Thompson & Morgan Gardening Blog

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Propagation, planting out and cultivation posts from writers that know their subjects well.

Growing vertically

Living wall full of greenery

Transform any vertical space into a growing opportunity
Image: CoolKengzz/Shutterstock

Is your garden overflowing with plants, flowers and shrubs, leaving no room to squeeze in exciting new specimens? Perhaps you have limited outside space? The solution is one and the same – go vertical! With a little ingenuity, you can create an interesting, colourful and productive garden where there wasn’t one before.

What is vertical gardening?

Living wall surrounding windows

This eco-friendly “living wall” is vertical gardening on a dramatic scale
Image source: Evannovostro/Shutterstock

Vertical gardening simply means growing plants on a vertical plane, like up a fence or wall. It could be as straightforward as training climbers up a trellis, or as elaborate as engineering eco-friendly “living walls”, like those with integrated irrigation systems seen on eco-friendly homes and office buildings. Whatever your style, space, or budget, a vertical garden is a fun and creative way to make the most of your outdoor space.

What are the benefits of vertical gardening?

Balcony full of handing baskets and a table

Make the most of small spaces with shelves, hanging baskets, and window boxes
Image: Isa Long/Shutterstock

Adding height and interest, a vertical garden is, in a word, beautiful. But vertical gardens don’t just look good – they do good! They improve the air quality, boost biodiversity, and even reduce ambient noise and temperature. Not to mention boosting mental wellbeing.

These are particularly welcome benefits for space-challenged urbanites for whom a vertical garden is the only way to add a bit of green to the city’s grey. Vertical gardens can grow on balconies, patios, or even just a fence, if that’s what you have.

For those with more traditional gardens, growing “up” lets you make the most of your garden real estate, while giving you the chance to highlight particular areas or disguise unsightly ones.

Happily, it also makes gardening much more accessible. Tasks can be tailored to any height and level of intensity, which is ideal for gardeners with mobility issues. It also makes vertical gardening a fun project for the whole family.

What can I use as vertical planters?

Vertical pallets that have been turned into planters

Upcycled pallets make a great frame for a vertical garden
Image: lulu and isabelle/Shutterstock

Garden walls and fences are a blank canvas. Let your creativity loose!

  • Hook window boxes from fences or balconies, or suspend hanging baskets for interest, colour, and depth.
  • Use a climbing frame to encourage evergreen plants like clematis to thrive upwards.
  • If you have a craggy or dry stone wall, plant alpines or succulents directly in the gaps.
  • Try securely mounting flat-backed planters for a permanent feature wall.
  • Affix wire mesh to the wall or use a freestanding trellis for a more adaptable approach. You can then use a variety of removable containers; a great option for gardens with limited sun or if you plan on changing the plants with the season.

Whatever your approach, you’ll need to balance practicalities with aesthetics. Will the plant need regular pruning? Will it produce fruit that needs picking? Can you water it from that height? And some plants can be heavy, especially after watering, so make sure your support structure can take the load.

There are lots of ways to grow vertically – many of which you may already have, knocking around in cupboards or sheds. Upcycling is a great way to help your garden grow up – and save you money, as well as space. Old tin cans, plastic bottles, bookshelves, and pallets can all be used for creative effect. See what you can repurpose from around the house to suit your chosen plants.

What fruit and veg can I grow in a vertical garden?

Strawberries growing vertically

Ripe for the picking – strawberries adapt well to vertical gardens
Image: Luoxi/Shutterstock

Herbs, fruit, vegetables, annuals and perennials can all be grown in vertical gardens. In fact, away from the ground, they’re more likely to avoid pesky pests and diseases, so it’s a win-win.

An edible vertical garden offers a great return on investment. If you’ve got a decent amount of sun, strawberries are well-suited to container planting. Fast and strong growing, the unique “Mount Everest” climber variety is a knockout. It can be trained up a trellis or obelisk climbing frame, or cascade from window boxes and hanging baskets.

Cucamelons and kiwis are also climbers that are lovely to look at and eat, and they’re very happy in containers. Bush varieties of tomatoes like ‘Romello’ will also thrive vertically. Same goes for a huge variety of easy-to-grow salad leaves, as well as hardy, low maintenance herbs like thyme, parsley, and oregano.

What plants and flowers can I grow in a vertical garden?

Fence with greenery growing out of it

Break up a plain fence with some welcome greenery
Image: AMMARIN NANTASEN/shutterstock

Vertical gardens are an ideal way to add colour and structure to your outside space without sacrificing square footage on the ground. Sun-loving plants – best for south-facing vertical gardens with a bit of shelter – include fuchsia, salvia, and nasturtiums. And with their dense rosettes of foliage, evergreen succulents like sempervivum can grow to create a living carpet in wall crevices and troughs. They are also pretty drought resistant, making them a very low maintenance addition to any vertical garden.

For a longer term investment, try a climbing hydrangea like Moonlight. It’ll need training for the first few years of slow growth, but then it will use self-clinging aerial roots to cover entire walls with its creamy-white, lace cap flowers and silvery blue leaves.

Gardens with more shade, meanwhile, will benefit from plants like small ferns, pansies, and wallflowers. For more coverage for less effort, Virginia creeper is the way to go. A fast-growing and easy climber, its beautiful foliage turns flame-coloured in the autumn, making it a striking garden addition at any time of year.

Colourful, creative, and offering a whole suite of positive benefits, vertical gardening is a great option for amateur and seasoned gardeners alike.

 

How to Grow Hibiscus

Hibiscus flowers are one of the most beautiful flowers you can find. And guess what? They can be easily grown in your own home or garden.

Let’s discuss what are the most popular types of Hibiscus and what you can do to properly care for them, whether you opt for a hardy garden variety or a tender house plant.

 

Types of Hibiscus

In total, there are more than 200 known species of Hibiscus. The most suitable Hibiscus to grow indoors is Chinese Hibiscus, otherwise known as Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. Whereas Hibiscus syriacus, or if we use its other name, Rose of Sharon prefers to be grown outdoors.  Hardy Hibiscus syriacus are more widely available that the the tender indoor types, and you will find a superb range of flower colours on offer.

Now, let’s find out a bit more about them.

 

1. Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘Apollo’

Hibiscus rosa-Sinensis ‘Apollo’ has very pretty flowers with a mix of yellow, orange, and red colors, making it look almost like a Sun, hence its name, after the Greek god of Sun. This variety was bred especially for larger flowers, so it makes quite an impression in the conservatory or a bright, sunny room indoors.

Hibiscus 'Apollo'

©Zenflora – Hibiscus ‘Apollo’ produces dazzling flowers!

 

2. Hibiscus syriacus ‘Pink Chiffon’

Hibiscus syriacus ‘Pink Chiffon’ is quite recognizable, due to its ruffled, double pink flowers that don’t appear until quite late in the summer, but deliver plenty of colour while early summer plants are starting to fade. It really likes direct sunlight, enjoying 6 hours of direct sun per day, so make sure it is placed in a bright location.

Hibiscus Pink Chiffon

©Shutterstock – Hibiscus Pink Chiffon boasts ruffled, double blooms.

 

3. Hibiscus ‘Starburst Chiffon’

Hibiscus ‘Starburst Chiffon’ will really add an exotic feel to your garden, with its huge semi- double flowers with the crimson-red streaks. This hibiscus species can grow up to 150cm in height and spread, making a fabulous specimen shrub that will really make an eye-catching display.

Hibiscus 'Starburst Chiffon'

©De Nolf – Hibiscus ‘Starburst Chiffon’ is a real eye-catcher!

 

4. Hibiscus ‘Big Hibiskiss’

Hibiscus ‘Big Hibiskiss’ comes with extra big flowers that grow up to 18cm (7”) across! It makes an incredible focal point for late summer borders. This impressive variety comes from British breeding, with flowers that are much flatter than most other varieties.

Hibiscus 'Big Hibiskiss'

©De Jong – Hibiscus ‘Big Hibiskiss’ has been bred for extra-large flowers.

 

5. Hibiscus syriacus ‘Oiseau Bleu’

Hibiscus syriacus ‘Oiseau Bleu’ is  a real head-turner for its silky blue flowers. Like many Hibiscus it is often one of the last plants in the garden to begin leafing-up after winter – often not until May. It’s worth waiting for though, as the late summer flowers will keep going right into autumn.

Hibiscus 'Oiseau Bleu'

©Shutterstock – Hibiscus ‘Oiseau Bleu’ flowers right through to autumn.

 

Hibiscus Care

Watering

First of all, most Hibiscus like moderately wet soil, with the ability to drain well. This means that if you are gardening on clay soil, you may need to mix in some grit, sand and garden compost when planting , to increase its drainage.

If you are growing it in a pot then make sure that there are plenty of drainage holes in the base of the pot to allow good drainage, and prevent it becoming water-logged.

Pot grown plants will need regular watering during the summer months. Plants grown in borders should be able to look after themselves once they are established, so you will only need to water them for the first month or two after planting.

Hibiscus in the garden

©Shutterstock – Hibiscus are quite low maintenance once they are established in borders.

Sunlight

Hibiscus likes sunlight, so whether you are growing a hardy variety outdoors or a tender houseplant, make sure that they are in a bright spot.

Fertiliser

You can use fertiliser to help your hibiscus to grow. Feed them with a liquid plant food every 4 weeks from spring to late summer.

Pruning

Indoor Hibiscus rosa-sinensis won’t really need pruning so there’s no need to worry if you are growing this type.

Hardy Hibiscus syriacus should be pruned in in late spring, just as the leaf buds are opening. Remove any dead or damaged branches, and lightly prune the rest to shape the plant.

As you can see, Hibiscus plants are really easy to grow and don’t need a lot of special care. You can enjoy their bright flowers outdoors or in your home. Wherever you grow yours, you will love its exotic-looking flowers!

 

Why you should grow amaranthus

Red amaranthus flower with green leaves

Amaranthus caudatus ‘Love Lies Bleeding is one of the most popular varieties
Image: pjhpix/shutterstock

‘Love Lies Bleeding’, the name most commonly used for Amaranthus caudatus, is a bushy, 5ft tall, half-hardy annual with distinctive flowers that cascade to the ground in dramatic, crimson tassels. In each of these fascinating tassels is a colony of tiny, tightly packed flowers that last for many weeks. 

From the Greek word ‘Amaranth’ meaning ‘the unfading flower’, the bright red blooms of Amaranthus generally retain their colour even after the flower has died. No surprise that they’re loved by gardeners and flower arrangers alike. Here’s how to grow Amaranthus in your garden.

Amazing amaranthus

Amaranthus tricolor 'Joseph's Coat' from T&M

The foliage of ‘Joseph’s Coat’ is just as prized as its flower
Image: Amaranthus tricolor ‘Joseph’s Coat’ from T&M

In addition to the popular weeping panicles of ‘Love Lies Bleeding’, there are many other different types of amaranth to bring interest to your borders. Amaranthus tricolor ‘Joseph’s Coat’ is coveted for its stunning variegated leaves, while Amaranthus paniculatus is loved for its tall, feathery spikes.

Amaranthus is a warm weather annual that prefers a sunny position and slightly acidic soil. It belongs to a genus of over 60 amaranth species that have an established presence in nearly every continent. They’re easy to cultivate, able to tolerate poor soil and don’t require a lot of watering. Amaranth will also self-sow, bringing more flowers every year.

How to grow amaranthus

Amaranthus paniculatus 'Marvel Bronze' from T&M

Amarathus look great dotted through borders, or planted en masse
Image: Amaranthus paniculatus ‘Marvel Bronze’ from T&M

Sow amaranthus seeds outside in late spring or early summer after the last frosts. The minimum germination temperature is around 13°C, but best results are seen at 15-18 degrees.

You can direct sow seeds every 15cm (6 inches), thinning to 45 cm (18 inches) as the plants become established. Amaranth can grow to 1.8m (6 feet), so tall varieties like Amaranthus caudatus ‘Fat Spike’ will need approximately 60cm (24 inches) between plants. Don’t worry that the extra seedlings will be wasted. Rather than throwing away these tender shoots, add them to salads or stir-fries instead.

Many people prefer to start their amaranthus seeds off indoors, to give them an early start. If you want to get them going a little sooner, sow your seeds in pots or trays of moist seed compost in February to March, and cover with a very fine sprinkling of compost or vermiculite. Keep them at a constant temperature of between 20-25C but allow the temperature to reduce at night. Keep the seeds somewhere bright, as light helps them to germinate. Germination usually takes 3-15 days. Transplant your seedlings into larger pots and harden them off for 10-15 days before planting out.

As amaranthus are generally large plants, they’re best grown at the back of a flower border where they make dramatic companion plants to other tall summer favourites such as sunflowers, Cleomes, Zinnias and Nicotiana. Smaller varieties, such as Amaranthus paniculatus ‘Marvel Bronze’, look fantastic grown en masse, providing a spectacular display!

Is amaranthus safe to eat?

Amaranthus caudatus ‘Pony Tails Mixed’ from T&M

Amaranthus leaves are slightly sweet and can be eaten like spinach
Image: Amaranthus caudatus ‘Pony Tails Mixed’ from T&M

Historically, amaranthus was revered by the Aztecs and Incas, who believed that it had supernatural powers as food and medicine, making it one of the world’s oldest crops. It’s also sometimes known as ‘Chinese spinach’ or ‘callaloo’ in Caribbean cooking.

Today Amarathus is gaining popularity as a superfood, and more and more people are choosing to grow it in the vegetable garden. The plant’s green leaves can be eaten raw in salads, added to soups and stir fries, or simmered in curries. Similar in taste to spinach, Amaranthus leaves contain almost twice the vitamin C and the same amount of iron, but unlike spinach, the plant doesn’t bolt.

Each Amaranthus plant also produces multiple seed heads, yielding up to 5,000 seeds that are a bit like quinoa. Mild and nutty, gluten-free and packed with protein and calcium, the mild peppery flavour is a great addition to breads and cereals.

How to harvest amaranthus seeds

Amaranthus caudatus ‘Fat Spike’ from T&M

Tall varieties look good at the back of borders
Image: Amaranthus caudatus ‘Fat Spike’ from T&M

While most people want to grow Amaranthus for its ornamental value, it’s worth knowing a little bit about harvesting the seeds. Perhaps also having some recipe ideas if you fancy growing amaranthus to add variety to your diet.

The seed heads mature from the bottom of the tassel and move upwards, so the simplest way to test if they’re ripe is to shake out the ripe seeds into a clean bucket. Alternatively cut the seed heads, cover them with a paper bag and hang them upside down in a well ventilated place to allow them to dry for a week or two.

Are you excited by the possibilities of amaranthus growing? Tag us in your photos and share your interesting new amaranth recipes over on Facebook or Twitter.

Get kids gardening with Mr Men & Little Miss seeds

Get kids gardening with Mr Men & Little Miss seeds
Image: Mr Men & Little Miss Seeds

Gardening is a healthy and inexpensive way for children to learn and have fun. It gets them out into the fresh air – and many will develop an interest in healthy eating if they grow their own fruit and veg. The key to making it a positive first experience is to choose the right varieties – things that are quick and easy to grow, such as our Mr Men and Little Miss range.

We partnered with ‘Mr Men and Little Miss’ in 2018, to create a range of child-friendly seeds that are easy and quick to grow. Each variety has been carefully selected and features a favourite character on the packet. Here are our tips to use ‘Mr Men and Little Miss’ seeds to inspire the budding gardeners in your family!

How to get kids out into the garden

Little girls gardening with tomatoes, carrots & flowers

Give children a taste of gardening success, with quick, easy-to-grow, plants.
Image source: Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock

Kids love growing brightly-coloured flowers and tasty, quick-growing veg. Here’s our advice to help make their first attempt a huge success:

  1. Find easy to grow flowers and veg: Flowers that are easy to grow from seed, with minimum preparation, fuss and care include nasturtiums, sunflowers and poppies. And lots of veg will grow quite happily without much attention, beyond a little watering.
  2. Choose seeds that produce quick results: Quick-sprouting seeds are great for impatient little ones, who can see their results without much waiting! Cress will be ready to harvest just a week or two after planting – and sunflowers grow super-fast!
  3. Instill a sense of independence: Give your kids their own small flower bed or veg patch so they can sow and grow their own. You can also start most of these seeds on window sills and grow them in containers.
  4. Invest in the right tools: Get a set of child-friendly mini-tools, such as a watering can, rake and trowel, that small children can hold and use by themselves. This helps build independence and fine motor skills.
  5. Help them find the right resources: Check out our Kids’ Grow guides – free, downloadable fact sheets with simple, child-friendly instructions to get them started.

Best flowers to grow with kids

Here are some of the best flowers for kids to grow. Encourage them to fill window boxes, hanging baskets, patio containers and borders. They’ll brighten up your home and keep pollinators happy too. You’ll find the following in the Mr Men and Little Miss range:

Best veg to grow with kids

Get your kids involved with cooking as well as gardening, by using the fruit and veg they’ve grown themselves. It’s a fun way to encourage fussy eaters to try new foods! Here are some popular crops to get them started:

Inspiring children to enjoy gardening gives them a healthy hobby for life. Start them off growing these quick and easy seeds, and you’ll soon have your own Mr Happy or Little Miss Sunshine! For more information, check out our free Kids’ Grow guides for child-friendly instructions on how to grow these plants and more. 

 

5 things you need to know about tomatoes

Tomato ‘Gigantomo’ F1 Hybrid from T&M

Tomatoes come in all shapes, colours and sizes
Image source: Tomato ‘Gigantomo’ F1 Hybrid from T&M

Is there anything more satisfying than a perfectly ripe, homegrown tomato, freshly picked and warm from the sun? They’re easy to grow from seed, and a couple of plants will produce hundreds of tomatoes to keep you supplied from mid-summer right through to autumn.

If you grow tomatoes, you’ll know they soon become a passion. But how much do you know about them? You probably won’t be surprised to learn that a tomato is a fruit. But here are five interesting tomato facts that you may not have come across.

1. Tomatoes originated in the Andes

Tomatoes growing in the Andes

Tomatoes growing in the Andes mountains
Image source: JHON JAMES GRACIA / Shutterstock

Tomatoes were first cultivated by the Aztecs and Incas, dating back as early as 700 AD. The Aztec name for them translates to ‘plump thing with a navel’ – and they were grown for decoration rather than food. They were first brought to Europe in the mid 1500s.

2. You can call it a ‘wolf peach’

Tomato ‘Gourmandia’ F1 Hybrid from T&M

Some tomatoes are certainly delicious enough to wolf down a peach!
Image source: Tomato ‘Gourmandia’ F1 Hybrid from T&M – vegetable of the year 2020

The scientific name for tomatoes is Lycopersicon lycopersicum, which means wolf peach! At least it sounds better than ‘plump thing with a navel’.

3. People used to believe that tomatoes were poisonous

Multicoloured tomatoes in a metal bowl

Don’t serve tomatoes on a pewter plate!
Image source: Jane Rix / Shutterstock

In the 1700s, some Europeans became wary of tomatoes because aristocrats were getting sick after eating them – even dying. The problem wasn’t the tomatoes however, but the pewter plates on which they were served. Highly acidic foods such as tomatoes may leach when touching certain metals, like pewter. Thus the problem was lead poisoning, falsely attributed to tomatoes – or ‘poisonous apples’, as they became nicknamed.

4. Tomatoes were originally yellow

Tomato ‘Limoncito’ F1 Hybrid from T&M

Tomatoes weren’t always red!
Image source: Tomato ‘Limoncito’ F1 Hybrid from T&M

The first tomatoes weren’t red, but small and yellow – which explains the Italian word given to them when they were brought to Europe: pomi d’oro, which translates to ‘yellow apples’. Tomatoes are now available in a variety of colours: red, orange, yellow, pink, green, purple and even black.

5. There are 10,000 varieties of tomato worldwide

Multicoloured tomatoes lying on a wooden board

Which tomato variety will you choose next?
Image source: Shebeko / Shutterstock

What are your favourite tomato varieties? You might know the ever popular ‘Gardener’s Delight’, ‘Moneymaker’ and ‘Tumbling Tom Red’ – but did you know there are 10,000 varieties of tomato across the globe? Some of the less familiar names include ‘Midnight Snack’, ‘Orange Beauty’, ‘Oh Happy Day’ and ‘Black Russian’ But you could eat a different variety every day and still not get through them after 27 years!

What unusual tomato facts have you come across? Let us know on our Facebook page!

7 wonderful ways to sow wildflowers

Wildflower meadow surrounding old bench

Wildflowers deliver colour, scent, texture and interest to gardens large and small
Image: shutterstock

Wildflowers are a colourful, low-maintenance and cost-effective way to make your garden buzz with life. Particularly attractive to pollinators, they provide important food and shelter for a wide range of bees, butterflies and insects. What’s more, perennial wildflowers usually prefer poor soil, and often perform well in tricky areas where other plants fail to thrive.

But how do you incorporate wildflowers into a modern manicured garden? What if you don’t have space for a lawn, let alone a meadow? We sent boxes of ‘Perfect for Pollinators’ wildflower mix to a dozen garden bloggers to try out. Here are 7 different ways to sow wildflower seeds in your garden, including what some of our favourite bloggers did with theirs…

1: Replace your lawn with a wildflower meadow

Wildflower meadow with a cut through path

Don’t use your lawn? Let it grow!
Image: jax10289/shutterstock

Maintaining a perfect lawn all year round can be a thankless task, so if you find that you don’t use it, why not simply let your lawn grow – adding some wildflowers into the mix for a constantly changing carpet of colour as well as a healthy ecosystem. Wildflower meadow lawns look fantastic with curving paths mowed through them. They draw your eye through the space and can be moved whenever you feel like a change.

Alexandra of The Middle Sized Garden wasn’t able to sow her T&M wildflowers this year due to adverse weather conditions, but next year she’s planning to replace the grass in her front garden with a pollinator-friendly mini meadow. Keep an eye on her blog to see how it turns out.

2: Create a wildflower border

Photo of wildflowers from The Chatty Gardener

The Chatty Gardener used her wildflower seeds to fill this empty border
Image: The Chatty Gardener

Wildflowers provide important food for insects, as well as a place to shelter and breed. But you don’t need an entire meadow to make a difference – just a small corner of a regular sized garden will have an impact. The Chatty Gardener used her box of ‘Perfect for Pollinators’ wildflower seeds to quickly fill a bare border with colour. She says:

It’s become one of my favourite areas with a mix of annuals and perennials in various shades. They provide the sort of semi-transparent planting that I like and look really good against the reclaimed brickwork… I’m seriously considering recreating it next year.

Over at Agents of Field, Sophie and Ade also used their seeds to fill a border:

They took a while to get going, but when they came good they looked great! It was a hive of activity, not only bees and bugs, but birds feeding on both the seeds and the bugs. Due to the recent hot weather, they’re now past their best but we’re very happy with the results.

3: Contain your wildflowers in a raised bed

Raised beds, hanging baskets or patio containers make a great home for wildflowers
Image: Carrot Tops Allotment

Modern gardens don’t always lend themselves to the slightly nostalgic feel of naturalised wildflowers. But if you want to contribute to your suburb’s superhighway for pollinators, don’t rule them out just yet.

Try using some geometrical raised beds, planters or containers to contrast with the frothy colour of your wildflowers. Sharp angular planters are perfect – think about painting the wooden railway sleepers of a raised bed with black paint for a contemporary and striking statement.

Over on Carrot Tops Allotment, Adam used his seeds to fill an assortment of hanging baskets and containers, which he says ‘gave a lovely show.’ Check out his blog to learn more.

4: Scatter wildflower seeds around your pond

Pete's pond with newly planted plants

Pete’s pond will soon be surrounded by scented wildflowers
Image: Weeds up to me knees

Over at Weeds Up To Me Knees, Pete spent the summer working on his pond area – an important part of any wildlife-friendly garden. Having recycled broken paving slabs to create a rockery feel, he scattered his wildflower seeds in the cracks. Pete says:


Where I’ve planted them isn’t the sunniest place in the garden, but I’m down there with a watering can daily! I have faith in them. Even though I’m not getting that much out of them at the moment, I think when we get a spot of rain in the next few days they’ll come into their own.

5: Mix them into existing schemes

Wildlflowers planted underneath a sweetpea tower

Alison underplanted her sweetpea towers to fill the space
Image: The Blackberry Garden

Any spare patches of ground, particularly under wigwam towers or around the edge of vegetable plots make great places to sprinkle a handful of wildflower seeds. A lack of rain has held back some people’s wildflowers this year – they do like a bit of water to get them going. Luckily Alison at The Blackberry Garden sowed her seeds in three different areas to find out where they’d feel most at home:

The dry May didn’t help them but they’re doing well where I’ve used them to underplant my sweetpeas. They’re still developing as they’ve been held back a bit, but now we’ve had rain I’m hopeful they’ll romp away!

6: Plant a wildflower orchard

Wildflower orchard with trees in blossom

Traditional orchards were often carpeted with wildflowers to help pollination
Image: Nicola Pulham/shutterstock

Whether you actually have fruit trees or you just want to capture the romance of an old English orchard using the regular trees in your garden, sowing drifts of wildflowers around their trunks will look gorgeous and save scrabbling around them with the lawn mower. Over at The Veg Grower Podcast, this is exactly what Richard plans to do:

My plan is to create a mini orchard in my garden with the wildflower seeds sown under the trees to create the old fashioned orchard feel. Unfortunately Covid meant I was unable to get my fruit trees in the Spring and so I’ve spent the last few months concentrating on clearing the ground and ensuring it’s weed free before planting all my trees and wildflower seeds in the autumn.

We can’t wait to see the photos of Richard’s new orchard when he gets it all planted!

7: Go rogue!

Guerilla gardening with poppies and various other wildflowers

A bit of guerilla wildflower hedgerow planting
Image: Brian Maudsley/shutterstock

Some pollinators can’t travel very far, so it’s really important that there are plenty of places for them to rest and recharge. This is even more important in towns and cities where there are fewer flowers to sustain them. One of our favourite bloggers, who shall remain anonymous, said that his garden is too small to lend itself to ‘drifts’ of wildflowers. He does, however, have another plan:

My intention is to do a bit of ‘guerilla gardening’ and sow them in a publicly-owned space near to my house…My local council often sows wildflowers in ‘spare’ bits of ground, so I don’t think they would object, though they didn’t do it this year, due to other priorities. It would be quite satisfying if I could drive past an otherwise drab area and think ‘I sowed those flowers’!

While we admire the concept of spreading the love, we obviously can’t condone spreading the actual wildflowers themselves!

Thank you to all the bloggers who kindly let us know how their wildflower seeds fared this summer and gave us a number of interesting ideas for ways to use them. If you want more information, read How to sow wildflower seeds. And if you have any wildflower success stories to share, please get in touch via Facebook or Twitter. We always love to hear from you.

Tops Tips for Styling Your Garden 2020

We are looking for new ways to adapt during COVID-19 Pandemic.  Our gardens can be an extension of our indoor space – you may want to enjoy the ambience of sitting in your garden with your family, or to grow your vegetables and herbs for health benefits . You can make the most of your garden during the current situation with some simple styling tips.

Your garden can be a space for several purposes; a space to play with kids, an entertaining space, or somewhere for quiet contemplation. No matter the size and shape of the garden, think of ways how you can make your garden work for you. Styling your garden is making sure everything in the garden works together to create a serene and beautiful space for you and your family. Here are some the top tips for styling your garden.

 

Well Shaped Lawn

A well-shaped and carefully tended lawn can change the look of your garden and set it on the right track. Your lawn is one of the first things, and the biggest shape, you will see through your window. There is no standard shape for garden lawns, you can try any shape you like – square, oval, rectangular or circle.

garden style 2020 lawn

©Thompson & Morgan – Invest time in getting your lawn in top in good shape.

To get the perfect lawn it’s important to use the right garden tools but, if you don’t have the right ones, there’s no need to spend a fortune. There are many professional garden companies where you can hire garden tools in the UK.

 

Furniture

Furniture is one of the top styling tips that can transform your garden in summer. The type of furniture can reflect your style like other interior parts of your home. The colour of a furniture set can complement the garden wall or fence colour, or tie in with your patio finish.

garden style 2020 seating

©BVG – Choose garden furniture to match your style.

Folding furniture in bold colours will work for your patio or courtyard, or opt for a set of bench seats. For a luxurious feel add an L-shaped sofa, swing seats, or ‘on-trend’ hanging chairs.

When styling your seating area, remember to create enough space for each person to sit comfortably, and allow enough space to walk around the furniture when everyone is seated.

 

Grow Your Own

The ‘grow your own’ movement has surged with the rise in the food prices. More people now appreciate organic products creating more demand to grow your own vegetables and herbs

Garden style 2020 grow your own

©Shutterstock – The ‘grow your own’ movement is as strong as ever in 2020!

Research has shown that there is an increase in the number of vegetarians and vegans in the UK, which may also explain the increase in homeowners growing more herbs, salads and vegetables in their gardens. Growing your own crops requires regular garden maintenance but using the right gardening tools and equipment will help you to achieve the best results.

 

Lighting

To create a vibrant garden, adding lighting is a great idea. Lighting looks good at night but some lights will also create a decorative feature during the day. You can purchase glittery balls or lanterns to brighten up your garden space.

Garden style 2020 lighting

©BVG – Lighting helps to make the most of your garden in the evening.

Keep the social gathering going even after sundown with some twinkly solar string lights. A little sparkle helps to create a relaxed atmosphere for any party, gathering or social event. 

With all of these top tips hopefully, you are able to gather some ideas for your very own back garden. Creating that perfect space for your children and pets to enjoy, or even just to have a few cheeky drinks with some friends and family. 

 

8 Exotic fruits to grow in the UK

Figs in a bowl

Exotic fruit look as great as they taste!
Image source: Ekaterina Kondratova / Shutterstock

Think you can’t grow exotic fruit in the UK? Think again! Many people assume you need a heated greenhouse – but there are plenty of exotic fruit trees that will grow outdoors in our temperate climate. Bring a taste of the tropics to your garden with these easy-to-grow fruit trees. They’re self-fertile, hardy – and produce delicious fruits that can be harvested from September.

1: Pomegranate

Red pomegranates growing on a tree

Pomegranates are surprisingly hardy
Image source: grafnata / Shutterstock

Often associated with much warmer climates, pomegranates are surprisingly hardy in the UK, with some varieties able to tolerate temperatures down to -15C (5F) when grown in a sunny, sheltered position. The vibrant orange flowers last all summer, and the fruits ripen through mild autumns – ready for harvest by October and November. Enjoy the sweet-sharp fleshy fruits in desserts and savoury dishes or use the pomegranate seeds to make a fragrant juice. They’re also delicious sprinkled over a salad.

2: Fig

Fig 'Little Miss Figgy' from Thompson & Morgan

Figs can be grown on patios or courtyards
Image source: Fig ‘Little Miss Figgy’ from Thompson & Morgan

With their attractive lobed foliage, figs make a dramatic feature when fan trained against a sunny wall or grown in a container on the patio. Fig ‘Brown Turkey’ is perfect for the UK climate and produces large crops of sweet, juicy figs. Fruits develop in spring and ripen from August to September. A second crop often develops in late summer and, if protected, these fruits will ripen during the following summer.

Small garden? Why not try ‘Little Miss Figgy’ – a dwarf variety that’s perfect for growing as a specimen plant in a patio container. Restricting the root growth of fig trees encourages them to fruit, making them ideal for container growing.

3: Sharon Fruit

Sharon fruit covered in snow

Sharon fruits continue to ripen well into December
Image source: Atabek Akhmadaliev / Shutterstock

The Sharon Fruit is also known as Kaki or Persimmon. Originating from China, and totally hardy in the UK, the summer flowers give way to round, orange-yellow fruits with a unique, sugary flavour and make a lovely addition to fresh fruit salads. They continue to ripen on the branches even after the leaves have fallen! This small tree makes an attractive feature in a sheltered border, or trained against a sunny wall.

4: Orange

Small orange tree

Dwarf ‘Clamondin’ orange trees are perfect for patios.
Image source: nnattalli / Shutterstock 

Bring a taste of the Mediterranean to your patio with an orange tree! Citrus trees thrive outdoors in summer and enjoy a heated greenhouse or conservatory in winter. The small, juicy fruits of orange ‘Calamondin’ have a sharp taste at first before leaving a delicious sweet flavour in your mouth. This decorative, scented and productive plant is perfect for your patio or conservatory.

5: Lemon

Lemon tree from Thompson & Morgan

Imagine being able to pick a lemon to slice into a gin and tonic!
Image source: T&M

Lemon and lime trees can survive brief periods below zero degrees Celsius, but are best grown in large containers and moved indoors to a bright frost free position from autumn to spring. Lemon ‘Eureka’ is an excellent variety to grow in the UK, producing large, thick skinned lemons as good as those bought from a supermarket. Lemons can be harvested as they ripen and, once picked, will keep for up to two weeks.

6: Lime

Tahiti Lime from Thompson & Morgan

The Tahiti Lime produces bright green, zesty fruits throughout the year
Image source: T&M

Prefer lime in your drink? The Tahiti lime makes a stunning patio feature. Set against glossy, dark foliage, the delicate clusters of white flowers fill the air with their delicious fragrance from April to June. The fruits that follow may take up to a year to ripen but are well worth the wait. This productive tree produces seedless limes which, if left on the tree, will eventually turn yellow.

7: Apricot

Apricots growing on a tree

Home grown apricots are delicious, packed with juice and flavour.
Image source: Rostislav_Sedlacek / Shutterstock

Your own apricots taste better than anything bought in a shop. They can be grown as fans, bushes or pyramid trees – there are even dwarf varieties for a pot on the patio. Apricot ‘Flavourcot’® is a variety specially bred for the cooler UK climate, to produce huge crops of large egg sized, delicious orange-red fruits. Being late flowering, it’s also frost resistant, so you’ll always get a crop. This variety is ideal for cooking, and sweet and juicy when eaten fresh from the tree in August.

8: Banana (Musa Basjoo)

Musa basjoo by Thompson & Morgan

Small, edible fruits develop behind the flowers of this banana palm.
Image source: T&M

Musa basjoo, also known as Japanese banana palm, is the perfect addition to a tropical planting scheme – and grows to 5m (16’) tall! Once mature, it produces a display of white flowers. During hot summers, these may develop into small, edible green fruits. This is a tender palm, suitable for growing in borders in milder parts of the UK – though it will need to be protected in winter.

As with most fruit trees, you may have to have to wait a year or so before your first harvest – so the sooner you get started the better! But it’s well worth the wait. Save on the food miles, host an unforgettable dinner party – or just enjoy a home-grown slice in your G&T. 

What exotic fruit trees have you grown? Let us know over on our Facebook page!

Plan your garden for a stunning display

Swathes of bluebells, tulips and daffodils in a garden

Naturalised swathes of bluebells, tulips and daffodils herald the arrival of spring
Image: Lois GoBe

Would you love to bring your garden back to life with a joyful burst of scent and colour next spring? With a little organisation – a well-planned combination of spring bulbs, flowering shrubs, colourful perennials and instant-impact plug plants will help you replace your winter blues with some fantastic early colour.

Small garden? No problem. Here are some top tips to help you plan a spring display with real wow factor, even in the tiniest of outdoor spaces.

Planning your spring display

Spring flowering Azalea ‘Japanese Red’ from T&M

Don’t have acid soil? Plant the things you like in large containers instead.
Image: Spring flowering Azalea ‘Japanese Red’ from T&M 

The best way to start planning for the coming growing season is to begin with the plants you like. If they’ll grow in your soil – plant them. Other sources of inspiration include flower shows, gardens which are open to the public, and the parks and gardens you pass as you walk the dog or pick the kids up from school.

Think about plant colour, height, structure and density. And do remember that foliage plants, shrubs and small trees should also feature in your design, depending on how much space you have at your disposal. Consider your garden’s aspect, and the soil type you have at home.

Start with some spring architecture

Yellow forsythia plant in the winter

A bright splash of yellow forsythia is a welcome sight at the end of winter
Image: Vlad_art

Ornamental trees are architectural centrepieces for your garden – and they needn’t be big. In fact there’s a wealth of dwarf trees from which to choose, some of which are great to grow in large containers – the perfect solution for people with small gardens, patios, or even balconies.

An ornamental cherry, for example, produces a radiant display of blossom in April, followed by foliage all summer and, come the autumn, fiery red, gold, or orange leaves. Or what about a crab apple? You’ll get copious amounts of blossom from early spring plus golden fruits during the autumn which the birds will love to feast on.

Providing a welcome backdrop of evergreen foliage, Clematis urophylla ‘Winter Beauty’ flowers through the bleakest months of December, January and February to help launch your early spring display. A favourite for fences and trellises, an all season clematis collection will provide height and interest, all year round.

Shrubs are an important way to provide structure in your garden and provide shelter for tender and shade-loving plants. Choose varieties that flower during the winter and into the spring – like forsythia which produces golden blooms from February or March, followed by attractive green foliage. Alternatively, try a dense shrub like Camellia, a popular plant border mainstay offering a striking display and long-lasting flowers.

Add some spring foliage

Pieris japonica 'Debutante' from T&M

Pieris japonica ‘Debutante’ flowers from March to May
Image: Pieris japonica ‘Debutante’ from T&M

Evergreen foliage is a must for any garden because it gives you something to look at, even on the gloomiest of January days. But as the grey of winter gives way to bright and breezy spring, foliage plants really come into their own, giving your spring flowers a vibrant canvas to bloom against. Large, silvery leaves of plants like brunnera brighten up shady corners and make excellent ground cover when planted with striking architectural bulbs like spring alliums.

Try growing shrubs like Pieris japonica ‘Debutante’ in containers or borders – this hardy evergreen features pretty, ivory-white flowers from March until May. Alternatively, if you live in a milder area of the country, with its dramatic foliage, pittosporum is a great choice.

Choose a succession of spring bulbs

Crocus 'Yellow Mammoth' from T&M

Plant bulbs on masse for a striking show
Image: Crocus ‘Yellow Mammoth’ from T&M

Spring wouldn’t be quite the same without a plentiful show of brilliant spring bulbs, but we suggest that you think about successional planting so that when one bulb finishes blooming, another is ready to take its place. Snowdrops and crocuses are among the first to flower, followed, depending on the climate where you are, by daffodils, tulips, anemones and plenty more.

Stick to a colour scheme, or mix it up – either can work well, but typically around half a dozen complementary colours creates a dazzling display for a small garden, without overdoing it. Plant your bulbs in drifts of seven to twenty bulbs so that each variety has a strong presence. Do also bear in mind the plant height – generally, it makes sense to put taller stemmed bulbs behind lower growing ones – for example tulips behind crocuses and irises.

Most spring bulbs should be planted during September and October to bloom the following spring. For a quick recap on exactly when to plant and at what depth, see how to grow bulbs, corms and tubers. When your bulbs have finished blooming, allow the flowerhead to die off completely before deadheading as this gives the plant time to reabsorb all that goodness, ready for next year.

Finish with some spring flowers

Nurseryman's Choice Pansy 'Coolwave Collection' from T&M

Pansies are perfect for hanging baskets
Image: Nurseryman’s Choice Pansy ‘Coolwave Collection’ from T&M

Finally, complete your spring display with colourful flowers like violas, pansies and primroses, all of which offer that bright seasonal spectacle you’re looking for. They’re easy to grow in pots or in the front of your borders and are a wonderful way to add instant interest.

Pansies and violas are a popular way to bring early colour to your beds, borders, pots and hanging baskets. Buy them as plug plants for quick and easy results.

Coming in pale yellows through to riotous colour, primroses are a hard working perennial that bloom for months at a time, providing continuity as your late spring and early flowers begin to show through. Sow cheerful pansy seeds during the autumn to flower next spring, or buy garden-ready plants to put straight into the soil.

A spring garden is fun to plan and plant in autumn, gives you plenty to look forward to during the depths of winter and, when the new season finally arrives, you’ll be rewarded with a kaleidoscope of spring colours and scents that will prove well worth the wait.

Advice for the new allotment holder

Allotment with full beds and plenty of veg to harvest

Make your new allotment a success
Image: T.W. van Urk

If you’re a new allotment plot holder, you may be feeling completely daunted by the large slab of ground you’ve just taken charge of. Where do you start? What should you do first? 

Here are 8 helpful tips from some of the internet’s best allotment growers…

1: Make a detailed plan 

Do you have a clear picture of how you want your allotment to look and what you want to grow? Any time you spend planning before you begin will save time later on. Over at Pumpkins and Bunting, Karen advises sketching your allotment on paper to make it feel more manageable:

Think about what you’d like to grow, watch to see how much sun the plot receives and if there are any shady areas, make a note of fixed features such as a shed, water butts, compost bins etc. I used VegPlotter to plan out my allotment, it’s free and easy to navigate using a simple drag and drop interface…

2: Create access paths

Gardener with compost in a wheelbarrow

Clear paths provide easy access to both sides of these beds
Image: ajlatan

What is the best way to divide up your plot to make growing easier? Catharine Howard suggests that you start with the paths. You’ll need to be able to reach all your produce without standing on it, and you’ll want to move easily between the beds (perhaps with a wheelbarrow) to harvest, weed and feed your crops. Catharine’s tip:

Arm yourself with the following: tape measure, twine and short canes… Visit the plot and divide it into strips 1.2m wide. Peg each strip out with twine and leave [at least] 30cm gap between each one. These gaps will become your pathways. You’ll be able to tramp up and down these to hoe and sow without treading on your vegetable beds – and 1.2m is a perfect width [for a bed so you can] reach in from either side.

3: Talk to the old boys 

If you’re drawn to allotment growing for the community aspect as much as the extra space, making friends with your fellow growers is a great way to learn. In the early days of Real Men Sow, Jono’s new neighbours were happy to share their local knowledge:

There’s every chance that the same people have been working your neighbouring plots for years. They’ll be the ones who can tell you what grows well on the site, what to avoid, and all the other tricks that will get you on your way. From my experience, allotmenteerists are a lovely bunch, and they’ll only be too happy to help. Mind you, they did let me grow my sweetcorn and not tell me about the badgers!

4: Save money by starting small

Kale growing in an allotment

Concentrate on crops that are cheap to grow and expensive to buy, like Kale
Image: Alison Hancock

Starting an allotment from scratch can require a fairly hefty initial outlay, but each year it gets cheaper to grow your own fruit and veg as you learn to become more efficient, make your own compost and save seeds. In his excellent YouTube video, How to grow vegetables cheaply, Huw Richards suggests easy ways to keep the cost down:

Choose just three of your favourite vegetables to grow in your first year. By starting slowly you wont get overwhelmed. And opt for herbs and vegetables that are expensive to buy in the shops but cheap to grow. Leafy greens like Kale, swiss Chard and perpetual spinach are a good place to start.

5: Clear your plot

If your new plot is a bit overgrown, take a few days to clear away any rubbish and tackle the weeds before you start. Over at Allotment Lifestyle, Ian uses the ‘no-dig’ system which involves adding a thick layer of compost to the surface of the ground and planting into it. Ian says:

The tool I use most is a strimmer. If your allotment is overgrown when you take it over, strim it hard to get down to the soil level. Remove the debris and lay out compost on the ground to form beds. You’ll need enough space between the beds to strim the weeds away as they emerge over the season. Two to three inches of compost is enough to get things going…

6: At one with the earth

Gardener digging compost with a spade

Improve your soil with good quality compost
Image: Isha50

Whether you decide to dig over your beds or try the no-dig method, improving your soil is one of the most important things to get right. To keep things simple for fellow newbies, Jack from Jack Wallington Garden Design has four simple tips:

  • “Don’t tread on soil you’re growing on as it will squash the air pockets out and block root growth 
  • Replenish its nutrients annually with a thick layer of peat free compost or well rotted manure
  • Watch it carefully through the year to understand how it holds water
  • Rotate crops every year, never growing the same crops (except perennials) in the same place to prevent pest and disease build up.”

7: Weed little and often

Weeding isn’t much fun, but if you start each visit to the allotment with a quick 30-minute stint, you’ll prevent weeds from getting out of control and stealing vital nutrients from your crops. Over at Pumpkins and Bunting, Karen has a polite request:

Please try to avoid using weed killer, it’s usually unnecessary and it’s harmful to bees – I’d imagine human health too! Use a hoe to weaken small weed seedlings and lift larger weeds from the soil by hand. Try to get all of the root out, doing this regularly really will pay off in the long run.

8: Keep an eye on the harvest windows

Beetroot ‘Wodan’ F1 hybrid from T&M

Crops like beetroot have a more forgiving harvest window
Image: Beetroot ‘Wodan’ F1 hybrid from T&M

Having spent time and effort getting your allotment ready to produce healthy homegrown food, it’s a real shame if your crops spoil while waiting to be harvested. Over at Jack Wallington Garden Design, Jack admits that he was so focussed on growing that he hadn’t given enough thought to harvesting, storing and cooking:

I hadn’t appreciated that many vegetables and fruit have a limited 1 – 2 day window when they are perfect for eating – very difficult when I was down there only once or twice a week. In particular raspberries, courgettes, broccoli and beans. On one Saturday they wouldn’t be ready, then the following Saturday they’d gone past their best. I’ll be hotter this year on predicting the picking days.

Best low maintenance crops for beginners

If you’re keen to start allotment growing but can’t make it to your plot every day, don’t worry, there are plenty of fruits and vegetables that can cope with less frequent attention. With just a little weeding and watering, here are some of the best low-maintenance crops to get you started:

Squash and pumpkin

Chillies

Maincrop potatoes

Rhubarb

Beetroot and Swiss chard

Carrots

Kale

Onions and garlic

Perpetual spinach 

We hope you’ve found some of these tips useful and we wish you every success with your new allotment. Don’t forget to tag us on your photos so we can follow your progress!

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