Tour of MrFothergill’s Seed Trial Grounds

Photo : Silene Blue Angel. New for 2018/19

Growing plants from seed is a passion for me. It’s an affordable way to bulk up annual, perennial and biennial displays in the garden. And each year I try something new, as well as sticking with tried and trusted old favourites.

Next spring, I’ll be adding Silene Blue Angel to my seed sowing plans. It’s one of the new varieties on offer at Mr Fothergill’s. And this week I was absolutely delighted to be invited to view the trial grounds at the company’s headquarters in Suffolk.

These are the plants that caught my eye. The silene was top of my list. A hardy annual, sown in March and planted out in early June. Plants form neat cushions 25cm tall. For a continuous display, I’ll sow a few seeds at two to three week intervals. I’m picturing drifts of electric blue flowers running through the borders and flowering all summer long.

Brachycome Blue Star is another new variety available for 2019. I’m going to partner it with this one I spotted from the Brachycome Blue/White Mix range. I’ve always loved any kind of daisy flower.

Regular readers know I also love sweet peas. I grow a range of heritage and modern varieties along a rather wonky hazel wigwam structure. Next year I will be adding new variety Capel Manor to the garden. It’s a pretty pinky blue and has a delicate, though not overpowering scent.

I always plant cosmos in the cut flower garden. They are easy to grow and provide flowers from early summer right through to the first frosts. I spotted this beautiful new white variety called Snow Puff. Bees seem to love cosmos, so that’s a bonus too. I’m always trying to find ways to help pollinators.

Here’s some photos of the trial grounds. It was fabulous to wander about amongst so many beautiful flowers, jotting down names for future planting plans. The scent in the heat of the day just added to the wow factor.

Mr Fothergill’s is celebrating its 40th anniversary. In May, the company won Product of the Year at RHS Chelsea for its new Optigrow range of seeds. Optigrow is a revolutionary non-chemical seed priming treatment that uses only water and air to get the seeds biologically ready for germination. I’ll be trying out some of the 19 vegetable varieties available – including tricky to grow parsnips- next spring. I’ll need to write another post about all the new vegetable varieties. There are quite a few I’ve made a note of. And there are many more new flower varieties. I’ve just picked out a few. I’ll definitely have to write another post soon….

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Wordless Wednesday -Cosmos Snow Puff

I’ve had a wonderful day at the field trials ground at Mr Fothergill’s Seeds in Suffolk. This new cosmos caught my eye. Perfect for pollinators. More words to follow when I’ve recovered from the journey. I will be growing this and many other new seeds next spring.

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It’s hot, hot, hot….. what the garden looks like on 5th August 2018

Plants in my garden are matching the heatwave! These sunny rudbeckias were sown last summer and planted out in autumn. They make much stronger plants grown as biennials.

These are Rudbeckia hirta Glorious Daisies , also known as cone flowers, from Mr Fothergill’s Seeds. Bees and butterflies love them. They are easy to grow and last a week as a cut flower.

They remind me of sunflowers. I love the yellow petals and the deep chocolate cone centre. To get them to flower as annuals, sow seeds in a 3″ pot of good quality seed compost in February/ March. Place in a propagator at 18C. Prick out as soon as there are two true leaves. Prick out into individual 3″ pots to give the plants room to grow. Grow on in a frost free place in bright light, but not direct sunshine as the tender new leaves will scorch. Plant outside in a sunny sheltered position at end of May. They will flower all summer long.

If you have a very sheltered garden, you can overwinter them. To grow them as biennials, sow them in summer and plant out in early autumn into soil that has been well prepared. Incorporate lots of good garden compost, well rotted manure and leafmould. This will improve drainage over the winter when it’s the wet that tends to kill plants rather than the cold.

As temperatures are regularly hitting 28C to 30C these rudbeckias really shine out and match the sunny weather. I’ve not watered these, but any planted since Christmas would need a thorough soaking once a week.

To add to the sunshine look, I’m trialling the new Thompson and Morgan sunflower Sunbelieveable Brown Eyed Girl. These are making lovely short stocky plants suitable for containers. They arrive in the post well packaged and soon grow into 50cm plants.

I’m also growing various sunflowers from Mr Fothergill’s including Evening Sun which has a stunning range of colours. And bees absolutely adore them.

These last a week in a vase and make a lovely centrepiece of any cut flower posy. Calendulas are also doing well on my plot despite the heat and dreadful drought. I am only watering containers and succulent crops such as runner beans and courgettes. Everything else is relying on good winter mulching with home made compost and Plant grow fertiliser. We haven’t had any rain since May.

Regular readers know that I always cut my flowers for my MIL Joan and my Mum Marion. This summer has been a particularly difficult one, health wise, and sunshiny flowers have been much needed.

Calendula Snow White and subsequent seedlings are a firm favourite. I post photos of my posies on IAVOM which Cathy hosts on Mondays. Thanks for joining me on a ramble round my rather hot and parched garden. Let me know what you are growing in your garden the first week of August.

Thanks to Helen for hosting the End of Month View.

Summer fruit harvest and making garden jam

What a summer! My poor garden is burned to a crisp and everything’s wilting, including me. But the fruit garden is producing bumper crops. You’d think they would shrivel in 32C heat, but the black and red currants, gooseberries and blackberries are sweet and juicy.

Last night I wandered round the garden collecting a basket of fruit to make jam. I had planned to make strawberry jam from the pots of runners planted in April. But the tiny plants only yielded a handful of fruit. So delicious though. The plants only cost 60p each, mail order. I wrote about planting them Here. I’m hopeful of larger crops next summer.

The blackberries were the best I’ve ever seen though. A bumper crop and large fruit. Sometimes wild blackberries are so tiny they are hardly worth picking. But these soon filled a basket.

I threw the whole lot in a heavy based pan to make garden jam. Wow, what a scent. If it’s possible to capture sunshine and summer in a jar, this is the way to do it.

Garden Jam

To make 2 jars I used 500g fruit, 500g sugar 75ml water, juice of 1 lemon.

Method:

Place a saucer in the freezer for testing the setting point later.

Put fruit, water and lemon juice in a heavy based pan. Cook the fruit gently until soft.

Add sugar and simmer carefully until all the sugar crystals are absorbed.

Increase the heat to a rolling boil. After 10- 15 minutes, put a teaspoon of jam on the plate and gently push. If it wrinkles, it has reached setting point. If not, cook for another 5 minutes, taking care not to burn the jam.

Stand for 15 minutes

Pot into sterilised and warmed jars.

Fresh scones :

3oz butter

1lb plain flour

Pinch salt

1oz caster sugar

1.5 tsp. baking power

2 eggs and 6floz milk beaten together.

Add all the dry ingredients and rub together. Add liquids and mix carefully. Don’t over handle the mixture

Roll out thickly and cut into circles. Brush top with a little of the reserved egg/ milk mixture.

Bake for 10 mins until golden, oven temp. 230C, gas mark 8

Eat whilst still warm – or as soon as possible. Can be frozen as soon as cooled, to keep fresh.

I often ask twitter friends for recipes and gardening advice. Here’s a reply that came from Bob Flowerdew. I’m looking forward to trying his recipe.

And this came from June Girvin, which is similar to the recipe I ended up with. It’s absolutely delicious.

After all that foraging and cooking, we sat in the 1930s summerhouse, turned to face the cool woodland and pond and feasted on the jewels of the garden.

Surrounding us, there’s sounds of harvesting and baling. There’s a scent of new hay and oats on the breeze, and we watch entranced as barn owls swoop across the empty fields, like ghosts. They don’t notice us sitting quietly amongst the trees.

Here’s this week’s Garden Hour on BBC Radio Leicester where I chat away about what’s happening in my garden. Put your feet up and have a listen in sometime. The programme starts at 2.10.27 on the timeline. And the music’s not bad this week too.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06cd1bd

I am @kgimson on twitter and karengimson1 on instagram. Please share this on any social media platform you like, and don’t forget to leave a comment below. Thank you.

We made a garden for Rainbows Hospice : Belvoir Show 2018

My very wise Welsh grandmother was full of quaint little sayings. I used to laugh at the time. “Pick yourself up, dust yourself down; ” and “Something good always comes out of adversity.” But I didn’t heed them at the time. Then two years ago, suddenly, out of the blue, I became seriously ill. In the middle of the crisis, those words came back to me.

While I was lying in my hospital bed, I decided, if I survived, I would raise money for Rainbows Hospice for children. Being so ill was frightening, and it took all my inner resources to cope. How much worse, I thought, must it be for a child to be ill and in pain. Since then, I’ve been hosting garden club talks, afternoon teas and book launch events. But my biggest challenge came last weekend when I helped build a show garden.

And this is how it started. Over the bridge is the lake-side setting for the first ever Belvoir Castle Flower and Garden Festival. It’s a glorious Capability Brown landscape with rolling hillsides and ancient oak plantations.

We had four and a half days to make a garden. It’s a historic site, so we couldn’t dig down or hammer anything into the ground. Everything had to be built up from a protective ground cover.

We had no budget. Everything was begged or borrowed. Any money, I thought, should go to Rainbows.

David Greaves co-designed the garden and donated all the labour for the build. While I concentrated on the plants, David co-ordinated all the materials and deliveries we would need.

First the garden was marked out. Lewis lays the foundation for the dry stone wall. Alfie’s on the cement mixer.

The first stone is laid.

The beautiful honey -coloured stone was donated by Goldholme Stone.

A lorry load of topsoil arrives, a donation from Richard Fenton.

Such a stunning setting for a garden. Everyone works at breakneck speed, in 28C heat. There’s Sam, Pete, Gareth and David cracking on, mindful of the deadline.

Parents told me being given devastating news your children are not going to live long and full lives is like a hammer blow. They feel as if they’ve been knocked down and can’t get back up. One mother said she felt like Rainbows “picks you up and gives you a hug. ” Something she said was most needed when you’re at your lowest ebb. So I made a seating area in the shape of open arms, or a hug.

This is the artist’s impression of the garden. We designed the garden in two halves. On one side is a parent’s garden with the hug-shape seat set in a woodland glade with native trees and plants. It’s a calm haven. The idea was to highlight the message that Rainbows isn’t just for children; it’s for parents, relatives and siblings who need help, counselling and support.

Parents said, when told their child had a life-limiting illness, all their hopes and dreams for the future collapse. They can’t see what lies ahead. The future is clouded. The Perspex screens puts their words into our garden.

On the other side of the screens is the children’s garden, giving an idea of what it’s like at Rainbows; an insight for anyone who has never visited. There’s a music therapy corner, bird watching hide and wildlife area, water play wall, and a quiet retreat with swing seat covered in rainbow-coloured cushions.

I’ve been going back and forth to the hospice for months, helping the children and young people to grow their own plants for the containers. I loved working with them. I wanted them to share in telling the Rainbows story. Here’s my daughter Clare helping with the planting of seeds and bulbs.

Although nothing was said, I realised some of the children couldn’t see. They enjoyed the feel of dry compost running through their fingers and they spent a long time turning over and feeling the different shaped bulbs- gladioli, lily and begonia. It was an experience I will never forget.

The containers were sited in the middle of the chidren’s garden, and also all around a fund-raising marquee set up by Rainbows alongside our garden.

All the beautiful trees, shrubs and perennials were grown by Miles Nurseries Hoby Leicestershire. Thanks to Tom, Bel and Lawson for providing such fabulous plants. And for all your deliveries to the site. We could not have built the garden without your kind support.

Our water play and music wall.

Here’s the Duchess of Rutland viewing our garden, with David Greaves explaining the design. The good news is we won Best in Show. And even better, the garden is going to be re-built in the castle grounds.

The duchess tried out the drum kit in the music therapy corner.

My Mum, who’s been very ill too this year, recovered enough to come and see the garden. That really made my day to be honest.

This little visitor to the show was enchanted by the butterflies that arrived as soon as we’d planted the garden.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my diary of building a show garden. We raised several thousand pounds with donations, pledges and people joining the Rainbows lottery. Here’s the link if you would like to support the work of this amazing hospice.

Rainbows Hospice – Ways you can help.

With many thanks to all our sponsors: David Greaves Landscape Design and Construction for co-design and build , Miles Nurseries for all trees, shrubs and plants, Bagforce Aggregates , William Hercock Builders Merchants , CED paving and stone Belvoir Saw Mill, Chris Cooper-Hayes for artists impression, Goldholme Stone , David Musson Fencing , Motorpoint for perspex screens and leaflets, Richard Fenton for topsoil ,Melcourt for compost and bark, Burgon and Ball children’s tools and kneeling pads, Mr Fothergill’s Seeds for children’s pots, Gee Tee Bulbs for children’s container bulbs, Elho for children’s containers and plant pots, CJ Wildlife for bird and wildlife corner supplies, Cooks Lane Herbs , Sitting Spiritually swing seat, Pete Brown Carpentry, Libby Greaves for planning and co-ordination, publicity and planting.

Also many thanks to Soo Spector, Marissa Ewing-Gerrard, Clive Gimson for planting and Gary and Alison at Rainbows for helping me; Emma Scarborough for mentoring, and Sue Blaxland who taught me everything at Brooksby College.

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Winner of Dahlias book by Naomi Slade

Congratulations to June at The Cynical Gardener who has won my prize draw for a copy of Naomi Slade’s new book, Dahlias.

I wrote a review of the book Here.

I absolutely love the book, and find I’m dipping into it whenever I sit down and rest a moment in my potting shed armchair.

The book features mouth-watering photographs by Georgianna Lane. It’s easy to read and there are lots of hints and tips on getting the best out of your dahlias.

Who could resist these lovely, brightly-coloured single varieties.

Here’s some photos of my own dahlias in my cut flower patch. I’m looking forward to trying out some of the newer varieties highlighted in the book. I’m particularly keen to try the dark red and chocolate types, as well as the cheerful sounding “happy” series.

Some of mine have been grown from seed. They produce good size plants in one year.

Dahlias will be published by Pavilion Books on 2nd August, RRP price £25. Here’s the Amazon link for more information.

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In a Vase on Monday

My cut flower patch is in full swing. Luckily, flowers sown last summer and planted out in autumn are weathering the heatwave. Here’s a selection for this week’s vase. As always, my posies are for my mother in law Joan and my Mum, Marion.

Sweet peas High Scent are top favourites this year. I love the creamy buds that open to pale lilac. There’s a pretty violet picotee edge to the flowers. And the scent really is amazing. Only a few are needed in a jam jar posy to make an impact.

Seeds were sown last October in root trainers and kept all winter in straight-sided clear plastic storage boxes to outwit mice. It worked. And in April the well-rooted plants were set out along a wonky network of hazel twigs.

I pick flowers at dawn and drop them straight into buckets of cold fresh tap water. To travel, I pop ice cubes in the buckets to keep them cool.

In amongst the sweet peas this week there’s beautiful cornflowers Blue Boy. These are really prolific. I’m picking these flowers most days and there’s lots more to come. Great value for a small area.

For a pop of pink, there’s corncockle, an easy to grow wildflower that’s growing all around my garden.

Creamy white double chamomile reliably comes back every year and seems to go with everything.

As usual, I’m joining in with Cathy at Ramblinginthegarden blog for this week’s IAVOM. Why not go over and see what Cathy and all the others are growing and displaying at the moment. It’s fascinating to see how many of us are growing the same plants in gardens all around the world.

https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/

Dahlias- beautiful varieties for home and garden

Book Review

Naomi Slade. Photography by Georgianna Lane

http://www.pavilionbooks.com. £25. August 2018.

Leave a comment below if you’d like your name to be put in the hat for a chance to win one free copy of the book. The publishers will draw out a name. Their decision is final. Sorry, it’s open to UK entries only.

Photo : My favourite dahlia Nuit d’Ete in my own cut flower plot in Leicestershire.

I’m away from home for a few days, staying with my mother-in-law Joan. Everything here is at a slower pace. Breakfast takes an hour, and over tea and toast she tells me how her husband Keith once won awards at the local flower show with his dahlias and chrysanthemums. The whole garden from the back lawn, to the greenhouse was set in regimented rows of flowers. I can picture the scene. This garden has been lovingly tended by my in laws for more than 60 years. And now everyone in the family is stepping in to keep it looking perfect. It’s quite a challenge, but one we all enjoy.

Today, between hoeing and weeding and keeping them company, I’ve got time to sit down and catch up with some reading. And top of the pile of new books is Dahlias by Naomi Slade.

photo: Naomi Slade with her latest book. My photo, taken at Chelsea Flower Show.

Over 65 types of dahlias are profiled in the book. There’s 240 pages of mouthwatering photographs and inspiring, easy to read descriptions. There’s an introduction followed by sections on history and botany; and the dahlias are split into themes such as “romantic,” “dramatic and daring,” “fabulous and funky,” “classic and elegant.” A growing and care guide gives cultivation techniques, information on selecting varieties, choosing a suitable site and soil and planting tips.

Photos are sumptuous. I’m particularly drawn to the darker shades; deep red and almost black. Rip City is one I’d love to try.

Karma Choc is another on my wish list. This small waterlily flower is excellent as a cut flower and lasts at least a week in a vase.

I’d never heard of the Happy Single range of dahlias. These are perfect for small spaces and containers, growing to 30-60cm high by 30-40cm wide. Such a wide range of cheerful, rich colours. You couldn’t fail to be happy with them! Varieties include Happy Single Flame, Happy Single Party, Princess and First love. Even the names made me smile.

To calm things down after all that colour, there’s some dazzling and very beautiful white dahlias. I enjoyed learning about all the different kinds of dahlias. I knew about cactus and water lily types, but didn’t know much about collarettes, and anemone- flowered forms. And ones called star, or orchid-flowering sound particularly appealing.

Here’s some photos of dahlias from my own garden. I’ve taken cuttings from mine to grow in my in laws garden. Having read Naomi’s inspiring book, I’ve made a list of new varieties to share between our two plots. And I’m hoping to learn some prize winning tips from my father in law. You never know, I might even enter the local flower show.

Naomi Slade is a writer, broadcaster, consultant, speaker and photographer. A biologist by training, a naturalist by inclination, and with a lifelong love of plants. She writes regularly for national newspapers and magazines. Her books include The Plant Lover’s Guide to Snowdrops and An Orchard Odyssey.

I really enjoyed reading her latest book. It’s brought back some lovely memories for my mother in law and sparked off a new plan in my head to grow more dahlias in their garden.

Right then…. back to the weeding. Must not let my in laws down! 🙂

In a Vase on Monday – My Cut Flower Patch

One of the joys of June is to walk out into the garden and pick a bunch of flowers for the house- flowers that have been nurtured all winter, and are now ready to harvest.

Sweet williams are currently my favourite. They provide masses of flowers which last at least a week in a vase. Sown in June last year, they were pricked out and grown on, and then planted out in late August. And today I’m picking basketfuls of fragrant flowers.

Regular readers will know that all my flowers are grown for my mother in law Joan and my wonderful mum, Marion. Once a week I fill every vase they own with home-grown flowers.

Here’s some photos from my cut flower patch. I have 10 3m by 1.2m beds. Half are planted with sweet peas, dahlias and sweet williams. Half are set out with potatoes, beetroot, beans, courgettes and strawberries

In the background you can see the fruit garden. It’s completely overwhelmed with brambles and stingers this year. A renovation project is planned, when I get a minute to spare.

I’m growing a range of old-fashioned Sweet williams with seed from Higgledy Garden. As you can see, bees love them too. I’m always thinking of what would be best for pollinators.

I particularly love the auricular-eyed sweet williams. Rich Venetian colours really stand out in the summer sunshine. And they go so well with summer roses. This one is called William Shakespeare. Looks like red velvet to me.

And another favoured rose for picking right now is the highly-scented Constance Spry. It only flowers once, but what a spectacular show.

I’m sowing more sweet williams right now, preparing for next summer’s bounty. I use half seed trays filled with good quality seed compost. Fill them right to the top of the trays. Press down gently to level. Sow seeds thinly to prevent moulds and damping off disease. Seeds germinate at 17 – 19C, room temperature at this time of the year. So no propagators are needed. When seedlings have two leaves, I prick them out into full size seed trays to give each plant more space to grow. I’ll place the trays in a bright place to grow on, making sure the plants don’t dry out. And I’ll plant them out into the garden in August, 25cm apart, when I’ve harvested one of the vegetable crops to make space. I water plants with seaweed extract and home-made comfrey liquid which makes them grow healthy and strong. I’m adding some almost black sweet williams Nigricans and white alba for next year.

Here’s another view of my cut flower patch with Diascia Hopleys in the foreground. Another good do-er for flower arranging.

I’m joining in with Cathy for her In a Vase on Monday meme. Why not go over and see what Cathy and the others are growing and putting in their flower arrangements this week. Let me know how your gardens are doing this summer. How are you coping with unpredictability weather, rain and high winds? I think summer storms are becoming the norm.

REVIVE YOUR GARDEN book review

Nick Bailey. Photography by Jonathan Buckley

Kyle Books £25 Hardback. Published spring 2018

My garden blends seamlessly with the surrounding countryside. If you drive along our country lane, you wouldn’t be able to tell anyone lived there. The garden shelters behind mature hawthorn hedges with scented wild roses and honeysuckle. I love its wildness. But there comes a point where the wild garden starts to get the upper hand; some paths are no longer accessible. The woodland is expanding and cow parsley taking over. And don’t even mention the brambles.

Just in time, Nick Bailey has produced a book that seems to be written specially for me! Revive Your Garden is a step by step guide to restoring order.

When a garden has got out of control, the task to get it back into shape seems overwhelming. It’s difficult to know where to start. This book sets out a sensible plan of action, starting with a section on “understanding the opportunities and limitations” of your plot.

Next there’s a back-to-basics approach on pruning. I should really know when and how

to prune my shrubs, but Nick’s guide gives me reassurance that I’m doing it right. There’s a master class on renovation pruning with plenty of photographs to illustrate different techniques.

For beginners, there’s a very good section on identifying the difference between weeds and useful plants worth saving. My daughters found this particularly good – as they are starting to look for their first-time homes. All the houses we’ve looked at in their (low) price range have terrible, ramshackle gardens.

There’s a section on renovating lawns. Mine have been attacked by all kinds of creatures, gouging holes in the grass. I just need a nudge in the right direction to tackle the eyesore.

One idea in the book I’ve copied involves taking photos of the garden and laying tracing paper over the top. Draw on the changes you’d like to make. In my case, I want to create a new breakfast terrace near the summerhouse; a sunny spot first thing in the morning. Drawing it out first gives an impression of what it would look like- before you’ve spent any money on the scheme, and you can play around with various options.

Practical advice on restoring paving, reviving gravel and fences is followed by a section called “How to Wow.” I need to revamp some of my planting areas- once I’ve hacked back the brambles.

Revive Your Garden gives you confidence to tackle any garden work, whether it’s bringing a tired and neglected garden back into shape, or putting your own stamp on a newly acquired plot. It’s written in an enthusiastic way. You can definitely hear Nick’s voice as he explains the techniques. It’s just the encouragement you need to get going.

Here’s some photos of my garden, before I start work on our renovation project. Wish me luck. I might be out there for a while!

There’s a path through there……

And there.

Honestly, there’s a path through there. Leading to the outside world, and this view.

NICK BAILEY, a regular presenter on BBC2’s Gardeners’ World, has worked as a professional horticulturalist for more than 20 years and won silver gilt for his first show garden at Chelsea Flower Show in 2016. Until recently he was head gardener at Chelsea Physic Garden.