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.

Gardening without plastic

plastic free gardening

A few small changes can make a big difference 
Image: Garden Ninja

We’re flooding the planet with plastic, and there’s currently a huge focus on how much ends up in our oceans. But as gardeners, what can we do about it? Traditionally, plant care and propagation have always relied heavily on plastic – it’s cheap, durable and easy to use. However, the lack of recycling options often means it ends up in landfill or as a pollutant. 

We asked Garden Ninja, Lee Burkhill, a professional garden designer who’s passionate about the environment, what he’s doing to tackle this problem. Here are Lee’s top tips for reducing your use of plastic – with just a few small changes to everyday tasks we can all make a difference…

Plan alternatives to plastic in advance

Boxes full of plastic plant pots

Plastic plant pots in a shed 
Image: corners74

Plastic is incredibly durable, but it can take centuries to fully break down – a problem made even worse when it’s not correctly recycled. Last year I counted somewhere near 400 plastic plant pots in my own shed, along with old compost bags. Although I reuse these pots and bags each year until they’re no longer fit for purpose, it prompted me to think about plastic-free alternatives so that I’m ready to switch to a biodegradable solution when the time comes.

Sow in wooden seed trays

Wooden trays with sown seeds

Seed sowing in wooden trays
Image: Garden Ninja

Seed sowing is one of my favourite activities and, looking around at my online gardening peers, it seems to be a shared passion. Creating and growing from seed greatly increases the variety of plants available. It’s also better for the environment as it reduces the ‘food miles’ travelled by plants, flowers, fruit and vegetables.

I’ve been using a range of different plastic-free growing containers this year and the results have been really positive. Wooden seed trays have been a real winner. Not only do they look absolutely lovely compared to a sea of black plastic, but they heat up really quickly – great for seed germination! They’re also really breathable, meaning that the roots on my seedlings have been far stronger than their plastic counterparts.

I experienced zero damping off or humidity-related issues when using wooden seed trays compared to plastic. They do cost more initially and don’t stack inside each other, which is a slight drawback. However, they should last me close to 20-30 years if I look after them, bringing a better economy to their purchase.

Sow in homemade newspaper pots

Homemade plant pots made from biodegradable newspaper

Making your own pots from biodegradable newspaper is quick and easy
Image: Garden Ninja

The next surprise winner has been homemade newspaper pots. Yes, you read that right. I’ve been using a round jig to make pots from strips of newspaper to pot on my seedlings.

I know they won’t last longer than a few months before breaking down. But for annuals and vegetables that I’ll be planting out as soon as they’re strong enough, they are unbeatable. What’s even better, you can fit 24 of these paper pots into one of the wooden trays, which makes moving and hardening plants off really easy. I love things that are multi-purpose.

Like the idea but don’t have time to make your own? Thompson & Morgan sells packs of 48 fibre pots – you can plant out the whole pot when you’re ready and it will naturally biodegrade into the soil.

Reuse and recycle

48-pack biodegradable fibre grow pots from Thompson & Morgan

Use recycled yogurt pots or buy biodegradable pots online
Image: 48-pack biodegradable fibre grow pots from Thompson & Morgan

Finally, reusing plastic containers from the house does deserve a rightful mention. Yogurt pots, vegetable packaging and other plastic containers all make great seed trays or starter pots. I’d always advocate reusing as much as possible before these end up in the waste. In fact, I’d argue there’s actually no reason to buy plastic seed pots and containers if you carefully watch what you’re throwing away from inside and then reuse!

Make your own compost

Compost in a wooden compost bin

A rotating composter will last a lifetime and can produce compost in less than 8 weeks
Image: Stonel

Compost is an easy way to achieve plastic-free credentials – provided you have the space to make your own. Once you get into the rhythm of making your own compost you can, in theory, provide enough for your growing needs. It can be tricky for new gardeners to get the right balance for perfect compost. I’ll be the first to admit I have to tweak my recipes each year. Patience is key with home composting (that and the mythical perfect nitrogen to carbon ratio!)

If you don’t have the space or time to compost, the alternative is buying it in thick plastic bags. Often these bags are classed as ‘single use’ i.e. they can’t be recycled and end up in landfill. I tend to reuse these bags around the garden when weeding or clearing up, but there are other alternatives for empty compost bags. Weed bags for life, if you will!

There’s also been an increase recently in the number of local independent nurseries that provide a ‘loose’ compost scheme. You take along your own bag or container and pay for your compost by weight. What a great idea! I’d urge you to research your nearest loose compost provider. That way your bags can live on!

Another great use for compost bags is as an alternative weed membrane. If you’re thinking of putting down weed membrane matting (which itself is usually plastic based) in a low maintenance bed, why not cut open your old compost bags and reuse them? First pierce the bags, like you would a microwave meal, to allow for drainage and airflow. Then overlap them on the area to be covered and top with a healthy layer of either compost or earth. Cut planting holes through the bags to allow plants to grow whilst suppressing weeds. Yes, it may take more time than rolling out a huge carpet of membrane, but you’re helping to reduce your landfill waste and saving money.

As gardeners we have a first-hand understanding of the delicate and beautiful ecology that our gardens contain. By considering alternatives to plastic, and spending a little more time thinking about where our plastic ends up, we can start to make changes. These ideas might seem small – but they’re a good step in the right direction to reduce waste, limit pollution and inspire others to make similar changes. 

 

12 more gardening YouTubers

Woman filming herself repotting plants on YouTube

Get your gardening questions answered by some of the best green-fingered YouTubers
Image: Elnur

Are you always on the lookout for inspiring and informative gardening YouTube channels? Last time we featured some of the best gardeners of the vlogosphere, we were overwhelmed by your response. Here then, is a selection of vloggers we missed first time round – 12 more gardening YouTubers who know their onions – and a lot more besides…

Alternative Smallholding

Jaz holding up a oversized onion from Alternative Smallholding

Even while on holiday, Jaz couldn’t wait to get back to her allotment
Image: Alternative Smallholding

Do you find it hard to sleep in unfamiliar surroundings? When Jaz, the ‘Alternative Smallholder,’ was on holiday recently, she lay awake wondering how well her onions and garlic were faring under their protective enviromesh cover. No wonder that as soon as she got back, she went straight to her allotment to check!

You know your onions and garlic are ready to harvest when the tops begin to wilt and turn brown, explains the Alternative Smallholding family. This is one of our favourite vlogs – a “journey towards living a simple, happy life through growing our own food, raising tiny raptors (aka chickens) & dreaming of our own smallholding.” That onion harvest? Bumper.

Castle Hill Garden

Cliff from Castle Hill Garden standing in front of his tomato plants

Cliff has green-fingered advice for gardens of all sizes
Image: Castle Hill Garden

As you water your greenhouse tomatoes, you’ll notice two things, says Cliff, the Castle Hill Gardener. First, that the lower leaves can get in the way of watering, and second, that over time, the compost washes out, leaving roots exposed to the air. The answer? Trim and top up – without removing too much.

The Castle Hill Garden vlog shows you exactly what to do. Friendly, and informative, it’s ideal for anyone new to gardening, plus those looking to pick up extra tips from someone whose chatty, down to earth style makes the information so much more accessible.

Dave’s Allotment

Dave from Dave's Allotment in his greenhouse

Dave’s down to earth YouTube channel is chock full of advice
Image: Dave’s Allotment

Fish blood and bone – dried blood – just what every plant needs for a good start in life, says Dave, of Dave’s Allotment. Today he’s planting cucumbers in his greenhouse in buckets with the bases cut off, inserted into a deep raised bed. Cucumbers don’t like to sit around in too much water, so the buckets help to direct the water to the roots.

First I’ll get the kettle on,” is Dave’s approach to gardening. Here you’ll get a super-friendly vibe from the North East of England, plus gardening tips and insights galore. Brand new to allotmenteering? Check out Dave’s Back to Basics series – everything you need to know to get started.

Digging for Dinner

Joe from Digging For Dinner holding secetaurs

Want to grow the best tomatoes ever? Then make sure you follow Joe’s advice
Image: Digging For Dinner

Know the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes? Joe from Digging for Dinner shows you the difference, plus how to get the best harvests.

Indeterminate tomatoes keep on growing, so take off anything too low that’s of no benefit to the plant. Determinate tomatoes, Digging for Dinner says, need little intervention – just snip off anything in contact with the soil to prevent disease.

The fact that tomatoes are Joe’s favourite allotment crop, plus his great attention to detail, mean that this video really does live up to the promise of helping you to “Grow the Best Tomatoes Ever.” Digging for Dinner is proof of what’s possible with a little know how and elbow grease.

Erica’s Little Welsh Garden

Runner Bean 'Firestorm' from Thompson & Morgan

Make planting beans exciting with Erica’s methods
Image: Runner Bean ‘Firestorm’ from Thompson & Morgan

Are your beans boring? Erica’s were, but she’s put some more thought into it this year – ‘Black Coco’ dwarf French beans, ‘Simm’s Corsair’ runner beans, and ‘Brecon Black’, a variety from a Welsh seed library. Fascinating stuff, and we look forward to seeing how the different runner bean varieties fare in Erica’s Little Welsh Garden.

Or course, with growing more than one variety of bean, there’s always the distinct possibility of cross-pollination, but here too, Erica shares her tips for minimising the risks. A great channel – Erica is a friendly presenter with lots of great info to share.

Byther Farm

Liz from Byther Farm sitting in her garden

Updating tri-weekly, Liz’s channel covers life on an organic farmstead
Image: Byther Farm

Looking for some easy perennial veg to grow year-after-year? How about Taunton Deane Kale? Cabbagey and sweet but not overly strong, says Byther Farm’s Liz Zorab. Also try Eyptian walking onions – you can use the leaves and the bulbs. And how about Walking Stick Cabbage which can grow to a staggering 10 feet high.

Catch up on the latest gardening action on an organic farmstead in rural Monmouthshire – the scene for Liz and her partner’s gardening exploits. Byther Farm is an excellent channel for anyone interested in organic growing. Fancy making your own chive blossom vinegar? Liz shows you how to make this gorgeous pink condiment.

Homegrown Garden

Katrina from Homegrown Garden holding a plastic bottle

Katrina uses 2 litre water bottle as a nifty gardening hack
Image: Homegrown Garden

Find out all about companion planting to help stop bugs and pests getting at your tomatoes. From her new polytunnel, Katrina takes you right through planting and tying indoor tomatoes – her tip – bury a 2 litre water bottle with holes beside each tomato plant – by topping up the bottle, she delivers fluid direct to the root.

Three years with no blight shows this is a winning idea, and it’s just one of a wealth of tips you’ll discover courtesy of allotmenteer, Katrina. With no garden of her own, Katrina has taken to the allotment with great enthusiasm and creates a fascinating video diary to share her Homegrown Garden exploits.

Jane Kelly

Jane Kelly sitting in the garden

Jane’s friendly demeanour makes learning new gardening tricks fun
Image: Jane Kelly

Wondering about the best way to create an asparagus bed? Let Jane show you how as she creates one – something she’s always wanted but never got round to before. You’ll need a trench, some well rotted manure, a sprinkling of fertilizer, and of course your “spiders from Mars.”

Space your crowns a foot apart, spread the tendril-like roots and, after you’ve covered them, give the plants a good water. You’ll love Jane Kelly’s channel – with her warm and friendly style, she makes learning fun. Oh, and check out her shed – the perfect place to drink tea!

Lavender and Leeks

Katie from Lavender & Leeks picking mint from her garden

If you fancy going plot to plate, make sure you tune into Katie’s recipe vlogs
Image: Lavender and Leeks

Growing is only one half of the allotment equation – the other is eating your produce. Join Lavender and Leeks creator, Katie as she shares delicious dishes made from tasty fruit and veg from her own patch. Rhubarb crumble cake sound tempting? Join Katie in her beautiful little 6 x 4 shed as she cooks up a storm for you.

Slightly cramped the shed might be – especially with lemon balm hanging from the roof to dry – but you’ll be surprised and inspired by what you can do with such a small space. And while she’s waiting for the crumble to cook, it’s back out to take care of the gardening. Fun, informative and definitely tasty, Lavender and Leeks is a must.

Muddy Bootz

Nigel from Muddy Bootz in his garden

Nigel likes to start his gardening at daybreak
Image: Muddy Bootz

If you want to join Nigel, aka Muddy Bootz, at his allotment, you’ll have to get up early. “It’s just gone five o’clock, and it’s only just me and the birds out” – he says – “and it’s fantastic!” That’s one way to get your tomatoes in “early.”

After a quick cuppa, it’s on to planting cucumbers and tomatoes in the greenhouse – this year this allotmenteer is trialing heritage tomato ‘Harbinger’ along with old favourites, ‘Mountain Magic,’ ‘Crimson Crush’ and ‘Sweet Million’. You’ll discover great gardening here, and an engineering solution to prevent your plant halos getting clogged with soil during planting.

What Vivi Did Next

Vivi sitting in her garden with lavender in the background

Follow Vivi’s frugal smallholding lifestyle for money-saving tips
Image: What Vivi Did Next

Could you live off the land? Former nurse, Vivi was forced to quit her job in her late forties because of her dodgy knees. So what did Vivi do next? She took to a frugal goodlife and has thrived ever since.

The “Good Life” is hard graft, but it has its compensations – like harvesting lavender which, Vivi says you should do when the flowers have budded but not yet opened – that’s when the essential oils are at their most concentrated. What Vivi Did Next is full of frugal tips, and growing wisdom, but more than that, it’s a window into an alternative lifestyle that’s cash poor, but all the richer for it.

The Small Garden Channel

George from The Small Garden Channel

Let veteran gardener George solve your small gardening dilemmas
Image: The Small Garden Channel

Watch as George gives growing courgettes in a bale of straw a try. First, wet your bale for three or four days to get it to begin composting, then leave for six days to heat up. The result? The courgettes were something of a triumph, but that’s not all.

The straw is an excellent source of carbon for the compost heap, and when strewn over the lawn before mowing, mixes with grass clippings to make it instantly compostable. After running a 22 acre estate, retired George now tends a small garden and shares his many years of knowledge on The Small Garden Channel. Wonderfully warm and informative, George is as charming and erudite a YouTube presenter as you could wish for.

That’s it for now – but if you’re keen for more, check out our original post called 10 top gardening YouTube channels and bookmark the ones.

10 bloggers who review gorgeous gardens to visit

English garden in full bloom

Spend your time in some of the nation’s best gardens
Image: Yolanta

Did you know that the gardens at Chatsworth are being transformed? Have you always wanted to immerse yourself in the jungle at The Lost Gardens of Heligan? Visiting gardens is something of a national occupation for us Brits. And with good reason, because here in the UK we have some of the most beautiful stately homes, gardens, and parks to be found anywhere. To give you a taste of the best of the best gardens, here we present our pick of bloggers who review gorgeous gardens – enjoy. 

Susan Rushton

The Dorothy Clive Garden with a laburnum arch

Magical – the Dorothy Clive Garden’s laburnum arch in all its glory
Image: Susan Rushton

A laburnum arch in full flower? You’ll have to time your visit just right if you want to see the one at the Dorothy Clive Garden in Shropshire. Garden, nature, and photography enthusiast, Susan Rushton just missed it in 2015, but saw it in all its glory this year – and has this beautiful photograph to prove it.

Think rhododendrons are a little too showy? Check out Susan’s incredible photography – she used to think so, but not any more. Her visit to this atmospheric garden proved to her that: “rhodis can be as ethereally lovely as any plant you’ll find in a shady spot.

The Green Fingered Blog

Abbey House Garden – clever use of planting makes the most of the ruin
Image: The Green Fingered Blog

‘Borrowing the landscape’ is a well known garden design trick, but they way it’s done here is cleverer than most.” So says Paul at The Green Fingered Blog. His visit to Abbey House Gardens in Malmesbury in Wiltshire just goes to prove how visiting professionally designed gardens can help provide the inspiration you need to get the most out of your garden at home.

At Abbey House, it’s the planting that leads the eye to the Abbey ruins next door that has Paul excited. And then there’s the use of focal points and the curve of the lawn. We can’t all live next door to a spectacular ancient ruin, but we can benefit from this blogger’s beautifully considered Abbey House Gardens masterclass.

Pumpkin Beth

The Victoria Garden, Farnham
Photo © David960 (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Isn’t a peaceful retreat at the heart of a busy town centre, exactly what every shopper needs? In Farnham – there is just such a place. The Farnham Swimming Baths Trust is a charitable organisation that has created a truly magical garden from the town’s derelict Victorian outdoor swimming pool.

With mosaic hopscotch for the children, and for the adults, rose-covered arches and sculptures to enjoy – there really is something for everyone at the Victoria Garden. As for Pumpkin Beth – a self-confessed “gardening evangelist”, she grows the best organic pumpkins around!

Haarkon

Lost Gardens of Heligan from Haarkon

The nearest you’ll get to a jungle in the UK – the Lost Gardens of Heligan
Image: Haarkon

It’s probably one of the most romantic names for a garden imaginable – The Lost Gardens of Heligan – in deepest, darkest Cornwall. They’re actually not that lost, according to India and Magnus of Haarkon – in fact they’re very much found. All the same, expect to discover “the closest we’ve been to an outdoor jungle in this country”.

Haarkon is all about celebrating “people, processes and the often-overlooked details of life”, and the result is a completely unique blog experience which features some truly incredible photography from all around the world. Thinking of making the trip to Cornwall’s most famous lost garden? Find out what lies in store right here.

Garden Visit

Visit Sandy Lodge to discover how to make your garden more bird-friendly
Image: E Gatehouse

Take a stroll around a wildlife garden in the heart of Bedfordshire. The grounds of Sandy Lodge, the home of the RSPB, take the concept of bird-friendly to a level you won’t find elsewhere, and so they’re well worth a visit for anyone interested in tempting bird life to their patch.

Garden Visit is a superb resource for anyone interested in exploring UK gardens and parks – and has plenty of information about far flung botanical treats too. A site where you’ll find concise reviews along with opening times and directions, Garden Visit is a must for gardeners everywhere.

The Frustrated Gardener

Visit Cornwall’s Morrab Gardens to see sub-tropical plants flourish!
Image: Giz Edwards

Walking towards Morrab House one passes through a damp glade filled with enormous tree ferns,” says The Frustrated Gardener, Dan. Morrab Public Gardens in Penzance are testament to the Victorians’ obsession with collecting, there being a sizeable ensemble of sub-tropical plants gifted by some of Cornwall’s most famous plant collectors.

Well worth a look if coastal gardening is your yen – Dan himself gardens a seaside plot in Broadstairs, Kent, and his own efforts are well worth a look. The highlight of Dan’s visit to Morrab? “Succulents, including the mighty Agave Americana, opuntias, aloes and aeoniums.

The Chatty Gardener

Chatsworth House from The Chatty Gardener

Chatsworth in all its glory as the transformation of the gardens begin
Image: The Chatty Gardener 

Get the lowdown on the Chatsworth House transformation. It’s a work in progress says The Chatty Gardener, Mandy, but you can already catch a glimpse of how it’s going to look when complete. These alterations will be the “biggest since changes by Joseph Paxton more than 200 years ago.”

Exciting times – the developments at the great Derbyshire estate are well worth discovering for yourself. Four new glades and a bog garden are just two of the planned works, says Mandy, a dedicated gardener and 2018 PPA Garden Journalist of the Year.

Kevin Gelder

The stunning hot border at Renishaw
Image: Kevin Gelder

Looking for inspiration for your summer herbaceous borders? Take a turn around the gardens of Derbyshire’s Renishaw House with gardener, blogger, and writer, Kevin Gelder. Full of pinks, purples and blues, the Renishaw borders are “almost overwhelmingly beautiful”, crescendoing from the lawn-edge planting to the yew hedges behind.

You’ll also find a sparkling “white garden”, as well as a perfectly stunning hot border featuring nasturtiums, white buddlejas, roses and clematis. And before you leave, Kevin says, do stop to admire the statuesque lilies which, planted alongside roses, are a scent sensation not to be missed.

Carrots and Calendula

Ruined Nymans in its autumn splendour
Image: Carrots and Calendula

How about some theatrical beauty? Overlooking the South Downs, Nymans, replete with romantic ruins, must be one of the loveliest gardens to visit any time of year. Catch it in summer for its blazing borders, or go there during the autumn when you’ll be rewarded with beautiful salvias offset against the flame colours of the trees in the background.

A serious fire ravaged Nymans during the late 1940s, but the family still live in the usable part of the house. A visit should include a browse around the second-hand bookshop and – of course – the plant shop. When she’s not visiting gardens, Ciar of Carrots and Calendula cultivates a sunny suburban plot in East Sussex.

The garden gate is open

Wander the paths of this extraordinary healing garden in the heart of Chelsea
Image: The Garden Gate is Open

Now for a “remarkable garden originally created in 1673 by the Apothecaries in which to grow medicinal plants.” When Julia, the blogger behind The Garden Gate is Open had a few hours to spare during a visit to London, she decided to call in at the Chelsea Physic Garden – four acres of calm in the heart of the busy metropolis.

Look out for beautiful woven sculptures by Tom Hare, a stunning collection of cacti, a fernery, and much more. And if you’d like to know more about the wonderful plantings at this historic garden, an audio tour will keep you informed as you wander. This blog is full of wonderful gardens to visit – take a look and you’ll discover some gems.

Did we miss one of your favourite blogs or gardens to visit? Drop us a line via our Facebook page and we’ll try to feature it next time.

How to prepare your garden for a holiday

Car packed full of holiday luggage

Plan ahead to help your garden survive your summer holiday
Image: Africa Studio

You’ve invested blood, sweat and tears into your garden, so it’s perfectly natural to worry about leaving your plants while you enjoy a break from the day-to-day routine. 

We asked garden designer, Nic Wilson of dogwooddays, for her professional advice on how to keep things looking their best for when you return. Here are six practical suggestions to help prepare your garden before you go on holiday:

1. General care

Closeup of lawnmower and cutting grass

Cut and edge the lawn before you leave
Image: kurhan

I’m looking forward to some time away to relax with my family this summer, but at the back of my mind I can feel a niggling anxiety – how will my plants cope while I’m away? Will the lettuces bolt and the sweet peas set seed? How will the dahlias survive if there’s a heatwave? Last year we returned to find that wasps had devoured almost every greengage. Unfortunately, the whole crop was ruined.

To keep things tidy while you’re away, take care of a few general tasks before you leave. Weed borders and paths, and cut the grass in any areas that you’re not growing long for wildlife. Make sure that any top-heavy plants are staked to avoid high winds causing damage to stems while you’re gone.

2. Containers

Pots and containers in Nic Wilson's dogwooddays garden

Group pots and containers together in a shaded spot
Image: dogwooddays

Group all your containers together in a shady spot and provide automatic watering via an irrigation system. Failing that, sit the containers in trays of water.

Take down any hanging baskets and place them with your other containers in the shade. Terracotta pots dry out more quickly than plastic ones, so make sure they’re well watered before you leave.

3. Greenhouse

Stock image of a greenhouse with door open

Nic leaves her greenhouse open while she’s away
Image: a40757

Ensure that your greenhouse plants have adequate shade and that the windows, vents and doors are open during the day. With a small greenhouse like mine, I leave the doors and windows open when we go away in the summer to avoid my plants overheating.

Water all your plants well and stand the pots on capillary matting so they can take up water slowly from the base reservoir. Plants can also be watered with an upside-down drink bottle with a drip end attached, or from a self-watering globe, or a mighty dripper.

4. Fruit and vegetables

Basket of harvested plums from dogwooddays

Nic harvests as many plums as possible before she leaves
Image: dogwooddays

Pick as much as you can before you go – our last job will be to harvest, eat and freeze our ‘Opal’ plums if they ripen in time. Ask a friend or neighbour to visit every few days to harvest crops so the plants will continue to be productive.

By thoroughly watering and mulching the beds before you leave, you can make sure that the soil stays moist for as long as possible. Protect your crops with specialist netting to avoid damage from pigeons and cabbage white butterflies.

5. Flowers

Image of Happy Single Date dahlias

Nic removes the heads from her ‘Happy Single Date’ dahlias before setting off
Image: dogwooddays

Summer-flowering plants like dahlias, sweetpeas, osteospermum and zinnias might be covered in blooms now, but these will have faded by the time you return and the plants will be starting to set seed. Although it might seem counter-intuitive, remove open and spent flowers before you leave and feed plants to encourage a flush of new blooms upon your return.

6. Biosecurity

Oranges infected with CVC, a disease caused by the bacterium Xylella fastidiosa

Oranges infected with CVC, a disease caused by the bacterium Xylella fastidiosa
Image: Alf Ribeiro

Don’t bring back plant material back from your holidays, for the long-term health of your own garden and all plants across the UK. Diseases like Xylella have the potential to cause devastation to a huge range of cultivated and wild plants, so return with photos and memories, not with the plants themselves.

 

DIY Dahlia Festival

It always intrigues me how different plants come in and out of fashion. Dahlias are one such plant that has ridden the roller coaster of popularity over the last century – but right now, they are definitely on the up!

 

Dahlias at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – Dahlias at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire.

 

I for one, am glad of their revival. So are the huge numbers of visitors to Anglesey Abbey’s Dahlia Festival, in Cambridgeshire each September.  I’ve visited on several occasions with my equally plant-obsessed friend who lives next door, with all kids in tow. In fact, it’s become a bit of an annual event for us all!  Each time these magnificent plants astonish me with their vibrant colours and huge variety of flower shapes.

It’s not just the plants that impress me. The gardeners that grow them to perfection deserve enormous credit, and the creativity with which they are displayed is breath-taking.

 

Dahlias decorate the trunks of trees at Anglesey Abbey.

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – Dahlias decorate the trunks of trees at Anglesey Abbey.

 

You might think that taking young children to a flower festival would be a recipe for disaster – I know I did. How wrong I was! In addition to the borders, many of the displays use cut Dahlia flowers placed into test-tube style vases. These can be attached to trees, inserted into lawns and displayed in all manner of other creative ways. It makes for a much more interactive experience which appeals to the children and grown-ups alike.   

 

Dahlias appeal to young and old

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – A creative display of Dahlias appeals to young and old!

 

Sadly we missed it last year, but as luck would have it, my friend was bequeathed an enormous number of rather large Dahlia tubers. They were unwanted by their previous owners.  Crazy, I know! So, it was decided … this year she would create our own Dahlia festival!

 

Dahlia tubers were potted up

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – Dahlia tubers were potted up in late spring.

 

The Dahlia tubers overwintered in crates in the greenhouse, and she planted them up into large pots this spring.  When they emerged from the greenhouse the Dahlia plants looked quite magnificent.  They were planted with care, watered well and given a good mulch of manure.  Sturdy stakes were inserted in the ground to support them as they grow.

 

Rows of Dahlia plants in the garden

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – Rows of Dahlia plants have been planted in the garden.

 

On a side note, if you are wondering what the straw-like material is; it’s just a pile of dead weed and grass that was cleared from the site. When my friend went to remove it we discovered ground-nesting bees had made a home there.  Always keen to live and let live, the bees and their nest have been left well alone. These helpful little insects are under threat and need all the help we can give them.

However, there are other garden creatures, that we could well do without.  Slugs and snails thrive in our gardens, and unfortunately they have a particular taste for Dahlias!

 

Slug damage on Dahlia plant

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – Slug damage on Dahlia plant.

 

With the Dahlia festival under threat, it was necessary to take sensible precautions! A combination of slug pellets and copper slug collars has been put in place, and so far there has been very little damage.

 

Slug and snail control around Dahlia plants

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – Slug and snail control around Dahlia plants.

 

By September, there should be a fabulous display of dazzling Dahlias. Whilst not on the same grand scale as Anglesey Abbey, I’m certain that it will still be impressive. 

Are you growing Dahlias this year? Let us know how you are getting on at our Facebook page.

 

Heavenly Hydrangeas!

If there’s one genus that I am utterly in love with then it’s Hydrangeas! Every year as we head into ‘Hydrangea season’ I begin muttering eulogies to these beauties… ‘What a stunner!’ ‘Isn’t it gorgeous?’ ‘Wow, look at the flowers on that!!!’

I don’t really know when my love for Hydrangeas began. I bought my first, Hydrangea ‘King George V’, many years ago and it still sits in a big pot outside my back door. Its performance always reflects the care (or neglect) that it receives throughout the year. In a good year it is fabulous, covered in white buds that open to reveal rosy, pink-edged blooms.  The flowers darken as they age to rich red-pink.  

 

Pink Hydrangea flowers of 'King George V'

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – Hydrangea macrophylla ‘King George V’

 

It’s always at its best, if it has been repotted in the spring and fed and watered liberally. Sadly this year it has been plagued with Hydrangea Scale and looks pale and chlorotic, with few flowers forming.  Scale insects suck the sap of plants, weakening their growth.

 

Hydrangea Scale insect

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – Hydrangea Scale insect can be seen on plants in early summer.

 

I’ve been squishing the white waxy clusters that cover the eggs whenever I see them. I usually leave the stems and flowers intact over winter, but this Autumn I will cut them all back to destroy any overwintering nymphs.  Fingers crossed for a better display next year!

Luckily, it’s better news on the other side of the patio where Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Madame Emile Mouillère’ is flowering her heart out.  I found her years ago on a visit to the nursery at Great Dixter Garden in East Sussex.  It’s funny how plants remind you of people and places that you’ve know, isn’t it?

 

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Madame Emile Mouillère'

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Madame Emile Mouillère’ in full bloom.

 

This really is an elegant variety with large flower heads that open apple green and mature to dazzling white, before taking on a gentle pink tint to the oldest flower heads.

I’m rather excited about my latest acquisition of Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Princess Diana’. Now I know they look small right now – but given a few years of TLC they will produce fabulous double, pink flowers with an unusual star shape. I’ve only ever seen this variety in pictures so I can’t wait for the real thing!

 

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Princess Diana'

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Princess Diana’ will produce starry, double flowers at maturity.

 

My enthusiasm for Hydrangeas is being fueled by these two beautiful specimens on display here at T&M. Sadly I can’t tell you the variety as they are unlabelled, but there is no denying that they really are magnificent. One plant is so large that I asked my colleague, Sonia to appear in the picture for scale! Both are grown in large pots, and fed and watered liberally – it just goes to show how a proper care can make all the difference.

 

Spectacular Hydrangeas grown in large pots

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – Hydrangeas make superb container plants.

 

You may have noticed that I haven’t included any blue Hydrangeas in this blog so far. The soil in my garden shows no hint of acidity! An acid soil will turn the blooms of most pink macrophylla varieties to varying shades of blue or purple.  I could pot a Hydrangea plant into ericaceous John Innes compost, water only with rainwater, and apply regular drenches of colourant… but I learned long ago that I’m rather a lazy gardener, so I prefer to work with what nature has given me!

It doesn’t stop me from admiring blue hydrangeas though. Here’s a stunning example from our ‘Your TM garden’ photo competition by this month’s winner, Diana Eastwood.

 

Beautiful blue Hydrangea flower

©Diana Eastwood – Hydrangea macrophylla sp. produce blue flowers on acid soils.

 

Hydrangeas really do have a lot to offer. Aside from the large, flamboyant blooms in summer, they also have lovely autumn colour.

In fact, I think they make the perfect gift plant. Here’s a double one that I recently gave for a friend’s birthday called Hydrangea macrophllya ‘Mademoiselle’ – I hope she gets as much enjoyment from Hydrangeas as I do!

 

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Mademoiselle'

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – Hydrangeas make wonderful gift plants.

 

Have I missed one of your favourite varieties? Why not share your beautiful Hydrangea pictures with us on our Facebook page?

 

Grow your own summer drinks recipes

People sitting around a table in the summer

Enjoy sharing homegrown food and drinks this summer 
Image: Jack Frog 

There’s nothing more satisfying than sharing fresh, homegrown produce with friends and family on a warm summer evening. Except, perhaps, relaxing with a cool sundowner to properly enjoy the garden you’ve spent all year working on!

We asked green-fingered bloggers to tell us their favourite homegrown summer drinks recipes. From light and refreshing cordials the whole family can enjoy, through to something a little stronger to keep you warm as the sun goes down, here’s how to distil a glut into a glass.

Non-alcoholic summer drinks

 

Richard’s mint lemonade

Stock image of a lemon and lime drink

Zesty and refreshing, this lemonade tastes even better with local honey
Image: Artsyslik

Richard over at The veg grower podcast has a quick and easy recipe for homemade lemonade that tastes so much more delicious than anything you can buy in a shop. To get the maximum flavour from your garden mint, he recommends making the ‘syrup’ the night before and adding soda water just before serving.

You will need:

  • mint leaves
  • lemons
  • limes
  • honey
  • soda water

Katie’s strawberry and elderflower cordial

Katie's Strawberry and elderflower cordial from Lavender and Leeks

Intensely fragrant and delicious
Image: Lavender and Leeks

According to Katie over at Lavender and Leeks, the combination of elderflower and strawberries is “a match made in heaven.” Not only is the smell of her strawberry and elderflower cordial amazing, it’s lovely with plain water, soda water, lemonade, prosecco or even added to cake mixtures and jams. In short, it adds a welcome shot of sunshine to almost anything you like.

You will need:

  • strawberries
  • elderflower heads
  • lemons
  • limes
  • caster sugar
  • citric acid
  • water

Lou’s ginger and thyme fizz

This spicy mocktail is a winner with all ages
Image: Little Green Shed

Over at Little Green Shed, Lou’s simple recipe for a delicious non-alcoholic cocktail is a great way to jazz up an impromptu barbecue. Family-friendly, and healthier than reaching for a beer, a long glass of this ginger and thyme fizz has a botanical undertone that’s hard to resist.

You will need:

  • fresh ginger
  • fresh thyme
  • lemon
  • runny honey
  • ice cubes
  • sparkling water

Choclette’s strawberry rose mint fizz

This simple alcohol-free aperitif is the perfect way to start any summer event
Image: Tin & Thyme

The strawberry hit is as good as a Wimbledon grand slam – it’s delightful with subtle undertones of fragrant rose, fresh mint and cooling ice” says Choclette, sharing her Strawberry rose mint fizz recipe over on Tin & Thyme. The secret to this delicious drink is the rose syrup, which Choclette makes herself. Check out the full recipe on her blog to find out how.

You will need:

  • strawberries
  • rose syrup
  • mint
  • ice cubes
  • fizzy water

Robin’s nettle cordial

Red nettle cordial from Eat Weeds

Turn annoying weeds into healthy elixirs!
Image: Eat Weeds

If keeping on top of weeds is a constant battle in your garden or allotment, you’ll be delighted for this delicious excuse to relax courtesy of Robin Harford over at Eat Weeds. His nettle cordial tastes like nothing you’ve ever tried before. What’s more, nettles are good for you – naturally high in antioxidants and polyphenols – powerful compounds believed to help with inflammation, obesity, cancer, and heart disease. Keep this pink cordial in your fridge for up to four weeks and add to water, soda water or lemonade when guests arrive. They’ll never guess your secret ingredient!

You will need:

  • freshly picked nettle tops
  • granulated sugar
  • citric acid
  • water

Grace’s strawberry, cucumber and mint infused water

A healthy alternative to sugary drinks
Image: Eats Amazing

Inspired by tall jugs of perfectly chilled Pimm’s, Grace from Eats Amazing suggests a alcohol-free version that children will love. “I’m a great believer in eating with your eyes,” says Grace, so she serves her strawberry and cucumber and mint infusion in clear bottles or mason jars to give it real visual impact. If your children aren’t keen on plain water, perhaps growing their own simple ingredients will encourage them to experiment with healthy alternatives to sugary drinks. Check out Grace’s blog for the full recipe and more inspiration.

You will need:

  • cucumber
  • strawberries
  • mint sprigs
  • water

Alcoholic summer drinks

 

Nick’s ‘cool as a minty cucumber’ cocktail

This cool classic tastes even better when you’ve grown the ingredients yourself
Image: Two Thirsty Gardeners

We’re not suggesting that Nick grows mint and cucumber just to give his ‘cool as a minty cucumber’ cocktail a more interesting twist, but when you’re a ‘Thirsty Gardener’ it’s entirely possible! This zesty aperitif is a great way to welcome friends and family to a summer drinks party. Not to be outdone, the other ‘Thirsty Gardener,’ Rich, shares his delicious rhubarb collins recipe in the same post. Two Two Thirsty Gardeners’ drinks recipes for the price of one…

You will need:

  • gin
  • mint leaves
  • a slice of cucumber
  • half a lime
  • tonic water
  • ice

Janie’s blackcurrant cassis

blackcurrant drink

Deliciously more-ish cassis can be added to a wide number of cocktails
Image: 5PH

If you grow blackcurrants, this one’s for you. Janie at The Hedgecombers describes this delectable blackcurrant cassis syrup as a bottle of pure summer: “At first sip you get the scent of fresh blackcurrants, quickly followed by a nice warm glow before tailing off with the sweet childhood taste of Ribena. Weird and wonderful all at the same time!” Check out the full recipe over on her blog.

You will need:

  • blackcurrants
  • sugar
  • brandy

Eli’s elderflower champagne

Elderflower champagne is not as difficult to make as you might think
Image: Antonina Vlasova

Ever tried making your own elderflower champagne? Eli and Kate share two slightly different recipes over at their blog In the garden & the kitchen with Eli & Kate, including useful tasting notes to help you decide which is best for you. If you’re surrounded by elders in bloom, brewing your own bubbles is a great way to celebrate nature’s bounty! Read their full post to see just how easy it is to make.

You will need:

  • elderflowers
  • lemons
  • sugar
  • champagne yeast

Helen’s rhubarb and ginger gin

Don’t waste a glut of homegrown rhubarb on crumbles and fools!
Image: Fuss Free Flavours

After receiving a bottle of rhubarb gin as a gift one Christmas, Helen set out to create a homemade version of her own. The resulting rhubarb and ginger gin recipe is shared over on her blog – Fuss Free Flavours – along with some clever twists and serving suggestions. The trick for achieving such a beautiful colour? Pick the pinkest rhubarb stems advises Helen. “Stronger, cheaper and far better tasting than buying a ready made – what is not to love?

You will need:

  • rhubarb stalks
  • white caster sugar
  • gin
  • fresh ginger

Milli’s rhubarb vodka martini

A summery twist on the classic cocktail
Image: Crofter’s Cottage

Milli over at Crofter’s Cottage describes the blustery beauty of her homegrown rhubarb with infectious joy: “Slender long legs in an elegant shade of green, a hat, bigger and floppier than anyone else’s, wearing those daring, bright pink shoes; she’d be well at home at any summer party!” Who could refuse a sip of Milli’s rhubarb vodka martini after that show-stopping introduction! And adding a dried rose petal to finish your summer cocktails is simply inspired.

You will need:

  • rhubarb
  • vodka
  • sugar
  • vermouth
  • dash of bitters
  • dried garden rose petals (optional)

Wendy’s strawberry cocktail with basil

strawberry and basil cocktail

An unexpected hint of basil takes this simple cocktail to a whole new level
Image: AnikonaAnn

If, like Wendy over at Moral Fibres, you’ve been eagerly anticipating the arrival of strawberry season, you’ll love her strawberry cocktail with basil served over crushed ice. When in season, British strawberries are bursting with flavour in a way that imported counterparts simply cannot match, says Wendy. Do you grow your own strawberries? If you suddenly find yourself with more ripe fruits than you can eat, Wendy’s clever tips for making them last longer are a great way to prevent wasting this precious summer fruit.

You will need:

  • strawberries
  • fresh basil
  • gin
  • tonic water
  • lime
  • granulated sugar
  • ice cubes

Sarah’s rosehip liqueur

Similar to sloe gin, rosehip liqueur is an excellent way to enjoy local hedgerows 
Image: Craft Invaders

Sarah’s rosehip liqueur is so good that she hides it from her husband in case he drinks it all before it matures! Made from hips collected from the wild dog rose bushes growing in hedgerows around her house, Sarah harvests after the first frosts and stores her foraged bounty in the freezer until she’s ready to make her liqueur. Prized for their health benefits and packed full of vitamin C, Sarah says “syrup made from these fruits has a long history of being used here in the UK to prevent colds.” If you return from your summer holiday with a sniffle, or just fancy something a little different for cooler evenings around a camp fire, this is the drink for you. Get the full recipe and instructions over at the Craft Invaders blog.

You will need:

  • rosehips
  • lemon
  • cloves
  • cinnamon stick
  • brandy
  • soft brown sugar

We hope you’ve enjoyed our round-up of homegrown and foraged summer drinks recipes. If you do decide to try some of them over the next few months, tag us on your photos and show us how you celebrate long warm summer evenings in your garden.

How to stop cats using your garden for a toilet

Fluffy ginger cat walking along a fence

Looking for ways to prevent unwanted cats visiting your garden?
Image: lkoimages

Fed up with neighbourhood cats fouling your flower beds, digging up seedlings, and damaging your plants? Potential solutions to the problem are many, but no one method is 100% successful, which is why it’s best to deploy an integrated anti-cat strategy. Think of yourself as a Monty battling the moggies, it’s time to plan an effective – non-harmful – campaign to rid your garden of cats. Here are some tried-and-tested options…

Secure your outer perimeter

British shorthair cat clambering over a fence

Make your boundaries difficult to navigate
Image: Tomas Wolfschlager

Make getting into your garden as awkward for cats as you can, and they’ll slink off to use someone else’s flower beds for their relief. Try stretching a string or wire a few inches above your fence line, or fix a band of soft, collapsible fencing to the top of your garden wall or fence – cats will find it tricky to negotiate these kind of hazards, and won’t be able to rest on top of your fence.

You might also like to try tacking chicken wire to your fence top, angling it away from your garden so cats will have to hang backwards if they’re determined to access your backyard. Do bear in mind, however, these kind of solutions look somewhat unsightly – you have to be pretty desperate to resort to them!

Border defences

Lavender and gravel garden planting scheme

The combination of lavender and gravel is unpleasant to cats
Image: Del Boy

Cats love to be comfortable while about their “business”, so make your patch as unpleasant as you can and, with luck, they’ll seek alternative arrangements. Cats hate the feel of chicken wire under their sensitive paws, so place a layer over your flower beds, cutting holes through which your plants can grow.

Alternatively, use a sharp gravel mulch, put down eggshells, sprinkle holly leaves, or place pine cones around the base of trees whose bark you wish to protect from cats’ clawing and climbing. Cats love dry, loose soil for their toilet, so water well and fill your borders with plants so they don’t have room to squat.

Plants to deter cats

Coleus canina (scaredy-cat plant) from Thompson & Morgan

The scent of the ‘scaredy-cat’ plant deters cats, dogs, rabbits and foxes
Image: Coleus canina (scaredy-cat plant) from Thompson & Morgan

Cats have a powerful sense of smell which you can use against them. By growing plants with strong perfumes that cats find distasteful, you make your garden a whole lot less attractive to feline visitors. Bear in mind that, just as some cats don’t love the smell of catnip, not all cats react to plants intended to deter them – but these are definitely worth including in your strategy:

  • Lavender – this garden favourite produces dainty purple flowers and smells divine to us humans. Bees love it and cats do not.
  • Rosemary – a kitchen staple, rosemary is a hit with pollinators. It prefers a sunny spot with well-drained soil.
  • Rue – once known as a medicinal herb, rue has bluish foliage and yellow flowers – grow with caution because rue is poisonous and physical contact can cause skin blistering.
  • Lemon balm – cats don’t like the smell of citrus and will avoid plants that smell of it.
  • Pennyroyal – with a powerful spearmint smell, this plant is an antiseptic, and an insect repellant.
  • Scaredy cat – specially bred as a cat deterrent, coleus canina smells horrible to cats and other animals but, provided you don’t touch the leaves, you won’t be able to pick up the whiff of dog urine this plant emits.

Chemical warfare against cats

Hand holding watering can pouring water over a flowerbed

Water around your flowers with a vinegar solution, or try heavily scented essential oils
Image: iko

Jeyes fluid and mothballs are often touted as effective cat deterrents, but they’re poisonous to cats and other animals. Natural options are a better alternative to using harmful chemicals to repel cats.

Try spraying white vinegar diluted in water – but be cautious – a vinegar solution won’t harm acid loving plants, but could potentially damage other garden plants if it’s too concentrated. That being the case, another option is to soak tea bags or cotton wool balls in vinegar and place them strategically about the garden – cats don’t like the smell and will avoid them.

Moggies are also dislike the smell of citrus and other herbal extracts – add a few drops of essential oils to your watering can. Citronela, lavender, orange, peppermint are all effective, especially when you use them in combination.

Cat scarers

Pest XT Solar Powered Ultrasonic Flash Pest Repeller from Thompson & Morgan

Cats will avoid the high-pitched screech of sonic scarers
Image: Pest XT Solar Powered Ultrasonic Flash Pest Repeller from Thompson & Morgan

Sonic cat scarers are a proven technique for scaring cats away. When animals cross the sensor, these systems emit a high-pitched sound barely audible to the human ear but very uncomfortable for cats.

Unfortunately cats sometimes get used to the sound from a sonic system and learn to ignore it, others will ignore it from the get go; still others learn to walk around the problem, and foul other parts of your garden. Sound is one weapon in your arsenal, but it’s far from the whole deal.

Attack is the best means of defence

Cats and water don’t mix
Image: Pest XT Battery Powered Jet Spray Cat Repeller from Thompson & Morgan

Cats hate to get wet, and learn to fear the jet from a spray cat repeller. It works when the cat triggers a sensor, switching on a water spray connected to your garden hose – they’ll pelt for the fence as fast as their paws can carry them.

Cats make wonderful pets but when they use your garden as a public convenience, they’re a “purr–fect” nuisance. Hopefully these anti-cat measures will keep your lawn clean – if not, perhaps it’s time you resorted to the “nuclear” option – a dog.

 

Basil bonanza

closeup of basil leaves against a wooden table

Discover how to cultivate this fast-growing annual
Image: isak55

Early summer is the ideal time to sow basil seeds for late summer pizzas, salads and pasta dishes. In fact, professional garden designer Nic Wilson of dogwooddays says one of her favourite jobs of the year is collecting armfuls of basil leaves to blitz for pesto, filling her kitchen with the sweet, spicy smell of this fast-growing annual.

We asked Nic to share five of her favourite basil plants to grow from seed, along with some insider tips to guarantee success!

Five best basils to grow at home

There really is a basil to tempt every palate and suit every garden. Some of my stalwarts are chosen for colour, as well as flavour and aroma – including the sweet leaves of ‘Classico’, the dark purple foliage of ‘Crimson King’, and the liquorice aroma of ‘Siam Queen’. Here are my five all time favourites:

1. Basil ‘Pesto’

jar of green pesto

Nic loves making pesto from her homegrown basil leaves
Image: New Africa

Although I’ve been growing basil to use in pesto for many years, this is the first year I’ve grown ‘Pesto’ itself. This variety has been especially selected to grow well in UK temperatures and has a strong flavour perfect for a peppery pasta dressing. Flushed with delicate purple, the leaves are carried on deep purple stems. The flowers are a pretty pale pink, so it makes a great ornamental choice too. Whether it’s grown in containers in a sunny spot or in the vegetable patch, basil ‘Pesto’ will add a touch of spice to any garden.

2. Basil ‘Lemonade’

Basil 'Lemonade' from Thompson & Morgan

The perfect addition to your glass of Pimm’s
Image: RHS/Karen Robbirt

This variety is high on my list to try next year. It has a lemon sherbet flavour making it perfect for adding to fruit salads and summer drinks, as well as adding a citrus tang to savoury dishes. Not all basil varieties thrive in the changeable UK weather – but ‘Lemonade’, like ‘Pesto’ is tolerant of British summers and can be grown successfully outside once the plants are established and hardened off.

3. Basil ‘Siam Queen’

Basil 'Siam Queen' from Thompson & Morgan

Bring your Thai curries to life with homegrown herbs
Image: Thompson & Morgan

This Thai basil is a wonderful ingredient for spicy curries and soups. We grow ‘Siam Queen’ in pots in the greenhouse alongside Kaffir lime, chillies and peppers as the base for summer Thai green curries. Slightly taller than sweet basil at 45cm, ‘Siam Queen’ has larger, more elongated leaves and a spicy liquorice flavour. A little goes a long way in salads, and it’s one of the best varieties for cooking.

4. Basil ‘Crimson King’

Two packets of Crimson King from Thompson & Morgan.

The beautiful colour of ‘Crimson King’ brightens up any greenhouse or garden
Image: dogwooddays

As soon as the tiny seedlings emerged, I fell in love with this basil. Not only does ‘Crimson King’ have a sweet flavour and softly cupped leaves, but the deep plum-coloured foliage means it’s a beautiful ornamental plant to grow. Some of my ‘Crimson King’ will stay in the greenhouse over the summer, but I’ll also dot some around the herb garden to add a splash of colour between my parsley and thyme.

5. Basil ‘Christmas’

Basil 'Christmas' from Thompson & Morgan

Basil ‘Christmas’ is edible and ornamental
Image: Thompson & Morgan

Basil Christmas is a new variety – a cross between Genovese and Thai basil. It’s another great addition to both edible and ornamental gardens with glossy foliage and beautiful spikes of purple flowers that are a magnet for pollinating insects. With a spicy mulled wine flavour, ‘Christmas’ makes a delicious pesto that can be frozen and added to festive pasta to bring a taste of summer to dark winter days.

Top tips for growing basil

Pot of Basil 'Pesto' ready to prick out and pot on. Photo from dogwooddays

Basil ‘Pesto’ ready to prick out and pot on
Image: dogwooddays

Sow your basil seeds on peat-free seed compost and cover lightly with vermiculite or sieved compost. Water and place in a propagator or cover with a plastic bag. Germination should take around 14-21 days. When seedlings have developed true leaves, prick out into small pots and grow on. Eventually the basil plants will need to be potted on into 20cm containers. For outdoor basil, harden plants off over a 10-14 day period and plant outside after all risk of frost has passed.

Slugs and snails love to munch on basil seedlings, so I bring mine indoors at night until they’re large enough to withstand a little nibbling. Basil dislikes drying out, but also hates wet roots, so aim to water plants in the morning. Pinch out regularly to keep your growing plants bushy and vigorous.

 

A Tyranny of Pots

Seed Sowing

© Thompson & Morgan – Seed Sowing

Lately I’ve been thinking about this Plastics recycling issue; it’s really starting to bother me. Everywhere I look I see plastic pots, black ones, terracotta ones, grey ones, yellow, green, blue ones. The collective noun for pots is a stack of pots or a row of pots. I see it more as a tyranny of pots! Now, I admit that I am obsessive about order and like to ‘do the right thing’ but even I can lapse occasionally. If I try to sneak a plastic pot (or a dozen) into the black bin I am overcome with guilt. How can I preach the Recycle gospel if I’m not totally committed myself? I’ve tried leaving said pots on our front garden wall for neighbours to help themselves to no avail, in fact there is such a plethora of plastic pots (ooh alliteration) amongst us gardeners I’m surprised passers-by haven’t added their own! So what to do? Well, necessity being the mother of all invention I have become quite ingenious: 

  • I wash them all as I go along, then stack them by size and colour, oh yes, and shape, along the bottom shelves of my greenhouse.  We can’t have square pots, tall pots and round pots in the same stack, can we?
  • I’ve stopped (ish*) using plastic plant labels, opting instead for writing the contents of the pot onto the pot itself.
  • Once you start reusing the pots do remember to include the potting date each time and cross out the name of the last occupant; it’s surprisingly easy to mistake a petunia plug for last year’s osteospurmum. (* Of course, that won’t work on black pots.)
  • So I’ve been using the black pots up-turned in the bottom of large patio containers instead of crocks, much lighter and less soil used.
  • By cutting off the base of small pots you can use them as protective collars around juvenile tomatoes and cucumbers.
  • Ditto larger pots around border perennials to protect their early growth from slugs and snails. So far its saved my echinacea, lobelia and phlox from extinction.
  • If you sink a 9cm bottomless pot into the soil so that the rim is level with the soil surface, next to a cucumber plant, you can fill it up with water which slowly releases moisture towards the roots well away from the vulnerable neck of the cucumber.
  • This one is debatable, but sometimes it’s the only receptacle that comes to hand: if you stack two pots inside each other, then rotate the inner pot so that the drainage holes do not line up, you can use them as a scoop for soil or gravel. (Not vermiculite, that just flies everywhere!)
  • Here’s one I’ve just thought of: if you put a spool of twine in a pot and thread the end through one of the drainage holes you can use it as a dispenser.

Unfortunately, with a plant buying habit like mine, supply is always going to outweigh demand!

Colourful flower displays

© Caroline Broome – Colourful flower displays

Anyway, here we are approaching the Longest Day. One minute it was March, I sneezed and when I opened my eyes it was June already! Fast forward T&M trial plants: (At least I was able to use up dozens of 9cm plastic pots for the plug plants.) I finally managed to integrate them all into the patio planting scheme, when, hey presto, a surprise bundle of experimental seed trials arrived! Always one to rise to a challenge, out came the seed trays and off we go again! Spaghetti squash, radish, tomato and lettuce, zinnia, ipomoea, nasturtium and sunflower – just a few then! (Lesson learnt: the later you sow seeds, the faster they germinate.)

Ipomoea are already planted in a tall Ali Baba pot to see if they will trail as well as climb. In the greenhouse the resident mice ate the first batch of lettuce and radish seedlings straight out of the tomato trough, second attempt in freestanding pots more successful. Sunflower seeds have been secretly sown in our next-door- neighbours’ front raised bed adjacent to mine, as a surprise for their young children. Squash are winding their way up an obelisk instead of along the ground as there’s no more room.

In the meantime, the first batch of trial annual bedding plants are starting to flower. Nasturtium Orchid Flame are truly gorgeous, wish I’d bought more! Petunia Sweetunia Fiona Flash had its first flower within a week of planting into its hanging bucket, looking very chic alongside a grey green hosta. Every day a new begonia or petunia surprises me.

Mixed progress with tomatoes Sun Cherry, Sungold and Sweet Aperitif. Sungold as always is romping away and has already produced flower trusses. Cucumbers Mini Munch are healthy too. They might even have a chance to produce fruit seeing as I’ve finally cut back all the enveloping ivy that was threatening to transform the greenhouse into a grotto. Let there be light!

Showcasing this years flower and vegetable trials

© Caroline Bloom – Showcasing this years flower and vegetable trials

Ipomoea are already planted in a tall Ali Baba pot to see if they will trail as well as climb. In the greenhouse the resident mice ate the first batch of lettuce and radish seedlings straight out of the tomato trough, second attempt in freestanding pots more successful. Sunflower seeds have been secretly sown in our next-door- neighbours’ front raised bed adjacent to mine, as a surprise for their young children. Squash are winding their way up an obelisk instead of along the ground as there’s no more room.

But the one that is really challenging me is nicotiana Langsdorffii, what an absolute fiddle! Seeds the size of dust, I managed to prick out four tiny seedlings and grow them on, but oh so brittle. When they reached 8” tall, I planted them out in the central prairie bed, (with plastic pot collars and small stakes so that they wouldn’t be bullied by neighbouring thalictrum and calamagrostis) and then – it’s poured with rain solidly for two days. I haven’t dared go out there and see if they’ve survived. I saw them on display at the T&M Press Open Day show ground at Hyde Hall last summer and absolutely fell in love with them. You never see them as cultivated plants for sale so I guess this is the only way forward, fingers crossed.

When I do take a moment to enjoy the garden, it’s the roses that are taking my breath away. Rosa For Your Eyes Only has so many blooms it resembles the eyes in a peacock’s feather. I’m so enamoured with it that I’ve JUST HAD to buy its sister Eye Of The Tiger, which I’ve incorporated into the vibrant corner of the garden, red and yellow (most hated colour combination by my erstwhile embroidery teacher) with magenta echinacea purpurea, rouge lobelia Queen Victoria, (ooh, get me!) purple loosestrife. It’ll either look stunning or hideous, time will tell.

Breathtaking Rosa For Your Eyes Only

© Caroline Bloom – Breathtaking Rosa For Your Eyes Only

It seems slightly aimless not to be opening our garden for charity this summer, but oh the joy of not having to check the weather forecast every ten minutes, not to have to second guess which plants will be in flower and which will be over On The Day. In fact, I’ve had to wind my neck in a few times, not to be so goal orientated. I bet the plants are heaving a sigh of relief!

But it’s not all bucolic bliss. There’s the small matter of Hampstead Garden Suburb Horticultural Society Open Gardens Day for The National Garden Scheme. (Take a breath!) I may not be opening my garden, but as Assistant County Organiser for the Suburb, I’m responsible for 14 gardens, 4 of them new, and one allotment, all doing the honours for charity on Sunday 7th July. A village style opening in the heart of London. Oh, I could wax lyrical, but for full details please follow this link: https://www.ngs.org.uk/find-a-garden/garden/18140/

Catch up with you all later……..Caroline

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