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.

Ellen Mary’s Top 5 Houseplants

Houseplants are bang on trend at the moment and rightly so because not only are they aesthetically pleasing and a great way to soften interiors but they are unbelievably good for us to have around. Many house plants remove large amounts of common toxins from the air around us. My own house is full of them; somewhere in the region of 100 plus cuttings, but who’s counting!? There is a plant for everyone, but these are my top five favourites for any home.


Aloe Vera
Aloe vera

Always top of the list! Not only does Aloe look fantastic, but it’s super easy to look after and needs minimal watering. Not only that, but the gel inside those fleshy stems can be scraped out and used to ease numerous skin conditions, heal burns and many other common health complaints. I store some in the fridge at all times. Aloe also helps to remove Benzene from the air which is found in paint and cleaning products.


Senecio String of Pearls
Senecio (String of Pearls)

A perfect trailing plant that looks great on a shelf or in a hanging basket. These always make an impact because they look so cool, especially in a macramé hanger. The long thin stems have small, round, beaded foliage, hence the name. Needing very little water and just indirect sunlight, it will suit most homes and always draws attention.


Monstera deliciosa
Monstera deliciosa

The highly-desired ‘Swiss Cheese plant’ has made a huge comeback. From dark green, glossy foliage to the much-sought-after white Monstera, they are a stunning addition and really very easy to care for. If you place one in bright, indirect sunlight and away from draughts, it will reward you with long climbing stems and huge heart-shaped leaves. If you start with a smaller plant and pot up as it grows, make sure you have the ultimate spot for it because they can get beautifully big.


Strelitzia reginae Bird of Paradise
Stretlitzia reginae

The stunning ‘Bird of Paradise’ is one of my absolute favourite plants. It may take some years to flower, but when it does, it’s so worth the wait! That tropical feel can’t be beaten as the exotic flower head blooms into the shape of a bird. Mine sits nicely in my office which is also a garden room, so ideal for a conservatory and can even go outside in the summer.


Sansevieria trifasciata var. laurentii
Sansevieria or Mother-in-Law’s Tongue!

Here’s another plant that removes toxins from the air. In fact NASA found that just one ‘Mother in Law’s Tongue’ reduced Benzene levels by over 50% and Trichloroethylene by over 13% in just 24 hours. It’s a great plant to have in your bedroom, which is where I have a few, because they are one of the few plants that continues to convert CO2 to oxygen at night time. Sweet dreams!

The list could be endless as I am also a massive fan of orchids, ferns and easy-to-look-after bryophyllum’s. My cuttings are lined up on bookcases and I can’t help but check them every day. It’s exciting to enjoy houseplants and they’re a trend I hope becomes just a way of life for everyone one day.

Ellen has loved gardens and gardening since she was a child. By her own admission, she now lives and breathes gardening – writing garden and travel content, hosting a horticultural radio show, producing and presenting on television – generally promoting the ways that nature and gardening can benefit well-being. Follow @ellenmarygardening on Instagram

Messy Job, This Gardening Lark

Autumn colour came late this year, and puff, it was gone, leaving chaos and disorder in its wake. Now I’m a bit fussy about tidiness, not the best character trait for a gardener. And I’m not a fan of formal or minimalist gardens, preferring the organised chaos of more naturalistic schemes. This time of year I just have to man up and get on with the annual clear up. The recent mild weather has meant that whist some plants have well and truly crumbled, others are stubbornly growing on. No wholesale cutting back and mulching in this garden, oh no, flowers keep popping up, (quell damage, colour in December!) and deciduous ground cover keeps growing back, thinking its spring no doubt. So far we’ve filled six of our non-gardening neighbours’ bins and with one week to go before the council stop collecting the green bins until end January, the pressure’s on! Oh how I long for the leaves on the contorted hazel to drop awf to reveal its mystical twisted stems, but on the other hand I shall be so sorry to see its neighbouring blood red Ricinus inevitably succumb to the frost. And when do the grasses change from being architectural to a frightful mess? I can certainly relate to the expression on a friend’s ornamental bunny. (How I restrained myself from snaffling that little fellow home with me I shall never know!)

Contorted hazel, silver hellebore, ricinus and the brilliant bunny!

Contorted hazel, silver hellebore, ricinus and the brilliant bunny!
© Caroline Broome

With all the tender salvias finally lifted and tucked up in the greenhouse along with the heuchera waifs and strays recuperating from the evil vine weevil, I can while away the time daydreaming and reflecting as I tidy up and file away Garden 2018. A challenging year, certainly on the weather front, with The Beast from the East then the Long Hot Summer, but what a learning curve. Confidence built, lessons learnt (yuck, cliché). Salvias, melianthus major & agastaches, which weren’t supposed to like the intense cold, survived. Reliable roses Rhapsody in Blue and For Your Eyes Only failed to flower in the heat. Slugs and snails almost extinct, hardly any wasps. But still the cannas didn’t come into flower until August. Win some, lose some.

And in general terms it’s been a year of extremes. Great pride and joy at winning the London Gardens Society Best Small Back Garden third year running; great shock at losing two of our cherished cats but great relief that two of our other cats survived serious illness. Deep sorrow at losing my wonderful 106-year-old friend Ethel. I first met Ethel when she asked me to do her garden for her as she could no longer climb the ladder to prune her honeysuckle. She was 100. She had nerines that were older than me! Ethel was a great believer in the adage, ‘Adapt or Die’. As it is in life, so it is in the garden. When Ethel eventually moved into a care home I continued to visit her every fortnight. Even then, she was always Up For It. Countless number of times she would reel off a poem she had leant as a child and I would look it up on Google and join in. I learnt so much through Google with Ethel that I would never have known otherwise: Why are yawns catching; do the nails on your dominant hand grow faster than on the other? And as a postscript, we are about to introduce a new Siamese kitten into our household. And her name? Why, Ethel of course!

December colour and Caroline with her friend Ethel

December colour and Caroline with her friend Ethel
© Caroline Broome

We had holidays in Cornwall in October and Cyprus in November. Do you realise that it took the same amount of time to drive to our friends Bob’n’Patti in Manaccan near Helford, as it took to reach our friend Naomi in Paphos? 7 hours, door to door on both counts. Never mind Friends in High Places, its Friends in the Right Places as far as we are concerned! B&P recently had their garden landscaped, including the regeneration of their wildlife friendly perimeter hedge. Their house isn’t called Fair Winds for nothing, so all the plants must be resistant to severe exposure (something I am not, being the cossetted Londoner that I am). The temperate climate is host to all variety of plants that I have little experience of, or at least ones that I am used to treating as annuals. Echiums spread like weeds in their garden; so-called tender fuchsias & agapanthus grow in robust clumps. Nerines everywhere (again?). Schitzostylis Major on steroids! And imagine having a Trachycarpus Fortunei as the focal point of your borders. (Can’t help name dropping now.) We spent a happy couple of hours at a local nursery choosing a second wave of shrubs for the gaps in the original design, common to both of our gardens, such as hebes, hydrangeas and viburnum.

Bob and Patti's Cornwall Garden

Bob and Patti’s Cornwall Garden
© Caroline Broome

For poor travelers like me Cyprus is a perfect holiday location; driving on the left-hand side, same power points, taxi drivers with cousins in Turnpike Lane. You can tell a British ex-pat by the number of roses in their gardens. The only lawns to be seen are at the luxury beach side hotels, expensive enough to employ gardeners and sprinklers 24/7 – somehow they just don’t go with the local terrain anyway. Parasol shaped pergolas, intertwined with bougainvillea, frame the pavement cafes lining the streets of Paphos harbour. Oleanders and brugmansias adorn every suburban villa; ipomoea winds its way through the wire fencing of every parking lot; wild rose, lantana and rosemary hedges. Coastal paths lined with trachycarpus, olive trees, and banana palms. Cannas along the road side verges. Mega-aromatic pots of basil, lemon balm, rosemary and oregano, placed casually up the steps to Naomi’s apartment.

A banana palm and a contemporary seaside garden

A banana palm and a contemporary seaside garden
© Caroline Broome

Of course, we made our annual pilgrimage to Tala Monastery Cat Sanctuary, currently home to 800 abandoned and stray cats, all named and loved and cared for by English manager Dawn Foote and husband Mark. Whether a fine pedigree or a one- eyed feral, all cats are pragmatic but barmy, illustrated here in some truly ludicrous sleeping poses.

Cats

Cats
© Caroline Broome

So there it is for another year, life chez Broome: gardening, friends and cats. We’ll be raising a glass to 2018 and toasting new challenges for 2019. I make no apologies for my sentimentality. Season’s Greetings, keep healthy, live and love well. Laugh a lot. Caroline xxxx

Thompson & Morgan donates flower seeds to local charities

We’ve just donated 100s of packets of flower seeds to local charities, ActivLives and St Elizabeth Hospice. The seeds were left over from a promotion that we ran in conjunction with Garden Answers and Garden News, two magazines published by Bauer Media, who were more than happy for the surplus packets to be donated to Suffolk charities.

Pupils from Chantry Academy at the People’s Community Garden, Halifax Road, Ipswich

Pupils from Chantry Academy at the People’s Community Garden, Halifax Road, Ipswich

A sack of seed packets was handed over to Danny Thorrington, ActiveGardens Project Coordinator at the charity’s Community Garden on Halifax Road in Ipswich, where he was teaching a group of pupils from Chantry Academy.

Danny said:
“We’re so pleased to receive this donation of seeds from Thompson & Morgan! With our Christmas Community Market event coming up on Friday December 7th, we will be selling and raffling flower seed bundles to raise funds for our ongoing work at the gardens and in the wider community.”

Sonia Mermagen, our Press and Communications Officer, commented:
“The work that ActivLives and ActivGardens are involved in is so beneficial to the local community and completely in line with T&M’s commitment to encouraging young people into gardening and growing. It was a pleasure to see what Danny and his team are achieving in the community garden – and to meet some of the young people who are helping and learning there.”

 Ella Curtis, Retail Apprentice at St Elizabeth Hospice shop, Bramford Road, Ipswich


Ella Curtis, Retail Apprentice at St Elizabeth Hospice shop, Bramford Road, Ipswich

A large bag of flower seeds was also donated to the St Elizabeth Hospice retail team at the charity’s Bramford Road shop in Ipswich.

Patrick Otter, Retail Operations Manager, said:
“Thompson & Morgan kindly donated a large quantity of plants to the Hospice in the summer, so we were thrilled to receive another donation. We’ll be able to sell the flower seed packets in our shops with the money going towards our ongoing fundraising appeals.”

Sonia Mermagen

Sonia works at Thompson & Morgan in the role of press and communications officer. She is a self-proclaimed ‘reluctant’ gardener and is generally amazed if anything flourishes in her garden. Sonia has a ‘hands off’ approach to gardening and believes that this helps to encourage bees, butterflies and other wildlife. (That’s her excuse anyway!)

Overwintering Edibles

As I write this first post we’re entering Autumn. There is a noticeable shift in the seasons as the mornings are a little nippy now but, thankfully, we still have some bright days to enjoy working outside. Things are still battling on outside including my dwarf beans, variety Ferrari, swede even though the leaves have been nibbled to death, climbing peas Colossus along with sweet peas and my Christmas spuds. (I love Christmas so make no apologies for mentioning it now!)

I have to say now is my favorite time of the year but I appreciate this is a bit of a weird thing to say when traditionally our gardens are a little quiet. However I love September as it leads to the cold months as my kitchen Rayburn is lit after the summer break, my boys love coming home from school to baked treats in front of the fire and I’m indoors planning for NEXT year!

My New Greenhouse and Bench

Ⓒ Louise Houghton – My New Greenhouse and Bench

Also at this time we can look to overwintering edibles and this year is my first year of trying.

I have only had a greenhouse since this summer (complete with my own greenhouse bench) so hope to make good use of it along with my wonderful polyhouse which my husband built.

I’m a bit girly regarding these two as you can see – can’t beat a bit of bunting and some bright paint.

Inside my Polyhouse

Ⓒ Louise Houghton – Inside my Polyhouse

I’m learning what’s best to grow in both the greenhouse and polyhouse; the latter I really need to start using as a poly tunnel as I think the structure really should make it work the same way…

In the polyhouse I started off some cabbages, variety Offenham 2, and these will be planted out in some of my tyres in which I grow various edibles; better be soon or they’ll be pot bound! (I know some people may not like the idea of having edibles in tyres because of the rubber but I find the heat kept in by them aids growth and the taste is never affected, plus I’m always looking for yet another place to plant out!)

Trays of spinach beet and beetroot were begun in the polyhouse and I planted the beetroot in the greenhouse after taking out the cucumber plant that has come to an end.

Homegrown cabbage and spinach beet

Ⓒ Louise Houghton – *Left to right – homegrown cabbage seedlings and homegrown spinach beet seedlings

The spinach beet is a fab edition when you want to bulk out a stir fry and this is now in a drainpipe also in the greenhouse but I grew it in my main patch in the summer and its still going strong. A drainpipe is another great place for planting out if short of space and I do this for lettuce in the polyhouse, too. My gherkins have been wonderful this year; I pickled some for the cellar store room.

What haven’t been good this year for me are the tomatoes; I’m always very nervous when it comes to growing these very useful edibles. I’m unsure if I under or over water, pinch out too much or not enough, etc. etc. Out of around 12 plants I’ve harvested literally a handful of fruit. Never mind as of course I’ll try again next year – learning all the time to do things better.

Well, hope to see you here again another time when I plan to update you on my overwintering efforts and whatever else is going on here in my little patch of paradise.

Louise, is a married stay at home mum to her two boys. Living in Mid-Wales after moving from Greater Manchester three years ago, she grows a variety of fruit and vegetables. In addition, she is attempting to provide for her family with her chickens and ducks. Louise enjoys baking, cooking, sewing and is also an AirBnB host.

Pass Me My WW1 Trenching Tool

Oh but wasn’t I right – as the nights draw in we wistfully reminisce about the long hot summer of 2018. Get over it! Time to move on! And move on we have; half the garden is enjoying the extrovert opulence of autumn and half, well, the other half has been dug up! The prospect of a year out of charity open days and competitions (more of that later) has been liberating to say the least.

No more Kilmarnock Willow
© Caroline Broome

Armed with my WW1 trenching tool and my shiny new rabbiting spade no clay is too impervious to the dislodgement (new word that) of plants that have either outstayed their welcome or aren’t earning their keep. Funny thing, the more plants I dig up the more opportunities I see. If I keep on going like this there won’t be a perennial left standing in the borders. That’s not to say I’m discarding them, on the contrary, I’m dividing them and potting them on so that I can relocate them next spring where they can create more impact. Shrubs are another matter: gone for good are fuchsia magelanica Alba, replaced by viburnum Mariesii, cotinus coggygria Royal Purple giving way to photinia Pink Crispy, Kilmarnock willow in favour of red stemmed contorted willow, and as soon as its stops raining elaeagnus Limelight gets it. From the patio, miniature ornamental cherry Kojo-No-Mai and hydrangea King George are off down the road to a friend’s woodland garden, and hydrangea Zorro Pink off up the road to NGS fellow Rosie. Along with two large containers that displayed annual climbers this summer I have now created five new planting opportunities to savour over the coming winter months.

And so to this summer’s star performers:

  • T&M Ricinus Impala. Transformation from seed to 4ft triffid in 20 weeks, withstanding the exposed north winds of our front garden and roof terrace. Real show stopper.
  • Salvia Involucrata Boutin. Not reliably hardy? Well if it managed to get through last winter in North London I’d say take the risk. In its third year outside now, all I’ve done to protect it is to cut the stems down to about 45cms and mulch deeply around the crown. Right now it’s at its peak, unrestrained; it’s the size of a small country! Arching spires of bright magenta flowers reaching 7ft high. Overall span in excess of 8ft with neighbouring plants intermingling through its loose habit. And so easy to take cuttings.
Ricinus Impala, Salvia Involucrata Boutin and Salvia Confertuflora with rudbeckias 'Prairie Glow' and 'Goldsturm'

Left to right: Ricinus Impala, Salvia Involucrata Boutin and Salvia Confertuflora with rudbeckias ‘Prairie Glow’ and ‘Goldsturm’
© Caroline Broome

  • Salvia Confertiflora with rudbeckias Prairie Glow & Goldsturm and patrinia scabiosifolia. My embroidery teacher (yes, well, I’ve got ‘O’ level Embroidery as it happens) always believed that red and yellow should never be seen together. Well you’re so wrong!
  • Salvia Black and Blue with rudbeckia Prairie Glow. Accidental pairing in the potting area will become next year’s most striking combination.
  • Coleus Campfire with Ipomoea Black Tone and Solar Power Green.
Accidental combination of salvia and rudbeckia, Begonia elata ‘Solenia Apricot’ and Begonia x tuberhybrida ‘Non-stop Mocca’

Left to right: Combination of salvia and rudbeckia, Begonia elata ‘Solenia Apricot’ and Begonia x tuberhybrida ‘Non-stop Mocca’
© Caroline Broome

  • T & M begonias. If I could only buy one plant from T & M it would be begonia. This year Solenia Apricot, Non Stop Mocca, Fragrant Falls Orange Delight. Easy to grow plugs, extensive and prolific flowering habit, versatile placement, reliable tubers for overwintering. Can never have too many.
Tomato 'Sweet Baby'

Tomato ‘Sweet Baby’
© Caroline Broome

Having almost given up on the greenhouse tomatoes ever ripening, I am now relieved to report that T&M trials of Sweet Baby, Artisan Mixed and Rainbow Blend were, er, marginally successful in the end. Although all three varieties were deliciously tart, the skins of Artisan and Rainbow were quite thick. I feel vindicated as other growers have experienced similar results even after judicious feeding and regular watering, so I recon it’s to do with the excessive heat. Bound to be some chemical explanation available somewhere. Cucumber Nimrod supplied us with loads of fruits for weeks on end, so I came up with a lovely salad idea:

  • Thinly slice cucumbers, multi-coloured tomatoes, red onions and radishes.
  • No peeling, salting or draining required.
  • Marinate in French dressing overnight.
  • Eat! Simples!

Not all my culinary efforts have been so fruitful (boom boom!) Apples and pears on the allotment have been few and far between this autumn, no plums at all, but plenty of tiny sweet bunches of black grapes. Pride certainly comes before a fall. After bragging about my blackberry jam triumph in my last blog, not so with grape jelly this time! Having followed the recipe to the letter, sterilised everything, bought muslin cloth and a thermometer, it failed to set. Boiled it up again, sterilised everything again, still didn’t set. Five jars of deeply rich grape syrup anyone? Not one to admit defeat, certainly with no intention of wasting it, I am poaching nectarines to preserve in the syrup instead. Job done!

……..And talking of competitions, The London Gardens Society All London Championship Awards 2018 were held at The Guildhall, City of London last Thursday evening. David & I were shortlisted for the Best Small Back Garden, Diane for the Best Large Back Garden and Rosie for Best Patio. Having both won the cup two years running in our respective categories, Diane and I entered the hall with severe trepidation: dark thoughts of rivalry and one-upmanship bubbled away at the prospect of Diane scoring a hat trick and us not. How was I to be her friend anymore should that come to pass? (I’ve already had to reign in my canna envy – she does nothing to them from year to year I tell you, and they are still the tallest I’ve ever seen in a domestic garden and in pots at that!) Well readers, as it happens WE BOTH RETAINED OUR TITLES so all was well. Haha! Rosie won a silver medal in Best Patio category (she was robbed!) and we won bronze in the Best Small Front Garden class (must try harder) so celebrations all round.

Carolines friend Diane with her Canna Lilies and David and Caroline with their awards

Left to right: Caroline’s friend Diane with her Canna Lilies and David and Caroline with their awards
© Caroline Broome

With autumn in full swing now thoughts are turning to next year’s horticultural activities and challenges. Plans are already underway for our Hampstead Garden Suburb Hort Soc three day coach trip to Hampshire and the Isle of Wight next July. A week later the Hort Soc is having its second National Garden Scheme Group Open Day with twelve gardens and one allotment this time. Having said that we were not opening our garden next year, I think it highly likely that David and I will have a pop-up Open Day in aid of the London Gardens Society, but not until late summer. I am so looking forward to being able to make radical changes without having to face deadlines, so that NGS visitors can return in 2020 to rejuvenated and innovative planting schemes. I can’t believe that I’m anticipating two years hence, and being of a superstitious nature, I say all this with my fingers firmly crossed behind my back (quite a feat if you’re typing) with the caveat that We Make Plans and Fate Laughs.

Enjoy the autumn. It’s a long winter ahead!

Winter hanging baskets – planting ideas

Red berries look glorious against a variegated silver leaf for the winter season
Image: dogwooddays

Once the last of summer’s flowers have faded, it’s tempting to discard the plants, store the baskets behind the shed, and give up until spring. But that would be to miss out on the colour, texture and form offered by dwarf evergreen shrubs and winter perennials, annuals and bulbs.

My own hanging baskets are limping sadly towards the end of autumn. The trailing Nasturtium ‘Milkmaid’ is still blooming bravely in the face of the chill November breeze, but my petunias are disintegrating and the verbena has just closed its final flower spike. Replacing these fading blooms is a quick and easy November task that will ensure cheerful colour and interest during the chill months to come. Here are two of my favourite winter hanging basket schemes for inspiration.

Lime green and gold hanging basket

The striking dwarf lemon cypress adds structure and texture
Image: dogwooddays

Create a warm atmosphere on even the coldest day with bright lime green and variegated gold foliage. Dwarf Lemon Cypress (Cupressus ‘Goldcrest’) adds height to the centre of a hanging basket with striking lime green foliage and a conical shape. Slender sweet flag grass (Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’) is another option to add height to a container display. Its soft semi-evergreen lime leaves cascade from the centre of the basket and blend beautifully with other lime foliage or darker colours, like the smaller black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’.)

Add heuchera foliage for interesting shapes and colours – one of my favourite varieties is ‘Marmalade’ which has lime green and brown leaves that mature to warm oranges and pinks. Or try the heucherella trailing collection for a mix of lime, red and purple leaves that will cover the edges of the basket and soften the display.

Ivy is also ideal to trail over the edges of any hanging basket and Hedera helix ‘Goldchild’, with its olive-green lobed leaves edged in gold, will pick out the lime and gold highlights elsewhere in the display. You can add more colour for early spring by planting some Crocus ‘Yellow Mammoth’ bulbs now for a hanging basket that will really light up your entrance until the warmer weather returns.

Red, white and silver hanging basket

A winning combination
Image: Thompson & Morgan

This vibrant colour combination spreads a little Christmas cheer throughout the entire holiday season. As a central focus, choose the evergreen Checkerberry (Gaultheria procumbens) whose luscious scarlet berries follow delicate white bell-shaped flowers. Or try Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’ – another dwarf shrub with red berries and glossy dark green leaves. Both of these shrubs prefer acid conditions, so fill the basket with peat-free ericaceous compost and water with rainwater where possible.

Red cyclamen complement the scarlet berries of the shrubs perfectly, or go for a mix of white and red to create more variety. Snowdrops bring a touch of class to this display and have the advantage that you can look up into the exquisite flowers rather than having to lie on the ground to explore their intricate patterning! Finally, add the shimmering beauty of Heuchera ‘Prince of Silver’ to enjoy its large silver-green leaves patterned with dark purple veining.

For a flash of excitement come the spring, try adding lesser periwinkle (Vinca minor f.alba ‘Gertrude Jekyll’) with evergreen foliage and starry white flowers for trailing interest. Or choose another ivy – Hedera helix ‘Glacier’ with dark green and silvery grey leaves.

Selecting primarily shrubs, perennials and bulbs for your container displays is a sustainable option as, in late spring, the baskets can be put to one side to rest until the following autumn. Alternatively, transplant the plants and bulbs to a position elsewhere in the garden for another burst of seasonal colour next winter.

What do you like to plant in your winter hanging baskets? Share your pics over on our Facebook page or tag us on Instagram.

Nic Wilson is a writer, garden designer and Garden Media Guilds Awards nominee (Best Blog, 2018). She enjoys growing flowers and unusual fruit, vegetables and herbs, and loves to encourage nature into the garden. She also blogs at dogwooddays.

We Love Chillies!

Dearest reader,

Harrison (left), William (right).

How do you do? Indeed, well…! We are William and Harrison Scowsill, (28, 27). Perhaps like us, you also ogle and dream of acquiring interesting and rare varieties of plants and seeds from all corners of the globe whilst enjoying the catharsis of growing your own food and attracting nature into your gardens? Amen. Like many hobbyists, we love to share our gardening tales; but alas, our riveting stories were too often met with glazed eyes and fell largely on deaf ears with our contemporaries, who wondered where we’d gotten this new-found passion. We turned to the kind and noble strangers on the internet for the mutual enthusiasm we deserved via Instagram @Freshbros_uk

Our interest in gardening started after returning from a mind-blowing trip to Peru, and realising that we couldn’t find the ingredients to recreate the incredible Peruvian food once we were back home. There are many so many types of chillies and potatoes over there – as many as 3000 varieties! So we started off growing the ‘Lemon Drop’ and ‘Aji Amarillo’ chillies for ceviche dishes and our interests snowballed into weird and wonderful tropical plants that had no business growing in the parents’ sunny orangery, such as the Naranjilla, Cape Gooseberries, Tree Tomato, Starfruit, Horned Melon, and more tropical experiments.

Having been lifelong keen rugby players, for a period in our early twenties we had terrible luck with knee injuries and then William had to recover from viral meningitis, so we hung our boots up for a while and transferred our enthusiasm into rare potted indoor plants until we got our own garden where we now grow everything from purple flesh potatoes, black tomatoes and even grew a watermelon last summer.

Our favourite veg to grow are strange chilli peppers and potatoes. Anything weird and wonderful – we are suckers for what we perceive as ‘rare’ in the UK. We also really enjoy our spring bulbs – tulips, daffodils, fritillaria, crocus, alliums and lilies. Nothing beats 15 seconds of planting in return for 5 weeks of flowering!

We Love Chillies!

This year we decided to focus our greenhouse space growing chillies. Through Instagram, we have met many like-minded growers and one friendly chap sent us a load of seeds of different varieties, including ‘Supers’ that are hard to source. We wanted a mix of heats, rarity and colour, so at the top of the scale we grew many varieties of hot Nagas and 7 Pot peppers which range from 500,000 – 1.4M Scoville units.

©Freshbros_uk *Left to right – Naga Red, 7 Pot Yellow, Komodo, Ghost, Savina*

Then further down the Scoville Scale but still very hot, we grew Scotch Bonnet, Habanero and the black-seeded Rocoto varieties which are very cool. These, with the super hots, make excellent sauces. Just 1 of these would be enough to flavour a large pot.

©Freshbros_uk *Left to right – Golden Rocoto, Chocolate Habanero, Yellow Scotch Bonnet*

Further down the Scale, but still with a kick to it, we grew very colourful chillies. These chillies were a good starting point to increase our capsaicin tolerance level. Adding them to salads, fry ups, or eating them straight off the plant is how we use these. Due to some of them becoming sweeter as they mature, we occasionally use these to make sauces.

©Freshbros_uk *Left to right – Birds Eye, Yellow Mushroom, Purpla Cayenne, Royal Black, Bulgarin Carrot, Hot Lemon, De Arbol*

Finally, at the bottom of the Scoville Scale with little to no heat, we grew mixed sweet and bell Peppers. With their vibrant colours, they’ll bring any meal to life, but they’re equally delicious to eat straight off the plant. Trinidad Perfume is our absolute favourite – a delicate flavour, beautiful aroma and with just a touch of warmth.

©Freshbros_uk *Left to right – Trinidad Perfume, Corbaci, Jalapeno*

We mainly use the super-hot peppers for hot sauces, otherwise we dry them to make chili flakes or powder and jams. In the next couple of years, we want to delve into creating hybrid peppers from cross pollinating different varieties. A new level of organisation is needed, but it sounds fun to try! Other than that, we will look to sourcing different varieties for next year, whilst still growing our favourites.

Greenhouse Tips

Get aphids under control! Unfortunately, growing chillies can attract the aphids. Green or black, once they are established, they are hard to get rid of 100%. An example of this was our Hot Lemon Pepper plant that got heavily infested without us noticing. We had to bring out each pepper plant onto the lawn and wash each leaf. From then on, we kept a close eye on the plant’s health, topping up with an organic neem oil solution spray.

By not using pesticide, just neem oil, we also attracted a huge population of carnivorous ladybirds in the greenhouse to eat the aphids, but this topic deserves its own blogpost. Until then!

You can follow us on Instagram @Freshbros_uk

Fresh_bros

Brothers William and Harrison Scowsill discovered a passion for gardening after injuries and illness put paid to the rugby they played in their spare time. Starting with unusual varieties of chillies following a trip to South America, the brothers now grow a wide array of vegetables, as well as fruit and flower bulbs in their garden on the outskirts of London. The brothers profess to enjoy growing ‘anything weird and wonderful’ – especially rare chillies and potato varieties – and it appears that their social media following enjoys seeing the results of their endeavours!

Introducing Thompson & Morgan’s little book of garden wisdom

thompson & morgan's little bok of garden wisdom cover

Thompson & Morgan’s little book of garden wisdom – ready to download now!

Imagine having a team of gardening experts by your side, whenever you need a little help. Imagine having their accumulated knowledge and experience at your fingertips. Well, that’s what we’re bringing you with Thompson & Morgan’s little book of garden wisdom”.

Sixty of the UK’s leading gardening bloggers have shared their sage advice, innovative ideas and hard-learned lessons in this free, downloadable book.

You’ll find helpful hints on growing the best fruit, veg and flowers, and expert advice on allotment growing, container growing and growing from seed.

There are sections on looking after your soil, your tools and the local wildlife, as well revolutionary ways to banish weeds from your garden for good.

We believe our little book of garden wisdom is a great resource for all gardeners and we hope you agree. Please download it, print a copy for your shed, share it with friends, and tell your allotment pals all about it. Help us spread this valuable wisdom to as many gardeners as possible.

We’d like to thank all our experts for taking the time to make the book possible. We know their generous contributions will help you get the most from your garden or allotment for years to come. And if you’d like to join the conversation, send us your own top tips through our Facebook page,Twitter or Instagram. Let’s continue to share our garden wisdom!

Green roofs: the only way is up

The top of Nic’s green-roof bin store in all its glory.
Image source: dogwooddays

So your flowerbeds are full, the greenhouse is overflowing, there’s no more room for pots on the patio and every vertical surface in the garden is covered in foliage. How do you find space for new plants and enjoy the thrill of a fresh challenge in the garden?

The answer? A green roof bin store. As well as screening your unsightly plastic monstrosities from view, a custom-made green-roof bin store provides the perfect place to grow attractive, scented and edible plants for instant kerb appeal and a lasting first impression. Here’s how I designed mine…

How to build a green roof bin store

Nic’s bin store was inspired by this version in the RHS Community Garden at Hampton Court.
Image source: dogwooddays

Inspired by the RHS Greening the Grey Community Garden at Hampton Court Flower Show back in 2015, I fell in love with their fabulous bin store with a thyme and wild strawberry green roof.

Working with a local carpenter, I created my own version of a green roof store that would accommodate two bins and give me room to grow plants on the top and up the trellis sides. I also planned a selection of different sized holes in the side panel for solitary bees. Over the last three years these holes have been used regularly. I often see bees going in and out with their mud pellets blocking the holes.

Once the bin store was complete, I lined the top with heavy duty plastic sheeting and covered this with 20mm gravel to improve the drainage. I left a hole at the back through which the water could drain down a hose to the ground and screwed an upturned tea strainer over the hole to prevent blockages. I filled the rest of the top with a low-nutrient green roof substrate based on crushed recycled brick and green waste compost – and I was ready to plant it up.

Best plants for a green roof

Miniature succulents look stunning on a sunny ‘green roof’.
Image source: dinodentist

The bin store is in full sun, so I chose plants that prefer sunny, well-drained conditions like alpines, succulents and herbs. The sunniest side is filled with lemon thyme (Thymus x citriodorus) and Thymus ‘Silver Queen’, salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor), French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa) and winter savoury (Satureja montana). All have thrived and they are self-seeding on the roof, so I know that the conditions are right for them. Thrift (Armeria maritima) has also done well and self-seeds all over, but perhaps the most successful planting has been the succulents. I positioned them at the front so their delicate foliage and tiny flowers are at eye-level when I pass to empty the bins or get in the car.

In the spring, Sedum ‘Cape Blanco’ and Sedum spathulifolium ‘Purpureum’ have small starry yellow flowers and Saxifraga ‘Buttercream’ adds its soft milky flowers to the mix. During the summer months, Sempervivum arachnoideum sends up pink starry blossom spikelets and I grow annual climbers up the sides of the bin store – this year the trellis has been covered in the apricot shades of Thunbergia ‘African Sunset’ mixed with the deep purple bells of Rhodochiton atrosanguineum.

More than just a screen

Holes for solitary bees have been put to good use.
Image source: dogwooddays

The bin store has been a practical success, but it’s added more than just a screen to the garden. I’ve been able to include plants which struggle in the shadier conditions of the back garden and bring some miniature succulent treasures into the limelight.

Although sedum matting is a great way to cover a green roof, if you’re hankering after extra growing room I’d encourage you to be ambitious and experiment with a range of species – perhaps herbs, alpines and different succulents, or even an elevated wildflower meadow – the sky really is the limit!

Nic Wilson is a writer, garden designer and Garden Media Guilds Awards nominee (Best Blog, 2018). She enjoys growing flowers and unusual fruit, vegetables and herbs, and loves to encourage nature into the garden. She also blogs at dogwooddays.

Another International Award for T&M’s SunBelievable™

SunBelievable 'Brown Eyed Girl' wins International Award

We’re so pleased to announce another international award for its innovative Sunflower SunBelievable™ ‘Brown Eyed Girl’. Initial trials of the long-flowering sunflower in Japan have proven hugely successful prior to its launch in the early summer of 2019.

The plant was well received at the horticultural industry show, Flower Trial Japan 2018, held recently in the prefecture of Yamanshi and Nagano, and was placed second in the Outstanding Performance Award category.

Our Head of Horticulture, Paul Masters, commented today:
“We’re thrilled to hear that SunBelievable™ ’Brown Eyed Girl’ has won another international award. It is very encouraging to know that interest in the plant is spreading around the world! We’re looking forward to a successful launch of SunBelievable™ ’Brown Eyed Girl’ in Japan next year.”

Sonia Mermagen

Sonia works at Thompson & Morgan in the role of press and communications officer. She is a self-proclaimed ‘reluctant’ gardener and is generally amazed if anything flourishes in her garden. Sonia has a ‘hands off’ approach to gardening and believes that this helps to encourage bees, butterflies and other wildlife. (That’s her excuse anyway!)

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