Nation of Gardeners January planting update: are our gardeners nurturing some winning blooms?

After the hectic schedule most of our gardeners kept during the festive period, Mr Fothergill’s decided to hold back the January parcel until mid-way through the month to give them a chance to catch their breath!

In January the gardeners were sent a mixed bag to test out for the Company.  Their parcel this month included two varieties of pepper and a new variety of Antirrhinum on offer for the first time in 2014.  Also, because January is the perfect time to source seed potatoes, the group were sent Potato Charlotte to begin chitting in preparation for growing on the potatoes later in the year.

And as the weather – that has been sodden but nevertheless seasonally mild – has turned more Spring-like in recent weeks there has been plenty of activity seen in lots of the previously dispatched parcels.  And so, our gardeners have had their hands full keeping on top of recording changes across a whole range of plants, and taking photos for posting updates to the Facebook wall.


A round up of January’s planting tasks

Potatoes chitting

The gardeners were each sent a pack of Potato Charlotte in order to test open ground planting versus patio planter growing of the tubers.  The gardeners will be asked to put half in the ground – using any method of planting of their choosing – and to plant the other half into patio planters that were provided to them in their parcel.

The decision on whether to chit or not has been left to the gardeners and the decision of *when* to plant their potatoes has also been left to them to decide based on their own local conditions and knowledge for their areas.

As the pictures here show, chitting in egg boxes and in food cartons, in garages, sheds and in porches is occupying cool and light spaces in each of our gardeners’ households as they attempt to develop shoots big enough to get their potato crops planted with a good head start.

Our Cheshire gardener also discovered that, hitherto unknown, rodents also share her garage.   She had left her potatoes chitting overnight only to discover them all mostly eaten one morning.  Happily Mr Fothergill’s rushed to provide her with another pack to help her catch back up with the other gardeners, and which she has promised to keep absolutely mouse-proofed this time!

Coming back indoors, the gardeners were asked to grow two varieties of pepper.  Mr Fothergill’s asked the gardeners to compare two seed varieties – Snackbite and King of the North.  This latter variety is not on general sale yet and so the Nation of Gardeners are testing this seed out in tandem with the formal trials that are taking place at Mr Fothergill’s headquarters in Kentford this year.

For this task, warmth was required to get the seeds to germinate.  Again, method of germination was left to the gardener’s individual experience.  It was suggested that this could either be provided by a propagator or a heated mat, or, if the warmth is sufficient enough indoors to achieve a consistent 15-18° Centigrade, then in pots covered with plastic bags.  Our gardeners chose a variety of methods, with the heated propagator method proving to be most efficient at bringing these seeds to life.

Peppers germinating

By sowing at the same time some direct comparisons have been drawn between the two varieties.  Many gardeners reported that the King of the North was the quickest to germinate, with gardeners in the Peak District and Bristol both reporting a uniform 24 hour gap between King of the North emerging and Snackbite following suit the next day.  However, it took up to a week for our Cheshire gardener’s Snackbite to emerge after the King of the North.  Conversely, in Devon and Worcestershire it was Snackbite that emerged first.  And so, on these peppers, it seems that opinion is divided.  How they grow on will be the next test for the performance of these seeds, with of course, days to cropping and abundance of crops being closely monitored for consistency.

We shall see as time unfolds how the gardeners plan to grow these peppers – whether as houseplants, in the greenhouse, or outside on the patio.  The seeds have the potential to grow in all these situations but the outcome of growing in a variety of situations will, no doubt, show some very different results.

And finally our gardeners were also asked to trial a new variety of snap dragon.  Antirrhinum Purple Twist F1 is being introduced for the first time in the Spring catalogue for 2014 and so Mr Fothergill’s were really keen to find out how the group would get along with these flowers when grown as bedding plants.

These seeds were supplied in a small phial and were microscopic in size, so were tricky to sow evenly.  They also came along with the warning that germination can be erratic!  These seeds again are warmth loving and require a gentle heat of 15-20° Centigrade to germinate and survive healthily.

Many of our gardeners deftly managed to germinate these seeds successfully,  although in Buckinghamshire and the Peak District the Antirrhinums collapsed after successful germination.  As February has drawn to a close, many who raised their seedlings successfully are thinking of pricking out and growing the plants on individually and so we will have to wait to see what glorious displays we get as summer arrives.

Antirhinums germinating


October, November and December updates

Garlic in Guildford in JanuaryThere is plenty happening in the gardens of our participants now and plenty to keep abreast of.  For almost all gardeners, the Garlic Solent Wight has made a strong appearance, with one gardener noting that her Mr Fothergill’s supplied garlic looks healthy and strong whereas garlic she bought from another source (she declined to reveal who!) have failed and that part of her vegetable plot is looking patchy.  This picture of our Guildford gardener’s garlic is typical of what we are now seeing across the country for garlic sown in the autumn.

Where the sweet peas are strong, the sweet peas are strong!  Otherwise, they are almost entirely decimated by rodents.  And so comparative pictures of sweet peas between participants is either a tale of feast or famine.  Although it is nothing new to learn that mice are attracted to freshly germinated peas, it is perhaps interesting to note that mice over winter seem to be much more hungry than in the spring and so where you might not have thought you had mice because you have never sowed ‘food’ for them before, you suddenly discover that the reverse is true.

Despite the failures for some gardeners with sweet peas, the pictures below show some strong plants that look ready to take on the summer once the weather is warm enough to plant them out.  It may even be that these plants will end up becoming winning blooms at the Mr Fothergill’s 2014 Sweet Pea Competition at Capel Manor in July.  Who knows?  Watch this space!

Sweet Peas in January and February

There is positive movement for many bare root perennials now too.  Papaver and Sedum are definitely showing signs of waking up for many gardeners with some pretty consistent performance from those plants.  Eryngium and Astrantia are looking healthy for some gardeners too, with some having kept their green leafy top growth throughout the winter ready to take on the new year.

Bare root perennials

Casualties are starting to tot up steadily too.  In Renfrewshire and the Peak District the storms of December took the Blackberry Reuben, which is otherwise performing outstandingly for all other gardeners.  In the Peak District, the broad beans that were doing very well there were decimated overnight by a rodent.

Damping off claimed multiple sowings of red leafed salads regardless of heat and protection for many gardeners.  Upon further investigation into this, it seems that red leaves are not usually advised in the commercial salad growing industry until the light improves later towards the spring.   Due to reduced levels of chlorophyll the small plants struggle to survive in low light levels and this has clearly been seen in effect for our gardeners.

The basil has also proved to be a challenging crop to grow.  Over December, January and February, gardeners in  Renfrewshire, the Peak District and Bristol have all experienced repeated failures to successfully raise basil.   Our Renfrewshire gardener finally succeeding with a third sowing of basil with some bottom heat applied, though this technique did not help for the other two participants even though they achieved successful germination.

Basil growing successfully in Suffolk

Our Suffolk gardener observed that her basil  had stopped developing over winter and so she decided to give them more heat by popping the pot back into the propagator in February.  As if by magic the plants have started to grow again (pictured here to the left), and so this is a small triumph with this seemingly very difficult crop!

And so the Nation of Gardeners has produced a mixed bag of results so far from the very diverse range of seeds, plants and bulbs from the Mr Fothergill’s range.  There is one thing for certain though, that all of the gardeners are having great fun with their experimentations and eagerly anticipate their next growing tasks.


To follow the results of our gardeners in more detail, take a look at our table of stats for each of the varieties:

January 2014′s planting

December 2013′s planting

November 2013′s planting

October 2013′s planting


The next parcel

The February package includes:


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