It was June and I was preparing for my first major show as Show Secretary of my local horticultural society. Our judge for our Summer Show was Peter Cranfield. Over lunch I told Peter that I was in training to be a judge with the Essex Guild of Horticultural Judges. He suggested that I should enter the National Vegetable Society judging exam in October. I am always keen to further my knowledge and so agreed to do it.
I could not believe how quickly the exam came round. The first part of the exam is a written paper. This contains some multiple choice, some two mark questions and then some longer six mark questions. This was the last exam based on the old style judging guide. From 2018 the new edition of the judging guide will be used to form the base of the exam. There were 100 marks up for grabs and the pass mark was 75. It felt like a long time since I had last sat in an exam hall!
Having warmed up it was now time for the main event. The room had eight classes laid out with five entries in each class. The vegetables included potatoes, carrots and onions. At the top of the hall there were two five vegetable collections. At the other end of the hall there were three vegetables all with faults that had to be identified. At first I was quite intimidated by the classes. Most of the exhibits were of a very high standard. Some had been entered in the Westminster show the week before.
It was fantastically well organised and run event. I went away feeling that I had given it my best but that I would not have passed the practical as it was tough and I had never judged to such standards before. Having said this, I was determined to use the experience to stand me in good stead to have another go at some point.
In the weeks that passed I had almost forgotten all about the exam and the results. One day I received a large envelope and inside was a certificate, letter and badge informing me that I had passed both parts of the exam and I was now an NVS qualified judge.. At the age of 22 I believe that I must be one of the youngest ever to take the NVS judging exam let alone pass it. I honestly could not believe it as it was completely unexpected but wonderful surprise
The main goal of my blog is to give readers a first hand account of the day and what you can expect. What I really want it to do is to encourage others to give it a go. To keep the shows going up and down the country we need more people to become judges. If you have ever thought of judging then have a go at the exam in October this year. It will be a fantastic experience and I guarantee that you will be a better grower, shower or judge for the experience. The exam is always the first Saturday of October so get in touch with your local DA and find out more. I promise that you will not regret it!
Geoff Stonebanks, one of the customer trial panelists and owner of the multi-award winning garden, Driftwood, in Bishopstone, Sussex, has had a very successful gardening year. He’s just scored a trio of triumphs in 2016.
In the November issue of a national gardening magazine his garden was judged to be a finalist and runner-up in their Garden of the Year Awards 2016 competition, in the small space category. After receiving hundreds of entries nationwide. This, coupled with Geoff and Driftwood’s appearance on the popular Gardeners’ World TV programme, back in September, and the photo shoot in June for an 8-page feature about the garden in the national lifestyle magazine Coast, next summer, has enabled Geoff to have the best year ever, since first opening his garden gate back in 2009. Not to mention of course the £15,000 raised for charity this summer alone bringing the garden total to £76,000. Geoff has been a member of the customer trial panel since 2012 and has trialled over 100 different products in that time. Many of them were on show this summer for the photo shoots and judging.
Verbena bonariensis and pinks
Geoff comments; ” I saw the competition advertised back in May and thought I’d give it a go. All I had to do was submit 8 pictures of the garden and complete a questionnaire answering specific questions, ranging from how I created the garden to the challenges and obstacles I had to overcome.” He went on to say, “I was utterly amazed to find out in late July that it had been shortlisted in the small space category and would be photographed before the final judging.”
When the magazine editor telephoned Geoff to tell him he was the runner-up, she said “Your entry was always a real stand-out and genuinely was knocking on the door for the top prize all the way. It will be such a pleasure to share more pictures of your garden with our readers over the coming months.”
Geoff was interviewed on BBC Sussex recently, along with the editor, who explained to listeners that the competition set out to look for clever solutions and the ability to make something of unique and difficult spaces.
Geoff’s garden with Buddleja ‘Buzz® Magenta.’ Film crew from Gardener’s World
Needless to say, Geoff is thrilled and tells us the magazine will be featuring more of his garden in their April 2017 issue. Not only that, he can now choose up to £250 worth of garden equipment from the competition sponsors catalogue.
Then, back in September the garden was featured in a 6-minute film on Gardeners’ World too. The show had been looking at inspired planting and design in a series of small gardens and spent the day filming in late August. Geoff was able to take the presenter around the garden and talk about the different garden rooms. You can clearly see the T&M Buddleja ‘Buzz® Magenta’ and lilac in the foreground of the picture of Geoff on camera along with the Thompson & Morgan Berberis x ottawensis f. purpurea ‘Superba’ he won for blog of the month earlier in the year, sticking up behind the fig leaves.
Birds eye view of Driftwood garden
Driftwood is set to open 14 times in 2017 and full details can be found at www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk Look out for the feature next summer in Coast magazine too!
So why not make a date to visit and see both the garden and the many Thompson & Morgan plants on show for yourselves. Private visits can also be made for lunch or afternoon tea in the garden.
I’m so excited! (Sad middle-aged woman, doesn’t get out much.) I’ve bought a large heated propagator and David has fixed up my smaller ones so I now have 5 on the go! The perennials must be quaking in their boots as I have been prowling around, secateurs in hand, eyes narrowed, snipping off as many non-flowering shoots as I could find. I have even dug out (haha, no pun intended) some (stale) organic rooting powder and added vermiculite to my potting compost to give them the best start in life.
Still looking lush & ricinus still growing
First though I had to clean the greenhouse and covert it from summer to autumn function: Everything out, chillies, tomatoes and cucamelons harvested, plants composted (that’s a lie, they will be composted, but by the council, am ashamed to admit I don’t have a compost heap – I AM NOT A REAL GARDENER). Plant food, seed tins, storage boxes and general detritus out, staging and flooring swept. Someone please tell me why it is only now that the curcuma bulbs have sent up new growth, stuffed as they are into a dark corner, as no amount of encouragement during the summer had any effect?
So there I was pottering about when out of the corner of my eye a creature, at first thought a frog, threw itself against the greenhouse door before beating a hasty retreat to safety. As I suspected, the mice are back! Small burrows are appearing in the soil of the raised tomato trough, surrounded by straw and bird seed. (You have to admire their tenacity; they have gnawed a serrated circle and a mouse hole through the lid of the plastic storage bin – he who dares wins, I say.) In honour of their return I have even bought a small resin statue of a mouse.
My shed (not really!) & St. Michael on the Mount
It’s all change on the patio too. I got bored waiting for the begonias to die down so I pulled them up to dry their corms for overwintering. Turfed out the spent soil as mulch onto the back of the dry border where the cornus go to die. Crammed T & M Jonquilla daffs into every pot: Martinette, Pipit, Pueblo and Green Eyed Lady. Don’t think I have bought enough! Must have more, more, more! Breath…………..Without the colourful annuals the patio has transformed from exotic terrace to shady glen; the ferns really come into their own at this time of year, and I’ve added T & M Blechnum brasiliense Volcano to the mix, which has been growing on in the greenhouse since The Triallist’s Open Day, waiting for its new home. Sadly most of the heucheras have come away in my hands, their roots eaten by the dreaded vine weevil (Note to self, try nematodes next year, the chemical drench lied.) I’ve put all five FUCHSIA fuchsiaberries together in one huge pot in the hope that they will establish and make more of an impact next summer, as they never really got going this year. More sun I think.
Talking of sun (good link, huh!) David and I did actually manage to have a holiday last month after all. We went to stay with our old friends-&-neighbours who have moved to Manaccan, a village – in the middle of nowhere, sorry B & P – on the Lizard peninsula in south Cornwall. (And just as fellow blogger Amanda found with her bedfellows in hospital, one of the first people we were introduced to was a keen gardener who buys from T & M and reads the blogs!) First thing I noticed was how echium are growing en masse in Bob’n’Patti’s garden, so much so that their gardener pulls’em up like weeds! They have a patch of ginger 6ft tall and 5ft round and perennial aeoniums the size of dinner plates. All of which they inherited from the previous owners.
Trebah – September 2016
We visited Helston Museum, one of the largest folk museums in the South West, with a vast social history collection dating from the 18th to the 20th century. My attention was naturally drawn to the gardening exhibits, some of which looked eerily like the contents of my shed, the implication being that I too am a relic!
Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens could have been on Madeira, if it wasn’t for the tell-tale view of St Michael’s Mount in the bay. Trebah Gardens was a revelation! A grand colonial style whitewashed mansion sits on the brow of the hill, overlooking the panoramic sweep of Hydrangea Valley, full of blue hydrangeas, towering palms, gunnera, tree ferns (also growing like weeds) and towering bamboo, as it slopes down to the sea. You could be forgiven for thinking you were in some sub-tropical paradise. It reminded me of a tea plantation (not that I’ve ever been to one you understand but I have watched Indian Summers).
New T&M bidens still flowering its head off! & LGS Best Small Back Garden 2016
Having visited RHS Hyde Hall in Essex shortly after our return (needed another horticultural fix before the winter) I was bowled over by the swathes of grasses and prairie planting. All three gardens are breath-taking in their scale, but completely contrasting in environmental conditions and planting styles. England certainly punches above its weight when it comes to its wealth of different terrains! (My uncle used to say I had swallowed a dictionary when he read my A level essays.)
So back at Chez Broome autumn has taken hold, but nobody has told the hanging baskets! The new T&M bidens is having a late flush (know how it feels) although for some strange reason the flowers are all white this time, instead of pink tinged. Petunia ‘Crazytunia Mandevilla’ and Minitunia calibrachoa ‘Crackerjack’ just keep on going so I just keep on feeding. The lime green, black and caramel coloured foliage of ipomaea are going for it in the shade so I’ll just leave them all to it!
Oh, and reader, we won: London Gardens Society Best Small Back Garden 2016. How about that!
Thompson & Morgan, after giving a call out to pumpkin growers in the UK finally entrusted the world’s most expensive pumpkin seed, to experts at the Royal Horticultural Society. The pumpkin seed was bought for a whopping £1,250, and has built-in genetics to increase the chance of breaking the world record for the largest pumpkin grown. The RHS then delegated this awesome task to Matthew Oliver, their horticulturalist, at RHS Hyde Hall. He has grown the pumpkin through the summer, with a view to breaking the world record for Thompson & Morgan and the RHS.
There is lots of excitement surrounding this venture, both at Thompson & Morgan and the RHS, and today is the day Thompson & Morgan’s enormous pumpkin will be travelling to Southampton on the back of a lorry. The lorry has been designed to hold this type of unusual load, so the pumpkin will be secure, with no likelihood of it rolling overboard on the journey.
This journey will take all day and the pumpkin, and its carers, will arrive in Southampton tonight, where the pumpkin will have its own security guard who will be keeping a close eye on it. The Jubilee Sailing Trust Autumn Pumpkin Festival is on the 8th October 2016, where the weigh in is performed. At the festival there is competition from all over the UK for this fantastic accolade. Everyone at Thompson & Morgan is on tender hooks hoping that Matthew will bring home the UK crown. No-one more so than the Managing Director Paul Hansord, who was the original purchaser of the expensive pumpkin seed way back in February 2016. Good luck Matthew Oliver and Paul Hansord.
Grow with Thompson & Morgan this season for a chance to win up to £10,000!
The UK’s largest seed and plant retailer has announced a host of gardening competitions for the 2016 season, rewarding customers for their growing skills.
The highest value prizes are linked to the giant veg growing world.
Giant Pumpkin – Win up to £10,000
As sponsor of the UK’s official giant pumpkin weigh in, it is stumping up a £10,000 cash reward for a world record breaking entry, £1,000 for a new UK weight record or £500 for the largest pumpkin entered on the day if no records are broken. To take part, gardeners simply need to bring their entries to The Autumn Pumpkin Festival, Royal Victoria Park, Netley, Southampton on 8th October.
Gardeners growing Tomato ‘Gigantomo’® this season can take the fruits of their harvest to the Harrogate Autumn Flower Show (16-18 September) and take part in the National Gigantomo® Championships. Thompson & Morgan is offering £1,000 for the heaviest fruit entered. If that entry beats the current world record (7lb 12oz) the cash jackpot rises to a whopping £5,000.
Tomato ‘Gigantomo’ and Sunflower ‘Tall Timbers’
Having awarded a record £1,000 for the UK’s tallest sunflower in 2015, Thompson & Morgan is upping the ante for the season ahead. The £1,000 prize still stands, but if the grower has raised their plant with the company’s own incredibloom® fertiliser, the prize jumps to £2,000. If that entry also breaks the current world record (9.17m – 30ft 1in) the lucky entrant will receive a cheque for £4,000 (£2,000 for a world record breaker not grown in incredibloom®).
Gardeners don’t need to be growing giant specimens to take advantage of the prizes on offer. A host of smaller prizes are also up for grabs through a wide range of online competition categories. These test photographic flare as well as growing skills.
How does a £50 Thompson & Morgan voucher sound, simply for growing one of the easiest hardy annuals? If you are supporting the charity Thrive by growing the exclusive Sweet Pea ‘Eleanore Udall’ make sure to take photos of your plants in bloom, or perhaps a vase of fresh cut flowers. The five best photos entered will each receive a £50 Thompson & Morgan voucher to spend on the garden for the 2017 season.
Wildlife gardeners can win £100 of flowers to attract even more wildlife to the garden, simply by submitting their best garden wildlife shot – from butterflies and beetles to birds and badgers, Thompson & Morgan wants to see what creatures are visiting your garden this season.
Other online competitions include:
Closing date for all online competitions is 30 September 2016. For full details of these competitions, plus many more, click here. Giant Pumpkin entries must be brought to The Autumn Pumpkin Festival, Netley, Southampton on 8th October for judging.