Giving Giants a Go

Last year, I saw a feature on BBC News live from RHS Hyde Hall where Matthew Oliver had smashed the record for the largest pumpkin grown outdoors in the U.K. The giant weighed in at an incredible 605kg which is 95 stone in old money. Inspired, I thought next year I would give it a go.

I purchased some seed from the Thompson & Morgan website with the seeds being named. “Matt’s Monster.” I also discovered a page on their website “How to Grow a Giant Pumpkins” which has some great tips and how to get started.

I have been a keen gardener and grower of vegetables and flowers for the last seven or eight years. Although this may not seem a long time I am still only 22! I have never really had the space or knowledge to grow pumpkins of any size let alone a giant! I sowed the seed in my electronic propagator, another first for me this year and I was off. The starting gun had been fired.

 

Soon enough I had two small pumpkin plants that were in need of being planted out. Both were rather leggy and I wasn’t convinced they were going to become anything. One thing I know about pumpkins is that they are very hungry plants. So I decided there was only one place these could go. The compost heap. Before I knew these tiny plants had swamped the compost pile and was heading for the roof of the greenhouse! The growth rates on the plants were phenomenal and like nothing I had ever seen before.

 

After a continued expansion in growth that I managed to move away from the greenhouse and out onto the garden the flowers began to come. At first I was confused because there seemed to just be male flowers with no female flowers. Female flowers are identified by the small ball behind the flower. At last I had a female flower and my giant had been born.

The growth of the pumpkin has been just as impressive as the growth of the plant. It grew from a cricket ball size on 15/07/17 to beach ball size just ten days later. I took photos so that I could keep a record of how fast it grew. I even got my mum to take photos and send me daily updates of the progress of the giant pumpkin’ while I was away on holiday. I expect by the end of the season it will have bulked up to a decent size. However, nothing like what Matthew Oliver managed to achieve.

 

 

The lessons I have learnt from this experiment have been fantastic. It has reminded why I fell in love with horticulture which is that you never stop learning. Although I am by no means an expert I’ve learnt a lot this season and will use my knowledge to beat this year’s efforts next year. Also it has encouraged me to try new things out and not be afraid to make mistakes. I’m sure this year I made many mistakes but all that has done has put me in a better position next year. So from now on every year I have challenged myself to have a go at growing something I’ve never grown before. I would thoroughly encourage you all to do the same!

 

 

Thomas Carpenter
My name is Thomas Carpenter and I live in Essex. At my home I have a vegetable patch and greenhouse where I grow a range of flowers and vegetables for both the show bench and for eating. I am the Show Secretary for my local horticultural society and have been a member there for the last eight years. Currently I am in training with the Essex Guild of Horticultural Judges and the National Vegetable Society. I have a real passion for growing and showing vegetables as well as encouraging children and young people to get involved with horticulture.

In Search of Seasonality

A first blog for Thompson & Morgan

We’ve been witnessing a bit of a quiet revolution in recent times, with more and more of us turning away from mass-produced convenience foods towards a more organic, back to nature approach, including the food we order out.  It’s reached such levels that apparently some folks are even blaming Millennials for their lack of savings on an over-fondness for artisan brunches of avocado toast (no, really).  I personally love an avocado, so I’m not judging.

Yet despite this, research suggests that children in the UK are disconnected from the environment, and the food on their plates…cue much hand-wringing and rose-tinted nostalgia for the olden days.

Well I say let’s not blame anyone young or old for not knowing the provenance of their food, or even when it is meant to be ‘in season’. Lots of us live urban, busy lives with little access to an outdoors space for growing things after all.

I don’t mind admitting that growing up in 1980’s suburban Birmingham, I had no idea food even had a ‘season’; it just came from the supermarket, right? At school, Harvest Festival hampers wouldn’t be groaning with fresh produce, but rather clanking with tinned peas and pineapple.  Canned macaroni cheese, anyone?

Nobody likes a moaner though, do they? So what can we do about it?

Get Digging – grab the kids and get outside this summer.

Got a tiny space or just pushed for time?

  • Containers are your friend. Window or balcony boxes can be filled with herbs, salad veg, or even things like kale and dwarf beans. Chuck in some seeds and eat your own produce just several weeks later. That’s practically instant gratification.
  • Oh, if the packet tells you to thin out, it’s best off doing so. Look at this from my own garden.  Tiny, crowded, unhappy beetroot (still eating it though)

Got a slightly bigger space?

  • Planting a fruit tree is such a good thing. The Victoria plum in the back garden, after several years of sluggish output, has this year excelled itself. So much so, we’re making a homemade crumble with it this weekend. What’s not to love?

Before, I’d always associated plums with being a purely autumnal fruit but it turns out they belong in summer too. That delights me, and brings us neatly back to the theme of this blog, namely learning to reconnect with our food and understand its space in the growing year.

encouraging children to grow in the garden

In these blogs I’ll be writing about what’s going on in the garden, what’s doing well and what really isn’t. As an enthusiastic novice with a standard new-build sized garden, I like to pick up tips from been-there-done-that family members, oh and the internet of course (don’t we all?) Hoping you can join me along the way.

I’m interested, though.  Do you grow your own, and if so what? Comment here and share it with the group.  See you next time!

 

Alison Hooper
I’ve lived in various places from freezing flats in Manchester with just enough room to swing a pot rubber plant, to a Leicester semi which must have held some kind of local record for most concrete used in the garden. That took some digging out.

Now living in Market Harborough with husband Matt and two young daughters. And a cat who shows up for mealtimes.

Gardening neophyte, learning always.

The scent of a sweet pea

Does any flower smell more enchanting than the sweet pea?

sweet peas in vase

Probably.

An old fashioned rose, a tropical tiare, a heady jasmine, an undiscovered sticky frilly thing growing in a rainforest, I’m sure there are many. But I am quite certain that no other flower offers a more abundant fragrant experience that is guaranteed to fill your home with whiffy joy for the whole summer season.

I am led by my nose.

As a fragrance writer, my passion for scent translates readily to my garden. My plot is tiny, a ‘typically Yorkshire’ humble patch that fronts my equally tiny Victorian home. I have to be selective  about what goes in there. If it isn’t fragrant it has to be exceptionally pretty to be squeezed in.

This year, I decided to make the most of vertical space by growing varieties of sweet peas that are noted for their spectacular scent. I trialled 3 varieties of Thompson & Morgan seeds and an unknown variety leftover from last year (I did know at some point but my memory has made space for new things!). They are; ‘Promise’, ‘Juliet’ and ‘Fragrantissima’.

sweet pea promiseMy favourite of the 3 varieties was Promise.

Promise nearly did not live up to it’s promise. The first seeds were sown in a South facing unheated windowsill propagator in March. Nothing happened. Despite my cat frequently sitting atop the lid in the manner of a hen hatching eggs, the soil remained shoot free.

Promise was given a second chance outdoors in my make-shift mini greenhouse in early April. April Promise germinated at a rapid rate and produced several healthy plants. I pinched out the tips after a few pairs of leaves had set and left them to fatten up. What then fattened up was some rampant slugs that devoured the young plants leaving only meagre remains.

The meagre remains were transplanted to a high container well away from the vile slimers with a few fresh seeds popped in for good luck.  Though it took almost 3 months to get there, I now have a pot full of intensely scented flowers in vibrant shades of pink from shocking fuchsia to pale strawberry ice cream. The fragrance is stunning, with a sweet sugared almond quality topping what we know as ‘the smell of sweet peas’. The long stems make choosing a vase easy and they sit well amongst other cottage garden plants such as Godetia and Cornflowers.

sweet pea julietThe easiest variety to grow was Juliet. I sowed seeds on both the windowsill and outdoors in their growing spot. The young seedlings all thrived, again pinched out but this these little plants somehow avoided slug carnage.  Just 4 plants have made a 5 foot wall of scent with a bushy vigorous habit. They are positively bionic. The longest of the stems I gathered today was a massive 12 inches making them ideal for the show bench were I brave enough to engage in competitive gardening. The powerful scent lasts for at least a day longer than the other varieties when cut for the vase, however I’m not sure that I like it as much as Promise. Whilst it is definitely a sweet pea fragrance, there is a hint of green sappiness and an odd musky quality that makes it feel slightly ‘feral’. The cream coloured flowers do however make for beautiful arrangements, complimenting showier companions.

 

 

Fragrantissima was sown rather late directly in my friend’s allotment. It hasn’t flowered yet but it’s covered in buds and ready to pop at any moment. It appears to be trying to mate with its bountiful courgette neighbour.

The unknowns turned out to be what we think of as a traditional Spencer type mix, with blooms in a variety of colours on relatively short stems. It smells exactly as you’d imagine it to smell and has seduced the Postman who I I caught with his nose in a bloom halfway up the garden path.

This autumn I will early sow Promise once more, perhaps surrounded by eggshells, beer traps, copper rings and a bloke hired from a security company on night watch. I’ll also be growing ‘Heirloom Mixed’ and ‘High Scent’ which both promise to be delightfully fragrant.

I’d love to hear what are you fragrant favourites this year.

 

Sarah Waite
After living in a city flat for 6 years, I’ve recently become the obsessive owner of a tiny ramshackle house and garden in West Yorkshire. I love to grow scented flowers as perfume is my passion and raising my whiffy plants from seed makes me feel like a goddess!
I am the author of Odiferess, a blog about perfume and the often bizarre culture of the scented world. You can find me at http://odiferess.blogspot.co.uk.

Was it a bird? Was it a squirrel?………….

………….I actually found out later that it was a Sugar Glider from Australia. Whilst walking away from a garden centre to the car I saw something on the trunk of one of the Yucca trees that was in a planter just outside the entrance.  As we got closer it looked like a baby squirrel but then it took off and jumped about 10 metres on to a wall covered in ivy.  We watched it for a few minutes it then disappeared.  On checking Google found that the Sugar Glider is sometimes bought in this country as a pet but because they are very difficult to keep, they are then let loose.  I hope it survived all the rain we had had lately, I am just grateful that Alan was with me and also saw it otherwise I might have thought I was seeing things.

I am trying to catch up with my Blog after a hectic few weeks, my right hand man (Husband Alan) has not been able to help much with the lifting etc. in the garden as the lens that was put in 12 years ago after a cataract operation slipped to the bottom of his eye and he cannot see above half way.  A new cataract operation was scheduled for 13th July which was cancelled and the new date is 2nd August.  All this time he is unable to drive, so we have had to rely on neighbours, friends and family for getting to supermarkets etc.

begonia apricot shades

Passion or Obsession……………I love Begonia Apricot Shades amongst many other.  This year I have planted over 200 garden ready plants of Apricot Shades, mainly in hanging baskets, window box and tubs.  I was asked if I was obsessed with them, I hadn`t really thought about it like that – but maybe I am.  I am always thrilled when they are all flowering, especially if I catch the early sun shining on them.    I had a head count and found I  had a triple basket (12” 14” 16”) joined together by a chain that my husband made for me, three baskets on one fence and two half baskets on the other fence, with a 2 further hanging baskets, a window box as well and the remaining plants amongst several of my containers.  Two half barrel containers which, at the moment, are overflowing with flowers.

jean's fuchsias

My other passion is Fuchsias, I bought some Fuchsia `Icing Sugar ` which I trialled last year and they were very successful.  Another favourite fuchsia is called `Wendy`s Beauty` a pretty mauve and white large flower, my Sister`s name is Wendy so I grow them for her as she lives in California.  This year I bought some Giant Flowered Fuchsias from Thompson & Morgan and they certainly grow like their name.  For something different this year I am growing a climbing fuchsia called `Swingtime` in one of Thompson and Morgan Tower Pots;  they have now reached the top of the trellis and flowering profusely.

Having decided to grow petunias again this year after a couple of years that were not too successful, I am now thinking that maybe I should have decided on something else.  We have had such awful winds and rain that a couple of containers were completely destroyed one night, yet I discovered that the Night Sky petunias and the Queen of Hearts petunias stood up to a lot more rain before they too shredded.  Also in future I think I will grow smaller petunias and not the big ones although I really like them.

Hope you are all enjoying your gardens this summer, don`t forget the sun cream and hat, so until the next time……..Happy Gardening.

Jean

Jean Willis
I started gardening 65 years ago on my Dad’s allotment and now live in Bournemouth, where spend a lot of time gardening since retiring. In 2012 I won the Gold Award for Bournemouth in Bloom Container Garden. I am a member of Thompson & Morgan’s customer trial panel.

Thompson & Morgan Triallist’s Blog – July 2017

GAPS KEEP APPEARING

I feel sorry for David, I really do! He can’t help getting nervous when every time I go into the garden I dig up any plant that displeases me, seemingly on a whim. He reckons if he stands still too long I‘ll get rid of him an’all! I felt so vindicated when, a couple of weeks ago, Monty said that in his opinion it was perfectly acceptable to get rid of a plant if you had “gawn awf” it. Sell it for charity, give it away to friends, compost it, but replace it with something you love. I suppose I have always felt guilty about doing that, as if somehow I had a duty of care to those plants which have fallen out of favour, disloyal in a way. Not so anymore! I have been whipping them out with obscene abandon and thus have ended up with immense new planting possibilities.

Well, obviously (you know me, he who hesitates is lost) by the time you read this those gaps will have been filled, so let me tell you about the provenance of some new additions to the borders:

compost bins, planter 3 wise monkeys, july 2017

In early July David and I went on our annual pilgrimage aka The Hampstead Garden Suburb Horticultural Society coach holiday. Based in Kings Lynn for three days, we visited Easton Walled Garden (compost bins spotted on Google Earth) on the way up, Henstead Exotic Garden in Beccles and Bishop’s House Gardens (Diocese of Norwich) to the East, and Cathy Brown’s Garden and the late lamented Geoff Hamilton’s Barnsdale on the way back. Plants to the right of me, plants to the left!

compost toilet - july 2017You could be forgiven for thinking you were in the midst of the Burmese jungle at Henstead Exotic Garden, that is until you reached the wire boundary overlooking the neighbouring housing estate. Point of Interest: Compost toilet Throne Room. Souvenirs of visit: Papyrus, Aeonium Schwarzkopf and miniature gunnera magellanica. Amazing host, worth a visit to meet him alone.

Barnsdale. Well, what a walk down Memory Lane! The Gentleman’s Cottage Garden, the Artisan’s Cottage Garden, and as soon as we entered the Paradise Country Garden my head was full of the haunting TV series sound track.  I am a sucker for a celebrity so our visit to their nursery (Paradise indeed) was all the more special because of the presence of Nick Hamilton, who even identified a plant for me. Talk about Plant Lust though: Revered (and oft feared for her unlimited knowledge of Latin plant names, most notably vernonia crinita) group leader Diane was on the hunt for a potentilla Gibson’s Scarlet. Oh the dilemma when she found it! I can’t have those flower stems flopping over my edges, but she did succumb in the end. My folly? Moisture loving astilbes Lollipop and chinensis Vision for the driest part of my garden. Solution? Plant them by the irrigation hose. Sorted!

So, (I do so hate this current trend of opening a sentence with So, don’t you) before The Trip there was the small matter of the NGS Hampstead Garden Suburb Horticultural Society Group Gardens Open Day June 25th. What a dream! The sun shone, we welcomed 435 visitors, served 240 helpings of tea and cake, sold over 400 raffle tickets and raised nearly £700 on locally propagated plants and produce alone. Grand Total Donation to NGS £5585.76 (one wonders how the 76p crept in). How about that then, eh! Fab-u-lous!

This week? Well, this coming Sunday 30th July David & I are having our NGS Open Day. The thrice daily visit to the Met Office website for weather forecast updates is in full swing. Not looking great I have to say at the moment. (I have been known to log out then straight back in to the website just in case it’s been updated.) But after so much recent horticultural activity I am feeling quite Zen about the whole thing this time around. Seeing as the garden had to be Band Box perfect last Sunday for the judging of the London Gardens Society competition, it’s been coasting along nicely since then. Yesterday I filled my last remaining gap (yeah right, I can see me not planting another thing until next year.) A rigorous regime of dead heading along with a favorable balance of rain and shine (and several doses of Tomato feed, Mother Nature shan’t take all the credit) has brought the late summer flowers out right on cue. That is, apart from the T&M tree lilies, which of course have gone over! Now comes the real preparation for Open Garden Day: Cakes. New recipe from Cathy Brown’s garden (You will be served tea at 3.55pm precisely) Orange and Almond cake Gluten and Dairy Free amongst other old favourites. Pricing up plants-for-sale, distributing signage, organizing Float money, buying paper plates, plastic cutlery etcetera etcetera etcetera.

tree lilies, cakes stall, exotic basket - july 2017

Hoovering the paths and patio can wait until Sunday morning. Wish us luck, hope to see some of you in our garden on Sunday, come rain or shine, as the saying goes………

Gardening for Beginners

Five years ago our lives were very different.  My wife and I were both commuting for at least 2 hours a day whilst using a childminder to look after our young family. We were on a treadmill of long days and early mornings without a great quality of life.  Something had to break and unfortunately that was me.  From that point we decided to work our way to a different kind of life and now here we are on the Isle of Wight. We have opted to try and simplify our lifestyle.

We recently moved house and I was talking with a neighbour at the weekend whereby he asked me if I was a gardener.  I answered negatively – that sounded like a profession to me, but it did get me thinking.  I like the idea of gardening, but not being a gardener – to me that means doing it for others and that’s too much responsibility.

jack vodden beansOur new garden is much bigger than any we have ever had before and has been neglected for some time.  There is an area of raised beds for a vegetable patch, these are overgrown with weeds right now, but I’m using a small corner of one of them to attempt to grow some runner beans.  First lesson – use long canes!!  This is my first effort.  I am also growing some tomatoes (in a grow bag), chilli’s in a pot, and a cucumber plant.

I would like my children to get some appreciation of where food comes from and the effort involved in producing it – that’s really important.  I also want to be able to prove to them that it can be done and its cheaper / healthier / tastier / better for the environment to grow your own food if at all possible.  As ever, time is the main problem, but now that I have left the rat race behind there is more of a chance that I’ll be able to spend some proper time in the garden.

Other jobs that I’d like to be sorting in the garden sooner rather than later (but I’ve got to get used to the fact that the seasons affect what grows and when so I’m not sure when the best times will be yet) include:

front garden and vegetable patch

Weeding, digging over, and planting up the front garden so that it has a cottage garden feel (I’m investigating what this actually means)

Encourage the front hedge to be consistent (fill in gaps, grow higher).  Its brambles, ivy, and bind weed right now

Sort the lawn out so that its actually more grass than weeds

Clear out the pond, relining and refilling it, re-bedding slabs, and restoring the waterfall that used to run into it many years ago

Behind the pond is a shady area – I’d like to try and see what kind of “woodland” planting I can do here – I’m thinking ferns, moss and so on

Establish a hedge along the side of the garden for privacy

Recommission the raised beds for a vegetable patch and then work out what needs to go where

Have a wild meadow patch to encourage the bees and butterflies

Build a greenhouse or similar – something to keep the plants warmish in the winter

Replace the dilapidated shed before it falls down – this will require proper money

pond and hedge

So my problem is that, other than watching Gardeners World on a Friday and having a bit of enthusiasm, I have zero gardening knowledge.  I can dig a hole and that’s about it.  I’ve tried learning some plant names but then promptly forget.  I generally describe plants as red flower, purple flower, long grass, dead twigs, so I really need to get my head around this and work out a strategy for remembering the names.

However, armed with the internet and the team at Gardeners World (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006mw1h/episodes/guide) I’m sure I can make a pretty good go at this.  I just need to fit it in along with everything else.  I’ll be keeping you updated with what I’m doing and how it’s going – please let me know how you think I’m getting on and if you have any advice!

Pin It on Pinterest