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.

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!

A seed sown – setting out on a horticultural journey.

Gertrude Jekyll, the influential garden designer, plants woman and artist, once said that ‘The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies.’ For myself, like many gardeners, this is profoundly true. 

Over the years, that love has almost become an obsession that shows no sign of abating. Not only does the time I spend in the garden bring many beneficial hours of physical exertion, mood enhanced well-being and satisfaction, I’ve also begun to see the world differently.

Cottage garden border

©Shutterstock – Jekyll’s cottage garden style borders still influence our gardens today.

Jekyll’s dedication to observation and working with plants is evidenced in her extensive writings on horticulture and in the hundreds of gardens she designed.

The study of plants in their habitat is the beginning of a journey that can take you in a seemingly infinite variety of directions, with some surprising destinations.

 

An early start…

I suppose I’ve always been a garden designer, to a degree. According to my mother my first word was ‘flower’ – this possibly explains the bullying I would later receive as a young man with a sensitive soul.

From the age of six my parents encouraged my sister and I to design our own garden spaces within our suburban ‘back yard’, as they are referred to in Canada where I grew up.

Canna, Peony and Salvia

©Newey Plants (Canna), ©Shutterstock (Peony and Salvia). From a young age I could appreciate a dramatic mix of colour and foliage!

I chose Cannas, Salvia’s, and Peony’s for mine – pastel pink, hot orange and red. Even then, as I do now, I loved the contrast of their foliage, the drama and generosity of their blooms. 

Looking back, if I could say anything to my younger self on these early forays into garden design, I would say ‘Don’t worry, one day you’ll be taught colour theory, and discover the colour wheel.  ‘A’ for effort though.’ 

 

Viewing plants in a different way…

That old adage, the more you learn, the more there is to learn, is true when you begin a study of horticulture.  I look to try and increase my knowledge day by day with the names of new plants, varieties, and study of their habits, health and conditions.

Much of my day is spent doing research and making observations of the plants in my own garden – approximately 900 and counting, and in the gardens and landscapes that I visit.

garden borders with greenhouse

©Phillipa Lambert – Visiting other gardens offers research opportunities.

 

Observation and identification…

The increased time observing my environment in more detail, has meant that I have begun to see the world in a different way. 

During my walk to the local shops to buy a pint of milk – or bottle of wine for dinner, the more likely scenario – I’m reflecting upon the weeds in the pavement, and the shrubs and trees and gardening efforts of my neighbours. 

 

Smart Plant identification app

©Smart Plant – Apps such as Smart Plant can help with identification.

The plant app on my phone helps me identify the things I don’t already know (it’s not a weed, it’s a wildflower!).  If that fails, desk research, accompanied by the pictures I’ve taken (I’ve had a few strange looks from neighbours, crouched down to take a close-up photo of the Helminthotheca echioides – Bristly oxtongue – protruding from the edge of their drive), enables me to feed this hunger for naming my surroundings. 

 

A constant search for new knowledge…

My goal with each of these trips is to identify something that I don’t know, learn about it and remember it the next time I’m passing.  ‘No, it’s not a dandelion, it’s called Bristly oxtongue – but you’re right, it is like a dandelion.

Helminthotheca echioides

©Shutterstock – Helminthotheca echioides is often identified incorrectly as a Dandelion.

Traditionally it was used to treat internal parasites, (bemused, or slightly horrified look on neighbour’s face, tells me it’s time to beat a hasty retreat). Enjoy your tea!’  I offer and quickly move on.

 

What’s in a name?..

I love being able to name all the trees, shrubs, annuals, perennials and wildflowers in my neighbourhood throughout the seasons – and this obsession follows me now on all my travels. 

More than once I’ve been shouted at to keep my eyes on the road, as I spot a tree with foliage I don’t recognise.  I don’t want my eulogy to read, ‘Cause of death, he drove headlong into a Sorbus aria ‘Lutescens’. The silvery sheen of its spring leaves drawing him towards it like a siren song’.

Whitebeam leaves

©Shutterstock – The silvery sheen of Whitebeam leaves can be mesmerising!

A Whitebeam in spring is a glorious thing to behold, but I do make a concerted effort now when I’m driving not to be too easily distracted by everything that catches my eye.

Indeed, the seeds of any horticultural quest for knowledge can be be found scattered amongst the cracks in the pavement around us. Thanks Gertrude Jekyll; off to the shops now!

 

Essential Tips for Growing Indoor Bonsai Trees

The ancient art of bonsai has long been revered for its ability to draw inner peace, centre the mind, and cultivate a deep connection with the natural world. What’s more, if you’re keeping an indoor bonsai tree, science tells us they also help to purify the air we breathe in addition to serving as a stunning ornamental centerpiece for the home or office.

Here I’ll share a few essential tips and considerations if you’re looking to grow and nurture a bonsai in your home. What’s great is bonsai trees aren’t as arduous as you might think and with a few well followed guidelines you too can enjoy the great benefits of bonsai.

 

Bonsai tree

©Shutterstock – Bonsai trees are easier to grow than you might think!

 

Picking a Suitable Indoor Bonsai Tree

It’s important to note that only tropical or subtropical trees should be considered for indoor bonsai. All temperate trees require a period of dormancy during the winter season to complete their annual growth cycles.

Great choices for indoor bonsai (particularly if you’re new to bonsai life) include the Carmona (Fukien Tea Tree), Zelkova (or Japanese Elm), Ligustrum (Privet), Ficus (Retusa and Ginseng), and the Sageretia (Chinese sweet plum).

Where to Place Your New Bonsai Tree

Much like caring for a houseplant, a key factor is going to be the light conditions you’re able to offer the bonsai tree throughout the day. 

 

Bonsai tree

©Shutterstock – A bright spot with indirect sunlight is ideal.

 

As a general rule, aim to keep your bonsai in a position where it mainly receives indirect light for the majority of the day (short periods of bright direct light are fine).

Definitely avoid any south-facing window ledges, particularly during summer months as this may cause your bonsai tree to overheat. Similarly, avoid close proximity to radiators or free standing heaters during the winter.

Watering Your Bonsai Tree

Ensuring your bonsai is regularly watered is absolutely essential. Your exact living environment, relative humidity, and the type of tree will play a factor but you should aim to monitor soil moisture levels daily initially. A few key pointers:

  • A bonsai should never be allowed to dry completely. Check the relative moisture level approximately 1cm under the soil’s surface (your finger is fine or you could also use a soil moisture probe as well). If dry, your tree is ready for it’s next watering.
  • When watering, aim to cover the entire soil surface so the roots have the best chance of receiving a good soaking.
  • A good technique is to water the tree from above using a watering can with a fine nozzle to avoid disturbing the soil on the surface.
  • I’d recommend investing in some form of tray to catch the drained water as it flows through the soil. This will also help to create a nice humid atmosphere around the tree in-between watering cycles.

 

Bonsai tree

©Shutterstock – Ensuring your bonsai is regularly watered is absolutely essential. 

 

When to Feed Your Bonsai Tree

Bonsai trees require a little help with feeding as the natural roots aren’t able to dig deep into the ground to draw nutrients as a regular tree would do in the wild.

It’s really important to use the correct type of bonsai fertilizer with a high phosphate level. Follow the instructions detailed on the package but generally the tree should receive a feed every 1 to 2 weeks from spring through to the end of summer and monthly from late autumn through winter.

Pruning Your Bonsai Tree

The cornerstone of the art of bonsai is maintaining a regular pruning and trimming schedule to preserve their overall beauty and aesthetics.

The trick is to keep an eye on new growth (particularly during spring to summer months) and aim to pinch back to the overall shape you’re looking to maintain. These will typically appear as growth from the tree’s main branches and trunk. Once they reach around 3cm it’s a good time to cut back with sharp scissors as neatly to it’s parent branch as possible.

Don’t be too over-vigorous as a little growth is important for the tree’s overall health and wellbeing.

 

Bonsai tree

©Shutterstock – Use scissors to prune new growth.

 

When to Repot Your Bonsai Tree

Bonsai trees will typically outgrow their pots every 1 to 2 years. The best time to check the root structure and consider re-potting is early spring. If the roots have completely filled the current pot it’s a good time to consider stepping up to the next container size. 

When repotting, it’s important to use a suitable bonsai soil mix. These will have the correct balance of peat and perlite with some added feed to ensure your tree gets all the nutrients it needs.

Wrap-up

Nurturing a bonsai tree at home is a really rewarding pastime. By following a few simple steps each week you’ll quickly learn to understand your own tree’s unique needs and preferences. Before you know it you’ll be well on your way to becoming a master in the art of bonsai. Enjoy!

 

The Ultimate Guide to Growing Calabrese Broccoli

Calabrese broccoli is known for being rich in nutrients and what can be better than home-grown broccoli that you can be proud of. Many people love it fresh, whereas some prefer to stir fry their broccoli before consuming this nutrient-rich delight. It is not as hard to grow broccoli as many people consider it to be. Following a few simple steps would help you grow this nutrient-rich delight right in your backyard.

Broccoli growing

©Thompson & Morgan – It is not as hard to grow broccoli as many people consider it to be!

Sowing

Broccoli seeds must be sown in from March to July. To enjoy the continuous flow of homegrown broccoli, you can sow a few plants every month from April to July.

Calabrese broccoli is not a fan of root disturbance. Hence a modular seed tray can be the perfect choice to start your seeds. Fill the tray with compost and remove any excess soil. Now create a depression in the soil using your fingertip and sow 1 seed per module. After this, cover your seeds with another layer of soil and brush off the excess to make sure the seed is properly covered.

Once you are done with the sowing of seeds, water the soil gently, to avoid disturbance of the soil. The tray can now be placed in a polytunnel, windowsill, cold frame, or your greenhouse. The seeds must be ready to be planted out in about 5 weeks. Once this process of is complete, you can move on to the planting step.

Planting Out

Vegetable gardening is most successful if you take care to choose the right position for your crops. Calabrese broccoli is a sun-loving crop. Choose a location in your garden that has six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day. The young plants must be transplanted at a distance of 45cm to 65cm apart to allow the plants to develop, and impress your neighbours.

young broccoli plant

©Shutterstock – Choose a location in your garden that has six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day. 

To plant the seedling, use a trowel to dig a small hole in the soil a little larger than the “plug plant”.  Once you have successfully planted the seedling, use your fingers to carefully press the soil back around the roots. Now gently water around the plant to settle the soil.  

Watering

The plant must be watered frequently as broccoli loves moisture to grow. However, make sure the soil does not turn soggy due to constant watering; otherwise, it would hamper the plant’s growth. Investing in a decent hosepipe can be a useful addition to your vegetable plot to save you time and effort.

watering brassicas

©Shutterstock – Keep Broccoli plants well watered.

Harvesting

This is one of the most critical parts of growing broccoli. If you miss the correct timing of harvesting your broccoli, then the heads will go to seed and be inedible.

Depending on the month of sowing and overall weather conditions, your Calabrese should be ready to harvest between July and October. Once the heads are four to seven inches with dense and tight flower buds, it is the right time to harvest your broccoli. If you notice that the flower buds are starting to open, then harvest immediately without any further delay.

Don’t panic if you end up with too much Broccoli all at the same time. If you have too much then the spare heads can be frozen and used later.

Cooked Broccoli

©Shutterstock – Broccoli makes a tasty and nutritious side dish.

Garden pests and other wildlife!

Early summer is the perfect time to step out in the garden with a nice cuppa, and bathe in the satisfaction that all of that hard work this spring was worth the effort.

And so it was that whilst surveying my garden at the weekend, over a hot cup of tea, I heard the quiet munching of leaves from just behind me.  Snails!  A perennial plague in my garden! 

I took some time to admire my new friend, before launching him on the ride of his life, as far from my Dahlias as possible. I heard him land somewhere off in the distance and can only assume that he won’t be back for a while!

snails on dahlias

©Sue Sanderson – Snails have been munching the Dahlias.

I try to avoid slug pellets where possible, or at least try to use wildlife friendly slug pellets. We have a thriving population of frogs and a fair few hedgehogs, so slug pellets can have a really devastating effect.  

It seems that there has been a population explosion of garden pests this year. Aphids have been particularly bad, with Blackfly devastating my Broad Beans.  I turned to an eco-friendly combination of ladybird larvae (who love to munch Blackfly), and growing Marigold ‘Naughty Marietta’ as companion plants. The strong smell is supposed to deter aphids. This was working quite successfully – until the snails ate the marigolds!

Marigold Naughty Marietta

©Sue Sanderson – Marigold Naughty Marietta has been grown as a companion plant to deter aphids.

On the plus side, the Tomatoes and Runner Beans are doing nicely, and we have Courgettes and Pumpkins which are are growing away well, so all is not lost in the veggie garden.

Tomatoes in grow bags

©Sue Sanderson – Tomato plants are growing well this year!

I’ve been pleased with my Lilies this year. From April to May, I set about systematically eradicating Red Lily Beetle. They’re tricky little beasties to catch, dropping to the ground upside down so that you can’t see them.  My persistence has been rewarded, and this year we have barely a nibbled leaf in sight!

Lily flower

©Sue Sanderson – The Lilies have barely been eaten by Lily beetle this year.

Unfortunately a new menace has taken hold in the garden. Scale insects! This is the second year that it has infected one of my Hydrangeas.  Yesterday I found more scale insects on the Euonymous, a well as another Hydrangea.  I frequently go over each leaf, squishing the bugs as I go, but I must now admit defeat, and have just ordered some pesticide.

scale insect

©Sue Sanderson – Scale insect is a nuisance on Hydrangeas

Like most gardeners these days, I have a fair few Vine Weevil out in the garden.  Although they keep themselves out of sight, the damage is unmistakable – little U-shaped notches are cut into foliage. They seem to particularly enjoy Euonymous and Bergenia, which is slightly annoying as the damage to their evergreen foliage is a year-round reminder!  Although unsightly, they don’t seem to do as much damage here as you might expect, so I tend to turn a blind eye to  them under the mantra of live and let live.

vine weevil damage

©Sue Sanderson – Vine Weevil damage is particularly obvious on evergreen Euonymus

It’s not all bad news though. Sitting outside in the evening reminds me that my small urban garden is alive with wildlife! Last night I spotted bats, stag beetles, frogs and a multitude of fluttering moths – all in the space of a couple of hours!

Tadpoles in the pond have been abundant this year, and the birds have been busy popping in and out of nest boxes.  It reminds me that the wildlife which we label as garden pests are often the food that support the creatures that we look to encourage into our outdoor spaces. 

frog

©Shutterstock – Frog populations are flourishing in the pond

Lockdown at Driftwood!

2020 so far has been a bit of a blur on many levels at Driftwood. Back in February, having not long had a new dog, Chester, he escaped from the house and I had to chase up the road after him pulling the ligaments in my left leg into the bargain!

Chester the Dog

©Geoff Stonebanks – Chester relaxing in the garden!

To compound the issue, at the end of that month I tripped up some stairs and tore the Achilles tendon on the same leg! All this as we entered lockdown, meant video appointments with a physio and telephone appointments with my consultant, not very practical in reality! I spent the whole of March and April, non-weight-bearing, in a boot, meaning I had to use crutches or a peg leg I acquired online. Needless to say, I was not able to garden properly, if at all at first.

Gardening with a leg brace

©Geoff Stonebanks – Gardening isn’t easy with a leg brace.

Then, confirmation of lockdown meant that, with my 93-year old mother living with us, we have not left the house from then until now, apart from short walks for Chester by my partner. All very surreal.

I decided, back in March, that it was not going to be viable to open my garden this year on 2 levels – I was not fit enough to get it ready and there was no way, in a garden my size, that we could enable social distancing. The consequence, all 7 openings and all private visits cancelled. I had ordered my 2020 stock from Thompson & Morgan before all this happened and have been able to tend for it all without the pressure of garden openings and cake-baking as well.

The first of my order came in January, Begonia ‘Camellia’ corms, which at time of writing has begun to produce some lovely leaves. A wonderful Hydrangea paniculata ‘Hercules’ came a few days later too. By June it has grown well and has 3 stunning flowers on it.

Hydrangea 'Hercules'

©Geoff Stonebanks – Hydrangea ‘Hercules’ looks great as part of a mixed container planting.

In February the Verbena ‘Royal Dreams’ arrived and now look stunning in some of my larger containers in the garden. April saw the arrival of Petunia ‘Peppy Blueberry Muffin’ which were so slow getting going and indeed I lost 2 of the 5 but the remaining have just started to flower in the garden this week.

Petunia and Verbena in flower

©Geoff Stonebanks – Petunia and Verbena in flower

I think my favourite of this year’s plants has to be the Fuchsia Bella trio. Each of them has such beautifully delicate blooms. They are still quite small plants, as you can see, but are already showing fabulous flowers.

Fuchsia Bella Trio

©Geoff Stonebanks – The Fuchsia Bella trio are some of my favourites this year!

The Gazania ‘Tiger Stripes’ did not have too good a start as the packaging was damaged in transit but I managed to salvage all the plants and they are just starting to flower now.  Both arrived in April too, as well as the beautiful Thalictrum ‘Little Pinkie’ which soon grew well and are now producing stunning flowers. I’ve also received some substitute Coleus as I ordered ‘Freaky Leaves’ which were not available, and am waiting for some Sedum ‘Atlantis’.

Thalictrum 'Little Pinkie'

©Geoff Stonebanks – Thalictrum ‘Little Pinkie’ is now producing some stunning flowers.

Knowing, back in March, that I was not going to open Driftwood in 2020 meant I did not invest in the usual number of annuals and bedding plants. I generally spend over £800 to create displays for visitors to see. The garden did not get its usual deep clean of hard surfaces as I was not able to do it. The net result is that it does not look as good as usual this year, well in my eyes anyway.

If I’m being honest, the lockdown has allowed me to get off a treadmill I had been on for the last 11 years of spending so much time and effort in making sure the garden was perfect through the summer for its many visitors, over 21000 to date. Bonus, I have not had to bake cakes this summer either, over 8000 portions baked in the past!

The downside off course, I’m not going to be raising as much money for charity in 2020, we’ve raised over £134,000 since we started. That said, I am trying still to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support, in lieu of the garden trail which has now been cancelled. I’m creating virtual tours of the gardens that were to have taken part and they can be viewed at www.macmillangardentrail.co.uk as well as my video chat with our patron Christine Walkden too.

The other downside is I don’t get to meet lots of lovely people which for me is one of the highlights of the summer. Our lovely tortoise Hector will miss all those visitors too, especially the children who would always make a fuss of him.

Hector the tortoise!

©Geoff Stonebanks – Hector the tortoise will miss the garden visitors this year.

The one plus side has been that we have featured on television twice this year already! On a piece for the National Garden Scheme about virtual garden tours on BBC SE Today and a more substantial piece on ITV Meridian news only a couple of weeks ago. Both films can be viewed through my website. The ITV crew brought a drone, which has given some fabulous aerial video footage of the garden too. So, my experience of lockdown has some definite highs and a few lows!

Arial footage of Driftwood Garden

©Geoff Stonebanks – Arial footage of Driftwood Garden

See more of Geoff’s garden at www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk

Top 10 Hardy Perennial Herbs to Plant Once and Harvest for Years

Herbs are incredibly useful for culinary and medicinal purposes. Perennial herbs get to spread their roots for many years, so they’re great at looking after themselves. They’ll provide you with harvest after harvest, thriving on little to no TLC. There’s no need to re-plant them every year, saving you many hours of hard work in the garden.

There is an herb to suit everyone, from mint tea to roasted fennel. Here is my top ten of easy to grow perennial herbs you plant once and harvest for years to come.

1 . Mint

Mint is incredibly versatile and one of the easiest perennial herbs to grow. The more you harvest, the more they grow. Mint is a vigorous, creeping herb. It can spread quickly throughout your garden. Keep mint in pots to keep it contained in small gardens. Its spreading habit makes it a great ground cover and weed suppressor in large gardens and permaculture gardens.

Pinapple mint

©Elle Meager – Pineapple Mint is a vigorous, creeping herb.

2. Chives

No onions in the pantry? No problem! Perennial chives will do most jobs onions do, with a milder flavour.

Chives grow best in loose, moist soil in full sun. They’ll grow well in the garden and in pots. They love growing with tomatoes and roses, you can harvest just a leaf or two, and a spray of chive tea helps prevent and treat fungal diseases on plants. 

3. Rosemary

Rosemary and Sage, which is number 9 in our top 10, are a match made in heaven. They encourage growth in each other, so grab one of each! Rosemary loves a sunny position in the garden and can grow as tall as 2m high, depending on the variety.

Everything about this herb smells wonderful, hang some bunches in your wardrobes and add to meat, bread, and anything else you’d add garlic to.

4. Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm makes a delicious, refreshing tea. It’s also known as “Cure-All” because of its soothing properties. Culpeper recommend Lemon Balm for its ability to aid digestion and “expel melancholy spirits”. Research backs up Culpeper’s statement. A sniff of Lemon Balm always makes me happy.

Lemon Balm

©Elle Meager – Lemon Balm makes a delicious, refreshing tea.

Lemon Balm is not a fussy herb. Grow it in loose soil with regular watering, in a sunny or shady position. Grow more from cuttings or seeds.

5. Comfrey

Despite all the negative news you may have heard about Comfrey, no garden should do without it. Even if you don’t eat it, it’s incredibly valuable as a soil improver.

Comfrey has a deep root system. Not only does it loosen the soil for your other plants, it also draws up deep nutrients so that other plants can use it. It’s a valuable green mulch and the more you cut, the more it grows. Comfrey is one of the best companions for Asparagus.

©Elle Meager – Comfrey is incredibly valuable as a soil improver.

6. Fennel

Fennel grows 1-2 meters tall with fern-like foliage. It’s best as a loner, in a corner by itself or a spot where nothing else will thrive as it can stunt the growth of other plants.

Fennel loves full sun and grows in acidic as well as alkaline soils. It’s one of the few herbs that doesn’t mind growing under big trees. Fennel seeds make a great tea. Cutting the seed heads as soon as they’re mature encourages more growth.

7. Oregano

What’s a good tomato sauce without oregano? Easy to grow, highly productive, and perennial to boot. Loves well-draining soil and a sunny position. Oregano grows equally well in pots as it does in the garden.

Oregano

©Shutterstock – What’s a good tomato sauce without oregano?

8. Thyme

Thyme is a small bush with lovely, dainty flowers. A little goes a long way when it comes to Thyme. It’s a great digestion aid, so add a few leaves to each meal. Thyme is a great companion plant, especially for the Brassica (cabbage) family. Cabbage moth is the bane of the cabbage grower and Thyme can help you repel these bugs.

9. Sage

It’s no surprise Simon and Garfunkel wrote a song about Sage. Not many dishes are as wonderful as Sage butter sauce! Grow your own Sage in the garden or pots, in full sun to part shade. It’s susceptible to rot and fungal disease in wet conditions so excellent drainage is a must.

©Shutterstock – Grow your own Sage in the garden or pots, in full sun to part shade.

10. Tarragon

Its Latin name, Artemisia dracunculus, refers to Tarragon’s tangled root system. “Dracunculus” means “little dragon”. Because of its tangled, dense roots, it’s beneficial to divide the roots every few years.

Tarragon loves sun, dislikes wet soil. Besides dividing the root system, there’s not much Tarragon needs from you to thrive. It has lovely yellow flowers too, bees and insects love them.

 

 

Peonies – 6 Fun Facts & 5 Essential Growing Tips

The peony is a famed ornamental flowering plant in the genus Paeonia. Their stunning, voluminous blooms are on show for a short season each year running from late spring through to early summer. They’ve long been a favourite of many a gardener and the best floristry studios where they feature prominently in weddings, bridal bouquets, table centrepieces, and floral arrangements. What’s more, the venerable Peony also has a fascinating story to tell across history and in modern culture. Plus, we’ll share 5 of our favourite peony growing tips. Read on!

Peony bouquet

©Thompson & Morgan – Peony flowers feature prominently in weddings, bridal bouquets, table centrepieces, and floral arrangements.

Peony flowers – rooted in Greek Mythology

Peonies are native to the Mediterranean in addition to Western parts of the United States and China. Whilst there are references to the flower in ancient Chinese texts dating back as far as 1000 BC the name ‘Peony’ is thought to originate from Greek Mythology.

The story is centred around Paeon (or Paean), who was a student of Aesculapius – the Greek God of medicine. When Paeon healed Pluto using the root of a peony plant, Aesculapius became jealous of his young maestro’s talents and tried to kill him. Fortunately, Paeon was saved from death thanks to the mighty Zeus who transformed him into a flowering ‘peony’ plant. A flower Zeus was sure others would long admire and look on with affection.

peony flower

©Shutterstock – Peony flowers are rooted in Greek Mythology

The healing power of peonies

Peonies have long been coveted flowers for both their medicinal benefits as well as the gorgeous flowering displays.

Across China, Korea and Japan, peony seeds and roots are utilised to treat an array of ailments including convulsions and insect bites. Dried peony petals are also a popular herbal remedy in teas.

Peonies: The go-to petals for your next tattoo

The peony for many centuries has been one of the most popular floral symbols used in tattoos. For instance, in Japanese and Chinese body art you’ll often find an interplay between powerful animals and mythical beasts (such as lions and dragons) with delicate floral components. The peony is one of the most popular floral symbols representing the intersection between power and delicate beauty.

The Official 12th Wedding Anniversary Flower:

Peonies also have a deep association to romance and with gestures of the heart and are officially recognised as being the 12th Wedding Anniversary Flower.

Peony flowers

©Thompson & Morgan – Peonies are the recognised flower for 12th wedding anniversaries.

The ‘Queen of Flowers’

China, in particular, has long held a deep cultural appreciation of the peony flower. Before the plum tree, the peony flower was considered the national flower of the country. It was also adorned the title of ‘Queen of Flowers’ and came to symbolise both honour and wealth.

Red, White and Pink Peonies (each symbolise different emotions)

Peonies have an underlying association with love, compassion, good fortune and prosperity. As with many flower varieties, symbolism is often tied to the colour of the petals.

red, white and pink peonies

©Shutterstock – Peonies have an underlying association with love, compassion, good fortune and prosperity.

Whilst shades of red peonies lend themself to romance, white peonies are often associated with sorrow, remorse and regret. The mighty pink peony, so often the centrepiece in a bridal bouquet, is a symbol of young, early love and a celebration of life.

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5 Essential Peony Growing Tips:

Here are 5 essential tips I’ve picked up over the years to help your homegrown peonies thrive:

1) Plant Peonies in late Autumn

Whilst you could plant peonies in early spring, they never seem to do as well. Aim for late September into October to give the plants an opportunity to settle before winter draws in. You’ll see the benefits come May the following year, especially if you give them a feed at the time of planting out.

2) Peonies love full sun-light

Once bedded in, peonies are actually quite self-sufficient. Just ensure you plant in conditions with maximum light as they adore the sun’s rays to flourish.

Grow Peonies in full sun

©Thompson & Morgan – Grow Peonies in full sun.

3) Ensure enough spacing between peony plants

I’d recommend a minimum of 3 feet between each plant to ensure enough space for the plant roots to breathe and grow. There’s nothing worse than overcrowding to create an environment where disease and rot can spread.

4) Support the stems!

Peony flowers aren’t shy in terms of their size and volume. Sometimes the sheer weight can place a strain on the stems so ensure they’re suitably supported with a wire support, or bamboo stakes and cable ties if required.

Peony Frame

©Thompson & Morgan – Support Peony flowers with a frame.

5) Ants love peonies too (leave them alone!)

You might notice ants have a particular affinity to the peony flower. Worry not. The ants are just after the sweet nectar and help protect the plants from other invaders which would be a much bigger concern.

 

 

 

How to Grow Calatheas

Calathea is one of the prettiest tropical houseplants from the Marantaceae family that you can have in your home or office.

If you want to create a jungle feel in your home, then you simply have to include some leafy Calathea plants. All of them require similar care, which makes your job easier.

Types of Calathea

There are a lot of different species of Calathea plant, over several dozen of them, with distinctive colors, shapes, and sizes. They are mostly grown in pots and containers. Let’s check some of the most popular ones.

 

Calathea orbifolia

Calathea orbifolia is one of the largest-leafed Calathea plants. Each leaf can grow up to 30cm (12″) wide!

Its leaves have a round shape and striped, metallic appearance. This species forms a dense clump, with new leaves developing from the middle part of the plant.

Calathea orbifolia

©Thompson & Morgan – Calathea orbifolia

Calathea orbifolia, like most other Calathea species, likes a warm environment, where the temperatures are between 18°C (65°F) and 24°C (75°F).

 

Calathea ornata ‘Sanderiana’

Calathea ornata ‘Sanderiana’ is one type of Calathea ornata species. The most important difference between the mother plant and ‘Sanderiana’ is in the leaves. ‘Sanderiana’ leaves are shorter and not so spear- shaped as common Calathea ornata’s leaves.

Because of the distinctive foliage striping,’ Sanderiana’ has earned a nickname ‘Pin Stripe plant’, which is shared with many other cultivars of Calathea ornata.

Calathea 'Sanderiana'

©Thompson & Morgan – Calathea ‘Sanderiana’

The plant has very glossy, broad, and colorful leaves, with the dark green topside, combined with rose feather-like stripes, while bottom sides are dark purple.

The stem is purple, and it can grow up to 60cm (2ft) in height when the plant reaches peak maturity.

 

Calathea zebrina

Calathea zebrina, otherwise known as Zebra Plant, is one of the Calatheas that are very commonly found almost everywhere, even though it originates from Brazil.

It has very distinctive green stripes on the leaves, which look like Zebra patterns, hence the name. The underside of the leaves is purple, like with some other Calathea species.

Fully grown Calathea zebrina can be up to 90cm (36″) height and width and have leaves that are over 30cm (12″) in length.

Calathea zebrina

©Thompson & Morgan – Calathea zebrina

Calathea zebrina can also produce white and purple flowers during springtime, which is not so common for Calatheas.

 

Calathea roseopicta

Calathea roseopicta, otherwise known by the name of Rose Painted Calathea, has big glossy and circular green leaves, which are also purple on the underside.

What is distinctive about this Calathea subspecies is that every leaf has a very pretty pattern, which looks like a leaf inside the leaf. There are also different cultivars of this plant that have leaves with different patterns.

The plant usually grows up to 60cm (24″) in height and width. It likes moist soil, which is capable to provide excellent drainage.

 

 

Calathea roseopicta Medaillon

©Thompson & Morgan – Calathea roseopicta Medaillon

 

Calathea rufibarba

Calathea rufibarba doesn’t look like most other Calatheas at first glance. It doesn’t have similar markings and colors, but it is still very beautiful.

It is also known under the name of Velvet Calathea, as well as Furry Feather because its leaves look like feathers and have a distinctive texture that resembles fur on the bottom side of leaves.

Another characteristic of this plant is burgundy stems that are quite long, and the plant itself can grow up to 60cm (24″) in height and width.

Calathea rufibarba

©Shutterstock – Calathea rufibarba

Calathea Care

Calatheas need sunlight, of course, but not direct sun. They thrive the most in the shade because they are tropical plants, and are mostly found in the jungles. Exposing them to direct sunlight might cause burns on the leaves.

They prefer distilled water. You can also use water purified through filters to water these plants. Even though Calatheas like moist soil, make sure not to overwater.

Being tropical plants, Calatheas like warm temperature, between 18°C (65°F) and 24°C (75°F). Also, make sure to put them in a humid environment.

Calathea in a window

©Thompson & Morgan – Calatheas need sunlight, but not direct sun.

Fertilizing is not essential for Calatheas, but if you insist, you can use normal fertilizer for indoor plants during the autumn, spring, and summer.

Propagation of Calathea Plants

It is possible to propagate Calatheas from divisions, simply by repotting them. New divisions need to be kept moist and in a warm place. It is also advised to cover them with plastic and put them on indirect light until they start growing again. Always use the fresh potting mixture to grow a new plant.

Pruning Calathea Plants

Calatheas do not require any special pruning. The only thing you might worry about is removing occasional leaves that have turned brown or yellow.

 

 

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