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.

‘Behind the Genes’

It’s a very exciting time of year. RHS Chelsea Flower Show preparations are in full swing and the countdown is on.

This year, Thompson & Morgan is teaming up with Sparsholt College who are creating a ‘Behind the Genes’ show garden which is diving into the science behind plant breeding and genetics to offer an insight into the development of plant breeding and selection.

'Behind the Genes' Chelsea Garden

T&M breeding is recognised around the globe and it’s a great opportunity to showcase some of this in the garden which has been designed by Sparsholt’s Chris Bird in The Discovery Zone inside the famous Great Pavilion. The garden will feature plants such as Hydrangea ‘Runaway Bride’, one of the most floriferous and vigorous hydrangeas which won first place in last year’s Plant of the Year competition and plants from our very own breeding programme, such as Helianthus ‘SunBelievable™ Brown Eyed Girl’ which won 3rd place in last year’s competition. This is the world’s first multi branching sunflowers which puts out over 1,000 flowers during the growing season.

Hydrangea 'Runaway Bride', Lance with Peter Seabrook and Helianthus 'SunBelievable™ Brown Eyed Girl'

Hydrangea ‘Runaway Bride’, Lance with Peter Seabrook and Helianthus ‘SunBelievable™ Brown Eyed Girl’

My first trip to Chelsea was back in 2014 as a student at Sparsholt when we brought home the gold medal for ‘The Paper Chase’ garden and it’s great to be going back again this year with both my college and Thompson & Morgan to work on this very exciting project.

It’s a real honour to be a part of this project which aims to encourage the next generation of horticulturalists whilst promoting the opportunities that I’ve enjoyed – particularly at such a prestigious horticultural event! I’m hoping that by being involved in this garden, current Sparsholt students will be able to see the career options that await them.

A very busy few weeks lie ahead; preparing plants for Chelsea comes with its challenges. I find it’s almost like tricking nature, as you have to learn to sweet-talk plants to make them look beautiful on the day! Various methods are used to encourage plant growth, and in some cases, it’s necessary to ‘hold the plants back’.

Clematis ‘Kokonoe’ ©Plantipp/ Visions

Of course, the weather has a big impact on how well plants progress and as with all years, each season is different and no one can predict the weather.

Peter Freeman, our New Product Development Manager, has been working miracles and we have got some very exciting Plant of the Year entries that are being nurtured as I write, including a really striking, brand new clematis which has flowers that change shape throughout the season. Clematis ‘Kokonoe’ starts with warm purple single flowers which change into fully double pom-poms blooms as they develop to create a truly luxurious display!

We are also really excited to be joined by plant hunter Peter van Rijssen, who manages the trials for a worldwide portfolio of new plants and an avid promoter on social media of plants and new genetics.

Watch our Journey to Chelsea video:

I look forward to seeing you all at Chelsea!

Happy Gardening,
Lance

We’ve teamed up with SmartPlant™ to provide customers with online expert advice

Have you ever been left puzzled for days on end, trying to remember the name of that plant in your border? We’ve all been there – racking our memory for an elusive plant name! What if you could catalogue your plants online so that their names were all there at your fingertips? Even better, if you received personalised, timely care information to tell you exactly what needs doing in your garden.

And then there’s all that time spent trawling books to figure out what those bugs are? Wouldn’t life be simpler if you could just message a ‘real-life’ horticultural expert and get a fast, personal reply?

Well, all of that is now possible with an impressive app called SmartPlant™. Whether you are new to gardening or a green-fingered guru, this innovative app makes plant care simple.

The SmartPlant™ app offers plant identification, a calendar of growing tips tailored to your own garden, pest and disease identification and advice, expert chat, and plant suggestions based around your gardens growing conditions. Better still, you can connect SmartPlant™ with your Alexa device to receive your plant care advice, even if you’re up to your eyeballs in soil! With so much to offer, it’s easy to see why Thompson & Morgan have teamed up with SmartPlant™, to help their customers get the very best from their house and garden plants.

PLUS, Thompson & Morgan customers can access a month of premium membership for FREE with promo code tmsp

Get started now by downloading on the iTunes app store or Google play


Get growing in the garden this Easter!

The long Easter weekend conjures thoughts of Easter egg hunts, family roasts, and the promise of warmer weather. But Easter is also the beginning of the gardening year for many, as they make use of the bank holidays to get the garden sorted – before things really get out of hand!

Easter egg hunt

©Sue Sanderson. Set up an Easter egg hunt for the kids in your garden.

Get mowing!

If you haven’t started already, then it’s definitely time to get the lawnmower out. Your first cut of your grass is probably overdue, so raise the blades to their highest setting and get mowing. While you’re at it, give the lawn a feed to set it up for the season ahead.

Mow the lawn

Begin mowing the lawn again this month – set the blades to their highest setting.

Divide and conquer!

By now, most perennials have poked fresh shoots above ground and new growth is well underway. Now is a great time to tidy up any remaining plant debris from last year and have a good tidy up. Borders that looked tired last year can be given new life with a spring redesign. Lift and divide overcrowded clumps of perennials before they put on too much growth, and then fill any gaps with new plants.

replant perennial borders

©Carly Holloway. Lift and divide perennials now, before they put on too much growth.

Don’t forget that they will need watering while they establish. It’s worth installing a seeper hose now if you live in a dry area – you’ll be glad you did by the middle of July! A layer of mulch will also bring dividends later in the year, providing nutrients and retaining moisture in the soil – as well as making the whole border look much smarter.

Grow, grow, grow!

April is the month for potting up and potting on! Plug plants are the perfect way to get a head start on seasonal bedding. Make sure you have plenty of pots and fresh compost to hand, so that you can get them potted up as soon as they arrive. Never use up half used bags of last year’s compost as this is the perfect overwintering site for pests and diseases. Old compost is best used as a mulch on your borders.

pots of plug plants and seedlings

Pot up plug plants and keep on top of seed sowing throughout this month.

While you’re at the potting bench, it’s time to take out those Dahlia tubers that you were storing overwinter, and start them into growth. Use decent sized pots (2-3 litre) to allow the roots to develop well. If you’ve lost some then there’s still time to replace them with some new Dahlia tubers. Dahlias are having a surprising resurgence in popularity, with events such as the Anglesey Abbey Dahlia Festival which are always popular. Why not create your own festival in your flower borders this summer!

Dahlia flowers

©Sue Sanderson. Create your own Dahlia festival for a fabulous display of colour.

The next 2 months will see a peak in seed sowing – especially for the vegetable growers out there! It’s a good idea to take half an hour to put your seed in order. Keep them in a storage box, ordered by sowing period, with dated dividers. Week by week you can see exactly which seed needs sowing, and this should prevent any being missed.

A breath of fresh air!
Greenhouse with door open

Open greenhouse doors and vents to prevent plants overheating on warm days.

With so many young plants crammed into the greenhouse, it’s important to ventilate, especially as you may well still be using a greenhouse heater at night. An automatic greenhouse vent opener makes a great investment at this time of the year, reducing the risk of your young plants overheating in a hot greenhouse. Open the greenhouse door in the morning, but remember to close it by late afternoon as there is still a nip in the air at night. If you are visited by cats then it’s a good idea to fix a mesh across the door to prevent them snuggling up on top of your new plants!

And relax…

With the garden tidy and everything in order, you can bring out the garden furniture, sit back and relax. Don’t forget to set up that Easter Egg Hunt for the kids. There’s nothing more satisfying than watching the whole family enjoying the outdoor space that you’ve created!

 

Growing with kids: Mr Men and Little Miss seeds

Photo of Thompson & Morgan range of Mr. Happy's 'Tomato Sweet Apéritif' Seed Range

Tomatoes are one of the easiest things to grow with children
Image source: dogwooddays

Children love watching plants grow – from that miraculous moment when a tiny seed’s first leaves emerge from the ground – to enjoying the flowers and fruits that appear later in the season.

Professional garden designer Nic Wilson of dogwooddays thinks it’s a great idea to get kids involved with gardening at an early age. Here’s what she and her kids made of Thompson & Morgan’s Mr Men and Little Miss seeds when they tried them out at home.

Encouraging kids to sow and grow

Hand holding three packs of the Mr Men/Little Miss Seed Range from Thompson & Morgan - photo by dogwooddays

The seeds Nic’s children decided to start with
Image source: dogwooddays

Last year, Thompson & Morgan partnered with Mr Men and Little Miss to produce a selection of seeds and gardening products to encourage kids to grow their own. The range was launched in the fabulously colourful Mr Men themed garden at Hampton Court Flower Show – a hugely successful space loved by adults and kids alike.

The seeds include easy to grow flowers, fruit and vegetables such as Little Miss Sunshine’s Sunflower ‘Helios Flame’, Mr Sneeze’s Pepper ‘Boneta’, Mr Strong’s Broccoli ‘Bell Star’ (which Mr Strong suggests should be eaten with cheesy scrambled eggs for a fortifying meal) and Mr Tickle’s ‘Extra Curled’ Cress – simple enough for even the smallest growers to handle.

Best fruit and veg seeds for kids

Action shot of child making lollipop markets for seed pots

Making markers for seed pots is part of the fun
Image source: dogwooddays

My kids decided to start with Mr Happy’s Tomato ‘Sweet Apéritif’ – because tomatoes are one of our favourite summer snacks. We sowed the seeds in peat-free compost in newspaper pots that we’d made ourselves, and then popped them into the windowsill propagator.

Each day the kids checked the pots, and there was great excitement on the morning that the first leaves unfurled. Indoor germination makes it easy for children to get involved in watering the plants each day and watching the seedlings develop.

This week we’ll be pricking the seedlings out and the children will be growing them on in their bedrooms. We’re planning to plant them out after the first frosts and hoping for big bowlfuls of cherry tomatoes later in the summer! We’ve also sown Little Miss Giggles’ Cucumber ‘Diva’ which should give us plenty of small fruits for picnics and lunchboxes.

Best flower seeds for kids

Mr Small’s Nasturtium Whirlybird Mixed from Thompson & Morgan

Stunning cherry, rose, gold, orange, scarlet, tangerine and cream Nasturtium flowers
Image source: Mr Small’s Nasturtium Whirlybird Mixed from T&M

For a shot of colour, we decided to sow Mr Small’s Nasturtium Whirlybird Mixed. Nasturtiums are one of the best flowers to grow with young children as they have such cheerful flowers. Kids love the fact that they have edible peppery leaves and they also enjoy harvesting the petals to add to pretty summer salads.

Another flower with brightly coloured, edible petals is Mr Clever’s Calendula ‘Fruit Twist’. Calendula readily self-seeds in the garden, so in subsequent years it’s fun to see what new colours emerge as the seedlings mature.

Gardening skills for life

Child standing amongst tomato plants - photo from dogwooddays

There’s nothing quite like harvesting your own snacks as a child!
Image source: dogwooddays

Growing these easy crops and flowers teaches children how to sow seeds, prick-out seedlings and look after plants once they’re outside in the garden or greenhouse. The sense of achievement when they pick their first tomato or create a posy with their own flowers is enormous.

Even better, it has encouraged my kids to enjoy fruit and vegetables that they would have otherwise refused to try. And with 25% of each packet sold going to the Children With Cancer UK charity, growing these seeds is sure to bring a smile to everyone’s faces – not just Mr Happy’s!

If you’ve been inspired to get your kids or grandkids out into the garden this year, the Mr Men and Little Miss seed range includes:

 

Beyond the Pail

Seriously? It’s April already? How did that happen! (If that’s rhetorical, does it need a question mark?) It’s all systems go here. David and I are Going For It big time: NEW sculpture focal point, NEW rill feature, NEW rose arch. And NEW hanging baskets – no more wicker, gone off rustic – and in their place, vintage galvanized buckets. We’ve even got one for the cats to lie in. More of that later…

Caroline's new rose arch, feature and focal point

Caroline’s new rose arch, feature and focal point
© Caroline Broome

In-between bouts of furious activity in the garden, we’ve been out and about too. (New Year’s Resolution: Get Out More). In March we visited Kew Gardens to see the orchid exhibition, and even though I’m not a fan of orchids I thoroughly enjoyed it. Such bold displays of colour and theatre that I even managed to get from one end of the hot house to the other without having a panic attack and running out! (Memories of Eden Project tropical biome.) There was one orchid that was so intensely turquoise blue that I had to touch it to make sure it was real. (Get a grip girl, it’s hardly likely to be plastic, is it, it’s KEW GARDENS!) Bumped into our esteemed Hort Soc Chair, Doc Page with family and friends; clearly not a good location for a secret rendezvous!

Stunning displays at the Kew Gardens Orchid Exhibition

Stunning displays at the Kew Gardens Orchid Exhibition
© Caroline Broome

Last weekend we joined friends H & N at their lodge in Belton Woods, Lincolnshire, for a couple of days of R&R. An amble through the ash woodland revealed a cathedral of towering trees, their branches stretching up towards the cloudless sky. At the edge of the woods we saw a small herd of Sika deer. Oh, the peace and quiet; I could get used to this!

A catherdral of trees

A cathedral of trees
© Caroline Broome

Spurred on by all these bucolic influences it was straight back outside on our return, to start planting out. I was surprised to find myself slightly daunted by quite large patches of bare soil (more than 1m² I consider extensive in our garden) that I created by lifting loads of perennials last autumn. But gradually they are all being replanted in a more balanced design, with plenty of room still to spare for new ones of course.

At a recent horticultural club where I was presenting a PowerPoint presentation of The Evolution of Caro’s Garden, I was asked what my favourite plant was. And, like so many other gardeners, I answered, “the one that’s in flower right now.” Which is brunnera. I’m building up quite a collection with no thought whatsoever of where I will accommodate them. Brunnera Hadspens Cream is my latest acquisition, and my T&M trial ‘Alexander’s Great’ from a couple of years ago is certainly living up to its name!

Having derided wicker hanging baskets in our recent Hort Soc newsletter, I felt it would be churlish of me not to put my money where my mouth is, so all nine of them have been swapped for vintage galvanised buckets, purchased through a certain auction website. Once we’d entertained ourselves with humorous quips such as, Kicking the Bucket and Beyond the Pail, David got down to work drilling drainage holes, adjusting brackets and fixing chains, before I replanted all my cherished hostas, ready for the addition of colourful T&M plug plants, which are arriving by the minute.

Brunnera 'Alexander's Great' and Caroline's new hanging baskets

Brunnera ‘Alexander’s Great’ and Caroline’s new hanging baskets
© Caroline Broome

Talking of which, every day is like Christmas, anticipating the arrival of new plugs: so far Nasturtium ‘Orchid Flame’, Begonia ‘Buffey’ & Begonia ‘Sweet Spice Bounty Coral’. Petunias next. Grown from seed, Tomato ‘Sweetest Duo’ aka. ‘Sungold’ & ‘Sweet Aperitif’, Tomato ‘Sweet Cherry’ and Cucumber ‘Mini Munch’ all have their first true leaves, and even one or two tiny seedlings of Nicotiana langsdorffii (much admired at last Summer’s T&M Press Open Day) have managed to survive thus far! Ricinis communis and Cerinthe major ‘Purpurescens’ seedlings, the easiest to grow, are well established now.

Mind you, the mad dash to the greenhouse to open the door and switch the propagators off before work, followed by the inevitable nocturnal dive to shut the door and switch the propagators back on overnight, is fraught with tension (quel domage, that should be one’s greatest worry in life, n’est-ce pas?).

Even going away for two nights was touch and go! Should I cover them with cloches, but they might bake to death; should I leave them uncovered, but they might wither from damping off. Shows you what my priorities are: as soon as we arrived home, a quick grovel to the cats, begging for forgiveness for leaving them, and then straight up to the greenhouse – to find all seedlings fine and dandy. Phew!

But what of the cats? Our covered patio, or Catatorium, was specifically designed for feline frolics in an outside space without risk of injury to the cats themselves or the wildlife beyond. Hence all the shelves and tunnels. The large wicker hanging basket was never meant for them, we just hung it up one day pending planting and Fred got in, and the rest as they say, is history. So the hunt was on for a galvanised replacement, big enough to accommodate two cats, after all, he’s got to have a double bed for him and his new bride, Ethel. And as luck would have it we found the very thing in Belton Wood Garden Centre, a 15” pail.

Caroline's cats, Fred and Ethel

Caroline’s cats, Fred and Ethel
© Caroline Broome

As time marches on plans for this summer’s National Garden Scheme Open Gardens is well under way. In July (Sunday 7th to be exact, put it in your diaries,) our Hort Soc is holding its second NGS Group Open Garden Day in Hampstead Garden Suburb. Our first suburb group open day in 2017 was such a rip roaring success that everybody wants to join in now, so we’ve ended up with 14 gardens (4 new) and 1 allotment, making this group possibly the largest in the UK for NGS. No pressure then!

So as dear old Arnold Schwarzenegger would say, “I’ll be back”. Can’t picture him pottering around in the garden though…

Good companions in the veg plot

late summer vegetable garden with full rows and flowers in bloom

Plant vegetables, herbs and flowers together for optimum results
Image source: Irina Fischer

Companion planting is the art of growing different plants together to achieve certain benefits, such as helping with pest control, encouraging pollination or increasing crop yields. With a little thought, companion planting can also create a feast for the eyes, turning a functional veg plot to a glorious thing of colour and beauty.

We asked The Sunday Gardener, Carol Bartlett, for her advice on companion planting. Here are some of her top tips…

What is companion planting?

RHS Kitchen Garden at Harlow Carr

RHS Kitchen Garden at Harlow Carr
Image credit: Lee Beel

Companion planting has long historical roots, harking back to a time when there were no chemicals to control pests or to feed plants, and gardeners relied purely on nature. In the 1970s, when organic gardening became popular once again, companion planting enjoyed a renaissance which continues to this day.

But there’s another aspect to companion planting which is equally popular: using contrasting plants and vegetables to create an aesthetically appealing kitchen garden. This style of planting is illustrated above, in this RHS garden at Harlow Carr where the veg plot looks immaculate and is full of colour. In and amongst the vegetables are sweet peas, nasturtiums, tagetes and lavender, creating a veg plot that’s both beautiful and productive.

It’s fair to say that recent studies have been less than conclusive about the direct benefits of companion planting. I view it as a way to deter pests while also making my vegetable plot more attractive. In this wider context, which includes the aesthetic look of the veg plot, perhaps it’s less important to measure the direct benefits scientifically.

How companion planting works: repel and sacrifice

Closeup of orange nasturtiums and yellow chard

The combination of orange nasturtiums and yellow chard is both beautiful and strategic
Image source: Peter Turner Photography

There are two types of companion plants: some are grown because their smell repels unwanted insects, and others are grown as a sacrifice to keep the main crop insect-free.

One of the best known combinations recently receiving tentative scientific approval is planting tomatoes together with French Marigold (Tagetes patula) to reduce whitefly. Marigolds contain a substance called limonene, and scientific data confirms that tomatoes grown alongside limonene suffer less from whitefly. It’s also true that tomatoes and tagetes make a colourful planting combination!

Another good companion for tomato plants is basil. They look and taste good together, and this scented herb is said to repel pests.

Plagued by aphids? Nasturtiums make good aphid traps. The flowers secrete mustard oil which lures the insects away from brassicas and other crops. In a similar vein, some people use French marigolds as slug bait – meaning they’re used as sacrifice plants to keep your lettuce free from slugs.

Strong smelling plants, such as lavender, mint and sage are reputed to confuse and repel aphids and other unwanted insects away from many vegetables, including carrots. The combination of alliums and carrots is often recommended, but given the tenacity of the carrot fly, I personally always use a physical barrier as well. I’m happy to plant alliums and chives around my carrots, but put my faith in a sturdy barrier!

Companion planting to attract pollinators

Closeup of purple borage from the RHS

Borage is a beautiful, pollinator-friendly herb
Image source: RHS

We’re becoming ever more aware of the vital role of pollinators and bees to our food culture. Carefully chosen companion plants definitely help to attract pollinators to your vegetable plot, and the more pollination, the better the yield.

The English pot marigold, Calendula, is so easy to cultivate that it almost grows itself. Unlike the French marigold it’s of no interest to slugs, who ignore it, but pollinators like hoverflies, lacewings and ladybirds are incredibly attracted to its lovely zingy yellows and oranges. What’s more, Calendula will seed itself from year to year with no gardening attention whatsoever.

Want to increase your tomato yields? Encourage more bumble bees. In fact, bees are so essential to tomatoes that boxes of them are often imported into commercial greenhouses to work their pollinating magic. In your own greenhouse, chives are one of the best ways to attract bees and are ideal planted with tomatoes. A few pots of chives near the entrance and around your plants will welcome them in!

Another herb that’s a great friend of pollinators is borage, with its lovely delicate flowers that attract bees, butterflies, and hoverflies. But if I could grow just one plant to attract pollinators it would be oregano, beloved of all pollinating insects.

For more information about companion planting combinations, see the chart in our Companion Planting Guide. Know of any combinations we haven’t mentioned? Please leave us a comment and share your tips.

 

8 great gardening podcasts

Man watering plants in a greenhouse listening to podcasts/music on his headphones

Get inspiration in the garden with these eight horticultural podcasts
Image: PavelKant

Gardening podcasts are a fabulous source of horticultural entertainment and inspiration. They make perfect rainy-day listening and can also get you through the most mundane of gardening tasks.

So pop in your headphones and join us as we visit eight of the best gardening podcasts around.

 

Pot and Cloche

Logo of Pots and Cloche Garden Podcasts

Cotswold-based horticulturalist Joff Elphick has worked in some of the country’s finest gardens, including Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Barnsley House, and Sir Chris Evans’ private estate. He’s also the host of the popular Pot and Cloche podcast.

Joff speaks to authors, head gardeners and “other interesting horty types” about all things gardening. The subject mix is eclectic – with Pam Ayres talking hedgehogs, Tomorrow’s World’s Judith Hann on herbs, and writer Stephen Anderton on nymphs, fauns and wenches.

 

 

 

 

Growing Wild

Logo of the Growing Wild podcast

Charlotte Petts is an engaging speaker with a talent for getting the most from her interviewees. Her award-winning podcast, Growing Wild, showcases the benefits of connecting with nature – covering community gardening, wild food and foraging, to wild swimming and outdoor adventure.

Learn everything you need to know about soil health and improvement, alongside an expert panel comprising Liz Bowles, Soil Association; Lucy Nixon, Brighton composter, and Jackie Stroud, Rothamsted Research. “You need more paper than you’d think to produce a good compost,” remarks Nixon. Tune into this monthly podcast for more nuggets like this.

 

 

 

A Sustainable(ish) Life

Logo of the Sustainable(ish) podcast by Jen Gale

“Do you want to reduce your impact on the planet but you’re just not sure where to start?” asks Sustainable(ish) podcaster Jen Gale. This podcast features chats with sustainable-living heroes about the small, achievable changes we can all make to look after our planet.

Jen created Sustainable(ish) for people who care about the environment but struggle to do anything about it. “It’s very easy to have all good intentions, and to WANT to do things differently, but when we’re busy and frazzled, those good intentions can all too easily fall by the wayside.” This podcast is the solution to that. Start with her 5(ish) Minute Guide to Creating New Sustainable Habits.

 

 

 

The Garden Log

Logo of TheGardenLog podcast

“Some of the excitement in pruning apples is that’s it’s a job that has genuine potential for disaster,” says podcaster and horticulturist Ben Dark. In fact, says Ben, you can destroy an apple tree with poor pruning. With that in mind, The Garden Log’s guide to pruning your apple trees is essential listening. Be warned: there should be “no gratuitous cutting”.

This podcast started when gardener Ben Dark got the job of turning three good gardens into three amazing gardens. He decided to share the journey and this audio show is the result. Over 50 episodes later, The Gardening Log has become cherished listening for many. And given the quality content and Ben’s relaxing, mellow tones, it’s easy to see why.

 

 

Roots and All

Logo of Roots and All podcast

How much do you really know about what’s in your garden manure? Podcaster Sarah Wilson talks with Matthew Appleby about vegan gardening on her Roots and All podcast. It’s a thought-provoking episode – did you know that animal muck can contain pesticides from the food they’ve been eating, plus viable pathogens from infected animals?

Roots and All began when Sarah, “had the niggling feeling that things could be done better to introduce people to horticulture.” A talented interviewer and gardener, there are some real delights here. Have a listen to Poisonous Plants with Dr Liz Dauncey. You’ll find out that the castor oil plant is one of the most deadly, but only if you chew the seeds.

 

 

 

Skinny Jean Gardener

new logo of Skinny Jean Gardener

You’d probably recognise Lee Connelly’s face from the TV. He was Blue Peter’s gardener for three years, built the kitchen garden for fellow Essex boy Jimmy Doherty of Jimmy’s Farm, and is the garden expert on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch. He’s also the Skinny Jean Gardener behind his eponymous podcast.

Lee’s show has a relaxed (skinny-jean) vibe. Tune into his weekly podcast for expert interviews, live phone-ins and plenty of garden inspiration for adults and children.

 

 

 

Gardens, weeds & words

Logo of the gardens, weeds & words podcast

If you like your podcasts low key, meditative and infused with the sounds of nature doing her thing, you’ll love Gardens, weeds & words. Listen as host Andrew O’Brien waxes lyrical about just enjoying your garden in its entirety “…you never get to enjoy your garden in all its fullness until you learn to stop…listen…stare at nothing in particular…and just be.” A wonderful reminder of the simple joy of just living in the moment.

Andrew describes his podcast as: “A blend of slow radio, gardening advice and conversation, and readings from the best garden and wildlife writing.” If you’re looking to embrace seasonal living, we’d recommend Andrew’s interview with Almanac, a seasonal guide to 2019 author, Lia Leendertz.

 

 

 

National Trust Podcast

Logo of the National Trust podcast

Fancy a quick stroll around Bodnant Garden in Conwy, Wales? If so, you’re in for a listening treat, courtesy of the National Trust Podcast. Bodnant was the creation of Henry Pochin, a renowned plant collector who favoured the Welsh estate for its mild microclimate and protected valley location. Take an audio tour from the comfort of your armchair as National Trust Head Gardener, Alan Power explores this high-Victorian formal garden.

The National Trust Podcast is a true gem – painting intimate audio portraits of some of the nation’s most treasured homes and gardens. It’s a wonderful archive you’ll want to revisit time after time.

 

 

 

We hope you’ve discovered some gardening podcasts that you’re itching to tune into. If you have any favourites that we have overlooked here, we’d love to hear about them. Share them on our Facebook page.

Plants for shade

Shady corner of a garden with a statue, hostas, ferns and other plants

Brighten up dark corners with shade-loving plants
Image: Elena Elisseeva

Does your garden have a Cinderella spot? A part that doesn’t get the same love and attention as the rest? Chances are, says Mandy Bradshaw of The Chatty Gardener, it’s a shady area.

Sunny borders might seem more interesting and easy to fill, but Mandy’s tips for the best shade-loving plants will give your neglected corners a fairytale ending of their own. Here’s her pick of show-stopping specimens that positively thrive in the shade.

Shady types

stock image of a green garden with beds, trees and patches of shade

Know your type of shade before you plant
Image: Hannamariah

Before you start tackling a shady area, there are a few things to consider.

Firstly, work out what sort of shade you have. Is it unrelenting gloom or the type of dappled shade that’s found under deciduous trees and shrubs? Is the shade caused by buildings or walls that will lend themselves to climbers? Or is it cast by evergreen shrubs that take the light and compete for water?

The type of soil you’ll be planting into is also important. Some shady spots suffer from dark, damp conditions, while others have quite dry soil. Different plants will suit each scenario.

Ask yourself what you want to achieve. Is the patch of shade at the end of your drive where neat and tidy will do, or alongside a seating area that needs a bit more drama?

Finally, think about colour. Lighter colours, particularly white flowers, and variegated leaves stand out better in shade than those with dark or muted tones.

Preparation is key

Pink and white Cyclamen hederifolium from Thompson & Morgan

Cyclamen is a woodland flower that grows well in shady areas under trees
Image: Cyclamen hederifolium from Thompson & Morgan

Look carefully at the area before you start. Sometimes, raising ‘the skirts’ of trees or shrubs dramatically increases light levels beneath. In my garden I’ve removed the low-growing branches on my Parrotia persicaria, allowing cyclamen and snowdrops to naturalise underneath. Similarly, clearing the lower trunk of a holly bush has not only given it a better shape; I now also have an easier area to plant.

Preparing the soil thoroughly is never wasted work, particularly when it’s in shade. Add plenty of humus and fork it in. Well-rotted leaf mould is good as it mimics the sort of natural conditions many shade-loving woodland plants love.

After you’ve planted, mulch the ground thickly. This will help to conserve moisture and, if repeated regularly, will gradually improve dry soil.

Plants for damp shade

Yellow flowers of Epimedium ‘Frohnleiten’ from Thompson & Morgan

Pretty yellow Epimedium lifts otherwise gloomy areas of the garden
Image: Epimedium ‘Frohnleiten’ from Thompson & Morgan

There are many plants that will revel in damp shade. Lamprocapnos spectabilis (bleeding heart) is lovely in gloomy spots, particularly the white form. Geranium phaeum is another good choice – the white flowers of ‘Album’ are particularly effective. Other possibilities include epimedium, with its dainty flowers held high over the leaves, Lily of the valley, and hostas – as long as you can guard against slugs and snails. For something a little different, try Podophyllum versipelle ‘Spotty Dotty’ for its beautiful marbled foliage.

Plants for dry shade

Shady border of a garden with hostas and sweet woodruff planted together

Sweet Woodruff and hostas planted together in a shady spot
Image: Nature Within – Cherish The Moment

Dry shade is the hardest to deal with, as I know well from gardening on my own thin, sandy soil. Euphorbia amygdaloides var robbiae has lovely limey green bracts and growing it in poorer conditions keeps it in check. Iris foetidissima copes with deep shade and its orange seed pods are a welcome splash of winter colour, while a pretty ivy or Galium odoratum (sweet woodruff) are great for ground cover. Several ferns, including dryopteris and polystichum, also thrive in shade.

Plants for partial shade

Pink and white flowers of Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrids’ from Thompson & Morgan

Attract wildlife to your garden with foxgloves
Image: Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrids’ from Thompson & Morgan

The term ‘partial shade’ describes the way the sun moves across your garden, leaving it in shade for part of the day. But it can also refer to the sort of seasonal shade that deciduous trees and shrubs provide when in full leaf.

Alchemilla mollis, hardy geraniums and the elegant Polygonatum x hybridum (Solomon’s Seal) are all good for spots that are shady for part of the day. Under trees, choose woodlanders such as Anemone nemorosa, primroses, and foxgloves.

Climbers

Single yellow flower of Clematis ‘Guernsey Cream’ from Thompson & Morgan

A climbing clematis is a great way to cover walls and fences
Image: Clematis ‘Guernsey Cream’ from Thompson & Morgan

Ivy is the obvious choice for covering a shady fence or wall, but you can also brighten these areas with flowers. One of my favourites is Clematis ‘Guernsey Cream’, which I grew for many years in a sun-free courtyard. Its beautiful limey flowers gradually fade to white as they age. There are even climbing roses that will tolerate some shade, including ‘Graham Thomas’ and ‘The Generous Gardener’.

So, with a little thought and some careful soil preparation, even the most overlooked area of your garden can enjoy the spotlight.

How to create beautiful displays with annual flowers

image of Nigella Damascena on a summers day

Nigella damascena provides a beautiful display all summer long
Image source: Shutterstock

Once March arrives, Nic Wilson’s potting shed is launched into action as her annual flower seeds come out.

Here, the experienced gardener behind dogwooddays talks to us about the many roles that annual flowers play in her garden. Affordable, beautiful, and easy to grow, Nic shares her favourite annual flower combinations, and tips on how to use them to create a fresh new display every year.

Sowing annual flower seeds

Calendula officinalis nana 'Fruit Twist' from Thompson & Morgan

Calendula is a quick and easy annual that’s easy to grow in almost any garden
Image source: Calendula officinalis nana ‘Fruit Twist’ from Thompson & Morgan

You can sow many hardy annuals like calendula, sunflowers, nasturtiums and Californian poppy indoors from March, in seed trays or modules, then potted on and planted outdoors when they’re large enough. Alternatively, from April, sow annual flower seeds directly outdoors to create interest throughout the summer:

  • Scatter the seeds in swathes through mixed borders
  • Sow in vegetable plots to attract pollinators and as companion plants
  • Sprinkle over gravel gardens

When designing gardens, I often include annuals to add variety and fill gaps until shrubs and perennials develop. Many annuals self-seed, like nigella, borage and calendula, so they create maximum impact with minimum effort. They’re beloved by bees and butterflies, are ideal for cutting, and some provide edible flowers too. Annuals really do offer something for everyone.

Best colour combinations

blue-purple plants with a self-seeded green centre

Self-seeded nigella
Image source: dogwooddays

One breathtaking colour combination I wouldn’t be without is purple and orange. One of my favourites is the delicate bell flowers of Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’ contrasted with Calendula officinalis nana ‘Citrus Cocktail’ or Californian Poppy ‘Sun Shades’. These flowers last for months and self-seed in my garden, but are easy to remove in areas required for other plants.

Blues and whites create a cool, sophisticated combination. I particularly like the lofty umbels of Ammi majus or Orlaya grandiflora underplanted with Nigella ‘Blue starry skies’ or the diminutive cornflower ‘Dwarf Blue Midget’.

I also love velvety chocolate-purples and deep reds set against white. Try planting the opposing shades of Scabious ‘Ebony and Ivory’ or a contrasting display of sweet peas like ‘Night and Day’.

Best annual flowers for containers

Calendula ‘Snow Princess’ from Thompson & Morgan

Calendula ‘Snow Princess’ is ideal for containers
Image source: dogwooddays

One year I was given a packet of Coreopsis x hybrida ‘Incredible’ which I sowed in a spare container. The result was a blaze of colour throughout the summer – I’d definitely recommend these easy-to-grow, eye-catching flowers.

Other container successes include calendula, which I also grow in the vegetable garden.

My favourites are Calendula ‘Snow Princess’ which lasted through the winter this year, and my desert island flower, Calendula ‘Sherbet Fizz’ whose faded bronze petals I first met in Nick Bailey’s Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden at Chelsea in 2016 – it was love at first sight!

Edible delights

collection of sunflowers in a garden

Nic’s children like growing sunflowers
Image: im pany

Annuals offer quick rewards for children, both in terms of their prolific flowers and the edible qualities of many blooms. My kids like growing nasturtiums to eat their peppery leaves, petals and (later in the season) their pickled seedpods – a favourite pizza topping in our house.

They also grow sunflowers, especially the dwarf varieties and sunflower ‘Velvet Queen’ with its large, maroon-coloured heads. If you want to grow a range of different sunflowers, try sowing seeds from the T&M sunflower collection which includes ‘Harlequin’, ‘Italian White’ and ‘Velvet Queen’.

What’s your favourite annual flower? Leave us a comment and remember to tag us on your photos this summer.

Starting a culinary herb garden

closeup of hands taking cuttings of basil from a white windowsill box

Grow herbs to add to your garden and kitchen.
Image: DarwelShots

Anyone can start a herb garden, no matter how little space they have available. Some people create bespoke culinary herb gardens, while others tuck these flavour-packed plants into any empty space they can find.

We asked The Sunday Gardener, Carol Bartlett, for her top tips on growing herbs at home. Here’s her sage advice…

What is a herb?

collection of harvested herbs on a brown cutting board

Grow hardy herbs in shady spots.
Image: Shutterstock

‘Herb’ is a generic term. It covers a wide group of plants that don’t necessarily share the same preferences for growing conditions. It’s true to say that, as a group, herbs mostly prefer sun – especially those of Mediterranean origin. But for those of us who don’t have sunny, south-facing gardens, there are enough herbs that tolerate semi-shade to keep a keen cook happy.

Should you grow herbs from seeds or plants?

Pots of Rosemary, Thyme, Mint and Coriander on a windowsill

Start with plug plants for faster results.
Image: Christine Bird

Many herbs germinate readily from seed – an easy and inexpensive way to get started. Early in the year (before May), it’s best to sow on a windowsill or under glass. Simply place several seeds in a small plant pot, and cover with a light sprinkling of soil. Keep the soil warm and ensure you keep it moist.

From May onwards you can sow herb seeds directly outdoors into containers or your veg plot. It’s best to sow crops like parsley and coriander fortnightly, to ensure a regular supply. If you want to grow from seed, I suggest parsley, coriander, chives and basil – you’ll need a regular succession of these plants to keep your kitchen in business.

If you don’t have time to grow from seed, there’s a wide variety of herbs available to buy as plants for an instant, ready-made herb garden. It makes more sense to buy herb plants if you only need a few of each. I suggest buying mint, oregano, sage, rosemary, thyme and lemon balm this way to get started.

Where to plant Mediterranean herbs

Sage (Salvia officinalis) from Thompson & Morgan

Fully-hardy sage thrives outside
Image: Sage from Thompson & Morgan

Sun-loving Mediterranean herbs include thyme, rosemary, oregano and sage. They need to be planted in dry, well-drained soil and get plenty of sun to grow well. Some of them, like thyme and oregano are particularly attractive to bees and pollinators – ideal if you’re trying to attract more wildlife into your garden.

Thyme:

Different varieties of thyme are available with small, pretty flowers in white, mauve and pink. These plants look attractive in containers, and they also like to grow in small crevices in walls and paving. Because of its compact size, thyme is ideal for growing on a windowsill. It’s easy to grow and requires little maintenance except for a light trim after flowering. For culinary use, I consider Thymus Vulgaris (common Thyme) best. It has a lovely aromatic sweet flavour and easy to pick leaves.

Rosemary:

Rosemary is a larger plant that grows to somewhere between 60 cms and 1m, but it’s relatively slow growing. It’s reasonably hardy, but less so in poorly drained soils and it dislikes cold, chilling winds. If conditions aren’t ideal, there’s a tendency for the needles to brown.

The other common variety of rosemary, from the prostrate group, is not fully hardy and requires winter protection. As the name suggests, this is a trailing plant which is best grown in a container so that you can move it under glass for winter protection.

Sage:

Sage is fully hardy and happily grows outside all year round. It can look a bit battered at the beginning of the growing season but quickly picks up. Both sage and oregano do get quite large as they mature, up to around 60cms tall with an equal spread.

Oregano:

Oregano is a fully hardy perennial that benefits from being cut back in the spring.

One oregano shrub usually provides enough pickings for a family, but I always grow more to feed the wildlife. Origanum vulgare is an attractive shrub which has pretty mauve flowers that bees and butterflies just love. Mine are covered all summer with busy pollinators. Many herbs are attractive to bees and butterflies, but oregano is one of the best.

Which herbs grow in semi-shade?

Basil 'Siam Queen' from Thompson & Morgan

Grow basil on window sills if you have limited outdoor space.
Image: Basil ‘Siam Queen’ from Thompson & Morgan

Don’t have a south-facing garden? A number of culinary herbs tolerate semi-shadeparticularly chives, parsley, mint, lemon balm and coriander. As long as they’re in the sun for at least half a day (preferably morning), these herbs don’t mind living without full sun.

Chives:

Chives are very hardy – they die back over winter and regrow in the spring. They’re also another bee magnet if you want to attract wildlife into your garden.

Parsley:

This herb can be slow to germinate, but once it gets going it’s pretty tough. Planted outside, parsley produces good pickings well into the winter and tolerates frosts, and although biennial, it should be treated as an annual.

Of the various herbs discussed here, parsley is the only one which can be difficult to germinate from seed. Patience and more than one sowing may be necessary, but once established, it’s robust and hardy.

Mint:

There’s a gardening ‘health warning’ attached to mint because it’s so invasive. If you want to plant mint in a border, it must be contained to prevent it from taking over, (and the same is true of tansy should you have an urge to plant it.) It’s much better to grow mint in a container to restrict its spread. A perennial plant, it’s often treated as an annual because the leaves become coarse with age.

Coriander:

Coriander grows as an annual in our climate. Because it resents transplanting, sow the seeds where you want them to grow and take care that the plants don’t dry out. Fortnightly sowing is best to provide a regular supply for your favourite recipes – and it’s best to pick the leaves before flowering.

Basil:

One of the more tricky herbs to grow in our climate is basil, despite the fact that it always looks so tempting in supermarket pots! Basil is easy to grow from seed and germinates quickly. The drawback is that it’s very temperature sensitive. It should never be placed outside until the summer is in full swing and then only in a warm sheltered spot. If it’s too cool, the plant leaves tend to yellow, and develop unappealing beige patches. Conversely, basil is ideal to grow indoors and perfect for your windowsills.

Even more tempting, and requiring the same growing conditions, Thai basil is a fantastic addition to authentic curries. Thai basil germinates easily from seed when placed in a warm spot with good drainage. It will do well all summer, but later in the year both Thai and Italian basil should be brought indoors to extend the growing season.

Growing your own herbs makes an aromatic garden display, attracts lots of bees and butterflies to your garden and gives you a wonderful fresh supply of herbs for the kitchen all the year round. What’s more, you can pick them at their best and freeze any excess if you find you have too much. Happy herb growing!

 

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