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.

A seed sown – setting out on a horticultural journey.

Gertrude Jekyll, the influential garden designer, plants woman and artist, once said that ‘The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies.’ For myself, like many gardeners, this is profoundly true. 

Over the years, that love has almost become an obsession that shows no sign of abating. Not only does the time I spend in the garden bring many beneficial hours of physical exertion, mood enhanced well-being and satisfaction, I’ve also begun to see the world differently.

Cottage garden border

©Shutterstock – Jekyll’s cottage garden style borders still influence our gardens today.

Jekyll’s dedication to observation and working with plants is evidenced in her extensive writings on horticulture and in the hundreds of gardens she designed.

The study of plants in their habitat is the beginning of a journey that can take you in a seemingly infinite variety of directions, with some surprising destinations.

 

An early start…

I suppose I’ve always been a garden designer, to a degree. According to my mother my first word was ‘flower’ – this possibly explains the bullying I would later receive as a young man with a sensitive soul.

From the age of six my parents encouraged my sister and I to design our own garden spaces within our suburban ‘back yard’, as they are referred to in Canada where I grew up.

Canna, Peony and Salvia

©Newey Plants (Canna), ©Shutterstock (Peony and Salvia). From a young age I could appreciate a dramatic mix of colour and foliage!

I chose Cannas, Salvia’s, and Peony’s for mine – pastel pink, hot orange and red. Even then, as I do now, I loved the contrast of their foliage, the drama and generosity of their blooms. 

Looking back, if I could say anything to my younger self on these early forays into garden design, I would say ‘Don’t worry, one day you’ll be taught colour theory, and discover the colour wheel.  ‘A’ for effort though.’ 

 

Viewing plants in a different way…

That old adage, the more you learn, the more there is to learn, is true when you begin a study of horticulture.  I look to try and increase my knowledge day by day with the names of new plants, varieties, and study of their habits, health and conditions.

Much of my day is spent doing research and making observations of the plants in my own garden – approximately 900 and counting, and in the gardens and landscapes that I visit.

garden borders with greenhouse

©Phillipa Lambert – Visiting other gardens offers research opportunities.

 

Observation and identification…

The increased time observing my environment in more detail, has meant that I have begun to see the world in a different way. 

During my walk to the local shops to buy a pint of milk – or bottle of wine for dinner, the more likely scenario – I’m reflecting upon the weeds in the pavement, and the shrubs and trees and gardening efforts of my neighbours. 

 

Smart Plant identification app

©Smart Plant – Apps such as Smart Plant can help with identification.

The plant app on my phone helps me identify the things I don’t already know (it’s not a weed, it’s a wildflower!).  If that fails, desk research, accompanied by the pictures I’ve taken (I’ve had a few strange looks from neighbours, crouched down to take a close-up photo of the Helminthotheca echioides – Bristly oxtongue – protruding from the edge of their drive), enables me to feed this hunger for naming my surroundings. 

 

A constant search for new knowledge…

My goal with each of these trips is to identify something that I don’t know, learn about it and remember it the next time I’m passing.  ‘No, it’s not a dandelion, it’s called Bristly oxtongue – but you’re right, it is like a dandelion.

Helminthotheca echioides

©Shutterstock – Helminthotheca echioides is often identified incorrectly as a Dandelion.

Traditionally it was used to treat internal parasites, (bemused, or slightly horrified look on neighbour’s face, tells me it’s time to beat a hasty retreat). Enjoy your tea!’  I offer and quickly move on.

 

What’s in a name?..

I love being able to name all the trees, shrubs, annuals, perennials and wildflowers in my neighbourhood throughout the seasons – and this obsession follows me now on all my travels. 

More than once I’ve been shouted at to keep my eyes on the road, as I spot a tree with foliage I don’t recognise.  I don’t want my eulogy to read, ‘Cause of death, he drove headlong into a Sorbus aria ‘Lutescens’. The silvery sheen of its spring leaves drawing him towards it like a siren song’.

Whitebeam leaves

©Shutterstock – The silvery sheen of Whitebeam leaves can be mesmerising!

A Whitebeam in spring is a glorious thing to behold, but I do make a concerted effort now when I’m driving not to be too easily distracted by everything that catches my eye.

Indeed, the seeds of any horticultural quest for knowledge can be be found scattered amongst the cracks in the pavement around us. Thanks Gertrude Jekyll; off to the shops now!

 

Essential Tips for Growing Indoor Bonsai Trees

The ancient art of bonsai has long been revered for its ability to draw inner peace, centre the mind, and cultivate a deep connection with the natural world. What’s more, if you’re keeping an indoor bonsai tree, science tells us they also help to purify the air we breathe in addition to serving as a stunning ornamental centerpiece for the home or office.

Here I’ll share a few essential tips and considerations if you’re looking to grow and nurture a bonsai in your home. What’s great is bonsai trees aren’t as arduous as you might think and with a few well followed guidelines you too can enjoy the great benefits of bonsai.

 

Bonsai tree

©Shutterstock – Bonsai trees are easier to grow than you might think!

 

Picking a Suitable Indoor Bonsai Tree

It’s important to note that only tropical or subtropical trees should be considered for indoor bonsai. All temperate trees require a period of dormancy during the winter season to complete their annual growth cycles.

Great choices for indoor bonsai (particularly if you’re new to bonsai life) include the Carmona (Fukien Tea Tree), Zelkova (or Japanese Elm), Ligustrum (Privet), Ficus (Retusa and Ginseng), and the Sageretia (Chinese sweet plum).

Where to Place Your New Bonsai Tree

Much like caring for a houseplant, a key factor is going to be the light conditions you’re able to offer the bonsai tree throughout the day. 

 

Bonsai tree

©Shutterstock – A bright spot with indirect sunlight is ideal.

 

As a general rule, aim to keep your bonsai in a position where it mainly receives indirect light for the majority of the day (short periods of bright direct light are fine).

Definitely avoid any south-facing window ledges, particularly during summer months as this may cause your bonsai tree to overheat. Similarly, avoid close proximity to radiators or free standing heaters during the winter.

Watering Your Bonsai Tree

Ensuring your bonsai is regularly watered is absolutely essential. Your exact living environment, relative humidity, and the type of tree will play a factor but you should aim to monitor soil moisture levels daily initially. A few key pointers:

  • A bonsai should never be allowed to dry completely. Check the relative moisture level approximately 1cm under the soil’s surface (your finger is fine or you could also use a soil moisture probe as well). If dry, your tree is ready for it’s next watering.
  • When watering, aim to cover the entire soil surface so the roots have the best chance of receiving a good soaking.
  • A good technique is to water the tree from above using a watering can with a fine nozzle to avoid disturbing the soil on the surface.
  • I’d recommend investing in some form of tray to catch the drained water as it flows through the soil. This will also help to create a nice humid atmosphere around the tree in-between watering cycles.

 

Bonsai tree

©Shutterstock – Ensuring your bonsai is regularly watered is absolutely essential. 

 

When to Feed Your Bonsai Tree

Bonsai trees require a little help with feeding as the natural roots aren’t able to dig deep into the ground to draw nutrients as a regular tree would do in the wild.

It’s really important to use the correct type of bonsai fertilizer with a high phosphate level. Follow the instructions detailed on the package but generally the tree should receive a feed every 1 to 2 weeks from spring through to the end of summer and monthly from late autumn through winter.

Pruning Your Bonsai Tree

The cornerstone of the art of bonsai is maintaining a regular pruning and trimming schedule to preserve their overall beauty and aesthetics.

The trick is to keep an eye on new growth (particularly during spring to summer months) and aim to pinch back to the overall shape you’re looking to maintain. These will typically appear as growth from the tree’s main branches and trunk. Once they reach around 3cm it’s a good time to cut back with sharp scissors as neatly to it’s parent branch as possible.

Don’t be too over-vigorous as a little growth is important for the tree’s overall health and wellbeing.

 

Bonsai tree

©Shutterstock – Use scissors to prune new growth.

 

When to Repot Your Bonsai Tree

Bonsai trees will typically outgrow their pots every 1 to 2 years. The best time to check the root structure and consider re-potting is early spring. If the roots have completely filled the current pot it’s a good time to consider stepping up to the next container size. 

When repotting, it’s important to use a suitable bonsai soil mix. These will have the correct balance of peat and perlite with some added feed to ensure your tree gets all the nutrients it needs.

Wrap-up

Nurturing a bonsai tree at home is a really rewarding pastime. By following a few simple steps each week you’ll quickly learn to understand your own tree’s unique needs and preferences. Before you know it you’ll be well on your way to becoming a master in the art of bonsai. Enjoy!

 

The Ultimate Guide to Growing Calabrese Broccoli

Calabrese broccoli is known for being rich in nutrients and what can be better than home-grown broccoli that you can be proud of. Many people love it fresh, whereas some prefer to stir fry their broccoli before consuming this nutrient-rich delight. It is not as hard to grow broccoli as many people consider it to be. Following a few simple steps would help you grow this nutrient-rich delight right in your backyard.

Broccoli growing

©Thompson & Morgan – It is not as hard to grow broccoli as many people consider it to be!

Sowing

Broccoli seeds must be sown in from March to July. To enjoy the continuous flow of homegrown broccoli, you can sow a few plants every month from April to July.

Calabrese broccoli is not a fan of root disturbance. Hence a modular seed tray can be the perfect choice to start your seeds. Fill the tray with compost and remove any excess soil. Now create a depression in the soil using your fingertip and sow 1 seed per module. After this, cover your seeds with another layer of soil and brush off the excess to make sure the seed is properly covered.

Once you are done with the sowing of seeds, water the soil gently, to avoid disturbance of the soil. The tray can now be placed in a polytunnel, windowsill, cold frame, or your greenhouse. The seeds must be ready to be planted out in about 5 weeks. Once this process of is complete, you can move on to the planting step.

Planting Out

Vegetable gardening is most successful if you take care to choose the right position for your crops. Calabrese broccoli is a sun-loving crop. Choose a location in your garden that has six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day. The young plants must be transplanted at a distance of 45cm to 65cm apart to allow the plants to develop, and impress your neighbours.

young broccoli plant

©Shutterstock – Choose a location in your garden that has six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day. 

To plant the seedling, use a trowel to dig a small hole in the soil a little larger than the “plug plant”.  Once you have successfully planted the seedling, use your fingers to carefully press the soil back around the roots. Now gently water around the plant to settle the soil.  

Watering

The plant must be watered frequently as broccoli loves moisture to grow. However, make sure the soil does not turn soggy due to constant watering; otherwise, it would hamper the plant’s growth. Investing in a decent hosepipe can be a useful addition to your vegetable plot to save you time and effort.

watering brassicas

©Shutterstock – Keep Broccoli plants well watered.

Harvesting

This is one of the most critical parts of growing broccoli. If you miss the correct timing of harvesting your broccoli, then the heads will go to seed and be inedible.

Depending on the month of sowing and overall weather conditions, your Calabrese should be ready to harvest between July and October. Once the heads are four to seven inches with dense and tight flower buds, it is the right time to harvest your broccoli. If you notice that the flower buds are starting to open, then harvest immediately without any further delay.

Don’t panic if you end up with too much Broccoli all at the same time. If you have too much then the spare heads can be frozen and used later.

Cooked Broccoli

©Shutterstock – Broccoli makes a tasty and nutritious side dish.

Garden pests and other wildlife!

Early summer is the perfect time to step out in the garden with a nice cuppa, and bathe in the satisfaction that all of that hard work this spring was worth the effort.

And so it was that whilst surveying my garden at the weekend, over a hot cup of tea, I heard the quiet munching of leaves from just behind me.  Snails!  A perennial plague in my garden! 

I took some time to admire my new friend, before launching him on the ride of his life, as far from my Dahlias as possible. I heard him land somewhere off in the distance and can only assume that he won’t be back for a while!

snails on dahlias

©Sue Sanderson – Snails have been munching the Dahlias.

I try to avoid slug pellets where possible, or at least try to use wildlife friendly slug pellets. We have a thriving population of frogs and a fair few hedgehogs, so slug pellets can have a really devastating effect.  

It seems that there has been a population explosion of garden pests this year. Aphids have been particularly bad, with Blackfly devastating my Broad Beans.  I turned to an eco-friendly combination of ladybird larvae (who love to munch Blackfly), and growing Marigold ‘Naughty Marietta’ as companion plants. The strong smell is supposed to deter aphids. This was working quite successfully – until the snails ate the marigolds!

Marigold Naughty Marietta

©Sue Sanderson – Marigold Naughty Marietta has been grown as a companion plant to deter aphids.

On the plus side, the Tomatoes and Runner Beans are doing nicely, and we have Courgettes and Pumpkins which are are growing away well, so all is not lost in the veggie garden.

Tomatoes in grow bags

©Sue Sanderson – Tomato plants are growing well this year!

I’ve been pleased with my Lilies this year. From April to May, I set about systematically eradicating Red Lily Beetle. They’re tricky little beasties to catch, dropping to the ground upside down so that you can’t see them.  My persistence has been rewarded, and this year we have barely a nibbled leaf in sight!

Lily flower

©Sue Sanderson – The Lilies have barely been eaten by Lily beetle this year.

Unfortunately a new menace has taken hold in the garden. Scale insects! This is the second year that it has infected one of my Hydrangeas.  Yesterday I found more scale insects on the Euonymous, a well as another Hydrangea.  I frequently go over each leaf, squishing the bugs as I go, but I must now admit defeat, and have just ordered some pesticide.

scale insect

©Sue Sanderson – Scale insect is a nuisance on Hydrangeas

Like most gardeners these days, I have a fair few Vine Weevil out in the garden.  Although they keep themselves out of sight, the damage is unmistakable – little U-shaped notches are cut into foliage. They seem to particularly enjoy Euonymous and Bergenia, which is slightly annoying as the damage to their evergreen foliage is a year-round reminder!  Although unsightly, they don’t seem to do as much damage here as you might expect, so I tend to turn a blind eye to  them under the mantra of live and let live.

vine weevil damage

©Sue Sanderson – Vine Weevil damage is particularly obvious on evergreen Euonymus

It’s not all bad news though. Sitting outside in the evening reminds me that my small urban garden is alive with wildlife! Last night I spotted bats, stag beetles, frogs and a multitude of fluttering moths – all in the space of a couple of hours!

Tadpoles in the pond have been abundant this year, and the birds have been busy popping in and out of nest boxes.  It reminds me that the wildlife which we label as garden pests are often the food that support the creatures that we look to encourage into our outdoor spaces. 

frog

©Shutterstock – Frog populations are flourishing in the pond

Lockdown at Driftwood!

2020 so far has been a bit of a blur on many levels at Driftwood. Back in February, having not long had a new dog, Chester, he escaped from the house and I had to chase up the road after him pulling the ligaments in my left leg into the bargain!

Chester the Dog

©Geoff Stonebanks – Chester relaxing in the garden!

To compound the issue, at the end of that month I tripped up some stairs and tore the Achilles tendon on the same leg! All this as we entered lockdown, meant video appointments with a physio and telephone appointments with my consultant, not very practical in reality! I spent the whole of March and April, non-weight-bearing, in a boot, meaning I had to use crutches or a peg leg I acquired online. Needless to say, I was not able to garden properly, if at all at first.

Gardening with a leg brace

©Geoff Stonebanks – Gardening isn’t easy with a leg brace.

Then, confirmation of lockdown meant that, with my 93-year old mother living with us, we have not left the house from then until now, apart from short walks for Chester by my partner. All very surreal.

I decided, back in March, that it was not going to be viable to open my garden this year on 2 levels – I was not fit enough to get it ready and there was no way, in a garden my size, that we could enable social distancing. The consequence, all 7 openings and all private visits cancelled. I had ordered my 2020 stock from Thompson & Morgan before all this happened and have been able to tend for it all without the pressure of garden openings and cake-baking as well.

The first of my order came in January, Begonia ‘Camellia’ corms, which at time of writing has begun to produce some lovely leaves. A wonderful Hydrangea paniculata ‘Hercules’ came a few days later too. By June it has grown well and has 3 stunning flowers on it.

Hydrangea 'Hercules'

©Geoff Stonebanks – Hydrangea ‘Hercules’ looks great as part of a mixed container planting.

In February the Verbena ‘Royal Dreams’ arrived and now look stunning in some of my larger containers in the garden. April saw the arrival of Petunia ‘Peppy Blueberry Muffin’ which were so slow getting going and indeed I lost 2 of the 5 but the remaining have just started to flower in the garden this week.

Petunia and Verbena in flower

©Geoff Stonebanks – Petunia and Verbena in flower

I think my favourite of this year’s plants has to be the Fuchsia Bella trio. Each of them has such beautifully delicate blooms. They are still quite small plants, as you can see, but are already showing fabulous flowers.

Fuchsia Bella Trio

©Geoff Stonebanks – The Fuchsia Bella trio are some of my favourites this year!

The Gazania ‘Tiger Stripes’ did not have too good a start as the packaging was damaged in transit but I managed to salvage all the plants and they are just starting to flower now.  Both arrived in April too, as well as the beautiful Thalictrum ‘Little Pinkie’ which soon grew well and are now producing stunning flowers. I’ve also received some substitute Coleus as I ordered ‘Freaky Leaves’ which were not available, and am waiting for some Sedum ‘Atlantis’.

Thalictrum 'Little Pinkie'

©Geoff Stonebanks – Thalictrum ‘Little Pinkie’ is now producing some stunning flowers.

Knowing, back in March, that I was not going to open Driftwood in 2020 meant I did not invest in the usual number of annuals and bedding plants. I generally spend over £800 to create displays for visitors to see. The garden did not get its usual deep clean of hard surfaces as I was not able to do it. The net result is that it does not look as good as usual this year, well in my eyes anyway.

If I’m being honest, the lockdown has allowed me to get off a treadmill I had been on for the last 11 years of spending so much time and effort in making sure the garden was perfect through the summer for its many visitors, over 21000 to date. Bonus, I have not had to bake cakes this summer either, over 8000 portions baked in the past!

The downside off course, I’m not going to be raising as much money for charity in 2020, we’ve raised over £134,000 since we started. That said, I am trying still to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support, in lieu of the garden trail which has now been cancelled. I’m creating virtual tours of the gardens that were to have taken part and they can be viewed at www.macmillangardentrail.co.uk as well as my video chat with our patron Christine Walkden too.

The other downside is I don’t get to meet lots of lovely people which for me is one of the highlights of the summer. Our lovely tortoise Hector will miss all those visitors too, especially the children who would always make a fuss of him.

Hector the tortoise!

©Geoff Stonebanks – Hector the tortoise will miss the garden visitors this year.

The one plus side has been that we have featured on television twice this year already! On a piece for the National Garden Scheme about virtual garden tours on BBC SE Today and a more substantial piece on ITV Meridian news only a couple of weeks ago. Both films can be viewed through my website. The ITV crew brought a drone, which has given some fabulous aerial video footage of the garden too. So, my experience of lockdown has some definite highs and a few lows!

Arial footage of Driftwood Garden

©Geoff Stonebanks – Arial footage of Driftwood Garden

See more of Geoff’s garden at www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk

Top 10 Hardy Perennial Herbs to Plant Once and Harvest for Years

Herbs are incredibly useful for culinary and medicinal purposes. Perennial herbs get to spread their roots for many years, so they’re great at looking after themselves. They’ll provide you with harvest after harvest, thriving on little to no TLC. There’s no need to re-plant them every year, saving you many hours of hard work in the garden.

There is an herb to suit everyone, from mint tea to roasted fennel. Here is my top ten of easy to grow perennial herbs you plant once and harvest for years to come.

1 . Mint

Mint is incredibly versatile and one of the easiest perennial herbs to grow. The more you harvest, the more they grow. Mint is a vigorous, creeping herb. It can spread quickly throughout your garden. Keep mint in pots to keep it contained in small gardens. Its spreading habit makes it a great ground cover and weed suppressor in large gardens and permaculture gardens.

Pinapple mint

©Elle Meager – Pineapple Mint is a vigorous, creeping herb.

2. Chives

No onions in the pantry? No problem! Perennial chives will do most jobs onions do, with a milder flavour.

Chives grow best in loose, moist soil in full sun. They’ll grow well in the garden and in pots. They love growing with tomatoes and roses, you can harvest just a leaf or two, and a spray of chive tea helps prevent and treat fungal diseases on plants. 

3. Rosemary

Rosemary and Sage, which is number 9 in our top 10, are a match made in heaven. They encourage growth in each other, so grab one of each! Rosemary loves a sunny position in the garden and can grow as tall as 2m high, depending on the variety.

Everything about this herb smells wonderful, hang some bunches in your wardrobes and add to meat, bread, and anything else you’d add garlic to.

4. Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm makes a delicious, refreshing tea. It’s also known as “Cure-All” because of its soothing properties. Culpeper recommend Lemon Balm for its ability to aid digestion and “expel melancholy spirits”. Research backs up Culpeper’s statement. A sniff of Lemon Balm always makes me happy.

Lemon Balm

©Elle Meager – Lemon Balm makes a delicious, refreshing tea.

Lemon Balm is not a fussy herb. Grow it in loose soil with regular watering, in a sunny or shady position. Grow more from cuttings or seeds.

5. Comfrey

Despite all the negative news you may have heard about Comfrey, no garden should do without it. Even if you don’t eat it, it’s incredibly valuable as a soil improver.

Comfrey has a deep root system. Not only does it loosen the soil for your other plants, it also draws up deep nutrients so that other plants can use it. It’s a valuable green mulch and the more you cut, the more it grows. Comfrey is one of the best companions for Asparagus.

©Elle Meager – Comfrey is incredibly valuable as a soil improver.

6. Fennel

Fennel grows 1-2 meters tall with fern-like foliage. It’s best as a loner, in a corner by itself or a spot where nothing else will thrive as it can stunt the growth of other plants.

Fennel loves full sun and grows in acidic as well as alkaline soils. It’s one of the few herbs that doesn’t mind growing under big trees. Fennel seeds make a great tea. Cutting the seed heads as soon as they’re mature encourages more growth.

7. Oregano

What’s a good tomato sauce without oregano? Easy to grow, highly productive, and perennial to boot. Loves well-draining soil and a sunny position. Oregano grows equally well in pots as it does in the garden.

Oregano

©Shutterstock – What’s a good tomato sauce without oregano?

8. Thyme

Thyme is a small bush with lovely, dainty flowers. A little goes a long way when it comes to Thyme. It’s a great digestion aid, so add a few leaves to each meal. Thyme is a great companion plant, especially for the Brassica (cabbage) family. Cabbage moth is the bane of the cabbage grower and Thyme can help you repel these bugs.

9. Sage

It’s no surprise Simon and Garfunkel wrote a song about Sage. Not many dishes are as wonderful as Sage butter sauce! Grow your own Sage in the garden or pots, in full sun to part shade. It’s susceptible to rot and fungal disease in wet conditions so excellent drainage is a must.

©Shutterstock – Grow your own Sage in the garden or pots, in full sun to part shade.

10. Tarragon

Its Latin name, Artemisia dracunculus, refers to Tarragon’s tangled root system. “Dracunculus” means “little dragon”. Because of its tangled, dense roots, it’s beneficial to divide the roots every few years.

Tarragon loves sun, dislikes wet soil. Besides dividing the root system, there’s not much Tarragon needs from you to thrive. It has lovely yellow flowers too, bees and insects love them.

 

 

Peonies – 6 Fun Facts & 5 Essential Growing Tips

The peony is a famed ornamental flowering plant in the genus Paeonia. Their stunning, voluminous blooms are on show for a short season each year running from late spring through to early summer. They’ve long been a favourite of many a gardener and the best floristry studios where they feature prominently in weddings, bridal bouquets, table centrepieces, and floral arrangements. What’s more, the venerable Peony also has a fascinating story to tell across history and in modern culture. Plus, we’ll share 5 of our favourite peony growing tips. Read on!

Peony bouquet

©Thompson & Morgan – Peony flowers feature prominently in weddings, bridal bouquets, table centrepieces, and floral arrangements.

Peony flowers – rooted in Greek Mythology

Peonies are native to the Mediterranean in addition to Western parts of the United States and China. Whilst there are references to the flower in ancient Chinese texts dating back as far as 1000 BC the name ‘Peony’ is thought to originate from Greek Mythology.

The story is centred around Paeon (or Paean), who was a student of Aesculapius – the Greek God of medicine. When Paeon healed Pluto using the root of a peony plant, Aesculapius became jealous of his young maestro’s talents and tried to kill him. Fortunately, Paeon was saved from death thanks to the mighty Zeus who transformed him into a flowering ‘peony’ plant. A flower Zeus was sure others would long admire and look on with affection.

peony flower

©Shutterstock – Peony flowers are rooted in Greek Mythology

The healing power of peonies

Peonies have long been coveted flowers for both their medicinal benefits as well as the gorgeous flowering displays.

Across China, Korea and Japan, peony seeds and roots are utilised to treat an array of ailments including convulsions and insect bites. Dried peony petals are also a popular herbal remedy in teas.

Peonies: The go-to petals for your next tattoo

The peony for many centuries has been one of the most popular floral symbols used in tattoos. For instance, in Japanese and Chinese body art you’ll often find an interplay between powerful animals and mythical beasts (such as lions and dragons) with delicate floral components. The peony is one of the most popular floral symbols representing the intersection between power and delicate beauty.

The Official 12th Wedding Anniversary Flower:

Peonies also have a deep association to romance and with gestures of the heart and are officially recognised as being the 12th Wedding Anniversary Flower.

Peony flowers

©Thompson & Morgan – Peonies are the recognised flower for 12th wedding anniversaries.

The ‘Queen of Flowers’

China, in particular, has long held a deep cultural appreciation of the peony flower. Before the plum tree, the peony flower was considered the national flower of the country. It was also adorned the title of ‘Queen of Flowers’ and came to symbolise both honour and wealth.

Red, White and Pink Peonies (each symbolise different emotions)

Peonies have an underlying association with love, compassion, good fortune and prosperity. As with many flower varieties, symbolism is often tied to the colour of the petals.

red, white and pink peonies

©Shutterstock – Peonies have an underlying association with love, compassion, good fortune and prosperity.

Whilst shades of red peonies lend themself to romance, white peonies are often associated with sorrow, remorse and regret. The mighty pink peony, so often the centrepiece in a bridal bouquet, is a symbol of young, early love and a celebration of life.

———————-

5 Essential Peony Growing Tips:

Here are 5 essential tips I’ve picked up over the years to help your homegrown peonies thrive:

1) Plant Peonies in late Autumn

Whilst you could plant peonies in early spring, they never seem to do as well. Aim for late September into October to give the plants an opportunity to settle before winter draws in. You’ll see the benefits come May the following year, especially if you give them a feed at the time of planting out.

2) Peonies love full sun-light

Once bedded in, peonies are actually quite self-sufficient. Just ensure you plant in conditions with maximum light as they adore the sun’s rays to flourish.

Grow Peonies in full sun

©Thompson & Morgan – Grow Peonies in full sun.

3) Ensure enough spacing between peony plants

I’d recommend a minimum of 3 feet between each plant to ensure enough space for the plant roots to breathe and grow. There’s nothing worse than overcrowding to create an environment where disease and rot can spread.

4) Support the stems!

Peony flowers aren’t shy in terms of their size and volume. Sometimes the sheer weight can place a strain on the stems so ensure they’re suitably supported with a wire support, or bamboo stakes and cable ties if required.

Peony Frame

©Thompson & Morgan – Support Peony flowers with a frame.

5) Ants love peonies too (leave them alone!)

You might notice ants have a particular affinity to the peony flower. Worry not. The ants are just after the sweet nectar and help protect the plants from other invaders which would be a much bigger concern.

 

 

 

How to Grow Calatheas

Calathea is one of the prettiest tropical houseplants from the Marantaceae family that you can have in your home or office.

If you want to create a jungle feel in your home, then you simply have to include some leafy Calathea plants. All of them require similar care, which makes your job easier.

Types of Calathea

There are a lot of different species of Calathea plant, over several dozen of them, with distinctive colors, shapes, and sizes. They are mostly grown in pots and containers. Let’s check some of the most popular ones.

 

Calathea orbifolia

Calathea orbifolia is one of the largest-leafed Calathea plants. Each leaf can grow up to 30cm (12″) wide!

Its leaves have a round shape and striped, metallic appearance. This species forms a dense clump, with new leaves developing from the middle part of the plant.

Calathea orbifolia

©Thompson & Morgan – Calathea orbifolia

Calathea orbifolia, like most other Calathea species, likes a warm environment, where the temperatures are between 18°C (65°F) and 24°C (75°F).

 

Calathea ornata ‘Sanderiana’

Calathea ornata ‘Sanderiana’ is one type of Calathea ornata species. The most important difference between the mother plant and ‘Sanderiana’ is in the leaves. ‘Sanderiana’ leaves are shorter and not so spear- shaped as common Calathea ornata’s leaves.

Because of the distinctive foliage striping,’ Sanderiana’ has earned a nickname ‘Pin Stripe plant’, which is shared with many other cultivars of Calathea ornata.

Calathea 'Sanderiana'

©Thompson & Morgan – Calathea ‘Sanderiana’

The plant has very glossy, broad, and colorful leaves, with the dark green topside, combined with rose feather-like stripes, while bottom sides are dark purple.

The stem is purple, and it can grow up to 60cm (2ft) in height when the plant reaches peak maturity.

 

Calathea zebrina

Calathea zebrina, otherwise known as Zebra Plant, is one of the Calatheas that are very commonly found almost everywhere, even though it originates from Brazil.

It has very distinctive green stripes on the leaves, which look like Zebra patterns, hence the name. The underside of the leaves is purple, like with some other Calathea species.

Fully grown Calathea zebrina can be up to 90cm (36″) height and width and have leaves that are over 30cm (12″) in length.

Calathea zebrina

©Thompson & Morgan – Calathea zebrina

Calathea zebrina can also produce white and purple flowers during springtime, which is not so common for Calatheas.

 

Calathea roseopicta

Calathea roseopicta, otherwise known by the name of Rose Painted Calathea, has big glossy and circular green leaves, which are also purple on the underside.

What is distinctive about this Calathea subspecies is that every leaf has a very pretty pattern, which looks like a leaf inside the leaf. There are also different cultivars of this plant that have leaves with different patterns.

The plant usually grows up to 60cm (24″) in height and width. It likes moist soil, which is capable to provide excellent drainage.

 

 

Calathea roseopicta Medaillon

©Thompson & Morgan – Calathea roseopicta Medaillon

 

Calathea rufibarba

Calathea rufibarba doesn’t look like most other Calatheas at first glance. It doesn’t have similar markings and colors, but it is still very beautiful.

It is also known under the name of Velvet Calathea, as well as Furry Feather because its leaves look like feathers and have a distinctive texture that resembles fur on the bottom side of leaves.

Another characteristic of this plant is burgundy stems that are quite long, and the plant itself can grow up to 60cm (24″) in height and width.

Calathea rufibarba

©Shutterstock – Calathea rufibarba

Calathea Care

Calatheas need sunlight, of course, but not direct sun. They thrive the most in the shade because they are tropical plants, and are mostly found in the jungles. Exposing them to direct sunlight might cause burns on the leaves.

They prefer distilled water. You can also use water purified through filters to water these plants. Even though Calatheas like moist soil, make sure not to overwater.

Being tropical plants, Calatheas like warm temperature, between 18°C (65°F) and 24°C (75°F). Also, make sure to put them in a humid environment.

Calathea in a window

©Thompson & Morgan – Calatheas need sunlight, but not direct sun.

Fertilizing is not essential for Calatheas, but if you insist, you can use normal fertilizer for indoor plants during the autumn, spring, and summer.

Propagation of Calathea Plants

It is possible to propagate Calatheas from divisions, simply by repotting them. New divisions need to be kept moist and in a warm place. It is also advised to cover them with plastic and put them on indirect light until they start growing again. Always use the fresh potting mixture to grow a new plant.

Pruning Calathea Plants

Calatheas do not require any special pruning. The only thing you might worry about is removing occasional leaves that have turned brown or yellow.

 

 

Gardening blogs for the whole family

Gardening is a great bonding opportunity
Image source: Shutterstock

What better way to get your kids excited and interested in the garden than inviting them to get their hands dirty? To help you pique their interest in all things green-fingered we’ve ploughed the internet for some great ideas to get your kids outdoors and digging.

The Outdoor Dad

Oli and Sonny don’t let cold weather stand in the way of their adventures
Image source: The Outdoor Dad

Does your toddler love to copy your every move? Two-year-old Sonny has a great time helping his dad, Oli of The Outdoor Dad, brush leaves in the garden. Oli and Sonny also have an awesome time bug hunting, looking for birds’ nests and building dens.

An ambassador for getting muddy, first time dad Oli shares his passion for adventure in the garden and beyond. He says, ‘there’s so much to see in the big wide world that I want him to get started early.’ Check out his 101 outdoor activities for families, for ideas like building a compost heap or giving geocaching a try.

The Newhouse Family

The world’s youngest gardening instructor
Image source: The Newhouse Family Blog

Little ones chomping at the bit to get into the garden will love Gardening with Willow, the Youtube gardening show with the world’s youngest presenter. When your kids watch Willow harvest runner beans and plant mushrooms they’re bound to want to have a go too.

A journey ‘towards a greener, cheaper lifestyle,The Newhouse Family Blog details the family’s quest to turn their garden into a sustainable paradise. Even if you only have a patio or balcony, you can still teach your kids eco-friendly gardening. Check out this family-friendly guide to organic growing to find out how.

The Ladybird’s Adventures

Encourage your children to grow into great gardeners
Image source: The Ladybird’s Adventures

Join Claire and her toddlers over on The Ladybird’s Adventures as they make bird feeders, butterfly biomes, and bug hotels in their back garden. Passionate about ‘learning through play and encouraging creativity,’ Claire also buys her kids their own mini tools, lets them choose their own seeds, and encourages them to keep a journal to track seedling growth.

Check out the rest of Claire’s tips and tricks for budding gardeners to encourage young children to engage with the garden. You’ll love the scavenger hunts she’s designed for you and your family to use.

Kids of the Wild

Old wellies make a boot-iful planter!
Image source: Kids of the Wild

Pairs of outgrown wellies kicking around the house? Get your kids growing boot-loads of herbs by turning them into planters. That’s just one of Lucy of Kids of the Wild’s creative outdoor gardening activities – she and her daughter Caroline also show you how to grow a willow den, dig a pond, and create wildlife havens.

A go-to resource for all things wild, Lucy’s passion for the outdoors helps spread the message that nature is transformative – a lesson she learned when Caroline was battling cancer. As she says, you and your family will benefit from getting outdoors, ‘even if you think you don’t have time.’

The Small Gardener

Little girl digging a wildlife pond in the garden

Kids love watching the wildlife that ponds attract
Image source: The Small Gardener

If you’re looking for a family project to get everyone outdoors, why not enlist the kids’ help to create a wildlife pond? Professional garden designer Rajul Shah shares step-by-step instructions over at her blog, The Small Gardener. Her top tip? Design a shallow, sloping ‘beach’ at the front so wildlife can enjoy a drink or bath without falling in.

Rajul’s own garden is a wildlife-friendly space. There are natural play areas where her children can hide, a fruit and vegetable patch, and a studio where she works. Kids will love her family-friendly projects like this hedgehog hotel too. Made using simple household objects, it’s a brilliant way to occupy a quiet afternoon.

Inspire Create Educate

Lauren has a helpful gardening team on hand
Image source: Inspire Create Educate

Let your kids sow and grow their own plants from seed to harvest, says Lauren of Inspire Create Educate. That’s because there’s no better way of getting children to fall in love with gardening and the environment, than by putting them right at the heart of the growing cycle.

Green-living guru Lauren’s blog is a handbook for living sustainably with kids – and garden activities are key. Here you’ll find all you need to teach your little ones about ecosystems. Looking for something for impatient kids to do while they’re waiting for their seedlings to grow? Easy, Lauren says. Get them to dig a big muddy hole.

Mummy Matters

Even small hands can get to grips with garden tasks
Image source: Mummy Matters

Teach your kids to grow plants even when there’s no outside space by using Sabina at Mummy Matters guide to growing indoors. She proves you can turn those little fingers green even if you can’t access a garden, with tips on what thrives in tight spaces, and even without sunlight.

Find out how to grow veg, herbs, and make personalised pots with your kids’ names on, and more. And when sometimes enthusiasm just isn’t enough to get the little ones excited about gardening, why not get your kids to plant seedlings? As Sabina says, “they’ll grow much faster and the reward will come much sooner”.

Growing Family

Two kids gardening in a plant pot

Children make natural gardeners
Image source: Growing Family

Children make very natural gardeners in my experience,” says Catherine over at Growing Family. “They love hands-on activities, they’re curious about nature and the world around them, and they generally relish the opportunity to get grubby!

You’ll never run out of ways to entice kids out into the fresh air once you’ve bookmarked Catherine’s Growing Family. With easy-to-grow veg, homemade bird feeders and loads more, there’s something for everyone. Fussy eater? Few children could resist tasting a vegetable that has their name on it! Here’s how to grow your name in a courgette this summer. For quick ideas that fit around busy family life, Growing Family is the place to be.

We’re sure you can’t wait to pull your wellies on and get your little ones’ hands dirty in the garden. Let us know what inspires you to move playtime outdoors by heading over to our Facebook page and dropping us a line.

10 awesome allotment blogs

Check out these awesome allotmenteers
Image: shutterstock

There’s an allotment revival going on at the moment. And it’s no wonder. Growing your own helps you eat better and cheaper, get fit, and spend quality time outdoors with friends and family.

If you fancy grabbing a piece of the ‘good life’ for yourself, then have a nose through these awesome allotment blogs. With practical how-tos, delicious homegrown recipes and inspirational pictures, they’ll make an allotmenteer of you yet.

Veg Plotting

veg plotting's home grown figs

Homegrown figs queuing up to feature in Michelle’s figgy cheese tart
Image: Veg Plotting

Ever wondered if you should break the rules when it comes to bulbs or asked yourself how to deal with ‘June drop’? Michelle, the green fingers behind Veg Plotting, has all the answers. This allotmenteer and ‘subversive soprano’ from Wiltshire has been tending her plot since 2003, when her husband’s illness inspired her to grow good, honest fayre for her family.

Fifteen years on, Michelle grows pretty much everything. Veg Plotting is a wonderful mix of advice, inspiration and humour. You’ll find a wealth of tutorials and some magnificent recipes including allotment soup and figgy cheese tart.

Our Plot at Green Lane Allotments

The berries are in at Green Lane allotments!
Image: Green Lane Allotments

It all started in the ‘80s with a single plot on a West Yorkshire allotment. As growing went out of fashion and neighbouring plots became vacant and overgrown, Sue and her husband took another plot, then another, and so on, until they ended up with five!

Sue is now the oracle on all things allotment-based. She generously shares growing techniques and top tips with her readership; such as why you should always leave slug-nibbled berries on the plant. Plus there are garden sudokus for rainy days and ‘young seedlings’ ideas to get the children hooked on growing.

Flighty’s plot

Flighty is pleased as Punch with his Polka Dot cornflowers
Image: Flighty’s Plot

Flighty’s Plot is tended by Mike: ‘allotmenteer, armchair gardener, blogger and sofa flyer’. Mike took over his allotment in 2007 and instantly fell in love with growing, getting to know the local wildlife and regular chat with fellow plot holders. Indeed, reading Flighty’s Plot feels a lot like chatting to an old friend.

Let Mike keep you up to date with the progress of this season’s crops and his close encounters with Foxy. When he’s not tending his allotment, Mike can be found on the sofa with a good book and a nice cup of tea. Our kind of chap.

Living on one acre or less

Photo of Udo from Living on one acre or less

Sally’s blog is the place to go for unusual produce
Image: Living on one acre or less

You don’t see udo very often in the UK,” says Sally Morgan. This huge Asian ‘vegetable’ is strikingly ornamental and has medicinal properties. If you’re fascinated by unusual produce or dream of living the good life on a modestly-sized smallholding, Sally Morgan’s blog, Living on one acre or less, is a brilliant resource.

Looking for organic crops to sow and harvest in 60 days? Sally has the ideal way to get your plot off to a flying start. Whether it’s “no-dig”, peat-free or “deep mulching,” she generously shares her own successes and failures along with plenty of tips. Sally writes about what she’s growing, the animals she keeps and different techniques to try. And with a Natural Sciences degree from Cambridge, it’s no surprise that Sally likes to experiment with different methods.

Agents of Field

agents of field's jam

Follow these beauties as they journey from allotment to breakfast table
Image: Agents of Field

Sophie and Ade are the Agents of Field and their mission is to save the Earth ‘one forkful at a time’. Their superpowers are sustainability, thriftiness and some very green fingers. And with twenty years of film and TV production between them, their blog is bursting with beautiful images and witty words.

So dive in and let horticulturalist Ade show you how to battle aphid invasions and upcycle just about any old rubbish into vital equipment for the allotment. Then settle down and discover how chef Sophie transforms both crops and weeds into mouthwatering meals. Nettle pesto, anyone?

Sharpen Your Spades

peas from sharpen your spades

Richard’s Blauwschokker peas are thriving in his no-dig allotment 
Image: Sharpen Your Spades

Richard Chivers is the man behind Sharpen Your Spades. His early growing career was a tempestuous one as he hurtled from one short-lived allotment fling to the next. But in 2015 he settled down with the plot of his life and hasn’t looked back since.

In his blog you’ll find a wealth of goodies from an allotment diary – a record of the frustrations and successes of organic growing – to comprehensive growing guides. Having sharpened his spade in the past, Richard has recently hung it up in favour of the no-dig gardening technique. Intriguing, huh?

The Event Gardener

Freshly harvested asparagus

Sandra enjoys growing tasty & more unusual varieties in her garden
Image: The Event Gardener

Every gardener nurtures their crops, but The Event Gardener’s Sandra Lawrence takes this to another level. Less concerned with high yield than taste and quality, Sandra delights in cultivating varieties that are expensive or hard to find in shops. Each crop’s arrival is celebrated with special meals, parties with friends, and new recipes.

How many packets of seeds do you have that you meant to sow but just didn’t get around to? Sandra’s top tip for finding out if they’re viable is to test on a dinner plate with some kitchen roll, clingfilm, moisture and a little patience. And if fruit trees hold more interest than veg seeds for you, Sandra has some top advice on how to transform the humble apple into the main event.

Sally Nex

Sally’s blog is full of tried-and-tested advice for gardeners
Image: Sally Nex

With over 20-years experience of vegetable growing, Sally Nex is a garden writer and the green fingers behind this recently restarted blog. Her own 250 square metre plot feeds her family all year round, and she loves experimenting with new crops as well as heritage varieties.

Sally’s simple vegetable plot tips for complete beginners will set you up for success. She’s also a keen advocate of gardening without plastic, and shares some great ideas about different alternatives, such as the pros and cons of wooden seed trays. Of course, you’ll need compost, too – ‘how to make a compost bin‘ is a fantastic guide to making the only system you’ll ever need – from scratch!

Horticultural ‘obbit

gooseberries from the horticultural hobbit

These gooseberries will soon be simmering with ginger, turmeric and spices
Image: Horticultural Hobbit

‘You won’t find romance here,’ warns Punam Farmah, psychology teacher, adventurous allotmenteer and writer of the Horticultural ‘obbit. This honest blog documents the natural experiments – some successful, others not – conducted on Punam’s allotment in Birmingham.

Discover how she transformed the jungle that was Plot 2a into a treasure-trove of taste (it took two weeks and 48 full green waste bags) and follow her delicious tutorials to create delights such as gooseberry pickle.

Grow Like Grandad

eggshells don't deter snails

It’s official: eggshells do NOT deter snails
Image: Grow Like Grandad

The granddads Matt Peskett wants to emulate are his very own – Grandad Jack and Great-Grandad George, both head gardeners in their time. And it’s thanks to Grandad Jack that our blogger got his first taste for growing.

Grow Like Grandad is full of expert information on allotmenteering, from how to grow giant pumpkins to a comprehensive guide to tackling your first allotment. It’s beautifully written and there’s always something to make you smile. The Snail Barrier Performance Trial (time-lapse video) is not to be missed.

We hope these wonderful blogs have inspired you to get growing or even to start your own allotment blog. And if you write about growing we’d love to hear from you. Visit our Facebook page and share a link to your gardening adventures.

 

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