Saturday, 20 September 2014

A fair trial

The other day I received an email from Thompson and Morgan asking me to trial a new rose for them, as they know how much I love a good rose ! The only proviso was that I write an unbiased blog post about it. "Was I interested ?" they asked. Was I ? Do bears pooh in the woods ? I answered in the affirmative, immediately ... and the parcel came today !

Being asked to trial a plant is both a joy and a responsibility. It focuses the mind on the task of looking after it as well as is humanly possible, to give it the best chance of achieving its potential. There is also excitement at growing something new... especially a new rose.

When I opened the parcel there were actually 2 roses inside, one in better shape than the other, as far as the foliage was concerned, but I'm sure that difference will soon be rectified by a few days of tlc, as it was no doubt caused by being packaged, without light, for several days.

On first sight, the roses were smaller than I had expected them to be, but when I checked the T & M catalogue, it specifies that they are supplied in 9cm pots, which they were, so my expectations were clearly unrealistic.

I saw a similar rose, ( 'Blue Eyes'?) when I visited the Thompson & Morgan Trial grounds in August this year, and was told that their new rose, 'Sweet Spot Calypso' is even better than that one. 'Blue Eyes' looked good to me, compact, with no black spot, and some flowers on it.

The rose I am trialling, ('Sweet spot Calypso') is termed a 'Decorator' rose, and it will  bloom continuously from June to October. It is low growing and compact, with a height and spread of about 50cm. It can be used as bedding, in containers, borders or ground cover, and is 'self cleaning' in that it sheds old petals. Although that would keep it looking tidy, I guess that it still needs deadheading with secateurs, otherwise it would develop hips and stop flowering. Pruning is nothing like as complicated as it is for many other roses - apparently just a light shaping and shearing is all that is required.

The flowers are 5 petalled singles, and are quite unusual, in that there is a darker eye in the centre which is red, this is surrounded by a ring of yellow, and then each petal is tipped with pink. There is a technicolour thing going on though, as the colours change as the bloom ages, so that there are many different shades at any one time. The foliage is dark green and new shoots are, pleasingly, red. The flowers are quite atypical for a rose, and I imagine that, to some people, it would not conform to the expected flower type and colouring.

The flowers remind me of 'Alissar, Princess of Phoenicia', although it is not related, to my knowledge. This is a lovely rose, and those single, dark-eyed flowers give me a lot of pleasure. It is a repeat flowerer, although it likes to 'rest' for long periods in between flushes of blooms.

'Sweet Spot Calypso', the Decorator rose, supposedly heralds a new breed of roses, with a long period of non stop blooms. It was bred from two unnamed Rosa hybrid seedlings, in Holland, and has taken 20 years to produce. Hardiness is given as Zone 5, which is around minus 20 centigrade, so no worries there, as much of Britain is Zone 8.

I must admit to not being keen on the term 'Decorator' rose as it smacks of buying books by the yard, or using artificial turf, or just doing stuff because it is easy on the eye, from a distance. It somehow implies that the plant itself is unimportant, and that the overall impression is paramount. I don't know how else to interpret the term, but I won't let it put me off the rose itself. 'A rose by any other name would smell as sweet' ... except that this one has no fragrance. To some that would be a deal breaker, as roses  are often chosen for their fragrance. Although I love scent, I have plenty of fragrant roses in the garden that I can bury my nose in whenever I feel the urge. 'Jude the Obscure' has fragrance to share, as does 'Wollerton Old Hall', so I won't begrudge  'Sweet Spot Calypso' for being scent free.

The roses came complete with a set of written instructions which were clear, concise and informative.

So, having two little roses to trial, gave me more opportunities than one so I devised a cunning plan! I  planted one in a container and put it in a reasonably sheltered place, for its first winter. The other I  planted out in a bed, ensuring it has full sun, and breathing space around it. In that way, it will be interesting to compare growth, flowering, health and vigour. The trial has to be honest and unbiased, and to do this fairly, I have to ensure that the roses are given the best possible chance to succeed in normal garden conditions.

 I planted the container rose in a suitably sized pot - not too big and not too small, and put a slow release rose fertiliser at the roots and used a good, more or less peat-free compost. As it needs a little tlc and nurturing, I have decided to leave it in the cool greenhouse for a couple of weeks to give it chance to recover. If the days are warm I shall move it outside, and bring it back inside at night.

I put the larger, more vigorous rose in the border, as I felt that it would cope better with the conditions than the smaller one, which will get more nurturing in a pot, having no competition for space, light and nutrients.

The rose in the bed was planted into a comparatively large hole, with fertiliser at the base, filled up with more or less peat- free compost. Both will be kept well watered.

As I try to garden organically wherever possible (never say never!) these roses will not be sprayed with anything, and any problems will hopefully be detected early so that they can be dealt with before they get worse. I will monitor them carefully to pick up any early signs of disease or pest infestation etc.

I am looking forward to seeing how they grow and develop, particularly as they are being grown in different conditions. I can't wait for that first rosebud to open next season ...

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Fig-uratively speaking

Ah, 'tis the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, and now we can gather in the harvest, after our labours. Mind you, I won't be giving up the day job quite yet - as we only got one solitary, single fig !  Needless to say, once it ripened, it was delicious, and we fought over it, before dividing it in half and scoffing it with our muesli for breakfast!

I can't say I am surprised at the paucity of the harvest though, after what that poor little fig tree has had to endure - it has been brutally pruned (guilty? moi?), suffered as builders re-roofed behind it, and then had the indignity of being pruned AGAIN so the builders could get to the hard-to-reach places !

Despite this, the fig tree has survived, and recovered to the extent that the butchery is not apparent as the leaves have covered everything. It is still growing strongly, and not showing any signs of slowing down.

The clematis was cut back at the same time as the fig tree but, as you can see below, it has not made such a speedy recovery. It is showing regrowth, but we will have to wait until next year until we see any flowers.

We should be ok next year as there are lots of little figlets waiting in the wings, so, barring all lopper- based accidents, they should find their way into our muesli!

There has been a catastrophe quite close to the fig tree, but not near enough to harm it. The ten foot tall stone boundary wall suffered a partial collapse thanks to the power of the tail end of Hurricane Bertha. Our neighbours acquired a surprise rockery on their lawn, overnight.

The apex of the gable wall has fallen, as has a lot more stonework on the other side. It doesn't look half as bad from our side ... poor neighbours next door! So, the builders will be back to build it up again, but this time, the fig can be left alone, as it on the other side of the left hand wall.

So, on the whole, August has been a good month for my little fig tree, and it risen above previous adversity, and even produced a little fig !

Below is a photo from April, so you can really see the progress it has made ...

Thanks again to Lucy at 'Loose and leafy' for hosting this tree following meme. Do check out the huge variety of trees featured at

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Harbinger of dooooom ...

I hate to have to say it ...

I don't want to say it ... but ... autumn is here !

There was a mist yesterday morning, hanging over the fields, and I could hear the rooks in the trees nearby. The nights are now chill enough to merit a log fire, and outside it is properly dark again.
When the sky is clear and the sun is shining it still feels like summer, but it is clear that the season is marching on.

All this is usual for the time of year, but what is unusual is that foliage has started to turn colour and to die back, as you would expect in late September or October. I think the signs of autumn have arrived in my little spot on the planet, about three or four weeks ahead what is usual.

I first noticed it in the Horse Chestnuts, in about mid August, but they are always the first to show autumn colour , and it is often visible at the end of the month.

The next thing I noticed was the hostas, which are on their way out ! They are definitely yellow and dying!

The strawberry leaves are turning fashionably red...

The Ligularias are edged stylishly, with dark red...

... and not so stylishly brown!

Berberis Rosy Glow has rekindled the embers and is now turning into a fiery furnace.

The aneneomes have barely finished flowering , and yet the leaves are  beginning to die off.

Rodgersia is turning up its toes earlier than usual this season.

But don't despair, its hard to feel sad when there are still fuchsias like this is flower ...

... and 'Gentle Hermione' is just starting on another massive flush of blooms.

All the sedums are just coming into flower, and will be around for several weeks yet.

Because I am worried about things dying back and disappearing altogether, I have started the Great Autumn Move Around ! I don't usually do this at the beginning of September, usually it is at the end, or even through October, but if I don't start now, I will be looking at bare earth, wondering what on earth was growing there. Luckily the soil is ridiculously moist for the time of year, so I have no worries about moving things, as they will not dry out. This is usually the most restful time of my gardening year, as there is usually two or three weeks when there are few jobs to do, and the garden can be enjoyed before all the autumn work begins. Not this year though!

Spring came very early here, and I noticed the first leaves on the hawthorn hedge in mid-February, so maybe everything has just run its natural course. This process was probably accelerated by some very chilly days and even chillier nights in late August, which must have triggered the process of die back leading to dormancy. I've a horrid feeling that it is going to be a long old winter ....

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Parcel ... don't mind if I do !

Even the most mature amongst us cannot resist the lure of a parcel through the post. And if that package happens to have the words 'Live plants' on the front, then whose heart wouldn't skip a beat?
Such a package came for me a few days ago. In a perfect world, there would have been a knock on my door, and I would have answered it to a rosy-cheeked postman, who would have handed it to me with a smile and a cheery word. As it was, the postman had thrown the package casually over the six foot gates and I found it a nano-second before the dogs did ! Luckily the packaging was excellent, and survived the ultimate test.

When I was invited, with some fellow bloggers, to visit the Thompson & Morgan Trials ground a couple of weeks ago, something happened that seemed like part of some weird fantasy . All the visitors were handed a sheet of paper with new T & M plant introductions on, and asked to tick the ones they liked, and wished to have sent out to them. Would it be rude to tick them all ? I couldn't resist !

Back in the real world, I forgot about this list of plants ... until the postman threw the first batch over the gate ! It was Belarina double primulas, which are a new introduction for Autumn 2014.

When I took off the cardboard outer sleeve of packaging, I saw that it contained 9 well grown plug plants of Primula Belarina. These are pom pom flowered doubles, and it is claimed that they flower well in adverse weather conditions, with tightly packed, rosebud blooms throughout Spring. They also stay nice and compact.

Now I am a sucker for double primulas, always have been and always will be. My mum adored them and collected them whenever she saw them, and they were some of her most-prized plants. I feel the same and look out for them wherever I am. They always seem too exotic to bloom when the weather is so cold, and have the lushness of summer perennials.

The plants were very clearly marked and labelled, as each cell had an indented letter on it, to help with identification.

The plants came with clear instructions, written in an accessible style, using plain English. Even absolute beginners would have a good idea of what to do with their new plants.

Although the plugs were still moist, healthy and green, I opened up the packaging, watered them, and left them for a couple of hours, before potting them into 9cm pots in the greenhouse. I used a compost mix with a very low percentage of peat, and a high percentage of sticks and bark!! It really does need sieving before every use. 

I have labelled each one using my newest labelling system - lolly sticks with permanent garden marker writing on one side, and black biro on the other. I want to compare how long the writing lasts using different types of pens and pencils as I am so fed up of faded labels, with writing I can't read.

Below is a photograph of the Thompson & Morgan catalogue, showing the colours of the Belarina plugs. They are a mixture of 'Pink Ice' (self explanatory!); 'Amethyst Ice' (purply one, I assume, with white edging) and 'Nectarine' (yellowy/ pinky/ orangey one, don't you think?).

I particularly love the dark purply one, as I already have a similar one which gives me great pleasure.
All the pots are now in the cool greenhouse, and I swear they have grown already over the last few days.

I hope they live up to the catalogue description, and that they flower well for a long period, even through bad weather.

Thank you Thompson & Morgan - can't wait for the postman to throw my next package over the gate !

Friday, 15 August 2014

A touch of the Roald Dahls...

I was lucky enough to be invited by Thompson & Morgan, to an exclusive 'Blogger's Afternoon', earlier this week. There was a small, but perfectly formed, group of us garden bloggers and social media users, all looking forward to meeting the new T & M plant introductions.

To be honest, it felt a bit like being in a version of Roald Dahl's 'Charlie and the Chocolate factory' ! In the book, Willy Wonka showed a little group around his factory and demonstrated the marvels that lay within. The world within the factory walls was ablaze with psychedelic colour and brilliance, with novelties which seemed to defy logic, such as gobstoppers that last forever. Now, at T & M , we were confronted by similar conundrums... such as Gazanias which never close whatever the weather! That certainly defies nature as far as I'm concerned.  I once grew Gazanias, once and once only, because the summer was so lousy that I never saw the colour of the petals, as the flowers remained sulkily closed. The new Gazania we were shown spits in the face of cloudy days, and keeps its petals wide open whatever the weather.

Whilst Gazanias don't do it for me, and are not a plant I would grow, as they feel too spiky and artificial, I can see that ever-open flowers are a definite plus point !

Our very own Willie Wonka (aka Michael Perry, New product development manager) gave us an insight into the new flower varieties, showing us around around the rivers of technicolour plants at the  T & M Trials Ground. I think I was definitely the 'Grandpa Joe' character, (if we are sticking to the 'Charlie' analogy) and could be heard muttering softly, "I've heard tell that what you imagine sometimes come true."

Kris Collins (Communications Officer)  took us through the new vegetable varieties and then around the trials field, thick with special 'sinking mud ' from the recent downpours. I don't think the mud had special magic powers, but I may be wrong ...

Willie Wonka gave the literary world cows which produce chocolate milk, whereas the 'Oft-alluded -to - but - never - seen - Charles'  at T&M, designed cosmos wearing a ruff. A Tudor cosmos. 'Sexmos'! Does the world need Tudor Cosmos ? While the answer must be 'no', it is very pretty.

As Willie Wonka invented a 'hot ice cream for cold days' so the boffins at T & M have devised the teeny, tiny Buddleja 'Buzz'. It grows to no more than four feet, yet flower spikes are comparatively large. As these plants are sterile, the question was raised about its usefulness as a source of nectar for pollinators. There is proof in the photo below, and I know that they attract butterflies as much as their larger siblings, as I have four baby Buzzes in my own garden which are pollinator magnets. New introduction is 'Buzz Indigo', with dark, purplish blue flower spikes.

'Square sweets that look round' figure in 'Charlie and the Chocolate factory', whereas T & M have magically shrunk down a Eucomis to cute Patio size. Called, erm, 'Eucomis Patio Collection' they would sit happily in pots, or at the front of the border. I think they could be a useful addition to the family.

As Willie Wonka invented edible marshmallow pillows, so T & M continue on their quest for the Holy Grail of the vegetable world, varieties which are attractive in their own right, as well as edible.  Chilli 'Loco' (below) ticks lots of boxes, as it is certainly attractive with its bushy, compact habit and its purple chillies which are highly ornamental. It was growing outside and was clearly happy to be out in the elements. But how does it taste ? The jury is out on that one ! It was described by Kris  as being mild in flavour, but when eaten raw, packed quite a kick (as testified by certain members of the group!) Clearly its impact will change after cooking.

Willie Wonka gave us chewing gum that never loses its flavour, whilst T & M gave us the magnificently named Petunia 'Johnny Flame'. The name alone sold me, as it could be the name of a frontman in a retro rock 'n roll band. It is definitely rain resistant, as the photo shows it after very heavy downpours, and it has the most beautiful velvety flowers. It is one I will definitely be growing next year.

And the 'TomTato' ... the plant which produces tomatoes AND potatoes well, there must be a bit of Willy Wonka magic going on there ...