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.

How green is your pond?

By Carol Bartlett at the Sunday Gardener

frog-on-leafpad-pond

Ponds are great way to attract wildlife to your garden.
Image source: Svetlana Foote

A pond will attract a variety of wildlife into the garden such as frogs, damselflies, dragonflies, water boatman and pond skaters. Many different types of birds will visit for a bath and a dip; I even had a kingfisher dive in for a fish.

But what should you do if your pond looks like a bowl of green soup? The good news is that this can be fixed. Here’s how.

A natural water balance

Don’t despair if your pond looks like pea soup.
Image source: Carol Bartlett

The cause of this greening is algae. Usually a pond is fairly clear over winter until spring arrives and the ecology starts to change. As temperature and sunlight levels increase, the water warms up, blooms of algae appear, and your pond turns green.

For algae to thrive in your pond it needs sun, minerals and nutrients to feed on. The key to maintaining clear water is to create an ecological balance which reduces these elements, in turn, inhibiting the algae.

Reduce sunlight to the pond

Use plants to reduce the amount of sunlight that reaches the water.
Image source: Dirk Ott 

Cutting down the amount of sun on your pond will make the conditions less suitable for algae. This may seem counterintuitive since most pond plants like a good amount of sun. So to keep algae in check you’ll need to come up with a clever way to reduce the amount of sunlight to the water without shading the plants.

The answer is to cover a good part of the pond’s surface with plants that will act as a shield to the water underneath. Floating plants, submerged plants and water lilies are ideal. You should aim to cover about half of the pond’s surface.

Reduce nutrients in the pond

Scoop any fallen leaves from your pond to reduce nutrients in the water.
Image source: Sinica Kover

Algae feed on the nutrients in your pond, so reducing nutrients in the water will inhibit algae growth. Avoid constructing a pond near deciduous trees and shrubs. When leaves fall into a pond they sink to the bottom, rot down and make the water more nutrient rich. In addition they also release toxins which pollute the water and endanger pond life. If leaves do fall into the pond, it’s best to skim them off with a net and remove.

It may be tempting to use ordinary compost when planting into a pond, but it’s full of nutrients. It’s better to use sterile aquatic compost which is free from peat and nutrients wherever possible.

There is also the thorny issue of whether to introduce fish. Fish are attractive, but they excrete, which adds nutrients to the pond and feeds the algae.

Oxygenate the water

Water Crowfoot is a good oxygenating plant.
Image source: Zoltan Major

Algae grows fast and can rapidly deplete the water of oxygen. It’s important to oxygenate the water to support the plants and wildlife which in turn keep the water clear. Submerged oxygenating plants are invaluable to the natural balance of the pond. Try things like ranunculus aquatilis (water crowfoot), hottonia palustris (water violet), potamogeton crispus (curly pondweed), and myriophyllum verticillatum (milfoil). They will also help support the algae-eating animals, such as water snails and tadpoles.

Most oxygenating plants grow well, but depending on your local conditions, you may have to try several to establish which grow best. Most are easy to control so they shouldn’t get out of hand. However, do bear in mind that some oxygenating plants are invasive. Things like parrots feather, have the potential to escape and overwhelm native plants.

A fountain or a waterfall makes a lovely water feature. They look good and serve a practical purpose – adding more oxygen to the water. Installing a waterfall or fountain will require a pump which can be combined with a filter and a UV clarifier. These also help to keep the water clearer.

If planting water lilies, remember that they don’t like being splashed, so arrange fountains accordingly.

Other tips to reduce algae in a pond

This pond has a concealed pump and filter system.
Image source: Del Boy

It’s part of the natural pond cycle that early in the season there will be an algae bloom, when the water first warms up. Then the oxygenating plants start to work, the vegetation grows and the lily pads will spread over the pond surface. Within a week or two the green bloom fades and the water becomes clear. The period of green should be limited to a couple of weeks early in the season. If it continues beyond a few weeks, here are some other things to bear in mind.

The size of a pond can affect its natural balance. A larger pond will maintain its natural balance more easily while small, shallow, under-planted ponds will heat up faster and suffer more from algae.

I have found barley straw effective, although it doesn’t seem to work for everyone. The straw decomposes in the water inhibiting the growth of algae.

A pond filter can be very helpful to remove algae. If you have a significant number of fish, a filter is essential to maintain good quality water and to ensure that fish excreta doesn’t feed the algae. It is important to buy the right size of filter for the volume of water (determined by the size and depth of the pond), and number of fish to be stocked in the pond. Specialist suppliers offer advice on this.

There are chemicals which can be added to the water, but I’m not happy to add them to a pond which is full of wildlife. It is a matter of personal choice. The sustainable way forward is to build up the ecological balance in the pond so that it naturally takes away the algae.

With a little effort, it is possible to have an algae free pond. Apart from the early spring bloom, algae is not inevitable as long as you have a few tricks up your sleeve to keep it at bay.

About the author

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

Seed and seedling tips from the experts

seeds-and-seedlings-on-sack

Give your seeds the best start with these great tips!
Image: Marie C Fields

Get your seeds and seedlings off to a great start by taking a look at our top tips. These handy hints come courtesy of some of our favourite gardening bloggers – advice from experienced growers and bloggers who know what they’re talking about.

Check the weather

Check the weather before you plant your seeds.
Image: nmedia

While of course it’s always a good idea to read the instructions on the back of the packet before planting your seeds, do also take a look out of your window to see what the weather’s doing. Sue from Green Lane Allotments says:

Let the weather and the soil tell you when it is time to plant.

The same goes for planting inside – leave it until the weather begins to warm up, because seedlings started off too soon, “will grow weak and leggy before the conditions are right for planting out in the ground,” Sue says.

Dan at Allotment Diary also recommends planting a little later, saying: “I know it’s hard to resist getting going but patience can pay off. Later sowed or planted veg always catches up earlier stuff and tends to grow better.”

Check for happy accidents

Keeping wild plants growing in your garden benefits local wildlife.
Image: amenic181

“Never weed out seedlings you don’t know,” says Julie of Garden Without Doors: “They may turn out to be plants / wildflowers you (or the bees) would be happy to have in your garden.”

That’s good advice with which Flora at Wild Dye Garden agrees. She also says to wait and see before weeding out your flower beds because there “may be some fun surprises brought in by birds or other animals.”

Also, wait before throwing out seed trays containing seeds that didn’t germinate. Julie says she puts them in a secluded spot in the garden and leaves them to see what happens:

Some seeds will surprise you months later with bonus seedlings you weren’t expecting.

Pete at Weeds Up to Me Knees says you can’t beat a seed swap for a cheap and cheerful way to experiment with new plants. He reckons they’re “a great thing to go to and to help at too as you meet some great people there and find some excellent stuff to swap for your surplus seeds.”

Seed sowing tips

Make it obvious where you’ve sown your seeds before you cover them up.
Image: Air Images

If you’re like Paul at the Green Fingered Blog, having a “senior moment” when sowing your peas or beans in modules can make you forget where you’ve sown and where you haven’t. His solution is to: “Fill them all with compost, make a hole in each and drop a seed in each. But don’t cover any of them over until you’ve sown a seed in every hole.”

Growing carrots this year? Claire from Sowing at the Stoop says:

When I’m sowing my carrot seeds direct I always sprinkle a thin layer of vermiculite before the seeds and this has always helped with great seed germination.

And don’t forget to stagger your sowing so you don’t get a glut come harvest time – Belinda at Plot 7 Marsh Lane swears by it: “Succession growing spreads the harvest.” Still, if you do have an overabundance of fruit and veg, sharing it is a great way to get to know your neighbours.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our seed and seedling tips. We’re always on the lookout for more inside info from the people who know best – you. So do drop us a line and let us know your hints for getting the most from your garden or allotment. Just head to our Facebook page and drop us a line.

3 simple ways to combine ornamental and edible planting

Article by Nic Wilson from Dogwooddays

This ornamental garden consists of flowers and leafy vegetables.
Image: Arjuna Kodisinghe


Picking your own fruit, vegetables and herbs is one of the highlights of the gardening year, but you don’t have to turn your garden into an allotment in order to grow and harvest your own food. There are many ways to grow crops within an ornamental framework, so that your garden – whatever its size – can be a beautiful and productive space.

 

Add An Edible Hedge

Rosemary hedges can be left natural or kept low and trimmed neatly.
Image source: Shutterstock

Native edible hedges create valuable habitats for wildlife and provide a range of crops like cherry plums, hazelnuts, sloes, elderberries and rosehips. Even if you don’t have room for a large hedge you can try edging beds and borders with step-over apple trees which will create low boundaries and provide fruit within the first few years.

Rosemary and lavender can be used as edible hedging to give definition to different areas of the garden. My narrow front garden is trisected by a rosemary hedge (Rosmarinus officinalis) to create three distinct gravel planting areas. In the winter the hedge provides evergreen structure and during the summer months, perennials fill the space and the hedge all but disappears beneath a colourful meadow. We use the rosemary leaves in soups, stews, on the barbecue and to garnish homemade chips.

If you like the idea of a low edible hedge with a box-like appearance, you could try growing a myrtle relative – the Chilean guava (Ugni molinae). This evergreen shrub likes a sheltered spot in acid soil and is hardy down to around -10°C . It has small dark green leaves which develop a deep red autumn colour and has deliciously fragrant white bell flowers in summer, followed by small red berries. Not only are the berries one of the tastiest fruits in our garden (they were Queen Victoria’s favourite fruit), they also ripen in October offering fresh flavour at a time when all the other fruit has passed into winter hibernation.

 

Plant Attractive Crops in Containers

A row of contemporary pots planted with cavolo nero would make a striking statement.
Image source: Ruud Morijn Photographer

We tend to focus on the productivity and taste of our fruit and vegetables, but many also have ornamental flowers and foliage which can add beauty to a garden. Blueberries thrive in pots and if your soil is alkaline like mine, growing blueberries in containers is a practical way to grow this acid-loving shrub. In addition to their delicious, healthy fruits, blueberries have delicate white flowers in late spring and the foliage turns a rich red in autumn, meaning this is a plant which combines beauty and utility throughout the seasons.

Colourful vegetables like Swiss chard ‘Bright Lights’, purple kohl rabi ‘Kolibri’ and cavolo nero will grow well in containers – you can grow one type repeated in individual contemporary pots for the minimalist look or add them all to one large pot with an underplanting of thyme or edible annual flowers, for a more cottage garden effect.

 

Grow Edible Annual Flowers

Calendula ‘Snow Princess’ is a popular edible plant.
Image source: Nic Wilson

Most annuals are easy to grow and fit well into small spaces in borders, containers and vegetable beds. Nothing looks and tastes better on hot summer days than a fresh salad decorated with edible petals. One of our favourite edible flowers is the nasturtium with its peppery leaves and seed pods which we pickle as an alternative to capers. We grew Nasturtium majus ‘Cream Troika’ last year alongside tumbling tomatoes in hanging baskets – the buttery yellow flowers with red centres trailed lazily over the edges, lasting all through the summer.

English marigold (Calendula officinale) is another easy annual. The flowers range from the vivid orange and yellow ‘Power Daisy Orange/Yellow’ to the muted tones of two of my favourite varieties – ‘Snow Princess’ and ‘Sherbert Fizz’. The petals look appealing in salads, adding a light peppery flavour. Calendula readily self-seeds, so not only will you have edible flowers in the future, but each year brings different colours and shades as the plants readily cross-pollinate.

 

Disclaimer

The author and publisher take no responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Not everyone reacts positively to all edible plants or other plant uses. Seek advice from a professional before using a plant for culinary or medicinal uses.

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

The Road to Chelsea

A few weeks ago I was asked if would help out with taking the plants to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show that Thompson & Morgan would be using on various stands in the Grand Pavilion – having never been before, I readily agreed – what a chance to go and see a bit of “behind the scenes” at the world’s most prestigious flower show!

So, at 5.45am on the Thursday, five days before the show was due to start, I met with my colleague Peter Freeman, loaded up 7 trolleys of carefully packed plants (including some that were to potentially be judged for the Plant of the Year!) into a Luton van and away we went!

waiting to go in on the Road to Chelsea

The view of Chelsea from Battersea Park – Peter sitting in the queue

Unfortunately it wasn’t a smooth journey, traffic was horrendous and we eventually arrived at the main entrance to the flower show some 5 hours later (it should have taken about 2 hours!) – Only to be turned away and told to drive to Battersea Park and join the queuing system!

It wasn’t so bad, in the shade of some London Planes we patiently waited, glad that the plants were being kept cool in the back of the van, shuffling forward a few vehicles at a time until an hour later we were allowed back in!

Security was understandably tight, we were high-viz jacketed, steel toecap booted and then, suitably attired, we were scanned in and drove through.

inside the show - Road to Chelsea

It’s a bit busy in here!

To say it was absolute bedlam in there would be an understatement….and yet it was well organised bedlam, traffic marshals, were about, one personally led us to a place to park – somewhat amazed that we were involved in no less than 4 different stands!

There were literally vans everywhere and the air rang with the sound of circular saws, drills, cement mixers and hammers as sets were furiously being constructed, gardens created and magic was being woven into what everybody sees on the first day of the show.

unloading the plants - Road to Chelsea

Unloading the plants

Unloading the trolleys was fun as Peter and I negotiated them through tiny gaps between vans and got them into the Grand Pavilion. We immediately located Birmingham City Council’s Stand and duly gave them a huge number of Hydrangea ‘Black Diamond Shining Angel Blue’, Laurentia ‘Fizz n Pop Glowing Purple’, Orange begonias and stunning bi-coloured petunias ‘Miss Marvellous’. Peter soon located the Dahlia Society’s stand and they took their Dahlia ‘Lubega Power Tricolor’

By pure luck I spotted Mr. Peter Seabrook wandering through the throng and managed to accost him, say hello and got him to show me where the main stand for The Sun Newspaper was, the remaining plants, including a precious cargo of our SunBelievable ™ ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ , Gerberas and Hydrangea hybrid Runaway Bride® ‘Snow White’ were soon unloaded with them.

The sun newspaper stand - The Road to Chelsea

The Sun Newspaper stand under construction

Peter Seabrook absolutely loved both SunBelievable and the delightful spreading hydrangea was also greatly admired, soon both were being planned into the stand by Peter and Val, with Peter even clambering to the top with a huge pot, to see how it would look with a “river” of plants coming down the stand from the very top all the way down and then I got asked to go up too and hand him some more plants!

The last of the plants were delivered to the Horticultural Trades Association stand and we were then on hand to help with various bits and pieces, including taking some plants up to the Press Office area to “decorate” the steps.  And of course to grab a much needed bite to eat!

Once the van was loaded up with the now empty trolleys we slowly (and I mean VERY slowly) wound our way off of the site. As we were going so slowly, we had a great opportunity to peek at some of the other gardens and stands under construction, all looked amazing and I can’t wait to go back and see them finished

loading up and views - the road to chelsea

loading up and leaving the show

I’m returning to the show on the last Saturday to help on the stand, I’ll be armed with my phone’s camera and hopefully will have a tale to tell about the experience!

Graham Ward

I’ve been gardening for as long as I can remember, my first earliest memory being planting seeds in my Grandfather’s prestige flower bed and having a prize lettuce growing there, which he proudly left to show everyone.

Since then, gaining knowledge and experience from both my Grandfather and my Father, I’ve continued to garden, both as a hobby and later on as a professional gardener and landscaper for 12 years. I love all aspects of it, from the design and build, to the planting out of summer borders with plants you’ve either grown from seed or raised from plugs. Unusual varieties always catch my eye and I’m keen to try growing them, even if sometimes it means learning from my mistakes.

Top soil care tips

Look after your soil and reap good quality produce.
Image source: LedyX

Take care of your soil as though your yield depends on it – because it does. To help you keep your garden hale and hearty, here we bring you some of our favourite gardening bloggers’ tips for keeping your soil in top condition. From no-dig methods to improving your soil Victorian style, here’s how to look after the ground you grow in.

Feed your soil

Good old-fashioned manure offers superb benefits to your crops
Image: Peter Titmuss


“Always feed your plants,”
says Michael of Mr Plant Geek, a sentiment shared by Dawn of Being Self-Sufficient in Wales who puts it beautifully:

Feed the soil and the soil will feed you.

But where do you start? With a good fertiliser, says Jim of Jim’s allotment – and what better way to feed your soil than to dig in some good old fashioned manure. Jim’s grandad used it, and Jim swears by it: “It’s free (even if it does require a little bit of work) and the benefits to your crops are superb.”

Or do as Belinda of Plot 7 Marsh Lane does, and make your own compost. She finds the process very satisfying, just “Layer different types of waste (vegetable waste, cardboard, straw, manure) and make sure you keep mixing it up.” Belinda’s top tip is to water your compost heap if it looks dry, or the ants will move in.

Know your soil

Knowing your soil well gives you the tools to get your patch to thrive
Image: Harun Ozmen

Getting the best results from your garden means taking the time to understand your soil says Milli of Crofter’s Cottage. Is it heavy or light? How well does it drain? What’s its Ph level? How much sun does it get? Find the answers to these questions and Milli says, “you’ll have the tools to know what will thrive on your patch of land.” From there, it’s just a case of applying Beth Chatto’s Mantra:

The right plant for the right place

But what if your soil’s just too dry an environment for plants to thrive? Try the Victorian method of puddling in, says Thomas of Thomas Stone. When you’re planting your seedlings, simply “dig the hole and fill with a mix of water and liquid seaweed, and then plant directly into the hole and back-fill while it is still filled with water.”

An unusual suggestion comes courtesy of John of Allotment Garden, who recommends adding salt to your onion beds. He says it’s an “odd tip that does work well, given to me by the much missed Lawrence D Hills who founded the HDRA which became Garden Organic.”

Fancy giving it a go? Add 60g of salt per square metre of soil, and rotate your beds each year so the salt doesn’t damage the ground.

Fertilise no-dig style

Some swear by the soil found in molehills
Image: cagi

Steph at no-dig home gets great results from her allotment. After ten years of no-dig gardening, you can believe her when she says “No dig means healthy soil, far fewer weeds, much less work, and abundant harvests.”

Not disturbing the soil means that the natural diversity remains intact, the soil flora and fauna flourish, and so do all of my fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers!

To keep her soil in great condition, Steph spreads about 2 cm of well-rotted manure over the surface of her beds each year, and plants directly into it. As the worms and other beasties draw the material into the soil, it nourishes it the natural way.

Alternatively, why not let the moles do the digging? Rosie at Leavesnbloom swears by the crumbly, weed and seed free earth she gathers from molehills. She says: “I grow anemone de caen corms for my flower photography. Once I’ve steeped the anemone corms overnight in water I plant them in troughs full of as much mole soil that I can find.”

Do you have any soil conditioning tips you’d like to share with us? We’re always interested to hear from our readers, so please do drop us a line by visiting our Facebook page and leaving us a message.

THOMPSON & MORGAN TAKES FIRST AND THIRD PLACES FOR RHS CHELSEA PLANT OF THE YEAR

Hydrangea hybrid Runaway Bride® ‘Snow White’                                                                      SunBelievable™ ‘Brown Eyed Girl’

We’re thrilled to announce that our entry ‘Hydrangea hybrid ‘Runaway Bride® ‘Snow White’ has today been awarded the prestigious accolade of RHS Chelsea Flower Show Plant of the Year.

When we announced yesterday that no less than five of our seven entries had made the shortlist of 20 plants selected by RHS plant committee members, we hardly dared to hope that one of these would take the renowned title at judging today. In fact, our home-bred entry, SunBelievable™ ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ has taken third place, giving us two slots in the Plant of the Year top three!

‘Hydrangea hybrid ‘Runaway Bride Snow White’  is completely unique in that it flowers not only from its terminal buds as with traditional hydrangeas, but also from virtually all the lateral stem buds. Flowering from late spring/early summer well into autumn, Hydrangea hybrid ‘Runaway Bride’ produces a profusion of lacecap white flowers flushed with pale pink – often 6 along each branch – on graceful, trailing stems.

Paul Masters, our Head of Horticulture, comments this afternoon from RHS Chelsea Flower Show:

“We’re completely over the moon to have taken first and third places in this year’s RHS Chelsea Plant of the Year. ‘Runaway Bride’ is a truly spectacular plant – I’ve never seen so many flowers on a hydrangea! To see six blooms on each branch is unheard of. It really is incredible!”

SunBelievable™’Brown Eyed Girl’ is the latest of our many breeding successes. This brand new hybrid has been perfected over 8 years by Thompson & Morgan’s in-house breeding team, headed by Charles Valin. Like no other sunflower, SunBelievable™ flowers on unique multi-branching plants continuously from May until the first frosts. In trials, plants were still blooming in November! Ideal for containers as well as borders, each plant produces over 1,000 flowers during the growing season.

Head plant breeder, Charles, says:

“I’m incredibly pleased to hear that SunBelievable™’Brown Eyed Girl’ has been awarded a place in the top three Plant of the Year at RHS Chelsea. I set out to breed a new hybrid that wouldn’t waste time setting seed and would put all its energy into flowering. In creating this amazing new sunflower, I’ve crossed the very best with the very best to really boost its flower power. It’s a huge honour to have our hard work recognised by such a prestigious body.”

Easy to grow, quick to recover if neglected, heat and drought tolerant, SunBelievable™ is the first cutting-raised annual sunflower with multiple uses as a pot plant, patio decoration, bedding and as a cut flower.

All our shortlisted plants as well as other shortlisted entries are available from www.thompson-morgan.com/chelsea-2018

 

Sonia Mermagen

Sonia works at Thompson & Morgan in the role of press and communications officer. She is a self-proclaimed ‘reluctant’ gardener and is generally amazed if anything flourishes in her garden. Sonia has a ‘hands off’ approach to gardening and believes that this helps to encourage bees, butterflies and other wildlife. (That’s her excuse anyway!)

From Rake To Bake – Mint ‘n’ Chocolate Biscuits

Welcome to Baking Blog. Each month will feature an in-season fruit or vegetable dish to make with a little bit of grow-your-own information on the side.

May is perfect for making Mint ‘n’ Chocolate Biscuits.

Hands up who only uses the mint in their garden for savoury dishes? Yet, it is so much more than a herb to enliven lamb or new potatoes, and making these tasty treats is much easier than you think.There are many varieties of this versatile herb, from plain garden spearmint to high priced Moroccan mint, and if kept in a pot it doesn’t have to be a garden thug.

Mint has many uses from aiding digestion to clearing a blocked head, cooling the body down, helping your liver and even whitening teeth. No wonder it is used in toothpastes! Mint is high in antioxidants and carotenes helping the body absorb vitamins. It also contains Vitamin C, Iron, Magnesium, Calcium, potassium and copper. It’s also a source of dietary fibre.

Prep Time 15 minutes. Cooking Time 15-25 Minutes. Decorating Time 5-10 minutes. Oven 180°c Fan 160°c Gas Mark 4 Skills Level Easy Peasy*

Utensils.

  • Chopping Board.
  • Sieve
  • Measuring Spoons.
  • Scales
  • Spatula
  • Blunt knife.
  • Biscuit cutters.
  • Mixing Bowl
  • Rolling pin.
  • Ziplock or sandwich/freezer bag.
  • Small saucepan
  • Small Pyrex bowl.
  • Oven tray.
  • Cooling Rack.
  • Grease proof paper.
  • Plate.
  • Pasty Mat (optional).

 

Ingredients.

  • 3 Tablespoons of freshly picked Mint Leaves .
  • 50g Caster Sugar.
  • 100g Butter .
  • 150g Plain Flour.
  • 150-200g of Dark Chocolate.
  • Some Cold Water.

 

Method.

  • Wash the mint leaves, strip from the stalk and dry thoroughly with kitchen paper.
  • Snip or chop the leaves into tiny pieces and place in a ziplock bag.
  • Preheat the oven and line a baking tray with grease proof paper.
  • Measure the dry ingredients and place in separate containers.
  • Measure the butter and cut into small squares, then put it in a mixing bowl.
  • Break the chocolate into a small Pyrex bowl and set to one side.
  • Next rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips – try not to use the palms of your hands as you do not want the heat of your hands to melt the butter. The mixture is ready when it resembles fine breadcrumbs and there are no obvious butter lumps when you shake the bowl.
  • Add about a tablespoon of sugar from your measured ingredients to the bag of mint. Then take your bag outside to a hard surface such as a windowsill or patio tile and bash the mint and sugar bag with the end of your rolling pin for about two minutes, or longer until you can no longer see the sugar and that dark juices escape from the mint.
  • Tip everything from the ziplock bag into the breadcrumb mixture along with the rest of the sugar then turn with a blunt knife.
  • Once the dough starts to stick put a very small amount of water in and knead the dough with your hands. Too much water will make the dough crack when baking, so just start with quarter to half a teaspoon. You just need enough moisture to make the dough stick. Note this is a hard dough and requires a good amount of kneading.
  • The dough is ready when you can shape it. Roll the dough onto a pastry mat or lightly floured worktop to about 5cm in thickness, then use a biscuit cutter to make to cut the biscuits . Any shape cutter is fine but a 5cm sized one works best.
  • Re-roll the dough to get as many biscuits as you can. Place in the centre of the oven for about 15 minutes,  check they are rising, but do not open the oven door. The biscuits are ready when they have risen and are a light golden colour. Don’t try to brown them as it impairs the taste.
  • Leave the biscuits to cool then move to a wire rack and allow to go fully cold.
  • Once the biscuits are cold, heat some water in a small saucepan, then turn the heat down and place the Pyrex bowl of chocolate in the saucepan. Keep stirring the chocolate until it’s half melted.
  • Turn the heat off and carefully remove the Pyrex bowl. Keep stirring the chocolate, there should be enough heat in it to melt the rest of the chocolate. If not just place the bowl back over the saucepan but don’t turn on the heat.
  • When your chocolate is ready place a small amount on each biscuit and use the back of a
  • teaspoon to swirl it around.
  • Allow to cool and harden. They will keep fresh in an airtight container for a week.

Serving Suggestions.

Pop in a bowl of Vanilla or Strawberry ice-cream.

Enjoy with a hot coffee/tea.

Or just eat them outside in the fresh air.

Grow Your Own.

Mint can be sown from seed in late spring or propagated from cuttings at any time. It can be

invasive so it’s best kept contained in a pot of multipurpose compost and divided every few years.

Once the flowers die off chop the mint right back. Mint does best when watered regularly and does  not like to dry out unlike Mediterranean herbs.

There are many different varieties but ensure you keep them separate or you will loose the individual scents and flavours.

 

*Easy Peasy – Basic techniques/Suitable for Children with adult supervision/help.

**Treat as Tender – Intermediate Skills required/Children may need more help with this.

***Seasoned Kitchen Gardener – Confident Baker/Children might not be suited to this.

My name is Amanda and I live in Pembrokeshire with my fiancé and our garden is approximately 116 meters square. I want to share with you my love for gardening and the reasons behind it, from the good to the bad and ugly. I want to do this for my own personal pleasure. If you would like to take the journey with me then please read my blogs and share with me your gardening stories.

Five entries shortlisted for RHS Chelsea Plant of the Year

FIVE THOMPSON & MORGAN ENTRIES SHORTLISTED FOR RHS CHELSEA PLANT OF THE YEAR

We’re so proud to announce that FIVE of our seven entries into the prestigious RHS Chelsea Flower Show Plant of the Year competition have today been shortlisted. We were awarded this very distinguished accolade in 2012 for our fabulous Digitalis Illumination.

RHS Chelsea Flower Show Plant of the Year finallists

Our Head of Horticulture, Paul Masters, commented this afternoon from RHS Chelsea Flower Show:

“I’m thrilled that we’ve got five plants through to the final – including two that are from our own breeding. Each of the plants is so incredible in its own way, we’re really so pleased that this has been recognised by the judges today. We’re keeping everything crossed for the final selection tomorrow!”

Sunbelievable™’Brown Eyed Girl’ is the latest of our many breeding successes. Like no other sunflower, Sunbelievable™ flowers on unique multi-branching plants continuously from May until the first frosts. In trials, plants were still blooming in November! Ideal for containers as well as borders, each plant produces over 1,000 flowers during the growing season. This brand new hybrid which has been perfected over 8 years by our in-house breeding team, headed by Charles Valin, is bred to be sterile so it puts all its energy into flowering rather than setting seed.

Stunning Hydrangea hybrid ‘Runaway Bride’ is completely unique in that it flowers not only from its terminal buds as with traditional hydrangeas, but also from virtually all the lateral stem buds. Flowering from late spring/early summer well into autumn, Hydrangea hybrid ‘Runaway Bride’ produces a profusion of lacecap white flowers flushed with pale pink – often 6 along each branch – on graceful, trailing stems.

The third short-listed plant is another breeding success from our in-house team. Isotoma axillaris ‘Fizz n’Pop Glowing Purple’ is an extra-large-flowered Isotoma boasting an exceptional unfading colour of bright purple. Flowers and petals are much larger than traditional Isotoma and instead of fading over the flowering period, they actually become darker with age.

Next on the list is the latest in the Garvinea® Gerbera series is Gerbera hybrida Garvinea® Sweet Sunset®. Sweet Sunset® is the very first bi-colour variety. Uniquely, this fabulous, vibrantly-coloured gerbera flowers non-stop from early spring until the first frosts, producing masses of large, warm yellow-orange flowers on each plant – more than 100 per plant each year.

The last on the list of the shortlisted plants for RHS Chelsea Flower Show’s Plant of the Year is the amazing Dahlia Lubega Tricolour. This strikingly attractive dahlia represents a major colour breakthrough. Red, yellow, orange and white areas on the petals give the blooms an ever-changing appearance through the flowering period. In a never-before-seen colour combination, flowers will seemingly change colour as the season progresses. It has taken 5 years for this variety to come to the commercial market after its unique colouring was discovered during a bicolour breeding programme.

All plants are available from www.thompson-morgan.com

Sonia Mermagen

Sonia works at Thompson & Morgan in the role of press and communications officer. She is a self-proclaimed ‘reluctant’ gardener and is generally amazed if anything flourishes in her garden. Sonia has a ‘hands off’ approach to gardening and believes that this helps to encourage bees, butterflies and other wildlife. (That’s her excuse anyway!)

Spring? Blink and You’ve Missed It!

So on Thursday 19th April we went away for The Long Weekend (more of that later). 27ᵒc. Evidence of new shoots emerging in garden at last. Daffodils coming into bloom. Last minute seed sowing completed.

Fast forward to Sunday 22nd, 24ᵒc, daffs gone over, tulips out already! Fern coils, emerging from the soil, now 12” tall; hostas, from spears to full leaf in three days; ricinus seedlings sown on Wednesday, up 4”. Woodruff marching all over the central bed and helianthus Lemon Queen rampaging through the tubs on the roof terrace.

And now, one week later, 13ᵒc. If the plants knew how to retract their foliage, now would be the ideal time. My poor cannas, liberated from under cover one minute, back inside the next. Greenhouse needs a revolving door.

Seeds Sowed!

Still, undeterred, I’ve been keeping busy (and active, just to keep warm) in the greenhouse, potting on all the T&M Trial seeds: tomatoes Artisan, Rainbow Blend & Sweet Baby and cucumber Nimrod (100% germination – note to self: need a polytunnel!), ricinus (4 out of 6 seeds germinated), mina lobata (supposed to be so easy, eh? 4 out of 16 seeds germinated, huh!) & cerinthe Purple Belle (5 out of 10 seeds germinated). Rooted cuttings of fuchsia thymifolia, erysimum Bowles Mauve and salvias Confertiflora and Involucrata are sulking now that I have switched off the propagators. Jumbo plugs Petunia Sweetunia Suzie Storm are storming ahead (ha, got it?) as are Begonia Fragrant Falls Orange Delight and Solenia Apricot, but I’ve lost over a third of my 36 Begonia Non-Stop Mocca cartridge plugs; I think I’ll stick to the larger plugs in future. What exactly was I going to do with 3 dozen of them anyway? Prize for the Greatest Endeavour goes to Foxglove Illumination Flame, already potted on twice and ready for planting out after all risk of frost has passed. (August maybe?)

 

Overwintering

What a learning curve this winter has been though, seriously. Plants I felt sure would perish, such as salvias involucrata Boutin and Black & Blue, are up and about, whilst other more robust shrubby salvias, deadski as one New Yorker friend used to say. Melianthus major and fuchsia thymifolia are resurrected from the depths of the earth, while I’ve managed to lose lamium. Who could kill that? Just shows how crucial it is to apply thick autumn mulch. That, coupled with the T&M plastic tomato rings, has saved the day. To that end, I carried out a controlled experiment: two agastache Golden Jubilee with ring surrounds and one without. (In truth a happy accident, as one of the rings was blown away in a gale). All three survived, however the unprotected one is markedly smaller at this stage in the game.

Ascot Spring Gardening Show

We’ve been getting out and about. The new Ascot Spring Gardening Show mid-April was a real treat, especially as it wasn’t actually raining or snowing for once. Much larger than I had anticipated, there was  a Plant Village with about 3 dozen specialist nurseries, and as Spring is my favourite time of year (hmmm, usually…) the array of pulmonaria, brunnera and ferns was right up my street. Good job there was a Plant Crèche too! There were six show gardens from established designers and six created by talented horticultural students for the Young Gardeners of the Year Competition, horticultural trade exhibitors, and a programme of free talks, as well as floral demos by royal florist Simon Lycett.

 

 

 

Norfolk

So, to the birthday celebration weekend in Norfolk, bathed in glorious 28ᵒc sunshine, so brief but so welcome. (Enshrined in the canon of clichés since the 1730s, George II is supposed to have characterized the British summer as “three fine days and a thunderstorm”.) We had a lovely time; the boutique hotel was very shishi, the food surely cooked by a Master Chef finalist, and the two resident cats begrudgingly graced us with their presence. At Sandringham, my new concessionary status saved me £2 on the entry fee. But it was the Norfolk Nursery Network that was the highlight for me. Poor David, destined to languish, with all the other bored partners, in the café of one such nursery, while I ran around semi-hysterical, swooping up such gems as clianthus puniceus (Lobster Claw climber), nepeta Six Hills Gold (variegated version of Giant) and centurea pulchra Major (pink thistle to the uninitiated), clematis recta purpurea and geum coccineam EOS. Pure Joy. Where are they going to go? Who cares! Mind you, David satisfied his craving for buying Souvenirs That Seem like a Good Idea At The time. In Southwold he got some funny looks as we strolled around the town centre, swinging an anchor from his shoulder, (it’s for our Beech Hut Summer House, silly) and in Swaffham it was a rusty old petrol can. (I stand corrected – it’s  Vintage apparently. Heaven knows what he’s got in store for that!)

Another highlight was our visit to Holkham Hall to see the 6 acre walled garden, surely the largest in England. An exciting project is underway to restore the walled garden which was originally laid out by Samuel Wyatt during the late 1700s. Huge greenhouses adjacent to the substantial walls, others sunken to avoid extreme temperature fluctuations; an  ‘Arena’ of plants, vineyard, kitchen garden, one ‘room’ complete with lawn surrounded by ornamental beds. A veritable work in progress with knowledgeable guides and a team of local volunteers. How I wish I could have rolled up my sleeves and joined in. Nearby Gooderstone Water Gardens was a haven of tranquility:  One Man’s Dream fulfilled. Billy Knights, a retired farmer, began designing and creating the Water Gardens in 1970 in his 70th year, on a damp site too wet to grace cattle. He worked on his garden until he died aged 93.

Inspiration was another thing we brought back from Norfolk. Driftwood is very prevalent in the coastal gardens of East Anglia, and so on the patio, our multistriped fence will be transformed into a driftwood groyne, engineered from old scaffold planks. Mercifully the stripy bench has now fallen apart (nasty looking thing) to be replaced by a stylish (by that I mean subtle, not a concept usually associated with us Broomes) bleached wooden bench.

The weather forecast is set fair from early May so maybe now I can get on and do some actual gardening! There’s the new plants to go in, the overwintered ones to go back out. The hardstanding is smothered in slippery moss but the reclaimed sets are too delicate for pressure washing, so its hands and knees time. The rill is fowl – full of pond weed, rotting leaves and stagnant water, but also full of tadpoles so no action required for now. The living wall needs replanting. The hanging baskets need filling.

 

 

 

And so it goes on……..Happy gardening! Love, Caroline

New Forest April Holiday and Pembrokeshire Greenhouses

Dear Gardeners,

I’m afraid I have been an April Fool. We went on a much needed holiday to the New Forest the day after the Easter Bank holiday. My first holiday since the cancer and heart failure, the weather down in Hampshire wasn’t the best, but the break was.

I’d planned the timings of all the greenhouse chores so all seedlings were transplanted, all recently sown seeds were in propagators, and all plug plants were establishing nicely. Mum and my best friend were asked to just check on things and give a good watering to them midweek and especially if the weather turned nice.

Best laid plans and all that! Mum had her sister home from Scotland, and also was on babysitting duties for both of my brothers’ children, as it was half term. In-between she was helping my youngest brother with his new business venture, so she wasn’t home much. My best friend unfortunately has a memory like a sieve at the moment and at least owned up to totally forgetting my plants, even though she walks her dog past my house at least once a day. When mum eventually had time to check on my greenhouse (the day before we came home,) the poor plants had all dried up.

My favourite quotes from mum are-

“Were they like that when you put them in the greenhouse?”

Nope. I don’t believe they were crispy.

“We had a really bad frost one morning. My shed roof was white!”

No one else remembers this.

And my all time favourite:

“Do you think I should have come down earlier in the week?”

Erm let me think about that…

I went through a myriad of emotions, but couldn’t really hold anyone responsible, as I did say to mum, that Rachel will check on the greenhouses and vice versa.

So confession time, how bad was the damage?

In The Office.
  • Expensive to buy in plug format, but grown from seed Himalayan Blue poppies all dead except two I had left in the tray in the kitchen.
  • Cape Gooseberries all dead except three left in the kitchen.
  • Trial Strawberry Blonde Marigolds. One seedling left after the whole packet germinated. As T&M gave me these seeds, I was mortified that I had killed their plants, so I ordered another packet from their website. I still have to trial them.
  • Trial Sunflower Shock-o-late seedlings all dead. Luckily I had only sown half the packet so I had some left over, which I have re-sown
  • Sunflower Velvet Queen same as above.
  • Lewisia, Basil Lemonade, Mint, Grasses, Foxgloves, Forget-me-nots, Hollyhocks, French Marigolds, Buddleja and Hyssop all dead.
  • Rainbow Beetroots – stressed. I rehydrated them little by little watering every few hours for the first two days.
  • Sweet Peppers. Hugely hardy and responded well to a good drink.
  • Just Bee flower mix, stressed, but stable.
  • Lettuce Mix. Difficult to say, some had died completely, some had thrived.
  • Dad’s spider plant – looking green again, with a little new growth.
  • A few stray beetroot seeds had germinated, along with radish, borage, chillies and a different variety of sweet pepper.
  • The trial Sweetpeas Turquoise Lagoon, were in pretty good shape as I had left a lid over the blue bread basket they were in, conserving the water in the soil by reducing evaporation.
  • Lavenders and Christmas cacti thriving.
In Ty Mawr,

No,damage whatsoever, in fact plenty of growth on everything.

It’s taken me up until the end of the month to clear the staging, between 35°c temperatures under the glass and torrential rain showers, gardening has been difficult. Once sorted the disaster out, I then decided to book another holiday in the New Forest, because that’s just the way I roll!

I told Mark that I wouldn’t buy any more seeds as I had enough, but as I had to replace the trial marigolds, it seemed silly to pay postage for just one packet of seeds, so I went onto the Special Offers page and looked at the 99p range. I set myself a budget, and for once actually stuck to it.

The Office.

Even though I haven’t sown all of my seeds I bought last week, I have started with six Glory Lily seeds. At around 16p each these beauties grow into six foot climbers. The tubers are not hardy so will need to be stored like a dahlia. It takes a few years to flower, so I really hope I get these right. Another new seed I picked was herb Golden Feverfew. I would like to add this perennial pretty yellow mound forming leafy plant to the grassy knoll area. Its daisy-like flowers should soften the structure of the other strappy grass fronds. I am trying achieve a low maintenance area without the use of gravel, concrete or man-made products. I next sowed African Marigolds Spinning Wheels, followed by Garden Pea Alderman. I love this vegetable it’s sweet, abundant and easy to grow. Again, a new seed I chose for 99p was a Potentilla named Monarchs Velvet, this too, is a perennial, I am hoping it will fit in with the black and blue grasses in the knoll. If not, then maybe I will grow it in clumps near the wildlife borders.

As the basil had died and I didn’t have the lemonade type left, I decided to grow both Rubin and Sweet Genovese instead.

Then I sowed Rudbekia Green King, and although I haven’t grown this variety I have had success with Rudbekias. Finally, I sowed some free seeds from Gardeners’ World Zinnia Orange King and repotted some of the aubergines from my completely unscientific seed trial. Oh and I’ve also re-sown the both types of sunflower mentioned above, as well as the Strawberry Blonde Marigolds, plus the Mint and Hyssop.

 

 

The Office border has turned into a mess. The money tree has re sprouted, but thanks to the extra space the aloes have almost carpeted the soil. Fighting for survival are two houseplants, some violas, a rogue cornflower, and an unexplained poppy and foxglove. Mark and I have come to the decision that we are going to try and remove some aloes to the grassy knoll. I have no idea if they will live, but I have to do something.

 

The same day these arrived I potted up some rosemary cuttings, I had left to root in water before going away.

 
Ty Mawr.

The first job was for Mark to earth up the potato sacks, feed them, and move them to their final growing positions outside. Then he planted up the stored Dahlias. Once he had done that, we realised that growing Cornflowers under glass was probably not my best idea. They loved the conditions too much, so on the hottest day of April he evicted them to the garden, where they are now flowering. Mark also transplanted eight tomatoes to their final growing places. Part of my trial plants and some of last year’s yellow stuffers. He then transplanted some of my beetroot. Another of my unscientific experiments – I am seeing if they grow better under glass or out in the fresh air. Also growing happily in the borders are Turnip, Garlic and English Marigolds.

In Rhett’s House (aka) The Cold-frame, I have the Coleus Canninia, they survived the unintentional drought and to prevent them going sappy were moved there as soon as we were back. Keeping them company are some marigolds, some larkspur, Bee Mix plants, a random geranium I found in the back of The Office, a Malva and something that I can’t identify as the label has disappeared. It looks like a primula. Plus several Borage plugs. You’d think that would have been enough wouldn’t you – but no, in my infinite wisdom after doing a happy dance that not only my chillies designed to do well hanging baskets had germinated, but also the super hot ones in the fire bucket Andrew (younger brother) had given me had germinated too, I remembered that Richard (youngest brother) had given me a funky veg kit. So I had a go at that too.

The funky veg kit comes with cardboard type pots, soil disks that expand in water five packets of seeds and five labels. Lucky me had six packets. Although I’ve only chosen to grow three due to the fact that the greenhouse will be a bit full shortly. For now I’m trying Purple Brussels Sprouts, Purple Carrots and Yellow Courgettes. The instructions were simple. Place disks in water and leave to expand until they are seven times bigger. Squeeze out the excess water, put most of the soil in the pots, add the seeds, then cover with leftover soil. Label, leave on a kitchen windowsill.

 

 

I’ll let you know how it goes!

Until next month.

Happy Gardening,

Love Amanda xx

My name is Amanda and I live in Pembrokeshire with my fiancé and our garden is approximately 116 meters square. I want to share with you my love for gardening and the reasons behind it, from the good to the bad and ugly. I want to do this for my own personal pleasure. If you would like to take the journey with me then please read my blogs and share with me your gardening stories.

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