Gorgeous gaillardia

July 27th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Gaillardia 'Fanfare'

I’m a big fan of gaillardias. I ordered ‘Fanfare’ from Mr F last year and was pleasantly surprised when last year’s plants came happily through the winter to dazzle the eyes again this year. And they certainly love the sun.

Found as self sown seedling in 1997 by former garden centre manager Richard Read, who went on to develop a huge range of gaillardias and also Shasta daisies, the extraordinary colouring and the lovely structure of the petals made it an instant success. In effect, it’s a version of the well known, and long popular ‘Goblin’, but with the lower half of each petal is rolled into a tube and then flared like a trumpet at the tip.

Unlike the first-year-flowering gaillardias I wrote about here back in the winter,‘Fanfare’ is not raised from seed but from cuttings. It makes neat, compact but not unnaturally squat plants and flowers for months, each new flowers overtopping the fading ones.

It makes a splendid specimen in a terracotta pot, three plants in a 40-45cm pot works fine, and it helps continuity from one year to the next not to use a compost that’s all peat or all peat-substitute. Good drainage is definitely beneficial in taking the plants through the winter.

But the great thing about ‘Fanfare’ gaillardia is that, yes, it loves the sun. But in last year’s rather less exceptional summer, it flowered prolifically too. Give it a try next year.

Why Thinning Your Fruit Creates a Better Harvest

July 26th, 2018 | News | 0 Comments

It’s summer. Your fruit trees are already brimming with young fruits, ready to eventually give way to a delicious crop to enjoy at the end of the growing season. But if you want to get the most from your harvest, you will need to start removing some fruits. It may feel like you’re taking a step back, but it’s the way to go if you want your crop to reach its full potential.

Read on or watch the video to find out why thinning your fruits is best for your harvest not just this growing season, but for future seasons too.

Why Thin Fruits?

Selectively removing young fruits is called thinning. Some trees already do this naturally, like apples and pears, during what is known as the June-drop. But additional thinning can benefit your crop for a number of reasons:

  • It creates less chance of the tree fruits rubbing together, which can lead to diseases like rot.
  • It stops trees from biennial bearing – where the tree crops heavily one year, only to produce very few fruits the next.
  • It stops the branches straining and snapping under the weight of excessive or heavy fruits – particularly a problem with plums, which are notorious for over-producing.
  • It gives the remaining fruits the space they need to grow into bigger, healthier fruits. They will benefit from more airflow, sunlight and energy from the tree, meaning a more even ripening.

How to Thin an Apple Tree

You will need a sharp pair of pruners, however if the fruits are very close together you may find it easier using a pair of scissors so you can really get in between them.

Apples generally produce clusters of between two to six fruits, but the aim is to thin them down to just one or two fruits per cluster.

When you’re ready for cutting, start by targeting all the misshapen, damaged or scarred fruits. This usually includes the odd-shaped ‘king’ fruit, which lies at the centre of the cluster. After that, remove the smallest fruits and any that are awkwardly positioned and going to get in the way of your better fruits. Continue thinning until the fruits are evenly spaced, leaving only the biggest and healthiest.

Aim to leave about 4-6 inches (10-15cm) between individual apples of eating varieties. For larger cooking apples, aim to leave around 6-9 inches (15-23cm) between your fruits.

Pears need less thinning than apples, but will still benefit from it as well as give more consistent harvests.

Thinning Other Fruit Trees


Pears don’t need as much thinning as apples, but your crop will still benefit from having the young fruits thinned and in turn will give you consistent harvests. Aim to thin fruit cluster to two fruits, leaving around 4-6 inches (10-15cm) between fruits.


Thinning plums is important as they are notorious for over-producing. More often than not, you can thin the smaller fruits by using just your thumb and finger to detach them. Aim to leave one fruit every couple of inches (5-8cm), or one pair of plums every 6 inches (15cm).


Thin your peaches in stage. Once they reach the size of  a hazelnut thin them down to one fruit every 4 inches (10cm). Thin again once they are the size of a golf ball to their final spacing of 8-10 inches (20-25cm).


You should thin your nectarines just the once to 6 inches (15cm) apart.


These are just some guidelines for thinning your fruits to help create a better harvest. If you would like to share any thinning tips or tricks with us, comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

Apricot foxgloves

July 20th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Digitalis 'Sutton's Apricot'

There’s no doubt that one of the loveliest of all foxgloves is ‘Sutton’s Apricot’ – and now’s the time to sow the seed. “But what’s so special about it?” I hear you ask? “There’s so many different foxgloves out there, with more coming out almost every year, why this one?”

Well, it’s the colour. It’s that simple. The mature flowers are a delightful soft pale rosy pink with a hint of yellow but they open from buds that are more determinedly apricot in colour. And, like all the best foxgloves, the plants have the gentle elegance and the arching shoot tips that come from the flowers being held on one side of the stem, not all the way round. And they’re a proper foxglove height, too, not short and squat.

So, seed sowing. You’ll find plenty of seed in the packet so you can sow outside in a row now. Anywhere that’s not too hot and dry (!) will be fine. It pays, after you’ve made a drill with the point of a stick, to fill the drill with water and let it sink in. Then sow thinly. Then cover gently.

Thin the seedlings out to 2-3cm, then 5cm and then 10cm apart and then, in the autumn, transplant them to where you’d like them to flower

So why is it that I feel so comfortable discussing a variety developed by and named for a rival seed company? It’s because if you buy ‘Sutton’s Apricot’ foxgloves from Mr F you’ll get five times as many seeds for 50p less per packet than if you buy it from our friends in Devon!

July Gardening Advice

July 19th, 2018 | News | 0 Comments


The skies are blue, the air is warm, and the birds are singing. Summer has arrived! For the past few months, we’ve been working up to this glorious season: sowing seeds, potting on, and planting out. And now it’s time to reap the rewards. With flowers blooming and crops ready for the picking, gardens and allotments have never looked so fine. But with pests lurking and diseases only too keen to spoil your prized veg, it’s important to remain vigilant.

Regularly weeding, watering and feeding will help maintain a healthy garden. After all, you wouldn’t want to undo all those months of hard work, so keep the watering can and hoe close at hand. Also, if you are going to do any gardening in this weather, think about sun cream, a hat, and keeping yourself hydrated

Take stock of your gardens, feel proud of your veg patch, and savour those summer harvests.


In the flower garden


With temperatures at their warmest, think about the amount of water you’re using. We know the veg plot and garden are crying out for a good drink. Ideally, you should consider watering either early in the morning or at dusk. With the sun out of sight, water evaporation isn’t an issue, keeping your beds and borders hydrated for longer. Also, try to water at the base of plants as water droplets on the foliage could potentially burn your plant, or encourage mildew and other diseases.

To keep those water bills down, consider getting yourself a water butt to collect rainwater. With a wide range to choose from, you can have them as visible or discreet as you like. Set them up alongside your greenhouse, or next to a drainpipe, and your plants will soon reap the benefits.


By now, a lot of rose varieties will have spent their first blooms. Deadhead and feed them to encourage a second bloom in the coming weeks. For the one-time season bloomers, you may want to refrain from deadheading. Allow their hips to develop, as this will make a welcome attraction in the autumn months.


With blooms flourishing and plants growing, if you haven’t done so already, now’s the time to introduce a plant feed. Nutrients in pots, containers and hanging baskets will quickly deplete, so give them a weekly feed.

Perennials, such as lupins and delphiniums, will have already bloomed. Cut their flowered stems back to the base of the plant, and you could be rewarded with a second flourish later in the season.




Bearded Irises can now be lifted and divided. When re-planting, ensure the rhizome is sat on the soil, half exposed. The warm sun will quickly help to establish them, and ensure they flower next season. You should cut all foliage down by two thirds to ensure the energy is going into the rhizome and is not wasted.



Hot temperatures outside will mean even warmer temperatures for your greenhouse. Just a few degrees can cause your young plants to shrivel and die. So, introduce shading to your glass roof, keep all vents and doors open to encourage a steady airflow, and water the floor daily to deter red spider mite. You may also want to hang up insect-tape for further pest control.


On the veg patch


By now your second earlies should be ready for digging up. If you’re not sure, wait until the plants have flowered, then have a little dig around in the soil to find your spuds. If they’re ready, it won’t take long for you to uncover them.

Dig up what you need, and leave the rest of the tubers to grow on. Or if you’re hoping to use the potato plot to grow a new crop, dig them all up. Try to do it on a sunny day, and place your freshly dug potatoes on the plot surface for a few hours to dry a little. Store them in hessian sacks and keep in a cool, dark room. Check them every so often to make sure they haven’t spoilt.

If you’re dreaming of eating freshly-grown spuds on Christmas day, now is the time to plant them. If you’re not using potato grow bags, consider large containers. As the cold weather returns and the temperatures drop, you’ll need to move them somewhere where the frost can’t get to them.



Many of your plants will be ready for harvesting. Try to pick courgettes, beans and peas regularly. This will ensure the plant continues to produce. Letting these crops grow past their best can encourage pests, or send a signal to the plant to stop growing altogether. Carrots, beetroot, chard and salad leaves will also be ready for harvesting.


There comes a point when you should pinch-out the tops of your cordon tomatoes. Ideally, do it once you have five or six trusses, and before the plant reaches the roof of your greenhouse. Feed regularly, and keep the energy going into the fruit by pinching out all side shoots. Don’t let plants dry-out, or water irregularly, as this can encourage blossom end rot. Finally, remove any leaves beneath the first truss of tomatoes, as this will help circulation and prevent the build-up of pests and diseases.


Your squashes, pumpkins and courgettes should be plumping up nicely, but be aware of  powdery mildew. If you notice this on your plants, remove infected leaves. Do not place on your compost heap, as this will encourage the bacteria. Either burn, or remove from site completely.

Weevils, blackfly, greenfly, aphids, slugs and snails will be trying their best to ruin your hard work. If chemicals aren’t an option for you, try hosing them off your plants, or spray with soapy water. Another option is to crush a clove or two of garlic and add it to the water in your spritzer bottle, as garlic deters pests. A morning or evening stroll around your plot is the perfect time for picking off slugs and snails.


Both your garlic and onions should be ready to pull. Choose a sunny day, and lay them out on the topsoil to dry. Failing that, dry them in your greenhouse or polytunnel. Once dried, they can be stored and used when you’re ready.


You mention winter, and people shudder. Yet it’s something we need to keep at the back of our minds. If you’re hoping for a harvest of winter veg, then you should be thinking about planting them out into their final growing positions. Vegetables to consider are, brassicas, leeks and swede.


Hungry birds will make light work of strawberries, gooseberries, blackcurrants or blackberries, so net your fruit.

Strawberry plants will now be producing runners. If you want new plants for next year, pin the runners to the soil. Once they establish a root system, cut the runner from the main plant. Alternatively, if you want to maximise this year’s crop, remove the runners to divert the energy to the existing fruit.

This is also the month for pruning fruit trees, such as plum and cherry. The warmer weather reduces the risk of bacteria harming an open wound on a cherry tree, and setting off silver leaf disease. Summer pruning can also be carried out on trained apple and pear trees.



Check plants daily for the onset of pests. Ensure plants haven’t dried out, and if need be, move to a cooler spot.


Taking time to sit and enjoy your plants may also be the ideal opportunity to order those autumn flower and seed catalogues. With a cocktail in hand, start browsing and thinking about the seeds you want to sow next season.




Good Victorian watering advice

July 13th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Mignonette (Reseda odorata)

I know, it’s been hot. And dry. Scorching. And everything has needed watering. Here’s what our old friend Joseph Harrison, “conductor” of the Floricultural Cabinet magazine had to say on the subject in 1852.

“It will be highly necessary,” he says, “during the continuance of dry weather, to administer copious supplies of water. This should be done towards the evening of each day, because the plants have then time to absorb water gradually and appropriate such portion as contributes to their well being. It is only in extreme cases that water should be given in the morning, because it is then so quickly exhaled from the soil, as well as the leaves, that its refreshing and nutrimental properties are almost wholly wasted.

“A few annuals, such as Mignionette,” he continues tangentially, “may now be sown to bloom in the autumn.”

“appropriate such portion as contributes to their well being” – they certainly have a way with words, these Victorians.

So, water in the evening. Use seephose, also known as soaker hose, rather than an overhead sprinkler. It’s more expensive to set up but saves a lot of water.

And what about those mignonettes – as we spell them these days (we’ve lost the i), which he slips in at the last minute? As you can see from the picture they’re not the most colourful of annuals, but it’s the scent. Used in high end perfumes a hundred years ago (synthetic versions are now used) the scent is hard to describe: “ambrosial” and “vibrant green-floral” and “very sweet-smelling and pleasant Mediterranean flower with violet-like and fruity nuances”. None the wiser, are we, really…

But a patch in a corner where early annuals have become scorched or in a pot by the door, mignonette is delightful. Water first, sow into the damp soil and your mignonette will be flowering in six or eight weeks time. I know you’ll enjoy it.