The Road to Chelsea

A few weeks ago I was asked if would help out with taking the plants to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show that Thompson & Morgan would be using on various stands in the Grand Pavilion – having never been before, I readily agreed – what a chance to go and see a bit of “behind the scenes” at the world’s most prestigious flower show!

So, at 5.45am on the Thursday, five days before the show was due to start, I met with my colleague Peter Freeman, loaded up 7 trolleys of carefully packed plants (including some that were to potentially be judged for the Plant of the Year!) into a Luton van and away we went!

waiting to go in on the Road to Chelsea

The view of Chelsea from Battersea Park – Peter sitting in the queue

Unfortunately it wasn’t a smooth journey, traffic was horrendous and we eventually arrived at the main entrance to the flower show some 5 hours later (it should have taken about 2 hours!) – Only to be turned away and told to drive to Battersea Park and join the queuing system!

It wasn’t so bad, in the shade of some London Planes we patiently waited, glad that the plants were being kept cool in the back of the van, shuffling forward a few vehicles at a time until an hour later we were allowed back in!

Security was understandably tight, we were high-viz jacketed, steel toecap booted and then, suitably attired, we were scanned in and drove through.

inside the show - Road to Chelsea

It’s a bit busy in here!

To say it was absolute bedlam in there would be an understatement….and yet it was well organised bedlam, traffic marshals, were about, one personally led us to a place to park – somewhat amazed that we were involved in no less than 4 different stands!

There were literally vans everywhere and the air rang with the sound of circular saws, drills, cement mixers and hammers as sets were furiously being constructed, gardens created and magic was being woven into what everybody sees on the first day of the show.

unloading the plants - Road to Chelsea

Unloading the plants

Unloading the trolleys was fun as Peter and I negotiated them through tiny gaps between vans and got them into the Grand Pavilion. We immediately located Birmingham City Council’s Stand and duly gave them a huge number of Hydrangea ‘Black Diamond Shining Angel Blue’, Laurentia ‘Fizz n Pop Glowing Purple’, Orange begonias and stunning bi-coloured petunias ‘Miss Marvellous’. Peter soon located the Dahlia Society’s stand and they took their Dahlia ‘Lubega Power Tricolor’

By pure luck I spotted Mr. Peter Seabrook wandering through the throng and managed to accost him, say hello and got him to show me where the main stand for The Sun Newspaper was, the remaining plants, including a precious cargo of our SunBelievable ™ ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ , Gerberas and Hydrangea hybrid Runaway Bride® ‘Snow White’ were soon unloaded with them.

The sun newspaper stand - The Road to Chelsea

The Sun Newspaper stand under construction

Peter Seabrook absolutely loved both SunBelievable and the delightful spreading hydrangea was also greatly admired, soon both were being planned into the stand by Peter and Val, with Peter even clambering to the top with a huge pot, to see how it would look with a “river” of plants coming down the stand from the very top all the way down and then I got asked to go up too and hand him some more plants!

The last of the plants were delivered to the Horticultural Trades Association stand and we were then on hand to help with various bits and pieces, including taking some plants up to the Press Office area to “decorate” the steps.  And of course to grab a much needed bite to eat!

Once the van was loaded up with the now empty trolleys we slowly (and I mean VERY slowly) wound our way off of the site. As we were going so slowly, we had a great opportunity to peek at some of the other gardens and stands under construction, all looked amazing and I can’t wait to go back and see them finished

loading up and views - the road to chelsea

loading up and leaving the show

I’m returning to the show on the last Saturday to help on the stand, I’ll be armed with my phone’s camera and hopefully will have a tale to tell about the experience!

Graham Ward

I’ve been gardening for as long as I can remember, my first earliest memory being planting seeds in my Grandfather’s prestige flower bed and having a prize lettuce growing there, which he proudly left to show everyone.

Since then, gaining knowledge and experience from both my Grandfather and my Father, I’ve continued to garden, both as a hobby and later on as a professional gardener and landscaper for 12 years. I love all aspects of it, from the design and build, to the planting out of summer borders with plants you’ve either grown from seed or raised from plugs. Unusual varieties always catch my eye and I’m keen to try growing them, even if sometimes it means learning from my mistakes.

Trial plants at Driftwood Gardens

So, as we approach the end of the season, how have then plants received this year fared? Without doubt the one that has excelled and received many comments from our many visitors is Petunia Amore “Queen of Hearts”. It has  flowered prolifically throughout the season and is  still going strong in mid-September. It is interesting that many do not see the hearts in the petals until they are pointed out to them. A lovely plant that many say they will be buying in 2018. Another showstopper, without doubt has been the Sweet pea “Earl Grey”. I don’t normally have any  success with them in my windy garden but these seem to have  done very well and produced some amazing blooms greatly admired by visitors.

Petunia night sky, which I also had in 2016, has done very well again, many people still not having seen it before and much taken with it. The petunia mini rosebud Romantic Peach  took a while to get started but looked really pretty tumbling out of 2 rusty urns in the garden. A little bit  delicate, perhaps, for my garden as you really had to look to see  and appreciate them. The calendula “Winter Wonders Collection” did not work that well for me, likewise the Osteospermum “Falling Stars”. The latter arrived in poor condition through the post and you were not able to replace them.    The strawberries “Just add cream” started off really well but only one plant lasted the season and produce some delicious fruit. Geranium ‘Black Rose was a great success too! the dazzling blooms drawing attention in containers throughout the garden. Certainly one I would recommend. The Gazania “Shepherds Delight” were so very,  very slow to grow on and develop and I have to admit a few fell by the wayside, but then the flowers finally appeared, they were quite stunning. The Buddleja Davidii “Wisteria Lane” was not as impressive as I had hoped, maybe it was me,  but it seemed not to do too well in my coastal garden, quite badly bruised buy the salt winds.

Meanwhile the hydrangea Annabelle and the Erigeron Glaucas “Sea Breeze” that I purchased have both done really well.

In addition to this I was sent some trial, as yet unnamed, Hibiscus  and experimental lilies. Many suggested the lilies be called something along the lines of red hot chillies. Both were quite stunning when they flowered and were such bold colours. They received many positive comments from visitors.

Finally back in May we received the pack of experimental dahlias with just a reference letter to their name. They were potted up and have been such beautiful flowers. I have to admit the slugs and snails love them too, but the flowers have  been incredible. Dahlias, C, D, F & XXL were especially gorgeous and much remarked upon by visitors. All in all great season at Driftwood and we shall be doing it all over again in 2018.

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.

Fabulous fuchsia tipped for success in 2017

Fabulous Fuchsia ‘Icing Sugar’ tipped for success in 2017: will this year’s cover outdo last year’s best seller?

T&M will give customers DOUBLE their money back if they don’t agree that this is the best fuchsia they’ve ever grown.

When Paul Hansord, horticultural director of Thompson & Morgan gifts the UK’s largest online plant retailer, saw Petunia ‘Night Sky’ last year, he immediately tipped it for success and featured it on the front cover of T&M’s spring catalogue. Sales of the spectacularly different petunia, which was a world first in flower patterning, exceeded all expectations with over 175,000 plants despatched last season. Retailers commented that they could have sold many, many more plants than stock levels allowed.

This year a fabulous new fuchsia is gracing the cover of Thompson & Morgan’s spring 2017 catalogue, and forecasts suggest that it will be the mail order specialist’s best seller for next season. Paul Hansord says: “I’m so convinced of the performance and flower power of Fuchsia ‘Icing Sugar’ that I’ll give our customers double their money back if they don’t believe that this is the best fuchsia they’ve ever grown!”*

Fuchsia 'icing Sugar'

Fuchsia ‘icing Sugar’

Paul’s confidence in Fuchsia ‘Icing Sugar’ is understandable. With its stunning frosted purple and cerise blooms and its compact habit, it is perfect for large patio pots and eye-catching border planting. Thousands of blooms are produced over the summer on a tidy cushion of dense foliage giving gardeners a great value, full season of colour. What also makes this fuchsia so special is that the rich, true fuchsia-pink sepals unfurl to reveal an unusual two-tone, twisting central corolla that has an intriguing frosted sheen to it.

Geoff Stonebanks, gardening writer, blogger and creator/owner of The Driftwood Garden near Lewes in Sussex, trialled ‘Icing Sugar’ for T&M last year and says: “The beautiful new fuchsia, ‘Icing Sugar’, certainly lives up to its name; a delicate and frosted gem.” Geoff added: “As an avid fuchsia lover, this delicate and frosted “Icing Sugar”, on show in my garden for the first time this summer, is utterly stunning.”

Petunia 'Night Sky'

Petunia ‘Night Sky’

Petunia ‘Night Sky’ has not, as is often the case after a loud launch and high initial sales, dropped off the best seller list and T&M forecasts the continued success of this very special petunia. Unlike the markings of other varieties, which can be inconsistent, the speckled stars of ‘Night Sky’ are consistent across all the blooms with every flower offering a different astral constellation. When Petunia ‘Night Sky’ was first introduced, some gardeners speculated that the images of had been digitally ‘enhanced’ until they grew the plants and saw the stunning markings for themselves.

Petunias and fuchsias are top of the UK’s list of favourite bedding and container plants and consistently come first in consumer surveys. With Petunia ‘Night Sky’ winning a People’s Choice Competition at Thompson & Morgan’s show garden at Jimmy’s Farm, in Suffolk last summer, there is every hope that Fuchsia ‘Icing Sugar’ will have similar success as T&M’s lead cover item this year. Paul Hansord’s confidence in offering a ‘double your money back’ guarantee would suggest that he is in no doubt that it will be a big hit in gardens this summer.
For information on how to grow fuchsias, go to www.thompson-morgan.com/growfuchsias

*see website for terms and conditions.

Sonia Mermagen

Sonia works at Thompson & Morgan in the role of press and communications officer. She is a self-proclaimed ‘reluctant’ gardener and is generally amazed if anything flourishes in her garden. Sonia has a ‘hands off’ approach to gardening and believes that this helps to encourage bees, butterflies and other wildlife. (That’s her excuse anyway!)

The dreaded Autumn Colour!

 

At the end of October we took a break from the garden and went to stay with our dear friend Sonja who lives in The National Forest (imagine small thatched ginger bread house in woodland clearing – no – small but perfectly formed terrace in Swadlincote). We left home on the Friday to summer’s last hurrah; two days later we returned to autumnal gloom. Knee deep in leaf litter everywhere; it’s all very well extolling the virtues of Autumn Colour (hushed voices, deep awe), if only it would stay on the trees! Gutters blocked, paths and lawns littered, shrub canopies choked, containers swamped. And then, do you let the leaves rot down to a natural mulch in the borders or do you clear them away so they don’t rot the crowns of your prized perennials? (Neat freak, clear them away, and then add somebody else’s mulch for £4.50 a bag.)

Acers on a spectacular scale - October 2016

Acers on a spectacular scale – October 2016

Anyway, mercifully so far I have been able to sweep this year’s leaf litter up during the current dry spell. Woe betide it should rain, you take your life in your hands every time you step outside your front door! (Talking of Autumn Colour, some of the best I’ve seen has to be on the stretch of M1 motorway between Northampton and Leicester.) Autumn Colour apart, it’s the low light levels at dawn and dusk, casting their luminescent glow over the fiery landscape that gets me every year, just magical.

Coleus 'Campfire' & Hydrangea 'Zorro'

Coleus ‘Campfire’ & Hydrangea ‘Zorro’

In contrast to my androgynous gardening demeanour, Sonja, being a perfumery consultant, is a fragrant jewel! So for the first time in about 30 years I treated my feminine side to some perfume. And the point of the story is this: Wearing said perfume whilst sweeping up the dreaded Autumn Colour (and why not?) just smelled wrong! It masked the scents of the soil and natural fragrance of the flowers that I hadn’t even consciously registered before. How about that!

Now it truly is autumn in the garden

Now it truly is autumn in the garden

……Anyway, back in my gardening world, I was so excited about all the plants I was going to grow in my new propagator that I forgot one fundamental thing – to water them: Guess what, they all died! I am rubbish at cuttings, I really am, having always put it down to lazy horticultural practices. A brief knock to my confidence before taking another lot of cuttings (host plants looking a bit bald thereafter) whilst promising to learn by my mistakes. So we will see. However as insurance I have supplied a duplicate set (what is the collective for cuttings?) of salvia involucrata and confertifolia (sounds like a musical score) to the Chairman (Chair, Chairperson, whatever!) of our local Hort Soc, who is a veritable cuttings magician.
Whilst we are on the subject of my shortcomings, how many times do I have to lose my heucheras to vine weevil before I learn my lesson? Empty pots, add fresh compost, plant heucheras, feel noble. Simple! And why oh why do I put off splitting perennials for five years? A WW1 trenching tool was the only implement hefty enough to shift the clump of white phlox with a root ball the size of a wrecking ball! While we are at it, perhaps it would be a good idea to clean the greenhouse windows before the automatic lights stay on permanently. (The electricity bill has already doubled due to the heated propagators, and David’s paternal concern for the mice.)

flaming central bed & FUCHSIAfuchsiaberry

flaming central bed & FUCHSIAfuchsiaberry

Really though I cannot believe we have reached November already. Whilst David is raring to go with his festive red berry lighting for the front garden, I am so behind with my jobs: so reluctant to lift the cannas, some of which have only just come into flower; have hastily stuffed & wrapped the tree fern (oven ready?) but must must must raise the containers onto pot feet, fleece the eucomis and bring the tender salvias under cover. T & M Crackerjack petunias and new Bidens are still flowering in the hanging baskets, half hardy annuals, tender perennials and my treasured ricinus are still in full swing but surely it’s only a matter of time before they are cut down by frost. I did succumb to tulips in the end, black Paul Scherer and white Triumphator (not sure, threw the packaging away, why do I do that every year?) planted in amongst the grasses out front.

Hanging baskets just keep on going!

Hanging baskets just keep on going!

I am so reluctant to get on with it all, as it will signify the end of this amazing horticultural year for us. But no doubt I will find something to write about in December but until then have a productive autumn and be careful not to slip on those dratted leaves.

RETURN OF THE MICE

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

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

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

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

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!

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