Weird or Wonderful? Growing Food In Unusual Places!

October 9th, 2017 | The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

Growing your own fruit and veggies offers you the opportunity to live a healthy lifestyle. You can pack plenty of fruit and veg in the garden by growing food in places you wouldn’t have imagined you could. Here are a few unusual places to grow your own!

Quirky containers: a great way to add interest and fun to your patio fruits and veg! Old boots and chests of drawers make great alternatives. Wooden crates also look lovely.

Recycling the old: crops in old tyres look quirky in your garden and it’s a great way to recycle. You can even stack them to make larger planters!

Vertical growing: saving space and looking lovely at the same time. Vertical growing bags are ideal for smaller gardens that need to make use of the spare space they have.

Old drain pipes: perfect for starting seedlings or sowing salads that can be placed on the windowsill.

On the roof: this may not always be feasible, but the roof is a great place to fix pots and add in your plants!

Take a look at the video below to discover in more detail all the great places you can successfully grow your fruits and veg.

These are just a few tips and tricks for planting your fruits and veg. If you’ve created your own wonderful methods and have any top tips that you can offer us let us know in the comments below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter pages.

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.

Rachel’s New Role

October 5th, 2017 | News | 0 Comments

We are pleased to announce a significant promotion for long-standing and valued member of staff, Rachel Cole. With immediate effect, Rachel will be promoted to the new position of Seed Buying and Quality Supervisor.

Having been at the company for some 20 years, Rachel will be building on her vast experience in seed sourcing and buying to take on closer supervision of the laboratory and therefore wider quality responsibilities within the company. New Assistant Seed Buyer Hannah Green will also report to her.

Technical Manager Alison Mulvaney commented

“It’s great news that Rachel should be recognised and rewarded for her commitment and undoubted skills. Rachel is highly respected within the company because of her knowledge of the seed industry, her helpful and cheerful nature but also her commitment to the cause. I know our suppliers, many of our customers who know Rachel through visiting us and our journalist friends will be delighted to hear of her enhanced role.”

October Gardening Advice

October 2nd, 2017 | The flower garden, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

Nights may be drawing in and winter may be around the corner, but there are plenty of timely tasks to keep you busy in the garden through October. In fact, while many concentrate on shutting down the garden until next spring, this is a key month for establishing new planting displays. Spend time this month planting out new perennials, trees, shrubs and you’ll be rewarded with a stronger performance from next spring onwards. Surprisingly perhaps, a wide range of seeds can be sown both for the flower border and the veg patch, all with the inbuilt hardiness to make it through the winter for earlier results in 2018.

Storing summer bulbs and tubers
Gardeners in cold regions or working with wet soils should lift and clean summer bulbs such as gladioli for storing in a frost-free location over winter. The bulbs should be stored in paper bags or boxes of sawdust to keep them dry and prevent moulds setting in. Dahlias and begonia tubers should also be given the same treatment, but wait for the first hard frost to attack plants before lifting them from the garden.

Divide perennials
As summer-flowering herbaceous perennials start to die down and move into their dormant phase it is a perfect time to lift and divide them. Not only will you get more plants to fill other areas of the garden, it will help avoid congestion and maintain health and vigour, for the best performance next year. Here are some simple tips for easy plant division:

  • Using a garden fork, aim to lift as much root mass as possible with minimal damage the roots. Shake off excess soil or wash it away so you can see what you are working with.
  • Some plants produced individual plantlets that can be teased apart and replanted or potted.
  • Other with small fibrous rots are best pulled apart gently by hand to create small clumps for replanting.
  • Those with thicker fibrous roots can be pulled apart by inserting two forks, back to back, into the centre of the crown. Push the handles together to create a levering action to break the root mass apart. Really congested, dense root masses can be divides using a sharp knife or saw.
  • Plants should be replanted or potted immediately and water well

Winter protection for perennials
As perennials are cut back ahead winter or divided for more stocks it pays to provide the exposed crowns with some winter protection.  A mulch of garden compost or similar will help to protect the dormant crowns from winter damage.  If the plant in question dies back fully, it can be fully covered with mulch. If it dies back to a basal rosette of leaves, these should be surrounded by mulch but left uncovered on top.
Any borderline hardy perennials such as penstemon, phygelius and salvia should be mulched, but their spent top growth should be kept in place until spring as extra winter protection for the crowns below.

Planting spring bulbs
For the best spring bulb container displays it pays to get creative with lasagne layering. This simple process involves planting several different types of spring bulb together in one pot. Instead of setting them at the same depth, the bulbs are set in layers within the compost. This creates a tiered effect to the spring colour as the bulbs then bloom at different heights adding real punch to your pot displays. Try it with

Planting for spring.
October is a perfect month for setting out traditional mixed spring displays of flowering bulbs and bedding.  Stunning on their own or mixed together, our pansies, violas, primroses, bellis daisies, wallflowers, and forget-me-nots all offer effortless colour for the colder months of the year.  Plant by variety, or mix together for a kaleidoscope of colour. All our bedding plants work perfectly with spring flowering bulbs too. As you plant your beds and borders add a bulb in between each plant for extra height and colour some spring.

Sowing for Spring
Many flowering hardy annuals can be sown in beds and borders in October for earlier colour next year. They will establish roots and foliage this side of winter, waking up in early spring to put on a strong floral display in late spring/early summer.

Seeds should be sown in prepared, weed-free soil that has been raked level to a fine tilth. They can either be scattered (broadcast) over the area and raked in for an informal look, or the area can be divided into various patches and the seeds sown in drills for a more ordered look.

For more detailed advice on direct sowing see our guide:

If there is no space due to winter performing bedding displays, hardy annuals can be started off undercover and then hardened off for overwintering in a cold frame or unheated greenhouse for planting in out in spring.

Sowing sweet peas
Exhibition sweet pea growers will be busy sowing this month and it pays to follow suit if you want the biggest and best flowers next summer. By sowing now and overwintering the seedlings in a cold but frost-free greenhouse you will have the biggest, strongest plants to set out in April next year, leading to earlier flowering and bigger blooms.

October planting
October is a perfect month for planting out new container grown perennials, trees and shrubs. Soils retain some of their summer warmth through the month but moisture levels are on the rise thanks to autumn rain. This creates the perfect conditions for early root establishment and also reduces the level of watering needed during the critical early stages of establishment. Watering may be needed in prolonged dry spells next year, but winter wet will have done a large part of the settling in process for you.

Prepare lawns for winter
Lawn grass continues to grow while temperatures remain above 5C, so continue to mow through October where needed. For the best condition for your lawn there are a few simple extras to carry out in October for pitch perfect performance:

  • Autumn feed: Look out for specialist autumn lawn feeds that are low in nitrogen and higher in potassium and phosphorous. This will reduce top growth while promoting root growth and boosting hardiness and disease resistance.
  • Aeration: Use a garden fork to pierce the lawn to a depth of 10-15cm, this will improve drainage and open up the soil structure to get air to the roots for healthier growth. The holes can be filled in with a topdressing of lawn sand or left to close naturally.
  • Leaf Collection: Autumn leaves should be raked off of lawns. If allowed to settle, sunlight is blocked and the grass below dies off, leaving patches where weeds could establish.

Make Leaf Mould Mulch
Rather than add autumn leaves to your general composting bin, think about making pure leaf mould. As you rake up fallen leaves, stash them in a large thick bin bag. When full, pierce a few aeration holes, sprinkle the leaves with water, shake the bag and tie.
Store in a shady spot out of sight. By next autumn the leaves will have broken down into a crumbly texture, which can be used as a mulch.

Grow your own

Top tip for late potatoes Lingering potato crops can be cut down to ground level know, to avoid frost damage. The tubers can then be lifted as needed over the next month or so. The crop should ideally be lifted and stored ahead of any prolonged frosts and severe winter weather.

Top tip for late tomatoes If you have lingering tomatoes plants under glass that are slow to ripen you can speed up the process by stripping all the foliage from the plants  Pack hoses away

Planting Fruit
October is a perfect month for planting out new container grown top fruit and soft fruit, grapes, nuts. Soils retain some of their summer warmth through the month but moisture levels are on the rise thanks to autumn rain. This creates the perfect conditions for early root establishment and also reduces the level of watering needed during the critical early stages of establishment. Watering may be needed in prolonged dry spells next year, but winter wet will have done a large part of the settling in process for you.

Divide rhubarb
As rhubarb plants start to die down and move into their dormant phase it is a perfect time to lift and divide them. Not only will you get more plants to help fill the fruit patch, it will help avoid congestion and maintain health and vigour and better ongoing stalk production

October Greenhouse maintenance

  • Remove shade paint and netting to maximise light levels
  • Have a general sweep down of all surfaces
  • Disinfect benches, pots and tools,
  • Check heaters are ready for use fit bubble wrap insulation.
  • Open doors and vents still on sunny days, but close up again before late afternoon

Fascinating facts and figures about pumpkins.

October 1st, 2017 | The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

Botanical name: Mainly Cucurbita pepo, giant forms are derived from Cucurbita maxima

Origins:  Central and North America

First cultivated:  Seeds have been found on Mexican archaeological sites, dating back to 5,000 – 7,000BC

Skill level: Ideal for both beginners and experienced gardeners

Preferred location and conditions: Full sun on fertile, moisture-retentive soil with plenty of added organic matter. Avoid shallow soils.

Good for containers: Smaller varieties such as Pumpkin Small Sugar and Pumpkin Munchkin grow well in large patio pots and growing bags.
Harvest time: Autumn, before first frost strikes.

Possible problems:  Powdery mildew – usually due to dry soils and humid conditions. Poor fruit set  – usually due to cold conditions at the start of the season and is usually remedied once temperatures increase.

Health benefits:  Low in calories, high in vitamin A and C, minerals and health-boosting beta-carotene

Potted history

Pumpkins are actually forms of winter squash and are now grown on all continents other than Antarctica. Early pilgrim settlers were introduced to the pumpkin via Native American Indian cultivation. Many tribes used the Three Sisters planting method, setting them amongst sweet corn and climbing beans, each bringing benefits to the others.
Pumpkins remain an important commercial US crop, with 680,000 tonnes produced each year, The harvested fruits are an iconic food ingredient in the US, with pumpkin pie a staple in Thanksgiving and Halloween celebrations. In the UK, culinary use is second to decorative use at Halloween, even though all parts of the plant – fruit, seeds, flowers and leaves –  are edible. Competitive growing at local and national level remains a popular pastime in the UK.

The record for the biggest outdoor UK pumpkin was set in 2016 with a 605KG giant grown by gardener Matthew Oliver at RHS Garden Hyde Hall in Essex. The biggest grown under glass in the UK was produced by Stuart and Ian Paton in the New Forest in 2016, weighing a staggering 1022kg.

Why grow pumpkins

Pumpkins are a great introduction to grow-your-own for children. The large seeds are easy to work with and the swelling fruits provide a real sense of achievement, leading to confidence with other crops. The harvest, of course, leads to the fun activity of carving and decorating for Halloween.  Pumpkins grow with few problems, given a sunny spot sheltered from cold winds, and while they take up a good amount of space on the vegetable patch, they can be trained along the ground between rows of sweet corn and other tall crops. Some of the best pumpkins are grown directly on the compost heap.

Planting and growing: 

Seeds can be sown outdoors in late May-June, but in colder regions, it is best to start them under cover at 18-21°C and plant out in June after hardening off the seedlings (place plants outside by day and bring in at night for a week before planting). Earlier crops can also be had by sowing indoors from mid-April.

When planting out, create deep pockets of compost in the soil, around a spade spit deep and wide, and set plants into the compost. You can also grow pumpkins in growing bags or containers (at least 45cm/18in wide). Plant one or two per growing bag, or one per container.

Smaller varieties with prolific fruiting can be left to grow and crop, but to get the best results with larger fruiting varieties, only allow 4 or 5 fruits to mature on the plant. After first fruit set, offer a high potassium feed every 10-14 days to support swelling growth.

Keep fruits off of the soil by supporting them with straw, sacking, roof tiles, stone slabs or similar. Allow the fruits to ripen on the plants and harvest before the first frosts of autumn. Allow skins to harden in the sun if you plan to store over winter.

To browse all the pumpkin varieties we have on offer at Mr Fothergill’s just follow this link to the pumpkin section of our website.

Royal Horticultural Society

This article was first published on the RHS website September 2017. 

Read more on the RHS website about growing your own pumpkins.