Thompson & Morgan Gardening Blog

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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

Ten top YouTube gardening channels

Young male gardening vlogger filming in a greenhouse

Learn from these informative gardening YouTube channels
Image: silverkblackstock

With so many sources of online gardening help, advice and information to turn to, it can be difficult to know where to start. To help you sort the good from the not so good, we’ve checked out a plethora of gardening YouTube channels for the quality of their content. Here’s a selection of some of the best. Enjoy.

Kelly’s Kitchen Garden

Kelly from Kelly's Kitchen Garden sitting by a raised bed

Kelly keeps her kitchen garden flourishing with a simple sowing system
Image: Kelly’s Kitchen Garden

Do you struggle to manage your sowing and successional sowing schedules? Let Kelly show you how she keeps her busy kitchen garden planting organised – her simple system is easy to replicate, helping you make the most of your garden or allotment.

A brilliant channel with heaps of handy gardening tips, green-fingered Kelly is a friendly and informative host who shows your her mistakes as well as her triumphs. She’s also a passionate baker, loves to cook over a live fire, and because she gardens in Scotland, her channel is also a must for cool climate growers.

Garden Organic

Head of Garden Organic sowing seeds

Tune into Garden Organic for green fingered tutorials from a community of gardeners
Image: Garden Organic

If you’re sick of slugs and snails devouring your seedlings and garden plants, Garden Organic has some simple fixes you can try without resorting to nasty chemicals. Like leaving an upside down empty grapefruit half, baited with lettuce in a strategic location; slugs will congregate underneath ready for you to eliminate them.

Garden Organic is the UK’s biggest organic gardening charity with over 20,000 members and 60 plus years experience of promoting green growing practices. Looking for some quick tips on siting a garden pond? Look no further – stay away from hedges and tree roots and don’t forget that slope to ensure amphibians have easy access.

Gardening at 58 North

plant pots sitting on the balcony from Gardening at 58 North

Gardening at 58 North specialises in small space and balcony gardening
Image: Gardening at 58 North

Have you ever wondered what’s going on beneath the surface when your seeds germinate? You need to take a look at Gardening at 58 North’s awesome 10 day time-lapse video of a runner bean taking root and growing shoots; you’ll be amazed.

Focusing on small space and balcony growing, this channel is a must for anyone who likes to maximise their plot’s performance. Find out just how easy it is to turn one anaemic-looking supermarket basil into multiple lush, bushy plants with nothing more than a pair of scissors, a mug or two of water and some potting compost.

Allotment Gardener

Man standing over freshly dug earth on an allotment

Follow Matt’s journey as he transforms a disused wasteland into a bustling allotment
Image: Allotment Gardener

Don’t forget to keep checking your onions for flowering heads – an important job around planting-out time in May, says Allotment Gardener, Matt. These second year plants won’t get any bigger but if you leave them, they’ll throw all their energy into flowering.

Matt is informative and has that wry sense of humour all good gardeners possess – the ability to laugh at the vagaries of nature. Since taking over his plot in 2016, Matt has turned a wasteland into a working allotment. An inspiration as well as an excellent source of handy gardening hints and tips, Allotment Gardener is highly recommended viewing.

Garden Ninja

Garden Ninja Lee with a plastic-free greenhouse

Lee gives plastic-free gardening a try with great results!
Image: Garden Ninja

When the Garden Ninja – professional garden designer, Lee Burkhill set himself the challenge of eliminating single use plastic from his garden, a steep learning curve ensued. Join him as he repurposes cardboard egg boxes, loo rolls and more, to prove that with just a little bit of willpower and imagination, going plastic-free is easily doable.

Winner of the BBC and RHS Feel Good Gardens Competition, Lee’s video guides help you create awesome garden designs of your own. Check out his Family Garden Design Transformation for a wealth of fun, creative ideas.

Nick’s Allotment Diary

sunflower seeds sown in plastic growing tubs

Take on Nick’s sunflower growing challenge today!
Image: Nick’s Allotment Diary

Try and get as much of the root as you can when you’re pricking out seedlings, says YouTuber, Nick; that way the plant has the best chance to establish itself. Potting on brassicas? Make sure you firm around the roots to make it harder for the wind to push the plants over.

Share in Nick’s journey as he grows fruit and veg on his North Wales plot. Fancy joining Nick’s 2019 sunflower challenge? He has three categories this year: tallest, largest head, and most unusual variety – check out the video for info.

Diary of a UK Gardener

Sean from Diary of a UK Gardener on his allotment

Follow avid gardening vlogger Sean in his endeavours down the allotment
Image: Diary of a UK Gardener

Think you can remember everything you’ve sown so far this season? Organic allotmenteer and avid Vlogger, Sean thought so, but it turns out he sowed Evening Primrose twice in one month. That’s why he says it’s so vital to take an inventory of what you’ve already sown and what seeds have yet to go in the ground.

Sean has been filming his gardening adventures since 2012. Last year he walked away from his allotment of 11 years to a much bigger plot of land. Follow his YouTube adventures as he develops this new allotment to a productive vegetable and fruit garden. Later this year Sean plans to take on another allotment and run it using information supplied by the 1940’s Dig for Victory campaign. Sean James Cameron’s Diary of a UK Gardener is: “The Good Life meets urban London living.

UK Here We Grow

For seasoned growing advice, make sure to bookmark Tony’s channel
Image: UK Here We Grow

Problems with creeping cinquefoil? This troublesome weed looks a little like a strawberry plant, only with five-bladed leaves rather than three. Just like strawberries, cinquefoil spreads by sending out runners, but each node sends down a deep taproot. The bad news, vlogger Tony says, is that if you leave even the tiniest piece of root in the ground, it will regrow. Check out his tips to get rid of it for good.

Want to grow nutrient dense organic food? Tony’s channel is the perfect place to start. Covering everything greenfingered, including beekeeping and poultry, you’ll find just the helpful advice you need to get the most from your plot. Check out Tony’s 12 tips to grow better tomatoes – give the roots plenty of room…

Yorkshire Kris

Visit Kris’ channel for advice on growing exotic plants in a colder climate
Image: Yorkshire Kris

Think you can’t grow a tropical garden in Yorkshire? Kris can – check out his video of his plot in the coldest temperature he’s ever experienced in his garden. The mercury read -5.8C, but plenty of fleece, good positioning, and the plants’ own defenses save most from the worst of the frost.

The UK isn’t perhaps the best place to grow tender plants, but as Kris demonstrates, it is possible. If you’d like to give it a go, this is the YouTube channel for you. That said, there are some tropical species best avoided. Check out Yorkshire Kris TV for the top 10 – sasa bamboo for one – once you plant it, it’ll spread like crazy and you’ll never get rid of it.

Tony C. Smith

On his channel,Tony shows off both the good and the bad days at the allotment
Image: Tony C. Smith

Bad day at the allotment? Pigeons ate Tony’s brassicas, other birds feasted on his banana shallots. The red onions? Scythed. And when he went to buy replacements, he bought the wrong ones – not to worry – planting chard is just the thing to cheer Tony up.

Informative and entertaining, Tony’s YouTube channel is full of handy hints and good ideas, and he also makes a witty, warm, and energetic presenter. Thinking of growing your own? Check out what a good day in the allotment looks like – remember, a bad day in the garden beats a good day in the office.

Did we miss one of your favourite YouTube gardening channels? Head over to our Facebook page and let us know what gardening vlogs you love to watch. Alternatively, you might be interested to know we have our own YouTube channel – Thompson & Morgan TV. It’s packed full of useful info, hints and tips to help you get the most from your gardening.

 

Drought tolerant plants

Red Hot Poker flowers in the garden with sunlight

Drought tolerant plants look good and are low maintenance
Image: Peter Betts

There are lots of good reasons to grow drought tolerant plants. During hot summers the need for frequent watering is time consuming. Not to mention costly to the environment and your pocket too, should rainfall in your area fail to keep up with demand.

We asked The Sunday Gardener, Carol Bartlett, her advice on drought tolerant plants. Here are some of her all time favourites, some of which positively thrive on neglect…

Why choose drought tolerant plants?

Lavender 'Hidcote' from Thompson & Morgan

Aromatic and easy to grow, lavender is loved by pollinators
Image: Lavender ‘Hidcote’ from Thompson & Morgan

Some areas of the country are significantly drier than others. Parts of the south-east like Essex, Kent and Cambridgeshire receive as little as as 513mm of rainfall per annum. Last year, Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk recorded 49 consecutive days without rain.

London is another area of very low rainfall. The capital gets around 557mm per annum – less than Miami and Florida. In these drier parts of the UK, successful gardening is very much a case of “right plant, right place.”

Water is a precious resource, and going forward we need to continue to find ways to conserve it. Incorporating drought tolerant plants into our gardens is an important step towards helping the environment.

The good news? There are some fantastic drought tolerant plants which rarely get thirsty, require very little time and attention, and bring show-stopping structure, scent and colour to your beds and borders. Here are some of the easiest to grow.

Silver and grey leaved plants

silver/green leaves of Artemisia 'Valerie Finnis' against Nepeta 'Six Hills Giant'

Artemisia ‘Valerie Finnis’ looks beautiful against Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’
Image: Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

This group includes many of my garden favourites and these plants look great when planted together. Lavender is particularly suitable for dry ground, and there are many stylish varieties that work well as a low hedge along a path, releasing their scent as you brush past.

The shrub Artemisia has finely divided silver leaves which are also aromatic. Illustrated is Artemisia ‘valerie finnis’ whose pale silver foliage makes a fantastic combination alongside the blue flowers of Nepeta.

Perovskia, commonly known as Russian sage, has grey/green leaves and masses of spires of soft blue flowers, which the bees love. It’s a small aromatic shrub that’s easy to grow in dry conditions. Perovskia requires pruning in late April/early May. This is to keep the growth compact, cutting back to a small framework of just a few inches. It’s important not to cut the woody parts which don’t have buds, which is why pruning is often delayed until the buds appear as a guide.

Stachys Byzantina, also known as lambs ears, probably has the softest, most downy, silver leaves of any plant and is totally irresistible to the touch! Spires of grey leaves produce small mauve flowers from late June onwards. These insignificant flowers are a bee magnet – attracting bumble bees and female wool carder bees who harvest hairs from the plant’s leaves to make a nest.

The Salvia family is easy to grow in dry areas and this includes common sage, an attractive, small evergreen shrub useful for culinary purposes. Amongst the more colourful flowering varieties are Salvia x sylvestris ‘Viola Klose’ a strong violet blue; and the popular two-toned Salvia ‘lips collection’ – ‘Amethyst Lips’, ‘Hot Lips’ and ‘Cherry Lips’.

Drought resistant shrubs are a good way to provide structure and all year round interest in your planting scheme. Mediterranean shrubs like Rosemary and Santolina are ideal, as is the sun-loving Cistus which grows wild in many areas of the Med where it bakes happily in the sun. Buddleia is ideal in a dry sunny spot with the added benefit of being attractive to pollinators and butterflies. If you don’t have space for a large shrub, there are now more compact buddleia varieties too.

Drought resistant garden favourites

Colourful drought tolerant border photographed in Oxford by The Sunday Gardener

A striking drought tolerant border in Oxford
Image: The Sunday Gardener

Creating a drought resistant border doesn’t mean settling for something dull. Amongst the group of drought tolerant plants there are some real show stoppers, such as Agapanthus. The striking blue flowers of agapanthus are always eye catching and combine beautifully with the terracotta shades of Achillea, which are also drought tolerant.

Many of my favourite perennials also happen to prefer dry soil:

Even taller, growing up to around 60cms, and a definite garden favourite is Verbena bonariensis with clusters of tiny purple flowers which are attractive to bees and butterflies. It’s not fully hardy all over the UK, but helpfully self-seeds to create new plants for next year. A mulch will help it through the winter.

This perfect drought tolerant planting combination was spotted in Oxford: Verbena bonariensis, sedum, mauve flowering asters and the grass Pennisetum, all of which will tolerate a prolonged dry spell.

Best drought resistant bedding plants

Vinca Major 'Maculata' from Thompson & Morgan

Hardy periwinkle can thrive in almost any soil, even dry shade
Image: Vinca Major ‘Maculata’ from Thompson & Morgan

Late spring is the best time to fill gaps in your borders with bedding plants and brighten up summer containers. Some bedding plants are better suited to drier areas than others, although container plants will always require watering, simply because of the growing environment.

Pelargoniums, also known as geraniums, tolerate a great deal of heat and dust. Think of holidays abroad when you see geraniums tumbling from balconies in the hot Mediterranean sun – they love it! Similarly, Gazania and Mesembryanthemum (Ice Plants) like it hot, dry and sunny, not least because they belong to a group of plants whose flowers close when the sun sets, or on cloudy days. Closing their blooms helps to conserve moisture.

Additional bedding plants for dry containers are Argyranthemum (Marguerite) and Osteospermum, both of which have daisy-like flowers. Nicotiana, dahlia, and the lovely muted tones of salvia ‘seascape’ also make good container plants.

Is it a shrub, or is it ground cover? Vinca major, (also known as periwinkle) with its attractive mauve flowers, is drought tolerant. In this combination periwinkle has been planted with ivy, which is very resistant to drought, to make a container display which will thrive on neglect. Alternatively, the 2019 Chelsea Flower Show’s ‘Plant of the Year’ first prize winner, Sedum ‘Atlantis’ is happy as ground cover and in containers. It’s also very popular with pollinators.

How to look after plants in a drought

Even drought-resistant plants will sometimes show signs of stress, and watering may become necessary.

For more efficient watering, check plants individually by testing the surrounding soil to see how dry it is. Some plants will need more water than others. Always apply water to the roots, and in the evening, when less will evaporate. Finally, applying a mulch also works wonders: it conserves water, reduces weeding and improves the look of borders.

 

Perfect for pollinators

Image of a butterfly pollinating purple flowers

Give your garden a pollinator friendly makeover
Image: Dogwooddays

Planting for pollinating insects has never been more important. As insect populations decline across the world, we need to find ways to help these essential invertebrates, for our future as well as theirs.

Gardeners can play a vital part in this recovery. With over 400,000 hectares of garden habitat across the UK, filling our gardens with plants that provide food sources for butterflies, bees and other pollinating insects can have a significant effect.

We asked garden designer, Nic Wilson of dogwooddays, for her thoughts. Here are eight simple suggestions to help make your outside space perfect for pollinators:

1. Add pollinator-friendly trees

closeup of apple blossom from Dogwooddays Nic Wilson

Beautiful blossom on Nic’s espaliered apple tree is a great source of pollen
Image: Dogwooddays

Trees provide important sources of pollen and nectar for insects, especially bees, as they have many flowers close together. Flowering cherries like Prunus ‘The Bride’ and Prunus ‘Little Pink Perfection’ are ideal small garden trees, reaching two metres at maturity.

Fruit trees also offer masses of spring flowers and have the advantage of a delicious harvest. My family love the honeyed fruits from our greengage tree and we also grow several apples as cordons and espaliers. With a dwarfing rootstock and a trained form, fruit can be grown in even the smallest of spaces.

2. Consider flower shape

Campanula medium (Mixed) from Thompson & Morgan

Pollinators love Campanula bells planted en masse in blues, whites and pinks.
Image: Campanula medium (Mixed) from Thompson & Morgan

Choose cultivars with single blooms as the pollen and nectar producing organs in double flowers have often been transformed into extra petals. With single-flowered perennials like Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’, Geranium ‘Rozanne’ and Echinacea purpurea, you can fill your garden with food for native insects.

Growing different flower shapes such as bell-shaped (campanula, bluebells), tubular (heather, verbena), and flag (pea family) will attract a range of pollinators.

3. Plant in swathes or drifts

Salvia 'Hot Lips' collection from Thompson & Morgan

Salvia ‘Hot Lips’ looks stunning when planted in swathes
Image: Salvia Hot Lips collection from Thompson & Morgan

Insects use less energy if their food sources are close together, so planting in swathes not only creates a sophisticated effect, it also makes feeding more efficient. For a late summer combination, fill containers with a collection of salvias like Salvia ‘Hot Lips’, ‘Cherry Lips’ and ‘Amethyst Lips’.

Alternatively, plant intertwining drifts of Eryngium planum ‘Blue Hobbit’, Echinacea ‘Rainbow Marcella’ and Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’. The contrasting blue and orange tones will create energy in the border and the pollinators will love this late food source.

4. Fill gaps with pollinator-friendly annuals

Stock image of red and yellow rudbeckia

Pollinator-friendly annuals like rudbeckia are a striking way to fill gaps in borders
Image: Del Boy

Sowing annuals is a flexible way to provide a food source for pollinators as you can vary the mix each year based on which flowers are most popular with the insects. A few of my favourite pollinator-friendly annuals include: borage, calendula, Cerinthe major, snapdragon and rudbeckia.

5. Avoid chemicals

Defenders slug trap from Thompson & Morgan

A re-useable slug trap can be used again and again
Image: Defenders slug trap from Thompson & Morgan

With increasing evidence about the effects of chemicals on wildlife, especially insects, we now know how important it is to avoid chemical control in the garden.

Use physical methods to control unwanted pests like squashing or dislodging aphids with jets of water, or using copper tape and wool pellets to discourage slugs. Try biological solutions like nematodes for slugs, vine weevils and thrips. Encourage ladybirds into your garden to eat aphids rather than reaching for chemical sprays. As Alys Fowler recently wrote in The Guardian: “these are chemicals that silence the soil.”

6. Think seasonally

Aster novi-belgii 'Dandy' from Thompson & Morgan

Michaelmas daisies provide a stunning food source right through until late October
Image: Aster novi-belgii ‘Dandy’ from Thompson & Morgan

Pollinators need food sources from early spring into late autumn, so plant with the seasons in mind. Spring flowering perennials such as lungwort, cowslips, honesty and flowering currant are ideal early nectar sources and autumn stalwarts like Michaelmas daisies, dahlias and sedum offer food when many other flowers have faded.

7. Create a herb garden

Herbs in a plant pot in a garden

Plant herbs in pots on a patio or balcony if you don’t have a large garden
Image: pixfix

Planting herbs in a sunny spot is sure to bring in the pollinating insects. My lavender is covered with bees and butterflies in the summer months, while the chives, marjoram and thyme all attract pollinating insects and provide me with harvests for salads, soups and pizza.

8. Make a mini-meadow

Mini meadow in raised beds along a border

Contain your mini meadow in a raised bed if you prefer a bowling green style lawn
Image: Dave Head

One of the most exciting projects we’ve undertaken in the garden this year is to leave a small strip of lawn long and plant wildflower plugs to create a mini-meadow. Bare patches of ground can be sown with a meadow seed mix, but areas of long grass should be planted with wildflower plugs or container-grown plants. We can’t wait to see what pollinating insects are attracted to our mini-meadow later in the year.

By putting nature at the heart of gardening, we can enjoy the beauty of plants and animals working together in healthy ecosystems, knowing that our gardens are contributing to the wellbeing of the living planet that we all inhabit.

 

Best In Class – Another Award for Chelsea Garden

Best In Category Award

Thompson & Morgan is incredibly proud to have won another award for its Behind the Genes garden. Designed and created in partnership with Sparsholt College Hampshire, the garden was also awarded a gold medal this morning.

Chris Bird, Sparsholt College’s senior lecturer in horticulture received the Best in Class award this morning from Sir Nicholas Bacon, the President of the Royal Horticultural Society.

The award is for the garden in the Discovery area of the Great Pavilion which received the highest point score – 15 out of a possible maximum of 16.

Thompson & Morgan’s Lance Russell, himself an alumni of Sparsholt College said:

“I’m just so thrilled that the garden has been so well received by the RHS judges. All our hard work has paid off!”

Find out more about our Journey to Chelsea including the full list of plants displayed in the garden.

Gold Medal for Behind the Genes Chelsea Garden

Thompson & Morgan and Sparsholt College Hampshire have just announced a gold medal win at RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

The Sparsholt College and Thompson & Morgan teams

Their joint creation, the Behind the Genes garden, was this morning awarded a gold medal in the Discovery area of the Great Pavilion.

Yesterday, Thompson & Morgan’s Agapanthus ‘Fireworks’ took third place in the prestigious Plant of the Year competition.

Peter Freeman, T&M’s new product development manager said:

“We’re completely over the moon! To have been so highly recognised by the RHS is a huge achievement”.

Sparsholt College’s Chris Bird, senior lecturer in horticulture, commented:

“It’s such an honour to have won gold in the Great Pavilion. The students who have worked tirelessly on this garden over the months are totally deserving of this award. I’m thrilled to say that this is the ninth gold that we’ve won for the college”.

Find out more about our Journey to Chelsea including the full list of plants displayed in the garden.

Thompson & Morgan Takes Third With Agapanthus ‘Fireworks’

Agapanthus Fireworks

We’re so pleased to announce that its Plant of the Year entry Agapanthus ‘Fireworks’ has been placed third today at RHS Chelsea Flower Show. It was one of six plants that we heard this morning were on the final shortlist of 20 entrants.

Agapanthus ‘Fireworks’ is a world first in pendulous bicolour agapanthus. Developed by Quinton Bean and Andrew de Wet of De Wet plant breeders, not only does ‘Fireworks’ offer better colour, it has bigger blooms and more stems per plant than previous bicolour cultivars.

This striking agapanthus flowers for longer too – most agapanthus are finished in August, but ‘Fireworks’ carries on flowering through September, giving gardeners 3 months of colour!

The large umbels carry generous clusters of upright white buds that open into fluted flowers which show off clearly-defined rich blue bases and white flaring petal tips. Plants are tougher than other evergreen varieties – staying in green leaf through winter in temperatures down to -10℃.

Peter Freeman, our new product development manager commented:

“We’re over the moon to have our Agapanthus ‘Fireworks’ placed in the top three of this year’s Plant of the Year. It’s a really great plant! We think gardeners will love its contemporary elegance and the fact that it can be used in so many ways in the garden. It grows to about 90cm so it looks really dramatic planted in drifts in the border, and just as good in patio container displays.”

All the plants that we entered into the Plant of the Year competition are featured on the Behind the Genes garden that was created in partnership with Sparsholt College in Hampshire. The garden, which is in the Discovery area of the Great Pavilion (Stand GPA154), offers a visually inspiring insight into the processes of plant breeding and explains techniques used to bring about improvements in plant species.

Also on the garden are our winning plants from last year’s Plant of the Year – Hydrangea ‘Runaway Bride’ which was placed first in 2018, and Sunflower SunBelievable Brown Eyed Girl’, which took third place.

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