Posts Tagged ‘spring planting’

What to do in the garden in March

February 27th, 2015 | Garden Diaries, News, The flower garden, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

February gave us a mixed bag of weather, with plenty of rain, several frosts, but also plenty of bright, dry days.  We have had no snow and virtually no fog.  At present our land is fairly wet, but drying winds should see that situation change during March.  This is the month when seed sowing really gets into full swing, especially with half-hardy flowers and vegetables, which need gentle warmth for germination and the early stages of development.

At our trials ground in Kentford, our grounds manager has already made plenty of under-cover early sowings, and his activity will move up a gear or two as March gets into full swing.   The busiest time of the gardening year arguably is late February and March as we fill up our seed trays, and all available space in coldframes, windowsills and under cloches to get an early start on what we would like to grow in 2015.

The mornings and evenings are getting noticeably lighter, and the welcome sound of birdsong early in the morning is a sure sign spring cannot be far away.  Add to that the snowdrops, which are in full bloom by the wayside in the village, and the dwarf daffodils and hyacinths, which are just starting to flower in gardens, then the spirit really starts to soar in anticipation of the growing season ahead.  And so, here we guide you through the busiest month of the year, in the garden in March.


Jobs in the flower garden in March

Sweet Pea JimeldaFirst, the rather pressing matter of sweet peas!  According to our Pim Dickson, gardeners who wish to enter their sweet pea blooms in our £2500 sweet pea growing competition to be held at Capel Manor College, North London, on Saturday 18 July have only until the second week of March to make indoor sowings. You should allow at least 18 weeks from sowing to flowering under optimum conditions. Time to get those horticultural skates on!

Remember the competition is aimed at ‘ordinary’ gardeners rather than those who grow with exhibition in mind, with prizes being awarded to entrants whose displays have the greatest all-round appeal in the opinion of the judges.  We want the whole process of growing and showing sweet peas to be as much fun as possible, so please consider growing some of these beautiful flowers with the competition in mind.

Entrants may either post their blooms in a two-litre soft drinks bottle or turn up at the college on the day of the show to stage their flowers.  The two categories will be judged separately and there are also categories for individual youngsters and for schools.

Autumn-sown sweet pea seedlings will benefit from as much ventilation as possible, either in the cold frame or greenhouse, before being planted to their flowering positions later in the month.  Ensure their support system is in place before you set them out.  Sweet peas are hardy annuals and can therefore be sown direct in their flowering position when the soil warms up and is workable.  Again, make sure canes and netting or your alternative choice of support is in place before you sow.

Sunflower Sunny BabeSweet peas are sometimes referred to as the ‘queen of the annuals’, so we like to think of the sunflower as being the ‘king of the annuals’, especially when you consider the majestic height some of them reach!  This year, 2015, has been designated the ‘Year of the Sunflower’ by the home gardening division of Fleuroselect, the organisation which assesses new flower varieties from around the world to determine their suitability for European conditions. Incidentally, Mr Fothergill’s Tracy Collacott is the sole UK seed company representative on the Fleuroselect Home Gardening committee.

Sunflower Copper QueenNot surprisingly, Tracy hopes to see them grown in gardens everywhere!  They really are so easy to grow, great favourites with children and now available in so many different colours and plant forms. We have two brand new varieties on offer for the Year of the Sunflower.  Sunny Babe is a multi-stemmed variety, producing an abundance of golden orange 3-4in wide single heads on plants which grow up to 5ft.  Buttercream F1 has soft, butter-yellow heads which are pollen-free.  Again multi-stemmed and reaching around 5ft, its blooms are slightly larger at around 6in across.  Both varieties are great for garden display and for cutting.  Other F1 hybrid sunflowers we are launching include Infrared in a range of rich bicolour shades, Summer Breeze with unusually green centres and Copper Queen, a superior ‘take’ on the traditional sunflower and pollen-free.

Aster Kingsize Apple Blossom

There is a wide range of our half-hardy (frost-tender) annual seeds which can be sown indoors during March.  Growing your own bedding and container plants from seed is surely one of the most satisfying aspects of gardening – and it can also save a great deal of money when compared with buying the plants in May ready to plant out.  True, it takes time and a little effort to keep the seedlings growing and developing into healthy young plants, but it is worth the effort and it’s part of the great joy of gardening in our book.

May we draw your attention to a couple of our new and exclusive half-hardy annuals introduced last year.  Aster Kingsize Appleblossom is wonderful for the backs of borders and perfect for cutting, so why not consider growing a row for this purpose as a ‘crop’ in the vegetable garden?  The large, pastel heads are really delightful.  Phlox Pomegranate Beauty has sparkling flowers on neat, compact plants, ideal for bedding schemes and patio pots.

Dahlia EvelineIf you lifted and stored tubers of your favourite dahlias last autumn, these can be inspected during March, with most of them hopefully remaining sound for this season.  Discard any which have shrivelled or rotted, and plant the rest individually in large pots of compost and start them into growth in the greenhouse so they will be ready for planting out later in the spring.  Remember dahlias are tender and will need protection from frost in the early stages of growth.

If you have Sweet Williams, Wallflowers and other biennials planted out for a late spring display, carefully hoe in some general purpose plant feed round them as the soil starts to dry up to give them a welcome boost ahead of flowering in a few weeks’ time.  They will definitely benefit after all the rain has leached out so many of the soil’s nutrients during the winter.

As clumps of snowdrops finish flowering and start to die back, this is the ideal time to divide them to provide more splashes of winter colour in future years.  Lifting them ‘in the green’ and transplanting them as soon as possible is generally regarded as a more reliable means of propagating these little beauties than planting the dry bulbs in the autumn.  They may not be the easiest of flowers to establish, doing best among deciduous trees and shrubs, but where they are happy they will thrive and multiply.


Jobs in the vegetable garden in March

Asparagus Ariane

Now they have come through the winter, young spring cabbages deserve a boost to jolt them into new growth as conditions improve.  A high-nitrogen fertiliser such as nitro-chalk is ideal or, failing that, a general purpose feed will give them a welcome tonic.  Unfortunately, these brassicas may attract the unwelcome attention of pigeons, so it may be an idea to net them against these often voracious pests.  Regular, careful hoeing between the plants, and all other over-wintered crops, will also aid their development and allow air into the soil, which may have become compacted in the last few weeks.

Now is the ideal time to consider making an asparagus bed if you enjoy the delicious and uniquely flavoured spears of this easy-to-manage perennial vegetable.  Once established, it will crop every year for 20 years or more, so the investment in a few crowns from us for April delivery is money well spent.  Home-grown asparagus is one of nature’s greatest treats!

Asparagus Pacific Purple

A free-draining soil is best, and make sure the proposed asparagus bed is free of perennial weeds before planting the spider-like crowns.  Dig a trench about 15in wide, and then create a a slight ridge of soil down the middle of the trench on which to place the crowns, with the roots on either side.  When you cover the crown with soil, its tip should be about 3in below the surface.  Allow around 30 to 36in between rows.

Choose our Ariane for the earliest crops – from early May onwards – and Pacific Purple for a slightly later yield to prolong the season.  All our asparagus crowns are one year old and Suffolk-grown.

Spring OnionsAs the soil dries out and warms up, a wide range of vegetable seeds can be sown direct in their cropping positions – and if you have warmed up the soil with cloches or fleece prior to sowing they really will get off to a flying start this year.  Parsnip, beetroot and carrot are some of the earliest vegetables to sown in this manner.  Radish, peas, lettuce and spring onion can also be sown in March, and followed on every three weeks with further sowings to ensure a crop right through late spring and into summer.

Even if you are particularly keen to make direct sowings of crops such as parsnip, beetroot, radish, carrot and lettuce, do exercise caution and be guided by prevailing local conditions rather than what it says on the seed packet.  The instructions we give on packets are general, but if it is very wet and the garden is sodden, or if a sudden cold snap occurs, there is absolutely no point in making a sowing just because the seed packet says so.

Aubergine seeds from Mr Fothergill's

Seed simply will not germinate in cold, wet soil with no oxygen, but will just rot and disappoint you.  If March is mild and the soil is workable, by all means start to sow some of your favourites, and so much the better if you can offer some cloche protection, but if you are in doubt do wait a week or two, as later sowings almost always make up for lost time.  Prior to sowing, the soil can also be warmed up by covering it with some pegged-down black polythene or horticultural fleece.  Remove the cover after three or four weeks and seed sowings will get off to the very best start.

Seed of tender crops, such as tomato, capsicum (chilli and sweet peppers) and aubergines can also be sown in March – but indoors on a warm windowsill or in a propagator.  As they are natives of warmer climates, they cannot be planted outside until danger of frost has past, although greenhouse crops can be planted out a little earlier.  Tomato plants grow fast, but peppers and aubergines are considerably slower and need a long growing season, so do not delay in sowing these.

Onion red baronOnion sets are ideally planted in March so they can start to form good roots and will be ready to grow rapidly as conditions improve.  Plant the tiny bulbs carefully to avoid damage to the root plate, and make sure just the very tip is the only part showing above the soil.  Our heat-treated varieties Hytech and Red Baron can be ordered until the middle of March, and we usually despatch these from late March onwards.  The special heat treatment they receive while dormant prevents them from bolting, or prematurely running to seed, so you get a bigger crop of usable onions at the end of the growing season.  The individual bulbs these sets produce also tend to be larger and heavier than those grown from untreated sets.

Seed tubers of early potatoes can be planted towards the end of the month, especially if conditions are reasonably mild.  Young new potatoes are many gardeners’ idea of the very best of the early summer produce from the garden, and we would not argue with that.  Supermarkets’ new potato offerings, whether from Jersey (at premium prices!) of from further afield, are fine, but they certainly do not compare with those first potatoes from our own gardens, cooked and eaten within hours of lifting.

Even if you do not feel you have room for potatoes in your garden, early varieties are particularly well suited to growing in pots of compost – and the tubers they produce in those conditions are usually free from blemishes and barely need scraping to be enjoyed.  Keep the pots well watered and frost-free for an extra-early crop of the very best little spuds.


Jobs in the fruit garden in March

Blackberry plants from Mr Fothergill'sIf you have childhood memories of blackberrying with parents or grandparents, why not grow some in your own garden?  We offer several varieties of blackberry, and all of them are easy to manage and heavy cropping.  If you want as long a season of cropping as possible, plant both Apache for early berries and Navaho for later ones.  Both produce fine yields of large, sweet, juicy berries which are perfect for making jam, crumbles and pies.  If you want the biggest blackberries, go for our Oregon-bred Black Butte, which produces berries about twice the size of those of other varieties – and flavour has not been sacrificed to size as they are tasty too.

Strawberry Collection

Blackberries and apples are a match made in heaven, so plant an apple tree in your garden too this year.  We can accept orders for fruit trees for delivery this spring up until the middle of March, so better to do it sooner rather than later.  Apple Bramley is a classic English cooking apple, with plenty of good, old-fashioned flavour and goes perfectly with blackberries when baked in crumbles and pies.

It is also a good time of year to replenish your strawberry patch with an injection of good fruit bearing new plants.  Try our Strawberry Collection to give you a long fruiting season this year of berries that are sweet, juicy and full of flavour.

Top performing Stellar Geraniums

February 26th, 2015 | News, The flower garden | 0 Comments

Geranium Grandad Mac

Stellar geraniums (Pelargonium) have their origins in Australia, with some varieties being bred more than a century ago.  Mr Fothergill’s has been trialling several varieties which are not often seen and rarely available, in conjunction with a local  grower, and has selected three of the best performers for British gardens.

The fascinating series comprises the semi-double, coral coloured Grandad Mac, the double, pale pink Rookley and Robyn Hannah, which has bright cherry red blooms, each with a contrasting white eye.  “The plants grow up to 40cm (16in), and are ideal for baskets and other containers either in sun or partial shade.  They really are fantastic performers all summer long, and we are delighted to offer them to our customers,” explains Mr Fothergill’s Tom Stimpson.

Stellar geraniums are characterised by their unique, lobed foliage and brightly coloured flowers, they are excellent garden performers, providing colour from early to late summer, have excellent disease resistance, are easy to grow and require the minimum of attention to give their best – the perfect plants, according to Tom.

Three plants of any of the three varieties costs £7.95, while anyone ordering all nine plants may do so for £16.85.  Last order date for Stellar geraniums is the end of April 2015, with despatch from early May 2015.

Social media voters pick Fuchsia Amelie for Mr Fothergill’s catalogue front cover

February 25th, 2015 | News, The flower garden | 0 Comments

Fuchsia Shadowdancer Amelie (close-up)

When Mr Fothergill’s was undecided which new flower variety to feature on the front cover of the new spring edition of its seed, plant and bulb catalogue, it decided to ask gardeners via social media.  The four choices were posted on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, with votes cast on Facebook.  In a closely run contest, the winner was fuchsia Amelie, which is part of the Sundancer® series, famed for its neat, compact habit and outstanding garden performance.

Mr Fothergill’s Tom Stimpson comments that although not a brand new series, Sundancers® are not readily available and make a pleasing change from some of the more common varieties.  “They are incredibly floriferous, in fact some of the most profuse bloomers I’ve seen, with plants smothered in attractive blooms from early to late summer. The frilly, light pink sepals contrast wonderfully with the intense purple corolla to create a fantastic summer-long show,” he says.  “We’ve trialled them for several years, and Amelie is the best in the series.  Its neat, upright, yet somewhat lax habit makes it suitable for both patio containers or as a centre plant for a hanging basket – the flowers are well displayed on the plant too, so all of them are clearly visible – no hiding behind the foliage!”

Fuchsia Amelie grows to a height of 30cm (12in) and has a spread of 25cm (10in).  A pack of five young plants costs £8.95, but two packs may be ordered for just £6.45 per pack, with a saving of £5.00.  The company can accept orders until the end of April 2015, with despatch from late April onwards

You can view and order from our extensive range of fuchsia plants from Mr Fothergill’s on the website, or by mail order from our catalogue.

A year of Nation of Gardeners: 2014 gardening highlights in pictures

December 24th, 2014 | Garden Diaries, Nation of Gardeners | 0 Comments

2014 has been a busy year for our gardening folk in the Nation of Gardeners group and so we thought we would put together a gallery of highlights from the group’s gardening year.

The group autumn planted bare root perennials in late autumn 2013. The survival rates overwinter were what we were looking for when protected in pots under cover, versus open ground planting.  By spring we were seeing what had survived such as these Cheshire planted Papaver Place Pigalle and Astrantia Moulin Rouge.

Cheshire Papaver comparison Spring 2014

Cheshire Astrantia comparison Spring 2014

By summer there were blooms like fireworks bursting into life in gardens around the UK from these autumn planted bare root perennials.

Papaver Place Pigalle in bloom in Devon

The Papaver Place Pigalle pictured to the left here in our Devon gardener’s hillside plot, impressed with its beauty – albeit a beauty that lasted only days on these young plants. We shall see if year two gives these plants longer flowering power.

Astrantia Moulin Rouge and Sedum Xenox also performed well; flowering long and hard from late summer onwards, as did any of the Eryngiums that survived slug attacks.  Pictured below and to the right here is a wonderful shot of the Eryngium in flower, again in our Devon gardener’s plot.

Devon eryngium2014 was ‘the year of the slug’ with a mild winter over 2013/14 not keeping these pests in check sufficiently.  Many of our gardeners reported in defeated tones of visiting their gardens where an overnight devastation of plants had taken place, which is a heart breaking moment many gardeners will empathise with.

The only bare root perennial that failed to perform significantly was the Cimicifuga. If not consumed by slugs, the surviving plants threw up a couple of leaves this year, but we shall have to wait a while to see these notoriously slow growers bring anything more exciting to our beds!

Antirrhinum Purple Twist in CumbriaThere were other blooms in the gardens too.  A new variety of Antirrhinum called Purple Twist was sent out to the group for raising from seed.

The seedlings proved tricky to raise, and were nicknamed by our Cumbrian gardener as ‘moody teenagers’. Of the plants that pulled through the perils of legginess and damping off, the results were quite amazing.

The snapdragon plants that actually made it out of ‘seedling-hood’ and into to our Nation of Gardener’s plots flowered profusely throughout the summer.  They needed a thorough frost check to diminish them at the end of the year, and being a perennial will likely reward our gardeners for many years to come.  Our Cumbrian gardener’s picture here shows them standing proud and tall in her beds in the North of England.

Sweet peas, a cultivar of which Mr Fothergill’s is justly proud, played a big part in our group’s activities.   Autumn versus spring sowings were tested which gave us some glorious results in summer.  We asked our gardeners to sow a reliable variety Sweet Pea Old Spice alongside an exclusive chocolate flake variety Sir Henry Cecil.

Hertfordshire and Suffolk sweet peas

Above are sweet peas just emerging in Hertfordshire and then just planted in Suffolk.  Below, are sweet pea blooms for our gardeners in Worcestershire, South Wales and Renfrewshire.  The best of both worlds, the scentless Sir Henry Cecil impressed our gardeners with the upright habit of these large blooms, and the scent of the Old Spice added that much sought after quality in bowls of sweet peas around the house.

Sir Henry Cecil didn’t only impress our gardeners either.  The blooms grown in the Peak District, Devon and Hertfordshire were all entered into sweet pea shows and won prizes, and so they are officially award-winning sweet peas by independent jury!

Worcestershire, Pontypridd, Renfrewshire sweet peas


There was an abundance of things to taste as well as grow this year too including, from left to right, salad leaves (Buckinghamshire), garlic (South Wales) and cucamelons (West Wales).


There were also peppers (Elgin), broad beans (Devon) and tomatoes (Bristol).

Elgin Peppers, Devon Broad Beans, Bristol tomatoes


There were blackcurrants (Renfrewshire), blackberries (Worcestershire) and black tomatoes! (Bristol)

Blackcurrants renfrewshire, Blackberries Worcestershire, Black Tomatoes Bristol

We mustn’t forget the strawberries!  This was another autumn planting versus spring planting trial.  Alongside this we also tested out our ‘Berry Quick’ product line of commercially ‘frozen’ strawberry plants that guaranteed fruit within 30 days of planting.  The Berry Quick did indeed produce fruits within 30 days for all of our gardeners, but the taste of the spring and autumn planted strawberries were preferred universally by our group proving that a longer and slower growing season is worth the wait.

Pictured here are the strawberry crops of our gardeners in Surrey, Renfrewshire and Ceredigion.

Surrey, Renfrewshire, Ceredigion strawberries

We trialled the late sowing of annuals and perennials in late summer.

Cheshire Godetia

In particular the Godetias impressed (pictured here in our Cheshire gardener’s plot).   These plants gave vigorous and long lasting blooms for many gardeners, and perhaps most impressive for many was the fact that it is a variety not grown so often.

Though a summer annual, these plants also proved to be reasonably cold tolerant with our Pontypridd gardener reporting that his Godetia still had flowers even after the first hard frosts in his area.

Late sown annuals in late September

Otherwise the annuals grown were workhorse varieties such as Calendula, Marigolds, Cornflowers and Alyssum, all of which produced beautiful mixed beds of flowers for our gardeners.  Pictured here is our Surrey gardener’s annuals bed pictured in late September in a prime condition.

Of the late sown perennials we shall have to wait until 2015 as these young seedlings have all been tucked up safely in greenhouses and coldframes around the UK to sit out the winter.  We are promised Echinacea, Poppies, Aubretias, Hollyhocks, Aquilegia and Lavender so watch this space.

Later in the year we asked our gardeners to plant mini plug pansies for overwintering.

Pansies in Bristol

The variety dispatched to our gardeners is a trailing pansy called Cool Wave, a breeding break-through which is the first true trailing pansy to be grown from seed.  Our gardener in Bristol was soon enamoured with her small pansy plants posting in these wonderful portraits of their individual personalities!

We asked our gardeners to plant out winter peas – Pea Meteor – and to leave them to the elements.  In the more northerly parts of the UK, the elements took these plants pretty quickly.  We shall see how our south-based gardeners get on with these plants early in 2015 and if they get a welcome early crop of peas from them as a result of the plants enduring a UK winter.

Herrtfordshire Christmas potatoes in November

Christmas potatoes were also planted in early autumn.  However, Christmas came early for many of our gardeners!

The warm and late summer weather, where we had lots of warm days right through September and into early October pushed these plants on faster than anticipated.  The plants grew and then died back prematurely forcing the tubers to be lifted in October and November for many.  Our Pontypridd gardener is determined to lift on Christmas Day though, so we shall see what hides under the compost once he has had chance to turn them out.

Pictured here is our Hertfordshire gardener’s potato crop.  Not huge, but good to get a new potato taste late in early winter.

As we slip into the depths of winter, our gardeners are tending overwintered salad crops and some very special woodland strawberries. Bob Flowerdew supplied Mr Fothergill’s with a yet-to-be-named variety and so our gardeners are going to be testing them out alongside the nurserymen at Mr Fothergill’s in Kentford.  We don’t know much about these plants yet and so our group of gardeners will help us determine the growing and cropping habits of these plants.

It has been a busy year for our group of gardeners and one that has been fruitful, both figuratively speaking and literally!  Follow us into 2015 for more gardening adventures with our group as we see what year two brings for many of the plants.

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.