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.

Breaking Down Barriers

Five years ago my local horticultural society was on the brink of extinction. Membership numbers had dwindled and the society was losing hundreds of pounds every year.  The main expense was the putting on of the shows. Something had to change or the society would have been forced to close its doors for good.

weighing the society entries

The great weigh in commences

In recent years we have tried many different things to try and encourage more people to attend out shows. One of the ways we have tried to do this has been through the launch of a seed potato growing competition.  Each member is able to purchase for a nominal fee one seed potato and one bag. They have to take them away with them, pot them up and grow them on. They then have to bring their potato bag to the Autumn Show for the big weigh in.

In its inaugural year twelve bags were brought to the Autumn Show. The winner, Andy Gaskin, managed to grow 2.4kg of potatoes from his bag. Although twelve does not seem like a great number it was the most popular class in the whole show.   The competition had added an extra dimension to the show as many people were excited to watch the big weigh in. It was without doubt a great success.

weighing in a society member's entry

Each entry is weighed under watchful eyes

For 2017 I have taken on the role of Show Secretary for the society. My goals were to make the shows more popular with people in terms of showing and visiting. At the same time I wanted to try and make the shows profitable for the society. It also meant for this year that I would be responsible for the seed growing potato competition. I started by looking for sponsors for the competition itself. I was thrilled when I got the news from Thompson & Morgan that they would agree to sponsor this year’s competition. We were sent 60 nine litre bags and some “Jazzy” seed potatoes. At our February monthly meeting the seed potatoes were distributed to the membership.

 

Thomas Carpenter, society secretary winning

We have a winner!

Before I knew it, September had rolled around and it was time for our Autumn Show. I was hoping that this year we would beat the number of bags returned from last year.  To my amazement we managed to get thirty bags to the weigh in and it took over an hour to weigh all them! The winner managed to get 1.4kg from the 9 litre bag. It had been a hugely successful competition.

I believe this simple competition has had a huge impact on our society.  It is so easy to get involved with and generates friendly competition between the members of the society. It gives people more of a reason to come to the show and it has generated income for the society. Most importantly, it helps to break down the stigma attached to Horticultural Shows that you need to be an expert to enter them. It encourages anyone to get a seed potato and a bag and have a go.

 

I hope to build on the success of this year’s competition and make it bigger and better for next year. I would like to thank Thompson & Morgan for their support and hope this competition continues to help this small village horticultural society thrive.

Thomas Carpenter
My name is Thomas Carpenter and I live in Essex. At my home I have a vegetable patch and greenhouse where I grow a range of flowers and vegetables for both the show bench and for eating. I am the Show Secretary for my local horticultural society and have been a member there for the last eight years. Currently I am in training with the Essex Guild of Horticultural Judges and the National Vegetable Society. I have a real passion for growing and showing vegetables as well as encouraging children and young people to get involved with horticulture.

Pumpkin twins’ giant beats their own record!

the paton twins with their new record breaker

Stuart and Ian Paton with their record-breaking pumpkin

At this weekend’s Autumn Pumpkin Festival in Netley, Southampton, sponsored by Thompson & Morgan, no less than four British records were broken.

Stuart and Ian Paton broke the record that they set in 2016 for the heaviest pumpkin to be grown in the UK. Weighing in at 2269lbs or 162 stone, the pumpkin beat last year’s entry by just 15lbs.

Ian Paton said that producing a giant pumpkin is no mean feat. He and his brother Stuart spend on average 3 hours a day tending to their pumpkin patch, often using 100 gallons of water to keep the pumpkins irrigated.

Paul Hansord of Thompson & Morgan said:

We’ve been sponsoring the Autumn Pumpkin Festival event in Southampton for many years and it’s always exciting when a record is beaten, so this year we’re thrilled to see four records broken.”

Matthew Oliver of RHS Hyde Hall, Chelmsford beat the record for the heaviest outdoor-grown pumpkin with a 1498.4lbs whopper. In 2016, Matthew famously hollowed out his giant pumpkin – which had weighed in at 1333.8lb – and rowed it across a lake at his RHS garden base in Essex.

Other UK record breakers at the weekend weigh-in were Steve Bridges, who took the prize for the heaviest UK-grown squash (457.3lb) and David Maund with his 176.5lb field pumpkin.

The last few weeks leading up to the weigh-in have been tense for the 53 year old twins from Lymington in Hampshire, whose names are now synonymous with giant pumpkins. The risk of the pumpkin splitting and thereby being disqualified from the competition is high when it’s putting on up to 60lbs a day!

Fancy trying your hand at growing a record-breaking pumpkin, click here to buy seeds from the Paton twins’ previously grown giant pumpkins. Don’t forget to send us photos of your pumpkins as they grow.

To learn more about growing pumpkins, watch our videos here

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

Climbing Rose Pruning

Hello October.

October is my favourite month, as I can do my favourite annual job in the garden.

A lot of people seem to be scared of rose pruning, but I actually love it. The more challenging the better.

Each year the lovely Rosa “Climbing Shot Silk” gets a tidy up.

Shot Silk is a fragrant, repeat flowering rose which have large double blooms. It has silky textured flowers with golden centre, with strong growth, (ideal for tying in) and dark green glossy foliage.

Tools of choice for this job are, my beloved Felco No2’s, I will be lost without these, (each year I send them to Felco to service them), pruning saw and loppers.

I try to reuse ties for the previous year, but having spare ones help!

This is the Rose before I started, the long whips that are reaching to sky are going to be tied in to produce new blooms next year.

I start by untieing last years clips and start reducing the ends to make it easier to deal with.

With pruning any Roses, always remember to prune the D’s :-  Dead, Dying Damaged and one other I tend to include is Don’t know! So if I have particular piece that doesn’t look right, I will prune it out.

Reduce stems which could potentially grow next year’s long whips, always to an outwards facing bud, a sharp clean cut.

These pieces which are untied float around begging to be tied in, I loosely tie them in and then step back to see the finished vision, I aim for two long stems per wire to maximise flowers on each rung.

This is my finished rose. With the branches laid flat it encourages new growth to shoot up and lovely roses on the end.

And, here is a picture of our beloved Rosa “Climbing Shot Silk” it her full glory!

So that’s the climbing rose pruning done and now to prune back the other Hybrid Teas.

Enjoy October, the nights are drawing in, so make the most of the glorious Autumn sun.

Happy gardening!

Sue x

 

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

The Importance of Proper Greenhouse Ventilation

greenhouse ventilation open window

Proper greenhouse ventilation is essential for your plants’ wellbeing

Gardening enthusiast and exotic plant lover Clive Harris of DIY Garden shares his knowledge on why greenhouse ventilation is so important.

Many novice gardeners are afraid of greenhouses, considering them high-maintenance mediums for demanding plants. However, modern advances have made greenhouse cultivation a cinch compared to previously, meaning you can now harvest your home-grown spoils with minimal cost, time and effort.

Temperatures inside a hothouse can rise more than 15% higher than outside, creating the ideal environment for producing exotic species that generally grow in hotter climates. This extra heat also provides the perfect conditions for nurturing your seedlings during winter, giving them a head start for the coming season.

Why Is Greenhouse Ventilation So Important?

Ventilate your greenhouse so that plants don’t bake in the summer heat!

Imagine being locked inside a hot car with the windows up on a sweltering summer day. Without ventilation, this is what your plants and vegetables are exposed to. Even the most tropical species will suffer in extreme heat, risking dehydration, leaf scorch and sun-flag. Any temperature over 27°C has the potential to damage your crops.

Ventilation has several benefits. As well as offering greater control over the internal temperature and humidity, it also increases airflow which is crucial for effective photosynthesis and pollination.

There are two types of ventilation systems – passive and powered. Passive or natural systems are the most common type found in small greenhouses. They use a series of ridge and sidewall vents which help to draw cool air in and dissipate the heat. In high summer, the greenhouse door can be opened to give extra ventilation and airflow.

Traditional powered mechanical ventilation systems involve the use of exhaust and circulation fans to maintain an ideal atmosphere inside the greenhouse.

However, I’m a huge fan of automatic ventilation systems as they use solar energy to automatically open the vents. No electrically required, and 100% environmentally friendly!

 Maintaining Optimal Greenhouse Conditions

Proper shading will help lower the temperature in the summer

Greenhouses are prone to overheating between spring and autumn, so keeping a close eye on the environment is vital for the survival of your harvest. Constant plant patrol sounds tedious, especially during summer months, so it’s just as well that technology has made it infinitely easier for the modern horticulturist.

Back in the good old days, a gardener would need to traipse back and forth many times a day in hot weather to check and adjust the temperature in their greenhouse. Thankfully, the advent of portable weather stations means the temperature can now be monitored remotely via smartphone.

Opening and closing the vents is another chore that has become effortless. Solar powered and heat sensitive vent openers are now available which automatically release once the temperature reaches a certain point.

Adequate shading will help to keep your plants cool in the scorching summer heat. Fit blinds to the exterior or interior of your hothouse to avoid overheating. A cheaper option to blinds is shade netting which works on a similar principle. For a quick and easy solution, shading paint can be applied to the exterior of the panes to prevent heat penetrating the glass. This can then be washed off once the weather becomes cooler.

During the hottest months, it is crucial to sustain humidity within the greenhouse. This can be done by damping down the interior regularly.

Contemporary greenhouse gardening has become straightforward and stress-free, meaning there’s no longer any reason to avoid those shiny glass panes. You’ll be on your way to prizewinning hothouse flowers in no time!

Having loved the great outdoors since he was a kid, Clive has always enjoyed being creative in the garden. This and a passion for writing helped bring DIY Garden to life; his own personal gardening blog to share ideas and inspire others. He lives just outside of London with his beautiful wife Tamara and cute little troublemaker Zack!

7 supreme Scottish gardening blogs

scottish highland garden

Autumn view of a Scottish highland secret garden
Image: shutterstock

With wild chunks of land in the countryside and petite backyards in the capital, veg plots and flowerbeds, these are seven of our favourite Scottish gardening bloggers. Dig in!

A Pentland Garden Diary

chicken proof herb garden

Nadine and Sandy’s chicken-proofed herb garden
Image: A Pentland Garden Diary

When Nadine Pierce and her ‘partner in gardening grime’ Sandy moved to the edge of the Scottish Pentland Hills in 2013, neither had much gardening experience. But their ‘keen and willing, if slightly clueless’ approach totally paid off. Today, their garden – and their blog – is thriving.

But with abundance comes problems – namely, chickens that merrily demolish lovingly planted herbs. Sound familiar? Take Nadine and Sandy’s advice and stick bamboo around your herb bed so they can’t get in. Problem solved.

Edinburgh Garden Diary

cut flowers from the edinburgh garden

Joanna’s garden provides her with a constant supply of beautiful cut flowers.
Image source: Edinburgh Garden Diary

Without a garden in London, I didn’t know what I was missing’, says blogger Joanna. When she moved to Edinburgh with her husband (‘The Brazilian’), she got her hands on her tenement building’s small, neglected patch.

Now a total gardening convert, Joanna says ‘caring for a few feet of your own soil can exalt your soul to the higher realms of serenity and satisfaction.’ Do check out her post about her visit to Newliston Estate – it’s so evocative you’ll feel like you’re there with her. Oh, and her photos are beautiful too.

Leavesnbloom

beautiful blues

Rosie Nixon’s gardening pictures and helpful tips will inspire and guide
Image: Leavesnbloom

Wildlife gardener and photographer Rosie Nixon says ‘anything that buzzes, creeps, crawls or flutters,’ distracts her from her weeding. That’s great for us because it means more of her gorgeous photographs to coo over. See something you like? Just mosey on over to the fine art shop on her blog and pick up a few prints.

In the meantime, check out Rosie’s post on growing pulmonaria. Inspirational and educational in equal measure, she covers everything from how to say it (‘pul-mo-NAIR-ee-a’) to how to care for it. Needless to say, her pictures are a knockout.

Mal’s Edinburgh Allotment

allotment herbs

Herbs are among Mal’s favourite things to grow and cook with.
Image source: Mal’s Edinburgh Allotment

Ardent bread baker and gardener, Mal knows how to turn a few simple ingredients into a showstopper. Whether he’s blogging about baking brioche hippopotami or sharing his excitement at cracking carrot cultivation, you can feel his passion in every post.

Herbs are one of Mal’s favourite things to grow and eat. But not coriander. ‘It’s the bane of my life,’ Mal says. ‘Every year I try to grow it for leaf and every year it bolts. Well this year… I’m going to beat it!’ Watch this space to see how he gets on.

Quirky Bird Gardener Blog

Rona’s Monarda Marshall’s Delight in full bloom
Image source: Quirky Bird Gardener Blog

When Rona Dodds first came across Monarda she was a student at National Trust for Scotland’s Threave School of Gardening. She says ‘Not only were they memorable for their colour but the lovely almost spicy scent of flowers and leaves.’ One look at her post about them is sure convince you to give them a try.

Back then, Rona guessed that the flowers in question were M. Cambridge Scarlet. Today, having been gardening privately and professionally for 30 years she knows exactly what she’s talking about. If you want tips from a woman who knows her way around a garden – Rona’s blog is the place to be.

Square Sparrow

square sparrow veg harvest

Some of Square Sparrow’s autumnal harvest.
Image source: Square Sparrow

Gardening and blogging from ‘deepest darkest Kinross-shire’, farmer’s daughter, Karen Elwis, aka the Square Sparrow, is no stranger to mucking in and getting stuff done in the great outdoors.

At home, she’s doing it with the help of HunterGatherer (aka her husband) and the company of a Highland pony, a fat cat, a flock of chocolate-coloured Shetland sheep, and occasionally, her three kids. It’s a full house, and the homestead  gets even busier in the autumn when the polytunnel produces its veggies, Victoria the plum tree gives rich pickings, and Vinnie the vine creates ‘myriad bunches of tiny green grapes’. There’s much to love on Karen’s blog, not least the gorgeous pictures of her Scottish smallholding life.

The Bonnie Gardener

bonnie gardener lupins

Nicola has a deep and abiding love for herbaceous perennials.
Image source: The Bonnie Gardener

Are you a fan of herbaceous perennials? Blogger Nicola is: ‘Watching herbaceous perennials develop in any garden is a thing of beauty and it brings me a huge amount of joy.’

That’s why she’s creating ‘a large, flowing herbaceous river right through the middle of the garden’ this year. Inspired to plant a few yourself? Nicola’s pick of the perennials will give you plenty of ideas. There’s plenty here to help you keep your garden looking its best.

Do you know of any other brilliant Scottish gardening bloggers? Let us know on our Facebook page!

September in Pembrokshire

Welcome Everyone,

As you know from previous September blogs I love this month. I love the last of the warm sunny days, before the transformation of of Autumn, with its crisp mornings, wood-smoke, and crunchy colourful leaves.

Though this September has not been the gloriously warm and sunny days it usually is here in Pembrokeshire. Instead we have had muggy, mild and wet days. Perfect blight inducing days – yet surprisingly I haven’t had blight in the greenhouses yet.

I feel so privileged to be able to be able to go out in the greenhouses this September – such a change from last year when I was fighting for my life. I genuinely believe that gardening and writing got me through one of the most stressful and scariest parts of my life.

Amanda's various seed packets - September 17

So many seeds to sow!

So what’s been happening in my greenhouses? Plenty! I don’t really know where to start. Last month I asked for suggestions for naming the greenhouses; unfortunately no one has given me any so I’ll just have to name them myself. So in “The Office” (little greenhouse) I have been busy sowing and transplanting many many seeds. I am sure my staging is more abundant with plants now than it was in the spring. It seems to me that putting the red LED string lights in there is helping the seeds to germinate quicker. They seem to react to the lights which come on at dusk. These lights were less than £3 for 50 bulbs from a high street value store. They run by solar power and on really sunny days the charge lasts until dawn.

Amanda's blog for September 17 - seedlings and cold frame

Seedlings and Hardening off

I started Calendula and Violas off at the start of the month and these have already being hardened off in the cold frame, and now planted out for my autumn and winter displays. The second lot that I did of these two varieties in the second week of September are now in the cold frame, and I’m halfway through transplanting my third batch to individual bigger pots, that I started off on in the third week of the month.As well as them, I have Calendula Snow Princess that T&M gave me to trial in the Spring. They didn’t germinate then, but have more than made up for it now when I sowed the remainder of the packet two weeks ago. There are many many plants that are hardy enough to start in September and October; and it appears that Autumn now seems to be the optimum time for greenhouse growers to get ahead of the game and prepare for their early spring beds and borders. So with this in mind I have started off the following varieties: Cornflower, Foxglove, Helenium, Kniphofia, Lavender, Larkspur, Lupin, Malva Moschata, and Nigella, As well as Radish, Turnip, Calabrese and Cabbage.

Amanda's aloes in the little greenhouse - September 17

The Aloes are taking over!

So far I have seedlings of Cornflower, Helenium, Lavender, Larkspur, Malva Moschata, Radish,Turnip and one Cabbage to transplant. I try to spend an hour a day, watering, transplanting and shelf arranging each day, though my energy levels are rubbish so sometimes they only get a water and a chat. I usually thank them for growing and brightening my day. Also in The Office, the aloes have gone all thuggy. I almost have a carpet of them in the border. I am so tempted to give them as Christmas Presents to people, along with some baked goodies, as a proper old fashioned, but more personal gift The indoor house plants that were evicted to The Office in spring are a lush dark green and look like they are about to send up flower spikes.

Finally, the White Lavender Edelweiss cuttings I accidentally rescued, when they fell off a plant I was looking at in the local garden centre on my birthday, have rooted. I told the person at the desk and I asked if I could take the broken bits home to save them. The actual plant was £8.99 for a 5cm pot so was worried I would have to pay for damages. I dropped the pot thanks to chemo nerve damage. (I didn’t have to pay.) They just looked at me like I was mad. Especially, as I had them wrapped in a bit of wet tissue. I now have a plant for me and a plant for mum for free. The actual potted plant I dropped didn’t look damaged so it was still able to be sold to someone.The tiny Christmas Cacti cutting I took in the spring from my dads plant has sprouted lots of little new leaves.So that’s all that’s happening there.

September 17 , tomatoes and aubergines

A bumper harvest!

Meanwhile at Ty Mawr (big greenhouse) there is so far an endless supply of tomatoes, and aubergines. The peppers have not been that great sadly, only five peppers off two plants. They were tasty though.I wish I had counted how many toms I had altogether. I would say to any new tomato growers, for sheer numbers of sweet cherries Sweet Aperitif does not fail. To try something more unexpected grow Yellow Stuffer, they get huge, are best eaten cooked as it brings out the flavour, and are still cropping at the end of the month.

Jewel Jade Aubergines have a fig like texture and are much sweeter than normal dark skinned ones. Although I found the skin inedible. I’m not sure if your meant to eat the skin on this one, or if I needed to let it mature for longer. They felt ripe though. The normal aubergines (Celine) have not performed as well as the greens. The chillies are making an aggressive comeback with many new flowers and fruit
.
The Garlic I planted from the fridge at the end of last month have shot up and have three leaves each. I’ve never grown garlic in the greenhouse, and have no idea if it will work or not.The amaranthus are starting to get seedy (oops that sounds a bit wrong,) and I must get to them before they droop and I end up with an amaranthus issue next year. The Nicotianas are flowering like mad under glass too. I have no idea if they will become a problem next year, but I am sure I will find out. The marigolds are still flowering and keeping the pests at bay.

Similarly, I have solar lights in Ty Mawr too. Only these are blue, and I really do feel that they contribute to the vigour and health of the plants. The green of the leaves is still succulent and rich,the flowers continue to being pollinated and the fruits still growing. I’m not sure if it helps to turn the fruits different colours, but they certainly seem to be more disease resistant and although I had blight on my tomato outside, so far the greenhouse appears to be blight free.

As it is time to start watering hyacinths for Christmas Blooms, I recently moved the bulbs to The Office, as they have more chance of staying warmer on the staging than on the shelves on their own in the other one. Also if Mark decides to tidy up the shelves of the big greenhouse when we finally pull up the summer crops, he might think it’s a pot of non existent plants and chuck it out.

So that’s what’s happening at Ty Mawr. Lastly, in the cold frame are my weaker plug plants I got from T&M last month, that have finally decided to grow, and hardening off, plus trays of calendula
and violas. I need to rescue my two baby money plants and the spider plant that are still out by the front bench and need somewhere warmer to overwinter.

That’s it from me this month. I’m off to go and collect colourful leaves – not to make leaf mould -although they will end up in the compost bin after, but to take photos as inspired by Andy
Goldsworthy. If you don’t know who he is just ask the ” tinternet,” as I call it!

Until Halloween,
Happy Gardening,
Love Amanda xx

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

8 inspiring indoor garden blogs

indoor plants flowering

Indoor gardening can be as satisfying as outdoor!
Image: shutterstock

Gardening’s not all about braving the weather and turning over forkfuls of soil. Thousands of gardeners get their horticultural joy indoors, tending their plants in the shelter of their homes.

Here are a few of our favourite indoor gardening bloggers – read on, take a few tips from them, and learn how they keep their houseplants happy!

Jane Perrone

jane perrone's chillies

Feeling cold? Jane’s chillis will keep you warm…
Image: Jane Perrone

Guardian gardening editor, Jane Perrone, loves trying new plants based on their name. ‘Ear of the Devil‘ lettuce proved irresistible. It turns out the pointy, red leaves grow well in containers, and aren’t too attractive to slugs!

Her regular gardening podcast, On The Ledge, features top tips from experts including legendary organic gardener Bob Flowerdew and New York plant scientist Christopher Satch. She waxes lyrical about everything from how to make your houseplant collection ‘#shelfie-worthy’ to how growing indoor microgreens can ‘fill your plate as well as your instagram account.’

There’s plenty of sound advice on Jane’s blog, too. Do you know how to tell if a plant is potbound? Check underneath the inner pot – if there’s a mass of roots on show, then it definitely is. Time to re-pot to a larger home!

The Joy of Plants

bromeliads joy of plants

Use different coloured bromeliads to balance your interiors
Image: The Joy of Plants

Did you know that you can use plants like fern palms and livistona to create a mini indoor rainforest and improve the oxygen levels in your home? Or that different colour bromeliads can help balance your interiors in a similar way to feng shui (try blue to refresh and cool, red for power and energy or pink to encourage relaxation and romance). If you fancy giving either a try then this is definitely the place to find out more.

The Flower Council of Holland launched thejoyofplants to promote flowers and plants in the UK. There’s info on six plant-based topic areas including home decor, people, events, fashion, care and food — so something for everyone to dip into.

These guys love unusual food ideas, too. So if you’re looking for something different to do with your herbs, surprise your tastebuds with this delicious rosemary ice cream recipe.

Flowerona

Azalea

Azaleas will brighten any home
Image: Shutterstock

Definitely mark Flowerona down for a visit if you’re getting married. There are a whole load of ideas for interior cut flower designs and arrangements, including a series of gorgeous image-based posts focused on the most beautiful wedding flowers in the land.

Becoming ill on her own honeymoon made blogger, Rona, want to make some life changes. She signed up for an evening class in floristry and built up the skills to leave her customer service job and become a full time florist, writer and trainer. She describes Flowerona as ‘a feel good place for people to escape to and be inspired by.’  We couldn’t agree more.

Want to add a dash of winter colour to your home? Rona’s advice on azaleas is invaluable. Choose a plant with plenty of buds and a few open flowers, and keep it in a bright place, but out of direct sunlight. Or, if your own home’s already full of plants, these sweet flowers make an ideal gift for friends or family!

Urban Botanics

urban botanics mini cactus garden

Get creative with projects like this mini cactus garden
Image: Urban Botanics

If you have limited space to grow your plants then Michelle at Urban Botanics can help. She offers hints and tips on growing in limited spaces and caring for plants on windowsills, roof terraces and balconies.

Learn how to grow indoor food that knocks the socks off the supermarket versions. Green-fingered Michelle tries out tomatoes, green peppers and chillis on her living room windowsill and praises them for their superior ‘sweetness and flavour’.

Fancy trying your hand at creating something new? There are lots of little projects to try with easy step-by-step instructions. Make your own homegrown herbal tea with chamomile or mint, or create a low-maintenance mini cactus garden that makes a beautiful table centrepiece.

Green Grow Blog

 

green grow avocado

Follow the photo stories of plants like this avocado, grown from seed
Image: Green Grow blog via Victoria’s Instagram

Anyone who’s ever tried to look after a new plant will understand the struggles and triumphs shared on Green Grow, which charts the highs and lows of real life plant care using photo diaries.

Watch the rapid growth of an abacate avocado from Sao Paolo, Brazil and learn how easy it is to grow your own from a leftover seed (peel off the dark skin to make it sprout roots and get growing faster). Or witness the gradual rescue of a beautiful Fiddle Leaf fig as it’s nursed back to life in Ohio through trial and error with different amounts of water and sunlight.

Haarkon

botanic gardens

Life through a lens: take a peek at  some of the world’s best indoor gardens
Image: Haarkon

Wondering about your next holiday? Follow Sheffield-based photographers India and Magnus as they explore indoor botanical spaces around the world. Their image-based blog is the perfect place to escape, explore and seek inspiration for your own indoor gardening (and your travels).

Venture up a deep, dark staircase to discover a plant-filled secret hair salon in Sheffield or negotiate unsealed roads to discover the fincas, bananas plants and exotic Moorish architecture of beautiful Cordoba in Andalucia.

It’s no surprise to hear this striking blog was recently featured in the Daily Telegraph, and recommended in BBC Gardener’s World Magazine.

Hannah Grows

hanna grows open terrarium

Learn how to make an open terrarium
Image: Hannah Grows

Essex-based gardener Hannah Schlotter believes that ‘getting your hands in the soil is a perfect tonic to the chaotic modern world.’ She’s an ambassador for Kew Gardens’ Grow Wild campaign to rejuvenate Britain’s wild flowers and her passion for plants shines through in a mix of engaging written and video blogs.

Try your hand at practical projects like making your own terrarium (try using a jam jar to keep costs down) and rescuing supermarket basil (did you know you can separate about about twenty plants from one pot?). And learn about caring for different types of plants like Fittonia, which, true to it’s South American roots, needs plenty of misting.

Hannah’s on a bit of a mission to bring back the viola and recommends adding some instant colour to your winter window boxes (as well as to salads and cocktails) with this cheap and cheerful, antioxidant-packed edible flower.

Garden Withindoors

Impressive hyacinth displays from forced bulbs
Image: Garden Withindoors

Want to try your hand at forcing hyacinths? Julie, blogger-in-chief at Garden Withindoors can answer pretty much any question you have on the topic.  Recording her forcing results since 2011, Julie encourages around 200 bulbs a year to flower, changing varieties (and suppliers) as she goes along.

The key to forcing bulbs in water is to have the base of the bulb not quite touching the water – otherwise it’ll rot. Follow Julie’s progress from September’s start to the end of the forcing season in March, and delight in the pictures she shares of what she calls her “fabulous floral firework display”. We can only agree!

Are you an intrepid indoor gardener? Share your favourite pictures with us on our Facebook page – we love to see what you’ve been growing.

September – A Lofty Experience

Listen, I’m all for a challenge but opening your garden for charity in October? That’s a new one on me! Way, way back in April our garden was recommended to a local U3A group by A Friend (you know who you are!) as ideal for visiting in autumn. How flattering, I preened, that said friend thought our garden was interesting and attractive enough to warrant paying guests at that time of year. So I said yes. Of course.

Well, when other NGS Garden Openers are hanging up their secateurs and tea towels, here I am, pruning, feeding, sweeping, planting and baking. OK so it’s only 15 visitors but all the same………… Usually by now I have started cutting back spent perennials, emptying hanging baskets, lifting semi-hardies, but with Open Day in mind it’s a whole new ball game! Cutting back has been minimal, a balancing act between leaving on waning top growth and creating gaps in the borders. Normally I allow dead foliage and fallen leaves to rot down where they land in the borders, but as this just adds to the overall look of decay, I have swept them up. I realise that as gardeners, the group will understand the natural seasonal process of decline, but with so much still in flower I want to promote a sense of vigour and vitality in the garden. Still, to a certain extent it’s all smoke and mirrors whatever the time of year, so with well swept paths and patio, a fresh top dressing of mulch and some judicious deadheading, the garden should not disappoint.

ipomea and bidens - september2017

Ipomea growing through the roof of the pergola and Bidens still showing some lovely colour

In the process of preparation I have however been subjected to a deeply distressing experience from which I may never fully recover! Winky the Sphynx cat (bless her, her one tooth is never going to do anything more harmful than frighten critters to death) brought a live toad into the living room! I found her frothing at the mouth, the toad playing dead at her feet. On seeing me she picked up said toad and ran upstairs with it, final destination under-the-bed, hotly pursued by a retinue of fellow felines, with me bringing up the rear. David to the rescue, toad liberated to the pond, Winky given mouth wash and floor given the Wet Wipe treatment.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, preparations. Having started propagating perennials for next year’s plant sales (which includes grading plastic pots by size, with corresponding pot carry trays, for ease of storage, transportation and pricing – can’t you just tell I have a background in retail!)  I find I have nowhere to put them during the visit. Can’t leave them out for people to trip over. Can’t just shove’em in the greenhouse in case visitors fancy taking a look at my Fabulous Tomatoes (more of that later). “I know,” says David, “they can go on the roof terrace, no-one’s gonna wanna to climb up there”,  (not to put too fine a point on it, the visitors being somewhat elderly). No-one, that is, other than me, having to get them up there (the plants not the visitors) and back down again with ‘My Knees’.

garnet tomatoes and late begonia

Tomatoes ripening on the vine and a beautiful begonia bloom

Talking of Fabulous Tomatoes, my T&M Cherry Drops and Garnet, grown from seed, are finally ripening. I offered one of the purple jewels to David to try and, after wrinkling up his nose at it, murmuring suspiciously, “What’s that? Are you trying to poison me?” he reluctantly popped it into his mouth. His expression changed to one of pleasurable surprise. Tangy and sweet, he pronounced it to be the nicest tomato he’d ever tasted! Trouble is I am not sure if it was Cherry Drops or Garnet so I shall just have to keep comparing them as they ripen on the vine. They’re never going to reach the salad bowl.

And begonias, big, bright, blowsey blooms. (Ooh alliteration!) As well as overwintering my own tubers, I store friend Anne’s for her and I guess somehow the tubers must have got muddled up because I have one that I’ve never seen before: 4” wide orange doubles with red edges. Passiflora and T&M ipomoeas have climbed through the pergola, flowering right under our bedroom window.

canna lilies - September 2017

Canna lilies still looking magnificent

But surely it’s the Wyoming and Durban cannas that will cause the most stir. At 8ft tall, multiple orange flower spikes, emerging from giant black paddle shaped leaves, have bloomed continuously since July. I was astonished to find that the root ball of one such plant, recently lifted from the raised bed out front, had easily tripled in size: it went in in May at about 4” and came out mid-September at over 12”. I’ve had to store it in half an old compost sack. So let’s do the math (as they say in good old USA): if I created 9 such divisions from three giant overwintered clumps this spring, then next spring I could potentially end up with 27 such plants!

Shame the visitors won’t get to see my prized dahlias (yes, they won first prize at our Horticultural Society autumn flower show). They must have been on my allotment for at least four years, never dug up, protected by a thick layer of multipurpose compost, and they too are record size this summer. Trebbiano and Fox Mix, T&M trial plants from summer 2012, have reached 6ft and have yielded at least 2 dozen flowers on a weekly basis with plenty more to come. I hope that the as–yet-unnamed dahlias in this year’s trial, now planted alongside, will perform this well in time.

7ft salvia and grasses - september 2017

Salvias confertiflora and miscanthus

Oh well, must get on, it’s been raining all night, the miscanthus grass is all splayed out at 45 degrees, the 7ft salvias confertiflora and involucrata (I do love a good Latin name don’t you?) are leaning dangerously, so tall that their stakes have become woefully inadequate. Forecast for Visitor Day not good. Still hopefully the cakes won’t collapse even if the plants do.

Happy gardening, love, Caroline

 

Still blooming fabulous at Ipswich station!

We were alerted last week by a customer on Twitter who remarked on the impressive sight of Thompson & Morgan’s begonia pots at Ipswich station. We quickly despatched T&M’s intrepid photographer, Helen Freeman, to capture proof that these fabulous plants were indeed still flowering on the platforms four months after planting!

begonias at ipswich station

T&M begonias still blooming on Friday 29th September, four months after planting

And here’s the proof! The plants were indeed still going strong on both sides of the London to Norwich line.

Back in June, we donated pots of beautiful begonias for a joint project with Ipswich-based ActivLives charity who undertook the planting up of the pots which were then positioned on the platforms of Ipswich station.

Volunteers and young learners from charity ActivLives created 26 summer pots, filled with begonias supplied by Thompson & Morgan. The pots have brightened up the platforms of Ipswich station on the Norwich to London mainline since June, and staff at the station say that customer feedback has been plentiful and positive.

ActivGardens brings people together in an active and healthy way, creating change to improve the vitality of local communities. Susannah Robirosa, ActivLives’ Development Manager said:

“I’m delighted ActivLives has been able to collaborate with Thompson & Morgan in this way to brighten up the town for the benefit of residents and visitors.”

According to Thompson & Morgan’s head of sales, Victoria Ager, Begonia ‘Whopper’ is a firm favourite with T&M customers – so it was the obvious first choice of the company’s many flowering plants to dress up the station.

Jackie Rathbone, Greater Anglia’s Assistant Customer Service Manager, said:

“We are delighted to be involved in this project and working with ActivLives and Thompson & Morgan once again. We are very impressed with the hard work of the volunteers of all ages and abilities involved.”

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

Interview with a Giant Pumpkin Maker

The brothers with their giant pumpkin

Giant pumpkins are the order of the day!

Recently, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to talk to Ian Paton about his success at growing record-winning pumpkins. Last year Ian and his twin brother Stuart broke the UK record for the heaviest pumpkin grown indoors, which weighed in at a whopping 2252lbs (160.9 stone, or 1,021kg)! This year they are hoping to do even better.

The process started back in April when a dozen specially selected seeds were planted, around the time of Thompson & Morgan’s nominated National Pumpkin Sowing Day. The best 6 plants were then selected and whisked away to the ‘PRD’ (Pumpkin Research & Development) where they start their journey to potential enormity.

Careful cultivation

growing a giant pumpkin

Ian’s growing a giant!

Each plant is trimmed and trained in much the same way you would expect a tomato plant to be grown initially, except that every leaf nodule is placed over a pot of compost, and encouraged to produce a new root to help feed the plant.

Pollination takes place in June. The fruit is set and the race begins in earnest. Each plant, sporting 900 plus leaves, each with its own root, starts to feed the newly formed pumpkin.

Staurt says:

“There are one hundred and ten days in the growing season, so everything has to be perfect for the pumpkin”

At the peak of the growing period, 100 gallons of water go into the plant and the pumpkin puts on 58lbs in weight PER DAY – that’s the equivalent of a bag of cement each day!

*Fun Fact – The Paton brothers’ first pumpkin, grown when they were 12 years old, weighed 57lbs!*

As the pumpkin growing season slows down, its water intake reduces by about a quarter. However, at this vital stage it is essential that the plant NEVER dries out. A dry pumpkin can split when watered – resulting in disaster and tears!

Each pumpkin is grown on a large bed of sand, which allows the pumpkin to slide easily as it grows. A bow wave appears around each giant fruit as it pushes sand ahead of it, making it look like it’s ‘surfing’ in very slow motion!

Weighing in

pumpkin weigh in

The all-important weigh-in

As the weigh-in day approaches, Ian and Stuart send pumpkins abroad to take part in the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth. Recently a pumpkin weighing an estimated 1950lb was sent to Holland; another, at approximately 2000lbs, is en route to France. The biggest however, is kept for the local weigh-in, held in Hampshire!

Transporting these giant fruit is no easy task, though, and comes with risks. As Stuart told me:

“We were devastated that the pumpkin split on its journey to Holland, classing it as ‘damaged’ ”

The Paton brothers have high hopes for this year’s contender. It was grown from a seed from the world record giant pumpkin, grown by Mathias Willemijns last year and weighing in at 2624.6lbs. The pumpkin that Ian and Stuart are growing currently has some impressive stats, measuring an incredible 486 inches in circumference – that’s about the same as the length of a double decker bus – and is only 9 inches short of its record breaking pumpkin parent! Although Ian remains modest about the final weight, he feels confident that it may well beat their personal best – so another record breaker perhaps!

The giant pumpkin weigh-in is on Saturday 14th October at the Jubilee Sailing Trust Autumn Pumpkin Festival, at the Royal Victoria Country Park in Southampton.

Do you want to try to grow a prize-winning pumpkin? Check out our giant pumpkin guide here, and try your hand with some Wallace’s Whoppers If you’ve already got yours going, share some of your pictures on our Facebook page – we love to see what you grow.

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

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

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