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.

The Top Ten Pop Songs proven to boost plant growth

As the UK’s best-known horticultural company, Thompson & Morgan is always at the cutting edge of plant innovation and welfare. We strive to give all our plants the best possible environments to grow in and we’re continually looking for new ways of bringing out the very best in our plants before we send them to our customers.

It was suggested in recent research that plants respond well to sound; from simple speech to complicated songs from all eras, so naturally we decided to put this to the test.

The results were quite astonishing!

In our trials, we have established quite quickly that today’s plants, using the latest breeding techniques, actually respond best to modern music. The results were so conclusive that our plant breeding team has set up a sound system in the polytunnels at our plant development site to play a daily Top Ten playlist to all the plants starting at midday when the sun is at its highest. At this time, the plants get maximum light and appear to be most receptive to the music.

Resident Music Expert and former DJ, Kevin Ketley, said:

It doesn’t surprise me that plants respond in this way to music. After all, it stimulates our brain activity and causes us to smile, tap our feet and so on, so plants will naturally grow better in that environment

The Top Ten Songs that our trials showed that plants are receptive to are:

  1. Kiss From A Rose – Seal
  2. Black Horse and A Cherry Tree – KT Tunstall
  3. Iris – Goo Goo Dolls
  4. I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker (With Flowers In My Hair) – Sandi Thom
  5. Lemon Tree – Fools Garden
  6. Where The Wild Roses Grow – Nick Cave & Kylie Minogue.
  7. Flowers – Sweet Female Attitude
  8. Supermarket Flowers – Ed Sheeran
  9. Bed Of Roses – Bon Jovi
  10. Build Me Up Buttercup – The Foundations

 

 

Interestingly, as you can see – and hear – the plants seem to respond better to songs that actually mention them! We feel this is really quite a breakthrough and our plant breeding team will be looking for new inspiration in the coming months – they hope to be able to increase yields on root crops by playing subterranean music!

 

 

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.

Grow your own meals – these 9 Instagrammers will show you how

These Instagrammers will make you both hungry and inspired for their delicious plot-to-plate creations.
Image: Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Food delivered straight from plot to plate is the freshest, healthiest and most delicious food you’ll ever eat. With an allotment, veg patch, or even just a couple of window boxes, you can grow your own meals and live your version of the good life. Whether you’re just starting out, or are already a seasoned plot-to-plater, here are nine excellent Instagrammers you’ll want to follow.

@locallyseasonal

Using up last year’s frozen rhubarb before this season’s crop arrives.
Image: @locallyseasonal

‘Zero food miles and knowledge that no chemicals have been used, results in seriously tasty seasonal produce. There are so many reasons to grow your own!’ writes GB, the allotmenter behind @locallyseasonal. And she should know – her Instagram feed is full of delicious meals including wild garlic and potato soup, fruit leather, and a dozen-and-one ideas for pea shoots.

In the four years since first taking on her allotment in Newcastle upon Tyne, GB’s plot has tripled in size and her food-growing knowledge has skyrocketed. Follow her Instafeed for seven reasons to eat food that’s in season and learn how to take back control of the food you eat.

@the_seasonal_table

Rainbow chard to brighten up any winter’s day.
Image: @the_seasonal_table

Like the sound of breakfast pancakes served with homemade lemon curd and pale yellow primroses from the garden? How about onion, leek and bay soup served with sourdough toast and a glass of home-pressed dry cider? Hearty and wholesome food like this is beautifully prepared and photographed by The Seasonal Table.

Tom and Kathy are to thank for this dreamy Instafeed – two smallholders who have escaped the London rat race to follow their country-living dream. They now share a cottage, orchard and vegetable garden in rural Somerset with chickens, bees and some very cheeky geese.

@agentsoffield

Brussel Sprout slaw straight from the plot.
Image: @agentsoffield

Fancy a fresh and fruity way to prepare your sprouts?’ ask Sophie and Ade, AKA Agents of Field. Enter the bright and crunchy Brussel Sprout slaw, pictured above. Agents of Field has one mission: to save the planet ‘one forkful at a time.’ Follow this feed for inspiration on sustainable living from horticulturalist Ade, and more great recipes from chef Sophie.

With elderberry syrup to soothe you through colds and flu, and delights such as pumpkin and apple cake to provide post-gardening sustenance, there’s inspiration and comfort to be found in this Instagram account.

@rivercottagehq

Taking food straight from plot to plate at River Cottage HQ.
Image: @rivercottagehq

Fermenting is a perfect way of preserving seasonal gluts, bringing some colour & umami into winter meals and providing your gut with a microbial top up,’ says @rivercottagehq. This is the official Insta of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s real-food mecca on the Devon and Dorset border.

From historical marmalade tasting – trying out ‘Ancient Greek-inspired honey fermented marmalade’ and a ‘4th-century quince and white pepper’ version – to pickling beets and fermenting seaweed, the team of clever chefs at River Cottage are experts in turning harvest into heaven.

@lavenderandleeks

Katie loves cooking allotment soup in her little purple potting shed.
Image: @lavenderandleeks

You just can’t beat coming back into the house (or shed!) to a nice hot bowl of soup. Especially when it’s one you made yourself using home-grown vegetables,’ writes Katie of Lavender and Leeks. Join her as she works her allotment and turns her produce into healthy, wholesome food.

There are jams, cordials, soups and casseroles-a-plenty to admire and emulate, as well as daily posts keeping you up-to-date with Katie’s allotment plans. Make her your new growing buddy.

@cornishwildfood

Rock samphire harvested from the beach.
Image: @cornishwildfood

‘No need to wait for the blackberries, did you know you can eat bramble buds! Pick the small ones, the larger ones can be a bit chewy,’ advises Matt Vernon of Cornish Wild Food. Matt doesn’t have a plot as such. Nature is his pantry, and foraging is his art.

Working the Cornish coast, he is the expert in uncovering and cooking hedgerow treats. Try his wild saag aloo – made with three-cornered leeks and a sauce from the seeds of alexander, hogweed, rock samphire and wild fennel.

@stephaniehafferty

This delicious dip is a secret recipe.
Image: @stephaniehafferty

As a no-dig gardening guru, Stephanie Hafferty loves growing and cooking with seasonal, plant-based food. She’s a master of thrift and invention: ‘I make delicious plant based, affordable, seasonal healthy food (we worked out that a lunch of 16 different dishes plus homemade bread cost around 60p a head for 20 people!).’

Follow her bright and beautiful Instafeed for a thousand sensational salad ideas and advice on canning, dehydrating, making jams and chutneys, wine, oils, and a whole host of interesting alcoholic potions and vinegars from your homegrown produce.

@a_countrylife

Kate’s ‘breakfast of champions’.
Image: @a_countrylife

Cake always tastes better when it’s still warm from the oven and never lasts long in our house,’ writes Kate, a true country girl from Norfolk. Her Instagram, a_countrylife, charts the daily highs and lows of living in and from the countryside.

Kate describes herself as ‘always cooking’. So, alongside images of her adventures, including her beautiful cattle and friendly farm cat, you can guarantee there’s plenty of cake – including a rather delicious Seville-orange tart.

@theallotmentcook

Patio herbs to season every meal.
Image: @theallotmentcook

Can’t beat a hot cup of coffee on a cold day at the allotment,’ writes The Allotment Cook. Situated in glorious South Devon, @theallotmentcook posts pictures of veg growing successes and the resulting culinary masterpieces.

Just looking at this Instafeed is enough to make your mouth water. From leek risotto with smoked garlic and kale puree, to plum and nectarine pastry pinwheels, or potato curry – everything (apart from the rice) has been picked that day on the plot. There’s something to suit all tastebuds here!

 

We hope you’ve been inspired to get more from your plot onto your plate. If you post any of your homegrown meals on Instagram, we’d love you to share them with us.

….And It Was All Going Snow Well!

So I wasn’t far out about snowfall on Feb 20th, wasn’t I? I had a bad feeling…..BUT NOT THIS BAD!

Would you believe it, yesterday I was on the allotment pruning the blackberry hedge in my shirt sleeves and today I’m back in my thermals! I’m not sure my nerves can stand it! During the first week-long whiteout I kept sidling out with increasing trepidation to check on the plants: indications are malianthus major & fuchsia mycrophylla have succumbed and the small shrubby salvias look a bit too crisp for my liking. Time will tell. I’m panicking now; less than four months until the London Garden Society competition and NGS Open Day. And no plant hunting expeditions (to Enfield – does that count?) yet this season either – I’m getting withdrawal symptoms. Mind you, we are off to Southwold in Suffolk soon, host to many a specialist nursery, so I shall be able to feed my plant buying habit to the extreme, as I am sure that EVERYTHING OUTSIDE IS DEAD.

Meanwhile back in the garden…..the frogs have been at it again! Disgusting! It’s like the West End on a Saturday night out there. Obviously trying to make up for lost time between bouts of extreme weather, the frogs have been – how shall I put this – prolific. You could see the water rippling away from the upstairs windows day and night! I hope the spawn isn’t spoiled by this RIDICULOUS snow fest. To whom do I address my complaint?

We’ve been enjoying watching the birdies, not much else to do, let’s face it! We’ve got a pair of gold finches now to add to the other couples. It’s getting a bit like Noah’s Ark with the onset of Spring (haha really?). Blue tits, great tits, long tailed tits, coal tits. (Who knew there were so many different types of tit?) Robins, dunnocks, blackbirds, wrens. We even have a devoted pair of collared doves alongside a pair of feral pigeons. (They don’t mix, not in the same class I’m afraid). No sign of the mice this year but Cyril the Squirrel is a regular.

So on a more horticultural note; I’ve been sowing my T&M seeds already. Tomatoes Rainbow Blend, Artisan and Sweet Baby. Had to put my specs on as I couldn’t see the seeds; at six in a packet you can’t afford for them to go astray. Cerinthe major and ricinus communis are more like my kinda seeds, BIG. All in the propagators in suspended animation, no doubt due to this ICE AGE! Last year’s overwintered T&M begonia tubers are romping away, so robust are they that I have been able to take them out of the propagators to fend for themselves. (Interesting aside: Apricot Shades are way ahead of Non Stop Mocca.) My T&M foxglove Illumination Flame plugs arrived today. After I had stopped laughing hysterically, I had to admit that they are lovely plump jumbo plugs, so I shall force myself into the FREEZING COLD greenhouse to pot them up without delay.

To those of you patient enough to wait until end April/ early May to see if their late developing perennials have survived, I offer my admiration and wish you luck. I think I’ll hedge my bets: if there aren’t any further signs of life by Easter, I shall dig’em up and stick‘em in pots before replacing them with LOVELY NEW ALTERNATIVES. The list includes small shrubby salvias, penstemons & erysimums. There are exceptions: Having protected my favourite tender plants, agastache Golden Jubilee, salvias Black & Blue and Amistad, with T&M plastic auto watering collars, filled to the brim with mulch over winter, I was delighted to see that new growth was coming through. That is, until this morning, when they were once again covered with snow. So now we wait and see….I shall be heartbroken if they die after such a promising comeback.

I was asked recently, Which was more important to me: The garden, my husband or my cats? Well, let’s put it like this: If Everything In The Garden Is Lovely then all is well with husband and cats. So you can only imagine what a nightmare my household is at the moment! I am to be found stalking around irritably mumbling about the irony of Global Warming, whilst my Dearly Beloved thinks it’s HILARIOUS to recite the latest weather forecast on the hour. And I was doing so well too. Roses done, clematis done, hydrangeas and fuchsias done (oh woe is me). I finally surrendered to my impatience and cut back last year’s canna foliage, only to watch helplessly as their stumps and new shoots turned to mush in the ensuing snow. The consequences of this unwelcome weather will spread far and wide, as do I. By now I have usually burned off my winter weight through copious activity in the garden (not to be confused with the frogs). Not so this year. I want to be 60kgs on my 60th birthday (20th April – same day as Adolf Hitler) so there is work to be done.

In conclusion, I grudgingly admit that some parts of the garden have been greatly enhanced by the snow. The coloured dogwood stems really stand out (hadn’t got round to pruning them yet, thank goodness). T & M cornus Winter Flame (Winter 2012/3 trials) sets off mahonia Soft Caress and sorbaria Seb a treat under the apple tree. Snow dusts the pittosporum Tom Thumb like icing sugar, and the tracing along the ancient limbs of the lilac looks positively architectural darhling! T&M bulbs chionodoxa (or scilla- which is which?) are thoroughly enjoying this weather, as their name would suggest, Glory of The Snow! And in the front garden, David’s installation of The Magic Tap water feature has caused consternation amongst the local children.

I shall leave you to ponder the following: if it carries on like this you can use your leftover Christmas cards as Easter greetings.

Happy gardening!

 

 

GYO & BYO: Grow Your Own & Blitz Your Own

Green smoothies are packed with leafy greens that offer a range of health benefits, including being full of antioxidants and vitamins, boosting your immune system and helping to improve digestion.

Many of the most popular ingredients of healthy green smoothies are vegetables and herbs that can be grown simply at home. Growing your own is an easy and enjoyable way to save money and be even healthier, as fresh produce picked straight from the garden contains the maximum level of vitamins and minerals.

Even if you are short of space you can enjoy growing, from an allotment down to simply a windowsill, and reap the rewards. Let’s take a look at what you can grow and throw straight in your blender to make a fantastic green smoothie.

 

 

 

 

 

Kale is high in nutrients, fibre and vitamins but low in calories. It has well-documented health benefits and is classed as a premier superfood. Its curly and colourful leaves can be cropped year-round and easily put in a blender and juiced. Kale can be sown from March to June, either in the ground or in pots, and if leaves are clipped often it will encourage new growth to allow for longer cropping.

 

 

 

Spinach offers high levels of vitamins, iron, calcium and antioxidants, giving a boost to your energy and vitality. It is very easy-to-grow in the garden or in a container and can provide healthy leaves from spring all the way through to autumn. Sow spinach seeds from March to July and successional sowings will allow longer cropping. Pick leaves as required, making sure to take only a few from each plant. By cutting leaves regularly, the plants will repay you by continuing to produce more.

 

 

 

Cucumber has multiple B vitamins, offers antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and is rich in water and fibre to aid digestion. They are prolific plants and will offer lots of fruit throughout the summer to pick regularly. Cucumbers come in either greenhouse or outdoor varieties and the seeds should be sown in spring indoors (they can be transplanted outside later) or can be direct sown in May or June.  Picking small fruits regularly once they appear should ensure a long bountiful harvest of fresh cucumbers for your blender.

 

 

 

Swiss Chard is packed full of nutrients and a source of vitamins K, A, and C, as well magnesium, potassium, iron, and fibre. It is also colourful and very easy to grow, either in the ground or in a container. The seeds can be direct sown from March all the way through to August, with late sowings giving leaves right into the winter. Harvest baby leaves and this will encourage more leaf production.

 

 

 

Herbs can also be used to add a flavour kick and further boost the nutritional value. They are full of antioxidants, vitamins and nutrients that fight toxins and help boost the immune system. The likes of mint, coriander and parsley offer their own health benefits and can be easily grown in pots on a windowsill for regular cuttings. Simply sow the seeds in spring, put them on a bright windowsill to grow, and harvest as required for your smoothies.

 

 

 

Other simple ideas for veg to grow at home for your smoothies include lettuce, collard greens, beetroot or carrots. Whatever space you have, there are options to grow. I’m a perennial nerd and really recommend that everyone has a go at reaping the benefits of growing your own.

My name is Drew and I am a former journalist turned professional gardener and garden blogger. I have worked for the National Trust at Hidcote Manor Garden and most recently as an organic grower and gardener. I am passionate about plants and GYO, while I continually strive to improve my knowledge and skills and visit as many gardens as I can. My musings can be regularly seen on my blog ‘Perennial Nerd’.

Ten Wonderful Wildlife Blogs

Feel inspired – and grab your binoculars – for a chance to spot these elusive little creatures this summer
Image: Shutterstock

If you love nothing better than to “stand and stare” in the hope of spotting some of the UK’s phenomenal, but rather shy, wildlife, have we got a treat for you. Here’s our round up of some of the best UK wildlife blogs around. These blogs are filled with great wildlife stories, gorgeous photos, live webcam footage and more. Perfect to enjoy over a hot cuppa.

 

Wildlife Kate

Customers at Kate’s bird snack bar
Image: Wildlife Kate, sponsored by CJ Wildlife

With heaps of live webcam action, wildlife blogger Kate’s site is a must. Enjoy footage of birds stopping off at her purpose-built bird snack bar, and mice dropping into the festive mammal feeding station she built complete with Christmas tree and roaring log fire. It’s wildlife footage with a difference.

A wildlife expert with a passion for education, you’ll have seen Kate on Countryfile, Springwatch and more. Check out her photo of the foxes visiting her garden. There are two dogs and four vixens, three of which look pregnant. She hopes to be “filming cubs visiting around the middle of May… Exciting times.”

Brigit Strawbridge 

Female hairy-footed flower bee
Image: Brigit Strawbridge

Have you ever spotted a hairy-footed flower bee buzzing around your garden? Brigit says they’re smaller than a bumble bee and have a zippy, unbeelike flight path. But the telltale sign that alerted her was the characteristic high-pitched buzz of a female – like the one pictured – supping on the nectar from a snowdrop.

If you’d like to learn more about bees, Brigit’s blog is the place to go. Based in Dorset, she gives talks in the local area as well as further afield – like this lecture she gave at the National Honey Show. She’s also working on a book which is due to be published in Spring 2019. You can read a few excerpts from it on Brigit’s blog.

My Life Outside

‘Owls’ about that?
Image: My Life Outside

Having spent eight years searching for the elusive little owl – but never being lucky enough to spot one – Wales-based wildlife photographer Adam didn’t hold out much hope when he took his mum on an owl-spotting trip to Kenfig near Bridgend. But then his mum said, “isn’t that one over there?…”

Here you’ll find stunning wildlife photography from someone who likes nothing better than to grab his hiking gear and camera, and head out into the magnificent wilds of Wales. Check out Adam’s series of badger photos from Dinefwr Castle.

The Reremouse

The striking Noctule bat – with his beautiful auburn fur
Image: The Reremouse

How well do you know your bats? If you’d like to know more than you currently do, take a look at this blogger’s bat pages. It turns out the gingery Noctule (pictured above) is the UK’s biggest bat. And, up to 40g, he’s about the size of two small hamsters.

Passionate about wildlife, The Reremouse offers a great source of information to help you do your bit. Tempted to leave food out for local wildlife? “Anything you put out… needs to at least be similar to food sources that they would use in the wild – i.e. fruits, seeds and nuts.” And don’t feed too often or too regularly, or there’s a risk creatures could become dependent.

Why Watch Wildlife?

A black-headed gull was food for someone. But who dunnit?
Image: Why Watch Wildlife?

When visiting Scarborough, wildlife watcher David came across a bundle of feathers belonging to a hapless bird that had clearly become something’s lunch. But whose? Check out the clues that will set you on your way to discovering the likely identity of the killer.

David says that although we spend £200 million each year on attracting birds to our gardens, we’re actually spending less time in wild environments. If you’re in need of a little inspiration to help you step into the great outdoors, you’ve come to the right place.

British Wildlife Centre, Surrey

Meet Harry and Beatrix Otter!
Image: Matt Binstead, British Wildlife Centre, Surrey

Keep up to date with the comings and goings at the British Wildlife Centre at Lingfield in Surrey. Setup in 1997 by former farmer, David Mills, the centre now houses the UK’s finest collection of British native species.

You’ll love keeper Matt’s blog post about the centre’s two baby otters. Imaginatively named, Harry and Beatrix Otter (get it?), they’re already almost as big as their mother. Featuring a wealth of information about our British wildlife, the blog presents some wonderful photography too – our favourite is Susie the stoat in ermine.

Isle of May National Nature Reserve

Dolphins playing in the waters off the Isle of May
Image: Isle of May National Nature Reserve

What do you do when you’re trying to get off the Isle of May, and a grey seal decides to hide under your quad bike? That’s just one of the many stories in the life of this small island nature reserve, off the east coast of Scotland.

An island teeming with bird and animal life, the Isle of May hosts spectacular seabird colonies in the summer, while in the autumn it’s a breeding site for the biggest colony of Atlantic grey seals in Britain. Well worth a visit.

Butterfly Conservation

Butterflies actually benefit from a cold snap
Image: Wikipedia

Despite their fragile appearance, a winter cold snap can actually benefit butterflies and moths. In fact, the folk at Butterfly Conservation say some species including Large Skipper, Large White, Ringlet and Chalk Hill Blue, see their populations increase after a winter of extreme cold.

If you’d like to learn more about what you can do to encourage a wide range of butterflies and moths to visit your garden, this is the blog and website for you. One top tip: “Leave bare patches of wall, fence or earth, or place large stones in sunny borders, so butterflies can bask.” Check out the site for more like this.

Ben Porter Wildlife

Can you spot the plastic fragments amongst the plankton?
Image: Ben Porter Wildlife

Exeter Uni student Ben Porter spent a chilly day hauling nets near Falmouth in Cornwall. He and his fellow students were looking to establish the ubiquity of plastic and microfibres in the seawater samples they took. Sadly, Ben’s photos speak for themselves – a stark reminder of the scale of the problem facing us.

As well as flagging up environmental pollution issues, Ben, who studies conservation and ecology at the University of Exeter, is into birds, moths, mammals and more. He also takes a mean photo. Check out his spectacular snap of an oystercatcher in mid flight.

Mark Warnes Photography

Beavers have been reintroduced in Camarthenshire
Image: Mark Warnes Photography

Take a look at photographer Mark’s pics of the beavers at the Bevis Trust in Wales. This cornerstone species was hunted to extinction in the 1600s. The trust, which is working towards their reintroduction, hopes that bringing back them back to Welsh rivers will also help re-establish other species too, like otters, water voles, frogs and newts.

Mark’s blog offers a kaleidoscope of stunning nature photography, from the colourful puffins on Skomer Island to the badgers of Carmarthenshire. If you’re looking for some inspiration from the natural world, you’ve come to the right place.

Have we missed any of your favourite wildlife nature blogs? If so, do let us know by heading over to our Facebook page and leaving us a message.

 

From Rake To Bake – Curried Cauliflower Crunch

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.

March is perfect for making Curried Cauliflower Crunch.

Cauliflower doesn’t have to be boring, there are many different varieties to sow, grow, and eat. With colours such as green, orange and purple, why not try this often-neglected vegetable served raw, roasted or fried, instead of just boiled or steamed.

Amongst other things cauliflower contains high levels of vitamin C, and being related to Broccoli, Kale and Cabbage it also contains vitamins B and K, as well as dietary fibre.

Prep Time 5 minutes. Cooking Time 10 Minutes. Skills Level Seasoned Kitchen Gardner***

Utensils

  • Chopping Board
  • Vegetable Knife.
  • Measuring Spoon
  • Spatula.
  • Frying Pan with Lid.
  • Serving Dish.

Ingredients

  • Cauliflower.
  • 6 Tablespoons of Vegetable Oil.
  • 1-2 Teaspoons of Garam Masala.
  • 1-2 Teaspoons of Black Pepper.

Method

  • Wash the cauliflower thoroughly. Remove the leaves and dry florets with kitchen paper.
  • Cut the florets into mouth-sized chunks or cubes.
  • Put the oil in the frying pan add the Black Pepper and Garam Masala, swirl with the spatula cover with the lid and warm on a low heat for a few minutes. Swirl again.
  • Once the fragrance of the spices come through add the cauliflower chunks. Swirl until the chunks are evenly coated, then cover with a lid and keep on a medium to low heat.
  • Occasionally swirl the cauliflower around so that all edges are crispy. They will look dark because of the spicing, but they should not be burnt.
  • After ten minutes the cauliflower should be just tender, enabling you to spear with a fork, but not mushy.
  • Drain excess oil and either eat warm or allow to cool completely.

Serving Suggestions

Serve hot with a curry dish, or cool with mango chutney as a starter or side dish.

Go Italian and season with salt and pepper instead of the Indian spices. Once cooled, drizzle with white wine vinegar, olive oil, basil and oregano.

Go Chinese and season with 5 or 7 Spice mixes.

Go individual and try it with whatever herbs and spices you have, including chilli powder and dark chocolate.

Grow Your Own.

Cauliflowers can be grown from January to May and again in the autumn under glass. Whether direct sow in a warm bed, or in singular cells seed trays in a greenhouse. Sow at 1/4 deep

They are hungry plants so prepare their final growing position with well rotted manure, and use a liquid feed throughout the growing season. It’s best to ensure that the soil is moist before planting out as dry roots can cause club root causing the plants to wilt and die.

For more information on growing cauliflower why not read Sonia Mermagan’s blog here.

*** 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.

Beautiful botanical crafts on Instagram

Check out these crafty creatives inspired by mother nature
Image: Marisa Morton / Unsplash

Nature has always provided inspiration to artists – whether writers or musicians, poets or makers. If an afternoon in your garden or a walk in the woods leaves you energised and buzzing with creativity, why not take up a botanical craft? Follow some of these nature-inspired makers on Instagram to get you started.

@wilddyegarden

Beautiful wild-dyed textiles made from foraged dyes
Image: @wilddyegarden

“The plants that are most familiar to us can be the ones that surprise us the most,” writes Flora Arbuthnott of Wild Dye Garden. Flora is a printmaker, forager, and natural dyer who can transform a whole host of plants like nettle, onion, rosemary and bay into beautiful textile dyes. Follow Flora as she experiments with madder and lady’s bedstraw. And be inspired to ditch fast fashion in favour of natural dyes.

@botanical_threads

Hues of walnut, pomegranate and madder create this divine patchwork
Image: @botanical_threads

Did you know that avocado stone makes a gorgeous blush-pink dye? Or that the crispy outer skins of an onion produce coppery, rusty tones? Alicia Hall is a botanical dyer and National-Trust gardener who creates beautiful hand-crafted textiles for her company Botanical Threads. Her Insta feed is a calming, beautiful space where chlorophyll meets cloth.

@lovely.greens

Lovely greens in Tanya’s homemade peppermint soap
Image: @lovely.greens

“Live simply, grow your own food, make natural things,” is the motto Tanya, of Lovely Greens, lives by. From her allotment on the Isle of Man, Tanya shares gardening tips, beauty recipes and herbal remedies. So if you’d like to try making Turkish delight from your own rose petals, or cedarwood and lemongrass soap, Tanya is your woman. Follow her on Instagram for these and other botanical secrets.

@rebeccadesnos

Rebecca’s favourite local dye-plants include nettle and hawthorne
Image: @rebeccadesnos

“I’m the happiest when making things with my hands,” writes natural dyer, Rebecca Desnos. Using vegan dyeing techniques – plant-based fabrics, soy milk as mordant, and plants and vegetable dyes – Rebecca creates beautiful textiles. She forages plants on walks with her son, and rescues avocado stones and pomegranate skins from her kitchen to add to her rainbow of natural colours. The results are breathtaking.

@kathryn_davey

Crumpled linen and peonies – two of Kathryn Davey’s favourite things
Image: @kathryn_davey

Peonies and crumpled linen are two of designer and natural dyer, Kathryn Davey’s favourite things. She learnt natural dyeing techniques whilst living in Northern California. Kathryn now designs luxury textiles in Dublin, using Irish linen, sustainably hand dyed in her studio. With muted hues of turmeric, iron, tea and madder, expect a feed as romantic and beautiful as those peonies.

@gentle_work

Christine’s gentle work is nature-inspired hand stitching
Image: @gentle_work

“Sometimes your soul just needs a few moments alone…”, writes Christine Kelly. This self-taught textile artist and mother gets few moments to herself but, when she does, she makes the most of them hand stitching beautiful images from nature onto vintage textiles. Christine’s feed is a delicate space to pause and reflect on the gentleness of her work.

@spindrift_crafts

Shetland wool dyed with dried heather
Image: @spindrift_crafts

“The plants that survive the diverse climate never cease to amaze,” writes Bunchy Casey of her Shetland home. Landscape and fauna inspire Bunchy in creating her hand-dyed wools and natural leaf prints. She uses heather, willow bark and alder cones in her work, dyeing wool from the hardy sheep that share her island home.

@silverpebble2

Drawing plants foraged on a winter’s walk
Image: @silverpebble2

“Collecting nature finds can help to divert your mind away from daily stresses,” writes Emma Mitchell. This illustrator, naturalist and designer-maker uses botanical crafts to boost her mood and combat depression through the long winter months. She gathers the natural treasures spied on her daily walks into beautifully curated collections – drawing, pressing, preserving and crafting them into works of art.

We hope you feel inspired to turn your hand to botanical crafts like these. Share your creations with us on Instagram or Facebook. And if you post plant-inspired art on your own feed, we’d love to see and share your work.

A February full of drama

Hi Everyone,

February might be the shortest month, but boy has it been packed with drama – at least for me anyway. First we had the wicked west winds so bitter they could have given an expresso a run for its money. These annoying gusts meant for several days we couldn’t go in the greenhouses for fear of the glass being blown out on opening the door. How the flowering marigolds inside Ty Mawr managed without a drink for three weeks is pretty astounding.

On the second weekend of the month I happened to stay with my mum on the Saturday night, we had met friends for lunch and that evening I was trying to teach her Logic colouring-in puzzles. We didn’t notice the wind picking up and by the time I did it was too late for me to text Mark to check the cold frame was secure. It was wedged under the shelter of the eaves between the bungalow wall and the side of a garden bench, plus there was a large plant pot just in front it, so I assumed it would be fine. I had overwintering Violas, cornflowers, foxgloves and calendula in it .Mark is pretty good at checking the cold frame as the pesky thing likes to make a dash for the shed in windy weather. Credit where it’s due, Mark spent most of Sunday morning walking around the neighbourhood looking for Rhett Butler(aka the cold frame), as now it had literally Gone With The Wind- He broke the news on the drive back from mum’s. – the plants were okay, they hadn’t moved from their position. I was upset, I didn’t cry but I was mad at myself for not noticing the inclement weather, and for the fact that I won Rhett in a T&M blogger only photo competition

In frustration I put a post on Pembrokeshire-Bay asking if anyone had found an unexpected polycarbonate cold frame in their gardens near me. Lots of people replied, many had even gone to check their gardens for me. One extremely kind Gardening lady who lives eight miles away said I could have hers for free if I wanted. I was touched, and told her I would contact her again in a few days if mine was gone for good. Her generosity sparked offers of free manure from a person with horses, and thus my post grew, so I thought, well at least Rhett leaving brought out the best in other people.

Mum called for over the following Monday, we went for a short walk,with her peering into gardens and hedges still seeking Rhett. It’s okay mum, I said, Mark has looked and looked. Do you think it was stolen? she asked. I replied No, they would have taken the plants and solar lights as well. Anyway our part of town is relatively crime-free.

Much later, when we were doing the dishes after supper Mark suddenly exclaimed, “I know where your coldframe is!”

“Please tell me…you didn’t put it in the shed and forget did you?” I ask.

“Would I be that stupid?!”

“Umm…”

He takes a torch and no more than five minutes later he’s back with a disheveled looking Rhett. Apparently the one place none of us had thought to look was behind the wheelie bins between the old youth club and the surgery. I asked him what made him look there. He said because he saw an old patio table there yesterday and thought it was a funny place to put one – , so perhaps someone had fly-tipped it. So maybe Rhett is not Rhett, but then again maybe someone is still missing a patio table…

 

 

 

When the winds blew themselves out, I ventured into The Office as I needed that start off some seeds. The first packet were a Freebie from Just Bee Drinks, a lovely blend of bee friendly flowers, as I won them – and three cartons of Honey infused fruit juices for submitting a good bad-bee-pun at the end of January.

I am also taking part in a tomato germination seed trial with a different company so was keen to get that underway.

 

 

The Office was in a bit of a state as I had only being going in to check things and water small pots, so that afternoon I tried to rearrange the shelves. I was glad I had. After a wait of nearly nine months grass Ponytails had germinated and was in dire need of repotting. I found a surprise turnip, that needs transplanting and I nearly pitched a fit when I looked down to wipe water from my wrist to discover it was a baby slug happily sitting there.

 

 

 

A tray propagator that I had completely forgotten about had sprouted a couple of Heleniums and some Malvas as well as several kinds of disgusting white moulds. Holding my breath (not ideal with heart failure) and zipping my hooded fleece up to my nose I carefully carried the tray outside, rescued the good stuff then had Mark empty the tray. I moved another propagator (clean and empty) and found a remarkably big radish growing behind it in a three inch pot. I threw out the refused to germinate-in-a-year Liatris seeded pots as well as several Snow Princess Marigolds that were ruined by frosts and my new pet Slugsy, who I had put near the bird feeding station.

 

 

A few days later, I had Mark sieve fresh compost so I could start my T&M seeds. I set off some sweet peppers, Boneta’s and Bullhorns, then came the Cayennetta Chilli peppers. Fed up of buying supermarket mixed salad leaves, that are too much for one person to eat in a week, and washed in chlorine I sowed some speedy salad leaves, so we can just pick them as we need them. The final food item i sowed was my favourite basil variety Lemonade. This year, I am hoping to grow more flowers from seed, so I sowed Lewsia and Commelina Dianthifolia, both of which need cold weather to germinate. Talking of which I am hugely excited to announce that both my Himalayan and Grande Meconopsis Blue poppies have germinated. The Himalayan ones in the Plant Butler outside and the other type in the heated propagator on the kitchen window sill.

 

 

After seed sowing Mark watered the aloe border and swept up for me. I was back in Ty Mawr checking the status of the potato grow bags which were in need of water, so were the marigold  and cornflower borders. Mark watered these for me, while I mourned the loss of two baby money trees from the cold. Thankfully the newspaper wrapped dahlias are not affected. Ty Mawr is overcrowded now as I had to put the rescued cold frame plants on the path as the shelves are full. If I put them in the borders they will take root, which I don’t want. I need to cut off the dead foliage from last year’s pepper and chilli. I am not sure if the Nicotiana has survived I can’t climb over the pots to see. A sorry state really, but on the next warm day l’ll do a proper inspection.

 

 

Today the cold frame is in the confines of The Office. Mark has straightened it back out and secured lengths of narrow batons to three sides to make it heavier. He plans to add another baton to the top to keep the lids closed with clips of some kin, (don’t know what as I have no DIY skills whatsoever,) so that the lids don’t act like sails again. Fingers crossed that no other dramas occur, but with the Beast from the East on its way I wouldn’t be surprised if something did. Our coldest day so far has been 4°c and we had a light frost a few nights ago. I am not looking forward to the cold snap, even if it does mean more Blue Poppies.

Stay warm,

Until next time,

Love Amanda.

PS Does anyone have any idea why I can’t grow Welsh Poppies in the same heated propagator on the kitchen window in the tray next to Himalayan ones when they both require the same growing conditions, heat and light , AND I’m in Wales and in the Himalayas?

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.

Spring is on its way!

The days are beginning to pull out, lighter mornings and also evenings too. Yippee!

Washbrook church with daffodils

Washbrook Church

I love getting wrapped up and walking over the fields in our village with the kids and hubby this time of the year.  We love to visit St Mary’s Church in Washbrook which is in an isolated position among the fields, about three miles west from the centre of Ipswich. The church is now redundant and is under the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.  There are parts of the church which dates to the 12th century but the majority is the 14th century. Well worth a visit!

Snowdrops in the graveyard

Snowdrops in the graveyard

My focus, this month are the beautiful graceful Galanthus. The children love exploring the snowdrops at their different growing stages. The graveyard is littered with these beauties and when they die back, they make room for decandant Daffodils.

More snowdrops out and about!

More snowdrops out and about!

The snowdrops have been cross polinating and there are doubles and singles, the way they sweep and cover the ground, it is truly a sight to see and worth the walk.

My mother in law is a “Galanthophile” (an enthusiastic collector of snowdrops species and cultivars).

A few years ago, for her birthday, (also in February) we bought her an expensive, highly sought after Galanthus plicatus “Wendys Gold”.

‘Wendy’s Gold’ is a bulbous perennial to 20cm with broad, grey-green leaves. The white flowers have a yellow-green ovary, and a long, yellow-green mark on the inner petals. She now has a couple of lovely clumps.

Wendy's Gold snowdrops

Wendy’s Gold snowdrops

She has a new Galanthus plicatus, it has wider leaves and delicately, dimpled white petals, which catch the light.

Mum's prized snowdrops!

Mum’s prized snowdrops!

 

 

There are so many beautiful snowdrops out there to admire and explore.

My advice, wrap up warm and get out there!

Sue Russell

One of my earliest memories; helping my Mum and Dad weed the veggie plot and collecting chicken eggs from the chooks at the end of the garden. I grew up on a farm as a child and always had my own piece of land to grow and learn with, so I suppose its in the blood!
In my mid twenties, I re trained in Horticulture (Professional Gardening ANCH) and set up my own Gardening business working for clients in the Suffolk/Essex area. For the last thirteen years Ive had the pleasure of working on a private twenty five acre estate tending to the grounds.
Most recently, eighteen months ago, I joined the team at Thompson and Morgan in the Customer Care department.
Also season ticket holder at Ipswich Town Football Club!!

Nine wild plant lovers on Instagram

These Instagrammers will inspire you to get back to your roots and forage delicious food from the wilderness.
Image source – Shutterstock

If you love country walks, fine food, and communing with nature, give foraging a try. Whether you’re hunting for wild food or wildflowers, there’s plenty of hidden treasure in our countryside. And for a little support or inspiration, here are ten of the best wild-plant Instagrammers to follow.

@emmatheforager

Foraged salad with ground elder, violet leaves and garlic mustard
Image source: @emmatheforager

Carragheen (Irish moss seaweed) makes a great vegan alternative to gelatin, writes expert forager, designer and writer, Emma Gunn. This “all-round plant guru” uses the seaweed to set her coconut panna cotta. Emma leads foraging walks and lunches in and around Cornwall. Understandably, seaweed is often on the menu, as is sea buckthorn, from which she makes a delicious-looking cheesecake and a rather cheeky gin!

@handmade_apothecary

Jelly-ear fungus is said by some to be great for adding texture to soups, gravies and stocks
Image source – @handmade_apothecary

Did you know that nutty flavoured hawthorn makes a great anxiety-reducing tea, or that elderflower cordial can bring down a temperature? The Handmade Apothecary is bursting with traditional remedies and herbal lore. Follow

Medical herbalists Kim and Vicky as they share their wild-plant knowledge. “Our aim is to help others to re-establish a bond with nature and use plants and natural ingredients for health, home and self-care,” say the pair.  That self-care extends to foraging safety too. They’re careful to let you know to never consume a plant or mushroom from the wild unless you are 100% of its ID”. Wise words.

@wildflowerhour

Early marsh orchids can be found across Britain and Ireland
Image source – @wildflowerhour

“Feeling a bit grey and miserable? There really is no better antidote than flooding the internet with wildflowers every weekend,” says Wild Flower Hour. Join the hundreds of people who share photos of flowers found growing wild in Britain and Ireland every Sunday, using the eponymous hashtag: #wildflowerhour. With a weekly podcast and a bevy of experts eager to help with identification, this could soon become your new weekend ritual.

@fathenforager

Beautiful, edible chanterelle and amethyst deceiver foraged in Cornwall
Image source – @fathenforager

“Never take any chances with the carrot (apiaceae) family…..it’s not worth the risk. If you don’t know what it is don’t eat it,” warns Caroline Davey of Fat Hen wild cookery school. She is a master forager, leading wild food weekends and ‘forage, cook, feast’ days around the beautiful county of Cornwall. Follow her on Instagram for mouthwatering recipes like nettle pasta ravioli or hake wrapped in kelp, and for sound foraging advice – like what to do with late-season rock samphire.

@foragefinefoods

Delicious za’atar with marjoram, sumac and bergamot, foraged in Herefordshire
Image source – @foragefinefoods

Elderberry balsamic, hawberry ketchup and rose-petal preserve are just some of the delicacies foraged and produced by Liz Knight of Forage Fine Foods. Liz also teaches wild cookery courses and sells her own range of wild flavourings inspired by the countryside of rural Herefordshire. Follow her on Instagram for tips like adding ladysmock into apple cider vinegar or cooking lavender leaves with peas.

@totallywilduk

Turkey-tails mushroom make a good natural chewing gum
Image source – @totallywilduk

Immune-boosting turkey-tails mushroom can be turned into a delicious broth or a forager’s chewing gum, says James Wood of  the UK’s only Ofqual accredited foragers, Totally Wild UK. James has spent years developing his knowledge of all things wild and runs foraging and cooking courses in the North of England.

If you fancy tapping (and cooking with) birch sap, distilling troublesome knotweed into a tasty jam, or eating roasted dandelion roots, this is the Instagram account to follow. And if you want to dig even deeper, check out James’ book, The Forager’s Cookbook.

@the_wild_room

Salty fingers – a delicious Cornish succulent
Image source – @the_wild_room

Steer clear of wild chervil unless you’re a seasoned forager, advises Mike de Stroumillo of The Wild Room: “This charming wild herb is ubiquitous but has a handful of dodgy lookalikes”. Mike (AKA Mushroom Mike) is an expert forager and supplier of fungi and other rare treats to fine-dining restaurants. His Instagram account will introduce you to delicacies such as bearded milk-mushrooms, pine-needle tea, and salty fingers.

@foragerltd

 

Garlic-fried toothed wrack with roast squash and black pudding
Image source – @foragerltd

“The forager’s eyes are always open,” says Miles Irving of @foragerltd. When it comes to sourcing the tastiest wild ingredients, these guys are true pros, exercising their expert eyes for a number of high-end restaurants. Follow Forager for exotic wild-food recipes including: forager soup – made with sargassum stock, three cornered garlic and lacto-fermented ramsons – and garlic-fried toothed wrack

@edulis_wildfood

Goodies collected on one of Lisa’s foraging courses
Image source – @edulis_wildfood

A super-low tide means only one thing to Lisa Cutcliffe of Edulis Wild Food: “time to go spooting!!” Spoots, or razor clams are only accessible at these precious times of the year. Lisa has been foraging since childhood and now describes herself as a wild-food foraging tutor and “all-round mushroom nut”. Follow her Insta for such treats as truffle-honey vodka, foraged toffee apples, and aelder and stout chocolate cake.

With spring almost in the air, now’s the time to dig out your walking boots and get foraging with the best of them. If you know of any wild plant Instagram accounts we should follow, please let us know via our Facebook page or Instagram account.

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