Archive for the ‘Nation of Gardeners’ Category

Essential new sweet peas

October 6th, 2017 | Nation of Gardeners | 0 Comments

Sweet Pea 'Little Red Riding Hood' (left) and 'Turquoise Lagoon'

Prime sowing time for sweet peas is fast approaching, so let’s take a look at this year’s new introductions.

The highlight for this coming season is ‘Lady Salisbury’, a super-scented blend of cream and white varieties with blue and mauve picotees. I discussed this here last week.

Also new this year are two superb varieties from renowned New Zealand sweet pea breeder Keith Hammett, two varieties where seed has been scarce in the past so it’s not been possible to offer them until now. Mr F sells so much sweet pea seed that huge sacks of each variety are essential!

‘Little Red Riding Hood’ (above left) is unique in combining its dramatic colouring with a powerful fragrance. With pale cherry red upper petals (standards) and faintly blushed white lower petals (wings), it’s unlike any other sweet pea and, as with so many of Keith Hammett’s varieties, the scent is superb.

I’ve grown this on and off over the years, whenever I could get hold of seeds, and I’ll be growing it again for the coming season. It always grabs the attention in a posy.

The other newcomer is another unique variety from Keith Hammett, ‘Turquoise Lagoon’. The flowers open mauve and then mature to turquoise, a unique metamorphosis which is always intriguing, with different flowers at different stages in their maturity at the same time. This was one of a number of surprises in the unending quest for a yellow sweet pea, and this too has outstanding scent.

Finally, can I just draw your attention to a couple of last year’s introductions that may have crept under your radar.

‘Maloy’ is the first reverse bicolour in the reddish-orange colour range, the standards are apricot pink and the wings are a vibrant orange pink. Another from Keith Hammett, with his trademark fragrance.

And then a re-introduction of a variety first released by the great Henry Eckford back in 1885. The powerfully scented ‘Queen Of The Isles’ was described like this in 1914: “It has a bright red stripe on a white ground standard, as in ‘America’, but the wings have a clear magenta stripe, a peculiar colouring seen in no other variety.” Well worth growing.

Munakuppis and Microgreens

February 9th, 2015 | Nation of Gardeners | 0 Comments

In the depths of winter we sent out a little gift to our group known as the Nation of Gardeners.  These have been a strong and loyal band of enthusiastic growers testing out new seed varieities for us and trialling our products… along with testing our assumptions!

After all this hard work for us through the last 18 months, we sent out a box of fun in December.  In that box were items that were hard to resist, and so much so, that our group just had to set a few of them going.

Our Munakuppi Grow Kits have been selling really well in the year since we launched them.  They made for great stocking fillers for kids (and big kids!) over Christmas and are a fun way of growing ‘cress heads’ with children.  Our group of gardeners  set to work growing their own little Munakuppi pets and have given us this Rogues’ Gallery, which brings a smile on a dreary UK winter’s day.

Rogues' gallery of Munakuppis


Microgreens just started

Many of our gardeners also used the microgreens kit that we sent them.  On these trays they germinated Coriander, Basil and Rocket to make punchy well flavoured microgreen leaves to add to winter salads and garnishes.  A great way to use a windowsill to full effect even when the days are cold and the light levels are low.

The kits are shallow trays to hold water, with a perforated platform on which to sow the seeds on top of dampened kitchen towel.  They are super simple to set up for even the most novice of gardener, and take up the smallest of spaces too.  All that is needed to get the microgreens going is a regular spraying of water to keep the seeds damp and nourished until their roots push through the paper towel and reach down into the water in the tray below.

What did you grow over winter this year?


A year of Nation of Gardeners: 2014 gardening highlights in pictures

December 24th, 2014 | Garden Diaries, Nation of Gardeners | 0 Comments

2014 has been a busy year for our gardening folk in the Nation of Gardeners group and so we thought we would put together a gallery of highlights from the group’s gardening year.

The group autumn planted bare root perennials in late autumn 2013. The survival rates overwinter were what we were looking for when protected in pots under cover, versus open ground planting.  By spring we were seeing what had survived such as these Cheshire planted Papaver Place Pigalle and Astrantia Moulin Rouge.

Cheshire Papaver comparison Spring 2014

Cheshire Astrantia comparison Spring 2014

By summer there were blooms like fireworks bursting into life in gardens around the UK from these autumn planted bare root perennials.

Papaver Place Pigalle in bloom in Devon

The Papaver Place Pigalle pictured to the left here in our Devon gardener’s hillside plot, impressed with its beauty – albeit a beauty that lasted only days on these young plants. We shall see if year two gives these plants longer flowering power.

Astrantia Moulin Rouge and Sedum Xenox also performed well; flowering long and hard from late summer onwards, as did any of the Eryngiums that survived slug attacks.  Pictured below and to the right here is a wonderful shot of the Eryngium in flower, again in our Devon gardener’s plot.

Devon eryngium2014 was ‘the year of the slug’ with a mild winter over 2013/14 not keeping these pests in check sufficiently.  Many of our gardeners reported in defeated tones of visiting their gardens where an overnight devastation of plants had taken place, which is a heart breaking moment many gardeners will empathise with.

The only bare root perennial that failed to perform significantly was the Cimicifuga. If not consumed by slugs, the surviving plants threw up a couple of leaves this year, but we shall have to wait a while to see these notoriously slow growers bring anything more exciting to our beds!

Antirrhinum Purple Twist in CumbriaThere were other blooms in the gardens too.  A new variety of Antirrhinum called Purple Twist was sent out to the group for raising from seed.

The seedlings proved tricky to raise, and were nicknamed by our Cumbrian gardener as ‘moody teenagers’. Of the plants that pulled through the perils of legginess and damping off, the results were quite amazing.

The snapdragon plants that actually made it out of ‘seedling-hood’ and into to our Nation of Gardener’s plots flowered profusely throughout the summer.  They needed a thorough frost check to diminish them at the end of the year, and being a perennial will likely reward our gardeners for many years to come.  Our Cumbrian gardener’s picture here shows them standing proud and tall in her beds in the North of England.

Sweet peas, a cultivar of which Mr Fothergill’s is justly proud, played a big part in our group’s activities.   Autumn versus spring sowings were tested which gave us some glorious results in summer.  We asked our gardeners to sow a reliable variety Sweet Pea Old Spice alongside an exclusive chocolate flake variety Sir Henry Cecil.

Hertfordshire and Suffolk sweet peas

Above are sweet peas just emerging in Hertfordshire and then just planted in Suffolk.  Below, are sweet pea blooms for our gardeners in Worcestershire, South Wales and Renfrewshire.  The best of both worlds, the scentless Sir Henry Cecil impressed our gardeners with the upright habit of these large blooms, and the scent of the Old Spice added that much sought after quality in bowls of sweet peas around the house.

Sir Henry Cecil didn’t only impress our gardeners either.  The blooms grown in the Peak District, Devon and Hertfordshire were all entered into sweet pea shows and won prizes, and so they are officially award-winning sweet peas by independent jury!

Worcestershire, Pontypridd, Renfrewshire sweet peas


There was an abundance of things to taste as well as grow this year too including, from left to right, salad leaves (Buckinghamshire), garlic (South Wales) and cucamelons (West Wales).


There were also peppers (Elgin), broad beans (Devon) and tomatoes (Bristol).

Elgin Peppers, Devon Broad Beans, Bristol tomatoes


There were blackcurrants (Renfrewshire), blackberries (Worcestershire) and black tomatoes! (Bristol)

Blackcurrants renfrewshire, Blackberries Worcestershire, Black Tomatoes Bristol

We mustn’t forget the strawberries!  This was another autumn planting versus spring planting trial.  Alongside this we also tested out our ‘Berry Quick’ product line of commercially ‘frozen’ strawberry plants that guaranteed fruit within 30 days of planting.  The Berry Quick did indeed produce fruits within 30 days for all of our gardeners, but the taste of the spring and autumn planted strawberries were preferred universally by our group proving that a longer and slower growing season is worth the wait.

Pictured here are the strawberry crops of our gardeners in Surrey, Renfrewshire and Ceredigion.

Surrey, Renfrewshire, Ceredigion strawberries

We trialled the late sowing of annuals and perennials in late summer.

Cheshire Godetia

In particular the Godetias impressed (pictured here in our Cheshire gardener’s plot).   These plants gave vigorous and long lasting blooms for many gardeners, and perhaps most impressive for many was the fact that it is a variety not grown so often.

Though a summer annual, these plants also proved to be reasonably cold tolerant with our Pontypridd gardener reporting that his Godetia still had flowers even after the first hard frosts in his area.

Late sown annuals in late September

Otherwise the annuals grown were workhorse varieties such as Calendula, Marigolds, Cornflowers and Alyssum, all of which produced beautiful mixed beds of flowers for our gardeners.  Pictured here is our Surrey gardener’s annuals bed pictured in late September in a prime condition.

Of the late sown perennials we shall have to wait until 2015 as these young seedlings have all been tucked up safely in greenhouses and coldframes around the UK to sit out the winter.  We are promised Echinacea, Poppies, Aubretias, Hollyhocks, Aquilegia and Lavender so watch this space.

Later in the year we asked our gardeners to plant mini plug pansies for overwintering.

Pansies in Bristol

The variety dispatched to our gardeners is a trailing pansy called Cool Wave, a breeding break-through which is the first true trailing pansy to be grown from seed.  Our gardener in Bristol was soon enamoured with her small pansy plants posting in these wonderful portraits of their individual personalities!

We asked our gardeners to plant out winter peas – Pea Meteor – and to leave them to the elements.  In the more northerly parts of the UK, the elements took these plants pretty quickly.  We shall see how our south-based gardeners get on with these plants early in 2015 and if they get a welcome early crop of peas from them as a result of the plants enduring a UK winter.

Herrtfordshire Christmas potatoes in November

Christmas potatoes were also planted in early autumn.  However, Christmas came early for many of our gardeners!

The warm and late summer weather, where we had lots of warm days right through September and into early October pushed these plants on faster than anticipated.  The plants grew and then died back prematurely forcing the tubers to be lifted in October and November for many.  Our Pontypridd gardener is determined to lift on Christmas Day though, so we shall see what hides under the compost once he has had chance to turn them out.

Pictured here is our Hertfordshire gardener’s potato crop.  Not huge, but good to get a new potato taste late in early winter.

As we slip into the depths of winter, our gardeners are tending overwintered salad crops and some very special woodland strawberries. Bob Flowerdew supplied Mr Fothergill’s with a yet-to-be-named variety and so our gardeners are going to be testing them out alongside the nurserymen at Mr Fothergill’s in Kentford.  We don’t know much about these plants yet and so our group of gardeners will help us determine the growing and cropping habits of these plants.

It has been a busy year for our group of gardeners and one that has been fruitful, both figuratively speaking and literally!  Follow us into 2015 for more gardening adventures with our group as we see what year two brings for many of the plants.

Nation of Gardeners November planting update: fresh salads in the depths of winter

December 11th, 2014 | Nation of Gardeners | 0 Comments

The winter truly made its presence felt in November with winds, rain, first frosts and generally colder temperatures for many of our Nation of Gardeners.  Most gardeners in our group experienced a hard frost in November with the UK-wide frosts that most residents of the country saw on 24/25 November.

Arrived parcel

For some of our gardeners this was not the first frost though, with the earliest frost being reported in the Peak District on 27 September and Buckinghamshire seeing first frosts on 5 October.   For the rest of our group, it was not until November arrived that they saw their first frosts with Pontypridd leading on 4 November and most of the rest of the gardeners reporting a first frost on 6 November.  Our Devon based gardener experienced no frost at all last winter, but finally was able to report a frost on 24 November.  This winter looks set already to be colder than the last.

November and December is always a quiet time in the year for growing as we enter the true depths of wintry short days, cold overnight temperatures and much reduced light levels.  However, these are perfect conditions for testing seed sowing to its limits!  And so that is what we have asked of our group in November.


A round up of November’s planting tasks

Winter Pak Choi - RenfrewshireLast year we asked our Nation of Gardeners to sow winter salads in the cold, dark days of December.  We saw some mixed results from these trials.  The low light levels caused problems for some of the herbs and salads sown – especially the sensitive varieties like basil, or the red salad leaves that needed much more light to develop.  Although some windowsill leaves did well last year, others showed a lack of healthy development of leaves, damping off issues and in the case of the basil, simply a lack of assured germination.

Interestingly for those gardeners who elected to sow salads under cover outside there were better results seen.  Salads sown into pots in coldframes germinated a lot more slowly than their indoor counterparts, but the leaf development was better than the ones sown onto windowsills indoors.

So this year we have brought this task forwards a month with some different varieties to see if we can push the boundaries a little and get better results by asking our gardeners to sow all the salads outdoors under cover.

lindsay_late-sown-salads_7dec2014In the parcel this month, our gardeners found several packets of salad leaves that we asked to be grown as ‘cut and come again’ crops under cloches or other protection over winter.

  • Pak Choi Colour & Crunch F1, which strictly speaking is less of a salad and more of a vegetable.  Although it can be eaten as salad, it can also be used like spinach as an accompaniment or it can be cooked in stir fries, soups and oriental noodle recipes.
  • Mesclun MixedMixed Spicy Salad Leaves and Mixed Mild Salad Leaves were all varieties sown last year indoors on windowsills in December.  Of the few Nation of Gardeners who also elected to sow outside under cloche protection, these did well and so they have been sown outside under cloche or coldframe this year too.
  • The Mixed Oriental Salad Leaves supplied can be used as baby leaves in salads.  More mature leaves can be cooked like Pak Choi.
  • Lettuce Winter Density is a hardy ‘cos’ type lettuce that will produce heads from March, but can also be grown as a cut and come again during winter.
  • And finally we supplied Lettuce Vailan (Winter Gem) – a ‘little gem’ type for greenhouse and cold frame growing.

Pontypridd Winter saladsEveryone sowed their seeds and many saw good germination very quickly for many of the varieties.  Pictured to the right above are the salads grown by our gardener in Devon who has not protected the seedlings yet in an open raised bed, and pictured to the left here in our Pontypridd’s gardener’s seedlings that emerged a week after sowing.

A range of methods were employed with some sowing straight outside to open ground or under cloches, into pots in coldframes and on windowsills to get germination going before transferring outside.  The Winter Lettuce varieties Vailan and Winter Density were slowest to germinate, and for some, showing no germination at all.  As the pictures below show of our gardeners’ sowings in Elgin, Renfrewshire and Cheshire, good germination was seen shortly after sowing.  Our Bristol gardener found that there was peril for her small seedlings however, as she caught birds in the act of pulling them up by their roots and flying off with them, and our Pontypridd gardener reports that something is eating the Vailan and Winter Density seedlings though it is leaving the other varieties alone.

Winter salads

Renfrewshire Woodland Strawberry

We also sent out an unnamed Woodland Strawberry that we received at Mr Fothergill’s from BBC Gardener’s Question Time’s Bob Flowerdew.  Though not a variety in commercial production, we wanted to find out more about these plants and how they performed. Each gardener received two of these plants to try out.

We don’t really know much about this strawberry and so this will be a voyage of discovery for us all!  We believe it to be an ever-bearer type which will crop from July to October (earlier in the south) and we also think it will perform in pots and containers as well as the open ground.   We asked our gardeners to plant the strawberries in a pot and give some winter protection so that we can monitor this variety and formulate an idea of its performance, fruiting habits and flavour next year.


October 2013 through to October 2014 updates

Godetia Pontypridd

There was certainly a lot to report earlier in the autumn, with flowers and harvest time crops keeping our gardeners busy.  As we have slipped into the colder months, there is a lot less vigorous growth being seen in the plants we are tending, and harvest time has drawn to a halt.

There are still splashes of colour to be found if you look carefully though such as this handsome Godetia that seems to be undiminished despite being hit by frosts in November.  This picture was taken on 2 December by our Pontypridd-based gardener.

Cheshire Antirrhinum Purple TwistOur Cheshire gardener also posted us this picture to the right of her Antirrhinum Purple Twist making a comeback in late November, long after she thought it might have exhausted itself.  Many of the gardeners have reported how well they think this plant has performed, giving a continuous display of blooms throughout the summer on tall flowering spikes.

The perennials supplied as bare roots in autumn 2013 have put themselves to their wintry beds during November and early December.  We have had some wonderful displays from the Papaver Place Pigalle, Eryngium, Sedum Xenox and Astrantia Moulin Rouge all summer.   Some plants have now faded away entirely such as the Cimicifuga, of which there is no trace once again, whilst plants such as the Sedum Xenox and the Astrantia Moulin Rouge (pictured below) have left their summer ghosts in flower beds that have a faded beauty in their own right.  The group now have to wait to see if these plants will return with even better displays next year.

Fading Astrantia

Our gardeners have been asked to sow winter salads in November, but they are also still munching their way through the leaves they were asked to sow in September.   The ones shown here in Cheshire to the right are still producing baby leaves at the end of November.  If this month’s winter salads grow well, there will be an almost continuous supply for our gardener’s kitchens this year!

Cheshire late sown salads

Of the other crops being grown by our group, the Pea Meteor planted out in October is having very variable results. Many of our gardeners have lost their plants entirely, whilst others still have a good proportion of the plants they put outside the previous month.  The winds the UK has been experiencing has made these surviving specimens look rather ragged, but they are still soldiering on.

In October 2013 we asked our group of gardeners to plant out garlic and broad beans for overwintering.  Some were so impressed by the performance of these varieties planted at that time of year that they have decided to do this for themselves again this year. So, not only do Mr Fothergill’s get to learn from the results by our gardening group, the gardeners themselves are receiving an enrichment to their usual gardening habits.

Nation Of Gardeners October Planting Update: the last of the blooms and the protection of overwintered peas

November 18th, 2014 | Nation of Gardeners | 0 Comments

We were only a few days into the month of October and the warmth we had enjoyed across the UK during September was consigned to memory only.  The month started with wind, very heavy rains and frosts in some areas of the UK which had us wondering if this was a foretaste of what is to come this winter.  The month continued to be very wet and windy with a miserable grey murky sky becoming a regular feature.

The winter of 2013 to 2014 was warm, with some areas of the UK not seeing any frosts at all, and many areas that ordinarily would have snow seeing hardly more than a scattering.  We cannot depend on this being  a new theme for the upcoming winter of 2014/15 though.  It seems fitting therefore that we test out an overwinter plant for its winter hardiness, which is what our October parcel asked our gardeners to do.

We selected a plant that is particularly well suited to surviving the winter, but we wanted to see exactly how these plants perform in the UK’s very diverse range of winters.  Winter in the South is not the same as winter in the North as many people across the UK will be able to testify.


A round up of October’s planting tasks

Pea Meteor freshly plantedPicking the first crop of peas has to be one of the highlights of the vegetable growing year with a taste that is so delicious and sweet when picked straight from the plant and popped into your mouth whilst still out in the garden.  And so being able to pick them a month or so earlier must be a temptation that is almost impossible to resist.

In October we sent out Pea Meteor plants that had been module raised in the Mr Fothergill’s nursery and that already had a well-developed root system.  Pea Meteor is a strong and robust performer and if sown in October from seed and planted out in the garden by the end of the month, will crop from as early as May.  At least this is the theory and we wanted to see if this was true across the UK. We suspect that our more Southerly based gardeners would find this claim to be true, but farther North there may be some trouble getting these plants to perform.

In order to put these pea plants through their paces, we asked our gardeners to plant out in the open ground rather than keep them protected under a coldframe or in a greenhouse.  We suggested that a little cloche protection to prevent heavy snow destroying the plants would be ok, but that otherwise, we wanted these plants to fight for themselves.

By the end of the month, most gardeners had lost some of their plants and some gardeners had lost all their pea plants altogether – such as in the Peak District and Hemel Hempstead.  By mid-November as the picture below shows we have flowers forming in Suffolk, Cheshire and Pontypridd, and there is a pea pod forming on the plant to the right in Devon.  Our gardener in Bristol also has flowers and our gardener in Buckinghamshire also reported a pea pod forming on her plant there too showing that the pollinators haven’t gone into hibernation just yet.

Meteor Peas



October 2013 through to September 2014 updates

The focus for many of our group during October was to finish off harvesting flowers and vegetables, but also to get down to the pernickety business of pricking out seedlings and preparing winter pansies for planting out in beds.  Our gardener in Bristol is much enamoured with her pansies already and sent us these wonderful portraits of the different ‘personalities’ blooming forth from her pots and beds around the garden.

Bristol pansies

As this picture from our gardener in Suffolk below shows, we have some very neat and tidy gardeners in our midst!  Thus far into late autumn and early winter, late sown perennials and the planted out winter pansies are all doing very well for our gardeners.  How the late sown perennials will survive the winter months as it gets colder remains to be seen though.  They are very young plants and so will have to fight for survival, along with a little careful protection from our gardeners, as the winter really starts to bite.

Late sown perennials pricked out in Suffolk

joanne_radish_26Oct2014Our Suffolk gardener also posted us this wonderful picture of her first crop of radishes on 25 October.  This was a variety in a group of late sown salad crops that we asked our gardeners to put in the open ground in September.  While for some, the salads have been slow to develop, our more southerly located participants have been enjoying tasty crops of crunchy salads for weeks now.

These salads have been perfectly complimenting the remainder harvests of Snackbite and King of the North peppers.

Cheshire Snackbite peppers

Shown here is our Cheshire gardener’s crop of Snackbite peppers, and she also reported that her cucamelon still had tiny fruits forming on the plant that was still green and healthy by the close of October.

It seems that some valuable learning has come out of the Nation of Gardeners trials for our participants.  Many of our gardeners have elected to autumn sow broad beans following the success of their experience doing this in the autumn versus spring trial conducted as part of the project in the last 12 months.

During October a lot of our gardeners were also harvesting their ‘Christmas’ Potatoes!  A full two months early, we can safely conclude that this experiment didn’t fare too well.

The warmth of the summer and early autumn resulted in many of the plants developing very quickly and going over far too soon.  The yield was also disappointing for some, with 5 tubers producing a couple of pounds on average.  Good for a meal or two, but not the bumper crop we might otherwise have anticipated.  Shown below from left to right is the potato crops of our gardeners in Renfrewshire on 9 November, Suffolk on 17 October and in Cheshire on 14 October.

Christmas potatoes


The late sown annuals – sown later than recommended at the end of June – have continued to reward our gardeners with some wonderful colour at the time of year where colour is rapidly failing.  Throughout October and into the start of November there are still many flower heads to be seen on these plants, though by mid-November their days are numbered.

Annuals October