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.

The Delights of Dahlias

After languishing for a while outside garden fashion, dahlias are suddenly being recognised again for their very many useful attributes. Long in flower (June to early December in a sheltered spot), easy to grow, invaluable in the summer border, a desirable cut flower — the list goes on! They offer a wide range of flower types, some small enough for terrace containers, as well as a rainbow of warm, vibrant colours. The dahlia’s return to popularity is long-overdue and much deserved!

Officially, the dahlia is a tender tuberous-rooted perennial, growing from scratch each year from chubby, finger-like roots. In colder areas these roots are lifted in the autumn to protect from frosts, the plants then started out again in the spring when the danger of frost has passed. However on the Isle of Wight, where I garden, they can be regarded as generally winter hardy with a little root protection against any unusually penetrating frosts.

Dahlias tolerate a wide range of soil types, but will do best in well-prepared, fertile soil, with good drainage, and positioned in full light. For super results, it is worth incorporating some well rotted manure into the soil, plus a handful of slow release organic fertiliser containing trace elements. Once the flowers start to appear, a high potash feed (I use tomato fertiliser) is very beneficial, given every couple of weeks through to early September.

Playing safe with dahlias for the winter involves lifting them when the first light frost has taken the foliage down; this is also the best procedure if more of that variety are required for the following year, as they can be split in the spring as growth starts from the tuber, to create further plants. After digging the tubers, trim the stems back to 6 – 8in, remove excess soil and allow any surface moisture to dry before transferring them to boxes containing old potting compost, moist sand or vermiculite. These boxes can then be overwintered in a frost free place, covered with an old blanket or fleece for extra protection until the spring when the growing cycle starts again. It is wise to check the tubers from time to time while in storage to make sure that none are rotting, or drying out.

In early spring simply split the tubers ensuring each piece has at least a couple of good initial shoots, pot up in general purpose compost and grow on in a frost free greenhouse. It is important to give minimal water until growth starts in earnest. For sturdy plants, five shoots are the maximum to allow to grow from each tuber, any excess should be pinched out; the main shoot produced from these five will also benefit from the tip being removed after planting out, just as the first flower buds are formed.

If nowhere under cover is available to grow on dahlias that are being split to propagate, then they can simply be planted out in late May in their final positions, each split piece possessing shoots and root — although involving less work, these plants will start to flower several weeks behind those brought on in a greenhouse.

The larger varieties will need some support to prevent any gusty summer winds damaging the sappy hollow stems when the plant is heavy with flower. This support can either be a short stake plus some twine, or make, as I do, a wire cylinder of stock fencing held onto a metal upright by cable ties. These last well from year to year, and can also be used to enclose a little root protection compost in colder gardens to benefit plants being overwintered in the ground.

Besides supporting the plants, other routine care involves deadheading. Having a regular round of deadheading keeps the plant smart and encourages a very long season of bloom. Unfortunately dahlias are beloved of slugs, so to avoid any disappointment they should be protected with organic slug pellets, nematodes, or a physical barrier right from the outset.

The main reason dahlias were banished to the horticultural wilderness for so long was the perception that their flowers could be coarse and their colours unsubtle. However recent breeding has brought forth delicate cultivars, intriguing new types, and a much more attractive palette — there are now dahlias for every scheme and every garden style. I particularly value the very dark shades through from deepest midnight purple to velvety chocolate brown; these lusciously deep tones are a wonderful contrast to the reds, vermillion and apricot shades of the cannas they share space with in my borders.

Potting up an overwintered tuber in spring

Planting out after growing on in the greenhouse

Placing the wire support that will be quickly covered by the growing plant

Using the wire support to enclose compost for protection of a dahlia left in the ground over winter

Some Favourite Varieties:

‘Ice and Fire’

Dahlia ‘Lubega Power Yellow-Orange’

Dahlia ‘Yellow Star

 

Dahlia ‘Lubega Power Tricolor’

 

 

 

 

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.

Expert gardening tips for beginners

Gardening is a lifelong learning curve based on shared knowledge, trial and error.
Image source: Rawpixel.com

If you’re just getting into gardening and could do with some help and advice to set you on your way, we’ve got just what you need: handy tips from gardeners from across the blogosphere. These growers have planted and grown it all before, so give yourself a head start by learning from their wealth of experience. Here are five golden rules of growing for newbies.

1. Enjoy

Take time to enjoy your garden’s journey, not just the finished product.
Image source: NinaMalyna

The first thing to remember about gardening is that it’s supposed to be fun. Learning anything new can have its frustrating moments, but do remember to give yourself the time and space to enjoy working outdoors.

Be confident, says Geoff of Driftwood by Sea, who created his amazing seaside garden from scratch as a total beginner. His message is simple: “Go for it and you will succeed.”

Hayley of Hayley’s Lottie Haven grows a wonderful selection of healthy fruit and veg at her allotment, and her advice is also simple: “Take a step back to enjoy the fruits of your labour.” She says:

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in weeding, watering and harvesting, we forget to look at what we’ve achieved.

Above all, look on your new-found hobby as a way to practise being patient. As Adam of Carrot Tops Allotment says: “The world is moving at a faster and faster pace these days, so make the most of something moving slowly for a change.”

2. Embrace the learning curve

Make confident decisions – if they don’t work out you can always change them.
Image source: WeAre

If you’re just starting out, the chances are that you’ll experience a few hiccups on the road to growing success. Our experts’ advice is simple – embrace your failures and learn from them. You’re on a learning curve – learn to love learning.

“Nobody gets it right first time. Plants can be moved, new varieties of fruit and vegetables can be sown and garden designs can be developed,” says Kate of Diary of a Country Girl:

When something works it’s amazingly satisfying and surely that’s why we all garden!

That’s a sentiment with which Richard, creator and curator of a wonderful resource for gardeners, the Veg Grower Podcast, agrees. He says:

“Whether it’s a seed that didn’t germinate or a plant that didn’t flourish it’s not the end of the world. Look into what went wrong and rectify that for next time.”

3. Start off small

Even a small raised bed is enough space to get a vegetable garden started.
Image source: sanddebeautheil

There’s nothing more demoralising than starting off your gardening career with high ambitions only to find you don’t have the time, ability, and knowhow to bring them to fruition. But by starting off small, our experts say, you’ll develop your skills and capabilities so that one day, you’ll turn round and realise that you have, after all, created your dream garden.

“Don’t be afraid to be utterly realistic about your goals,” says Lucy at the Smallest Smallholding:

Focus on one thing at a time and try to enjoy the rambling and vigour of nature. Accept that imperfection is part of living in the natural world!

That’s advice that Kris, The Allotment Cook would recognise. When he first took over his allotment, trying to do too much meant he achieved little and he admits: “ I was aching in places I didn’t even know existed.” He says:

I learnt to take things a bit slower, plan and be patient….I focused on strawberries, chillies, potatoes and onions. The plan worked and I was eating them all the way through the winter.

If you’re taking on a large plot, don’t feel obliged to cultivate it all at once says Sarah at Digging the Earth:

“Simply strim it back, cover and tackle a bit at a time. Just uncover when you’re ready for it., and plant up as you go.”

4. Be adventurous

Experiment with growing unusual plants and flowers from seeds.
Image source: Shutterstock

Garden with a spirit of adventure and you’ll never look back, our panel of experts say. Always keen to take a chance on something new, they know they won’t always succeed, but embracing challenge means your gardening journey is always exciting and fun.

“I try to grow as many plants from seeds and cuttings,” says Sally at Sally’s Garden Blog. “I find it fascinating, it saves me a fortune, and there are so many incredible seeds available.”

Dawn of Being Self Sufficient in Wales agrees: “Be adventurous if you want to have a go at growing something different go for it, you don’t have to grow what everyone else grows.” She says:

It’s your garden and if you provide the right growing conditions then the growing world is your oyster.

And don’t just experiment with your selection of plants, try new things with your growing space too, as Dawn of Being Self Sufficient in Wales suggests:

Experiment: growing vertically will give you more growing space.

5. Get some training

Try the internet or book a local gardening course to learn new techniques.
Image source: Kaspars Grinvalds

With so much gardening knowledge available at the click of a mouse, it can be difficult to know which advice to put your faith in. That’s why it’s a good idea to get yourself some training from a reputable source, or simply invest in one good gardening book to get you started.

Sally at Sally’s Garden Blog puts it succinctly. She says:

I bought a really basic gardening book which had a weekly gardening project, I loved it, it really made me want to get gardening.

25 years later, via a postgrad degree in landscape architecture, and a lecturership in horticulture, Sally now works as a professional gardener.

Alice Vincent who gardens 60ft up, takes things a step further. Her book ‘How to Grow Stuff: Easy, no-stress gardening for beginners’, contains just the sort of advice fledgeling gardeners need to get them started. She says:

If you kill something, try and learn why.

Pete at Weeds up to me Knees says it’s a good idea to keep your eye on the courses on offer through your local authority, something he feels he’s benefitted from greatly: “the secret is, whatever gardening knowledge you have you can always expand on it as there’s so much to learn!”

We hope you’re inspired to get out into the garden and start digging. If you have any tips for gardening beginners that you think we’ve missed, just drop us a line via our Facebook page, and we’ll get back to you. In the meantime, we’ll leave you with this little gem from Geoff at the Driftwood by the Sea:

Always do what you feel is right for you and your plot. Don’t be swayed by what the experts say!

The minty fresh taste of summer

By Nic Wilson from Dogwooddays

Chocolate Mint is one of the more interesting varieties
Image source: Nic Wilson

Mint is the most versatile of herbs – it adds zest to summer desserts and savoury dishes, and flavours herbal teas and cocktails. It thrives in semi-shade where other Mediterranean herbs like thyme and rosemary might struggle.

There are so many types available, all with different scents and uses – so it’s helpful to know a little about the different varieties before you start growing. But if you just want to jump into growing something versatile, then a basic mint plant is perfect for getting started.

Which Mint?

Banana mint has a mild flavour
Image source: Nic Wilson

My favourites include tall apple mint (Mentha suaveolens) whose furry leaves add a fresh tang to boiled new potatoes with butter; it’s also really good in mint sauce. For herbal teas I prefer spicy varieties like peppermint (Mentha x piperita) – a cross between watermint and spearmint, Moroccan mint (Mentha spicata var. crispa ‘Moroccan’) and Tashkent mint (Mentha spicata ‘Tashkent’), also known as spearmint.

For even more flavour, I combine the mint with lemon verbena leaves for an aromatic hot tea, or add sugar, cool the tea and add ice cubes as a refreshing drink on hot summer afternoons. Moroccan and Tashkent mint also have the advantage of being resistant to mint rust, a common fungal disease that can affect leaves from spring until the autumn.

Other varieties to try include ginger mint (Mentha x gracilis ‘Variegata’), an attractive plant with variegated yellow and green foliage that tastes great with fruit salads. Or choose dark chocolate mint (Mentha x piperita f. citrata ‘Chocolate’) my children’s favourite, with deep red stems and leaves that really do taste of mint choc chip ice cream.

The spicy foliage of basil mint (Mentha x piperita f. citrata ‘Basil’) adds a tang to oils and vinegars,and the soft leaves of banana mint (Mentha arvensis ‘Banana’) have a mild flavour with just a hint of banana. There’s even a variety from Cuba called Mojito mint (Menthat villosa ‘Mojito’) which has a warm sweet flavour ideal for combining with soda water, lime juice, white rum and sugar to create the traditional Cuban highball.

Growing and Propagating Mint

Mint is a vigorous plant that spreads unless contained
Image source: shutterstock/Izf

It’s a good idea to grow mint in containers, unless you have a large patch that will tolerate invasion by this vigorous perennial. I have grown mint in large bottomless pots sunk into the ground – you just have to be vigilant and pull out any surface runners before they root and escape into the garden.

Mint thrives in semi-shade and likes to be kept well watered, but it copes with full shade and full sun too. It’s best to avoid growing different mints close together or in the same container as they can lose their distinct scents and flavours.

Once you have mint it’s quick and easy to propagate by stem or root cuttings. Either turn the plant out of the pot, break off a few roots (with or without shoots) and bury just below the surface in peat-free compost, or take several stem cuttings from a healthy plant and place around the rim of a pot filled with gritty compost. Keep moist until you see new growth and then pot on.

In the Garden

Corsican mint (or ‘mini mint’) forms a green carpet on the ground
Image source: David Eickhoff

Mint is also valuable in the garden as an ornamental plant. Creeping Corsican mint (Mentha requienii) creates a relaxed look trailing along a gravel path, between stepping stones or over rocks. At only 3-10cm high, it forms a mat on the ground and releases its spicy aroma when crushed underfoot. As with all flowering mints, this Corsican mint is a magnet for bees which love its tiny mauve flowers.

Hanging baskets are another ideal place for ornamental mint. Indian mint (Satureia douglasii  ‘Indian Mint’), a tender perennial in the mint family, has delicate white long-lasting flowers that cascade over the sides of a basket. Or as we’ve done this year, plant sweet strawberry mint (Mentha x piperita ‘Strawberry’) in the centre of a hanging basket surrounded by trailing strawberry plants and then harvest both for a delicious dessert – just add cream.

 

About the author

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

Disclaimer

The author and publisher take no responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Not everyone reacts positively to all edible plants or other plant uses. Seek advice from a professional before using a plant for culinary or medicinal uses.

 

Easy gardening tips from the experts

Make the most of these tried and tested tips from experienced gardeners.
Image source: welcomia

A great way to get the most from your garden is to follow the advice and guidance of generous gardeners who’ve already been there and done it. Here we bring you some top growing tips from expert gardeners and bloggers – green fingered folk who know their onions.

Enjoy it!

Don’t forget the wildlife that helps your garden look so spectacular.
Image source: The Forgotten Garden

Rule number one from Patricia from The Forgotten Garden in North Devon is simply to relax and enjoy what you’re doing: “Don’t spend time focussing on what you can’t do, just focus on what you can, with an eye on the wildlife that shares the garden with you.”

Although it must be said that Patricia, in a true modest gardener way, would never describe herself as an expert. She rightly points out that all gardeners are “learning as we go, and enquiring minds discovering more!”

Another horticulturist with a laissez-faire attitude is professional gardener, Judi of Judi Samuels Garden Design who sees many clients over-pruning shrubs to force them to conform to a particular space in the garden. Instead, she advises growers not to impose their will onto a plant, but rather, “allow it to be what it knows it is.” She says:

Part of my life’s work is teaching clients about right plant, right place – celebrating the form of a plant and allowing it to be.

In the same vein, Mike at Flighty’s Plot is all about “enjoying what you do”, which for him involves giving yourself the space to simply try things to see what happens without putting yourself under too much pressure to succeed every time.

Less is more

A plate full of edible “weeds” can result when a section of garden is left to its own devices.
Image source: Totally Wild

Why not let the earth itself tell you what it wants to grow? Says James of Totally Wild. He recommends leaving a 2m square patch of soil bare so that “so-called” weeds can fill it:

“Once you know what grows there, discover what you can do with it. The nettles are edible, the dandelions can make coffee, the chickweed a salad, and ground elder is fantastic wilted.”

And don’t bite off more than you can chew says Jono of Real Men Sow: “Even if you are lucky enough to get a full size plot, don’t feel pressurised to use it all.” Keeping things small and manageable makes sense, he says:

Concentrate on growing the food you enjoy, and not trying to grow so much that you can’t maintain a neat and tidy plot.

Take note

Sow your seeds at the right time for stronger plants and better crops.
Image source: Grow Like Grandad

Do always take note of the weather says Matt of Grow Like Grandad – it will catch out the hasty gardener:

Don’t be in a hurry to sow seeds early or plant out tender crops, you’ll only end up doing the same job twice.

A sure-fire way to expand your gardening knowledge is to make a note of all the interesting plants you come across while you’re out and about says Sally of Sally’s Garden Blog: “I always keep a gardening notebook and pen to write down any interesting plant I come across and a camera to remind myself of great plants.”

Reduce, reuse, recycle

Part fill heavy pots with polystyrene to make them easier to move.
Image source: sattahipbeach

If you’re growing in large pots in an urban garden or on a balcony, Ellen of Ellen Mary Gardening says you can make them much easier to move about by half filling them with packing peanuts before planting:

It’s a great way to recycle packaging and lessen waste and all you need to do is place some landscape fabric on top, then your soil and plant up.

Meanwhile, Mal of Mal’s Edinburgh Allotment has a great tip for reducing waste. He says: “Use writable tape to transform single use plastic labels into multiple use plastic labels.”

Got an old plastic striplight cover? Rachel at The Good Life Ain’t Easy’s ingenious tip is to use it as an outdoor propagator to get your seeds to germinate. Hers “worked like mini greenhouses warming up the soil” – what a great idea.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our contributors’ fab gardening tips; if you have any of your own to add, please leave us a message on our Facebook page. In the meantime, we’ll leave you with this little pearl of wisdom from Thomas at Thomas Stone Horticultural Services:

Take 15 minutes to enjoy your garden; sit down and relax in it and enjoy your hard work.

And that’s perhaps the most important tip of all…

Therapeutic Gardening? My nerves are in tatters!

Thompson and Morgan Triallist’s Blog – June 2018

I have this fantasy image of myself in diaphanous summer dress, wandering around my garden with a woven willow trug and floral secateurs, in the hazy lazy afternoon sunshine, listening to the soporific buzzing of the bees, whilst gently snipping deadheads off my beautiful pristine roses. STOP! I’m actually crawling around the borders on my knees peering at the shredded foliage of the edging plants caused by my Dearly Beloved pressure washing the paths.

Having recently swelled with optimism at the pronouncement that spraying diluted garlic solution on hostas repels slugs and snails, despondency came in the form of leaf shredding pigeons and a leaf nibbling Oriental called Fred (cat, silly!), clearly neither species in the slightest bit phased by garlic fumes.

T & M Foxgloves Illumination Flame have disappeared under the filipendula seemingly in a matter of hours after planting in a suitable gap. The astrantia has crawled all over the dicentra and alchemilla molis. Such an unassuming plant, huh, roots like thatch, needed the WW1 trenching tool to hack some clumps out of the soil along with all the daffodil bulbs. Looks totally decimated, should have left well alone. Talking of daffodils, the wretched things bloomed so late that their leaves will be sprawling all over the place until end June if I want any flowers next Spring. All the phormiums died so out came the trenching tool yet again to prise them out. Why can’t the shallow rooted plants die?

Why oh why does the salix integra hakuro nishiki morph into a thatched beach parasol just as the perennial ground cover starts to really take off underneath? The time had come, the time that I dread beyond all other times, to let David loose on the hedge trimmer. Always a row first about methodology and a row afterwards about clearing up.

Caroline#s garden June 2018

….And breathe! Well, the worst is over. Today’s somewhat less contentious task was to get the plant loops and stakes into the melee of jostling perennials before everything toppled over. I know I say this every year, but the roses are going to be spectacular. I’ve never seem such prolific sprays of buds, their branches in serious danger of collapse from the weight. And the T&M tree lilies (at least 6 years old now) are in bud already. They don’t usually flower until our NGS Open Day end July, another potential worry then. I put all this growth acceleration down to the recent tropical storms followed by hot humid sunshine. By the way, how many of you watched the eerily soundless lightning storm a couple of Saturday nights ago and thought of War of the Worlds? But lightning is supposed to be good for the garden; it fixes nitrogen into the soil or something like that. (Please feel free to correct me if I am way off the mark.)

Caroline's Garden June 2018

So having finally planted up all the patio containers and baskets – T&M begonia Non-Stop Mocca red, Solenia Apricot, Fragrant Falls Orange Delight and petunia Suzie Storm – we turned our attention to the garden accessories. Tatty old white cast iron table and chairs are now subtle sage green, shady fencing where nothing will grow now adorned with pale grey framed mirror, with added bonus of bouncing light back into dingy border as well as reflecting bright sunny border opposite. All planned of course! The driftwood fence is up and is a real feature, a perfect backdrop to ferns, heucheras and a brand new acer. Which brings to mind What Does Good Taste Actually Mean? A certain celebrity gardener (famous parents, you know who you are!) opined to readers of his column in one Sunday paper, that whilst lime green foliage was a characteristic Spring charmer, ideal for lifting shady areas,  to mix it with purple foliage, or perish the thought, silver, was a bridge way too far! Well I DON’T CARE. I love my limes and purples and oranges So There! And to celebrate the subjectivity of Good Taste I have created a window box of contrasts: bronze coleus Campfire, lime green ipomoea and black ipomoea, dichondra Silver Falls and lysimachia nummularia Aurea!

National Garden Scheme June 2018

Here we are again, coming into the height of the gardening season. What better way to spend a Sunday than by visiting other NGS Open Gardens, talking plants, eating cake and oohing and ahhing at unusual and innovative schemes that you wish you had come up with first. The first week of June was NGS Festival Weekend and so we spent a leisurely Sunday visiting three of my gardens (i.e. gardens under my watch as local Assistant County Organiser.)  Marjorie’s small but perfectly formed cottage garden in Hampstead Garden Suburb, full of hidden pathways clothed in old roses and clematis; Sandra’s sweeping lawns, leading to a glamorous sunken pool area surrounded by tropical raised beds and swathes of bamboo, a world away from Finchley Central! Ian and Michael’s Oakwood garden, transformed in two years from traditional lawn to terraced decking, exotic architectural planting, water features and pergola, worthy of Chelsea Flower Show. We truly are a nation of gardeners.

RHS Chelsea highlights June 2018

Talking of Chelsea, first time in twenty years, I went this year: RHS Members’ Day Tuesday. Not wishing to sound churlish, I was quite sceptical about how much I would enjoy it, as last time I barely saw the show gardens for crowds five deep in front of me and the old tented plant pavilion was sticky hot, cramped and made my hair frizz up! So I am delighted to report that I thoroughly enjoyed it. The fun started on the previous Sunday when my Chelsea companion Rosie came over with the programme, and we sat on the patio for a happy hour, drinking strawberry laden prosecco, whilst marking up our route in order of preference. Large show gardens first, then refreshments, Space to Grow show gardens, Great Pavilion, more refreshments, and back again, followed by Artisan show gardens, refreshments and finally, when I didn’t care if ever saw another plant again as long as I lived, the trade stands. Sunny day, the right dress, comfortable shoes and a hands free shoulder bag made manoeuvring through the crowds virtually painless. My highlights? Matt Keightley’s’s Feel Good Garden, currently being recreated down the road from here, for patients and staff at Highgate NHS Mental Health Centre. In the Great Pavilion, Tom Stuart-Smith created a garden for Garfield Weston Foundation, all shapes, sizes, textures and shades of green, green, green. Cool, tranquil magic. I could live there. Favourite plants? Evolution Group hellebore hybrids and variegated hellebores, rosa Jacqueline Du Pré and new Solomon’s Seal varieties.  And of the trade stands, a pair of huge wire mesh boxing hares.

the cats enjoying the sun - June 2018

And even after looking at all that perfection, I was still happy to return to my own plot. I’ve fallen in love with our garden all over again this Spring. It never ceases to surprise, delight and challenge me. Until the next horticultural trauma, that is.…………..Happy gardening.

Growing berries in pots and containers

By Sasha Ivanova at London Plantology

Cranberry Pilgrim
Image source: London Plantology

There are many ways to grow berries in small spaces – wild strawberries in window boxes, a vertical wall of cranberries, dwarf raspberries in hanging baskets or blueberries in pots on the patio. Plant your containers now and you’ll get heavenly fragrance throughout the summer and a wonderful harvest with which to make delicious jams and cordials to last throughout the winter!

Strawberries

Alpine Strawberries
Image source: London Plantology

I started my berry garden by propagating alpine (aka woodland) strawberries from seed. The seeds germinated quickly and easily in the spring and by the end of July I had a few plants growing in the window boxes. Their compact growing habit and shallow roots make woodland strawberries ideal for containers and hanging baskets.

I love these little hard working plants. They always look cheerful and flower non-stop, even in winter! The berries are smaller than common garden strawberries but they’re packed with flavour and fragrance. On a hot day, a few freshly picked berries create an incredible aroma in your hands.

Grower’s tip: sprinkle alpine strawberry seeds on top of compost and don’t cover with soil as they need light to germinate. A bright windowsill is perfect.

For a vertical edible garden, try new varieties of climbing strawberries. Strawberry “Mount Everest” and strawberry “Skyline” produce up to 1m long runners which can be trained on trellis or a pea netting.

The visual effect of a green wall dotted with shiny red berries is stunning and the scent of strawberries in summer is delightful. With luck, slugs and snails will be too lazy to climb “Mount Everest” to get their pickings!

Climbing strawberries are also a great addition to patios and front gardens. They can be planted in ‘Tower Pots’ (pots with a supportive frame) and trained into living vertical columns. Place Tower Pots strategically around your patio to create unusual focal points. They draw the eye making small spaces look more spacious, and you’ll have the added benefit of eating freshly picked berries when they’re ripe!

Blueberries & cranberries

Blueberry Bluecrop
Image source: London Plantology

Growing blueberries and cranberries is easier than you might think. Given the right soil conditions, both will supply delicious berries year after year. Acid-loving plants, they will perform best if the soil pH is less than 5.

The easiest way to ensure a correct pH level is to grow blueberries and cranberries in pots filled with an ericaceous compost mixed with bark. Bark mulch will help to retain moisture in containers, needed for the plant’s shallow root system.

Bluecrop and Pink Lemonade are my favourite blueberry varieties. Bluecrop is a compact bush, suitable for containers, and has large bell-shaped cream flowers in the spring, blue-purple berries packed with antioxidants in the summer and colourful leaves in the autumn. Pink Lemonade is the first pink blueberry! A truly unique variety with delicate pink flowers and sweet rose-pink berries – it’s loved by kids for its delicious sweet flavour and by grown-ups for its amazing appearance.

Both varieties are self-fertile but having two or more plants will improve pollination and your harvest.

I also grow Pilgrim cranberries, or rather they are spreading everywhere on a pilgrimage across my garden. I planted them last spring under pine trees but they quickly became overrun with weeds. The creeping cinquefoil weed intertwined with the crawling cranberries became impossible to bear, so this season I am experimenting with a new method.

I’m now planting cranberries in three hanging baskets positioned one below the other to create a cascading effect. Cranberries send out runners which I will be rooting in the baskets lower down to propagate new upright plants. Flowers and fruit are produced on upright plants so it is worth rooting as many new shoots as possible for a good yield.

An added bonus is that the glowing red berries look amazing in the late autumn when all other colours have almost disappeared from the garden.

Grower’s tip: Water blueberries and cranberries with rainwater to help maintain the acidity of the soil.

Dwarf raspberries & blackberries

Juicy blackberries
Image source: London Plantology

When I got my own small London garden, my dream was to plant a few raspberry and blackberry canes, but I did have some doubts. Large thorny bushes spreading across the middle of the lawn wasn’t very appealing! However, with new fruit varieties available, it’s easy to grow your own berries even without a garden.

Trailing raspberries and blackberries are a perfect choice for hanging baskets and require less maintenance than flowers. They look wonderful hanging on the patio, balcony or by the front door, and you can pick delicious home-grown berries on your way in from work! For an interesting colour mix, try pink raspberry “Ruby Falls” and dark blackberry “Black Cascade”.

Dwarf varieties like blackberry “Opal” and raspberry “Ruby Beauty” reach only 1m height and are good for growing in large containers. Their flowers attract honey bees and bumblebees and their bushy habit ensures a bumper harvest. An extra bonus of the trailing and dwarf varieties are the thornless stems!

Have you tried growing berries in your garden or allotment? How did it go, and what are your favourites? Have you discovered any productive varieties or dwarf plants suitable for small spaces? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

About the author

Sasha Ivanova is an urban gardener, blogger, and martial artist. Passionate about propagation and growing from seed, she grows all her plants in a small London back yard. Her research has led her to cultivate unusual edible plants, as well as experimenting with fruit trees in what she describes as a ‘garden without trees’. Read more at her blog, londonplantology.com

A dream come true with Floral Fantasia

So, I heard we (Thompson & Morgan) were having a floral fantasia trial garden this year at RHS Hyde Hall in Chelmsford and I was very pleased, and couldn’t wait to visit.

Then I got an email asking me to help plant it up, I was over the moon!!!

Since starting my new career in Horticulture many years ago now, I wanted to work at Hyde Hall. I did apply for an apprenticeship there, but travelling would have been too much, so I studied at Otley College as it was closer.

An early start at T & M HQ and off we went to Hyde Hall down the A12 into Essex.

 

When we arrived the beds were marked out with marker spray and labelled and all we had to do was crack on with the planting.

floral fantasia areas marked out

There were 26 trolleys heaving with excellent, strong plants all ready waiting for planting.

getting underway

We also had a team of six Gardeners from the RHS to help us plant out.

the RHS team at the floral fantasia

The weather was kind to us, but the day before when the chaps were unloading the plants, they got a tad wet, apparently!

peter and lance getting wet at the floral fantasia

I planted some of my favourites including Cosmos Cupcakes and Nicotiana Marshmallow. Can’t wait to have some in my garden!

cosmos cupcakes and nicotiana

We think we planted about two thirds the first day, I went back for a second day of fun. It started of misty and cloudy, but to be honest, to me that’s perfect planting weather. It broke out warmer from lunchtime, so on went the hat and all important sun cream.

I loved day two, we got to plant the wonderful Sunflower, SunBelievable ‘Brown Eyed Girl’, what a truly stunning plant it is! In the centre of the garden, there is a large old trough packed with these beauts, I definitely want these in my garden. They are perfect for weddings, as my cousin’s wedding has a Sunflower theme so may have to grow some for her.

sunbelievable at floral fantasia

Pots and pouches complete the trial garden.

floral fantasia in progess

The garden is packed with summer favourites and also new introductions for 2018.

floral fantasia nearly finished

I am looking forward to visiting the garden with my children and showing them the riot of garden. Its open from the 9th June to the 30th September.

You will find the Floral Fantasia next to the Global Growth Vegetable Garden.

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!!

Veg growing tips from the experts

Keep your veg plot brimming over with delicious produce with these handy tips!
Image: Steffi Pereira


From one man who likes his veg Tudor style to another who loves to grow Tomatillos, and on to other green fingered folk with handy hints to share, here we bring you awesome veg growing tips from people in the know – veg gardeners and bloggers from across the country.

Choosing

Be bold and grow unusual crops like tomatillos for a tasty addition to your table.
Image: AN NGUYEN

A man who knows what he likes to put on the end of his fork, Matt of Grow like Grandad says there’s no point growing crops you and your family don’t eat. It’s a view Dawn of Being Self Sufficient in Wales shares. She says: “There’s no point growing cauliflower if you hate the stuff.” Her solution is to write up a list of everything your family does eat, and stick to that for your veg sowing selections.

If you fancy being a bit more adventurous, another Matt, this time from Modern Veg Plot, says: why stick to veg you can buy at the supermarket when there are so many tasty alternatives to try?

There are absolutely loads of unusual, interesting and incredibly tasty crops that are dead easy to grow at home such as Achocha, Cucamelons, Oca, Yacon, Tomatillos, Salsify, Kiwano and Tiger Nuts.

Or look for veg that keeps on giving, says Anni of Anni’s Veggies. She says perennials are the way to go:

Gracing the garden for several years or more at a time perennial vegetables are the ultimate in easy gardening.

Anni recommends kales like ‘Daubenton’s’ and ‘Taunton Deane’, tree and Welsh onions, and an old favourite from Tudor times: Skirret. A root with a sweet start and a peppery parsnippy finish, skirret roots are long and thin with “mature plants producing new baby plants around the base of the main stem allowing the gardener to easily propagate more stock.”

Sowing

When sowing your seeds, make sure to avoid gluts by careful planning.
Image: Audrius Merfeldas

“Work with nature, not against it,” says Hayley of Hayley’s Lottie Haven. She gets two crops from her sunniest spots by sowing earlier there than elsewhere on her plot, and gives shade-loving plants a helping hand by growing them in the shadow of taller plants:

I plant my lettuces and beetroot in the shadow of my tall plants such as sweetcorn and beans. Everything should work in harmony

That’s something with which perennial-loving Anni agrees. She says skirret produces flowers pretty enough to grace a border, just one reason why she sows perennial veg in “mixed ‘polycultures’ with other beneficial plants which can fix nitrogen and perform other vital functions in the garden.”

Whatever you choose to sow, avoid gluts by sowing less, but more frequently. That’s what Richard of Sharpen Your Spades does: “I sow short rows of things like radish, beetroot and carrots every few weeks.”

Growing

How many courgette plants do you really need?
Image: elesi

Once you’ve thinned out your carrots, “earth them up a bit,” says Lou Nicholls, head gardener at Ulting Wicks. It’s a trick her grandad taught her:

“First it makes it more difficult for carrot root fly to get at them and secondly, it prevents the tops from turning green as it stops the sunlight from reaching them.”

Make the most of your perennial veg by using existing stock to create more says Anni of Anni’s Veggies. She goes for Taunton Deane kale because it “has a very branching habit and cuttings taken from young side shoots are easily rooted to form new plants.” She also sticks to harvesting the leaves of her Welsh onions so that the bulbs can increase in number.

Don’t forget to collect the seeds from this year’s plants. Anni says: “seed can be saved to sow for more plants next year.

If you’ve got some growing tips to share, we’d love to hear from you. Just hop over to our Facebook page and drop us a line. In the meantime, we’ll leave you with our favourite tip from Matt of Grow Like Grandad: “Despite your spring sowing enthusiasm, you only need two courgette plants…” Wise words, indeed.

An Amazing May

Hi Everyone,

What an amazing May, so hot and dry! Hope this isn’t our summer.

I have a confession to make – I’ve not done half as much in the greenhouses as I would usually do. Don’t get me wrong, I love being in them, or in my garden, but with limited energy, mobility and dexterity I have not been able to do as much as previous years. But fear not, I’m not ready to hang up the trowel just yet.

So what have I been doing this month? It seems a lot of trying to keep the plants cool by opening al, the doors and windows and damping down the floor with a good splash of water. I went in there one morning and it was 35°c. Because the plants are still quiet small in Ty Mawr we still put the washing to dry on airers in there.

Lots of the plants put on so much growth they were moved to the cold-frame then later into their final growing positions.

Oh Star Wars day (May the Fourth – be with you), in The Office I decided to take my recycling project even further and filled up an egg box with soil before sprinkling a food for bees and butterflies seed mix into it. They took a matter of days to germinate. Because the egg box was similar in feel and texture to the peat pots I have been using, I was careful to keep it damp, but not too soggy, so that I could lift the box up without it falling apart. That same day I planted my trial-for-another-company petunias into a hanging wall planter bag and laid it on the staging to settle and establish. Then the next day I planned to clean the greenhouse after the winter storms.

Mark washed all of the glass on both greenhouses inside and out, while I decided to empty the storage seat to see what goodies I had. I found some incredibloom, some colourful cane toppers and and some pretty bulb markers that T&M sent me last year. After Mark washed the glass he took everything out to sweep the floor. I was really tired and when I was trying to help put things back in the greenhouse with him, I dropped a sunflower. The plant was fine, but there was now mud all over the clean floor.

 

 

Mid month, the new batch of Marigold Strawberry Blonde seedlings were big enough to be transplanted into bigger pots, I spent a few days pricking them out along with the African Marigold Spinning Wheels. For some reason my French Marigolds are refusing to germinate. I’m on my third sowing since March. I think they are sulking because the beautiful Orange Calendula and the fluffy Snow Princess are the star of my baskets so far.

As the temperatures began to soar I moved the Cape Gooseberries, and a collection tomatoes, aubergines, peppers and chillies from The Office to the hanging shelves in Ty Mawr. With access to longer periods of sunshine and a more temperate climate they established strong root-balls very quickly. Sometimes I had to water them morning, noon and evening as they were shooting up.

Mum had been sorting her garden, and no longer wanted her pretty shell planter. It matches the solar water feature of hers she gave me a few years ago, and my own blue containers that sit on the patio, so she gave it to me. I have planted it with the strawberry blonde marigolds and I cannot wait to see the flowering results. With a bit of luck the colours that are opposite on a colourwheel, chart, should look fantastic

Our new neighbours opposite us had recently asked if we wanted a collection of their primroses for the garden as they had far too many. We said yes please, and as we were talking and wondering around our garden, they commented on the biodiversity of wildlife that was in it. They said they had slow-worms in their garden as their cats kept bringing them in the house. Mark explained that Slow-Worms are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and if possible try to put them somewhere safe from the cats. The slow-worm breeds in May and the males can be aggressive towards each other in order to find a female and mate. I added that slow worms are very beneficial for the garden, as they eat slugs and snails, however I was very glad I didn’t have them in the garden as I am afraid of them and snakes.

A few evenings later we had a knock on the door, thankfully I didn’t answer it. I heard voices and in the hall there was Mark and the neighbour with a slow worm. I kind of went off on one about bringing it near me. When they finished laughing I asked why was there a slow worm in my house. Apparently, Mark has been re-homing slow worms in our compost bin, from the neighbours since that conversation. I was very brave and took a photo of it for this blog. This little critter has two puncture marks where a magpie dropped it on their lawn. It did occur to me that it was probably the one from our garden they re-homed before as our resident magpie is often up by the compost bin.

 

 

 

 

On the 18th of May we went off in the motorhome for the weekend. This time I left all the peat pots and the egg box in a tray of water. I soaked all the plants and we almost drowned the greenhouse borders. And just as well, as the temperatures soared. When we were back on late Sunday I had hay-fever from hell so avoided the garden until Monday morning. All the plants were fine. The Sweetpeas Turquoise Lagoon where placed in a large pot and I made a string and cane obelisk for them to climb.

The bee and butterfly egg box and other pollinator plants were big enough to go outside and we up- cycled an old plastic wheelbarrow into a feature planter. It was better to drill a few drainage holes in the bottom of the barrow than take it to the tip. Although it would have been recycled I think it will look better filled with flowers this way, rather than using energy to make it into something else.

My garden peas haven’t germinated, and I think the packet has been open too long, so I had to chuck the last few seeds out. Coincidentally, I sent off for some free pea seeds months ago and had forgotten all about it, so imagine my happy surprise when they arrived, the day the I chucked the old packet out. The seeds are part of a social-media incentive to get people growing their own produce, so I will be posting updates on my social media platforms about regarding the progress.

On the 24th of the month I got Mark to build a sort of trellis from my mums old greenhouse staging, canes and

string to give the Cape Gooseberries something that climb up. He then placed them in their final growing positions, along with the sweet peppers and aubergines. Which means that in The Office, I now have the following jobs left to complete:

  •  Transplant the Zinnias Amaranthus Joseph’s Coat into individual pots and place in the colder frame to harden off.
  • Build another string and cane trellis for my emerging garden peas.
  • Sow the Blu Moon and Pink Moon Radish and some more Rainbow Mix Beetroot.
  • The final job will be to put the two chillies into hanging baskets to allow them to spread their roots.

 

In the cold frame, I need to transplant the carrot and Brussel Sprouts into deep pots or sacks. In Ty Mawr, I need to pinch out the tips of the trial-for-another-company tomaítoes, dead head the marigolds that keep the pests away. Next I will thin out some of the chilli plants in the fire bucket and place them in the borders between the Beetroots that are due to be pulled up in a week or so.On the hanging shelves I have some of the Lidl’s sweet peppers that I grew from the seeds in the ones I ate, many are planted in the borders, but I am hoping to give these to my nieces. Mark plans to erect their greenhouse for them as my brother still hasn’t done it. I meant to give them some of the sunflowers, but because of the weather the plants ended up going in and around our garden.

I hope I have more to share with you next month. Learning my limitations has been hard, things that I took for granted, like watering the plants building trellises and spending hours pottering are no longer possible. Instead I rely on Mark to do lots of the work for me. I have learnt do garden, little and often. If it take me three hours over three days to transplant seedlings, then so be it.

As I said at the start, I’m not ready to hang up the trowel just yet.

Until next time,

Happy Gardening.

Love Amanda.

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.

Body, Hive and Soul.

I was never really sure when “spring” is meant to start, having just some lumpen idea of it being to do with daffodils generally being around and not needing to put on your big coat as much.

Turns out the cats, yes the cats, are well ahead of us.  Come spring, and I’m being quite serious you understand, pretty much all cats emerge.  Previously curled up into cosy spots indoors, springtime sunshine has literally seen all the neighbourhood moggies stride boldly outside, choose the sunniest spot, and um curl up into cosy spots outdoors.

With the great arrival of the cats comes the greater arrival of lots of welcome colour.  Having been on a chromatic starvation diet over winter, suddenly there’s a happy riot.  And same as all these cats, I’ve emerged too, blinking into the sunlight.

Anyway, like many people, I have a job.  I also have a young family, as well as a whole raft of other stuff going on.  I’m always busy, which is by and large a good way to be.  However right now at work it’s really busy, it always is this time of year, and I’ve noticed I need to unwind.  Mentally power down from the spreadsheets and mad deadline scramble. So, when a friend recently suggested we do a yoga class, I jumped at the chance.  Ok, I panicked a bit about being seen in public in dayglo lycra, and then I jumped at the chance.  It’s a great unwinder, even if our class does happen in the less than Zen superhero themed party room at the local soft play centre (childcare, natch).

Getting in the garden or just outdoors is another very real way to shake off the pressure and … breathe.

So, breathe all the way in, hold it there, and breathe all the way out again. No need for lycra in the garden, but I did consciously Slow. Down. and start to notice things.  If the neighbours were all pointing and laughing, hanging helplessly from their windows at the mad deep breathing lady, I certainly didn’t notice them but I did notice other things:

Ugh. The garden is full of weeds.

Calm descending and gloves donned, nettles were literally grasped.  Calm rapidly gave way at this point, I’ll be honest, to pain and mild blistering. Double-gloved now and grimly determined to chill out, those stingers were ripped out and other weeds sent packing. Right, the mossy bits next.  We have heavy clay here, so the ground is generally wet.  There’s a lot of moss, can’t lie, and I heave out a huge tussock of the stuff.

Oh good. Seems I’ve made a load of bees cross.  I’ve uprooted their mossy home on the ground and – oh, is that the Queen?  She’s most likely commanding her buzzing valets and stings-in-waiting to excommunicate me from the Kingdom as I gawp on, slack jawed.

Gah, if I hadn’t been on a self-imposed mission of business and extreme weeding, had I only listened to my own clamour for calm, the bees would still have a thatched roof over their heads.

So I jack in the weeding and listen.  I did start to notice things now, for real this time.

  • This furry clutch of buzziness nesting in the ground, after some casual research, turns out by my best reckoning to be a variety of carder bee. They sound quite choosy habitat-wise, and some of them are under threat to the point of being vulnerable across Europe so I count myself lucky we have a nest.
  • We have a blackbird nesting in a climbing rose. The female, lighter brown in colour, was holding a bunch of moss in her beak and flapped off amongst the thorns to pad out her abode. Beyond excited.
  • Common blue butterflies, exquisite, jewel-like and just there for the finding if you look.

 

So three things strike me in a neat way that wraps this up by way of a conclusion:

  • Slowing down is good for body, soul and mind. Here’s a starter for ten: www.rspb.org.uk and #GreatBritishBeeCount
  • The concept of ‘weeds’ needs a rebranding exercise. Far from being undesirable or an eyesore, why not see them as part of a diverse habitat in their own right? And if that doesn’t float your boat, *baby animals use them as pillows*. Come on.
  • The irony of a garden snail crunching underfoot is not lost on me as I take ‘nature photos’ for this blog. Even so, plant widely, for nature and diversity and feel the calm wash gently over you.

PS The bees rebuilt the roof.  They’re doing fine.

Got any top nature tips from your own garden?  Don’t be shy.  Tell the world here!

Alison Hooper

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

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

Gardening neophyte, learning always.

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