Posts Tagged ‘nation of gardeners’

Nation of Gardeners March planting update: time to compare spring planting with autumn planted varieties

April 22nd, 2014 | Nation of Gardeners, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

March parcel for Nation of GardenersThe March parcel marked the half-year of this project.  We have passed from autumn, through the hard winter months and back out into spring where the lighter days are making everything feel more hopeful.  It is safe to say that at the 6 month mark we have a network of full gardens and full windowsills stuffed to brimming with Mr Fothergill’s produce around the UK.

The weather in March turned mild, and then even turned sunny, before the sting in the tail of the last week of the month.  However, this  break in the weather enabled our gardeners to get going with no impediments for this month’s parcel which contained three varieties of tomato to trial.  Also in their sixth parcel, they found Garlic, Broad Beans and two varieties of Strawberries – Buddy and Sweetheart – all of which they had grown before.

You can follow the gardener’s progress as they post regular updates to the Facebook wall, and if you feel the need… then join in the conversation!  We’ve been finding that other people are joining in and posting pictures of their own developing crops and seedlings which is great to see how they compare with what our own group of gardeners are seeing.   This makes it a true Nation of Gardeners!  So if you are growing and have plants emerging for the first time, please feel free to also post your updates to the wall.


A round up of March’s planting tasks
Potted garlicA third shipment of Garlic Solent Wight was sent out in March.   After the autumn and spring planted Garlic Solent Wight from bulbs in October and February, Mr Fothergill’s decided to test out supplying the gardeners with some pot grown garlic – pictured here to the left.

The gardeners were supplied with three plants that were already growing in pots of compost, and were asked to keep an eye on these for whether they bolt having been grown on by the Mr Fothergill’s nursery team in this way.

Together with a final shipment of pot-grown garlic that will be sent out in April, it is hoped we get some firm conclusions on garlic growing across the UK using direct comparisons on techniques for growing to give us the optimum method and time of year to plant out.  See this article on early results published earlier in April for more on garlic growing across our UK sample of gardeners.

Strawberries in water prior to planting out

The gardeners received Strawberry Buddy and Strawberry Sweetheart again during March in order to test these spring planted strawberries against the ones planted out in the autumn.  The autumn-planted fruits have shown varying degrees of success around the country.  Largely they have overwintered well, but other gardeners in the group have found them to have drowned in the heavy rains we had over winter, or found them nibbled by hungry creatures.

Of the healthy plants – which form the majority – these will be tested against the spring planted versions for yield, time to crop from planting and duration of cropping season to see if they perform as well when planted 6 months later.  Many gardeners are already reporting that their autumn planted strawberries are in flower now, and that the spring plants are establishing well and growing on quickly.

Another packet of Broad Bean Aquadulce was also sent out for sowing to compare the crops with the autumn sown seed.  

Spring sown broad beans

By the end of March, many of the gardeners have raised some fine and healthy looking autumn-sown plants that are already in bloom before Spring had arrived.  The pictures below show some of the fabulously healthy looking plants in the care of our gardeners.  The mild winter has enabled this early blooming to some extent, but if there are enough pollinators around whilst these plants have been flowering away, there will be very early crops of broad beans for our gardeners to enjoy.  The mild weather in March has also enabled quite a few gardeners to germinate their spring sown broad beans pretty swiftly too.

By early April, some gardeners are starting to wonder if their autumn-sown plants have ‘run out of steam’.  And so the real test for the spring sown broad beans will be if they produce as heavy crops and with more certainty than the autumn grown seeds.  It seems clear that they certainly won’t be able to catch up and compete with the autumn grown plants in terms of ‘first to crop’, but maybe their growth will prove to be more assured.  Watch this space!

Broad beans sown in the autumn

New to the gardeners this month were three varieties of Tomato for growing outdoors.  Tomato Ferline, Tomato Sungold and Tomato Sakura were supplied as seed for sowing in March with the intention of growing these outside eventually.

March tomatoes for growing outdoors

The gardeners set to this task quickly, with some good germination rates being seen across the board. Whether the change in light and heat conditions in March versus February had an effect or not is not clear.  However, these March sown seeds went ‘leggy’ for some gardeners very quickly meaning they got potted on before the first true leaves had truly established themselves on the plants.   This has not had a detrimental effect on the plants though, with gardeners across the UK reporting some fine looking plants in their care.

The tomatoes supplied in February – Tomato Black Opal, Tomato Pink Charmer and Tomato Orange Slice – have got underway well  for most gardeners, though some reported difficulty in germinating them.  The best results seen were those that had an element of heat available for successful germination.  Intended for indoors growing only, these tomatoes will need more care than the March issued varieties.  This seems to be reflected in the relative ease of germination for the March varieties also, where a greater germination success rate was seen.


October through to February updates

The gardeners have been very busy in the last six months and so there is always something to report on.  Of note in March though, our gardeners have observed a number of things.  Here’s a whistle-stop tour of what’s been going on.

  • Potatoes breaking through the soilGeorgina in Cheshire, Gwynne in Morayshire and Max in Hertfordshire all got busy planting their potatoes out in early March.  Many gardeners have followed suit later in March and early April, with the first shoots pushing their way through the soil in patio planters and in the ground around the UK, such as this potato pictured in Ceredigion.
  • Our gardener in Bristol has potted on her salad leaves as individual plants with the intention of growing on outdoors.
  • Hannah in Guildford, Joanne in Suffolk, Lindsay in Devon and Mags in Renfrewshire have all planted out their autumn sown sweet peas in early April. However, it seems that this may have been too early as frosts came in Devon and Guildford shortly afterwards, so we shall have to see if they recover.
  • For many, the antirrhinums have been an unusual growing challenge.  Some of the seedlings collapsed totally for some gardeners whereas others, such as the ones being grown in Renfrewshire, are very well established if a little ‘leggy’ and seemingly on the point of collapse.  Our gardeners in Cheshire, Buckinghamshire, Devon, Pontpridd, Worcestershire and Suffolk have all managed to grow some specimens and so summer will be the real test for these new and exclusive variety of snapdragons by Mr Fothergill’s.Strawberries in bloom
  • The first broad beans sown in the autumn have set tiny beans in early April in Devon and there are flowers coming on the autumn planted strawberries for many gardeners such as these ones pictured in Pontypridd.
  • The bare root perennials planted in the autumn have started to come back to life in the last month. There are some casualties and there are some ‘missing in action’ plants.  Time will tell if these are truly lost or whether they are just being shy at presenting themselves.  The plants that are definitely starting to put in some spring growth are looking handsome and healthy – Astrantia, Papaver and Eryngiums are all performing well.  Perhaps most excitingly, the Cimicifugas have started to unfurl a leaf from the growing tips in the last few weeks for many of the gardeners who had previously doubted there was ever going to be a plant to see come Spring.  This plant has been very reticent to show any promise all winter and so it is with some excitement that the gardeners are greeting these small leaves.
  • February issued tomatoes grown from seedThe tomatoes issued in February, March and April all appear to be healthy so far and are at varying stages of development.  Mags in Renfrewshire appears to have grown some strong plants from seed leaving many other gardeners playing catch up.  In Derbyshire, the March sown seeds have overtaken the February sown seeds.  In Cheshire the gardener there has already planted to the outdoors.  With high levels of germination success, there are going to be bumper crops of 6 varieties of tomato in the gardens of our Nation of Gardeners this summer.

Keep an eye on the hashtag #nationofgardeners on Twitter for more updates as the gardeners post them, or follow the postings to the Facebook wall where you can also find a gallery of plant pictures that chronicle the Nation of Gardeners activities to date.

March 2014′s planting

February 2014′s planting

January 2014′s planting

December 2013′s planting

November 2013′s planting

October 2013′s planting


Autumn vs. Spring garlic – Mr Fothergill’s Nation of Gardeners investigates

April 8th, 2014 | Nation of Gardeners | 0 Comments

Nation of Gardener's across the UKFor the past six months, 18 amateur gardeners across the country have been trialling seeds, plants and bulbs on behalf of Mr Fothergill’s Seeds as part of its Nation of Gardeners campaign.

The representatives, in each region of mainland UK, have received monthly parcels. They have been asked to plant the contents at approximately the same time as each other and to report back on their findings to show what grows best where, and when.

As well as garlic issued in autumn as well as in spring, the gardeners have so far received a plentiful list of broad beans, sweet peas, five different bare root perennials, a blackberry plant, strawberry runners, basil, coriander, four types of salad, peppers, antirrhinum, potatoes, six types of indoor and outdoor tomatoes, and two types of blackcurrant.

One of the key aims of the campaign is to carry out comparative trials of the same variety but at different times of the year. The gardeners have now carried out their first seasonal comparative test having received garlic bulbs in their October and February parcels, as well as some experimental pot-grown garlic in their March parcel. And the results have been fascinating.

Throughout most of the winter, the gardeners reported back about the speed, or lack of, of their October planted garlic cloves. Throughout March, however, there were regular exclamations of surprise as the spring planted cloves burst into life.

On average the first signs of growth for the autumn garlic took 57 days, whereas green shoots on the spring garlic were appearing after an average of 11 days – with the earliest coming through within just one week.

In mid March the garlic cloves in the Ceredigion garden that were planted in October stood at 28cm, whereas the February planted garlic was rapidly catching up and had reached 10cm.  The Staffordshire gardener’s autumn garlic took approximately three months to show life, but the garlic cloves planted at the beginning of February in this same garden took only 10 days.   Similarly, the representative in Renfrewshire was shocked to see her spring garlic coming through after just six days as her autumn garlic had taken two and a half months to show itself.

Commercial director of Mr Fothergill’s Seeds, Tim Jeffries, commented, “These are very interesting results and make the campaign come to life. We set out to see how planting at different times of the year would affect growth and this certainly shows that. The spring garlic really is a fast mover!”

Direct comparison of autumn sown and spring sown garlic

Nation of Gardeners January planting update: are our gardeners nurturing some winning blooms?

March 3rd, 2014 | Nation of Gardeners | 0 Comments

After the hectic schedule most of our gardeners kept during the festive period, Mr Fothergill’s decided to hold back the January parcel until mid-way through the month to give them a chance to catch their breath!

In January the gardeners were sent a mixed bag to test out for the Company.  Their parcel this month included two varieties of pepper and a new variety of Antirrhinum on offer for the first time in 2014.  Also, because January is the perfect time to source seed potatoes, the group were sent Potato Charlotte to begin chitting in preparation for growing on the potatoes later in the year.

And as the weather – that has been sodden but nevertheless seasonally mild – has turned more Spring-like in recent weeks there has been plenty of activity seen in lots of the previously dispatched parcels.  And so, our gardeners have had their hands full keeping on top of recording changes across a whole range of plants, and taking photos for posting updates to the Facebook wall.


A round up of January’s planting tasks

Potatoes chitting

The gardeners were each sent a pack of Potato Charlotte in order to test open ground planting versus patio planter growing of the tubers.  The gardeners will be asked to put half in the ground – using any method of planting of their choosing – and to plant the other half into patio planters that were provided to them in their parcel.

The decision on whether to chit or not has been left to the gardeners and the decision of *when* to plant their potatoes has also been left to them to decide based on their own local conditions and knowledge for their areas.

As the pictures here show, chitting in egg boxes and in food cartons, in garages, sheds and in porches is occupying cool and light spaces in each of our gardeners’ households as they attempt to develop shoots big enough to get their potato crops planted with a good head start.

Our Cheshire gardener also discovered that, hitherto unknown, rodents also share her garage.   She had left her potatoes chitting overnight only to discover them all mostly eaten one morning.  Happily Mr Fothergill’s rushed to provide her with another pack to help her catch back up with the other gardeners, and which she has promised to keep absolutely mouse-proofed this time!

Coming back indoors, the gardeners were asked to grow two varieties of pepper.  Mr Fothergill’s asked the gardeners to compare two seed varieties – Snackbite and King of the North.  This latter variety is not on general sale yet and so the Nation of Gardeners are testing this seed out in tandem with the formal trials that are taking place at Mr Fothergill’s headquarters in Kentford this year.

For this task, warmth was required to get the seeds to germinate.  Again, method of germination was left to the gardener’s individual experience.  It was suggested that this could either be provided by a propagator or a heated mat, or, if the warmth is sufficient enough indoors to achieve a consistent 15-18° Centigrade, then in pots covered with plastic bags.  Our gardeners chose a variety of methods, with the heated propagator method proving to be most efficient at bringing these seeds to life.

Peppers germinating

By sowing at the same time some direct comparisons have been drawn between the two varieties.  Many gardeners reported that the King of the North was the quickest to germinate, with gardeners in the Peak District and Bristol both reporting a uniform 24 hour gap between King of the North emerging and Snackbite following suit the next day.  However, it took up to a week for our Cheshire gardener’s Snackbite to emerge after the King of the North.  Conversely, in Devon and Worcestershire it was Snackbite that emerged first.  And so, on these peppers, it seems that opinion is divided.  How they grow on will be the next test for the performance of these seeds, with of course, days to cropping and abundance of crops being closely monitored for consistency.

We shall see as time unfolds how the gardeners plan to grow these peppers – whether as houseplants, in the greenhouse, or outside on the patio.  The seeds have the potential to grow in all these situations but the outcome of growing in a variety of situations will, no doubt, show some very different results.

And finally our gardeners were also asked to trial a new variety of snap dragon.  Antirrhinum Purple Twist F1 is being introduced for the first time in the Spring catalogue for 2014 and so Mr Fothergill’s were really keen to find out how the group would get along with these flowers when grown as bedding plants.

These seeds were supplied in a small phial and were microscopic in size, so were tricky to sow evenly.  They also came along with the warning that germination can be erratic!  These seeds again are warmth loving and require a gentle heat of 15-20° Centigrade to germinate and survive healthily.

Many of our gardeners deftly managed to germinate these seeds successfully,  although in Buckinghamshire and the Peak District the Antirrhinums collapsed after successful germination.  As February has drawn to a close, many who raised their seedlings successfully are thinking of pricking out and growing the plants on individually and so we will have to wait to see what glorious displays we get as summer arrives.

Antirhinums germinating


October, November and December updates

Garlic in Guildford in JanuaryThere is plenty happening in the gardens of our participants now and plenty to keep abreast of.  For almost all gardeners, the Garlic Solent Wight has made a strong appearance, with one gardener noting that her Mr Fothergill’s supplied garlic looks healthy and strong whereas garlic she bought from another source (she declined to reveal who!) have failed and that part of her vegetable plot is looking patchy.  This picture of our Guildford gardener’s garlic is typical of what we are now seeing across the country for garlic sown in the autumn.

Where the sweet peas are strong, the sweet peas are strong!  Otherwise, they are almost entirely decimated by rodents.  And so comparative pictures of sweet peas between participants is either a tale of feast or famine.  Although it is nothing new to learn that mice are attracted to freshly germinated peas, it is perhaps interesting to note that mice over winter seem to be much more hungry than in the spring and so where you might not have thought you had mice because you have never sowed ‘food’ for them before, you suddenly discover that the reverse is true.

Despite the failures for some gardeners with sweet peas, the pictures below show some strong plants that look ready to take on the summer once the weather is warm enough to plant them out.  It may even be that these plants will end up becoming winning blooms at the Mr Fothergill’s 2014 Sweet Pea Competition at Capel Manor in July.  Who knows?  Watch this space!

Sweet Peas in January and February

There is positive movement for many bare root perennials now too.  Papaver and Sedum are definitely showing signs of waking up for many gardeners with some pretty consistent performance from those plants.  Eryngium and Astrantia are looking healthy for some gardeners too, with some having kept their green leafy top growth throughout the winter ready to take on the new year.

Bare root perennials

Casualties are starting to tot up steadily too.  In Renfrewshire and the Peak District the storms of December took the Blackberry Reuben, which is otherwise performing outstandingly for all other gardeners.  In the Peak District, the broad beans that were doing very well there were decimated overnight by a rodent.

Damping off claimed multiple sowings of red leafed salads regardless of heat and protection for many gardeners.  Upon further investigation into this, it seems that red leaves are not usually advised in the commercial salad growing industry until the light improves later towards the spring.   Due to reduced levels of chlorophyll the small plants struggle to survive in low light levels and this has clearly been seen in effect for our gardeners.

The basil has also proved to be a challenging crop to grow.  Over December, January and February, gardeners in  Renfrewshire, the Peak District and Bristol have all experienced repeated failures to successfully raise basil.   Our Renfrewshire gardener finally succeeding with a third sowing of basil with some bottom heat applied, though this technique did not help for the other two participants even though they achieved successful germination.

Basil growing successfully in Suffolk

Our Suffolk gardener observed that her basil  had stopped developing over winter and so she decided to give them more heat by popping the pot back into the propagator in February.  As if by magic the plants have started to grow again (pictured here to the left), and so this is a small triumph with this seemingly very difficult crop!

And so the Nation of Gardeners has produced a mixed bag of results so far from the very diverse range of seeds, plants and bulbs from the Mr Fothergill’s range.  There is one thing for certain though, that all of the gardeners are having great fun with their experimentations and eagerly anticipate their next growing tasks.


To follow the results of our gardeners in more detail, take a look at our table of stats for each of the varieties:

January 2014′s planting

December 2013′s planting

November 2013′s planting

October 2013′s planting


The next parcel

The February package includes:


Nation of Gardeners results: Astrantia Moulin Rouge

December 9th, 2013 | Nation of Gardeners, The flower garden | 0 Comments

Astrantia Moulin RougeAstrantia Moulin Rouge is a hardy perennial that grows to 20-28in in height bringing beautiful blooms to the mid-border with tiny dove-shaped florets above a collar of fringed bracts and palm-shaped leaves.  Flowers from midsummer through to autumn, it is a variety that is quick to clump and good as a cut flower.

Our Nation of Gardeners were asked to plant a bare root variety of Astrantia Moulin Rouge in November 2013 to test raising these bare root perennials in exposed and sheltered situations over winter.  They were sent two plants – one for planting in the open ground and one for planting in a pot and protecting in a coldframe or greenhouse. Results seen via each of these methods will be compared in Spring and Summer 2014.  The table below charts their progress.

Location Elevation Date planted Date first signs of growth Notes
Cheshire 49m 12 November 30 November (open ground plant) 1cm growth as at 30/11/13 in the plant in open ground.  No growth in the potted plant.
Renfrewshire 28m 9 November 15 November Both plants arrived with single shoot of growth which ‘brightened up’ a few days after planting.
North Devon 30-50m 8 and 9 November 20 November Planted in pot on 8 November and in ground on 9 November.  20 November observation: plants in the open ground are looking more established and settled than those in pots.
Worcestershire 55m 10 November Planted both on same date. 17 November: Covered ground planted perennials with umbrella cloche due to severe weather warning.
Derbyshire 39m 10 November
Cumbria 90m 8 November Planted both on same date.
Ceredigion 131m 8 November Planted both on same date. In the open ground planted into partial sunny position. In pot, planted into sunny position.
Bristol 55m 9 and 10 November  9 December One planted into coldframe in pot on 9 November, other in open ground on 11 November.  Protected with pebbles from slugs.  9 December: Some new leaf growth.
Suffolk 6m 9 November 1 December One planted into coldframe in pot, other in garden. By 1 December new leaf growth observed.
Hertfordshire 150m 23 November 23 November Were already growing new shoots on arrival
Surrey 58m
Pontypridd 157m 10 November 24 November (potted plant)
Buckinghamshire 66m 10 November
Guildford 56m
Gloucestershire 74m 5 November 22 November Some weak growth observed 22 November
Derbyshire 241m 9 November 1 December One planted in pot and put into coldframe with slug protection. One planted in open ground with slug protection. 1 December: new leaf growth in open ground, one new leaf also on cold frame plant

Nation of Gardeners October planting update: Mr Fothergill’s growing community is growing!

November 15th, 2013 | Nation of Gardeners, The flower garden, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

The Nation of Gardeners project is now in full swing with our regional gardeners having received their first parcel in October to the unanimous delight of the selected participants.

First Mr Fothergill's parcel of seeds in October

In this welcome pack, everyone received the seeds and bulbs they were tasked with growing over the coming months, but there were plenty of goodies in the pack too to help start people on their gardening journey.

Enthusiastic amateur gardeners have been selected from around the country, growing in gardens and allotments, on patios and in greenhouses. They are distributed across England, Scotland and Wales and range from almost sea-level gardens to the highest which is at an elevation of over 240m above sea level.  It is hoped that this broad spectrum of growing conditions will test the chosen seeds, plants and bulbs for surety of results across the UK.

The selected gardeners for the Nation of Gardeners project post their findings as they happen on Facebook and Twitter.    Members post ‘breaking news’ from their region to report growth and share information on the successes of others’ seeds.

On Facebook, the gardeners compare techniques offering each other advice, discuss their gardening ‘roots’ and backgrounds and have co-ordinated planting dates to be able to sow in unison.  The Nation of Gardeners has also become a real-time weather forecast system with the gardeners posting weather warnings to let us others know as bad weather makes its way across the country. This definitely came in use, particularly to our gardeners in the south of country, when St Jude’s storm hit towards the end of October.

Most importantly, our Nation of Gardeners is reporting back with progress of how their first batch of seeds is getting on.  Regular photo updates go out on social media to report real-time progress.  To follow the gardeners on Twitter, use the hashtag #nationofgardeners, or go along to the Mr Fothergill’s Facebook page and ‘like’ it to see postings by members on the wall there.

Here’s a round up of findings from the October plantings so far.

broad bean aguadulceDistributed in October were Broad Bean Aguadulce, which is a hardy variety.  A fresh batch of the same seed will be sent out in spring for fresh sowings to test autumn versus spring sowings on this plant.

Autumn sown plants are supposed to crop earlier than their spring sown counterparts, but they are also more difficult to care for and need protection from frosts, wind and damage from heavy rain and snowfall.

From a mainly mid-month sowing, the broad beans breaking through largely coincided with storms hitting the country, but the Nation of Gardeners’ plantings all survived and a strong germination rate for broad beans has been seen across the UK with the small plants growing sturdily and with a consistent surety of results.  The broad bean seen here is in our Pontypridd gardener’s plot.  By early November, many gardeners, particularly those at lower levels are reporting lots of energetic growth, to the extent that they are considering staking the plants to support them.

Sweet peas germinating in root trainers

Two varieties of sweet pea were also sent out. Sweet Pea Sir Henry Cecil which is a variety exclusive to Mr Fothergill’s and is named in honour of Sir Henry Cecil the champion racehorse trainer; and  Sweet Pea Old Spice Mixed.

Germination was reported within a week of sowing in many places and with the Old Spice Mixed variety taking a slight lead on germination rates and speed of growth.  Members of the group came forwards with a variety of methods of sowing sweet peas, including soaking in cold, lukewarm or boiled water as well as just leaving it to nature.  Pots were also sown in either pots with 5 seeds per pot, or in root trainers like the ones illustrated here. Again, by early November, some members are considering pinching out the tops to strengthen the plants for the coming winter months.

And finally, Garlic Solent Wight was included in the October pack.  The garlic so far has been the slowest plant to emerge after being put in the ground across the UK during mid-October.  Gardeners  in Buckinghamshire and Pontypridd reported seeing roots growing on cloves that had been pulled up by birds, but for most regarding garlic, there was nothing to report.   The first sign of any growth in the garlic to be reported was in Suffolk – a promising swelling of the cloves 11 days after planting – but it was in Bristol on 30 October 18 days after planting that the first shoot was seen.

To follow the results of our gardeners in more detail, take a look at our table of stats for each of the varieties:


Looking forward into November

The November parcels have now also been issued and include the following bare root perennials and strawberries:

Also a blackberry variety – Blackberry Reuben – was sent out.  This variety is the World’s first primocane blackberry and so has been sent out to trial fruiting results in the late summer/early autumn of 2014.

composition of bare root perennials for nation of gardeners