Are you feeling the Love yet?

I’m just not feeling the love! Apart from sloping off to the greenhouse every few days to check on the cuttings (progress not great.) I’ve done nothing NOTHING, I TELL YOU! Oh the guilt! I’ve come up with every excuse: it’s too wet, too cold, too early, too late. Apart from one manic flurry of activity on 23 December, that’s it! Talking of which, having overstuffed our green bin within two hours of the last refuse collection for six weeks, it has now started to compost itself and has reduced in volume by a quarter!

Now, it’s not that the garden can’t wait – it’s hanging in a sort of suspended animation – it just feels odd not to have deadlines (self-imposed I grant you) to meet. Apart from the miscanthus, oh yes and the slimy brown kniphofia ribbons, which really could do with the chop now, the entire landscape is looking bedraggled and somehow in this dim January half-light, saps one’s enthusiasm. Due to lack of will, I never got round to pruning back the cannas on the patio and now I’m thinking I might as well leave them on as protection against inevitable cold snaps; if I cut them down all I’d end up doing is covering them with fleece anyway.

Nandina domestica & Nandina domestica ‘Twilight’

On a more positive note, I have managed to find the energy to fill up the numerous bird feeders regularly. Fussy eaters all, we have had to shop around for a particular seed mix and give away our existing supply to my mother (for her birds, not her, silly!) Mind you, seeing as she only lives 500 yards down the road, the very same birds may well chance upon this alternative food supply, only to turn their beaks up again. I have been desperate to spend some gift vouchers on a squirrel proof caged suet block feeder. Do you think I can find one? Out of stock everywhere. Still, as a consolation I treated myself to some more spring bulbs: Our local garden centre has been selling off five packets for £1 so I bought chionodoxa, puschkinia and erythronium. All I’ve got to do now is plant them. Highlight of the New Year was the arrival of T&M NEW Spring catalogues. True to form I have placed my order for all plugs orange. Begonia ‘Fragrant Falls Orange Delight’, begonia elata ‘Solenia Apricot’, begonia Non-Stop Mocca Bright Orange and petunia ‘Sweetunia Suzie Storm’. (Not to mention last year’s overwintering begonias, already showing one or two pips…..) And it’s not all gloom and doom outside. I’m quite into nandinas right now. In addition to our nandina domestica, which is covered in shiny red berries, I’ve acquired nandina domestica ‘Twilight’, part of a new range of dwarf Heavenly Bamboos ideal for containers. Talking of containers, the red cyclamen & cornus against the black grass strikes a cheerful chord amongst the brown landscape, and the papery flowers of hydrangea Zorro held on top of its black stems looks rather arty.

Red cyclamen, cornus with black grass, Hydrangea ‘Zorro’

So to while away the long boring hours indoors (lovely actually, all snuggled up on the sofa with various felines, binge watching USA plastic surgery Before and After documentaries) I’ve been cataloguing all my press cuttings (ooh, get her!) into a folder. The cupboard was so crammed with dozens of back edition publications that I was afraid wood worm would move in and eat them. What a trip down Memory Lane that has been. The first edition of Garden News to feature its readers’ 4 Corners Gardening column was published on 26 January 2005 and we have been contributing on a monthly basis ever since. Never mind the changing landscape, the range of hairstyles is breath-taking! And back then David even had hair! Happy 13th anniversary to us. I reckon we must have outlasted most of the editorial team in that time. Amazing to see how the garden has developed from Central Lawn surrounded by Narrow Borders to No Lawn overwhelmed by Plants Everywhere.

The Garden, 2005 & Now!

Clearly Nature isn’t suffering from lack of encouragement from me right now. Spurred on by writing this blog, I’ve just ventured outside to take some photos and have come back in with very mixed feelings.

Budding shrubs, Mad Melianthus and Heavenly Hellebore

  • Optimism: Hellebore hybrids are emerging, Lords and Ladies foliage marbling shady places, iris reticulata, snowdrops, narcissi all popping up.
  • Trepidation: Buds swelling on deciduous shrubs too soon already. More guilt: hardy geraniums and various withered perennials need cutting back. Relief: some of the cuttings are still alive.
  • Admiration: overwintering cannas and salvias are sending up new shoots.
  • Challenged: good grief, the hardy fuchsia, sambucus and cotinus are going to need some serious reduction. Amazement: Mad Melianthus Major has Four Fat Flower spikes on it.
  • Anticipation: my beloved roses are begging for their winter pruning; can’t wait to set my newly serviced secateurs upon them next month. Too long, too long!

So at last I can feel the sap rising. Any day now you will find me outside bonding with my garden again. A Happy New Gardening Year to you all.

The Lighter evenings are very welcome…….

frosted plants february

February has come and gone and on the South Coast here we had a week of freezing fog which made the garden look good but certainly not the roads.

I finished ordering my plants from Thompson & Morgan, I don`t know about anyone else but I look at the order and think where will I put them all, but of course they all find a home once they arrive, usually in my case, in hanging baskets, containers and troughs. As I don`t have room for a permanent greenhouse I have a four foot one which has a plastic cover round the frame, and also a hexagonal one which holds quite a few trays. These have worked very well in the past I just have to make sure I watch the weather forecast so I can get the small plants covered with fleece in good time. When I have finished with them they can been cleaned off and put away until needed again and I have extra space on the patio for my containers, and space to put a few more hanging baskets up. I believe some of the plug plants are due during March so that will be an exciting time checking them all out.

Alan and I have moved a lot of stored items from the patio so he could pressure wash it ready for the summer, even during the rain on one day but now it looks really good. I had almost forgotten what the original colour was. Also thinking about moving four containers which have had roses in them for three years and transplanting them along a border by the fence. I hope this will be a good move and that they will be happy in their new home.

nemesia cerinthe hydrangea

There are a couple of bedding plants from last summer that seem to have survived the winter outside, Nemesia and Cerinthe Major. I believe the latter is from seeds that have been dropped in the Autumn and the Nemesia is one that was left in a container. The frost on my Hydrangea Annabelle early one morning looked lovely but soon disappeared once the sun started to rise.

We arrived back from a close friends funeral in Somerset to find that my Incredicompost from Thompson & Morgan had been delivered. The driver had kindly stacked the bags in the porch for me instead of leaving them outside in the bad weather or worse still taking them back to the depot. My eldest Grandson thought I had over ordered until I told him that it was probably only a third of what I would need for the containers and baskets.

compost daffodils

This year I am trying the new Ruby Falls Raspberry that can been grown in a hanging basket. It has started well having been kept it in the front porch, as it arrived during the freezing weather, where it gets plenty of light and covered each night. A couple of warm days this last week has seen some of the daffodils flower but others seem to be very slow, just waiting for a little more sun!

A footnote to my Blog re California November 2015:
ducksI wrote about the awful drought that Southern California was going through when I visited my Sister in California with a lot of restrictions on the usage of water, 2 minute showers etc. They still didn`t get much rain last year until the end of the year when they had several storms following each other. To date they have had so much rain that the rivers and gardens cannot take any more. A dam in Orriville Northern California overflowed and 180,000 people were evacuated. All this before the snow has melted on the mountains which runs down to the rivers. Some wild ducks obviously took a liking to to the very wet garden and have been visiting my Sister`s garden every day and making themselves at home. The good news is, at least the drought is over for now!
That`s about all for this time gardeners, enjoy the start of Spring and all the new planting ready for the summer……..

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.

Welcome To The New Gardening Year 2017

I hope everyone had a great Christmas and New Year and are now ready for the new gardening year ahead.
During the summer of 2016 I planted Passiflora Caerulea and it soon grew to eight feet, must really have loved it in the full sun. I had around six flowers on it by early Autumn and then I noticed the fruit about the size of an egg appearing and turning gradually yellow. By then the days were colder but left them on the plant to see if they developed any further. The first week of January I decided to take the fruit off and cut them open and was very surprised to see that there was a lot of ripe flesh inside. I decided not to eat them as they had been around for a while and was not sure if they were edible after so long.

The Freesias I planted back in October started to grow far too quickly so I put more compost on them so the frost wouldn`t catch the tops but that only helped the local cats to use my containers as their toilet and scratched up the bulbs several times. Not wanting to to use anything that would hurt the cats but would stop them I asked a neighbour if I could have some branches of holly from her bush. That really did the trick with no damage to man nor beast.

On a mild day I checked the garden and noticed the Nemesia I had planted in a coloured pot during last summer were still growing and flowering as was some Cerinthe Major whose seeds had dropped on to the garden and had started to shoot, the plants are standing around 12” tall at the moment but I am afraid that when we get some very hard frosts it could be goodbye to them. My Hydranga `Annabelle` which had beautiful huge balls of white flowers, were still holding their own even though all the white heads are now brown, but still looking beautiful.

This Autumn I decided to plant up a couple of containers with a Winter Collection of small shrubs which gives a very nice show of various colours, and in the summer can be planted out in the garden.
My roses are in four containers but don`t really seem to be happy they all lost their leaves at one point and I did wonder if it was irregular watering that was causing it, although the bottoms of the containers were quite wet, so I am making room to put them into the border in front of a fence. If anyone has any answers re losing their leaves I would be very pleased to hear from you, this is their third year. The roses bloomed and looked great apart from the loss of leaves..

Having won Gold and Silver awards for my Container garden and hanging basket in 2016 for the Bournemouth in Bloom competition, I now have the challenge of turning the silver into gold for this year!

I have been making a provisional list of plants which I would like to grow from Thompson & Morgan for 2017 summer, I expect that will be re-written a couple of times before the final one. First of all we have to move a 5 storage box and a small garden cupboard. The larger one is right into a corner and appears to be making the wall damp so will have to do some clearing out and moving it to under the kitchen window – fingers crossed.

I am hoping to try out a couple of Thompson & Morgan`s new Easy Fill baskets, I think the idea of having a solid piece of plastic holding the plants tight in their holes will stop the compost from falling out.

……………. so until we meet again, have fun deciding what you are going to grow this year, it`s getting lighter longer every day – hooray!!

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’s Customer Triallists Open Day

For what seemed like the first time in months David and I dared to step away from the garden for a day out: a trip to Ipswich to visit Thompson & Morgan’s triallists’ Open Day. Coming up from North London is a two hour drive so, seeing as it was sunny and warm, we decided to make a day of it and visit Jimmy’s Farm beforehand. Hordes of happy toddlers and young parents enjoying the school holidays and – us! Oh well, it brings out your inner child doesn’t it?

David at Jimmy's Farm

David at Jimmy’s Farm

Adjacent to Jimmy’s Farm, the Thompson & Morgan show ground is so bright and colourful that I dare say it could be seen from space. Dozens and dozens of hanging baskets, flower pouches and containers loaded up with annuals at the peak of their performance. I felt like a kid in a sweet shop!

I recognised some of the plants as ones I have grown at home this summer, but at T&M you see how the professionals do it! In fairness they have an open sunny site and we have an enclosed semi-shaded patio, and this was reflected in the increased volume of flowers in their displays compared to ours. Having overwintered some begonias from last summer I didn’t buy any more this season, but having seen their displays of blousy Begonia ‘Fortune Peach Shades’, cascading Inferno and exotic dark leaved Flamenco, I can’t wait to place my order for 2017. I love my two towering abutilons, so when Michael showed us two annual climbers, citrusy Ipomoea lobata or Spanish Flag, and lemon dicentra, I could picture them right alongside. (Tried unsuccessfully to grow ipomoea from seed before but hey, hope over experience wins every time.) Upturned fuchsia flowers seem a contradiction in terms but somehow it works: Princess Charlotte’s perky little salmon pink flowers are a delight, but a bit too well behaved for my taste.

Caroline Broome Begonias and Ipomoea lobata

Begonia ‘Fortune Peach Shades’, cascading Inferno and Ipomoea lobata

Some of the shrubs caught my interest too, especially Hydrangea paniculata ‘Pinky Winky’, as apart from being a gorgeous plant, is named for my Sphynx cat Winky, and is a lot better looking too. Diervilla Cool Splash is a new one on me, leaves similar to a variegated cornus with creamy flowers like pittosporum Tobira. With my penchant for the unusual, I was very taken with a tropical looking Tomato Tree, unlikely to bear fruit in our climate but hell, who cares, with foliage and flowers like that it’s a terrific ornamental. Note to self: can you not develop a taste for small dainty plants; you have run out of space!

So many new things to take in, and then – and then – we were shown into the marquee for another presentation, this time, of fruit and veggies. (I can honestly say, being a Townie, I have never settled my butt on a hay bale before. I’m still picking the straw out of my cashmere cardigan darhling!)

Tomato Tree and Diervilla 'Cool Splash'

Tomato Tree and Diervilla ‘Cool Splash’

Tomatoes are my thing and I was not disappointed; lovely colourful varieties such as tomato Garnet, tomato Artisan Mixed and Indigo Cherry Drops all tasted as good as they looked. I could eat them like sweets (and become a lot slimmer to boot). Having had success with growing peas for the first time this summer I am looking forward to trying out Pea Eddy and I’ll be growing hot hot Wasabi Rocket for David.

As if that was not enough Michael and his team had laid on a fantastic afternoon tea with delicious scones the size of dinner plates, so we had ample opportunity to chat to other bloggers and twitterers (I’ve no idea if that is the correct noun). All coming at gardening from different angles and with different backgrounds, with one thing in common – the love of gardening.

Finally the afternoon was brought to a close with tempting Goodie Bags containing all manner of seed packets (hurrah, including my tomato seeds), Incredicrop© Fruit and Veg fertiliser and three 9cm pots of the most amazing shrubs: Sambucus ‘Black Tower’ (will look great alongside all those tropical climbers), Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum ‘Kilimanjaro Sunrise’ and Blechnum brasiliense ‘Volcano’ Dwarf Brazilian Tree Fern (all small enough to start off on the patio).

So thank you Michael and your team for putting on such a special day and making us feel so welcome.

Happy gardening everyone.

A blog from Driftwood with a difference!

Most of my blogs are usually about the plants that Driftwood trials for Thompson & Morgan, as one of their Customer Trial Panel gardens, but for a change I thought I’d pen a little bit about the garden’s location and some of the challenges of gardening by the sea!

Driftwood by sea blog

Room with a view

For those not familiar with Driftwood, it’s located between Seaford and Newhaven on the south coast, not that far from Brighton. It’s in the bay you can see, looking out to sea and there is the view from our bedroom window across the fields to the coast. 2015 has seen strong winds, which makes gardening a real challenge through the summer months, keeping the garden pristine for its many garden visitors. Now, as we approach the winter months, there is much to do to put the garden to bed and get it ready for its 15 scheduled openings in 2016, along with its many private visitors and coach parties.


It is also quite possible it may appear on a prime time gardening show on national TV too next summer! Watch this space! I like the garden to look a little different each year, as many visitors come back year after year.

Driftwood by sea blog

The central area is still looking quite smart for November, even if it lacks a bit of bright colour. This view across the garden shows a range of lovely shades of green for this time of year!

Driftwood by sea blog

The garden has many different rooms which I have been working on in recent weeks and you can see the 2 rooms on the left of the garden, the cottage garden area in the foreground and the upper patio at the back, tidied up ready for replanting next spring.

Driftwood by sea blog


You can see me working on the raised beds in the centre off the garden too, moving plants around to change the overall look. There are 3 Thompson & Morgan blooms looking quite amazing at the moment, they are Rose Garden Party, Alstromeira Peruvian tree Lily and Hydrangea Vanilla Fraise as you can see.

Driftwood by sea blog


I’ve got several ball chrysanthemums in the back garden too, but the largest of them was badly hit by the recent winds as you can see. It’s always difficult with the wind so I try and keep the planting as low as possible and create the height with some rusted metal sculptures. If you want to see more on the garden go to Driftwood by Sea.


Geoff Stonebanks

Geoff Stonebanks was very lucky to be able to retire early from 30 years in Royal Mail back in 2004. He had 3 different careers with them first as a caterer, then manager of a financial analysis team and finally as an Employee Relations Manager and Personnel Manager. He sold up and moved with his partner to Bishopstone, near Seaford in East Sussex in 2004 and now spends all his time gardening and fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support. Using his multi award-winning garden, featured on Gardeners’ World on BBC TV and finalist in Gardeners’ World Magazine Garden of the Year 2016, he’s raised £95000 for various charities in 8 years, £53400 of that for Macmillan. In his spare time, he is also Assistant County Organiser for the National Gardens Scheme and their Publicity Officer for East & Mid Sussex.

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