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.

T&M’s top 10 trends for 2019

In an ever changing gardening world, everyone is looking for both short term and long term drivers which we use to shape the way that we British gardeners use our outdoor spaces.

We took a look at what we at T&M thought would be the top 10 trends for 2019:

1. Hot colours and cold hardiness

Our customers are increasingly looking to add the tropical or temperate touch to the garden. Perhaps as a result of tightening purse strings and less foreign holidays, we’re seeing more interest in both seasonal summer exotics and hardy plants with an exotic feel to them. Perhaps it’s just the hot weather this summer.
• Great examples of seasonal summer display plants that may need to be brought indoors during winter, or protected from frosts – thunbergia, mandevilla, cobaea, glory lily, palms, banana, jacobinia (Brazilian Fuchsia).
• Other plants that have an exoctic look or feel to them but actually hardy in our British climate – lewisia, Campsis ‘Indian Summer’, Fatsia japonica, bamboo, palms, alstroemeria, gerbera.
• Houseplants that always feel exotic year round – Bird of Paradise and Parrot Plant (Impatiens niamniamensis), citrus.

 

2. Extending summer

With cold starts to the past few seasons, our customers are looking to make the most of warm weather moving into autumn. Many of our recent summer introductions look to tackle this by having much longer flowering periods, to maximise garden enjoyment for our customers:
SunBelievable™; new rudbeckias; renewed focus on dahlias – all flowering into November or the first hard frosts of autumn.

3. Wabi sabi

Wabi sabi is the art of imperfect beauty; appreciating imperfections in life and the ability to age gracefully (shabby chic). In the garden, this translates as a delicate balance between nature and nurture – a natural feel in the garden yet with a design edge. Thompson & Morgan’s seed scatter boxes work well in this concept as whilst there is a “random” element to the seed distribution, there is also a uniformness in the fact that the varieties have been carefully chosen to suit the desire effect. Our Perennial collections have a similar, though slightly more formal feel to them, giving a wider range of heights, colours and textures in a flower bed.

 

4. Grow your own protein

The vegan movement has gained momentum on social media and in wider media in the past 12 months, becoming more widely recognised as a way of living in the mainstream society. This, alongside the issue of how we sustainably feed the world’s fast-rising population has led to a shift to high protein veg as an alternative to meat.

Good examples of veg that are high in protein are: Peas, spinach, kale, broccoli, sprouts, mushrooms and globe artichokes.

 

 

5. Purple reigns

The health properties of purple vegetables continue  to appeal, usually being higher in anti-oxidants and vitamins as well as having “plate appeal” in restaurants too.

Varieties to look out for include:

Pea Shiraz
Carrot Purple Sun
Cabbage Red Jewel
• Radish Diana
Potato Salad Blue
Brussels Sprout Red Bull
Tomato Indigo Cherry Drops
Sprouting Broccoli Summer Purple

6. Generation rent

With more and more people now choosing to live in rented accomodation, we’re seeing an uplift in houseplants and ‘take-away’ garden containers that can easily be transported to a new property, conatinerised plants are also much easier to rearrgange according to colour schemes, seasonal changes etc
• New this season we have introduced is a full range of house plants to help our customers that are looking into indoor gardening
• Alongside this we have increased the number of pre-planted pots and baskets we have available to our customers, alongside our garden ready plants, which are ideal for planting straight into pots and baskets too
• Shrubs and perennials ideal for containers have also been on the rise, again these can be grown in a large pot and transported easily to a new home without the risk ofloosing an established plant grown in the ground and uprooting it.– more compact forms of garden favourites are; Lavatera ‘Barnsley Baby’ and Buddleja ‘Buzz’™.

7. Climate gardening

David Wolfe, Department of Horticulture at Cornell University said:

“We are in the unfortunate situation of being the first generation of gardeners ever, who cannot rely on historical weather records to tell us what our climate is, or what to expect in the future.”

 

Our customers are increasingly realising that we need to work with what we’ve got and are asking for planting solutions for;

• Wind-swept gardens
• Longer periods of heat/drought
• Extended periods of wet/rain
• Extreme cold/frost

 

Summer bedding needs to withstand drought, but also be able to bounce back after summer down-pours – deeming it “weatherproof”
Spring bedding must be able to cope with increasingly poor winters.
Our hardy nursery stock has to cope with all these factors.
As such, all our new T&M plant introductions are tested for their suitability to variable UK conditions, with the above four factors in mind.

 

8. Under cover gardeners

Again, off the back of more unpredictable weather patterns, we at Thompson & Morgan are seeing increased use of greenhouses, cloches and cold frames in our customer gardens to help level out climate and environment. These help regulate temperatures for crops such as tomatoes and cucumbers an make pleasant environments to garden in too!

9. Stress relief

By 2030, anxiety will be the number one health issue, outranking obesity. A recent survey by Ypulse shows 81% of 18-34 years old are making mental health a priority, looking for new ways to balance physical and mental wellness via ‘digital detox’. Switching off the technology and getting outside.
Gardening and plants can play a big part in mental wellness. Being surrounded by air-purifying plants, creating a quiet tranquil space, eating a plant-based diet are all reflections of wellness trends that have become status symbols for people who make health a priority.

 

 

10. Living Social Network

The concept of companion planting (eg. growing marigolds with tomatoes to keep whitefly away) has moved on from plant pairing to viewing planting schemes as a living ‘social network’ rather than a collection of
individual plants. Creating symbiosis between plants puts the focus on garden design and management rather than time-consuming garden maintenance.
For example:
• Low-growing evergreen grasses being grown as a green mulch to reduce watering and weeding.
• Planting nitrogen fixing plants such as lupins to fix nitrogen and feed soil (and using green manures in general).
• Planting taller plants in gardens to create shade and shelter for smaller additions.
• Growing scented flowers to keep pests away and others to attract beneficial insects and also to help the environment by encouraging bees and butterflies.
• Further symbiotic link with the use of mycorrhizal fungi, with research now showing ‘communication’ and transfer of nutrients, plant to plant, carried by fungi.

Expert tips to make your garden wildlife-friendly

A small garden pond gives this song thrush somewhere to bathe and drink.
Image source: Ondrej Prosicky

By making just a few small changes to the way you garden, you’ll really help native wildlife to thrive. To get you started, here’s some expert advice courtesy of some of the best gardeners and bloggers we’ve found – tips to make your garden more wildlife-friendly.

Planning

Plan hedgehog highways as part of your garden design.
Image source: Colin Robert Varndell

Begin by asking: “what does the wildlife need?” says Brian of Brian’s Birding Blog. To answer the question, think about basics like food, water, shelter, and safety. By planning your garden around the building blocks of survival, your garden will be nature-friendly by design.

That’s a sentiment with which Nic of Dogwood Days wholeheartedly agrees – an attitude she inherited from her father who always says:

The garden is an extension of the wider landscape in terms of its links to nature – the birds, insects and animals.

But too often, we design our gardens with privacy in mind without thinking about how our wild visitors will get about. With a little thought, hedgehog-loving Adam of My Life Outside says that’s easily fixed:

By creating hedgehog highways through our gardens we can join up vast swathes of land and give these fabulous creatures a fighting chance.

So get together with your neighbours and create animal corridors by “lifting a fence panel a few inches, cutting a hole through wire netting or drilling through boundary walls.”

And do remember to provide a water source – an oasis for living creatures. As Brian says, installing a pond “gives the birds another food source and somewhere to bathe and drink,” and as Dave of Why Watch Wildlife adds “A source of fresh, clean water is good for invertebrates [and] amphibians.”

Housing

This nest box is a safe haven for blue tits to raise their young.
Image source: Erni

Now your garden works for wildlife, where will it live? Wildlife expert Dan Rouse is a passionate advocate of “messy zones” which she says can be a simple as “a small piece of old carpet and some bricks behind the shed” – the perfect hidey hole for insects and shy creatures like slow worms. She also says:

Nest spaces or nesting boxes and roosting boxes are fundamental for wildlife to survive.

But it’s not just birds who need high vantage points, it’s bugs and beasties too, as Bill at Frodsham Marsh Bird Blog points out. His garden features a tree whose “winding twisted trunk and small branches hold a selection of brightly painted bean cans which have been filled with a variety of fibre material”.

And don’t forget to make spaces for “lone fliers” to hang out – Bill says a couple of catering size cans fitted with a wooden plug and drilled with holes make ideal accommodation:

Solitary bees can access the interior to live their lives away from predators.

The same goes for dry hogweed stems which, cut to length, can also be used to stuff a tin – but be careful handling the live stuff, Bill says, because the sap can burn your skin. And because more bugs mean more bats fluttering overhead during spring and summer evenings, you’ll need to remember to install a bat box too.

Planting

An apple tree surrounded by wildflowers provides pollen and ground cover.
Image source: DrimaFilm

Look at your garden through the eyes of prospective wildlife visitors. Do you have a tree? If not, maybe consider planting one, or if space is a problem, make existing structures work for birds and insects. Bill (at Frodsham Marsh Bird Blog) whose garden is on the small side says:

The washing line post has Ivy growing up it and now provides thick cover where robin and wren have nested.

Wildlife expert Dan Rouse says using your planting to create layers ensures there’s food for all: “Shrub-like plants like lavender or fuchsia give off a lot of smell and still carry pollen for our pollinators.”

And remember to make sure there’s plenty of ground cover to provide shelter for bugs and food for predators. Dan says:

Smaller plants like ground creeper are great for our insects and small birds to hide in too.

That goes for grass too. Lisa at Edulis Wild Food says to delay mowing until wildflowers growing in it have had chance to bloom: “The bees are grateful for the early food and you realise how diverse your lawn can be if not totally mono-cultured.”

Do you have any wildlife gardening tips you’d like to share? Just head over to our Facebook page and leave us a message – we’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, we’ll leave you with this gem of a tip from Miles at Forager who says it’s not just the wildlife that benefits from wild planting:

Eat your weeds! Bittercress, sow thistle, chickweed, nettles, dandelion are all delicious and nutritious.

Find plenty more wildflower inspiration at our wildflower hub page.

Flaming June in Pembrokeshire

Hello Gardening Friends,

For the first time in many years Pembrokeshire is experiencing an actual “Flaming June!” With temperatures exceeding 25°c most days and sticky 18°c nights, it’s been mostly impossible to garden. The water butt has been emptied days ago, and for now we are using our “Grey Water” from washing up, bathing, and showering to water the beds and borders.

The lawn is only green in so far as its full of clover, thistle, dandelion and daisy. The actual grass is brown and crispy. I can’t remember if it was Monty Don or Alan Titchmarsh who said that a perfect lawn wasn’t good in the summer, but you could keep it green with weeds.

This month I am holding my hand up in admittance of being wrong. Or maybe misguided. A while ago I wrote in one of my blogs, that I didn’t agree with garden designers telling us to chose just a few species of plants and grow many of them. However, due to limited capabilities this is what I did this year. I had an abundance of Black Ball Cornflowers that I planted in large clumps all over the front garden, they with our stalwarts of fuschia,margaritas, red hot pokers, azaleas , firestorm And St John Wart shrubs, created a striking scene. Many neighbours stopped and asked what the pretty little burgundy/black flowers were. They also stopped me to ask if my trial Petunias were real or plastic, because the bright pink against the blue bungalow is pretty hard to miss. So although I hate the thought of growing just one type of flower, it does look very effective and the garden designers were right. I haven’t made my mind up if I will just grow a single variety or not in the future, but it has given me pause for thought.

It’s a little difficult to write about the greenhouse this month, because, quite frankly, not a lot is happening in this heat. But here’s a quick run-through.

The Office.

  • I started off Blue Moon and Pink Moon Radishes along with Rainbow Beetroots. They germinated fantastically quick, but the soaring temperatures had me moving them outside to the cold frame then into their final growing spaces within two weeks. I also had the same success with lettuce, mint and wildflower mixes.
  • Unfortunately the heat has now stopped all germination and I have lost a lot of the seeds to not  being able to keep things moist enough. The compost just kept drying out all the time. The Brussel Sprouts died in the cold-frame and the second batch died in the greenhouse. I will try these again in the autumn. Joseph’s Coat Amaranths thrived in the heat, with seedlings appearing in less than three days. I’ve sowed them in batches, so I have many of them in various states of growth to prolong the season. I love their patterned leaves.
  • Marigold Strawberry Blonde was a huge success too. I marvel at how they change colour as they mature. I will definitely buy these again. Strangely the African Marigolds that were supposed to be in citrus colours are a burgundy red, so the two complement each other. The African ones were not a T&M product and to be honest I am not someone who complains to companies who give out the wrong seeds in the packets, because a) they may have been a more expensive seed b) it worked out well with my colour theme and c) life is too short to complain!
  • The Eating and Sweet peas have been sown, grown and left to scramble up obelisks outside.
  • The purple carrots and yellow courgettes are outside but I fear if we have a water ban then the veg won’t form. Although there are fruits just forming on the courgettes.
  • We have had,and are planning more trips in the motorhome this summer, so for now The Office is just ticking over. I’ll sow more when the weather is cooler, maybe at the end of July. Perhaps it will still be too warm until September and then I will have even less to write about during the summer!
  • Perhaps the biggest surprise for me in The Office is I somehow managed to grow a wildlife border in between the aloes, money tree, cactus and violas. The strappy-leaved houseplants died in the intensive 40° heat so cornflowers, corncockle, veronica, marigold and poppies filled the gaps, along with some amaranths. I’m thinking the wildlife border happened by me either emptying dried out compost pots in the border, or from the nerve damage in my fingers and accidentally dropping seed packets or pots I’d just sown with fresh seeds. Either way, I’m happy with the results.

In Ty Mawr.

 

  • I nearly lost the crops as I couldn’t find any shading paint. I am pretty sure the only reason that the fruit and veg survived is because the English marigolds were so big they provided them with shade.
  • The tomatoes took a really long time to get growing. We tried tomato feed granules, more water, less water, newer compost, but in the end it was leaving the windows open at night that triggered the regrowth. In regards to them, I am trialling two sets of Ferlines, one that has had a natural coating put on the seeds and one without. The one with is in the lead with fruits and flowers forming. I am then comparing these to Yellow Stuffer in terms of colour versus colour. Yellows are taller with fruit just forming, but reds are more prolific.
  • We harvested the garlic, and the onions are not far off. The Rainbow Beetroots are almost ready. The Italian White ones love the heat.
  • The Orange sweet peppers currently have leaf curl, I’m not sure if they will make it. The sweet peppers I grew from Lidl Snack peppers I ate are really strong. I hope I get some fruits soon though.
  • With my aubergine trial the T&M aubergine is tiny and seems to stop growing once it’s put in its final,position – same as last year. The same mix from Lidl Shop bought seeds are doing a lot better. Triple in size. The other third company seed, (but a different variety) are also doing okay. None however have any flowers yet.
  • The Chilli Fire Bucket got full so we split the plants. Three are in the border near the tomatoes and the slugs have had a go at them. Although the slugs were dead after, I feel sorry for the slugs as when I was transplanting the chillies the leaves made my fingers sting. The chillies in the border are slower than the fire bucket which has fruits forming.
  • The slugs ate my other Amaranthus Oesburgh and the Nicotianas. The marigolds kept all the pests away from the crops. Plenty of aphids and caterpillars made their home there in the borders of Ty Mawr but the resident blackbirds usually keep the numbers down.
  • The most successful crop to date is the Cape Gooseberries. They are romping away, and as they climb they form discreet flowers, then the fruits almost like magic appear. I cannot wait for these to ripen, they look delicious.
  • The hanging shelves are empty as the elevated position in direct sunlight is far too hot. I did think about growing pots of cactus but I don’t really know if this is a good idea as I have an aloe vera overload as it is!
  • Dad’s spider plant is looking lush. It sits on the path of Ty Mawr. It survived the brutal cutting back and cold snows earlier in the year.

 

One final thing before I sign off, Mark and I went over to my brother’s house and both Mark and my brother finally to erect his greenhouse. I spent a happy few hours with my nieces teaching them to grow their own foods. I gave them aubergines, sweet peppers, mint,strawberries and radish. Mum came over later on in the and gave them tomato plants.

My other brother has taken on an allotment and his wife has opened a baguette shop in the City of St Davids using local produce. More excitingly they are going to be opening another local business soon, in a well-known tourist hotspot in St Davids!

 

Mum has redesigned her back garden and I gave her my sail shade as we can’t use it in our garden, I won it in a gardening competition ages ago.

The only redesigning I have done in our garden is buy a hammock and plonked it on the back lawn to watch the sun setting! It’s the best £30 I’ve spent this year.

Since what’s happened to me in the last few years, we have all decided to follow our dreams. I was hoping to return to work, though sadly it’s not possible. So for this year my mission is to encourage the family in their pursuits and to spend more time in my garden relaxing in my hammock.

Expert garden upcycling tips

Waste not, want not – the frugal gardener’s mantra.
Image source: Ondacaracola

Savvy gardeners are frugal gardeners for whom “waste” is a dirty word. Here we present some top tips from growers with a passion for repurposing, reusing, and recycling – ways to save money and the environment while helping your garden grow.

Repurpose

tyre-with-grass

Old tyres make excellent planters, but make sure any chemical content doesn’t leach into the soil. Avoid use for food.
Image source: Praiwun Thungsarn

“Stand away from the skip. I repeat, stand away from the skip!” Pete of Weeds up to me knees’ daughter despaired of her dad’s embarrassing habit of examining the contents of every skip he happened to encounter. Pete says:

I’m always looking when I pass skips etc., as I have found some great stuff in them for use in the garden.

Pete adds: “I’m not as bad as I used to be.” Sure, Pete; if you say so…

Another modern-day womble, Sara from My Flower Patch collects mushroom and veg crates from her local pub. As well as offering a good excuse to pop in for a pint, she says she uses the crates to plant up her dahlias: “I can get four or five tubers per blue crate and it uses much less compost and takes up less space than four or five individual pots.”

And then there’s Bill, author of Frodsham Marsh Bird Blog, who, tired of getting sore knees, found a novel solution The Borrowers would be proud of:

An old chair base also made the comfiest garden kneeler to put in some new plants!

Reuse

fabric-reusing-planting

Landscape fabric can be used over and over again if you take good care of it.
Image source: Vadym Zaitsev

If you’re growing through landscape fabric, never cut your holes, always burn them – or at least heat seal the edges, says Kev at the English Homestead: “Cauterising the cut stops the fabric unravelling meaning you can use it again year after year.” Kev says he gets a whopping ten seasons’ use from his.

Another gardener for whom the term “single use plastic” doesn’t compute, is Mal of Mal’s Edinburgh Allotment whose top tip, is as timely as it is ingenious:

Use rewritable tape to transform single use plastic labels into multiple use plastic labels.

Of course, not everyone keeps sheep, but even if you don’t, you’ll like this idea from Karen at the Square Sparrow smallholding in Scotland. She reuses sheeps wool to cover her herbs. As she says:

Sheepish Herbs Survive Winter’s Worst!

Not even the “Beast from the East” could pierce her tender plants snugly covering of sheep’s wool.

Recycle

planting seedlings in eggcups

Never throw away an egg carton – they make excellent seedling trays.
Image source: prachyaloyfar

With leafy ground-covering plants like strawberries, squashes and courgettes, it can be difficult to see where to water, but Belinda from Plot 7 Marsh Lane has a wonderful recycling solution. She cuts the tops off old Cola bottles, to make makeshift funnels which she presses into the ground next to the roots of her plants so the water always gets to where it’s needed.

Another gardener who’s nothing if not resourceful is Rachel of The good life ain’t easy, who germinates seeds in toilet roll tubes and egg cartons, and never one to waste plastic that could be recycled says:

I’ve found grape boxes make perfect reusable greenhouses.

And then there’s Alan of Alan’s Allotment who recycles nature’s bounty itself – specifically comfrey – which he says grows like wildfire and can be used as “compost activator, liquid fertilizer, mulch or side dressing, companion plant for trees and other perennials, and production of potting mixture.

What are your top garden recycling tips? We’d love to hear them. Just head on over to our Facebook page and leave us a message.

From Rake To Bake – Cheats Curry for One

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.

June is perfect for making Cheats Curry for One

With crops sown in late winter now bursting in the allotment, greenhouse or garden, this month, I thought I’d take advantage of some of ingredients available right on our doorstep, along with a way to use up any of last year’s sauces you may have hidden in the freezer.

The list of ingredients used was enough to make just a meal for me as my partner doesn’t like aubergines. Just double/triple etc, the quantities to make extra portions and use up a glut of crops.

Note – I have not used Salt in the list of ingredients as I do not cook with it, however you may wish to use it, therefore just season to taste. You may also add chilli flakes.

Defrost Time 12 Hours. Prep Time 10 minutes. Cooking Time 30 Minutes.

Skills Level Treat as Tender*

Utensils.

  • Chopping Board.
  • Potato Peeler.
  • Vegetable Knife.
  • Small saucepan
  • Large Saucepan with lid.
  • Colander.
  • Spatula
  • WoodenSpoon.
  • Garlic Press/Heavy Handled Knife.

Ingredients.

  • 1 Small bowl of defrosted homemade sauce containing onion, red pepper, garlic, red and yellow tomatoes and herbs and spices.
  • 1 Small potato.
  • 1 Snack sized Sweet Pepper of any colour.
  • 1 Small Onion
  • 1 Clove of Garlic.
  • 1/4 of an Aubergine.
  • 3 Dried Apricots
  • Handful of Raisins.
  • Tablespoon of Olive Oil.
  • Garam Masala.
  • Curry Powder.
  • Black Pepper.

Method.

  1.  Defrost the homemade sauce the night before.
  2.  Peel the potato, cut into bite size chunks and par-boil in the small saucepan.
  3.  While the potato is boiling, de-seed and slice the sweet peppers. Wash and slice 1/4 of the aubergine into identical shaped cubes.
  4.  Chop the dried apricots into quarters. Slice and dice the onion and press the garlic. If you don’t have a press just bash the handle of a heavy knife onto the garlic on a chopping board.
  5.  Drain the potatoes and leave in a colander.
  6.  In the large saucepan, on a low heat mix curry powder, garam masala and black pepper with the olive oil, and allow the spices to infuse.
  7.  Add the garlic and onion and fry until translucent. Next add the aubergines. The aubergines will soak up the oil, but don’t add any more, just turn down the heat and keep moving the pieces around with the spatula/wooden spoon.
  8.  Add the sweet pepper and fry for about two minutes. Next pour over your sauce, stir well, cover with the lid and heat for ten minutes.
  9.  Add the cooked potato, apricots and raisins. Taste and add more spices if needed.
  10.  Replace the lid and heat on low for a further ten minutes. If your sauce is getting too thick you can either add some vegetable stock or a splash of boiling water.
  11.  When you have the desired consistency and taste, serve immediately.

 

Go traditional and eat with rice and naan bread.

Go British and serve with chips.

Go Lazy and just eat with brown bread and butter.

 

Grow Your Own.

Home-Grown food is on the increase – with more and more people waiting for allotments, but you don’t need a huge area to grow tasty crops. There are many websites, bloggers, books and magazines showing how even the smallest space is capable of producing an abundance of fruit and veg.

Make windowsill propagators out of fruit punnets to grow salad leaves.

Use an un-lidded dustbin to grow potatoes.

The only limit is your imagination!

*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.

Blooming good tips for flower growers

Colourful flower borders are a joy to behold.
Image source: Artens

To help you get the most from your flower garden, we asked some of our favourite green-fingered bloggers for their expert tips and advice. From planning your beds to pruning, here’s some great advice to get your flowers blooming like never before.

Plan

Limiting your colour scheme can have a dramatic impact.
Image source: Elena Elisseeva

Resist the temptation to plant anything until you’ve had chance to think about the kind of display you’d like to create, says Emma at Palais Flowers. She emphasises just how important it is to think about colour:

Block colour makes a real statement whilst clashing tones remind us of the wonder and diversity of flowers!

And do consider how your planting scheme will keep you in blooms throughout the growing season and beyond. Dave at Wild Nature Blog loves year-round colour. He goes for “winter and spring flowering clematis, verbena bonariensis for summer into autumn, and late-flowering species such as sedum.”
Keeping the blooms coming is great for nature too, wildlife loving Dave says: “Insects are a critical part of any food web, so this will benefit all wildlife in your garden.”

Prolong

Removing spent blooms from roses will prolong the plant’s flowering season.
Image source: Jason Kolenda

You want your flowers to bloom for as long as possible, and while staggering your planting is one approach, regular and judicious pruning and deadheading will make all your flowers last longer and produce more blooms.
We all know that bedding plants can get a bit leggy later in the summer, which is why Carol, aka The Sunday Gardener, pinches out the growing tips of her bedding plants during May and June. She says:

It makes the plant grow more bushy and throw out side shoots so the plant has more flowers.

Try this technique with “verbena, begonias, geraniums, busy lizzies, petunias, lobelia, fuchsias, and just about all bedding plants, including sweet peas”. Carol also recommends deadheading your plants regularly to help them bloom until October.

Pick

Enjoy flowers in your home and your garden.
Image source: Maya Kruchankova

Don’t leave it until your blooms are past their best to deadhead them, says Sara at My Flower Patch. She says, picking flowers encourages more to take their place, meaning you get to enjoy all your favourite blooms inside your home as well as out. To give your cut flowers the best chance of lasting, she says to:

Pick freshly opened buds in the cool of the morning, or as the temperature cools in the late evening with a sharp pair of scissors or flower snips.

Pop your cut flowers into “a bucket or jar of water, and leave them to ‘condition’…Then choose your favourite vase to arrange them into.” Her favourite flowers from the garden are, cornflowers, cosmos, ammi visnaga, sweet peas, scabious and antirrhinums, all of which will go on to produce more blooms as you pick.

Prune

For spectacular wisteria you’ll need to prune your plant at the right time.
Image source: SpiffyStephie

Wondering when’s best to prune your wisteria? Horticulturist, Lou Nicholls says to get the best display, remember the old adage:

Longest cut, longest day; shortest cut, shortest day.

By pruning the “long whippy growth at midsummer back to 5 buds” you’ll encourage plenty of side shoots for next year’s flowers, Lou says. Then come midwinter, reduce all those extra side shoots to two buds, and you’ll have lovely “big flowering spikes” to look forward to.
As well as pruning, keep your eye on new growth on your climbers says Thomas at Thomas Stone Horticultural Services:

Look at any climbing plants like roses or clematis at least once per week and tie in any new growth with 3 ply twine.

Do also remember your foliage, as well as flowering plants, Thomas says. Try treating your “box hedging, and topiary, as well as other plants with liquid seaweed which will strengthen the foliage and make them stronger to fight foliage diseases.”
If you have a tip for making your garden bloom, we’d love to hear from you. Just drop us a line via our Facebook page. In the meantime, we’ll leave you with this lovely daffodil tip from Susan Rushton:

Don’t cut daffodils, pluck them.

She says by gripping at the base of the stem and pulling, you leave the end of the stalk sealed; with the sap still inside the flower will last longer and won’t contaminate the other stems in the vase.

The Delights of Dahlias

After languishing for a while outside garden fashion, dahlias are suddenly being recognised again for their very many useful attributes. Long in flower (June to early December in a sheltered spot), easy to grow, invaluable in the summer border, a desirable cut flower — the list goes on! They offer a wide range of flower types, some small enough for terrace containers, as well as a rainbow of warm, vibrant colours. The dahlia’s return to popularity is long-overdue and much deserved!

Officially, the dahlia is a tender tuberous-rooted perennial, growing from scratch each year from chubby, finger-like roots. In colder areas these roots are lifted in the autumn to protect from frosts, the plants then started out again in the spring when the danger of frost has passed. However on the Isle of Wight, where I garden, they can be regarded as generally winter hardy with a little root protection against any unusually penetrating frosts.

Dahlias tolerate a wide range of soil types, but will do best in well-prepared, fertile soil, with good drainage, and positioned in full light. For super results, it is worth incorporating some well rotted manure into the soil, plus a handful of slow release organic fertiliser containing trace elements. Once the flowers start to appear, a high potash feed (I use tomato fertiliser) is very beneficial, given every couple of weeks through to early September.

Playing safe with dahlias for the winter involves lifting them when the first light frost has taken the foliage down; this is also the best procedure if more of that variety are required for the following year, as they can be split in the spring as growth starts from the tuber, to create further plants. After digging the tubers, trim the stems back to 6 – 8in, remove excess soil and allow any surface moisture to dry before transferring them to boxes containing old potting compost, moist sand or vermiculite. These boxes can then be overwintered in a frost free place, covered with an old blanket or fleece for extra protection until the spring when the growing cycle starts again. It is wise to check the tubers from time to time while in storage to make sure that none are rotting, or drying out.

In early spring simply split the tubers ensuring each piece has at least a couple of good initial shoots, pot up in general purpose compost and grow on in a frost free greenhouse. It is important to give minimal water until growth starts in earnest. For sturdy plants, five shoots are the maximum to allow to grow from each tuber, any excess should be pinched out; the main shoot produced from these five will also benefit from the tip being removed after planting out, just as the first flower buds are formed.

If nowhere under cover is available to grow on dahlias that are being split to propagate, then they can simply be planted out in late May in their final positions, each split piece possessing shoots and root — although involving less work, these plants will start to flower several weeks behind those brought on in a greenhouse.

The larger varieties will need some support to prevent any gusty summer winds damaging the sappy hollow stems when the plant is heavy with flower. This support can either be a short stake plus some twine, or make, as I do, a wire cylinder of stock fencing held onto a metal upright by cable ties. These last well from year to year, and can also be used to enclose a little root protection compost in colder gardens to benefit plants being overwintered in the ground.

Besides supporting the plants, other routine care involves deadheading. Having a regular round of deadheading keeps the plant smart and encourages a very long season of bloom. Unfortunately dahlias are beloved of slugs, so to avoid any disappointment they should be protected with organic slug pellets, nematodes, or a physical barrier right from the outset.

The main reason dahlias were banished to the horticultural wilderness for so long was the perception that their flowers could be coarse and their colours unsubtle. However recent breeding has brought forth delicate cultivars, intriguing new types, and a much more attractive palette — there are now dahlias for every scheme and every garden style. I particularly value the very dark shades through from deepest midnight purple to velvety chocolate brown; these lusciously deep tones are a wonderful contrast to the reds, vermillion and apricot shades of the cannas they share space with in my borders.

Potting up an overwintered tuber in spring

Planting out after growing on in the greenhouse

Placing the wire support that will be quickly covered by the growing plant

Using the wire support to enclose compost for protection of a dahlia left in the ground over winter

Some Favourite Varieties:

‘Ice and Fire’

Dahlia ‘Lubega Power Yellow-Orange’

Dahlia ‘Yellow Star

 

Dahlia ‘Lubega Power Tricolor’

 

 

 

 

If you enjoyed this article, and want to learn more about growing dahlias from tubers or seeds and how to care for these gorgeous blooms, head to our dahlia hub page.

Expert gardening tips for beginners

Gardening is a lifelong learning curve based on shared knowledge, trial and error.
Image source: Rawpixel.com

If you’re just getting into gardening and could do with some help and advice to set you on your way, we’ve got just what you need: handy tips from gardeners from across the blogosphere. These growers have planted and grown it all before, so give yourself a head start by learning from their wealth of experience. Here are five golden rules of growing for newbies.

1. Enjoy

Take time to enjoy your garden’s journey, not just the finished product.
Image source: NinaMalyna

The first thing to remember about gardening is that it’s supposed to be fun. Learning anything new can have its frustrating moments, but do remember to give yourself the time and space to enjoy working outdoors.

Be confident, says Geoff of Driftwood by Sea, who created his amazing seaside garden from scratch as a total beginner. His message is simple: “Go for it and you will succeed.”

Hayley of Hayley’s Lottie Haven grows a wonderful selection of healthy fruit and veg at her allotment, and her advice is also simple: “Take a step back to enjoy the fruits of your labour.” She says:

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in weeding, watering and harvesting, we forget to look at what we’ve achieved.

Above all, look on your new-found hobby as a way to practise being patient. As Adam of Carrot Tops Allotment says: “The world is moving at a faster and faster pace these days, so make the most of something moving slowly for a change.”

2. Embrace the learning curve

Make confident decisions – if they don’t work out you can always change them.
Image source: WeAre

If you’re just starting out, the chances are that you’ll experience a few hiccups on the road to growing success. Our experts’ advice is simple – embrace your failures and learn from them. You’re on a learning curve – learn to love learning.

“Nobody gets it right first time. Plants can be moved, new varieties of fruit and vegetables can be sown and garden designs can be developed,” says Kate of Diary of a Country Girl:

When something works it’s amazingly satisfying and surely that’s why we all garden!

That’s a sentiment with which Richard, creator and curator of a wonderful resource for gardeners, the Veg Grower Podcast, agrees. He says:

“Whether it’s a seed that didn’t germinate or a plant that didn’t flourish it’s not the end of the world. Look into what went wrong and rectify that for next time.”

3. Start off small

Even a small raised bed is enough space to get a vegetable garden started.
Image source: sanddebeautheil

There’s nothing more demoralising than starting off your gardening career with high ambitions only to find you don’t have the time, ability, and knowhow to bring them to fruition. But by starting off small, our experts say, you’ll develop your skills and capabilities so that one day, you’ll turn round and realise that you have, after all, created your dream garden.

“Don’t be afraid to be utterly realistic about your goals,” says Lucy at the Smallest Smallholding:

Focus on one thing at a time and try to enjoy the rambling and vigour of nature. Accept that imperfection is part of living in the natural world!

That’s advice that Kris, The Allotment Cook would recognise. When he first took over his allotment, trying to do too much meant he achieved little and he admits: “ I was aching in places I didn’t even know existed.” He says:

I learnt to take things a bit slower, plan and be patient….I focused on strawberries, chillies, potatoes and onions. The plan worked and I was eating them all the way through the winter.

If you’re taking on a large plot, don’t feel obliged to cultivate it all at once says Sarah at Digging the Earth:

“Simply strim it back, cover and tackle a bit at a time. Just uncover when you’re ready for it., and plant up as you go.”

4. Be adventurous

Experiment with growing unusual plants and flowers from seeds.
Image source: Shutterstock

Garden with a spirit of adventure and you’ll never look back, our panel of experts say. Always keen to take a chance on something new, they know they won’t always succeed, but embracing challenge means your gardening journey is always exciting and fun.

“I try to grow as many plants from seeds and cuttings,” says Sally at Sally’s Garden Blog. “I find it fascinating, it saves me a fortune, and there are so many incredible seeds available.”

Dawn of Being Self Sufficient in Wales agrees: “Be adventurous if you want to have a go at growing something different go for it, you don’t have to grow what everyone else grows.” She says:

It’s your garden and if you provide the right growing conditions then the growing world is your oyster.

And don’t just experiment with your selection of plants, try new things with your growing space too, as Dawn of Being Self Sufficient in Wales suggests:

Experiment: growing vertically will give you more growing space.

5. Get some training

Try the internet or book a local gardening course to learn new techniques.
Image source: Kaspars Grinvalds

With so much gardening knowledge available at the click of a mouse, it can be difficult to know which advice to put your faith in. That’s why it’s a good idea to get yourself some training from a reputable source, or simply invest in one good gardening book to get you started.

Sally at Sally’s Garden Blog puts it succinctly. She says:

I bought a really basic gardening book which had a weekly gardening project, I loved it, it really made me want to get gardening.

25 years later, via a postgrad degree in landscape architecture, and a lecturership in horticulture, Sally now works as a professional gardener.

Alice Vincent who gardens 60ft up, takes things a step further. Her book ‘How to Grow Stuff: Easy, no-stress gardening for beginners’, contains just the sort of advice fledgeling gardeners need to get them started. She says:

If you kill something, try and learn why.

Pete at Weeds up to me Knees says it’s a good idea to keep your eye on the courses on offer through your local authority, something he feels he’s benefitted from greatly: “the secret is, whatever gardening knowledge you have you can always expand on it as there’s so much to learn!”

We hope you’re inspired to get out into the garden and start digging. If you have any tips for gardening beginners that you think we’ve missed, just drop us a line via our Facebook page, and we’ll get back to you. In the meantime, we’ll leave you with this little gem from Geoff at the Driftwood by the Sea:

Always do what you feel is right for you and your plot. Don’t be swayed by what the experts say!

The minty fresh taste of summer

Chocolate Mint is one of the more interesting varieties
Image source: Nic Wilson

Mint is the most versatile of herbs – it adds zest to summer desserts and savoury dishes, and flavours herbal teas and cocktails. It thrives in semi-shade where other Mediterranean herbs like thyme and rosemary might struggle.

There are so many types available, all with different scents and uses – so it’s helpful to know a little about the different varieties before you start growing. But if you just want to jump into growing something versatile, then a basic mint plant is perfect for getting started.

Which Mint?

Banana mint has a mild flavour
Image source: Nic Wilson

My favourites include tall apple mint (Mentha suaveolens) whose furry leaves add a fresh tang to boiled new potatoes with butter; it’s also really good in mint sauce. For herbal teas I prefer spicy varieties like peppermint (Mentha x piperita) – a cross between watermint and spearmint, Moroccan mint (Mentha spicata var. crispa ‘Moroccan’) and Tashkent mint (Mentha spicata ‘Tashkent’), also known as spearmint.

For even more flavour, I combine the mint with lemon verbena leaves for an aromatic hot tea, or add sugar, cool the tea and add ice cubes as a refreshing drink on hot summer afternoons. Moroccan and Tashkent mint also have the advantage of being resistant to mint rust, a common fungal disease that can affect leaves from spring until the autumn.

Other varieties to try include ginger mint (Mentha x gracilis ‘Variegata’), an attractive plant with variegated yellow and green foliage that tastes great with fruit salads. Or choose dark chocolate mint (Mentha x piperita f. citrata ‘Chocolate’) my children’s favourite, with deep red stems and leaves that really do taste of mint choc chip ice cream.

The spicy foliage of basil mint (Mentha x piperita f. citrata ‘Basil’) adds a tang to oils and vinegars,and the soft leaves of banana mint (Mentha arvensis ‘Banana’) have a mild flavour with just a hint of banana. There’s even a variety from Cuba called Mojito mint (Menthat villosa ‘Mojito’) which has a warm sweet flavour ideal for combining with soda water, lime juice, white rum and sugar to create the traditional Cuban highball.

Growing and Propagating Mint

Mint is a vigorous plant that spreads unless contained
Image source: shutterstock/Izf

It’s a good idea to grow mint in containers, unless you have a large patch that will tolerate invasion by this vigorous perennial. I have grown mint in large bottomless pots sunk into the ground – you just have to be vigilant and pull out any surface runners before they root and escape into the garden.

Mint thrives in semi-shade and likes to be kept well watered, but it copes with full shade and full sun too. It’s best to avoid growing different mints close together or in the same container as they can lose their distinct scents and flavours.

Once you have mint it’s quick and easy to propagate by stem or root cuttings. Either turn the plant out of the pot, break off a few roots (with or without shoots) and bury just below the surface in peat-free compost, or take several stem cuttings from a healthy plant and place around the rim of a pot filled with gritty compost. Keep moist until you see new growth and then pot on.

In the Garden

Corsican mint (or ‘mini mint’) forms a green carpet on the ground
Image source: David Eickhoff

Mint is also valuable in the garden as an ornamental plant. Creeping Corsican mint (Mentha requienii) creates a relaxed look trailing along a gravel path, between stepping stones or over rocks. At only 3-10cm high, it forms a mat on the ground and releases its spicy aroma when crushed underfoot. As with all flowering mints, this Corsican mint is a magnet for bees which love its tiny mauve flowers.

Hanging baskets are another ideal place for ornamental mint. Indian mint (Satureia douglasii  ‘Indian Mint’), a tender perennial in the mint family, has delicate white long-lasting flowers that cascade over the sides of a basket. Or as we’ve done this year, plant sweet strawberry mint (Mentha x piperita ‘Strawberry’) in the centre of a hanging basket surrounded by trailing strawberry plants and then harvest both for a delicious dessert – just add cream. Find more great growing suggestions for your mint and other herbs at our herb hub page.

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.

Easy gardening tips from the experts

Make the most of these tried and tested tips from experienced gardeners.
Image source: welcomia

A great way to get the most from your garden is to follow the advice and guidance of generous gardeners who’ve already been there and done it. Here we bring you some top growing tips from expert gardeners and bloggers – green fingered folk who know their onions.

Enjoy it!

Don’t forget the wildlife that helps your garden look so spectacular.
Image source: The Forgotten Garden

Rule number one from Patricia from The Forgotten Garden in North Devon is simply to relax and enjoy what you’re doing: “Don’t spend time focussing on what you can’t do, just focus on what you can, with an eye on the wildlife that shares the garden with you.”

Although it must be said that Patricia, in a true modest gardener way, would never describe herself as an expert. She rightly points out that all gardeners are “learning as we go, and enquiring minds discovering more!”

Another horticulturist with a laissez-faire attitude is professional gardener, Judi of Judi Samuels Garden Design who sees many clients over-pruning shrubs to force them to conform to a particular space in the garden. Instead, she advises growers not to impose their will onto a plant, but rather, “allow it to be what it knows it is.” She says:

Part of my life’s work is teaching clients about right plant, right place – celebrating the form of a plant and allowing it to be.

In the same vein, Mike at Flighty’s Plot is all about “enjoying what you do”, which for him involves giving yourself the space to simply try things to see what happens without putting yourself under too much pressure to succeed every time.

Less is more

A plate full of edible “weeds” can result when a section of garden is left to its own devices.
Image source: Totally Wild

Why not let the earth itself tell you what it wants to grow? Says James of Totally Wild. He recommends leaving a 2m square patch of soil bare so that “so-called” weeds can fill it:

“Once you know what grows there, discover what you can do with it. The nettles are edible, the dandelions can make coffee, the chickweed a salad, and ground elder is fantastic wilted.”

And don’t bite off more than you can chew says Jono of Real Men Sow: “Even if you are lucky enough to get a full size plot, don’t feel pressurised to use it all.” Keeping things small and manageable makes sense, he says:

Concentrate on growing the food you enjoy, and not trying to grow so much that you can’t maintain a neat and tidy plot.

Take note

Sow your seeds at the right time for stronger plants and better crops.
Image source: Grow Like Grandad

Do always take note of the weather says Matt of Grow Like Grandad – it will catch out the hasty gardener:

Don’t be in a hurry to sow seeds early or plant out tender crops, you’ll only end up doing the same job twice.

A sure-fire way to expand your gardening knowledge is to make a note of all the interesting plants you come across while you’re out and about says Sally of Sally’s Garden Blog: “I always keep a gardening notebook and pen to write down any interesting plant I come across and a camera to remind myself of great plants.”

Reduce, reuse, recycle

Part fill heavy pots with polystyrene to make them easier to move.
Image source: sattahipbeach

If you’re growing in large pots in an urban garden or on a balcony, Ellen of Ellen Mary Gardening says you can make them much easier to move about by half filling them with packing peanuts before planting:

It’s a great way to recycle packaging and lessen waste and all you need to do is place some landscape fabric on top, then your soil and plant up.

Meanwhile, Mal of Mal’s Edinburgh Allotment has a great tip for reducing waste. He says: “Use writable tape to transform single use plastic labels into multiple use plastic labels.”

Got an old plastic striplight cover? Rachel at The Good Life Ain’t Easy’s ingenious tip is to use it as an outdoor propagator to get your seeds to germinate. Hers “worked like mini greenhouses warming up the soil” – what a great idea.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our contributors’ fab gardening tips; if you have any of your own to add, please leave us a message on our Facebook page. In the meantime, we’ll leave you with this little pearl of wisdom from Thomas at Thomas Stone Horticultural Services:

Take 15 minutes to enjoy your garden; sit down and relax in it and enjoy your hard work.

And that’s perhaps the most important tip of all…

Meet the experts

The T&M blog has a wealth of knowledgeable contributors. Find out more about them on our "Meet the experts" page.

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