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Great new cut flower varieties at the Thompson and Morgan Trials field.

On Monday I was delighted to be invited as one of a select few to a Bloggers day at the Thompson and Morgan Trials field near Ipswich.

The traffic on the way there wasn't delightful, so I was shamefully late getting there, but luckily the T&M team led by Michael Perry (new product manager) were welcoming, and informative, and I quickly caught up on the information that i'd missed.

The trials ground is a field and garden setting where they plant and test a lot of their huge range to see how it will cope in a normal garden. - They had a large colourful and scented area of pots and hanging baskets. Some garden borders, cut into a lawn, and then a raised bed area for their trials of vegetables.

There was also an area of field which had been planted up with rows of bedding, cut flower plants and vegetables.

Ageratum and Daucus (1 of 1)

Although they were bright and cheerful, and undoubtedly in good shape, the bedding plants didn't do it for me, - so here's some of the plants that caught my eye, for cutting flowers, and that i'll be trying at Hill top farm in coming years.

The picture above shows a combination of yellow Bulplurum and Daucus Dara, (which i've been growing this year, and has all sold, ) and A tall mix of Ageratum - Timeless mixed. I'd found out about Ageratum - floss flower, via the Floret blog, and Louise Curley's book the cut flower patch, and had bought seeds, but missed the planting window, so watch out for that next year.

T&M trials bright flowers-1

There were plenty of bright colours in evidence, the foliage of Iresine Brilliant (top right) is a wonderful pink, and it looked plenty strong enough to be used as bouquet fillers - an experiment is in the offing next season I think. The Rudbeckia Hirta (top left) is unfortunately only offered as a mixed seed pack, but I thought this pinky coral colour worthy of a try, and if it's anything like the other annual (perennial in a mild year) rudbeckias, then you can grow more from the seeds if it's a success.

The Alstroemeria is Indian Summer. - I've got several pale Alstroes, so thought this would be a lovely bright spark of colour besides my purples, pales and peaches. The Sunflower is Magic roundabout, and as 2015 is the year of the sunflower, It may be one to grow lots of.

T&M trails lighter colours-2

There were lighter shades in evidence, Italian White was the best light coloured sunflower, - there were rows of trials where they were trying to grow multiheaded varieties as hedges, with upturned faces.

The 3 in the photo above were - Leucanthemum real charmer, which is a creamy buttermilk colour on strong stems. Antirrhinum Red white bicolour - growing strongly on the field to 60cm with no support, plus Nigella Delft Blue, A lovely Hispanica Nigella, with large seed heads, but a white flower with blue markings on it. Even though this had been direct sown in the trial bed and hadn't been thinned, the flowers had decent length stems.

These are all on my must have list for next year, - which ones caught your eye?

Herbs for the new planting season

The temperature has suddenly dropped, the sides on my Polytunnel have had to be lowered for the first time in months, and the phone has rung with 3 planting enquiries in the last 2 days.

It must be time for autumn planting, and September and October are THE best time of the year to put in shrubs and perennials. They get their roots in while the soil is warm, and then can romp away fast as soon as the temperature rises next year.

Trolley of herbs from pepperpot (1 of 1)
This morning's main job was to go and collect this tray of beauties from my favourite herb nursery - Pepperpot Herbs

My truck smelt wonderful as I came back through the Surrey countryside, and the lemon balm, lavender, sage, thyme, rosemary, germander, and chives will all be used a demonstrators at the next Herbs and Salads talks and workshops that i'm doing, before being planted at Hill top farm to give me fantastic flowers and foliage next year.


Garden gadgets, - Root trainers, worth it or not?

Every year I try out new tools, gloves, gadgets and accessories. Some are a waste of time, (I had several pairs of gloves this year that lasted less than a week!) Some I rave about to all who listen (Anyone not heard me mention Felco Secateurs & Goat socks) and some I'm not sure about and need some persuading to use.

One that falls into the last category, and that i'm now going to put in the rave section are root trainers.

I'd heard Sarah Raven rave about these on a vegetable course that I went on 3 years ago, - and so i'd bought one. at £8.99 I wasn't convinced that they did that much more than deep pots, or toilet rolls, but as i'd paid so much for them i've used them each season, - mostly for peas and broad beans, - getting good results, but then broad beans are something that I usually have success with, even if just direct sown into the ground, so it wasn't a real test. - However this winter, they've really come into their own.

Root trainers with sweet peas-1
After being fed up of not having Sweet peas until the week after our Garden Society's Summer Show, I decided to sow these in October this year. I sowed 2 seed into each module of sieved peat free compost in the middle of October and was delighted with the germination rates. - i've then pinched them back when 3 leaf pairs were showing. When I spotted roots escaping from the bottom during my weekly slug hunt, I decided to pot them up to the next size pot, to get them large enough to plant out in March.

No need to worry that the roots won't have developed by then tho', - look at the healthy root system on this plant

Sweet pea roots-2
So yes,-  not a cheap option when it comes to cell trays, but if you want healthy deep rooted Sweet peas, Root Trainers are worth looking into.

Romance doesn't have to cover lots of miles

My Hubby and I have been together 20 years. The love is still there, but the Romance is often hidden under family life. We even forgot our anniversary in January. (until our friends and family reminded us with cards).

But one of the main reasons I don't get flowers on a regualar basis, is because I moan incessantly about the air miles they travel. So when this arrived on Friday I was truly grateful


This is a bunch of UK grown flowers from Wiggly Wigglers.

I Luurve the fact that it has very few greenhouse grown blooms, and is mostly hardy shrub foliage. The best early spring foliage and hardy blooms collected together to make a great bouquet. Eucalyptus. Ferns, Skimmia, Hebe and Hypericum all make for beautiful bunch in very romantic green and reds.

Wiggly Wigglers in Hereford aren't the only ones growing cut flowers for sale in England, I also know of Ben at the Higgledy Garden (Cambridge) , Georgie at Common Farm Flowers (Somerset) and Jane from Snapdragon Garden (Loch Lomand Scotland). I've yet to find anyone in Surrey, although i'll be growing my own supplies this year, at both the Allotment and the School garden for this summer.

Please let me know if you find more UK based cut flower suppliers, - we grow so many wonderful plants for cutting in the UK, I'd love it if I could just encourage one or two more people to think twice before they pick up that bunch of roses that have been flown halfway round the globe.

What not to buy at Garden Centres this Bank holiday weekend

Normally I love using my experience from 12 years of managing garden centres, to tell you what to buy. However this bank holiday weekend, i'm going to give you some hints and tips about what to avoid, to save you money and heartache when they fail.

So first for those wanting to do container gardening, I'd suggest avoiding these dark stone pots.


Although they are very stylish, and look great with a specimen bay tree or box ball in them, unfortunately the dark colour attracts heat, and in my experience, the roots of whatever is in them fries whenever we have a sunny day.

Light coloured terracotta, seems to be much better at keeping specimen plants in healthy condition, and when you've bought an expensive specimen plant, you don't want to replace it every few months.

I also came across this planter this week


it's a self watering herb planter, with a water reservoir at the bottom and a ledge to sit the pots on with capillary matting to keep them well soaked. - Nice Idea, and i've used a similar trough for my strawberries for several years, - but in this case, the pots are just too small. After 2 weeks, the herbs my client had put in were already straining to get out, and they wouldn't have kept in good condition for long, no matter how much water they were given, because almost all herbs like to spread. (and if you want to find out more about herbs in general, check out my Beginner Herbs, and Herbs and Salads workshops)

With the surge in popularity in growing your own, the garden centres are stuffed with vegetable and herb plants. I'm all for trying to grow your own salad, and have often cheated by buying plants rather than growing from seed, particularly if i've missed the sowing time, but radishes?


A pack of radish seeds is less than £2, and they are so easy to grow, it's always the first thing I try with children at school gardening club. - plus the fact that they need to be thinned, means that this pack is going to make a bunch of radishes cost £3.49 rather than a few pence.    


Sweet peas, - What could be better for summer cut flowers and scent? But beware, Sweet peas have deep roots, and need lots of water. If you are going to put them in a planter, don't be tempted by one of the shallow wigwams, plant them in a deep chimney pot.

And lastly, Lavender


With long lasting scented flowers, it's easy to see the attraction of these plants. But this table of cheap plants have been grown in Italy. Apart from the air miles to get them here, this means that the plants have been grown on a lot faster than the English nurseries can produce them. - This makes them cheaper, but it does mean that if we have a frost over the next few weeks, these plants are likely to be a lot more stressed than anything that has been grown in this country.  We have some wonderful herb nurseries here in the South of England, so for Lavenders and Rosemary that will last through our winters, I suggest you buy British.

What have you bought that seemed like a good idea at the time?



Supporting your flowering performers

In April, spring is here, but, there are still gaps in the border, and although things are now spreading out, it's hard to imagine that they will be filling all the space and flowering their socks off through the summer (and autumn if you've planned your borders right)

This is the time to be supporting those star performers, the plants that may become top heavy through the weight of their blooms.

Over the years, i've collected a multitude of devices for supporting my plants

my tomatoes grow up metal grow spirals, so that I don't have to tie them in


Continue reading "Supporting your flowering performers" »

Free plant food, waste food eaten, - why not try a wormery?

I've been a worm fan for 12 years now.  That's how long ago I got my first junior wormery. 

The first one, wasn't a great success. I drowned my first set of worms after only 3 months. They were producing me plenty of Leachate (worm wee!) and I wasn't draining it off to feed my plants on a regular basis.

CanOWorms A year later, I tried again with a Can-O-Worms. This was a layered wormery, with stacking trays that your kitchen waste, plus cardboard can be fed in to at a regular intervals.

I had a lot more sucess with this one, and have been composting with worms ever since.

Worms are hungry creatures and can eat up to half their body weight in food each day.

They love vegetable peelings, uneaten fruit, saladings and tea bags. They are great at eating cardboard loo roll middles, egg boxes and other un plasticized cardboard. They are not great fans of too much onion skin or citrus, and avacado skins and egg shells go mostly untouched, so they go in my compost bin.

I also use my shredded security paper (envelopes with addresses on, old bill etc) as a layer to keep the bin oxygenated and stop it going soggy - they won't eat the plastic windows from envelopes, so they have to be removed, but I feel very safe knowing that my confidential papers are being eaten and used to provide great garden food.


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Mothers Day is next week, - ideas for the garden loving mum.

With only a week to go until Mothers Day, I thought i'd show you some of the presents that i've found that could be great for spoiling your mum.

While we were at Wakehurst place a few weeks ago, my Mum was very drawn to the International Garden Photographer of the year exhibit, and if you want some excellent garden photography to put on your walls, check out the igpoty website 
(no this photo isn't one from the website, it's one of mine, - maybe in the future i'll enter!)

ChilliWilliamhookerprintIf you'd prefer garden art rather than photography, i've been sent this link by the RHS to their new rather wonderful range of their botanical art, including this rather lovely collection of chilli peppers. Prices start from just £15 for prints.

How about taking your Mum to a Garden on March 14th? The following gardens have free entry for Mums on Mothers Day - Painshill Park & Savill Garden
Or if you were to treat your mum to RHS membership, she'd have free entrance to Wisley, Hyde Hall, Rosemoor and Harlow Carr gardens for a whole year 
If you like the idea of spending lunch or teatime with Mum there is an excellent cafe at Polesden Lacey or try the Conservatory Restuarant at RHS Wisley These are likely to be busy, so get there early & leave time to have a long brisk walk, then you'll deserve lunch.

If you want to spend a day with your Mum later in the year, why not book a day at a flower show.  Last year we took M.i.l (and F.i.l) to the NEC at Birmingham and took Mum & Dad to Hampton Court Flower show, and had 2 fabulous days out at very different shows. Tickets are already available online for all the shows, - if your budget won't stretch to a full day, there are afternoon tickets available for most of the shows from 3.00pm

My personal favourite would be a plant for the garden or a bunch of English grown flowers like these

Or you could buy your Mum Plantpassion email advice. so that she can ask questions of an expert all year round.

Any other suggestions for a garden loving mum?

Plants by Post

I have a love hate relationship with mail order plants.

I love the catalogues with the glossy pictures, I love the fact i can find a bargain because I know how much they would be at local nurseries. I love the fact that I can get a wider range of plants than any of my local nurseries carry at one time


I hate the fact that you have to do something with the plants the minute they turn up, and I hate the fact I always over order and have excess plants that I hadn't planned for sitting in a corner shrivelling.


This week however, I was pleasantly surprised by a mail order company I haven't used before - Hedges Direct.

I needed to form a neat hedge to cover a brick wall. I gave the client several suggestions, but Lonicera Nitida (hedging honeysuckle) was the final choice.

Continue reading "Plants by Post" »