Archive for the ‘Nation of Gardeners’ Category

Slow and steady wins the race for Mr Fothergill’s Nation of Gardeners – how to grow bare root perennials

October 27th, 2014 | Nation of Gardeners | 0 Comments

Nation of Gardeners across the UK for Mr Fothergill's growing trialsWhen it comes to planting bare root perennials, Mr Fothergill’s Nation of Gardeners has found that over wintering in pots in cold frames and then planting out in spring make stronger plants in the long run.

The group of amateur gardeners based in various locations around the country received ten bare root perennials in November 2013 and were asked to report back on how they fared over winter.

They received five varieties (Astrantia Moulin Rouge, Cimicifuga James Compton, Eryngium Super Nova Starlight, Papaver Place Pigalle and Sedum Xenox), with two of each plant supplied; one for planting in a pot and one to go directly in to the open ground. The gardeners found that whilst those in the open ground, on the whole, survived the winter, those in pots were stronger and produced more flowers. Those planted in open ground may have had a quick start, with the potted version being much slower, but by April the pots were catching up with their counterparts in the ground around the country and were much stronger.

Sedum Xenox growing in Renfrewshire for Nation of Gardeners

Many of the gardeners’ bare root perennials did not bloom but they still saw new growth and Mr Fothergill’s is confident they will bloom more consistently in year two. This was most common of the plants in pots.

The most prolific bloomers were the Sedum Xenox and the Papaver Place Pigalle which were reported to be strong plants with lots of flowers, which for some of the Sedum Xenox, extended until October 2014.

Commercial director of Mr Fothergill’s Seeds, Tim Jeffries, commented, “We wanted to see how our gardeners got on with the perennial across the country throughout winter. Undoubtedly, planting in pots seemed to be the way forward to boost the plant’s strength in spring and bloom as summer approached. The results we are seeing from the Nation of Gardeners are proving very useful and will no doubt be beneficial to us in long run for giving advice on how and when best to grow our products.”

Papaver Place Pigalle in bloom in DevonThe gardeners also found that planting in pots was not just beneficial to the plants’ bloom and strength, but the pots also provided protection from slugs who found Mr Fothergill’s bare root perennials rather tasty! Whilst the pots protected the plants and boosted their survival chances, the gardeners sought other options for their open ground varieties with the Derbyshire representative seeing good results from a vigilante approach and a coffee based mulch that helped her ground grown plants become strong, tall and bushy. One county away, in Staffordshire, the rabbits feasted healthily on the open grounds.

From the 16 areas that the gardeners represent, the Surrey and the Cheshire representatives had the best results for their perennials – both seeing six of their perennials bloom in their first year. The Surrey gardener had three of her potted plants bloom, as well as three of her open grounds varieties. Whereas the Cheshire gardener had four pots flower as well as two in the ground.

For more about Mr Fothergill’s Nation of Gardeners visit their blog at or follow #NationofGardeners on Twitter.

Astrantia in bloom in Pontypridd, South Wales

Nation Of Gardeners August and September Planting Update: pushing the boundaries of sowing dates

October 7th, 2014 | Nation of Gardeners | 0 Comments

Arrived seeds August Nation of GardenersWe held back the enthusiasms of our Nation of Gardeners in August until the very last day of the month in order to get them to try out late sowing of perennials.  We wanted to see if we could get them to germinate and establish small perennial plants before winter sets in, sowing long after is advised on the packets.

Only a couple of weeks later in mid-September we asked our gardeners to try late sown salads to see if we can get a late crop into October and November.  Even though we are only in the first few days of October, we have some swift results for some of these sowings already which is a positive sign.

We also sent out mini plugs of pansies in September too.  The picture here below to the left shows how these mini plugs arrived a couple of weeks ago.

Arrived pansies for Nation of Gardeners

There are an amazing 40 plants in this small package and they all arrived in perfect condition for each of our gardeners, who have now given them a little more growing space to spread their roots in readiness for planting them to their final positions in late October.

As these growing tasks played out, there was so much else happening in our group’s gardens that it is impossible to cover it all here.  Needless to say, at the busiest time of the gardening year, our Nation of Gardeners have been very busy indeed, and through their hard work we have gathered some very interesting findings to feed back into our own research on the seeds and plants we have in our range.

Read on to find out what our group of gardeners have been up to in late summer and early autumn.



A round up of August’s planting tasks

Late sown perennials germinatingThe late-sown perennials task echoed June’s planting task where we asked our gardeners to sow annuals later than advised on the packets to see if we could get late blooms from these sowings.  The late sown annuals were just getting into their stride when our gardeners set about the task of sowing their late-sown perennials and so all looked positive as pots of perennials started to populate windowsills, coldframes and greenhouses across the UK.

Sown in this round were the following varieties:

  • Aubrietia Cascade Mixed which grows in cushion formed cascades in shades of pinks and purples. This plant is happy in crevices, paving and cracks in stone walls.
  • Aquilegia McKana Giants Mixed which is a cottage garden favourite.  If planted ‘cottage garden’ style, the individual plants don’t take up too much room with flowering spikes rising up through other plants in the bed to show off their blousy blooms at waist height.  Once established, Aquilegia need very little care and should continue to bloom year on year with very little attention.
  • Echinacea Double Decker is a beautiful plant and makes an unusual display of mostly single, purple-red flowers in the first season followed by many ‘twins’ in the second season.
  • Hollyhock Chaters Double Mixed is a tall and impressive plant that produces pompom blooms standing almost 2.5 metres high.
  • Lavender Hidcote Blue is a compact form of lavender that produces a deep blue coloured flower favoured by bees and other pollinators.
  • Poppy Oriental Choice Mixed produces a wide colour range of large flowers and is a hardy perennial plant. This variety grows to around 75cm/30” in height.

Renfrewshire late sown Hollyhocks

All the varieties enclosed in the August parcel were late-sown on the Mr Fothergill’s trial field in 2013 with good results, and so we were curious to extend the trial out to all corners of the UK to help us decide whether we can change the sowing instructions on packets to reflect these findings.

At the Mr Fothergill’s trial fields in Kentford we sowed at the very end of August 2013, bringing the plants under cover over the winter months, finally planting them out in June 2014.  So we have a good idea how we think the trial might play out for our participants, but we will find out for sure how these plants perform in a wider range of growing conditions as our gardeners make their way through the cold months of winter.

By the time we got returns of all updates from our gardeners at the end of September, most were seeing germination for almost all sowings except for the elusive lavender which is notoriously slow at germination, and it seems it is in no hurry to present itself for our gardeners even if they are the subject of a trial!

Illustrated here above is the ‘star player’ of this round of sowings.  Our gardener in Renfrewshire potted on her Hollyhocks in late September, as did many of the other gardeners.  The Hollyhocks grew more vigorously than some of the others making them easier to handle for potting on.   As we enter October, many of our gardeners are potting on some of the other varieties too such as Echinacea, Aubretia and Poppy.  We shall see how these plants fare as the next few weeks unfold.

Potted on late sown perennials Renfrewshire


A round up of September’s planting tasks

Late sown salads renfrewshireIn September we asked our Nation of Gardeners to sow a range of salads to try and establish a good crop of baby leaves before winter sets in.

The Mixed Mild Salad Leaves, Mixed Spicy Salad Leaves and Mixed Lettuce Leaves are already known to the gardeners, since these varieties were in the December 2013 parcels for windowsill growing at the end of last year.

Our group of gardeners saw variable results on their windowsills in the depths of winter, mostly due to the lack of available daylight at that time of the year and damping off, rather than the temperature.  And so we wanted to test out these seeds on the warmth of the early autumn soil coupled with some good weather we all experienced in September.  We believe that we will see some much more satisfactory results this time as a result.

To add some extra spice to autumnal salads we also included Rocket Mixed and Mesclun Mixed leaves and finally we also asked our gardeners to sow Radish Bright Lights which promise to brighten up those bowls of salad leaves with colours ranging from red and white to purple and yellow.  Under normal growing conditions each salad type would produce 4 or 5 cut and come again crops, so we shall see how many crops we can manage in the colder weather.

Arrived pansies in bloom Nation of Gardeners

Germination across the whole range of seeds was good for everyone.  Seedlings were showing through in a matter of days for everyone.   This has set the leaves off to a good start and so we shall see if any of our gardeners raise a crop large enough for a baby leaf salad later in October, and if anyone can keep their salads going beyond November with the help of a little cloche protection.  Who knows? There might even be fresh salad on the Christmas dinner table?

We also sent out Pansy Cool Wave which is the first true trailing pansy to be grown from seed. It’s naturally trailing habit makes it ideal for adding to hanging baskets and window boxes to provide colour from autumn through to spring.

These came shipped as miniplugs for immediate planting on to 3cm pots to give them chance to become accustomed to their new homes before a final planting position 3 or 4 weeks after receipt.  As this picture to the left here shows, some were in bloom before they even left the box and so we hope they will provide bright bursts of colour for our gardeners as we march towards the gloom of wintry months.

Bristol potted on pansies


October 2013 through to July 2014 updates

We saw our late sown annuals spring into action for our gardeners across the UK.  These were all sown towards the end of June and are shown here in bloom at the end of August for our most northern located gardeners; a Cornflower in Renfrewshire, a Californian Poppy in Elgin and a Marigold in Cumbria.

Late sown annuals in bloom in late August and September

Our gardener in Surrey densely sowed her annuals in raised bed, rewarding her with this wonderful display in late September

Late sown annuals in late September

Late sown Godetia in DevonPerhaps the most shy in appearing, but one of the most stunning flowers in the late sown annuals task was the Godetia, which we can see here in our Devon based gardener’s plot just coming into bloom on 20 September having been sown at the end of June.

But it wasn’t all about the flowers in August and September.  Oh no! It was not just about flowers.  It was mostly about tomatoes!

Having supplied 6 varieties of tomato seed for our group of gardeners at the start of the year, and then having supplied 3 of these varieties again as young plants grown in our nurseries, our gardeners had their hands full – full of tomatoes!

For our gardeners in warmer parts of the UK, these plants fruited prolifically over the summer to the extent that there was far too much produce for them to eat within their own household, and so our gardeners took to the streets giving them away to family and friends.  In cooler areas such as the Peak District and Renfrewshire tomato development was much slower with mostly green fruits still hanging on the plants even at the start of October.

By far the most prolific were Tomato Sungold and Tomato Sakura that produced hundreds of cherry sized fruits on very heavily laden vines that weighed down the branches of the plants.  Tomato Ferline also performed well for most our gardeners, producing large firm fruits with good taste and of uniform quality and size such as these on the right below for our gardener in Pontypridd.

tomatoes in Bristol and Pontypridd

Pink Charmer produced a reasonable crop for some of our gardeners, though to do well these plants need greenhouse protection.   Orange Slice is a variety that has not been on general sale in 2014, and these plants needed careful protection within a greenhouse in order to thrive.  For many this was a difficult plant relatively to care for with the first crops coming in August, but with others waiting through September to see how the fruits would develop.  For those who cropped these fruits the jury was out on the taste, with some gardeners reporting they were tasteless or floury, and others reporting they were sharp.

Black Opal and Sungold Bristol JulyBlack Opal was viewed by many with suspicion as the dark flesh of the ‘almost black’ fruits didn’t conform with the usual expectation of a shiny red tomato.  However, once prejudice was put aside these tomatoes really impressed on the taste test as the plants produced large amounts of cherry sized tomatoes with a very sweet taste.

It was not all plain sailing however as disease struck some of our gardener’s tomatoes.  Our gardener in Suffolk had tomato blight that suddenly devastated her entire collection of plants, forcing her to crop them all very quickly, and our gardener in Cumbria found blossom end rot in her Orange Slice tomatoes.  In the main however, most tomato plants sailed through the season well.

Diseased tomatoes in Suffolk and Cumbria

As summer came to a close we also waved goodbye to cucamelon crops. Pictured here to the left is our gardener in Pontypridd’s final cropping of cucamelons on 22 September where this gardener reported that they had been most prolific.

cucamelon Pontypridd sept

It would be fair to say that this crop was a curiosity for most of our participants.  Opinion was divided on the taste with some loving it, and others hating it. The taste itself is generally of cucumber, but with an aromatic after taste of citrus.  The skins of the fruits are tougher than cucumber and this put off many gardeners.  However it is a fun crop to grow, producing lots of grape sized fruits through the warmer months.   The crop certainly provides a good talking point when served up in salad at the summer time dinner table!

As the days get colder and the top growth dies back, the roots can be lifted and replanted early next year for another crop, and so watch this space to see if any of our group succeed in this. 


For best broad bean results, Mr Fothergill’s Nation of Gardeners recommend autumn sowing

October 7th, 2014 | Nation of Gardeners, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

Nation of Gardeners across the UK for Mr Fothergill's growing trialsMr Fothergill’s Nation of Gardeners has found that sowing broad beans in autumn produces stronger and more resilient beans with a longer cropping period.

The team of amateur gardeners are based in 16 regions across the country and receive a parcel each month from the company to find out what grows best when and where.

The Nation of Gardeners received Mr Fothergill’s Broad Bean Aguadulce seeds in their first parcel in October 2013 and again in March 2014, with the intention of comparing autumn sowing with spring.

Whilst the spring sown beans were quick to produce flowers (on average they appeared 75 days faster than the autumn ones), the gardeners reached the consensus that the autumn broad beans were not only stronger than the leggy and spindly spring plants but that they also cropped for longer.

Nation of Gardeners Pontypridd October Broad BeansThe first beans from autumn sowing appeared in Devon in mid-February and the rest of the country soon followed suit with the gardeners harvesting a plentiful crop on a daily basis, and they continued to be inundated throughout June and beyond.

Mr Fothergill’s Seeds commercial director, Tim Jeffries, commented: “Most gardeners sow broad beans in spring. We wanted the Nation of Gardeners to explore the potential benefits of autumn versus spring sowing and the results have definitely been interesting. The majority of our gardeners reported back that their autumn sowing had a longer cropping period with tastier results. This certainly makes a good case for everyone switching to autumn sowing!”

Good overwintering broad bean varieties include:  Aguadulce, Bunyards Exhibition, The Sutton, Witkiem (Vroma) and Superaguadulce.

Mr Fothergill’s Nation of Gardeners has now been running for 12 months and the parcels’ contents have ranged from windowsill planting of salads and herbs to overwinter protection of bare root perennials, and from testing the vigour of grow your own vegetable varieties to more recently, pushing the boundaries of when to sow with late sown annuals and perennials.

To find out more about Mr Fothergill’s Nation of Gardeners follow regular updates on the blog, follow the hashtag #NationofGardeners on Twitter or regular live updates by our gardeners on Facebook.

Horley broad bean crop

Nation Of Gardeners July Planting Update: It’s a time of plenty in the flower and vegetable gardens

August 4th, 2014 | Nation of Gardeners, The flower garden, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

Max winning2nd prize in the Capel Manor sweet pea competitionJuly was a very busy time for the staff at Mr Fothergill’s.  The Capel Manor Sweet Pea Competition kicked off proceedings, drawing in a large number of stunning applications from across the UK.  This was swiftly followed by attendance at RHS Hampton Court which dominated the start of the month.  The Sweet Pea Competition also produced good results for two of our Nation of Gardeners as Max in Hertfordshire and Georgina’s young daughter in Cheshire were both awarded prizes – in the blind judged!! – competition at the start of July.

Sir Henry Cecil Sweet Peas awarded first prizeOur gardener in Devon, Lindsay, wasn’t able to muster enough blooms for an entry for the Capel Manor Competition, but by the end of July her sweet peas had starting blooming strongly which made her jump at the chance to enter some in her local Ilfracombe Horticultural Show.

Lindsay was coached by the other Nation of Gardeners to enter the Sir Henry Cecil rather than the Old Spice Mixed variety as they are so visually striking.  Many gardeners commented that their friends and neighbours heads had been turned by the Sir Henry Cecil sweet peas in their gardens, with many vowing to grow them for themselves next season.  So Lindsay set to work selecting the best of her blooms for the ‘9 sweet peas in an oasis’ category.   She came out a winner for her submission of 9 stems of Sweet Pea Sir Henry Cecil winning… well, nothing apart from the proud fact that hers were the best.  We can probably safely claim that Mr Fothergill’s sweet peas officially produce award winning blooms – a fact of which we are also very proud!

But we are not a group to rest on our laurels and so next up in July were the plant growing tasks  for the month which set our gardeners to work once more.  Along with the crops that are producing pounds and pounds of fruit and vegetables, vases full of blooms and healthy growth on younger plants, our gardeners never have an idle moment!

You can follow the gardener’s progress as they post regular updates to the Facebook wall or by following the #nationofgardeners hashtag on Twitter.  Feel free to post your own garden updates to Mr Fothergill’s on social media too.


A round up of July’s planting tasks

Seed tape trial in July 2014We asked our group of gardeners to experiment with us again in July.  We are testing a new development in the form of pre-sown seed tapes.  Now, pre-sown seed tapes are nothing new, and are very popular with many gardeners as it takes away the need for thinning in awkward crops like carrots and parsnips, but it also takes the fiddle factor out of sowing small and tricky to handle seeds like lettuce.

The difference with these pre-sown seed tapes is that they are also infused with a weed suppressant, which we like the idea of very much. The seed tapes have weed suppressant bands alongside the row of seeds – so we wanted to know does it help keep weeds at bay?  As a control, the seed tapes containing All Year Round lettuce were supplied with a packet of the same variety for testing.  With the warm weather we have been blessed with in July and August so far, it will not be long before we are seeing results from this particular trial.

Next up was Broad Bean Luz de Otono.  This plant is promoted as an autumn cropping variety with long pods of flavoursome beans ready for picking from late August and in to September.  We sent out 10 young plants ready for immediate transplanting into the garden and so now we just need to sit back and wait to see how long it takes to get a crop from these plants.

gwynne_elgin_christmas_potatoes_2August2014Finally in July we asked our gardeners to plant more potatoes.  This time we asked our gardeners to plant potatoes for producing a Christmas crop.  Christmas potato growing is an emerging trend in vegetable growing, with many people producing great results across the UK already.  To produce Christmas potatoes, we keep some stock in our cold store from our earlier supplied seed potatoes to delay them chitting too much.  We then despatch these from late June and through July ready for immediate planting.   They soon spring into action once out of the cold store and usually start to crop from September, though they can be manipulated to crop at varying other times according to how warm or cold you let the plants grow.

The main trouble with growing potatoes  in this way is that they are hit by blight pretty quickly which can stop growth of the tubers sharply.  And so we supplied 5 tubers to each gardener along with a patio planter sack to plant them in to help the gardeners control the environment in which the potatoes will be growing a lot more easily.  They can also be moved into a greenhouse or shed when it gets too cold to prevent frost nipping of the plants and to keep growth going.


October through to July updates

Runner Beans in Pontypridd first crop in early AugustOur gardeners were asked to sow  Runner Bean White Lady  and Runner Bean Moonlight during May to record flowering, yield and setting habits as well as the flavour of the beans once ready to pick. These beans have been rapidly developing since sowing for our group of gardeners with our Bristol and Pontypridd gardeners getting their first pickings from their White Lady variety in the first weekend of August.

All our other gardeners are reporting flowers on their plants and good height gain and so it will not be long before the rest of the group is picking their veg for their Sunday dinner too!

This is a timely introduction of a new bean crop for our gardeners as the spring sown Broad Bean Aquadulce have been slowly coming to a halt for many in late July and early August. It has been a long picking season for this variety with the two sowings in autumn and spring. A more detailed comparison of this part of the Nation of Gardeners trial is being put together as we speak and so watch this space for conclusions on these tests.

Strawberry Sweetheart planted in both the autumn and the spring produced lots of berries for our gardeners in June, and these plants are now exhausted of fruits, with many plants now putting out runners to ensure their continuation and multiplication next year. As August begins, Strawberry Buddy is stepping forwards into the spotlight. And boy are those plants producing some huge fruits!!

Strawberry Buddy producing huge fruits in North and South

Pictured here is our northerly-most gardener in Elgin proudly displaying three huge fruits that almost covers her hand.  In the meantime way down south, our Devon gardener has produced a tape measure to show the size of the fruit she picked in her garden. These fruits are monsters, but they are also reported to be sweet to the taste. As an everbearing variety, there will be many more to come over the coming weeks and so it looks as though  Strawberry Buddy is a good compliment for anyone with an established strawberry bed that fruits at other times of the year.

The June sowing of annuals beyond the recommended sowing dates on the packets has been producing good results for many of our gardeners so far. Sown in the June trial were the following varieties:

All sown in the last few days of June to keep pace with the Mr Fothergill’s repeat trial of these varieties this year, the early results look promising.   Germination was quick and successful where our gardeners could keep the seedlings from being munched by slugs, and many gardeners opted to sow both in the ground and into pots as insurance against this peril.

Annuals starting to bloom in early August

By the end of July, small flowers could be seen on the Alyssum in Cheshire (pictured here) and flower buds on the Cornflowers in Pontypridd (also pictured). By the end of August, many of these plants ought to be in bloom if Mr Fothergill’s are correct in their hunch, and we may find that we can alter the instructions on our seed packets if we find that the plants behave uniformly across the UK.

But the stars of the show this month have surely had to be the Antirrhinum Purple Twist that have been putting on quite the most beautiful displays during July and early August.  This variety has been introduced to the Mr Fothergill’s range for the first time this year and it has produced some stunning results even though these plants had a wobbly and delicate start for some of our gardeners.

Antirrhinum Purple Twist

Blackberry in WorcestershireBlackberry Reuben was planted way back in November 2013 and it is now starting to fruit for the gardeners who managed to over-winter this plant successfully.  Pictured here is the single fruit cropped to date by our gardener in Worcestershire and it is a beauty!  Measuring a whopping 3cm by 2.5cm and with a delicious sweet taste, the only problem is that it had to be shared amongst the family who were all vying to complete the taste-test part of the trials! May there be a few more cropping for them in the coming weeks!

Tomato Sungold in Cheshire in late JulyOtherwise, the fruit that has been occupying the minds and the watering cans of most of our gardeners in July  have been the tomatoes that the group is raising in abundant quantities.  Our Cheshire gardener posted us this picture to the right here of one of her hugely successful Sungold tomato plants which has pounds of fruit developing on a very healthy looking plant.

Equally, most of our gardeners across the UK are having success with some or all of the plants they have raised.  Sungold and Sakura seem to be the most prolific tomato varieties being grown with long trusses of small tomatoes growing heavily on the plants.  But our Elgin gardener also has a fine display of Tomato Ferline (pictured in her greenhouse in the centre of the picture below), and many gardeners have posted up pictures of their Tomato Black Opal (with much bemusement about the black skins and black flesh of these fruits), Pink Charmer and Orange Slice.

The salad plates of our gardeners are being furnished on a regular basis with a wonderful selection of differently coloured tomatoes that have a range of tastes to offer.

Tomatoes cropping across the UK

Nation Of Gardeners May and June Planting Update: First blooms, First crops!

July 11th, 2014 | Nation of Gardeners, The flower garden, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

May parcel Nation of GardenersIt has all been happening in May and June for our gang of gardeners across the UK!

Through the winter months many of the plants and seedlings being raised seemed to be taking their time to develop. But summer has truly arrived in May and June after a warm April. This means that we have been seeing flowers, fruits and vegetables bursting into life for our Nation of Gardeners.

You can follow the gardener’s progress as they post regular updates to the Facebook wall or by following the #nationofgardeners hashtag on Twitter.  Feel free to post your own garden updates to Mr Fothergill’s on social media too.

But what was in the box in May and June?


A round up of May and June’s planting tasks

Worcestershire Runners

When it is time to sow runner beans and time to start cropping strawberries you can be sure it is a sign that summer is coming. And so in May we asked our gardeners to look at Runner Beans and our new “crop in 30 days” strawberries to see if a taste of summer could be brought into the group’s kitchens as quickly as promised.

Always a British favourite, runner beans are amongst the top selling seeds at Mr Fothergill’s each year. New varieties come along at regular intervals but a British company has been working hard to produce a range of almost self-fertile beans which will set in most weather regimes – which might make them more popular north of the border if they performed better. We sent out a packet of Runner Bean White Lady and a packet of Runner Bean Moonlight to trial the value and trueness of these varieties.

runner bean white lady

Our gardeners got to work sowing these two varieties in their gardens during May and were asked to record flowering, yield and setting habits as well as the flavour of the beans once ready to pick.

By early July, there are young plants starting to climb for all of our gardeners, with the slight advantage on speed of growth being observed in the Runner Bean White Lady variety.  Pictured above to the left are our Worcestershire gardener’s runner beans taken 8 July, that are ready for some support and which she promises to give shortly after taking this photograph!  To the right here is our Pontypridd gardener’s Runner Bean White Lady that is already developing some flower buds on 7 July as the plants climb the poles.  Below are the runner beans being grown side by side in our Bristol gardener’s potager. This photo was taken 5 July.

As summer progresses, the abundance of Broad Beans we’ve been supplying to the Nation of Gardeners’ kitchens will start to be replaced by Runner Beans no doubt!


We previously sent out two varieties of strawberry in November and mirrored that in March asking the gardeners to compare growth and yield between the autumn planted strawberries against those supplied in the spring. One of these two varieties was Strawberry Sweetheart which is the variety used in our new ‘Berry Quick Strawberries’, introduced for the first time this year after our own set of trials.

Strawberry Berry QuickBerry Quick Strawberries were new to the range in 2014, and as the name implies, promises strawberries on your plate within a month of receipt.  By tapping into a commercial production method, used by professional growers, which enables plants to fruit within 30 days from the point of planting, we hoped that these plants would live up to their promise.

This unique method of production begins in September and October when plants are lifted from the field with the flower initiation process already started – they are then frozen. The next part of the process happens around the middle of April when the plants are thawed, potted and grown on for 30 days at our nursery. By the middle of May the plants are well developed and have just 30 days of growth remaining – just in time to celebrate the start of Wimbledon!

And so we asked our gardeners to plant three of these plants and let us know how they got on – and importantly, did they all get berries in time for Wimbledon?

Photo 21-06-2014 19 10 26The plants arrived in good health for all of our gardeners, seen here above and to the left are the plants placed in a raised bed by our Devon gardener, where they look healthy and well established shortly after planting out.  Our Buckinghamshire gardener grew her strawberries in hanging baskets, but sadly her fruits developed Grey Mould, a common disease in strawberries.  This rendered her fruits inedible.

But red strawberries were indeed harvested within 30 days by many of our gardeners otherwise.  Our gardener in Renfrewshire reported her first pick on 18 June, our Pontypridd based gardener harvested his first red berries on 18 June and the Peak District berries pictured here on the left were ready for picking 21 June.

Although the plants were healthy and the berries developed to a croppable state very quickly –  there were lots of small green berries when delivered in most cases – some gardeners felt that the taste was quite tart or bitter.  This is especially when compared to the autumn and spring planted Strawberry Sweethearts, which is the variety that is used for the ‘Berry Quick’ plants.


Hardy annuals Ceredigion

We now turn from May’s planting tasks and look towards June.

With June came the mid-summer solstice heralding a drawing in of nights when we feel like we have only just got going! June is a time for visiting garden centres to find a potted plant to fill in gaps in the borders. June is not a time traditionally for sowing new seeds as it is the received wisdom that it is now too late.

Mr Fothergill’s wanted to challenge this view however by trialling some hardy annuals that have been tested over at the trial grounds in Kentford last year. So not only did our gardeners receive a range of annuals for sowing in June, they received them very late in June, for sowing by the end of the month to see if everyone could get a good display before the year is out.

All of the varieties were sown on the trial field in Kentford last year on 20 June with good results – all flowers were in bloom by the end of August. In 2014, the team at Mr Fothergill’s were going to push this trial out to 27 June to test for even later sowing. The outcome of this trial could be that we end up changing the sowing instructions on seed packets if we find we get uniform results across the UK.

Hardy annuals Cheshire

On trial this month therefore were the following varieties:

Our group of gardeners got straight to work on this, with many reporting back germination within 3 days.  The pictures here above shows the Ceredigion gardener’s new seedlings coming through in a clearly demarked raised bed built by her husband especially for the purpose of growing these seeds! To the right here are our Cheshire gardener’s seedlings coming through very well in pots.

The warmth of the soil is evidently a good factor for getting these seeds going promptly and bodes well for well-developed plants as the summer progresses.  Our gardeners reported good germination rates, but they also reported that there was either a slow or ‘non-appearance’ of seedlings sown straight to the ground, which indicates that slugs appreciate this mid-summer sowing as a spot of lunch!  Pot sown seedlings on the whole have done very well, and so seems to be the most reliable method of raising these late sown annuals.


October through to June updates

Devon potato cropMay and June’s arrival brought with it lots of first crops from the garden for many of our participants. Kilos of potatoes were being dug up around the UK as our group got to work on checking the relative yields of patio planter potatoes versus open ground.  On the whole, patio planter potatoes grew vigorously, but the yields were much smaller than those of the ones planted in the ground.

Armfuls of broad beans and bowlfuls of strawberries and salads were also cropped during May and June and kept many of our gardeners feasting throughout the month.  The autumn sown broad beans have been producing prolifically throughout this period and are now exhausting, just in time to make way for the spring sown crops!

Autumn versus spring strawberries largely lean towards the autumn planted versions cropping first.  It is the Strawberry Sweetheart variety that has produced most prolifically for most people, producing very sweet fruits, especially in light of the comments on taste of the ‘Berry Quick’ fruits.  Although smaller in number, the gardeners who have been able to crop their Strawberry Buddy have found them to be the better tasting of the two varieties. For some gardeners though, there has been a ‘no show’ on the Buddy, with flowers not developing into fruits, but the plants producing runners instead.

Pictures speak louder than words and so take a look at the following to see the wonderful things being produced in gardens up and down the country.

strawberries and broad beans

The sweet peas sown in the autumn also provided lots of wonderful blooms for some of our gardeners, with Max in Hemel Hempstead, Joan in Cumbria, Georgina in Cheshire and Mags in Renfrewshire all sending in entries for the Capel Manor College Sweet Pea Competition in early July.  Jonathan in Pontypridd and Laura in Ceredigion both intended to supply entries too, but Welsh rain blighted their chances by washing out their prize blooms in the week running up to the competition.

Suffolk sweet peas

Tomatoes are growing well for almost everyone in the trials though the pace at which they are developing is hugely variable.

Black Opal renfrewshire It is a complex combination of 6 varieties over three separate sowing/planting dates that is being grown by our company of gardeners and so meticulous labelling and recording has been required.

Many tomatoes for many people are still very green, or are still only just developing from the flower buds.  Shown here to the right is our Renfrewshire gardener’s Black Opal tomatoes developing as young fruits on the plant during early July.

Amazingly we have ripened fruits for our gardeners in Buckinghamshire, Surrey and Bristol, with Sungold being the earliest crop for these gardeners. We have also had our first crop of Tomato Black Opal down in Bristol – which can be clearly seen standing proudly on this plate in the picture below.  This stunning picture shows the deep colour of this fruit, which when cut through runs through the flesh as well.  On the left below is our Surrey based gardener’s Pink Charmer tomato crop.

Tomato crops


Out in the flower beds, our autumn planted bare root perennials also got into their stride during this period with Astrantias and Sedums flowering beautifully for many. Perhaps most stunningly of all, and sadly very briefly, were the Papaver Place Pigalle blooms. The Eryngiums and Cimicifugas still have some time left to develop, so watch this space!

Bare root perennials

And finally, the Cucamelons continue to intrigue as they grow taller and taller.  These climbing vines are recommended to be pinched out at about 5ft in length, and they need plenty of rambling support to allow the tendrils and vines to cling, climb and grow.  We are seeing the first tantalising fruits forming on these plants this month.

Cucamelon Bristol

Our Bristol based gardener took this wonderful shot of her Cucamelon fruit which is starting to fatten out a little.

Many of our gardeners have been reporting flower and fruit development during May and June, and the plants seem to deliver these prolifically but they remain very slender and small, unlike the picture promised on the seed packets to date.   On a taste test of the very small fruits, they have a pleasing cucumber taste that is the most present taste, but it is delivered with a very subtle citrusy, zingy tang almost as an aftertaste.

Growing these plants has certainly been a curiosity for our gardeners as we all wait and see how they will develop through the summer.


Keep an eye on the hashtag #nationofgardeners on Twitter for more updates as the gardeners post them, or follow the postings to the Facebook wall where you can also find a gallery of plant pictures that chronicle the Nation of Gardeners activities to date.

June 2014′s planting

  • The stats table for:  Marigold Naughty Marietta
  • The stats table for:  Californian Poppy
  • The stats table for:  Godetia Dwarf Mixed
  • The stats table for:  Calendula Daisy Mixed
  • The stats table for:  Alyssum Carpet of Snow
  • The stats table for:  Cornflower Polka Dot

May 2014′s planting

  • The stats table for: Runner Bean White Lady
  • The stats table for: Runner Bean Moonlight
  • The stats table for: Strawberry Berry Quick

April 2014′s planting

March 2014′s planting

February 2014′s planting

January 2014′s planting

December 2013′s planting

November 2013′s planting

October 2013′s planting