks away back to its original size which still amuses me for no particular reason.

So, my amusing hosepipe aside, what else do we have that might be useful in a hot crisis?

Watering with an irrigation kit

The most obvious choice is an irrigation kit, these are a good price and each kit can water up to 22 individual pots or baskets. It’s literally just a case of running the pipe to the first pot, cutting it, putting in a “T” junction to take the first dripper and then carrying on to the next pot. There’s over 75 feet of pipe (23 metres) and so it’ll comfortably sort out a good run of different pots and baskets and to be honest, at the price, you can easily buy another and extend it if you need to. Once you’re all set up then it’s just a case of plugging it onto the outdoor tap and turning it on. Leaving it on for a few hours won’t flood anywhere as there’s a pressure regulator too so it’s all nice, safe and easy!

the auto waterer

If you’re a tomato fan and are constantly worrying about blossom end rot, poor tomatoes and finding that keeping your plants well watered is almost impossible then the tomato auto-waterer collar  is extremely useful. It’s a clear plastic open ended cone that just pushes into the soil/compost around the plant, fill it up with water to the brim and allow the water to percolate into the soil nice and slowly, rather than have it run off and water the weeds somewhere else! It has two other bonuses as well, the first one is that the top of the collar has a “double-back” on it which means that snails can’t climb up and over and munch away on your plants inside. The second bonus is that you don’t have to use it exclusively for tomatoes! If you’ve any other young plants that are in need of a bit of extra care and protection then pop one of these collars around it and away it grows!

automatic watering system

For something a little more hi-tech and extremely clever there’s the Garden Gear Automatic Watering System. A handy little timer and pump combo that can be popped into a bucket of water and have up to ten little pipes running from it on a timed setting. It could easily be used in greenhouses, conservatories etc and there’s no reason why you couldn’t run the pipes out to a flower bed either, if you have a large enough reservoir of water to put the pump in, it could easily last for a week at a time – perfect for holidays!

My last two are probably my favourites, one because it’s so simple and the second because I think it looks fun!

The Water Wizard, what a simple concept but so clever too. You can recycle your large “fizzy pop” bottles ….. In fact, here’s a video I prepared earlier….

Lastly, and by no means least, is the Mighty Dripper! This bad boy can hold over 2 gallons of water and does exactly what it says on the tin, it really is very easy to set up and I tend to think of it as an intravenous drip for my plants, I’m tempted to hand a couple on my fence (maybe decorate them) and fill them up and let them happily water 20 pots (10 each), only having to fill up the bags each day, or every other day would be so much easier – the big plus is that I can use water collected from my water butt too, rather than mains water, and could also add in liquid or soluble feed once a week!

Here’s another video (not with me in it though!)

So while I sometimes don’t mind going out and watering, it’s also handy to know I’ve got other options available to me, I’m definitely going to try one or two (can you guess which?)

Graham Ward

I’ve been gardening for as long as I can remember, my first earliest memory being planting seeds in my Grandfather’s prestige flower bed and having a prize lettuce growing there, which he proudly left to show everyone.

Since then, gaining knowledge and experience from both my Grandfather and my Father, I’ve continued to garden, both as a hobby and later on as a professional gardener and landscaper for 12 years. I love all aspects of it, from the design and build, to the planting out of summer borders with plants you’ve either grown from seed or raised from plugs. Unusual varieties always catch my eye and I’m keen to try growing them, even if sometimes it means learning from my mistakes.

Green-fingered gardening tips from the experts

No matter how expert you are at gardening, there’s always something new to learn!
Image source: Aya Images

The great thing about gardening is that no matter how expert you are, you never reach the end of your personal learning curve. To help you a little further along the way, we asked some of our favourite gardening bloggers for their expert tips – great gardening advice from green fingered folk.

Community

Visit other gardens to see what grows well in your area.
Image source: A Pentland Garden

Before you plant anything, take a look at your local green space, says Nadine from A Pentland Garden. That’s because local conditions have a big impact on what grows best where you live. Nadine’s top tip? Talk to your neighbours:

“Speak to them and see what really thrives. You may be able to take cuttings or gather seeds.”

There really is nothing better than seeing for yourself what grows well, says Julia from The Garden Gate is Open. She says the best thing to do is simply to:

“Get out there and visit another garden.”

It’s also important to network within your gardening community. Pete from Weeds Up to My Knees suggests trying out local plant sales arranged by allotments. He says:

“If you ever need anything in the garden (plants, seeds and tools), I always ask about. People are pleased to get rid of the stuff.”

Cover up

Put a layer of newspapers or cardboard under wood chip to suppress the weeds.
Image source: An English Homestead

If you don’t fancy spending most of your time in the garden weeding, Kev at An English Homestead says you should remember that “nature abhors a vacuum”, and act accordingly:

“I mulch with compost, cover with cardboard or use landscape fabric to help keep weeds at bay.”

As a smallholder committed to feeding his young family healthy, nutritious, home grown food, he says covering up is “the only way I can manage such a big vegetable garden.”

Another gardener who shares the view that exposed soil leaves the door open for weeds, is Geoff from Driftwood by Sea. His solution is to plant plenty of ground cover. He says “never be afraid to pack plants in.”

Alternatively, you could go no-dig, like Richard from Sharpen Your Spades. He tried it last year and now he’s hooked:

“It’s so easy to cover in the winter, there’s less weeds and fantastic crops. The whole allotment is no-dig this year.”

Plant

Acclimatise your seedlings before planting them outside.
Image source: Mark’s Veg Plot

Giving your seedlings the best chance of survival by starting them indoors protects them from the elements until it’s warm enough to plant them out. But be careful you don’t let those tender stems get too hot, says Alicia from Botanical Threads. She recommends you take the plastic lids off your seed trays when it’s particularly sunny:

“It only takes half an hour baking under the plastic in the sun for a tray of thriving green seedlings to go to brown burnt ones!”

If you take seedlings straight from your window ledge and plant them outside, the shock can kill them. Make sure you acclimatise them gradually. Mark from Mark’s Veg Plot passes on his father’s advice on ‘hardening off’ his tomatoes:

“If it has been done properly, the stem will be a dark, almost purple, colour. Pale stemmed plants have not been sufficiently exposed to the outdoors.”

Weed

Make weeding part of your gardening routine.
Image source: Sharpen Your Spades

It’s true that some gardeners find weeding therapeutic. But Thomas from Thomas Stone Horticultural Services isn’t one of them. He prefers to get the job done and dusted, saying: “In dry weather, try and get the hoe around as often as you can.” He adds that with the right tools:

“5 minutes of weeding with a hoe can save 2-3 hours of hand weeding.”

Richard from Sharpen Your Spades says it’s best to make regular weeding your priority or it will eat into your gardening time. His advice is to get it done and dusted:

“It gets the ghastly job out of the way and makes the task of staying on top of the weeds so much easier”.

Alternatively, consider embracing your weeds like forager and print-maker Flora Arbuthnott who puts hers to good use. She says:

Use yellow dock roots as a golden dye for textiles projects.” and for a coffee alternative that won’t make your heart race, Flora says to try “roast dandelion root.”

Do you have any gardening tips that you think we should know? We’re always interested to hear from our readers, so please drop us a line on our Facebook page and leave us a message.

Planting tips from wildlife gardening experts

Cotoneaster berries feed birds through even the bleakest winters.
Image source: Artush

If you’d love to encourage wildlife to visit your garden but aren’t sure what plants to grow, this is the place for you. We asked some of our favourite wildlife gardening bloggers for their planting tips and here’s what they came up with – what to grow to encourage birds, bees, moths and butterflies to share your outside space.

Moths

Willowherb is loved by moths and butterflies.
Image source: Real Moment

Nocturnal insects love plants whose scent makes them easy to locate in the darkness. Wildlife blogger Dan Rouse says:

Plants like lavender are great for attracting moths, which in turn will attract their predators: bats!

Nic who writes Dogwood Days was just a two-year-old in red wellies when her father introduced her to banks of rosebay willowherb alongside the vegetable beds. She says:

Willowherb brings in moths and butterflies – especially the beautiful elephant hawk moth caterpillars with their extendable snouts.

Another favourite for attracting moths is honeysuckle. Bill at Frodsham Marsh Bird Blog says: “A large potted Honeysuckle is brilliant for attracting many types of moth species on those sultry warm summer evenings, and they in turn provide food for the local bats.

Butterflies

The Brimstone butterfly particularly loves Alder Buckthorn.
Image source: Butterfly Conservation

Attracting butterflies to flutter about your garden is all about planting the right blooming plants whose nectar they’ll sup. Remember – the greater the variety of plants and fungi you grow in your garden, the great the range of butterflies, and other insects you’ll get to see.

Lisa at Edulis Wild Food says encouraging wildlife to thrive is all about “Mimicking nature in her timing and choice of habitat.” In her garden she grows:

Alexanders, sweet cicely, japonica quince, wild raspberry, wild garlic, primroses, sweet violets, horse mushrooms, chicken of the woods, oyster mushrooms and scarlet elf cups.

Emma at Never Mind the Burdocks, meanwhile favours “ground elder, wild mints, and Galium species such as odorata which fill a borders edges perfectly and are easy to maintain.”

Providing myriad food sources is a great way to garden for wildlife, but if there’s a particular butterfly you’d like to see gracing your patch, often you’ll need to provide a specific food source. Dave at Why Watch Wildlife shares this example:

A Brimstone is looking for Alder Buckthorn, so think about planting it. Not only will it benefit the butterfly, but in autumn birds will eat the berries too.

Birds and bees

Forget-me-nots are a vital early source of nectar for bees.
Image source: Ian Grainger

As well as enjoying the host of tasty insects living on your wildflowers, birds need winter foodstuffs to keep them going when the nights draw in and the temperature plummets. To help out our feathered friends, Bill says he planted Cotoneaster. He says it’s quite mature now:

In the winter it retains enough berries to entice the local Blackbirds, wintering Blackcaps and once a small flock of Waxwing to feast on its berries.

Bill says the bees and hoverflies love the alliums he buried last year, and Julie of Garden Without Doors is a great advocate of early wildflowers like: “forget-me-nots, green alkanet and deadnettle”. She says the great advantage of spring flowers is that they’re: “beloved by bees and available to them before other flowers start blooming.”

Worried that by filling your borders with spring wildflowers, you’ll have less blooms to enjoy during the summer months? Don’t be. Julie says:

Your spring wildflowers will die back in time for other flowers to take over.

Do you have any wildlife-friendly planting suggestions to share? If so we’d love to hear from you. Just pop over to our Facebook page and leave us a message.

In the meantime, we’ll leave the last word to Alan at the Scottish Wildlife Garden who, once the butterflies have enjoyed his thistles, finds they “have delicious, tender, juicy hearts that are quite easy to prepare once you have the knack.” As he says, that’s one way to “Have your garden and eat it”.

From Rake To Bake – Egg-cellent Potato Salad.

Welcome to Baking Blog. Each month will feature an in-season fruit or vegetable dish to make with a little bit of grow-your-own information on the side.

July is perfect for making Egg-cellent Potato Salad.

With second-lates and main-crop potatoes in abundance grown either in sacks or the ground, why not keep July simple and just enjoy an easy Egg and New Potato salad. This month we are back off to The New Forest in the motorhome for a few days, so a few tubs of of Egg and Potato salad, will make handy lunches for the first few days.

 

Note – I have not used Salt in the list of ingredients as I do not cook with it, however you may wish to use it, therefore just season to taste.

Prep Time 15 minutes. Cooking Time 20-25 Minutes. Cooling Time 20- 40 minutes or overnight if need be.

Skills Level Easy Peasy.

Utensils.

  • Chopping Board.
  • Vegetable Knife.
  • Electric Steamer.
  • Colander.
  • Egg Slicer.
  • Teaspoon.
  • Dessert Spoon.
  • 3 Various size bowls.

Ingredients.

  • 400g of New potatoes.
  • 1/2 Small Onion.
  • 150g Fresh or Frozen peas.
  • 2 Large Eggs.
  • 1/4 Teaspoon of Black Pepper.
  • 1/2 Teaspoon of Mixed Herbs.
  • 2 Dessert Spoons of Salad Cream.
  • 2 Dessert Spoons of Mayonnaise.

 

Method.

  1. Wash the soil off the skin of the potatoes then chop them into bite-sized cubes and place in a single layer on the bottom tray of the steamer, and steam for 20-25minutes. (Or place in a saucepan of cold water, bring to the boil and simmer until tender.)
  2. Place the eggs in the lower tray of the steamer 15 minutes from the end of cooking the potatoes. (Or boil in a small saucepan for at least ten minutes.)
  3. Place the peas in the top layer of the steamer for the last 7 minutes. ( Boil a small saucepan of hot water, reduce heat, add peas and simmer for a few minutes until just soft.)
  4. Drain everything, run the eggs under cold water and peel immediately, before allowing everything to cool fully with n appropriate sized bowls.
  5. Slice the onion and and mix it with the peas, season with black pepper and herbs.
  6. Place a spoonful of both Salad Cream and Mayonnaise onto the cold potatoes and mix thoroughly, add the onions/peas gently combine, then add another spoonful of salad dressings.
  7. Season with more herbs and pepper. Slice the eggs and place on top. Refrigerate until use. Will last about three days.

 

Serving Suggestions.

  1. Add some turmeric and paprika and eat as a side dish at a hot and spicy BBQ.
  2. Mix dried mango, dried apricots a small apple and raisins with cream cheese in a baguette, pack it along with the potato salad and eat it out on n the fresh air watching the sunset.
  3. Morning munchies – eat with leftover cold sausages, and a cup of coffee/tea for breakfast.

 

Grow Your Own.

It’s not too late to grow potatoes now with plenty of late varieties available, I even start potatoes off in September to have new ones on Christmas Day.

Potatoes do best on open sunny ground, but I grow mine in deep sacks. They will grow in an old plastic or metal dustbin so long as there are sufficient drainage holes. Place 4 inches of compost in the bottom of the sack, add three seed potatoes, sprinkle over some fertiliser, (according to the packet directions) then cover with another 4 inches of soil. Each time the stalks grow through the soil, add more compost (earth up) until the sack is 3/4 full. Water regularly. Potatoes do not like to dry out, but neither do they like to sit in wet soil.

Once the potatoes have flowered (12-16 weeks) cut the stalks to soil level, then dig up the potatoes after ten days.

Leave them to dry then wash the skins, dry again and store in a cold dark place.

 

*Easy Peasy – Basic techniques/Suitable for Children with adult supervision/help.

**Treat as Tender – Intermediate Skills required/Children may need more help with this.

***Seasoned Kitchen Gardener – Confident Baker/Children might not be suited to this.

My name is Amanda and I live in Pembrokeshire with my fiancé and our garden is approximately 116 meters square. I want to share with you my love for gardening and the reasons behind it, from the good to the bad and ugly. I want to do this for my own personal pleasure. If you would like to take the journey with me then please read my blogs and share with me your gardening stories.

T&M’s highly-regarded horticulturalist celebrates 50 years in horticulture

Left: The Sun’s Peter Seabrook (L) presents Colin Randel (R) with engraved garden fork and spade Right: Colin Randel, Thompson & Morgan’s vegetable product manager and potato expert Photo credits: Thompson & Morgan

Colin Randel, our product manager and vegetable expert here at Thompson & Morgan was last week presented with an engraved commemorative garden fork and spade in recognition of his 50 year contribution to horticulture.

Veteran gardening writer, The Sun columnist and broadcaster, Peter Seabrook, who has known Colin for many years, was on hand at RHS Garden Hyde Hall last Tuesday where we were holding our annual press day, to make the presentation.

Peter commented:

Colin is a real treasure; his knowledge and experience in the world of vegetable growing is remarkable. Whenever I come up with a query on vegetables he is, and has been for many years, my first port of call. He is to be congratulated on his 50 years’ working in the seed trade and on his loyal service at Thompson & Morgan over the last 18 years. Long may he continue to serve vegetable growing gardeners at home and abroad.

Colin’s love of gardening started when, as a young boy, he would help in his grandmother’s garden, planting potatoes and runner beans. He left school at 16 and has been working in horticulture in one form or another since then. Colin learned much of the basics of gardening with the head gardener of the Parker-Bowles estate, Donnington Castle House in Berkshire. As an apprentice, he took day release to the local agricultural college to add to his practical horticultural knowledge. Over the next 26 years, Colin worked developing seed lines at several companies in Berkshire, Devon and Suffolk before moving to Thompson & Morgan here in Ipswich in 2000 to develop the company’s seed potato business.

Thompson & Morgan’s commercial director, Chris Wright, said:

“Colin has been part of the fabric of Thompson & Morgan for 18 years now and he has developed and launched many new and exclusive vegetable lines to UK gardeners. We’re very lucky to have benefited from his incredible fount of knowledge over the years and so we were keen to celebrate his half century in horticulture with this presentation.”

One of the highlights of Colin’s career was his invitation in 1995 to join the RHS Garden Wisley vegetable trials committee. He enjoyed working with other vegetable specialists on this prestigious board for 23 years, acting as Chair for 8 years from 2006.

Colin remarked:

“I was most surprised when Peter made his presentation last week. Of course I know how long I’ve been working in horticulture – time does fly when you do a job that you’re passionate about – but I wasn’t expecting to have this milestone recognised with so many kind words and congratulations!”

 

Sonia Mermagen

Sonia works at Thompson & Morgan in the role of press and communications officer. She is a self-proclaimed ‘reluctant’ gardener and is generally amazed if anything flourishes in her garden. Sonia has a ‘hands off’ approach to gardening and believes that this helps to encourage bees, butterflies and other wildlife. (That’s her excuse anyway!)

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