Help Mr Fothergill’s fundraise for charity

September 6th, 2017 | News | 0 Comments

At Mr Fothergill’s we like to support as many charities as we can – so far we’ve raised over £150,000. Over the last few years, we’ve supported and fundraised for the Royal Hospital Chelsea Appeal, Greenfingers Charity, and RSPB – among others!

For these charities, in particular, we’ve have been selling sweet peas, seeds or fundraising through events. If you’ve contributed to any of these, then thank you – all of these charities need help and we are grateful to have given them the chance to assist their causes further.

We’ve recently completed a 20 mile walk, that some of our team took part in to raise money for the Greenfingers Charity. You can find out more about our walk here. In addition to this walk, we’ve set up a page for each of the charities that we support – so if you’d like to help with our fundraising efforts, you can find each of the pages below.




If you’re going to donate your hard earned money to a charity, it’s important that you know what your generous donations are going towards. Each of these charities supports very different causes and all of them important.

Greenfingers Charity

Greenfingers Charity is dedicated to supporting the children who use hospices around the UK, along with their families, by creating beautiful, well-designed outdoor spaces for children to enjoy with family, friends and siblings, whether through play and fun, or therapeutic rest and relaxation.  To date, Greenfingers Charity has created 51 inspiring gardens and outdoor spaces in hospices around the country and has a further waiting list of hospices that need our help now.


RSPB are the largest nature conservation charity in the country, consistently delivering successful conservation, forging powerful new partnerships with other organisations and inspiring others to stand up and give nature the home it deserves.

Royal Chelsea Appeal Limited

The Chelsea Pensioners are the iconic faces of the UK’s veteran community. They reside at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, their 325-year-old home founded by Charles II, in the heart of London.

Thank you in advance for all the support you’ve given us and these charities over the years, we hope we can continue to help them through the sale of our seeds and fundraising. 



First year flowering perennials: prolific penstemons

November 17th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Penstemon 'Mixed Colours'

The penstemons raised from seed were so bright on the Mr Fothergill’s trial ground this summer that they caught my eye from the other side of the field. And this from a plant that’s usually grown from cuttings and bought as plants in pots.

They really dazzled but when you look at the price of the seeds and how easy they are to raise you wonder why they’re not grown from seed more often. Five hundred seeds for £2.29, half the price of a single plant in a garden centre, seems like a bargain to me. And, sown inside in March, they’ll flower prolifically in their first year.

The upright 75cm stems carry pairs of glossy leaves topped with large, flared flowers in a very wide range of colours and bicolours and once they start the flowers just keep coming. Best in a sunny spot in rich but well-drained soil, I’ve found that they respond especially well to regular dead heading and I’ve seen dead-headed plants still flowering well at the end of October in their first year after a July start.

Penstemon 'Scarlet Queen'‘Mixed Colours’ is the aptly descriptive name for the variety with the widest range of shades including a lovely pure white, some pretty pink and white bicolours and others with attractive lacing in the throat. If there’s one from the mix that you especially like, it’s easy to propagate it from cuttings in spring or summer. ‘Scarlet Queen’ (right) is the most striking single colour available, in bright red with a contrasting clean white throat.

‘Humming Bells’ is a much shorter blend so ideal for the front of the border or containers and, while the flowers are smaller than those of ‘Mixed Colours’, they’re tightly packed on 20cm stems.

Sowing? March is the ideal time. Give them some heat to start with then keep move the individual seedlings into cells in April and harden off in May before planting out. The plants are quite vigorous and can also be sown in the open ground in May but probably won’t flower till the following year.

But alert your friends: you’ll probably have more than enough young plants to give away.

Finding the best perennials from seed

November 10th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

First year flowering perennials on the MrFothergill's trials

This year on the Mr Fothergill’s trial ground in Suffolk, one hundred and forty four perennials were raised from seed and planted out side by side to be assessed. The aim was to see which really flowered well in their first year.

I looked over the trial twice and one thing was very clear: you don’t have to spend £3, £4, £5 or more on just one perennial plant when you can spend £2.69 on a packet of seeds that will give you enough plants to fill a border!

I’ll be looking at some of the stars in the next few posts but, in general, these are the plants that really stood out.

The achilleas covered a wide colour range and were very prolific while the agastaches were stunning, with masses of flowers until late in the season and with aromatic foliage – and they really are bee magnets. Coreopsis, too, were a success and so much more robust that annual types, although the colour range is very limited; they too continued well into autumn.

First year flowering perennials on the MrFothergill's trialsI was impressed with the gaillardias, especially the single red ‘Firewheels’, and heliopsis were good – sort of like sophisticated rudbeckias. ‘Prima Ballerina’ stood out but in my trial garden ‘Burning Hearts’ beat just about everything.

Penstemons were absolutely dazzling and even the almost-hardy Dahlia merckii, a single flowered wild species from Mexico, began flowering in August although the plants were huge.

Alison Mulvaney, Technical Manager at Mr F, explained how they were grown.

“The seeds were sown in early in March on the hot bench in the polytunnel,” she told me. “Most of them had germinated and were pricked out into 6 or 9 cell packs by the end of April.

“We grew them on in the polytunnel in cooler conditions until mid May when they were moved outside for hardening off. We covered them with fleece on really cold nights but otherwise they were left to fend for themselves and they were transplanted outside in the first week of June.

“Over the summer we identified around twelve potential new varieties that are on the list of ‘possibles’ for introduction – depending on availability and price!”.

Cornflower for ground cover

November 3rd, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Cornflower 'Trailing Blue Carpet'

In recent years we’ve seem some unexpected developments in hardy annuals that we all thought were always more or less the same. We’ve seen variegated alyssum raised from cuttings and we’ve seen low and spreading, winter-flowering calendulas for containers. And now we have a trailing cornflower.

I grew ‘Trailing Blue Carpet’ in my trial garden this summer, treated as a hardy annual and sown in April on the corner of a low raised bed. It was very pretty and spread across the edge to handily mask my not-so-very-efficient carpentry in joining the vertical boards at the corner.

It’s unique amongst cornflowers in spreading out horizontally and staying low over the soil, just 7-10cm high. The plants flowered from June until I finally pulled them out in September, I’m sure regular dead heading was a factor in keeping them going. Snipping with the kitchen scissors or a sharp pair of secateurs was easy.

The flowers were small, as cornflowers go, standing up just above the leaves and opening in deep cobalt blue before taking on paler, purplish tones as they matured. And “trailing” is perhaps not quite the right word: “spreading” is better, “carpet” certainly applies as, when the shoots reached the edge of the bed, they just kept going horizontally until the weight of the stems lowered the shoots. Not quite the thing for a hanging basket, more like annual ground cover.

This is not a new variety of the cornflower we’ve all been growing for years, Centaurea cyanus. I think it’s probably a different species, from the Mediterranean or eastern Europe, but with over two hundred species growing across Europe and two hundred more in Asia I’m hard pressed to suggest which one it might be. A form of Centaurea depressa, from Iran, perhaps?

I thought it was very pretty and when the plant breeders have got to work crossing it with the more familiar types perhaps we’ll end up with larger flowers and more colours. In the meantime, why not give ‘Trailing Blue Carpet’ cornflower a try at the front of a sunny border?

November Gardening Advice

November 1st, 2017 | News, The flower garden, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

Cold temperatures and winter rain bring a certain feeling of urgency to garden work through November. The trick is to work with the weather not against it. Pay attention to weather forecasts and plan your time in the garden accordingly. November is an excellent time to dig new beds and turn over existing borders for example but you need to work in dry conditions – treading over wet soils will ruin their structure, doing more harm than good. The focus for the month is maintenance and tidying, whether it be clearing spent stems or whole plants from borders, a full greenhouse clean, or keeping on top of autumn leaf fall. The bare root season gets underway this month, making it the perfect time to plant new trees, shrubs, soft fruit and fruit trees.

In the flower garden

Tulip planting
November is the best month to set out Tulip bulbs. By leaving it as a late task, soils will have cooled enough to have eradicated diseases in the soil which could infect your bulbs – Plant tulips in earlier in September with other spring flowering bulbs, and there is a greater risk of tulip fire infection.
Set tulips in free-draining soil, as least three times the depth of the bulb, with the pointed tip facing up. Alternatively set them in large patio containers filled with bulb fibre compost. For extra impact in containers set two or three layers of bulbs per pot, for tiered colour come spring. Little to no maintenance is needed as winter wet will settle them in.

Last chance winter bedding
If you are still to set out your designs for winter and spring colour, time is now against you. Plants need time to settle in and send out new roots ahead of prolonged periods of frost and freezing temperatures. Wall flowers, bellis, violas and primroses make excellent spring subjects for sunny borders, patio pots and hanging baskets. With Christmas fast approaching, why not think about festive planters and hanging baskets to welcome visitors to the home over the holiday season.

Lilies for summer
Lily bulbs can be potted up now and left in a sheltered spot outside for colour and scent next summer. If you have the space in a cool porch or unheated greenhouse the pots can be brought under cover in late winter to encourage an early display of colour in late spring or early summer.

Perennial tidy
Continue to work through mixed and perennial border this month, cutting out spent foliage and stems now that plants are in full dormancy. Decorative seedheads can be left in place, not only to look stunning when covered in a hard frost; they will also provide a winter food source for birds and other wildlife. Once tidy, plant crowns should be surrounded with a protective layer of mulch (leaf mould, garden compost, bark chippings etc) to keep the worst of winter frost away from fleshy roots and dormant shoots.

Whole plants can still be lifted and divided to ease congestion in the border and ensure strong flowering. Divisions can be potted and swapped with friends or set back out in the border to fill any gaps that showed this year.

Perennials in pots
Permanent patio pots will benefit from some winter protection. This is done for one or two (or both) reasons. Covering patio pots in bubble wrap, hessian sacking or horticultural fleece with prevent frost prone material such as terracotta, from cracking and will also add an insulating layer to prevent frost damage to roots inside the pots.

Lift tender tubers after the first hard frost
The general advice for overwintering dahlias, tuberous begonias and cannas is to leave them in situ until the first hard frost has blackened their foliage. They are then cut down to ground level, lifted and stored in cool but frost-free conditions ready for replanting next spring. However, if frosts are late in your region, or you live in a particularly cold part of the country, there is a risk that a hard frost can be accompanied by a hard freeze, making it impossible to lift the tubers from frozen ground. Here is pays to lift tubers ahead of the frosts. In warmer locations that generally receive milder winter temperatures and less rainfall, the tubers may be left in situ and covered with a deep layer of straw or mulch to keep the frosts away.

Early hellebores
Despite their common name of Christmas roses, Hellebores rarely flower in time for the festive season. To ensure some floral colour the Christmas, cloches can be placed over plants to provide extra warmth and protection.

On the veg patch

Sow broad beans
In mild areas, broad beans can be successfully sown this side of winter for earlier crops next year. Even in colder regions you can make a start outside by planting under cloches or tunnels, or started in pots in an unheated greenhouse or cold frame. Not all broad bean varieties are suited to autumn sowing. For the best sowing success this November try Bunyards Exhibition, Aguadulce or Superaguadulce.

All go for garlic
Garlic crops can be planted this month in mild areas with low rainfall and free-draining soils. Individual cloves should be set out in well fed soils, spacing 15cm (6in) apart in rows spaced 30cm (12in) apart. The cloves should be set just below the soil surface.
gardeners in colder regions and those working with heavy clay soils should instead set their cloves in module trays in a cold frame or unheated greenhouse.

Pigeon patrol
With natural food sources declining over winter, leafy brassica crops become a target food source for pigeons. Bird scarers can be set around your crop but the most effective control is to cover plants with netting.

Winter brassica care
Cold, wet conditions bring the risk of grey mould and brassica downy mildew to winter brassicas. Safeguard your Christmas Brussels sprouts and other overwintering brassicas by removing any yellowed leaves, as this is where problems always start.
While inspecting your sprouts think about staking any plants that appear tall and leggy, this will prevent wind rock, which can weaken plants and reduce their cropping potential.

Veg patch tidy
Keeping the veg patch clean and tidy over winter is essential for the ongoing health of your plot and future crops. An untidy growing areas littered with plant debris allows pest and diseases a better chance of overwintering to cause problems next season.
Clear soils of all plant debris – if material looks diseased, do not compost it. Either add to household waste or add to the autumn bonfire.

Bare root Fruit
Bare root plants offer the most economical way of bringing fruit to the garden.  soft fruit canes and fruit trees are lifted from the field while dormant and sent out with no soil or compost on the roots, for immediate planting on delivery. The dormant plants are simply set into garden soil or containers to the same soil line that will be apparent on the base of the plant. Fruit trees should be staked after planting. Soft fruit canes should simply need firming in well.

Winterise your Greenhouse

Keep things ticking over in the greenhouse with some winter prep:

  • Clean glass to maximise natural light levels
  • Add an insulating layer of bubble wrap on the inside of the greenhouse
  • Install an electric heater or paraffin heater to prevent freezing temperatures.
  • Install lighting so you can keep working during short winter days (opt for a grow light for the benefit of your plants).
  • If your greenhouse is clear of plants, think about having a deep clean with disinfectant such as Jeyes Fluid

Top tip for winter house plants: Set houseplants on trays of damp gravel, this will raise humidity around the plants, helping to combat the dry conditions of a heated home over winter.


Fascinating Facts: Pears  

November 1st, 2017 | The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

Botanical name: Pyrus communis
Origins:  Western China, but found in all temperate regions from western Europe, North Africa and across Asia.

First cultivated:  There is evidence of pears being used as a food source since prehistoric times.  They were widely cultivated by the Romans with over 30 varieties recorded during their reign.

Types: More than 3,000 pear varieties are grown world-wide. For the best flavours and widest use in the kitchen, opt for a firm dessert variety.

Skill level: Beginner to skilled – once established minimal care is required.

Preferred location and conditions: Full sun or shade (depending on variety) on fertile, moisture-retentive, loamy soil with plenty of added organic matter. Avoid shallow soils over chalk. A windbreak should be used on exposed sites during establishement.

Good for containers: Yes – if produced on dwarfing root stocks.
Harvest time: late summer – early autumn.

Possible problems:  Brown rot and pear rust.

Health benefits:  Pear fruits contain good levels of dietary fibre, antioxidants, minerals and vitamin A, C, E and K.  They are low in calories and are considered an extremely safe food source for those with food allergies

Potted history

The pear follows a similar development to that of the apple. The first proper British pear cultivation was implemented by the Romans. Slower to gain popularity, it was not until the mid17th Century that pear breeding caught up with apple development – each having around 60 cultivars in UK production by the 1640s. However there is mention in the Domesday Book (1086) of old pear trees being used as boundary markers .

Less than 200 years later, thanks to further developments of French and Belgian varieties by UK horticulturists (most notably Thomas Andrew Knight early in the 19th century), 622 cultivars were recorded growing in the RHS gardens at Chiswick House, west London.

The Doyenne du Comice pear was introduced to the UK from France in 1858 and together with the Conference pear (1858) quickly became the dominate varieties in UK production.  Conference pears now account for more than 90% of UK commercial production.

Why grow pears

A perfectly ripe pear takes some beating. Bursting with flavour and juice, home grown pears are a highlight of the harvest season – hard, dry supermarket fruits pale in comparison.  Store bought produce centres around just a few common varieties, whereas gardeners have a wide selection of cultivars to choose from for something truly different for the kitchen or fruit bowl. Dwarfing root stocks and the various pruning and training methods mean pears can be grown in almost any garden situation, no matter the available space.

Planting and growing:  Autumn to spring is the best time to plant pears, though container grown trees can be planted at any time of year. Bare-root trees are available in the dormant season and these offer an economical and easy start to pear growing.

For the best fruit production some annual pruning is required, and just as with the more commonly grown apples, this will differ depending on your preferred training method. Again like apples, but even more importantly for pear crops, pears require a pollinating partner. If space is limited, why not encourage a neighbour to plant one too? You can then split your harvests 50/50 for a share of each variety.

Trees should be staked and tied against wind rock and for best fruit production feed each year in late winter/early spring with a high potassium feed. Newly planted trees should also be mulched in spring and autumn for the first three or four years to conserve moisture and reduce competition from weeds and grass.

To browse all the pumpkin varieties we have on offer at Mr Fothergill’s just follow this link to the pears section of our website.

Royal Horticultural Society

This article was first published on the RHS website October 2017. 

Read more on the RHS website about growing your own pears.