Growing Autumn Salad Leaves from Sowing to Harvest

September 21st, 2018 | News | 0 Comments

Early autumn, with its often hazy mornings and cooling temperatures, signals change is in the air. Many of summer’s staples are winding down and growth all over the garden is noticeably slower.

But if you think it is time to hang up the fork for winter, well think again – because now’s the moment Oriental leaves such as bok choy, mustards and mizuna really come into their own.

Give it a try! Read on or watch the video to discover how to grow them.

Types of Oriental Leaves

Oriental leaves offer a fascinating range of leaf shapes, textures and flavours. Enjoy smooth and creamy leaves from rosette-forming tatsoi or bok choy (also known as pak choi), the crunch of Chinese cabbage or the narrow or deeply serrated leaves of mibuna and mizuna. And then there’s the intriguing range of spicy mustards: frilly, spoon-shaped, red-veined, red-leaved – even golden!

Where to Grow Oriental Leaves

Cool-season Oriental leaves are best sown in the last weeks of summer to grow on into autumn and beyond, making them ideal for following on from earlier crops.

Sow direct into prepared ground, or start them off in module trays to plant out a few weeks later. Most are pretty hardy and will continue to give some leaves for cutting throughout winter, especially if provided some protection in the form of a greenhouse or hoop house.

Don’t forget other winter-hardy salads too, including mache or corn salad, and miner’s lettuce or winter purslane.

Oriental leaves grow well in pots, troughs and trays too, either as individual plants or sown as a mixture of different leaves and/or varieties, to give a tasty explosion of flavours in one handy container.

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When to Sow Oriental Leaves

Oriental leaves are brassicas that often bolt, or flower, as days lengthen earlier on in the season. Sowing them from the second half of summer avoids this problem and there are fewer pests, such as flea beetle, about too.

Sowings earlier in the year may be made – just be prepared to pick the leaves very often to slow bolting, when the plants push up flower stems and leaf production ceases. Plants grown in part-shaded locations are often slower to bolt too, while sowing every few weeks should ensure a steady supply of usable leaves at this tricky time of year.

How to Sow Oriental Leaves

Prepare the ground for sowing or planting by sprinkling over a general-purpose organic fertiliser, then raking it in to leave a fine, crumbly surface.

To sow, mark out drills about 1/2 inch (1cm) deep. Space rows 6 to 10 inches (15-25cm) apart. Sow seeds thinly along the drills then cover back over. Water well if it’s dry. Once germinated, thin the seedlings in stages to their final spacings. For most plants that’s 6 to 12 inches (15-30cm) apart, depending on what you’re growing.

Sowing into module trays before planting out has some advantages. You can start plants off while the final growing area is still occupied by another crop, and tender seedlings are at less risk of slug damage. Fill trays with multi-purpose potting soil, firm it down with your fingertips then sow one or two seeds into each cell. Cover with more potting soil, water and place the tray somewhere bright to germinate. The seedlings are ready to plant out about a month later.

Seed mixes, sown into their final containers for cut-and-come-again picking, should be scattered evenly onto potting soil before covering with more of the same. The seedlings shouldn’t need thinning.

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Planting Out

Plant module-raised seedlings at their final spacings. Carefully remove plants from their plugs then lay them onto prepared ground. Use a dibber or similar to make the holes, then position and firm the plants into place. If it’s dry, be sure to thoroughly water after planting.

Caring for Oriental Leaves

Weed between plants to keep them free of competition – particularly important during the colder, darker months of the year. Slugs can be a nuisance, readily rasping holes into tender leaves. Pick them off at dusk or set up slug traps filled with beer and remove the slugs you trap.

Protect plants grown earlier in the year from flea beetle by enclosing newly sown beds with row covers or insect mesh. You can hamper overwintering flea beetles by forking over the soil surface and clearing leaf litter from surrounding areas in early winter. Netting or mesh will also keep pigeons from pecking plants to pieces.

In cooler regions, setting up a hoop house or cloche will improve growth rates as winter approaches, while a greenhouse almost guarantees harvests in all but the very coldest weeks of the year.

Harvesting Oriental Leaves

Harvest plants like Chinese cabbage and bok choy whole by cutting through base of the plant. Loose, open plants such as mizuna should be harvested little and often, by taking a few leaves at a time from each plant. Pinch leaves off between finger and thumb or use a pair of scissors. After each cutting there should still be enough leaves left for the plant to recover.

Overwintered plants will grow strongly when warmth returns in spring, giving plentiful harvests before eventually bolting.

If you have any experience growing these loveable leaves, then comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

A rather special coneflower

September 21st, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Echinacea 'Green Twister'

Two superb new seed-raised perennials are introduced this autumn, two of the best that I’ve grown for years, so I thought I’d better tell you about them. This week, a very impressive new coneflower.

Echinacea ‘Green Twister’ is unique amongst seed-raised echinaceas. Firstly, the colouring. As you can see, most of each petal is the usual coneflower purple but the turned up tips are bright green, at times almost luminous. And the flowers are huge, many are 15cm across and held on long stiff stems about 90cm tall.

My seedlings were given to me by the breeder last spring, grown on in 9cm pots and then planted out. Most plants flowered last year, all came happily through the winter and flower production this year has been impressive.

Large flowers on tall stems implies a need for support and, grown in good soil and planted in an open but sheltered place, they would have toppled if the usual canes and string had not been in place.

In the garden and cut for mixed bouquets the flowers always caused comment and, although one or two were a little cautious, most people who saw them loved them. They’re still flowering now.

There’s a similar, but smaller-flowered variety around called ‘Green Envy’ that’s raised by cuttings or division but I’ve found it weaker and variable – and you can buy two or three packets of seed of ‘Green Twister’ for the price of one plant of ‘Green Envy’. You know which one to go for.

My Morning Glory Story

September 14th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Ipomoea (Morning Glory) 'Party Dress'

My ‘Heavenly Blue’ morning glories have been a disaster this year. Not a single flower on any of my plants around the garden. It’s my own fault, I was give a packet of seed from, well, another seed company…. How could I have been so foolish?!

I sowed the seed, I nurtured the plants, I love them so much that I planted them in four different places, I soaked them in the ferocity of the heat – and they’ve grown like mad. But not a single flower. Not one.

Of course, when I visited the Mr F trial ground recently my foolishness was revealed – ‘Heavenly Blue’ was doing great. That’ll teach me. I know whose seed to use next year.

But I also noticed another morning glory, a new one, that Mr F are introducing for next season. It’s called ‘Party Dress’, and you can see what a lovely colour it is. I especially like those electric flashes through the trumpets.

This variety is also a little more tolerant of chilly spring weather than ‘Heavenly Blue’, which is always useful, but it really does grow. I have just the place for it: under a big new elder I’m trialling with huge bold chocolate-coloured leaves. It should make a great support and set off the colour of the morning glory perfectly. And I bet you a million pounds it flowers.

Mr Fothergill’s Raises Over £70,000 for Royal Hospital Chelsea from Sales of Poppy Victoria Cross

September 11th, 2018 | News | 0 Comments

2018 is the hundredth anniversary of the end of World War I (1914-1918), and the Suffolk seedsman continues to support the Royal Hospital Chelsea (RHC). Mr Fothergill’s is delighted to announce that we have raised £73,000 for the charity since the first year of our partnership in 2014.

There are 1,000 stockists of the counter-top display units of fund-raising Poppy Victoria Cross around the UK, including Blue Diamond, Kew Gardens, RHS Gardens, QD stores and many leading garden centres. Mr Fothergill’s pledges 25p to the Royal Hospital’s charity for every packet of seed sold.

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Commercial Director, Tim Jeffries, said: “We are proud to be supporting the Royal Hospital Chelsea and pleased to see so many gardeners joining with us to do that. While the centenary of World War I draws to a close in 2018, our close links with the RHC will see us supporting their important work for many years to come.”

Poppy Victoria Cross is a popular choice among gardeners and makes a fitting remembrance symbol with its bold white ‘crosses’ across single red flowers. Easy to grow and quick to flower from a spring sowing, this form of Papaver somniferum is ideal for informal borders and cottage garden settings. Its distinctive ‘pepper-pot’ seedheads are also useful in dried arrangements when flowering ends.

Established in 1682 by Charles II to provide a safe home for military veterans ‘broken by age or war’, the Christopher Wren-designed Royal Hospital admitted its first pensioners in 1692. The scarlet tunics and black tricorns of its residents and the Royal Horticultural Society’s Flower Show held in the Royal Hospital grounds every May are equally well known and respected around the world.

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Poppy Victoria Cross seeds are available from garden retailers, www.mr-fothergills.co.uk and the Mr Fothergill’s Seed Catalogue. RRP £2.10 for 250 seeds.

Daffodils with perfume

September 7th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Narcissus 'Actaea'

Many people love daffodils. A few people hate daffodils. But most of us like some daffodils and not others.

I’m a big fan but there are some daffodils that drive me mad. The ones whose trumpets look as if they’ve been hit by a brick, for example, and also the big blowsy yellow ones, like good old ‘King Alfred’ – when they’re planted in the grass along a country lane. They just look so out of place! In a container, or in a clump on a colourful spring border, ‘King Alfred’ looks great. But please, if you want to plant some daffs by your village name sign, choose a variety that looks a little more natural – best of all, our native British wild daffodil.

The other thing about our wild daffodil is that it has a lovely fragrance and that’s a daffodil feature that we tend to forget. Some are scented, some are not. Wouldn’t you choose a fragrant variety if you could? And for a container, where it’s easier to get your nose close to the blooms, or when you want to cut some for the house, fragrance is a huge bonus.

The strongly scented ‘Actaea’ (above) is one of my favourites in pure white with a tiny yellow trumpet edged in red plus a neat white zone between. ‘Geranium’, with its vivid orange cup, is similar. The dainty, and usefully late flowering ‘Hawera’ in primrose yellow is lovely crowding a terracotta pot as is ‘W. P. Milner’, with its straw coloured flowers that fade to white. And all with that lovely daffodil fragrance.

September is planting time, better get those bulbs ordered.