Super-started hardy annuals

September 23rd, 2016 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Autumn-sown Larkspur 'Giant Imperial Mixed' at Foxtail Lilly.

Hardy annuals are exactly that: they’re hardy and they’re annuals. So we tend to assume that we sow them in spring, they flower in summer and they die at the end of the season and produce. Well, not quite… In nature, in their wild habitats, many hardy annuals behave rather differently.

The point is that many annuals grow in areas where the summers are hot and dry – like the Mediterranean region. If the seeds germinate in spring, there’s not much time for the plants to develop before flowering. So they germinate in autumn instead.

Well, to be more precise, in many species the seeds have a built-in genetic variability: some will germinate in autumn and some in spring. That way, if the autumn seedlings are lost for some reason, grazing perhaps, there are still some seeds to germinate in spring and produce at least a few seeds to carry the plant into another year.

But here’s the thing. Hardy annuals which germinate in the autumn have time to develop, they start to get their roots down before winter, they make rosettes of foliage and will continue to develop in mild spells during the winter.

The result, of course, is that by the time you’d normally be sowing seeds in March or April, the autumn sown seeds have already developed into sturdy plants which make larger plants by flowering time. These larger plants flower earlier, for longer and their deeper roots are better able to withstand the drier summer weather when it comes.

So which hardy annuals can we sow in autumn? These are my top five, follow the links to previous posts on individual plants: Cornflowers, Larkspur, Nigella, Poppies, and of course Sweet peas.

Thirty plus years of ornamental edibles

September 16th, 2016 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Swiss Chard and red verbena growing at Kew in the 1980s - Ornamental EdiblesI’m a great believer in ornamental vegetables: they look good, they taste good – what more can you ask for? I even went so far as to write a book about them, and their use with flowers: The All-In-One Garden.

For me, it all started back in the 1980s when the summer bedding in front of Kew’s Palm House – one of the most prestigious summer displays in the country – was entirely given over to ornamental edibles, combined with a few flowers. I was working at Kew at the time, so had the privilege of taking a look at the display every day throughout the summer.

It was all organised by Brian Halliwell, who was also the first person in Britain to popularise marguerites (Argyranthemums) in summer displays.

You can imagine the reaction to the potatoes, grown for their flowers; to the big plants of purple-leaved Brussels sprouts surrounded by variegated sage; to the ruby chard surrounded by golden marjoram and, as you can see from my picture of the original Kew planting, the Swiss chard surrounded by red verbena. Looks great, doesn’t it?

The reaction from the public didn’t quite reach the level it was when Kew first grew wisterias trained as shrubs – questions were asked in Parliament, by all account – but it’s fair to say that the visitors were astonished.

Now, the Mr Fothergill’s range is peppered with ornamental vegetables and herbs. In addition to Swiss chard ‘White Silver 2’ and ruby chard ‘Vulcan’ and ‘Rubine’ Brussels sprouts, I’d recommend ‘Redbor’ curly purple kale, and red lettuce ‘Bijou’ and ‘St George’ runner beans with its red and white bicoloured flowers.

There are plenty more, just keep ornamental value in mind when you’re looking over your edible options.

Sweet Pea September – Getting Ready for Autumn Sowing

September 15th, 2016 | The flower garden | 0 Comments

Sweet pea SeptemberHere at Mr Fothergills we have a vast range of sweet pea seeds suitable for Autumn sowing. These beautifully scented blooms make dwarf hedging or can climb up trellis and are super cut flowers. We know the sweet pea has a special place amongst our gardeners’ affections and we’re delighted to offer a huge range of varieties to you. Nothing can beat the sweet pea for all round performance – garden decoration and wonderful fragrance in the garden and the vase.

All varieties in this post can be sown this Autumn for vigorous plants which are more resilient in dry conditions, and will flower for longer with larger flowers from May onwards.

In addition to these varieties of sweet pea, we still currently have the new Sweet Pea Scarlet Tunic. These are special sweet pea seeds and for every packet sold, 25p has been donated to the Royal Hospital Chelsea charity. So far, this has raised over £53, 542 for the Royal Hospital Chelsea. We’d love to keep this figure rising, so if you would like a fragrant, hardy annual sweet pea then why not try the Scarlet Tunic.

These Sweet Peas despatch now, ready for sowing throughout Autumn. Let us know which of the Sweet Pea variety is your favourite. 

How to Grow Quick Late-Season Salad Crops

September 14th, 2016 | The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

Late-season salad cropsYou may think it’s too late to grow salad crops, but there’s still plenty of time to sow, grow and harvest, quick growing late-season salad. This post shares tips on making the most of late-season salad crops. 

  • The key is to choose crops that can grow quickly enough before winter. Many salad varieties are perfect for this, some only take a few weeks.
  • Hardy salads are likely to work best. Protection from the cold is always a bonus.
  • Oriental salad leaves are a perfect late-season salad crop. They respond well to the shortening day length, by putting on lots of leafy growth.
  • Spicy mustards, creamy tatsoi and mizuna can all be sown now, the first leaves will be ready within a month.
  • Rocket, winter lettuces, American or land cress, salad kales and mache, all work well as quick salad crops.
  • To ensure the maximum potential of these late growing salads, sow them in the sunniest patch of your garden. They can either be sown directly outside or begin them in pots to move later on.
  • Due to the soil still being warm from the summer months, the germination of salad crops is fast.
  • Be sure to remove any traces of previous crops, then lightly dig the area and rake it till it’s level.
  • Salad crops should be sown in drills which are spaced around 12 inches (30cm) apart.
  • Once sown, ensure the seeds are covered over with soil and then water.
  • When seedlings are up, remove them in stages until the young plants are around 3-4 inches apart.
  • Alternatively, sowing in plug trays avoids potential slug damage at this critical stage. Fill the modules with potting soil and sow a pinch of seeds in each cell. Once these have filled their cells, they can be planted outside in warm soil.

These are just the basics of sowing late-season salad crops, the video below goes into the growth and harvest. Feel free to let us know any tips you have for late-season salad crops.

You can find the Mr Fothergills range of salad crops here

GrowVeg – How to Grow Quick Late-Season Salad Crops

How to Grow Quick Late-Season Salad Crops

Saving Tomato Seeds: How to Prepare and Store Seeds from Your Tomato Plants [video]

September 13th, 2016 | The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

Nation of Gardeners - Saving Tomato SeedsTomatoes are important to all gardeners, every one has a favourite. You can easily save the seeds from your favourite tomato plants in preparation for next year. This post and the video below offers tips on saving tomato seeds. 

  • Most tomatoes hold 100 or more seeds. So you only need to save a few tomatoes.
  • Only save seeds from traditional, open pollinated tomatoes.
  • Collect seeds from fully ripened fruits. Cut them open and scoop out the pulp from inside the tomato. Top this up with water and label the jar with the tomato variety.
  • It is important to remove the gel surrounding the seeds. Leave for two to five days, to begin fermenting which will kill off any harmful bacteria. It will also break down the seed coat.
  • Check the seeds daily, the seeds are ready for cleaning when the pulp floats to the top. Carefully skim of the pulp from the top and tip the liquid and seeds into a strainer.
  • Wash the seeds under running water, using a wooden spoon. This will remove any of the remaining pulp.
  • To dry the seeds, spread them across a paper towel to remove the majority of the water.
  • Transfer onto a non stick surface, dry the seeds in a warm place out of direct sunlight. It will take two to three weeks for the seeds to completely dry.
  • Store the seeds into labelled paper envelopes. Store them in a dry place. They can store for up to five years.

This is just a basic outline of saving tomato seeds, the video below offers further detail. If you have any tips for saving tomato seeds, do let us know in the comments below or on our social media. 

GrowVeg – Saving Tomato Seeds: How to Prepare and Store Seeds from Your Tomato Plants