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.

Yacon — A Newcomer from South America

All the way from South America, rather like Paddington Bear, comes my new favourite vegetable, Yacon, Smallanthus sonchifolius, distantly related to Jerusalem artichokes and carrying with it a host of intriguing culinary possibilities.

What is it?

Yacon tubers form underground beneath a robust, leafy plant, slightly reminiscent when dug of large baking potatoes, but that is where the similarity ends.  Yacon, meaning ‘water root’ in the Inca language, has flesh that is juicy, slightly sweet and yielding, with a flavour reminiscent of pears, or melons, with a hint of celery.  In fact in its home country, this beguiling tuber is used in fruit salads as well as vegetable dishes.

A most exciting feature of Yacon is the super sweet syrup that can be extracted from it, containing an indigestible sugar, inulin.  In effect the delicious toffee-tasting syrup is virtually calorie free, does not raise blood sugar, and so both tubers and sweet syrup are suitable for diabetics.  The inulin in yacon syrup also has great benefits for the bacteria in the gut where it is said to aid digestion and boost the immune system.  These health benefits have lead to yacon becoming a major crop, especially in the US where most of the syrup extraction takes place.

Growing Yacon

Yacon is a tender perennial plant, therefore with a little TLC, once you have your first plant, it should be with you forever; in fact its cultivation and care are very much like dahlias, so if you grow dahlias, yacon will be a cinch!  It is rarely troubled by any pests or diseases, easy and willing to grow, but does however need a long growing season, the tubers bulking up in the late autumn, to be dug in mild years just before Christmas, in advance of any penetrating ground frost.

To start off, either buy rooted cuttings in the spring or get a division from someone already growing yacon.  I usually treat my stored crowns like dahlias, starting them off in the greenhouse until shoots appear.  At that point I divide into individual plants and pot up, before growing them on for planting out in May in a sheltered sunny spot, when all danger of frost has passed.

Yacon does appreciate a rich, fertile growing medium with plenty of well rotted manure and compost, deeply incorporated into the soil.  Cultivating the soil to a good depth before planting greatly helps the process of lifting the crop in the autumn, otherwise the main tubers can break off and stubbornly remain in the ground.

Once planted out, a lush and leafy plant will quickly develop to a height of up to 2 metres, with small orange yellow flowers in the late summer.  If things are going to plan, the burgeoning tubers will start to raise the soil circling the crown of the plant around September / October time

Harvesting and Storing Yacon

Leaving harvesting as late as possible will give the most cropping potential.  When the moment arrives, usually when the top growth has been blackened off by the first air frost, cut back the remaining stems to about 10 cm and dig up the crown consisting of the bulky storage tubers (the crop), plus small propagation roots, or ‘buds’ growing just under the surface.  The crowns for next year’s plants are stored much like dahlias for the winter in a cool but frost-free place where they won’t dry out.

 

 

 

The big tubers, carefully snapped from the crown, are crunchy, sweet and refreshing immediately — after washing and peeling can be eaten just like a carrot — but they do have the potential to become sweeter if left out in the sun for a few days.  Only undamaged tubers can be stored for several months in paper or hessian sacks, much like potatoes, in a frost-free garage or shed.  Any damaged tubers should be used immediately or made into syrup.

 

 

 

Yacon in the Kitchen

Crunchy yacon is a delicious and different addition to savoury salads — try substituting the apple in Waldrof salad with diced yacon, or combine grated carrots, yacon ‘sticks’ and sliced celery with a grain mustard vinaigrette — in fact it absorbs dressings and sauces of all kinds very readily, making it a tasty vehicle for other flavours. In the Peruvian tradition of ‘salpicon’ (fruit salad), versatile yacon can also make a delightful fruit dessert when chopped and added to your choice of pineapple, melon, papaya or mango, dressed with fresh orange juice. If used raw, the flesh of yacon will discolour, much like an apple, so after peeling and preparing, sprinkle immediately with a little dilute lemon juice, or dressing, to preserve its attractive white colour.  Alternatively, for a hot dish, yacon can be roasted with other root vegetables tossed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and herbs, or even just simply steamed.

Sweet Treat

Once you have grown enough yacon to have some spare you can think about extracting the sweet liquid using a food processor — about 12 kgs makes a litre of the precious syrup.  Simply wash and peel the tubers in batches then whizz them up thoroughly; place in a large pan and simmer down gently at about 103 C until a delicious dark brown syrup is formed.  This sweet liquid is wonderful on porridge, or has a great affinity with cocoa when making ‘guilt-free’ chocolate treats!

 

Phillippa Lambert

Phillippa Lambert is a landscape designer based on the Isle of Wight at a unique site in the Undercliff of the Island — a favoured microclimate sheltered by enormous south facing cliffs. In 2002 Phillippa and Stephen Lambert came across the ‘lost’ gardens of a Victorian mansion dating back to the 1820s, managed to acquire part of the site, including the walled garden and ornamental lake, and have since worked on their restoration. The result is not an ‘expert’ garden and does not try for technical perfection in any sense. ‘Make do and mend’ is the keynote — most plants being raised from seed or cuttings— and self-sufficiency is the motivation for all the growing in the walled garden. In essence, this site goes back to the philosophy of ancient gardens in sustaining the body as well as the soul. Read more at Lakehouse Design.

10 inspiring Instagramming urban gardeners

urban garden

No need for acres of rolling allotments to grow flowers and produce!
Image: Claire Gregory, Wikimedia Commons

You don’t need a small holding, an allotment, or even a garden to grow your own fresh flowers and food these days. Enterprising urban gardeners are making the most of windowsills, balconies and wasteland to grow theirs. City gardeners are growing sustainable food and home-grown flowers, while also making our grey towns greener, more pleasant places to live.

If you are looking for inspiration on how to create your own city garden, here are ten of the best UK urban gardening Instagram accounts to follow.

@claireratinon

claire ratinon

Not lemons, but yuzus!
Image: @claireratinon

Seed saving is one of organic farmer, beekeeper and educator, Claire Ratinon’s favourite autumnal past times. Whether she’s sharing her sustainable beekeeping techniques, making immune system boosting elderberry vinegar, or working out what to do with her yuzus, there’s always something of interest for her green-fingered followers.

@selfie_sufficient

selfie sufficient

Double red sweetcorn for double the flavour
Image: @selfie_sufficient

Ming de Nasty is the artist, photographer and grower behind the Selfie Sufficient Instagram photo project, exploring food growers in the urban environment. She shares others’ experiences as well as her own allotment successes. Learn how to make your own worming bucket, marvel at her nasturtium capers and admire her double red sweetcorn (see image above).

@saralimback

sara limback

Sara leaves her Centurea montana seed heads as a winter haven for insects
Image:@saralimback

What seed heads do you leave?”, asks food activist and writer, Sara Venn. She likes to leave her Centurea montana (pictured above) as a winter hangout for friendly insects. This self-confessed “plant nut” is the founder of Incredible Edible Bristol (see below) and a fierce supporter of British-grown flowers. When she’s not running workshops on growing or writing about gardening, she can be found posting stunning images of the natural beauty that is all around us.

@ediblebristol

edible bristol

Pickings from the Millennium Square Gardens, Bristol
Image: @ediblebristol

Bristolians are taking food production back into their own hands, thanks to the Incredible Edible Bristol project. Spearheaded by Sara Venn (in the previous entry, above), the project’s volunteers have created over 30 edible gardens on station platforms, street corners and curbsides. All food produced is free for locals to take, like the accidental potatoes they recently dug up. Be inspired by their railway planting of “green fertiliser” Phaecelia – it’s great for bees and feeds the soil as it grows.

@noughticulture

noughticulture

Muscari and mega geraniums 60ft up on Alice’s balcony
Image:@noughticulture

Arts journalist and self-taught urban gardener, Alice Vincent, gardens 60ft up on a wind-swept London balcony. She writes a regular column for The Telegraph and shares her green wisdom via her beautiful Instagram feed. Never planted a bulb? Let Alice show you where to start. Want the lowdown on easy-grow winter salads? Here’s where to go. She’ll even teach you how to grow your own cocktails! Growing tips for urban gardeners nestle among snaps of the botanical gardens she visits on her travels around the globe.

@growingcommunities

growing communities

The award-winning Hackney Salad
Image: @growingcommunities

“Changing the food system one carrot at a time” is the motto of Hackney-based real food scheme, Growing Communities. Their Instagram feed showcases the produce from farms in and around East London and gives followers great recipe advice, like aubergine and tofu soba noodles. If you’re not sure what to do with your kohlrabi or need some inspiration for your beetroot glut, this instafeed is just what you’re looking for.

@growupurbanfarms

growupurbanfarms

This Sangria micro radish will spice up your life!
Image: @growupurbanfarms

GrowUp is the UK’s first aquaponic vertical urban farm. Aqua-who? If you haven’t come across them on BBC’s Countryfile, these guys produce sustainable fish and, using the fish poo and vertical techniques,  grow sustainable greens – all in a London industrial unit. Their aim is to revolutionise the way food is grown in our cities. If you want micro radish, baby kale and sunflower shoots on your menu, follow GrowUp for some inspiration.

@farm_urban

farm urban

Farm Urban’s Liverpool rooftop farm
Image: @farm_urban

Farm Urban is another vertical farm; this time in the heart of Liverpool. Founded by a team of bio-scientists, Farm Urban work alongside schools, allotmenteers, residents’ associations and other urban collectives to encourage sustainable living. If you want to find out more about this revolutionary urban farming method, check out their instafeed. They are also on hand to answer your growing questions. Such as why your tomato plants have root primordia and what to do about it.

@cultiv8london

cultiv8 london

Vegetables, preserves and herbs from the Cultivate London growers
Image: @cultiv8london

Cultivate London has transformed multiple derelict sites in West London into urban farmland, training young people in horticulture and changing the way Londoners think about food growing. Check out their mini pumpkin paradise, get the taste for their nasturtium hot sauce and be inspired about what can be done with a hard work and a whole lot of determination.

@geoffwakeling

geoff wakeling

Rich pickings from Geoff Wakeling’s back garden
Image: @geoffwakeling

Urban smallholder and author, Geoff Wakeling, is living the self-sufficient dream on a small scale from his Essex back garden. With chickens, quail and some splendid veg to boast of, he certainly grows a mean Sunday roast. Follow his experiments in growing microgreens, check out his sweet chocolate peppers and meet his funny, fluffy poland hens.

Do you document your urban garden on Instagram? Do you follow an urban gardener that we haven’t mentioned? Check out our own Instagram page – and we’d love to hear your recommendations on Facebook.

Heavenly Hellebores – Thompson & Morgan World Exclusive

Anemone Flowered Mix                                                                             Double Flowered Hellebore ‘Selene’

Our plant breeding team is proud to unveil its latest success – two brand new and exclusive mixes of hellebores, the UK’s favourite winter-flowering plants. What makes these hellebore mixes so special is that they are both 100% true to type. This has never been achieved before. Stock is only available from T&M and is understandably limited, but gardeners can pre-order from our website now for delivery next spring.

The hellebores featured in the Anemone Flowered Mix are truly breath-taking with their exquisite central ruff of small petals, pleated like a ballerina’s tutu. They look so delicate, but in fact are incredibly hardy. There are six different varieties in the mix, each one with unique colouring and markings, but all flowering 100% true to type.

The Double Flowered Mix is another selection of six stunning hellebore varieties. Each one is uniquely coloured and patterned, but is 100% double across the mix. Perfect for winter perennial planting schemes, our resident plant breeder, Charles Valin, recommends growing them on a gentle slope where they can really show off!

Charles says:

“We’re renowned for our hellebore breeding programme at Thompson & Morgan, so we have seen some amazing breeding breakthroughs over the years, but these two new mixes are really superb. It’s unheard of for a mix of hellebores to bloom 100% true to type!”

 Hellebores have long been a favourite of Britain’s gardeners. Flowering for well over three months, these tough, durable plants provide colour at a time when gardens are usually drab and wintery.

Why do UK gardeners love hellebores?

It’s because:

  • They provide a long-lasting flowering display from late winter to spring
  • They are robust and long-lived hardy perennials
  • They attract bees and other pollinators, providing food when it is most scarce
  • They make great cut flowers, particularly at a time of year when there’s not much else in the cutting garden

Anemone Flowered Mix comprises varieties Aurora, Juno, Ceres, Diana, Discordia and Juventus and is available from £14.99.

Double Flowered Mix comprises varieties Selene, Athena, Demeter, Artemis, Eris and Hebe and is available from £14.99.

Height and spread up to 40cm (16in)

For more information on Thompson & Morgan’s hellebore breeding programme, go to www.thompson-morgan.com/hellebore-breeding-programme

Sonia Mermagen

Sonia returned to Thompson & Morgan in the role of marketing copy writer in 2016. She is a self-proclaimed ‘reluctant’ gardener and is generally amazed if anything flourishes in her garden. Sonia is a big fan of plants marked ‘easy to grow’, ‘drought tolerant’ and ‘no pruning necessary’. In her own garden, Sonia has a ‘hands off’ approach and believes that this encourages bees, butterflies and other wildlife. (That’s her excuse anyway!)

Exciting new additions to T&M seed range

 

Poppy ‘Supreme’                                                                                                    Tomato ‘Oh Happy Day’ F1

We’re thrilled to be releasing two new seed varieties in the next few weeks. One, Poppy ‘Supreme’, is yet another innovative new flower from our own breeding programme. The other, Tomato ‘Oh Happy Day’ will most certainly be welcomed by gardeners who struggle to grow tomatoes outside due to the ever-present danger of blight.

Poppy ‘Supreme’ lives up to its name. Its fully double flowers are three times larger than those of other similar papaver rhoeas varieties and boast exquisite crinkly petals with picotee edges in pink, cherry and orange tones with white centres. Growing to a final garden height of 75 cm, Poppy ‘Supreme’ is long-flowering and multi-branching, making it ideal for direct sowing in borders and beds.

Some six years ago, Charles Valin, who heads up our plant breeding team, spotted some plants in a batch of double Shirley poppies that had extra-large flowers. Two generations of selection later, Charles’ team had managed to ‘fix’ a giant-flowered mixture in double picotee bicolours.

Charles comments:

“All the hard work that we’ve put in to create this stunning poppy has been worth it! The flowers are huge and yet they retain their elegance and are in perfect proportion to the overall plant size. We discovered that Poppy ‘Supreme’ has a very robust constitution and blooms for twice as long as traditional poppies. ‘Supreme’ was a real hit with bees in our trials and I think gardeners will love them too!”

Tomato ‘Oh Happy Day’ is a real bonus for gardeners. Following on from ‘Losetto’, and ‘Mountain Magic’, ‘Oh Happy Day’ F1 is a cross between a very blight-resistant North American line and a French Marmande type. In T&M trials, ‘Oh Happy Day’ F1 resisted late blight infection for three weeks longer than ‘Mountain Magic’. The round, slightly flatter, 150g tomatoes grow in clusters of 3-7 fruits which have a superb taste balance of acidity and sweetness.

Colin Randel, Thompson & Morgan’s vegetable expert, says:

“The high late blight resistance of ‘Oh Happy Day’ means that these outdoor-grown tomatoes will have longer to ripen to their full potential and to provide the superb flavour that only comes with sun-kissed, outdoor-grown tomatoes”.

Poppy ‘Supreme’ and Tomato ‘Oh Happy Day’ will be available from mid December 2017. Poppy ‘Supreme’ £2.49 for 300 seeds. Tomato ‘Oh Happy Day’ £2.99 for 8 seeds

Sonia Mermagen

Sonia returned to Thompson & Morgan in the role of marketing copy writer in 2016. She is a self-proclaimed ‘reluctant’ gardener and is generally amazed if anything flourishes in her garden. Sonia is a big fan of plants marked ‘easy to grow’, ‘drought tolerant’ and ‘no pruning necessary’. In her own garden, Sonia has a ‘hands off’ approach and believes that this encourages bees, butterflies and other wildlife. (That’s her excuse anyway!)

November

Hello Gardeners,

There are many things I look forward to in November, bonfire night, my Mum’s birthday, occasional Black Friday Deals, Cyber Monday, and even Mo-vember when the men in our office would compete all month with each other to grow the best moustache, and be sponsored by the rest of the workforce to raise money for prostate cancer research. But the one thing I didn’t look forward to was an empty greenhouse. So this year, I thought I’d have a go at overwintering more than just a few delicate plants, tubers, strawberries, and kale or onion. Only, it’s all gone a little bit wild.

Seedlings in November

Seedlings Galore!

My intention was to set off a few seeds, with the hope that they would germinate before the cold weather set in – that said, I wanted the seedlings to be big enough to be transplanted into 2-3 inch pots so that they could put down a good root system and then become more leafy in early spring. The seedlings had other ideas. They were so happy to be placed in warm autumnal compost that they grew exceptionally fast. Last month I transplanted the bigger babies and placed them in the cold frame to calm down. All was going well until, suddenly the cold frame was too small, the weather had turned to biting winds and heavy downpours meaning they could no longer be moved to their final growing positions. What the dickens was I now going to do with all the plants that I had grown?

To be honest this has been the best Autumn for me in gardening terms ever. Looking back over the last three years of my Autumn posts I have noticed that we are having similar mild temperatures, little frosts, but biting winds, that sometimes turning into damaging gales. As with previous years, slugs seem to invade my greenhouse at this time of year, more than Spring. Sneaking in to munch on fresh seedlings. Also, this time last year I was banned from gardening because of my chemotherapy so, maybe it’s just a case of truly appreciating the greenhouses more, and choosing to be in them regardless of the weather.

So this month I have been in The Office transplanting Old English (Orange) marigold, Snow Princess Calendulas, Malva Moschatas, Larkspur, cornflowers, Nasturtium, Radish,Turnip, Heleniums and Radish. I still need to do the Amaranthus, but I ran out of pots. Then when I transplanted them, they grew like crazy in the mild weather.

I’m still waiting for the foxgloves, Knifophias, liatris, and grasses as well as the hyacinths. I lost the two white lavender cuttings,I tried to rescue from the garden centre.

The tiny single leaf cutting I took from my Christmas cacti in the spring has grown threefold. He will be brought into the house in early December where he will live until it’s time to give him as a present to an unsuspecting relation or friend.

Yellow Stuffer tomato in November

Tomato ‘Yellow Stuffer’

Joy of joys, I still have a yellow stuffer tomato growing with a few ripening fruits. I am trying to beat my own record of having a tomato from an unheated greenhouse in December. I really hope I can achieve this. I wonder if there is a record for this? I am sure I read somewhere that tomatoes are perennial, but that as growers we treat them as annuals. Have you heard this? I’m going to experiment with my current plant – though I’m not holding out much hope, you can bet your bottom dollar that as soon as I write this, it will either succumb to blight, frost or just die back to annoy me.

The other indoor border plants are showing no signs of going dormant for the winter. These plants never get slug attacked. But then again the cacti and Aloes are spiky, the money tree is woody and maybe the houseplants don’t taste great.

I need to give the greenhouse a good sweep out and tidy up a set of staging, which is now mostly holding seed germination trays, string, hand tools, solar lights, and other gardening paraphernalia. I need to do this on a fairly dry day so I can lay stuff on the grass without getting soaked.

money tree in the greenhouse - November 17

The Money Tree

Meanwhile in Ty Mawr the spent tomatoes, aubergines,amaranths and marigolds have been cleared away. All done by Mark as due to my heart failure, I’m not allowed to lift heavy or repetitive loads or dig. The shelves are full of dahlias drying off to be wrapped in newspapers for the winter. As well as the spider plant, three baby money plants, again for unsuspecting relatives or friends, a basket of winter heathers and cyclamen from a dear friend, and random bits and bobs like spare secateurs, string and scissors.

The left and back have been dug over, but the canes and wire framework has been left for next year’s fruits. However, one of my T&M aubergines is still standing in the back border on account of it being absolutely tiny and hardly any bigger than when it got transplanted there in early summer. It’s now going to be another experiment to see if it can overwinter in an unheated greenhouse. This little plant never gave me any fruits, so I’m hoping the fact that it’s established before any other food stuff goes in next year, it may turn out to be early fruiting and the most tasty.

The right border has 2 snail munched pepper plants that appear to have gone dormant. Again in my madness, I’m going to see if they will last out the winter. Next to it is the purple nicotiana that insists on pushing up more flowers – although it is starting to get a bit droopy. A chilli pepper plant that is still only about two foot high yet continues to produce red hot chillies – albeit rather late in the year. If I remember correctly the chillies don’t usually die off until December with me, so who knows, it may be chillies and turkey on Christmas Day.

The onions have slowed down their growth, but look ok. They have been joined by a turnip that the slug missed last month.

planted greenhouse bed - November 17

Planted Greenhouse Border

Then in my infinite wisdom (sarcasm is such a low form of wit…) I asked Mark if he would help me put at least small 60 pots of plants from The Office into the newly dug borders. Which roughly translated as” Mark, will you put these plants in the soil, while I stand about looking like I know what I am doing, and not making a huge mistake when they all drop their seeds and you have to dig out flowers from fruit next year please?”

Then I made him put some in the right border too, just to make use of the sparsely populated soil.

I’m trying to convince myself it will be okay! On the plus side I will have a spring filled greenhouse of black cornflowers intermingled with bright orange marigolds. Both plants will attract bees which in turn will pollinate my fruits. The plants will also make the stems of tomatoes and aubergines look pretty and colourful,and give off a beautiful scent. They may also help with deterring pests.

On the negative, I may accidentally attract a colony of slugs. I may have planted the flowers too late in the year and they may not get enough root establishment to see them through the cold weather – although each plant was very pot bound and could no longer support its leaves due to the rapid growth. And finally I may end up wishing I never put flowers in the food greenhouse as they now grow like weeds. Only time will tell.

Lastly the cold frame is still full with foxgloves, violas, marigolds, larkspur and cornflowers. I don’t think there is time before the first frosts to put them in winter pots, so,they will stay there until spring.

flowers in greenhouse - November 17

Still Flowering!

Over the next few days, I am hoping to ask Mark to dig up the rest of the dahlias, and cut back the strawberries. We need to move the geraniums and begonias into one of the greenhouses to keep warm. The raspberry canes have been cut, we need to move s plum tree, and cut back the shasta daisies the Gladiola stems and the spent hollyhocks. Believe it or not the grass also needs cutting too.

I’m still off sick at the moment and although I feel so much better than before, I still get hit with unexpected fatigue as well as feel the cold so much more. I don’t have the energy that I used to, nor the strength or stamina. But what I do have is the passion to learn more and more each day, the need to feel the sun/wind/rain on my face, the love for gardening and wildlife. If nothing else I have found out that nothing can make me more happy than being able to play in the mud once again.

Until next time.

Happy Gardening,

Love Amanda xx

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.

12 fabulous flower-growing bloggers

flowers

The most colourful blooms
Image: shutterstock

If you’re into flowers, we’ve got a treat in store for you. We’ve scoured the web for brilliant blogs by writers who love to grow them, and brought them all into one place for you.

You’ll find bloggers who create stunning cut flower arrangements from their own gardens, give us the lowdown on what makes the perfect border, and show us how to collect and store seeds for next year’s blooms.

Everything you ever wanted to know about flower horticulture, right here.

The Blooming Garden

flowers from the blooming garden

Stave off the autumn blues with this stunning arrangement from Chloris
Image: The blooming garden

If you’re already mourning the passing of summer, now’s the perfect time to check out Chloris’ blooming garden blog. We think you’ll agree her arrangement of (very) late summer blooms looks stunning – especially with its tyrian purple palette and the inclusion of a ‘silly cow’ or two.

At the blooming garden, you’ll find an inspiring melange of stunning flower arrangements, rare plantings, and some of your old favourites, all well photographed and documented so you can try growing them yourself. Chloris says, do as the great Alexander Pope advised:Consult the genius of the place– an ethos she takes to heart.

Peonies and posies

peonies and posies in a vase on monday

Julie’s ‘Monday vase’ offers a mellow take on autumn
Image: Peonies and posies

Check out blogger Julie’s ‘Monday vase’, an inspiring year-round challenge to scour the garden to come up with a new flower arrangement each week. Lately, she’s evoked the muted tones of Keats’ “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ with a subtle piece based on the “lovely faded creamy lime heads”  of the hydrangea, Annabelle – and pears and tomatoes too!

Julie’s passion for growing, styling and photographing flowers makes her blog, a must whenever you’re in search of a little gardening inspiration and know-how.

Off the edge gardening

mystery clematis from off the edge gardening

Can anyone name this clematis?
Image: Off the edge gardening

Off-the-edge blogger Gill has an invitation for you: “Can I tempt you in with tales of gardens and gardeners, birds and beasties, with the odd glitter ball and occasional gymnastic move thrown in?” We suspect you won’t need your arm twisted. A fun, flamboyant, flower-filled read, this is a must for anyone who enjoys their blooms.

Gill was inspired to begin her blog after being pursued by her meat cleaver-wielding, hawaiian-shirted butcher in Devon – who as it turned out, just wanted to show her his gooseberry. What better reason, we say. And by the way – can you name this clematis?

The patient gardener

14 years of the patient gardener's work

Could you leave all this behind?
Image: Patient gardener

How many plants would you transplant from your old plot to your new? After fourteen years in the same spot, blogger Helen gives a photo tour of her beautiful garden, complete with banana grown from seed. But it’s a bitter-sweet moment because, poised to move house, she has some difficult decisions to make.

Here you’ll find thought provoking musings to pique your interest, plus some really excellent photography. Ever wondered how to create the perfect border? “Colour harmonies, texture, loose planting with minimum staking, and wildlife,” says Helen. Check out her post to see just what she means.

The gardening shoe

bee on flower from gardening shoe

Sarah wonders whether it’s time to give annuals the limelight
Image: The gardening shoe

Blogger Sarah, wonders whether it’s time she gave annuals more of the limelight in her garden: “Tithonia rotundifolia ‘Torch’ has exceeded my expectation,” she says. ”This huge, glorious clump of shining orange blooms towers over the sunflowers.” If you’re looking for ideas for annuals to plant next year, this is the place to be.

A wonderfully chatty and informative blog, find out what happened when Sarah met her gardening hero, Roy Lancaster. Now in his eightieth year, she says he’s still full of vim, vigour and curiosity.

Rambling in the garden

pink dahlia from rambling in the garden

Find out which beautiful vase Cathy uses for this lovely dahlia
Image: Rambling in the garden

Find out what’s still blooming in blogger Cathy’s garden. It’s amazing there’s still so much colour – with sedum, comos, late roses and more, still in flower. Take a look at the surprise star of the show, a rudbeckia ‘Prairie Glow’, bought for £2.99 and which is “thriving like no other perennial rudbeckia has ever done in this garden”.

A thoughtful and contemplative writer, it’s so interesting to read about how Cathy chooses to display her cut flowers: “Today’s vase is a tribute to the dahlia it contains,” she says. The bloom in question – the dahlia ‘art nouveau’. The result is gorgeous.

Perfect pelargoniums

perfect pelargoniums mimi

The delightful Dwarf gold leaf zonal pelargonium “Mimi”
Image: Perfect pelargoniums

If fuchsias, pelargoniums, and geraniums are your thing, you’ve come to the right place. Not only does Gwen give you the benefit of her considerable experience growing and displaying these stunning blooms, she’s also on the committee of the respective societies.

But Gwen has more to offer than her specialist knowledge. A budding photographer, follow her as she joins her village garden club on a tour of Kew Gardens. Despite the dull weather, she takes some lovely snaps – especially her photo of ‘the hive’ sculpture.

Sally’s garden blog

sallys garden blog

Sally says to always have a pair of secateurs handy
Image: Sally’s garden blog

Do you eat any of the flowers you grow? If that sounds tempting, take a look at the flowers blogger Sally cut from her garden – from hosta leaves to fennel, you’ll be surprised just how many blooms can grace a plate as well as a vase or border.

A freelance garden designer and probationary member of the Garden media Guild, we recommend you read Sally’s blog and take her sound advice: “Always carry a camera, notebook,a pair of niwaki secateurs and a good waterproof”, she says, because you never know what you’ll find when out and about.

Lead up the garden path

lead up the garden path berries

Berries feed the birds and create a stunning visual display
Image: Lead up the garden path

Our feathered friends rely on berries to get them through the winter, so why not take a peek at the wide variety growing in blogger Pauline’s half-acre garden in Devon? With berberis, rosa glauca, cotoneaster horizontalis and more, you’re sure to find some inspiration for your own bird friendly planting.

Excellent prose, gorgeous photography, and a superb garden make Pauline’s blog a must. And if you fancy visiting her beautiful garden in person, you’ll be glad to know she and her husband participate in the National Garden Scheme (yellow book).

Green tapestry

hitch hiking snail on flower from green tapestry

Anna’s dahlia has a hitch hiker
Image: Green tapestry

Do you remember taking it in turns to be the ‘weather monitor’ at school? Blogger Anna says stepping out onto the school roof to check the thermometer and rain-gauge was an excitement in itself. Now years later, she’s refreshing her weather memory with an online course.

When she’s not holding her hanky aloft to determine the wind direction, Anna grows flowers and photographs her beautiful weekly ‘Monday vases’ – you’ll love them. After over 30 years working with young people, we think you’ll agree she deserves her chance to ‘chill’ in the garden, where she sometimes daydreams of an almost mollusc free plot…

The cynical gardener

cynical gardener's apple crop

June’s apple harvest…
Image: The cynical gardener

“Last year my total crop was three fruits, this year I will achieve five.” Cynical gardener, June says a combination of late frost and a windy June cost her the bulk of her apple crop. We’re sure you’ll sympathise – the fruit’s bland and tasteless too.

But judging by some of June’s excellent photos, it’s not all bad news from the garden – you’ll love her amazing picture of a pennisetum seed head – very psychedelic.

Gardens weeds and words

hollyhock seeds from gardens weeds and words

Never stare a gift horse (or hollyhock) in the mouth
Image: Gardens weeds and words

“If there’s one thing a gardener loves, it’s a free plant, particularly when sourced from someone else’s garden”, says blogger Andrew. To this end, he recommends always carrying brown envelopes about your person.

New to collecting and storing your own seeds? Andrew offers some great advice to get you started – like storing seeds in the fridge to slow their metabolic rate. Great photography, wise words…and yes, the odd weed indeed, this is a great blog for gardening enthusiasts.

Have we missed any of your favourite flower gardening blogs? If so, why not drop us a line to let us know? Just visit our Facebook page and leave a message.

Tidy up

Tidy up - preparation before planting

Today I’ve spent time sorting out the winter bedding from the greenhouse which are in need of transplanting into the herbaceous borders.

The Stocks ‘Most scented mix’ and the Polyanthus ‘Crescendo’ have been desperate to be planted, out growing their nursery pots so I cleared areas for them and cut back some of the perennial plants.

Our beds are plagued by Bindweed, this weed is a real pain, left to its own devices, it grows quickly, climbing up the nearest plant and choking it.

I try not to use much spray any more, but this time of the year (when not cold and icy) and spring is perfect to dig it out. Even the smallest piece left in will regenerate. I actually find it quite therapeutic and collect as many pieces as I can.

Tidy up - bulb planterIn between planting my plugs, now garden readies, I have put some more Alliums using my trusty Wolf Garten bulb planter.

It’s so easy to use, my general rule of thumb with planted bulbs is, whatever the size of the bulb, the hole needs to be double that size. The bulb planter has measurements on the side. Simply turn the planter into the soil with a twist, lift out the core of soil held inside the planter, then place the bulb in the hole, roots down! and then replace the core by gently squeezing the top.

 

 

The Phlomis russeliana, (Turkish sage) I leave in the borders and cut back in the spring, as the old seed heads look great with a dusting on frost and gives the birds somewhere to perch. The foliage is lovely too.

Tidy up - sage, viburnum, fatsia

 

After going on my walk of the garden, firstly I could smell my favourite winter flowering plant, Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’, it’s a real beauty, it flowers on bare stems and gives that sweet fragrance as you walk past. It is a must for any garden in my opinion, adds height to borders and winter interest.

The Fatsia japonica also was in flower, attracting any little insects that may be around. Its glossy dark green leaves really are something at this time of year, stunning!

Anyway, back to getting outside while the sun is shining and it’s relatively warm!

 

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!!

9 top houseplant Instagram feeds

houseplants

How does your indoor garden grow?
Image: shutterstock

Houseplants are back in fashion. Just look at Instagram for proof. Among the enviable snaps of interiors, fashion and food, you’ll now find millions of posts on indoor gardening. There’s a new generation of urban horticulturalists busy transforming urban homes into lush indoor jungles, and sharing beautiful photos of their work.

So if stunning plant images, green interior inspiration, and expert plant-care advice sound like your bag, here are nine of the best houseplant instagrammers to follow.

@tribeandus

tribe and us instagram

This bedside jungle looks great and promotes healthy sleep
Image: @tribeandus

“Home is where you grow your tribe”. That’s the motto of Kate and Craig Williams, the dynamic duo behind @tribeandus. Their tribe comprises three gorgeous children and The Plants. There’s beautiful photography (see Craig’s own account at @craigowilliams) and sage indoor gardening advice in every post. Follow the family as they chase winter sunlight around their home, deal expertly with a mealybug attack, and use the purifying power of mother-in-law’s tongue to guarantee themselves a better night’s sleep.

@conservatory_archives

conservatory archives

Fill your home with plants
Image: @conservatory_archives

This bewitching plant paradise is the Conservatory Archives, a plant emporium situated in a disused East End ironmongers. Their Instagram feed showcases the wide, exotic collection of succulents, ferns and cacti curated by Korean horticulturalist, Jin Ahn. Expect stunning, envy-inducing images and expert advice on everything from when to buy a houseplant, to shaking out a Bucida buceras.

@houseofplants

house of plants instagram

Exotic, low-maintenance greenery for your home
Image: @houseofplants

“Life with a potted plant is, undeniably, better.” So say Ro Co, London-based botanical stylists and indoor plant specialists. Their forte is exotic, low-maintenance greenery that transforms urban interiors. Follow their feed for succulent styling in your living room, advice on how to care for your leafy calathea, and where best to put that trailing Philodendron scandens you’ve had your eye on.

@jamies_jungle

jamies jungle instagram

Jamie’s home is a beautiful jungle
Image: @jamies_jungle

Vintage interiors expert Jamie Song is a self-confessed plant hoarder. His Instagram account is called @jamies_jungle and, looking at his leafy, luscious living room (pictured above), it’s easy to see why. Follow his horticultural triumphs – including the Begonia ‘Corallina de Lucerna’, which has grown from tiddler to ‘hulk’ in less than 18 months. And share his struggles, including the near-impossibility of keeping his Brighamia insignis (Hawaiian palm) alive through another British winter.

@plantman_about_town

plantman about town instagram

Ian’s At Home With Plants installation won a Silver at RHS Chelsea 2017
Image: @plantman_about_town

If you need something to brighten up your home and fight off the winter blues, go for cheery cyclamen, says Ian Drummond. This garden designer and author is full of botanical wisdom. His Instagram feed is a bright and colourful take on indoor gardening. Try accessorising a terrarium with small toys to create a magical world for your child’s bedroom. Or installing phalaenopsis orchids on your bedside table – these night-time oxygenators will improve the quality of the air you breathe while you’re asleep.

@theglassgardener

the glass gardener instagram

Show off a Tillandsia caput medusae in a hanging terrarium
Image: @theglassgardener

When keen gardener and stained-glass maker, Sarah, discovered terrariums “it was love at first sight!” Now she’s the Glass Gardener, creating handmade terrariums with strong lines and a modern feel. This Instagram account showcases her work and it’s pretty inspirational. From 80s sci-fi inspired polygons to pentagon teardrops filled with ivy, nephrolepis and peperomia, The Glass Gardener shows just how much can be achieved in a miniature biome.

@toro_studio

toro studio instagram

Tor’s Instagram feed has a pure, calming aesthetic
Image: @toro_studio

Tor Harrison believes plants can dramatically improve our mood, spirit and wellbeing. Plants can help us look after ourselves better, cleansing the air we breathe and bringing the outdoors in. This Instagram feed from her Cornish plant emporium has a pure, calming aesthetic. From sculptural airplants to majestic, velvety staghorn ferns, Tor’s imaginative images will leave you feeling soothed and inspired.

@stringandbloom

string and bloom instagram

Growing from seed is this instagrammer’s passion
Image: @stringandbloom

“Home is where the plants are” for this London-dwelling Canadian. And growing plants from seed is one of @stringandbloom’s favourite obsessions. In fact, she can no longer buy avocados as she can’t bear to throw the stones away, and already has too many little trees on the go! From fetching shots of her peperomia raindrop to super-easy tips on succulent propagation, this pretty Instagram feed is a mine of green wisdom.

@jarandfern

jarandfern instagram

Demijohns and mason jars make the perfect terrariums
Image: @jarandfern

If you love the pretty terrariums pictured above, you’ll love Jar and Fern’s Insta feed. The pair lovingly transform mason jars and demijohns into perfect, low-maintenance mini ecosystems. Demijohns are particularly well suited to creating a self-watering environment thanks to their shape. But you’ll need some nifty tools and expert guidance to turn one into a terrarium. Follow Jar and Fern for help in achieving this green version of a ship-in-a-bottle.

Are you a houseplant instagrammer? Do you follow a houseplant enthusiast that we haven’t mentioned? Check us out on Instagram and we’d love to hear your recommendations on our Facebook page.

From swimsuit to sweater in one day!

Whilst Cyprus enjoys an Indian summer, (or even a Cypriot summer for that matter,) the UK is plunging head first into winter. Having just spent a glorious week in 26ᵒc Paphos, staying with friend Naomi – how thoughtful of her to relocate to such a lovely home – it was quite a shock to the system to return to dreary 13ᵒc London. (Feel guilty now saying that, as if being disloyal to a family member!) However, I actually find myself to be more acclimatised to the cooler weather, spending so much time as I do outdoors. Who would have thought it ! In fact today we are experiencing a lovely crisp sunny day in Finchley and I feel invigorated as I pick the last of the windfall apples from underneath our ancient tree. For some reason they are the size of cricket balls this year so quite glad I wasn’t underneath when they fell.

lantana and sunken garden - cyprus 2017

Excuse my ignorance but until our recent visits to Cyprus I had no idea just how close to the Middle East it was, and how that impacted on its flowers. Plants that we treat as annuals here grow into shrubs and trees over there! Lantana: neighbour Anne nurses her cherished lantanas over the winter like delicate invalids, but Over There they grow into huge hedges with stems as thick as your fingers. The collective fool’s errand of trying to grow lavender successfully in the clay soil of the Hampstead Garden Suburb (henceforth to be referred to as The Suburb) is in deep contrast with the robust dense aromatic shrubs thriving in the thin stony soil of the Med. When visiting mountainside Monastery Neophytos we were captivated by the sunken courtyard garden, viewed from its ancient cloisters. Colour and vigour on a grand scale. Huge clumps of ginger and canna lilies, brugmansias growing into trees, Ali Baba pots of bougainvillaea and oleander, all surrounded by characteristic *Cypress trees. And the roses! We shouldn’t be surprised by their presence amongst all this exotica, considering their origins:

sunken garden - cyprus 2017

The first known paintings of a rose are actually frescoes, the earliest example of which was discovered in Crete around 1600 B.C.

Crusader Robert de Brie is often given credit for bringing the Damask rose from Persia to Europe sometime between 1254 and 1276. It takes its name from Damascus in Syria.

(*As to the reason why its Cypress trees and not Cyprus trees, I just don’t want to know.)

cats - cyprus 2017Bearing in mind that this is a gardening blog, I shall make my next paragraph brief: Second only to the flora, Cyprus means Cats to me. Cats at Naomi’s apartment complex, cats around your ankles at bars and restaurants, and above all, due no doubt to the significant British ex-pat community, cat sanctuaries, the largest of which Tala Cat Sanctuary, run by two Brits, has at present over 750 cats. For those of you feline phobics I make no apologies for including a photo of feeding time, a frenzy reminiscent of piranha fish! There is a tenuous link to horticulture here – feral cat communities thrive in the shelter of oleander and lantana hedges planted in raised beds all over the island!

And so to our return. I had imagined that autumn would have turned to winter in our absence and that I would be able to run amok with the secateurs, cutting everything back. I’m tired, I wish everything would die so that I can come indoors and have a rest! But what do I find? Salvias in full flower, a rainbow of colours; no way was I going to dig them up, having waited so long for their finest hour. Leaves still stubbornly sticking to their branches so no point raking until they are all down. Ergo, no chance of applying mulch to borders yet. (How daft are we? We rake off leaves then apply mulch. Why not just leave leaves to rot? Looks messy. Expensive intensive counterintuitive step!)

garden still lots of colour autumn 2017

Still, there’s plenty to do in the meantime. In the Control Room (aka greenhouse) the salvia, fuchsia and penstemon cuttings I took last month are flourishing in their propagator (as is the electricity bill.) I’ve been so encouraged by my success that I have taken cuttings of coleus Campfire, and, fingers crossed, so far so good. I suppose now that the aforementioned cuttings are sprouting new leaves that means they’ve rooted, so I need to pot them on now, do I? Or do I wait until spring? Decisions, decisions!

And I shall not be idle outside either. (Why not? Please, can I be idle soon?) For the two large terracotta pots flanking the rustic arch into the fernery (now doesn’t that sound grand)  I have bought a pair of cornus Alba Sibirica and half a dozen ophio-watsit black grasses to surround them. Now I come to think of it, some white bulbs would make a good contrast so I might just have to go to the nursery again; what a hardship! In the two black planters outside the front door I’ve planted Madonna tulips, Pueblo, Minnou and Falconet species narsissi, topped off with evergreen ferns and white cyclamen. Quite uncharacteristically tasteful for me.

Last Christmas I treated myself to six T&M hyacinth Midnight Mystic bulbs for a festive display in our front porch. Having carefully lifted them after flowering, I transferred them to the greenhouse to dry off, finally removing their dead foliage and roots ready for storage. I must have got bored or distracted because there they sat in a 6” plastic pot under the staging all through the rest of this year until I accidentally found them when tidying up in October!  Still, they felt firm enough so I potted them up in shallow terracotta bulb pans and put them in a dark cupboard for a couple of weeks, and hey presto, they produced shoots! Now happily ensconced in the porch once again, they are sprouting away with visible buds. Amazing resilience!

salvia - autumn 2017There are some strange combinations going on in the borders right now, no doubt due to Mother Nature’s seasonal confusion: Late summer flowering Salvia Black & Blue with early spring flowering Coronilla valentina glauca ‘Citrina’ (or Bastard Senna – who knew?) It’s mortal outside but with no frosts and plenty of bright sunshine I feel like the grim reaper pulling up the annual container displays on the patio.

 

 

And whilst we talking of odd weather conditions, don’t ever moan to me about the vagaries of the British weather. Whilst In Cyprus it was too hot for me to sit in the sun during the day, but as soon as the sun went down, out came my suede fur lined jacket (travelling attire – I come from a bygone generation who still dress up to travel)) for evening excursions!

And as one of our favourite celebrated gardeners would say: whatever the weather, enjoy your garden.

It’s been a while.

Actually it’s been nearly a year since I last wrote a blog. This year has been an eventful one for me, not only in my home life but in my gardening life too.

In June this year I decided that my gardening business was no longer giving me the satisfaction (or the financial comfort) that I had when I first started. So after many attempts at job applications to anyone and everyone and kept being told I didn’t have what they were looking for or I had too many qualifications just not in the right areas I came across a job advert for a Gardener at my local, private residence hall on the North Norfolk Coast. It’s a place I’ve walked around many times and always admired the six acre walled garden but could only dream of working there. Needless to say I applied and I spent a long while writing a covering letter about how much I loved the gardens and the park and how I came to be in the Horticultural profession.

I was lucky enough to land myself an interview and a week later I went back for a second interview as they had whittled it down to two of us. I was really doubting myself that I would get the job because the other candidate was a lot older than me and had already been working on other estates of a similar nature. Luckily though they couldn’t choose between the two of us and they ended up taking both of us on. I started late July this year and I have loved every minute of it! It has taught me many new things already. Not just about gardening but about gardeners ourselves.

There are 7 of us on our team, myself being the only female and rather lacking in height compared to the lads, but each of us has a different strength. My boss, DW, the head gardener, is a veg man. Like me, he got his love for gardening from his grandfather. He showed him how to grow veg and DW told me a story of how he helped his grandad one day tying his runner beans up. His grandad said to him ‘you’re doing it wrong’ to which DW asked why. He had twisted the stem the wrong way around the cane and beans, as many of you will know, wrap themselves a certain way around the cane because of geotropism. An invaluable piece of knowledge to be passed down.

Then there’s the manager of the walled garden. He ran a nursery with his parents before moving to the hall and he is a people person. He doesn’t have any interest in veg because ‘why would you want to put all that effort into growing something that another animal is going to eat?’ (we have a slight problem with pigeons, pheasants, and rabbits not to mention the cabbage white on the brassicas). But S loves nothing more than to get stuck in with our volunteers and re-shape the future of the garden and seeing plants thrive in the beds.

T is a more organic gardener and this winter is going to be implementing a ‘no-dig’ bed using his own compost made from the shredded plant material from the walled garden and leaves off the estate. He grows veg too and has had a very successful year with onions, carrot, chard and varieties of squash, with the latter three still producing good crops. He knows his stuff about ornamentals too and always has a thirst for more knowledge.

We also have DB on the team who loves nothing else but grass. He doesn’t really care for flowering plants (only in his own garden but shhh that’s a secret) and has had an amazing time this last month with a vertislitter aerating all the lawn areas on the estate. I drew a classic picture of a clump of grass with a seed head one day on the bottom of his mug and he said I had drawn annual rye grass (Poa annua). DB has been asked by members of the public if the lawns he maintains by the corporate function room are in fact real or astro turf because they look too good!

DH likes to do the mowing and care in the other public areas of the estate such as the village, industrial complex and the pub. He takes great pride in what he does and is even re-instating the bowling green in the village with his favourite piece of machinery being a flail mower that is used on the steep hill to cut the meadow like grass up at the estate church.

Now P (the other new employee alongside my self) doesn’t know much about flowers but is a machinery guy. He and DB share the mowing and they also have a mutual love of mole hunting (another pesky pest problem). He knows a bit about trees too but also shares one of DB’s passions of creating foods and drinks with the produce that comes from nature.

Lastly onto me. You already know a little bit of my gardening preferences but I generally love all things gardening. I get excited when cuttings I’ve taken have shot, I love the idea of producing my own food, I always want to know more about any plant that is a bit quirky and will try my hand at any different gardening techniques such as Bonsai (not very successful), topiary, landscaping and making my own juice from fruits. I do also enjoy a good grass cut every now and again. Seeing those perfectly alternating lines in the grass gives me huge satisfaction.

My new job has made me realise that us gardeners are much like plants – no two are the same yet we all have a common interest. So what type of gardener are you?

 

Smile,

Lesley.

P.s. I’ve been given the task of learning about all things Fig and how to get them to fruit so if you have any tips or secrets please let me know!

Lesley Palmer

I’m a 23 year old female horticulturalist. I studied at Easton College for two years until June 2014 and became self employed providing garden care and design in North Norfolk. I currently care for around 20 gardens and have now achieved a few designs and a small landscaping project.

I am passionate about getting young people, especially primary schools, involved in gardening again. I have a project running to do with children’s gardening, so if you’d like to know more please get in touch! I began because of spending so much time in the garden with my granddad as a child. I was also a member of my primary school’s environment club.

I am a fan of Michael Perry and James Wong and I love finding out about edible flowers and how to live more independently from my own garden.

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