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

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. 


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