Archive for the ‘The flower garden’ Category

What to do in the garden in February

February 1st, 2017 | The flower garden, The vegetable garden | 2 Comments

During January we experienced many hard frosts and very little rain. It has started to feel like a ‘proper’ old-fashioned winter; the ground has been unworkable for much of the month, and we wonder whether February will continue where January left off? If we could actually get the parsnips out of the soil, we are sure we would appreciate that sweetness which hard frosts give the roots!
If you have not already placed your seed order with us, we do urge you to do so soon, before varieties start to sell out. We always find that new varieties go very quickly, with so many of you keen to try what is new for the season ahead. If you prefer to buy young plants rather than grow from seed, there is still some time to consider your requirements for this summer.

Flowers and Shrubs

Did you know that quite a number of perennial flowers will bloom in their first year if the seed is sown during February in gentle warmth? This means you have a great many more options for summer-flowering plants, rather than relying solely on annuals. Perennials have the advantage that they will re-flower as bigger, better plants in subsequent years, so you really get your money’s worth when you grow them. Look out for symbol in our catalogue which tells you whether a perennial can be treated in this way. Achillea, agastache, delphinium, gaillardia, helenium and verbsacum all fall into this category – so why not get sowing now?

February Garden - GeraniumFebruary is also the ideal month to sow seed of slower growing half-hardy annuals, or half-hardy perennials usually treated as such. Fibrous and tuberous rooted begonias, geraniums (zonal pelargoniums) and antirrhinums are three which immediately spring to mind in this category. New for 2017 are Begonia Show Angels Mixed F1, a large flowered, tuberous type, Geranium Quantum Mixed F1 with its unusual, star-shaped flowers, and Antirrhinum Antiquity, which has unconventionally open-faced blooms. All can be sown either in a heated propagator or in small pots on a warm windowsill.

If you planted any shrubs in the autumn, check them to see they are still growing firmly in the soil, as winter winds may have rocked them and made them become loose. If this is the case, heel soil into the base of the plants to protect against further movement. Herbaceous perennials can have some of the same treatment. The soil around them contracts and expands with freezing and thawing, often resulting in the plants pushing themselves out of the ground.

Autumn and winter flowering shrubs that are starting to fade and lose their blooms can now be pruned. The prunings can be shredded and added to the compost heap or used as a mulch or soil conditioner. Now is also a good time to prune summer and autumn flowering clematis, just as the buds start to swell.

Hyacinths are popular indoor plants for the winter months, but there is no need to discard them when they have finished flowering for the season. As the foliage dies back and turns yellow and then brown, they can be planted outside, where they will usually flower for several springs to come. Plant them a few inches deep, either direct in borders or in large pots. If you can plant them close to a door of the house, you will be able to enjoy their heady perfume every time you go out or come back in.

Ornamental grasses are coming back into vogue, but they can look a bit tatty at this time of year. We suggest cutting them back almost to ground level, from where they will make plenty of healthy new growth as spring progresses. The foliage of several grasses can be sharp, so it is a good idea to use thick gloves when cutting them back.

Evergreens and conifers are not as popular as they once were, but they do provide colour interest at this gloomy time of year – and they also give welcome shelter and warmth for a host of wild birds.

And how about this for patience and determination! Despite having been a grower for more than 50 years, our trials manager Brian still enjoys a horticultural challenge. During those years he has learned the value of patience, and nowhere more so than with his experience of Strelitzia reginae, also known as bird of paradise.

Brian sowed some seed of the flamboyant South African native back in 2008, and waited for it to germinate in his greenhouse; the process took two years, but finally green shoots emerged. He has been nurturing the plants ever since, and in December 2016 he was rewarded when the first flower appeared on a 2m tall plant – six years after it first emerged.

“It has been growing in general purpose compost all that time”, explains Brian, “and it even managed to survive being frosted once, despite its tenderness. It’s great to see it flowering after all that time!”

Brian tells us that in the wild, Strelitzia reginae is thought to be pollinated by the sunbird (Nectarinia afra), which lands on the corolla tongue or spathe, probing for nectar. The tongue opens, pollen is released on to the bird’s feet and feathers, from where it is transferred to the swollen stigma of another flower. Gardeners who fancy a similar challenge to Brian’s can buy a packet of 10 seeds of Strelitzia reginae for £2.55.

 

Vegetables

February Garden - Kale Red DevilWe are celebrating 2017 as the Year of the Bean – will you join us? Of course, it’s too early to sow runner, French and climbing beans at the moment, but do consider ordering your seed now ready for sowing from April onwards. We have some splendid new varieties which we strongly recommend. New and exclusive is our Guinness Record, which we believe will prove to be well-named. Whether you grow for the kitchen, as most of us do, or like to enter a few pods in the local horticultural show, this really is worth trying. It produces heavy crops of long, smooth, delicious pods, which can reach 50cm (20in) long with good growing. It’s red flowered and has resistance to all bean viruses.

Also new and exclusive is runner bean Snowdrift which has (you’ve guessed!) white flowers. Its pods set really well in all conditions to produce a bumper crop of succulent fleshy beans. Our trio of new and exclusive ‘runners’ is completed by peach flowered Aurora. We gave a gardening writer a trial packet of 30 seeds of this last spring; he reported 100% germination, a bumper crop of really tasty beans, and reckoned the plants were as ornamental as they beans were delicious!

If your soil is reasonably light and weather conditions are favourable, you may feel like making a sowing of parsnip or carrot seed later in the month. Remember no seed will germinate in cold, wet soil, but if you can provide some cloche cover for a week or two before sowing, the soil temperature will rise and it will dry out enough to make a sowing worthwhile. Replacing the cloches after sowing will be of real benefit too, but if you are unsure or cannot offer such protection, it is usually better to wait until March before making your first outdoor sowings of the new year.

Have you ordered your seed potatoes? There is still time, but many varieties do sell out fast at this time of year. When you receive them from us, we advise ‘chitting’ them to aid the formation of short, stubby shoots so that when they are planted later on they will have the best start. This chitting process is really nothing more than standing them upright – old egg boxes are perfect for this – with the buds facing upwards in a light, cool, frost-free place for a few weeks. Look out for our three new varieties – second earlies Elfe and Gemson, plus maincrop Pink Gypsy. Elfe has a sweet, buttery flesh, Gemson boasts Maris peer as one of its parents, while Pink Gypsy has unusual pink and white skin.

We know brassicas are really popular with many of our customers, and we strive to bring you the best new varieties. New and exclusive for the 2017 season is the really rather regally named Brussels sprout Windsor F1. Sown from February to April, it will produce a fine crop of firm, dark buttons from December through to February, making this British-bred strain ideal for Christmas lunch.

Cauliflower Triomphant F1 is also new to our list. This holder of a prestigious Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society will also be ready around Christmas and into January. It has pure white heads, which remain well protected by ample foliage. Don’t sow the seed of this one until May, though.

Our sales certainly suggest that kale is coming back into popularity with UK gardeners. We think they will be tempted by our new and exclusive variety called Red Devil. This really looks attractive, with a red vein running down the middle of each leaf. More importantly, it has a lovely flavour, whether picked young as baby leaves (an ever-growing trend with kale) or left to mature. Red Devil is also ultra-hardy, providing valuable ‘greens’ even in the worst of our weather.

We have once again given some of our vegetable seeds to the Chernobyl Children’s Appeal, set up by Peterborough couple John and Rosie Sandall to support families of victims of the world’s worst nuclear power accident, which happened in the former USSR in April 1986. The Sandalls have visited Chernobyl in Ukraine twice yearly for the last two decades, taking with them much-needed supplies and funds raised solely by themselves. Unfortunately, the after-effects of that accident more than 30 years ago are still being felt by the people who live there.

John and Rosie tell us tomatoes, squashes and cucumbers being particularly popular with the families who grow them wherever they can in their gardens. Chernobyl’s continental climate means temperatures can range from 35°C in summer to well below 0°C in winter, which can be challenging for vegetable growers.

Mr Fothergill’s Potty about Petunias

January 30th, 2017 | News, The flower garden | 0 Comments

Three new trailing petunias which feature in the recPetunias - Press Releaseently published Spring Planting Flowers, Fruit and Vegetable 2017 catalogue were chosen not only for their unique colour combinations and length of flowering, but also for their remarkable ability to continue shining through unscathed even during spells of heavy rain.

Perfect for hanging baskets, Amore Queen of Hearts is quite stunning, with masses of bicolour blooms of yellow and rosy red. East Anglian-bred Designer Buzz Purple has large, bright flowers with a contrasting lime green edge and a darker centre, while Designer Ink Splash is also eye-catching, having large violet heads, each with a soft, central white star and contrasting white picotée. Five plants of any of the three vegetatively-propagated introductions cost £8.95, but two packs can be ordered for just £7.45 each – a saving of £3.00

Viewed immediately after a full day of rain in summer 2016, the three varieties stood out for their resistance to the soaking they received. Our horticultural team were also impressed by the large number of flowers they bore and, viewed through several weeks, the flower colours did not fade, but retained their richness.

All three new varieties are easy to grow and care for, with just dead-heading and regular feeding required, and they look particularly effectively when just one variety is planted per container.

For more information on our range of seeds you can visit the website here, or to request a catalogue please fill out the form here.

Help fellow gardeners to keep those pests away, the Big Bug Hunt is on!

January 30th, 2017 | News, The flower garden, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

 

Big Bug Hunt - Butterfly

Butterflies help pollinate some crops when they visit open flowers to sip nectar.

At Mr Fothergill’s we are also keen gardeners.  There is nothing more devastating in the vegetable plot than an attack of ‘bad bugs’ and we are always keen to figure out ways to encourage ‘good bugs’ by creating good environments for pollinators in the garden.

We think it would be great to know when pests are going to attack and finally there may be a new solution.

A major international science project plans to help you do exactly that by collecting information about garden bug behaviour with the aim of notifying gardeners when pests are heading their way.

Organisers of The Big Bug Hunt are inviting gardeners from across the country to report sighting of bugs as they appear. The project has already found patterns of when and how key pests spread – but more reports will speed up development of the final pest-alert system. The aim is to provide gardeners with early-warning emails when pests are heading their way – great news for organic gardeners relying on preventative measures to outwit pests!

This research isn’t easy and The Big Bug Hunt team has major plans for the coming year as they examine how different weather patterns affect the way pests spread.

Big Bug Hunt - Flea Beetle

Flea beetles chew tiny round holes in the top sides of leaves, with damage to leafy greens being most severe in spring.

Project Coordinator Jeremy Dore explains: “Last year we received more than 11,000 reports and with The Big Bug Hunt now firmly established we expect to receive even more. The more reports we get, the stronger the data and the sooner we can turn the results into an invaluable service for gardeners.

“After just one year we’ve already significantly improved methods of predicting major pests, such as aphids. By joining in with The Big Bug Hunt, gardeners have the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution towards tackling pests. A pest-alert system like the one we’re developing is within our grasp and stands to make organic control methods dramatically more effective.”

Any pest, from slugs to aphids, can be reported. The Big Bug Hunt is also tracking beneficial bugs such as bees, currently suffering serious population declines, to learn more about their range and spread.

If you’re interested in getting involved with The Big Bug Hunt, it’s easy. You can send any reports to Big Bug Hunt website, which you can find here. The website includes detailed pest identification guides – with effective treatment and prevention idea. If we all work together to beat the pests, our gardens will bloom more than ever!

 

Crop Rotation Made Simple [video]

January 17th, 2017 | The flower garden, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

Crop rotation can be a headache for many gardeners, but there is an easy way to master it. This post and the following video can show you how.

Cabbage Advantage F1 Seeds - Crop RotationThe vegetables that we grow can be grouped into several plant families, they often have similar characteristics and suffer from the same pests or diseases. Crop rotation is where we grow vegetables from each major plant family in different areas of each year. There are many reasons for this. Firstly, there are several problematic pests and diseases that can build up in the soil if the plants they affect are grown in the same area each year.

  • Nematodes, such as eelworm can devastate potato crops grown in the same place year after year. They can also affect other vegetables in the same crop family, such as tomatoes.
  • Onion rot is a serious fungal disease that can persist when crops from the Allium group are continuously grown.
  • Cabbage root maggots affect all brassica crops.
  • Fusarium root rot can wreck pea and bean harvests.

These are just a few soil-borne pests and diseases, crop rotation is almost universally recommended to prevent them all. Secondly, different vegetables take different balances of nutrients from the soil and their roots access different levels of the soil structure.

  • Cabbage family plants like a lot of nitrogen, tomatoes need plenty of calcium, beets & beans require manganese.
  • Many salad crops are shallow-rooted.
  • Other vegetables like potatoes and sweet corn have roots that extend deep into the soil, to bring up nutrients from those layers.

Because of this, growing the same vegetable in the same place year after year can lead to nutrient deficiency and poor growth. Some plants, like potatoes, act as a good ‘clearing crop’, meaning their dense foliage helps to suppress weed growth. When they are dug up, birds can eat pests in the soil, such as slugs and wireworm.

  • Squash or leafy greens can be used to suppress weed growth before growing a crop like onions or carrots which are highly susceptible to competition from weeds.

For all these reasons, it’s clear that crop rotation is an essential part of growing annual vegetables well. Just knowing why we should rotate crops, doesn’t make it easy to organise. The video below offers methods of crop rotation and how to keep track of previous crops. If you have any top tips for crop rotation, let us know in the comments below.

GrowVeg – Crop Rotation Made Simple: Rotate Your Vegetable Beds for Healthier Produce

Companion Planting Made Easy [video]

January 17th, 2017 | The flower garden, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

Companion planting is when you choose to plant different plants together, so that one plant benefits the other. There are thousands of possibilities but choosing the correct plants can be tricky. GrowVeg has diligently researched companion planting to save you time when selecting the correct companion planting combinations for your garden. Let us guide you through easy companion planting tips to help you get it right in your garden.Lettuce 'Little Gem', an Award of Garden Merit variety. Image ©GardenPhotos.com

  • Many flowering plants attract pest-eating insects. Poached egg plants are great at drawing in hoverflies which control aphids away from nearby lettuce.
  • Borage is known to attract both bees and tiny pest-eating wasps, making it a great companion for tomatoes.
  • Crimson clover has been proven to grow well with broccoli, it encourages the expansion of the local spider population which in turn controls many pests.
  • Particular companion plants lure some insects away from crops. Nasturtium is a great example of this, if planted close to broad beans, so that blackfly will gorge on nasturtiums whilst ignoring the beans.
  • Similarly, nasturtium also attracts hungry caterpillars away from brassicas, like cabbage.
  • Other plants have a very strong scent, this confuses pests by masking the smell of the host plant. For example, garlic has been found to deter the green peach aphid. Therefore a perfect companion to vulnerable fruits such a peaches and nectarines.
  • In many instances, plants make suitable companions as they offer physical advantages. Tall growing sunflowers offer shade & support for scrambling cucumbers and climbing beans, which in hotter climates can become sun-stressed.
  • The ‘Three Sisters’ method is an example of physical advantages. This involves growing beans, corn and squash together. The large leaves from the squash help to smother weeds. Whilst the beans and corn return the favour by disorientating squash vine borers. The beans also use the corn as a support to scramble up, while fixing nitrogen at their roots to the benefit of the other sisters.

These are just a few scientifically proven companion planting combinations. The video below offers a few more for you to try. If you have any great combinations, please leave them in the comments below.

GrowVeg – Companion Planting Made Easy