Posts Tagged ‘bedding plants’

What to do in the garden in November

October 31st, 2014 | Garden Diaries, The flower garden, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

There have only been a few signs during October that autumn is on the way, as temperatures have generally held up well and rainfall has been low.  The soil still feels warm, which means that onion sets, shallots and garlic planted recently should get off to a good start – and the same goes for October sowings of hardy annuals to provide plenty of colour from early summer onwards next year, which is something to look forward to.

The trial grounds have now been cleared of this summer’s flowers and vegetables, and all varieties of both have been assessed by our horticultural team, who can now make use of the information when they start to decide which new strains we should consider listing for the future.  One of the main functions of our trials is to decide whether new strains of flowers and vegetables are improvements on those we already offer.

The trials team will soon start preparing and improving the soil during the autumn to make sure it is in as good condition as possible for next year’s sowings.  Our soil here at Kentford is light and rather stony, but trials manager Brian Talman does a superb job in getting it into shape to produce plants of outstanding quality.  His knowledge and expertise is the result of 50 years spent in horticulture – and it shows!

Pumpkings on the trial field at Kentford

Now the clocks have been turned back, it really does seem that summer is over and that we are heading into winter.  As the nights draw in, the best type of gardening is sitting in a comfy armchair armed with a plant and seed catalogue or browsing the website before deciding what to grow next year.  Do try and grow one or two of our new introductions to see how they compare with your favourite varieties.  We go to great lengths to select only those varieties which we feel are improvements on older strains and those which we feel will perform well in our uncertain climate but we are always happy to hear feedback from our customers on how seeds perform around the UK.


Jobs in the flower garden in November

Tulip Prinses IreneAny remaining spring-flowering bulbs still to be set should go in the ground or containers this month.  Ideally, daffodils and hyacinths should already be planted in the garden in October, but tulips are usually planted later than these.  Unlike daffodils, they do not root until the weather turns colder.  Tulips originate from Turkey’s mountain slopes, where they experience cold winters, wet springs and roasting hot summers.  The closer we get to these conditions, the happier our tulips should be!

There are 15 ‘divisions’ or types of tulips, so we really are spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing which sorts to grow.  The so-called botanical tulips (divisions 12-15) include the compact growing Tulipa kaufmanniana and Tulipa greigii, which are just the job for planting in containers or at the front of beds and borders.  For sheer exuberance it is difficult to beat the Rembrandts (division 9), which includes the ‘broken’ colours, which were so sought after at the height of ‘Tulipmania’ in the Netherlands.  For large-headed, tall tulips, look out for the Darwin Hybrids (division 4); these look particularly effective in massed plantings, where they make a great splash of colour in late April and early May.

Tulip Couleur CardinalAnd so, November is the ideal time to plant tulip bulbs.  They do best in well-drained soil and in full sun.   Plant them deep – with 4-6in of soil above the top of the bulb.  Try tulip varieties such as Prinses Irene, Couleur Cardinal and Abu Hassan in the garden in November for some strong and vibrant extra colour in your spring beds next year.

Gladiolus corms can now be lifted ready for drying and storing for next year.  Carefully fork them out of the ground, removing all soil from round them before cutting off the dying stems about 5cm above the top of the corms.  Dry them in trays in the greenhouse or shed before removing the final piece of stem and storing the corms somewhere dry, cool, but frost-free until the time comes to plant them again next spring.

Beds and borders can now be given an autumn overhaul, removing leaves and other debris.  Falling leaves from deciduous trees are best swept up from lawns and borders as soon as possible to help prevent the build-up of pests and diseases.  Some people cram them into black binbags, spike them liberally with a fork and put them somewhere out of sight and mind for a year or so, after which they should have magically transformed into rich, crumbly leafmould, which makes a very good soil improver.

Any remaining annuals can also go on to the compost heap and perennials trimmed back to about half their full height.  Remember to remove any supports which were assisting taller types and store these in the shed until required again next summer.

Winter and spring bedding plants, such as polyanthus, primrose, pansy, bellis (double daisy) and forget-me-nots can now be planted out to the garden or to patio pots and containers.  They should be hardy and come through even tough winters relatively unscathed to provide us with some welcome early colour in the weeks and months ahead.

There is still just time to lift, divide and re-plant Iris reticulata, before they start to flower again in late winter and early spring.  They do best in full sun or partial shade, and are also well suited to pot culture thanks to their neat, compact habit.  The pale blue and yellow Katharine Hodgkin is deservedly one of the most popular of this type, and is widely available.

Gardener's fleeceBefore winter really arrives, wrap tender container plants with plastic bubble-wrap, fleece or hessian sacking, taking care to protect the stems well.  Alternatively, move the pots into a greenhouse or outhouse, if space allows.  Most of these tender plants will require only minimal watering in the months ahead as they pass into their dormant stage.

If you have any Begonia semperflorens still flowering in the garden, and in our experience they often flower into November in mild autumns, why not pot up one or two of the better looking specimens and bring them indoors to provide you with some ‘free’ house plants for a few more weeks?  They should do well on a warm windowsill.

If you have shrubs such as Deutzia, Buddleia, Forsythia and Viburnum growing in the garden and wish to increase your stock, why not try taking hardwood cuttings of these?

Once they have lost their leaves and start to become dormant, it is easy to choose healthy shoots from this year’s growth.  Remove any soft growth at the very tip and then cut into 15cm sections.  Make a sloping cut just above a bud at the top and a horizontal cut just below a bud at the base – so you will know how to plant them.  Fill a large pot with a gritty potting mixture (half coarse grit and half multi-purpose compost is good) and plant the cuttings so just a third of their length is above the surface.  Next spring they should make leaf growth, keep them well watered during the summer and next autumn you will have young plants for potting on or planting out.

As autumn winds increase, prune back hybrid tea and floribunda roses to at least half their height to prevent them becoming loose in the soil.  Final pruning, when they are cut back harder ahead of next year’s new growth, can be delayed until next February or March.

Wild birds love holly, pyracantha and cotoneaster berries at this time of year, but if you want to save some to use as part of your Christmas decorations in a few weeks’ time it is a good idea to net a branch or two now so you still have some left!  Many people feed the birds all-year-round, and they certainly need help during the winter.  Sunflower hearts are a superb (if rather expensive!) high energy food much loved by goldfinches, blue tits and a host of other birds.  Finely diced hard cheese, chopped up apples and mealworms (which can now be bought in dried form) are other treats which will ensure a wide range of feathered visitors call regularly at your bird table.  Place your feeding station in an open position, where predators will have no cover in which to lurk, and ideally somewhere it can be seen from your windows to provide you with a little entertainment.

If you are looking for shrubs which provide fragrant flowers at this darkening time of year, consider planting Daphne odora, viburnum and chimonanthus (wintersweet) close to a door or path which is used regularly and where you will be able to appreciate their wonderful scents.  They will make you feel spring cannot really be that far away!

It is becoming rather trendy to leave the skeletal forms of herbaceous perennials in place, as they can sometimes look good when frosted.  On the other hand, do not feel guilty if you like to have the garden ‘put to bed’ by the end of the year by cutting them down to ground level during November!


Jobs in the vegetable garden in November

EnviromeshPigeons can often be a nuisance on brassicas at this time of year, stripping the leaves and leaving the plants struggling to survive.  A netting or fleece cover should help to protect your winter crops from these damaging marauders.

Check that Brussels sprout plants are still firm in the ground.  If they are becoming loose, heel them back into the soil to prevent them being blown over by strengthening autumn winds.  Pick up any yellowed leaves they have shed to prevent them harbouring any pests or diseases.

When conditions allow, start digging over any fallow sections of the vegetable plot or allotment. If you can incorporate well-rotted farmyard manure or home-made compost so much the better, as this will improve the fertility and structure of your soil. When you are clearing runner bean plants from the vegetable plot or allotment, why not just cut off the stalks at ground level, leaving their roots in the ground?  These provide a good source of nitrogen, which will be of benefit to subsequent crops planted in the ground.

Keep an eye on maincrop carrots and swede still to be harvested. If cold weather threatens, they may benefit from a mulch of compost or straw to protect them.  Alternatively, lift them and, if space allows, store them in boxes of dry sand until  required later in the season.

If parsley is still looking green and healthy in the garden, cover it with fleece or a cloche to keep it going for as long as possibly.  With a little luck, you should be able to keep a supply going through the winter and into next spring.  It makes a great addition, finely chopped, to home-made vegetable soup using leeks, potatoes, carrot, swede and parsnip, plus a stock cube or two.

Tomato,  aubergine and pepper plants can now be cleared out of the greenhouse and composted, along with the contents of any growing bags.  If the greenhouse is now empty, this is the ideal time to clean the panes inside and outside and to give it a thorough clean with a solution of Jeyes Fluid or similar to ensure it is as clean as possible for your next crops.  Seed trays and pots will also benefit from similar treatment, if you can find the time.

Staying in the greenhouse, there is a still time to make sowings of salad leaves in troughs or other containers.  Sow the seed thinly, and in just a few weeks you will be cutting tender ‘baby leaves’ for early winter salads.  Most are suitable for ‘cutting and coming again’ to give you more than one harvest.  Rocket, winter lettuce and mizuna are just some of the leaves you can sow.

salad leavesWhy not make sowings of salad leaves such as mixed lettuce or rocket in half-size seed trays and grow them indoors if you don’t have a greenhouse?  Placed on the kitchen windowsill, they will provide plenty of baby leaves for winter salads, sandwiches or simply as an attractive garnish to other dishes.  It is also worth sowing a pot or two of basil to grow alongside the leaves, if you love its Mediterranean flavour in your dishes through the autumn.  Even the very young leaves have that characteristic smell and taste!


Jobs in the fruit garden in November

November is usually a good month in which to plant bare-root fruit trees.  The soil is not yet hard and still retains some warmth, giving roots a chance to get established before winter really begins.  So if you have always wanted to create an orchard in your garden, or wish to expand the number of trees you already have, then now is the time to think about what you would like to plant.

Victoria Plum tree

We dispatch our fruit trees from late November onwards and offer a fine selection of both old favourites, such as Victoria Plum and Egremont Russet apple, and top-class modern varieties such as apricots Tomcot and Flavourcot.

Established fruit trees will benefit from an autumn mulch with well rotted organic matter.  This will not only help the soil to retain moisture and suppress weeds, but it will be drawn down into the soil to enrich it as autumn progresses into winter.

Trim out dead wood on summer fruiting raspberry canes if you have not already done so and either add the canes to the bonfire or chop into a compost heap for slow decomposition.  As the first hard frosts come in November you will find your autumn fruiting raspberries will suddenly stop fruiting and so keep on picking until this happens as they will not keep on fruiting forever!

japanese wineberry

Fancy growing some melt-in-the-mouth, juicy raspberries next summer?  We start despatch our top-quality canes this month as it is now also the perfect time to plant new soft fruits such as raspberry canes, gooseberries, blackcurrants and redcurrants or lift and divide (or lift and donate to friends!) any canes that have run out of their beds to help keep them in check.

Specially selected and grown from certified stock, our raspberry canes have a well developed root system and will start cropping as early as next summer.  Why not place an order for early season Malling Minerva, main season Glen Fyne or later cropping Tadmor?  Better still, order all three to ensure as long a season as possible.  You can never have too many raspberries!

Remember you will need strong posts at either end of the row, with thick wire running between them at regular intervals.  The canes can then be tied on to the wires as they grow next spring.  When planting the canes, spread the roots out carefully and plant at the same depth as the soil mark on the stems.

If you are looking for some unusual soft fruit to plant this autumn, our boysenberry, LingonberryJapanese wineberry and tummelberry may just take your fancy.  They need only the minimum of care and will reward you with good crops for many years to come.

Check stored apples and pears regularly to ensure they remain sound.  Remove and discard any which are starting to rot before they start causing those close to them to deteriorate.  Moving them around a little as you check also improves air flow round the fruit.

What to do in the garden in October

October 2nd, 2014 | Garden Diaries, The flower garden, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

As summer started to edge gently into autumn during September, misty mornings gave way to plenty of still-warm days, even if conditions remained overcast rather than sunny for much of the time.  We received very little rainfall in this most westerly corner of Suffolk, and September has been generally a very pleasant month, providing us with, as it often does, an ‘Indian summer’ to enjoy before autumn arrives.

As October now gets underway, autumn now seems to be well and truly on the way, although at the end of September our trial field in Kentford was still full of colour from all the flowers and full of vegetables ready for harvesting.

Photo 11-09-2014 12 57 20

On the whole, we feel this summer has been one of the better ones, although the above-average temperatures we experienced for so much of the time meant many of our annual flowers ‘went over’ rather more quickly than we would have liked.  We are never satisfied, are we?


Jobs in the flower garden in October

Sweet Pea ErewhonWe always like to begin October by looking at sweet peas.  To many keen growers of this favourite annual this is the start of the sweet pea season with seed being sown either in pots to over-winter in a cold frame or greenhouse, or direct in the garden in the plants’ flowering position.  Many sweet pea enthusiasts make their sowings during the first fortnight of the month, but there is a no hard-and-fast rule about this.  Late September through to mid November is the ‘window’ in which many people sow their seed.

There is no doubt that sowing sweet pea seeds in autumn has many benefits.  The resulting plants, which are usually hardy in all but the severest of winters, have a head start come next spring.  They flower earlier and longer than those plants produced from spring-sown seed, so we get more bunches of flowers and for longer.

We offer one of the finest ranges of sweet peas and have a good relationship with Dr Keith Hammett from New Zealand, who is the world’s best breeder of these beautiful flowers.   Browse our range of sweet pea seeds and take a pick of what you fancy in your garden this season.

Calendula grown by one of our Nation of GardenersIt really is not too soon to start thinking about next year’s display of hardy annuals either, so why not direct-sow seed of subjects such as calendula, nigella, candytuft and cornflower during October?

The soil will still be warm, so seedlings will germinate quickly and make enough growth before any hard frosts arrive later in the year to see themselves through the winter, bursting into flower early next summer considerably earlier than seedlings produced from spring-sown seed.  If you have never tried this method before, it really is well worth a go!

While roses are generally given their main prune in February or early March, just before the new season’s growth begins, it is a good idea to cut them back by about half during October, as this stops them being rocked and sometimes disturbed by the wind.  Shrubs such as buddleia and lavatera would benefit from the same treatment.  After giving rose a ‘half-prune’ collect up any remaining foliage from the soil to prevent the development of fungal diseases which can attack the plants.

Tulip bulb collectionThis is the month when many of us start planting spring-flowering bulbs.  Hyacinths, daffodils (narcissi) and croci (we still use the old fashioned plural!) can all be planted during October, but delay tulip planting until late in the month or into November, as this will tend to help them prevent being attacked by tulip fire disease.  We think all these bulbs look best planted in informal drifts and close together to create dense patches of colour.  Remember too the great majority of spring bulbs can also be planted in containers where they will flower successfully.  Bulbs are surely the easiest of all flowers to grow – it is virtually a case of plant them and forget them!

Pansy BeaconsfieldAs half-hardy annuals, bedding and container plants start to fade, pull these up and add them to the compost heap.  They can be replaced either by pansies, violas, primroses and polyanthus, which will all give a welcome splash of colour during milder winter spells, or by spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils and hyacinths.  Dwarf daffodils are particularly versatile because they look great in beds and at the front of borders and are also perfect for planting in containers close to the house.  Remember to plant a tub or two of hyacinths near the house too, so you can appreciate their heady perfume every time you come out of the door next March and April.

If dahlias are still flowering into October, keep removing any dead-heads to encourage them to keep on blooming until they are cut down by the first frosts of autumn.  No need to lift the tubers until the foliage has been blackened by a hard frost or two.  Only store sound specimens, keeping them somewhere dry, cool and frost-free over the winter.


Jobs in the vegetable garden in October

Brussels sproutsWe particularly enjoy October in the vegetable garden, as this is the month when the traditional winter vegetables are just becoming ready to harvest.  Parsnips, leeks, Brussels sprouts, savoy cabbages and kale now take over from summer crops of runner and French beans, courgettes and sweet corn – and are every bit as eagerly anticipated.

We know you can buy so many vegetables all the year round from the supermarkets, but we sometimes wonder where the fun is in that?  As a certain book tells us ‘To every thing there is a season‘, and this is the season for parsnips and Brussels sprouts!

Autumn sown broad beans from our Nation of Gardeners

October means it’s also time to sow broad bean seeds and look forward to that early crop next May.  Aguadulce is a splendid choice, as is Bunyards Exhibition.  In colder areas the seed and seedlings will benefit from a little fleece protection.  Aguadulce produces small, fine beans of lovely quality and flavour, while ‘Bunyards’ generally gives larger beans and one or two more per pod.

Pea MeteorWhere you have a spare patch or two in the vegetable garden or on the allotment, how about an October sowing of early peas?  Meteor is probably still the best early pea for autumn sowing, even if it has been about for donkeys’ years!  It only grows to around 2ft tall, does well even in exposed sites and will provide you with that unforgettable first picking of home-grown peas early next summer.  It’s what vegetable gardening is all about, surely!

If you are growing pumpkins, squashes and marrows, cut these and bring them in before the first frosts arrive.  It is best if pumpkins and squashes can be left in the greenhouse or cold frame for a week or two to ‘cure’ before being put into storage.  Pumpkins will be in demand from youngsters as Hallowe’en approaches at the end of the month.

Runner beans will just about be over now, so they too can be pulled up and composted.  The top growth of Jerusalem artichokes can be cut down virtually to the ground, chopped up and added to the compost heap.  Maincrop carrots can continue to be lifted as required.  Our light, free-draining soil has yielded some excellent crops this year and the quality of some of the roots of our F1 hybrid varieties has been very good indeed.  The seed may be more expensive than that of open-pollinated varieties, but at harvest time it is easy to see how worthwhile the little additional cost is.

Chilli PeppersIf you have not already so, harvest any remaining chilli peppers.  Green fruits tend not to be as hot as orange and red ones, but take care when preparing any of them.  It is a good idea to wear disposable, clear plastic gloves when handling and chopping them because it is so easy to touch close to your eyes with your hand while preparing them, which is not a pleasant experience.  Remember that any glut of chillis can be frozen and used throughout the year until next year’s crop is ready.

There is still time to plant garlic, shallots and over-wintering onion sets in the garden in October to provide an early crop next summer.  Once planted, they require very little attention, but do keep any competition from weeds to a minimum.  They are much more susceptible to poor drainage than they are to low temperatures and, given good drainage, they are hardy even in very cold winters.  Garlic in particular generally produces heavier and better crops from an autumn planting than from a spring one.

The first frosts may mean winter is well on the way, but we welcome them if only because Brussels sprouts and parsnips both taste sweeter once they have been ‘frosted’.  It’s a matter of personal opinion, of course, but in our view a couple of frosts seem to concentrate the flavour of these vegetables.


Jobs in the fruit garden in October


We know that technically rhubarb is a vegetable, but because it is used mainly in dessert dishes we think of it more as a fruit.  We have a real treat for all rhubarb lovers, because now they can enjoy those succulent, sweet sticks from September to November.  Our Livingstone rhubarb plant is the first autumn-cropping variety, it’s British bred and has had its summer dormancy eliminated; this is what causes rhubarb to stop cropping by the middle of summer.  So for the first time you can now combine fresh rhubarb with other autumn fruits to create mouth-watering desserts such as rhubarb, apple and blackberry crumble.

Livingstone yields an excellent crop of high quality, deep red skinned stems. It’s very easy to grow – just incorporate some bonemeal or organic matter when planting and, once established, it will crop heavily from September onwards.  It can be ordered from us now for planting this autumn.  It is delicious and we are sure you will enjoy it.

On already established plants in the garden you will now find that rhubarb leaves have died back.  The dormant crowns will benefit from a 3in mulch of well-rotted garden compost or farmyard manure.  If you feel any clump is now too large, lift and divide it, getting rid of the central section and re-planting the younger sections from round the outside of the crown.

Super-scented new Italian verbena

April 18th, 2014 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Verbena 'Italian Blue' has colour and fragrance

The plants in the Mr. Fothergills range come from all over the world – some are developed at the Mr. F trial grounds in Cambridgeshire, some come from nearby nurseries and plant breeders, while others are from Australia, Africa, Asia, the Americas or far flung parts of Europe.

This latest newcomer was discovered almost by chance by Mr. F’s Plant Manager Tom Stimpson. He was visiting a grower in northern Italy last summer, looking over their new varieties, and before he left he was given a secret, behind-the-scenes tour of varieties that were still being assessed. There he spotted this superb new Italian verbena.

“I was hugely impressed by it,” he said, “not only because of its abundant, large flowers, but also by its vigour and habit.  It was as though it had been bred to be grown in a hanging basket because its shape was perfect. Another surprise was its sweet perfume, especially fragrant on that warm and sunny day.”

So, he brought a basket back from Italy – did he have to buy an extra seat for it on the plane? – so that he could assess how it performed here in Britain during the rest of the season. It passed with flying colours and without a hint of the mildew that sometimes ruins verbenas. It was christened ‘Italian Blue’ and is now available to order.

And take a look at the picture. You’ll notice that the individual flowers open in darker, slightly purplish blue tones and then become a clearer blue as they mature creating a lovely harmony of colours. And the tiny white eye gives the flowers real sparkle.

You can order plants of Verbena ‘Italian Blue’ from Mr. Fothergill’s now.  Last order date for this year is 30 April.   ‘Italian Blue’ is not available in garden centres – or anywhere else except from Mr. Fothergill’s.

The easy way to elegant hanging baskets

April 11th, 2014 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Trixi® Twinkle Star featuring Bacopa, Bidens and Calibrachoa

Choosing hanging basket plants that look good together all summer can be a challenge. Not only must the combination of colours suit your taste but the way that each plant grows must fit well with its companions. And, of course, it’s no good if the whole display has been and gone in three weeks. Well, Trixi® Planting Combinations take the guesswork and uncertainty out of choosing. Here’s how it works.

First, after an extensive assessment of a huge range of varieties, three long-flowering varieties are chosen whose colours, vigour and growing habit all work well together. They might be three different varieties of the same plant, Calibrachoa works especially well, or one variety of each of three different plants and they might be chosen to create a bold contrast in flower colour or a more subtle harmony of shades. Then, a cutting of each of the three plants is rooted in the same large plug. When they’re all growing well they’re packed and sent out.

Trixi® Spring Valley featuring Calibrachoa and LobeliaTrixi® Planting Combinations come in packs of five plugs, plant three or four in 30-35cm/12-14in baskets, plant all five in a 38cm/15in basket. Individual plugs look lovely planted in smaller pots.

As the plants grow and develop the other invaluable feature of these Trixi® Planting Combinations that I really like becomes obvious: the different plants all intermingle together. Instead of the side-by-side blocks of colour that you often see when you plant baskets with individual plants from pots from the garden centre, the three different varieties mix and mingle together creating a delightful display.

Out of the hundreds of combinations that Mr. F examined, take a look at these eight and see what you think.  Last order date is 30 April.

Take a look at our exclusive new blue verbena plants, dispatching from mid-April

March 13th, 2014 | News, The flower garden | 1 Comment


Mr Fothergill’s plant manager Tom Stimpson spends a considerable amount of time visiting breeders in the UK and in mainland Europe, and is constantly on the look-out for new and improved forms of ornamental plants to offer the company’s customers.  

Tom says, “Every so often I come across a potential superstar, which makes it all worthwhile.”  Such a newcomer was a blue verbena plant with a trailing habit that he noticed in the summer of 2013.  It is being offered exclusively by Mr Fothergill’s in spring 2014 as Verbena Italian Blue.

Tom recalls “I discovered it last July.  After looking at the grower’s main trial, I was given a ‘secret’ tour of varieties yet to be shown to anyone else.  One special plant stood out for me – a trailing verbena with the most delightful blue flowers.  I was hugely impressed by it, not only because of its abundant, large flowers, but also by its vigour and habit.  It was as though it had been bred to be grown in a hanging basket because its shape was perfect.

“Another surprise was its sweet perfume, especially fragrant on that warm and sunny day.  I brought one of the hanging baskets back to our trial garden so it could be monitored for the rest of the summer.  It performed brilliantly and didn’t show any signs of mildew, which can sometimes be a problem with verbenas.  As it was bred in northern Italy we felt the name Italian Blue was appropriate”, says Tom.

Verbena Italian Blue is available from the company’s 2014 plant catalogue or online at, with five young plants priced at £7.95.  Despatch is from mid April 2014 onwards.