Easier echinaceas

April 6th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Echinacea 'Sweet Meadow Mama'

Many of us have trouble growing echinaceas. Usually, those with purplish-pink or white flowers are easier than those with yellow or orange flowers which tend to disappear during the winter. It’s because the fiery colours come from a species that we rarely grow because it’s too fussy.

Plant breeders brought the two types together to create new colours but, at least at first, the new colours came with a short life in the garden.

But that was twenty years ago and, over the years, new echinacea varieties have not only became more colourful and more prolific but also better as garden plants.

The latest is the Meadow Mama Series, developed by Europe’s top echinacea specialist. In five different colours, including three lovely bicoloured varieties, they have impact in the border, are much loved by bees and other pollinators, and are more robust than previous varieties.

There are five varieties in the series. ‘Fiery Meadow Mama’ is a red-and-yellow bicolour, ‘Innocent Meadow Mama’ is pure white, ‘Laughing Meadow Mama’ is a red and orange bicolour, ‘Playful Meadow Mama’ is peachy pink with white tips to the petals, and ‘Sweet Meadow Mama’ (above) is raspberry pink with orange overtones. All five are available in the Meadow Mama collection.

Plant them in full sun in well drained soil. Good drainage is more important than rich fertility, but working in some weed-free organic matter is always worthwhile. They will bulk up steadily and give you years of pollinator friendly colour. I grow mine in slightly raised bed to improve the drainage.

With echinaceas, it always pays to grow the latest introductions: the Meadow Mama Series.

Mr Fothergill’s Is On A Quest To Find The UK’s Longest Runner Bean!

April 2nd, 2018 | Competitions, News, The vegetable garden | 1 Comment

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Are you up for a challenge?  If you always clean up at the village show for the coveted title of ‘longest runner bean’ then this challenge is the one for you this summer!

A couple of years ago we ran a staff runner bean growing competition and the winning runner bean was a whopping 47.2cm in length. This year we want to throw the net wider and get the nation growing lengthy beans, and so are launching a competition to seek out the UK’s longest runner bean.

There will be 1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes for the 3 longest beans, and of course, the winner will get to proudly state they are officially the UK’s Runner Bean Growing Champion of 2018 too!

How to Enter

  • You can grow any type of runner bean in this competition but we would recommend Runner Bean Guinness Record or Runner Bean Enorma if you really want to grow some lengthy beans.
  • Post pics of your beans on Facebook or Twitter and let us know how your young plants are getting along. We’ll have some random giveaways each month for great pictures posted with the hashtag #UKBigBean
  • You have until 30 September to grow the UK’s longest bean. Post us a picture on Facebook or Twitter of your bean with proof of its length.

The prizes

  • 1st prize: £50 worth of Mr Fothergill’s seeds
  • 2nd prize: £30 worth of Mr Fothergill’s seeds
  • 3rd prize: £20 worth of Mr Fothergill’s seeds

The Rules

Let’s not drag things down with loads of rules!  But…

  • The winners will be chosen after the competition closes at midnight on 30 September.
  • There are three prizes, with spot prize giveaways each month for fabulous runner bean pictures.
  • Mr Fothergill’s team reserves the right to choose the photos they deem the best for the spot prizes each month. Our decision is final and we will not enter into correspondence on our choices.
  • The 3 longest beans by 30 September will be chosen based on the photos submitted proving their length.
  • There is no cash alternative, the prize in non-transferable and may not be substituted by the winner.
  • If you are not the runner bean grower, and the photo you submit is not your photo, we reserve the right to disqualify you! Only your own pictures of your own produce please!

April and May is the perfect time to set your prize beans going. Take a look at the runners we have on the website here: http://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Pea-and-Bean-Seeds/Runner-Bean-Seeds/

And good luck!!

Fascinating Facts: Chard

April 1st, 2018 | News | 0 Comments

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Botanical name: Beta vulgaris subsp. cicla

Origins: Chard is a cultivated descendent of the wild sea beet.

First cultivated: Chard can be traced back to ancient times. It supposedly grew in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, was grown in China as early as the 7th Century BC and was cultivated in ancient Greece and Rome around 300-400 BC.

Types: Popular varieties of the vegetable include Bright Lights and Rhubarb Chard.

Skill level: Easy

Preferred location and conditions: Prefers rich, moisture-retentive soil in an open, sunny site.

Good for containers: Yes

Planting and growing: Sow thinly from March to July in trenches 2.5 cm deep and 10 cm apart, in rows 45 cm apart. Alternatively, sow in modules and plant out 2-4 weeks later.

Harvest time: Spring sowings should be ready to harvest from about 12 weeks and regular pickings will ensure a continuous supply. Seeds sown in July will be ready to harvest throughout the autumn and winter.

Possible problems:   Mildew and grey mould can be a problem in humid weather. Ensure there is plenty of space surrounding the plants to improve air circulation.

 

Did you know?

Chard has had a long and distinguished history. Prized for its medicinal properties as much as its culinary versatility, ancestors of this colourful vegetable supposedly grew in the fabled Hanging Gardens of Babylon, flourished in China during the 7th century BC, and were even written about by Aristotle in Ancient Greece.

It has grown in Britain since at least 1596, when English botanist, John Gerard, recorded growing it in his famous Herball. Its name comes from the Latin word for ‘thistle’ (carduus) but the vegetable goes by many alternative names including, silver beet, beet spinach, seakale beet, and leaf beet. It is also commonly referred to as Swiss chard, although since the plant originated in the Mediterranean, this prefix is somewhat misleading. It is thought that the Dutch seed merchants of the 19th century added the word ‘Swiss’ to differentiate the plant from French spinach varieties.Rainbow-chard-variety

Despite being revered in ancient times, chard is a little overlooked these days, which is a shame, as it’s easy to grow, extremely good for you, and beautiful to look at. The multi-coloured stems of the Bright Lights variety are particularly eye-catching and a welcome sight on winter allotments when there is little colour.

A nutrient-packed leafy green, chard is milder than kale but has an earthy sweetness that packs more punch than spinach. Young leaves can be eaten raw in salads and the mature leaves can be steamed, boiled, stir-fried, and added to tarts, stews and sauces. It is extremely popular in Italian cooking, and a key ingredient in the traditional Torta Pasqualina (Easter Pie), combined with ricotta and hard boiled-eggs, and encased in pastry. The real culinary advantage of chard, however, is that you get two vegetables for the price of one, as the succulent stalks are a delicacy in themselves. They require a little extra cooking, so cook them separately to the leaves, chopping them like celery and sweating them with onions at the start of a dish. It is worth noting that chard doesn’t keep well in the fridge, a few days at most, so it’s always advisable to eat the stalks and leaves fresh.

Once used as a cure for a variety of ailments including dandruff, anaemia, jaundice and toothache, these days, a diet rich in chard is known to decrease the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. It is packed with antioxidants, and contains high levels of vitamins K, A and C, magnesium, potassium, iron and fibre. Eating plenty of chard can help maintain bone health, improve digestion, regulate blood sugar levels and contribute to healthy brain function. Chard also contains chlorophyll which, according to numerous studies, may be effective in combatting cancer.

Chard is an excellent leaf to grow in your garden. It’s an easier crop than spinach, can tolerate extremes of temperature and is very prolific. Research also suggests it can even grow in space! Chard was one of a handful of crops tested as part of NASA’s Veggie Project to determine the best way to grow vegetables for long-term space missions.

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

Royal Horticultural Society

Read more on the RHS website about how to grow chard here.

April Gardening Advice

April 1st, 2018 | News, The flower garden, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

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This is the month we take our foot off the brake, and dive headlong into sowing and planting. However, an overnight frost can undo all our hard work, so proceed with caution. The days may feel balmier, but Jack Frost is still waiting in the wings, and will take great delight in scuppering your plans.

 

In the flower garden

WEEDS

At the first sign of warmth, weeds will make their presence felt. Young plants need all the nutrients they can get, so don’t let them lose out to weeds. Remove all weeds from beds, making sure you pull them out by the roots.

 

ROSES

As climbing and rambling roses start to flourish, you may need to tie in the new growth. As it’s April, there’s still potential for a late frost and high winds, so secure them safely, and you will be rewarded with a display of stunning blooms later in the season.

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STAKING

You may notice perennials starting to sway under their new growth. To prevent damage, stake them. Do it sooner rather than later, as the root ball is keen to grow, and you run the risk of damaging it if you leave it too late in the season.

 

BULBS

It’s time to get those newly bought summer bulbs and corms into the ground, or into pots. If you’re planting in pots, ensure the compost has plenty of grit, so water can drain off easily and not cause the bulbs to rot. It’s also a good idea to place crocks at the base of the pot to improve drainage.

 

If you’re planting bulbs into beds, think about how the final display might look, and provide sufficient plant space and a good supply of sunlight. If you haven’t planted bulbs before, then the rule of thumb is to plant the bulb at a depth of three times its height. If your soil is heavy, add grit to the base of the hole, and then fill with a gritted-compost mixture.

 

DAFFODILS

Your yellow and white floral trumpets are probably now past their best. Before they go to seed, deadhead them. That way, the energy will go into the bulb in readiness for next year’s display. Let the foliage die back naturally to harness the sun’s energy.

 

WINTER ANNUALS

Flowers, such as winter pansies, will be keen to set seed, so regularly remove faded flowers to encourage new displays.

 

PRIMROSES

At this stage, they have probably finished flowering. Now’s the time to lift and divide. Whether it’s with your hands, or a trowel, prise the plants apart. Don’t worry about damaging them as they’re quite tough. Re-plant where you would like to see them appear next year.

 

HANGING BASKETS

If you ordered annuals for your hanging baskets earlier this year, they could now be turning up on your doorstop. Get them into their baskets, with a good compost and slow-release fertiliser, and also consider water retention gel to help them through those long hot summer days. Once potted up, keep them in the greenhouse until the last frost has passed, giving a chance for your plug plants to grow on. Then either place them in a cold frame, or outside during the day, for a week or two. Then place them in their final hanging positions and create a regular watering regime. Bear in mind, they will require extra watering during the summer months.

 

PLANT OUT SWEET PEAS

If you pinched out your sweet peas last month, then they should now be starting to bush up. Towards the end of the month, you should think about planting them out. Whether it’s directly into the ground, or into a container, make sure you use a support so the tendrils have something to latch onto. Keep an eye on their growth, as they will quickly need to be tied in.

 

LAVENDER, SAGE AND ROSEMARY

April is the time to prune these herbs. Try to do it on a dry, sunny day. Remove any dead and diseased foliage but avoid cutting into the woody parts of the plant.

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HARDENING OFF

Depending on where you are in the country, towards the end of the month you may want to start hardening off certain plants to get them ready for planting out in May. By hardening off, you’re simply getting plants that you’ve sown indoors, acclimatised to cooler, outdoor temperatures. For example, if you’ve been growing sweet peas, they will grow all the better for a few weeks in a cold frame before planting out into their final position. If you don’t have a cold frame, then place your plants outside on a bright day for a few hours, then bring them in before the temperature drops, or the weather takes a turn for the worse.

 

SLUGS AND SNAILS

At the first sign of warmer weather and fresh growth, slugs and snails are quick to appear on the scene. If the use of chemicals doesn’t appeal, then think about setting beer traps. Or, patrol your garden early in the morning, dusk or just after rainfall, remove by hand, and dispose.

 

On the veg patch

SOW

You can finally think about stepping up your sowing regime. Consider crops such as salads, radishes, beetroot, chard, kohl rabi, carrots and parsnips. If the ground is still too cold, sow into modules, trays or pots, then keep them somewhere warm, with plenty of sunlight, such as a greenhouse or polytunnel.

 

Any seeds sown back in March, may now need thinning out, or even re-potting. Remember, as you carry out this task, it’s important to hold the seedling by their ‘true leaves’, not their stems. While a damaged leaf won’t hamper the plant’s growth, a damaged stem will leave the young plant helpless.

 

If your ground is prepped and ready to go, think about sowing peas, leeks, carrots, broad beans or cabbage. Remember to sow little and often, otherwise, in a few months’ time you could end up with a glut.

 

Towards the end of the month, you could consider sowing members of the cucurbit family; pumpkins, squashes, marrows, cucumbers and courgettes can all be sown indoors. You can also sow runner beans and sweet corn.

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POTATOES

This is the month to finish planting the last of your chitted tubers, but it’s a good idea to keep your horticultural fleece handy. With one eye on the weather report, you may have to cover exposed foliage if there’s any sign of frost. If your potato plants have substantial growth, consider earthing them up. This will not only protect the plant, but will encourage it to produce more potatoes, stop them turning a poisonous green, and can even prevent blight.

 

HERBS

If you don’t have the space for a herb garden, then grow them in pots and containers. Give them plenty of sunshine, and plant them into some well-gritted soil. As herbs often originate from hot Mediterranean climates, it’s advisable to try and replicate these conditions, so don’t overwater.

 

STRUCTURES

If you’re growing beans and peas, then think about setting up your runner bean poles. Peas will also need a support structure, such as netting, poles or twiggy hazel sticks. Prep the beds and get your structures ready.

 

FRUIT TREES AND SOFT FRUIT

A warmer climate will encourage hungry pests to seek out buds and blossom. Rid your plants either by chemical means or diluted soapy water. Failing that, a pair of hands can do the job equally well. Keep an eye-out for the eggs as well as the pests themselves, as once hatched, the damage can be devastating. It might be an idea to net your fruit to reduce pests such as aphids, and to also deter birds.

 

Indoors

WATERING

Longer days and warmer temperatures will encourage your indoor plants to grow, so you may need to step up your watering regime. Larger plants will require extra watering and possibly a liquid feed.

Red Rudbeckias – yes, really!

March 30th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Rudbeckia 'Cherry Brandy'

Not the sort of colour we usually expect from rudbeckias, is it?! And you probably think that, when you grow it, it’ll turn out to be more mahogany than red. But no, this really is a red rudbeckia.

The result of fifteen years dedicated breeding and selection, the red colour was lurking there behind the chestnut and the mahogany but it took all those years to select it out.

I grew ‘Cherry Brandy’ for the second or third time last year. It proved prolific and colourful in the garden with tall white antirrhinums behind and with blue annual phlox in front, and was long lasting when cut. The dark-eyed, two-tone red daisies were not all exactly the same colour, they varied a little from plant to plant, but the overall effect was lovely.

The plants needed support, though. I found that a single 60cm split cane set closely behind each individual 45cm plant, with a couple of loops of twine, supported the plants well without them looking too trussed up.

Late in the autumn, after the last flowers had faded, I cut the plants back to about 5cm and left them in the ground to see if they’d survive the winter. I’ve just been out to check on them and, after the two doses of snow, all the plants are developing new green shoots!

I’d suggest ordering seeds or plants of Rudbeckia ‘Cherry Brandy’ now, before it’s too late.