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.

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!)

More Awards for T&M’s Sunflower SunBelievable™ ‘Brown Eyed Girl’

More Awards for T&M's SunBelievable™ 'Brown Eyed Girl

Following its success at RHS Chelsea Flower Show in May, our fantastic in-house-bred sunflower, SunBelievable™ ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ has won even more awards and accolades. Proving hugely popular in the US, the new sunflower was awarded the Retailers’ Choice Award at the FARWEST Show in Portland, Oregon, as well as the 2018 American Horticultural Retailers’ Choice Award at Cultivate Ohio. In the UK, at the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) National Plant Show, SunBelievable™ took gold in the annuals category, as well as the Best in Category (Annuals) and the Visitor Voted Best in Category (Annuals). The long-flowering sunflower also won the 2018 Four Oaks Trade Show ‘Best Plant Introduction Bedding or Pot Plant’.

Our Head of Horticulture, Paul Masters, commented:

“We’re very proud to have won so many prestigious awards for SunBelievable™ ’Brown Eyed Girl’ both in the UK and abroad. To have gained international recognition for our fabulous sunflower is a great success for Thompson & Morgan.”

With online and catalogue sales topping 100,000 plants in the UK, SunBelievable™ is also proving to be incredibly popular in the USA where it has been well received at all the top trade shows and in trials prior to its retail release in 2019.

“Customer feedback for SunBelievable™’Brown Eyed Girl’ has been extremely positive” says Peter Freeman, our New Product Development Manager. “We’ve been amazed at the plants’ performance this summer – particularly through the heatwave and drought conditions. Those that were planted in the first half of the summer are still flowering now!”

At our Floral Fantasia garden at RHS Garden Hyde Hall this summer, at which hundreds of varieties of annuals were on display, SunBelievable™ ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ proved to be the favourite of the majority of the almost 140,000 visitors to the gardens.

Paul Masters also commented that there would be further exciting introductions to come in the SunBelievable™ range. Watch this space!

Sunbelievable™ 'Brown Eyed Girl'

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!)

My Top 5 from T&M at Driftwood in 2018

2018 has been our most successful season of all at Driftwood! We celebrated our 10th year of opening the garden and our 7th year of trialling products from Thompson & Morgan. There were a couple of trips to Buckingham Palace too, in recognition for the charity fundraising we have achieved, our running total to date in excess of £114,000, with almost £20,000 raised in 2018 alone. Add this to the coverage in a national newspaper in August, a short film of the garden on BBC SE Today the same month and a feature in an American garden magazine back in April, not bad at all.

This season my top 5 stand out products from Thompson & Morgan, much commented on by many of our 2000 visitors, were as follows:

  1. Thunbergia Arizona Collection.

I chose to plant mine all in one large pot and these vigorous climbers produced masses of blooms from late June through to the present day. Each bloom has a characteristic black centre that gives Thunbergia its common name of Black-Eyed Susan. As they are tender climbers, I plan to transfer mine to the heated greenhouse for the winter and see if I can get them to grow as well in 2019. They were very quick growing, covering the ornamental tower I placed in the pot, reaching over 6 feet tall. Visitors loved the impact they made at the side of my folly fireplace.

  1. Blechnum Volcano.

I’ve got a small Dicksonia tree fern but was enthralled by images of the dwarf Brazilian tree fern. I’d certainly agree that Blechnum brasiliensis ‘Volcano’ is an exciting new find for the home gardener. These compact plants lend themselves well to growing in patio pots. The young fronds unfurl in a bronze volcanic hue turning a shiny green as they open. We’re told that over time the fern will form a small trunk, growing to around 30cm tall in 10 years. I’ve got a bit of time to wait then but nonetheless visitors have been impressed with its look, sat in a pot immediately in front of a dicksonia.  It is a perfect for giving an exotic touch to your garden. We’re told it is hardy enough to be grown in most UK gardens but I’ll be protecting mine over winter, either in the conservatory or heated greenhouse.

  1. Calendula Power Daisy Orange.

I bought some of the yellow Power Daisies a few years ago and found them very good so this summer decided to try the Calendula ‘Power Daisy Orange’. As the claim states, this astonishing English pot marigold didn’t burn out mid-season. Their bright orange blooms have just keep coming, still flowering at the end of September in my seaside garden. I’ve found that it’s neat, spreading habit makes it a perfect choice for filling containers with many its orange daisy-like blooms The great bonus is that they rarely need deadheading. Many visitors have spotted them burning like a bright star amongst the dense and intense planting here at Driftwood, where this summer, we had over 300 different containers.

  1. Alstroemeria Indian Summer.

What is not to love about the beautifully coloured flowers of Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer’ with their unique rich, bronze foliage. These hardy Peruvian Lilies are compact with an upright habit, ensuring that stems are still a good length for cutting. I’ve got some in the ground and some in a large patio container. Back in August, the container of plugs I bought this season  took centre stage, when the BBC interviewed me about my garden for a short film shown on TV, on how I and the garden had coped with the incessant heat this summer. They deliberately chose this spot as the flowers looked so stunning. I’m still amazed by how many visitors are not familiar with them and ask what they are.

  1. Coprosma repens ‘Pacific Sunset’.

I saw this plant a garden show this summer and jotted down the name. I knew I had to have some in the garden next season. True to its description, from a distance Coprosma repens ‘Pacific Sunset’ appears vibrant coral pink. On closer inspection the leaves are glossy red, edged with chocolate brown. A wonderful bonus is that it is evergreen, proving vivid colour all year round. It also has a low-growing, rounded habit, which makes it perfect to go in containers in my garden, not that we get too many frosts here but just want to make sure it will survive. I’m told Coprosma is undemanding and needs little attention and a superb choice for coastal locations, next year will tell. My three had just arrived and are awaiting planting but they are sure to be a hit with next years visitors.

So, there we have it, my top 5 from Thompson & Morgan this season.

You can read more of Geoff’s garden at

Geoff Stonebanks

Geoff Stonebanks was very lucky to be able to retire early from 30 years in Royal Mail back in 2004. He had 3 different careers with them first as a caterer, then manager of a financial analysis team and finally as an Employee Relations Manager and Personnel Manager. He sold up and moved with his partner to Bishopstone, near Seaford in East Sussex in 2004 and now spends all his time gardening and fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support. Using his multi award-winning garden, featured on Gardeners’ World on BBC TV and finalist in Gardeners’ World Magazine Garden of the Year 2016, he’s raised £114000 for various charities in 10 years, £66,000 of that for Macmillan. In his spare time, he is also Assistant County Organiser for the National Gardens Scheme and their Publicity Officer for East & Mid Sussex.

How to store home grown vegetables

Make the most of your home grown veg by storing it correctly
Image source: Shutterstock

There is plenty to harvest from the vegetable plot, and if you have a glut it might not be possible to eat them all at once. To enjoy vegetables throughout autumn and winter it’s vital to store them correctly. Here’s our simple guide to storing your home grown vegetables.

Keep vegetables fresher for longer

Separate bad veg to enjoy the ‘fresh from the garden’ taste for longer
Image source: Zaretskaya Svetlana

It’s important that no damaged or rotting vegetables are put into storage. Over time, damaged fruit or veg will infect any vegetables nearby, causing them to rot. This bears out the old adage ‘a bad apple spoils the bunch.’ There’s no need to waste damaged produce – if you have vegetables which are less than perfect, simply set them aside to use first.

Only place completely dry vegetables in storage. It’s best not to wash vegetables with water before they are stored. Instead, any excess dirt should be gently brushed off. Cut off any top growth from root vegetables before storage.

These general rules apply to all veg, but different vegetables dictate different methods of storage. For example, two of our favourite crops, onions and potatoes, are as different as chalk and cheese when it comes to the best methods of storing them.

How to store potatoes

Potatoes must be kept away from light
Image source: Shutterstock

It is crucial that potatoes are stored in a dark, and ideally cool place. Light causes potatoes to produce chlorophyll, which produces solanine, a natural toxin present in green potatoes which causes an upset stomach. You mustn’t eat green potatoes.

Once the potatoes have been lifted, they should be cleaned of soil and only put into storage once dry. A good storage area for potatoes – and a number of other vegetables – is in a garage because it’s a cool, frost-free space.

Potatoes store well in hessian sacks, or if these are not to hand, a box or potato sacks can be used with layers of newspaper to exclude all light and to ensure that the tubers remain dry. An ideal storage combination would be hessian or potato sacks inside a container that excludes light, left slightly open to allow air circulation.

Like many root crops, potatoes need to be kept cool. Greenhouses and conservatories are not recommended, as they tend to be too light.

Storing alliums: leeks, onions and garlic

Plaiting garlic and onions is a practical and attractive storage method
Image source: Mattis Kaminer

Onions and garlic need to be kept dry and stored in the light. Traditionally, onions are lifted and left resting on the soil for a few days to dry, which is all very well if your harvest coincides with a dry spell. Since our weather is often capricious, it’s best to lay out onions and garlic to dry indoors or under glass. This usually takes up to a week.

Onions and garlic can be strung together or woven into decorative plaits and stored. Once the top growth has dried out it will plait easily. Start with the large onions or garlic bulbs and plait in descending size ending with the smallest. If there is not enough top growth, weave in raffia to make more to plait with.

Although onion plaits and strings look decorative in the kitchen, it’s not an ideal storage area as it can be humid. Onions and garlic are best stored in a cool, dry environment such as a porch, conservatory, or greenhouse. Onions and garlic can also be stored in string bags or nets.

Leeks, although members of the Allium family, are different again. Leeks are best left in the ground over winter and dug up as and when required. Traditional varieties such as ‘Musselburgh’ will withstand winter and can be harvested from December to March.

Parsnips are another crop which can be left in the ground until needed, and their flavour is reputed to be better after hard frost.

Not so for carrot and beetroots, which need to be lifted in autumn before the weather turns wet and cold. There are traditional methods for storing root crops in sand and compost, but it is easier to put them in hessian sacks or string nets, and store in a cool dark place.

Turnips and Swede can be left in the ground but if your plot is wet, (and also bearing in mind the difficulties of lifting vegetables from frozen ground), both crops can be lifted and stored in the same way.

Storing peas and beans

Enjoy your petit pois for longer by freezing a glut
Image source: Thompson & Morgan

In the centuries up to our modern times, large estate houses had areas of cellars and rooms dedicated for storage to feed the family and estate workers through the winter. Today, we have freezers. Freezing is the only way to store French, runner, and broad beans, and peas including varieties such as mange tout.

These vegetables need to be prepared and blanched in boiling water for two minutes. After two minutes, drain and plunge them into ice cold water to stop them from cooking any further, and bag up into the freezer. This way you can enjoy your home-grown peas or beans with Sunday lunch for weeks to come.

How to ripen green tomatoes

Ripen green tomatoes indoors if it’s getting too cold
Image source: Thompson & Morgan

Tomatoes, especially when in the greenhouse, will keep ripening until late in the season depending on the autumn weather. If you have a glut of green tomatoes at the end of the growing season, there is no need to resort to green chutney. Tomatoes will ripen indoors and be perfectly edible.

Cut good sized tomatoes on the vine as soon as the temperature begins to cool and bring indoors into the warm. Make sure the fruits you put out to ripen are all without blemish and in good condition. Lay out the vines on newspaper, ideally in a conservatory or on a warm south facing windowsill. The majority will continue to ripen over October and early November.

Whatever type of crop you are storing over winter, it is a good idea to check on them from time to time. Remove any damaged vegetables to ensure they continue to store well.

Carol Bartlett, The Sunday Gardener, lives in the north of England where she has created a diverse garden including wildflowers, natural areas, herbaceous borders, a wildlife pond, trees and wetland plants, along with a vegetable plot. She has been gardening, reading, researching and photographing plants for over twenty years and her website is a popular resource for gardeners young and old.

Gardening blogs for the whole family

Gardening is a great bonding opportunity
Image source: Shutterstock

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

The Outdoor Dad

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

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

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

The Newhouse Family

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

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

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

The Ladybird’s Adventures

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

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

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

Kids of the Wild

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

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

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

Rambling Dad

Craig planned his garden with his little ones in mind
Image source: Rambling Dad

Craig has achieved the impossible and encouraged his little ones to try more vegetables. How, you ask? By showing them how to grow their own. Rambling Dad blogger says his kids ‘have a better understanding of where food comes from’ and are way more likely to eat sprouts if they sowed the seeds themselves.

Dedicated to breaking routines and making nature a bigger part of his family’s life, Craig has won awards for his 30 days Wild challenge. Follow his lead to make your whole garden child friendly, build a wormery, and squeeze in as many trips to local wild spots as possible.

Inspire Create Educate

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

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

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

Mummy Matters

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

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

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

Earth Based Fun

Kids love seeing things grow and it’s a great learning opportunity
Image source: Earth Based Fun

‘Gardening has amazing developmental benefits for children,’ says Vicky from Earth Based Fun – like helping to encourage healthy eating habits, develop maths skills and more.

Forestry school teacher-in-training Vicky used to work in the hotel trade, but these days, the only hotels you’ll see her running are for hedgehogs! Check out her blog for more outdoorsy ideas like how to build a DIY bird bath and going pond dipping.

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

Summer 2018 – From Pembrokeshire with Love

Editor’s Note : Many of our customers are familiar with Amanda, one of our bloggers who has been writing for us for some years now. Here’s her latest post. Unfortunately, Amanda has some health and family issues which she quite rightly needs to concentrate on, and so she is going to be taking a break from blogging for the time being. We wish Amanda all the very best and a speedy recovery!

Dear Gardening Friends,

How’s this summer been for you? The high temperatures and lack of rain meant that apart from looking after what had already germinated, grown or been transplanted, I have done very little. Mark, on the other hand, has watered, composted, dug, cut, trimmed and taken care of everything else.

In Ty Mawr, the scorching heat meant that the Rainbow Beetroots almost bolted, but I caught them in time. It was also the same for the onions and garlic. The tomatoes grew on the vines and hundreds of cape gooseberries appeared almost overnight. The leaves started to curl on the peppers, chillies and aubergines, so for the first time ever we had to buy a whitewash paint to protect the plants. Inexplicably, in the heat, dormant Amaranthus and Nicotiana seeds germinated after we pulled the beetroots.

In the second week in July, I harvested more of the new potatoes and we went off back to the New Forest for a week, taking the potatoes with us. They were perfect for salads or a light evening meal.

After last year’s holiday disaster of not watering, Mark set up a drip irrigation system using an old hose pipe that he drilled holes into. He then attached this to the water butt and asked his mum to switch it on two days later. She did, but because Pembrokeshire experienced its hottest and driest week in decades, she and his dad came down three times that week to water everything for us. I told them to help themselves to any potatoes, gooseberries, or other produce they wanted.

Mark’s mum said to me “I had your three apples!”

“But there are none on the tree.” I replied.

She laughed and explained that she’d had them from our fruit bowl inside!

As soon as we were back, a few of the trial tomatoes had ripened, along with two dozen cape gooseberries, and have been continuously supplying me with produce.

The aubergines and peppers are flowering and the chilli bucket has tiny green fruits forming.

The spider plant has made a full recovery and is flowering.

In The Office I have done nothing except transplant two Joseph’s Coat plants into the borders. The accidental wildlife border needs only the occasional dead heading.

The shelves are now bare as plants have been put in their final positions outside.

I’m sorry to say that this will be my last blog for a while. I have some fairly major health issues and so does another family member, so I feel that I need to concentrate on our health.

Anyone who’s read my blogs will know that I love gardening, and I love writing. Some of the best people I have made friends with have been through the T&M community. I really value you too for reading them and the comments you put on my page. You have made me very very happy over the years. Thank you.

By the way, I will be growing lots of marigolds and sweet peas from September, so I’m not going to be completely idle!

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.

Some like it hot

A summer heatwave is ideal for chillies
Image source: Nic Wilson

It’s been a hot year in the greenhouse and the chillies have enjoyed every sweltering second. Sown in early January, they developed into sturdy seedlings by March and were ready to go out in the greenhouse by late May. I chose fewer varieties of chilli seeds this year in an effort to fit all my plants in the available space alongside the cucumbers, tomatoes, basil and cucamelons, and it worked – just!

Best chilli varieties to grow at home

A jar of pickled chillies to enjoy over the winter
Image source: Nic Wilson

I picked varieties based on their heat, flavour and uses – some for chillies and curries, some for our spicy homemade chilli jam and pickles, some for their ornamental value, and others for stuffing.

Prairie Fire’, described as an ‘ornamental edible’, and the stunning ‘Numex Twilight’ add interest to the kitchen windowsill or patio table with their upturned chillies ripening from green through cream, yellow, orange, red and purple. They produce hot fruit – great for curries and for extra-spicy jam.

Hot Lemon’ is an attractive variety with prolific yellow fruits and an aromatic citrus flavour. It suffuses my pickled chilli liqueur with a sweet tang, works well in Thai soups, and is delicious stuffed with cream cheese for those with an adventurous, heat-loving palate. Another prolific cropper this year is ‘Joe’s Long’. My plants have produced many long fruits which look like curled cayennes and are fabulous dried and hung in the kitchen ready for winter chillies, stews and broths.

Chillies to bake

Sweeter, mellow-flavoured chillies are ideal for stuffing and baking
Image source: Nic Wilson

Baked chillies stuffed with cream cheese is one of my favourite autumn suppers: for this I tend to use varieties with sweet, fruity flavours and less heat. The mellow ‘Hungarian Hot Wax’ and the mild but flavoursome ‘Trinidad Perfume’ are particular favourites, along with ‘Ubatuba’ and ‘Bolsa de Dulce’ (both Capsicum baccatum rather than the more common Capsicum annuum). Baccatum means ‘berrylike’ and ‘Bolsa de Dulce’ translates as ‘bag of sweetness’.

This variety certainly produces fragrant, large fruits rather like sweet peppers but more aromatic and productive, and we’ve had more chillies from these varieties this year than ever before.

Try a chilli tree

Chillies come in a variety of colours, shapes, heat levels and harvesting times
Image source: Nic Wilson

Tree chillies (Capsicum pubescens) are an another unusual type that require a long growing period and plenty of heat to mature. I grow ‘Albertos Locoto’ and use the extremely hot fruits for baking, frying or slicing into salads, as they work best fresh.
One advantage of tree chillies is that they tolerate lower temperatures which means they’re well suited to over-wintering and can continue fruiting for up to fifteen years. I’ve had tree chillies in the house fruiting on Christmas Day in previous years.

Extend the chilli growing season

The glossy dark ‘Hungarian Black’ chilli ripens to a scarlet red
Image source: Nic Wilson

It’s possible to kick start the fruiting season early by growing varieties like ‘Vampire’, and ‘Hungarian Black’. These dramatic chillies have deep purple flowers and relatively mild, Jalapeno-shaped fruits with an eye-catching purple-black shine. They both begin fruiting in July, so by growing these attractive plants alongside tree chillies, it’s possible to extend the fruiting season significantly.

We have a busy few weeks ahead: drying and pickling our chillies, and preserving them in jams to make the most of the bounty brought on by the hot weather. And, as the nights draw in, I’ll be sitting at the kitchen table with a plate of baked chillies, leafing through the seed catalogues, happily concocting my fiery chilli plans for next year…

Nic Wilson is a writer, garden designer and Garden Media Guilds Awards nominee (Best Blog, 2017). She enjoys growing flowers and unusual fruit, vegetables and herbs, and loves to encourage nature into the garden. She also blogs at dogwooddays.

Capel St Mary Allotments Association – Flower and Produce Show

Last weekend I volunteered to help out at my local Allotment Show, they were a bit short on numbers, so I helped out on the refreshment stall, we all need a cup of tea and piece of cake from time to time.

It was a perfect way to have a behind the scenes look at the show.

It has given me more ideas of what to grow and the different classes in the show to enter.

My children entered the children’s classes and even won a first and second place. So, next year it’s game on. My children even fancy growing some flowers, especially the Dahlias and Begonias.

Capel St Mary is a village on the outskirts of Ipswich in Suffolk. They hold a two-day Flower and Produce Show the first weekend of September annually and this was their 41st year.

They have over 360 members and 90 members who rent a plot.

It is a hugely popular village event and is attended well from the wider community. Entries are also welcome from non-members too, it features over 120 classes including produce, fruit, handicraft, cookery, photography and the children’s classes.

The hard work from the committee was evident, setting up the event, receiving the exhibits, judging, and of course taking pleasure in viewing other people’s hard work growing, baking stitching, painting etc. A slick rota was drawn up by the Show Secretary, Wendy Russell, to ensure that the event ran smoothly. There were refreshments, teas, coffees and homemade cakes on offer, guess the name of the teddy and the Grand Draw and many more.

What a lovely collection of classic vegetables, those leeks look delicious! We are thinking about which flower to grow from a bulb, corm or tuber next year. The plates of fruit were lovely, perfectly shaped. The varieties were lovely to see, showing visitors that there are other types out there, instead of the basic tasteless supermarket ones.

These baskets makes me think of my childhood at school, collecting vegetables from the garden for the Harvest Festival at the local church.

We are going to have a Pumpkin growing competition next year, what is your favourite?

This produce show in Capel St Mary is a lovely show to visit and I was lucky enough to be invited to help out.

It certainly gives you plenty of ideas with what to try next year and enter yourself.

Visitors come from far and wide to exhibit and visit. It speaks for its self as it is in its 41st year.

For more information about Capel St Mary Allotments Association please visit, or visit their new Facebook Page by searching for Capel Allotments.

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 Journey of Floral Fantasia

It’s been an amazing experience to watch the garden on its wonderful journey from a blank canvas to the flourishing beauty that it is today. I joined T&M back in April and one of my first projects to get my teeth stuck into was our ‘Floral Fantasia’ garden at RHS Hyde Hall in Essex near Chelmsford.

There was no time for sitting down at my desk; it was straight over to our nursery where we growing all of the plants to get my hands dirty.

From April until the start of June I helped Peter Freeman, our New Product Development Manager with the various tasks that were needed for growing on the plants for the garden. Potting, pinching, watering, feeding, planting up into the various baskets/ containers, spacing, moving – just about everything involved in growing plants, we did it. Luckily for me I have a passion for plants. I started growing my own plants when I was a young child and have come from a previous wholesale nursery and garden centre background. It’s almost second nature to me by now. For me there really is something quite special in watching those tiny little seeds and plug plants develop into healthy and robust plants ready to plant up in the garden. It gives me such a good feeling!

But I have to tell you what took me by surprise was seeing the area we had to plant up for the first time, check it out…

The old vegetable garden at RHS Hyde Hall

The old vegetable garden at RHS Hyde Hall ready for transforming to the Floral Fantasia garden
© Thompson & Morgan

I was probably thinking what you are now. “How on earth is this going to turn this into a show stopping garden that will give people the ‘WOW’ factor and something really exceptional to see?” The area we planted up was the old Hyde Hall vegetable garden. My first words to Peter were “we need to grow some more plants, this place is absolutely huge”. But fear not Lance, Peter was armed with a planting plan that detailed down to the cm exactly just how many plants we would need. (Anyone who has been or seen the recent pictures of the garden will have a feel for just how many thousands of plants there are).

After all the hard work growing and planning, the time came for planting up. This is where the fun really started…. before it was all hands on deck with the trowels we had to unload all of the plants from the lorry and get them into situ. We also had to go crazy drawing lines with line marker paint – let me tell you how it looks on paper isn’t always how it comes out looking sprayed on soil. I will confess we did have to “wing it” slightly (only slightly). This sounds fun right? It was… until the heavens opened and we got soaked and became two Hyde Hall ducklings (not ugly ones though I hope?).

Peter and I getting soaked in the rain

Peter and I getting soaked in the rain
© Thompson & Morgan

Each section was labelled ready for the planting team to come in and help us out the following day. In came the flower tower, “to me, to you, left a bit, right a bit”; three tiers later the giant masterpiece was in situ. What did we forget to put on the last tier? The Thompson & Morgan flag at the top!

Putting in plant labels and assembling the flower tower

Putting in the plant labels and assembling the flower tower
© Thompson & Morgan

So it began… In came the planting team – a lot very helpful T&M and RHS staff. Together we planted thousands of plants in the garden, put in posts to hang the baskets and off loaded all of the hundreds of baskets and containers to their new homes.

Floral Fantasia Planting

The Thompson & Morgan and RHS teams planting the thousands of plants needed to create the Floral Fantasia garden
© Thompson & Morgan

Trust me all of the hard work was worth it! Get your sunglasses at the ready and look at the masterpiece we created below. So many beautiful plants, colours and combinations with a great deal of scent for everyone to enjoy.

The Flora Fantasia garden at RHS Hydea Hall in full bloom

The Floral Fantasia garden at RHS Hyde Hall in full bloom
© Thompson & Morgan

After all that there was one last job I needed to do…. a sit down in the giant deckchair.

Sitting and relaxing in the giant deck chair

Sitting and relaxing in the giant deck chair
© Thompson & Morgan

If you haven’t already been to see the garden I would strongly recommend a visit. It still looks absolutely cracking and there is always something new to look at and a lot of inspiration to take from.

P.S Don’t forget to take a selfie in the deck chair and send it to us for your chance to win £50!

Enjoy, Lance 🙂

Horticulture has always been very close to my heart. I’ve had a huge passion for plants & gardening for as long as I can remember. My first memories are toddling around as child helping out my parents & grandparents in their gardens and learning to grow my own plants, scince then I have been hooked. I’m a huge fan of growing bedding plants and hanging baskets and I also love to grow my own cut flowers & vegetables. I am always trialling out something different in the garden, whether it be new varieties or different planting schemes.

I trained at Sparsholt College where I received my Horticultural Qualifications and received a gold medal for the Chelsea Flower Show in 2014. With a previous career in garden centre and wholesale horticulture, I joined Thompson & Morgan in 2018 as Trainee Manager. I also stand on the committee for IPPS Europe and was lucky enough to travel to the USA in 2016 as the Horticultural Exchange Student.

Dahlia Dreaming

two dahlia flowers blooming

Dahlias blaze into colour just as other flowers are going over.
Image source: Shutterstock

After weeks of hot summer days, the grass is brown and withered, the summer raspberries have shrivelled into dessicated husks and the roses have gone over, but my dahlias are only just beginning. We’ve had the first brazenly crimson flower on ‘Con Amore’.

I’ve just started reading the sumptuous monograph ‘Dahlias’ by Naomi Slade, published earlier this month, and now I’m impatient to convert my dahlia dreaming into reality. I came to dahlias quite late in the day after picking up a few tubers of the charismatic Dahlia ‘Firepot’ at the school fete and I’ve been hooked ever since. They’re such a versatile flower – working equally well in mixed borders, containers or as bedding plants. Last year I also grew dahlias in the vegetable patch, and used the blooms for cut flowers.

Cut flowers

bloomed cafe au lait dahlia

‘Café au lait’ is a favourite for cut flower arrangements.
Image source: Nic Wilson

My favourites include the sophisticated duo ‘Henriette’ and ‘Café au Lait’. ‘Henriette’ is a semi-cactus washed with apricot tones and ‘Café au Lait’, a double decorative with a soft pink blush which Naomi Slade describes as ‘rich as a cream liqueur on ice’.

Their elegant flowers last well in arrangements – either as an off-white display or mixed with the deep burgundy shades of ‘Thomas A. Edison’ and ‘Downham Royal’. These darker dahlias also create fiery contrasts with the neon punctuation of ‘New Baby’ and burnished orange of ‘David Howard’. Growing flowers in these three tonal ranges allows me to create harmony and contrast in different rooms as the mood takes me.


group of bishop of llandaff dahlias flowers

‘Bishop of Llandaff’ brings a striking scarlet accent to your borders.
Image source: Thompson & Morgan

Dahlias bring extra colour to late summer borders and their foliage is a valuable addition even before the flowers, especially with the rich chocolate purples and greens of the Bishop Series. If I could only grow one dahlia, it would be ‘Bishop of Canterbury’ – it has the same dark foliage as the more popular ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, but with luscious magenta-pink flowers.

For a more elegant border dahlia, ‘Twynings After Eight’ retains the dark chocolate foliage alongside single white flowers with a saturated yellow central boss.

Containers and bedding

dahlia scura flower

The smaller dahlia ‘Scura’ is ideal for containers.
Image source: Nic Wilson

Smaller dahlias are well suited to container growing and bedding displays. For punchy colour try ‘Scura’, one of the Mini Bishop Group, which has deep orange petals with apricot undertones, or ‘Happy Single Date’ with its cheerful tangerine flowers flushed with red at the centre.

Fire and Ice’ creates its own contrast with vibrant red and white striped flowers on sturdy plants and you can’t beat the semi-double flowers of ‘Sunny Reggae’ in all shades from buttery apricot through to vivid red to liven up any area of the garden.

Dahlia care

two happy single date dahlias

Dahlia ‘Happy single date’ is easily accessible to bees in a wildlife-friendly garden.
Image source: Nic Wilson

Whether you’re planting dahlia tubers in containers from late winter/early spring or in the ground after the last frosts, they need little attention apart from feeding and comprehensive defense against the gastropodic arts. I begin all my tubers in containers – this year’s spring rain (hard to remember now) attracted the slugs and snails who wreaked havoc on the emerging shoots. My normal barriers of copper tape and wool pellets proved futile and I had to resort to placing all the dahlias on the patio table with copper tape circling each leg.

The plants need liquid feeding throughout the growing season – a high nitrogen feed initially, followed by a high potassium feed when they start flowering. Once autumn frosts begin in earnest, lift the tubers, cut back the stems and dry upside down before storing in sand or compost in a frost-free place. In milder areas, tubers can be left in the ground and well mulched with compost, manure or straw.  Most years this works for me, with occasional losses in particularly wet, cold winters.


thomas a edison dahlia

‘Thomas Edison’ is a beautiful addition to cut flower displays.
Image source: Nic Wilson

In the next few weeks I’ll be waiting impatiently for ‘Karma Choc’ and ‘Daisy Duke’ to flower, both new for me this year. And I’m already planning my dahlia selection for 2019. How can I resist just a few tubers of ‘Sierra Glow’ – described by Naomi Slade as the “most gorgeous bronze, brushed with coppery pink and with hints of dusty rose”? I suspect, with tens of thousands of cultivars available, I’ll be indulging in dahlia dreaming for many years to come.

Nic Wilson is a writer, garden designer and Garden Media Guilds Awards nominee (Best Blog, 2017). She enjoys growing flowers and unusual fruit, vegetables and herbs, and loves to encourage nature into the garden. She also blogs at dogwooddays.


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