Bamboo for smaller gardens: clumping v running

Avoid invasive running bambooS at all costs

Bamboo forest
No room for a bamboo forest? Then read on…

In one of my other jobs, I’m a gardening expert for Primrose, the online retailer, answering customer’s horticultural queries.

The one plant that people have the most questions about, outnumbering all others by 2:1, is bamboo.

The fashion for this Far Eastern giant seems to have beaten the Leylandii madness of the 1970s, where novice gardeners were sold ‘dwarf rockery conifers’ – in reality very young and eventually very big trees.
Continue reading “Bamboo for smaller gardens: clumping v running”

Growing tomatoes in grow bags

A boon for gardeners with limited space

Tomato grow bags
Tomatoes Artisan Mix, Rosella and Sweet 100 in extra-large grow bags and ring culture pots

Grow bags are great news for gardeners with little (or no space) to plant into proper beds but there are pitfalls you need to be aware of – here are my top tips for getting your money’s worth and the biggest crops out of soil in sacks.

I’m planting mine (under glass) earlier than usual as I planned a holiday at the worst time of year for gardeners (missing Chelsea and the busiest planting season) as I want to make them easy to look after for long-suffering daughter Vanessa.

One point to note here – if you want to use peat-free Continue reading “Growing tomatoes in grow bags”

Dahlias: complete growing guide

A touch of the tropics IN my new border

Dahlias Harrogate
Developing a new appreciation for dahlias at Harrogate Autumn Flower Show 2016

I’m going all out for dahlias this year – not just the little single Bishop’s Children I’ve grown from seed in previous years. Continue reading “Dahlias: complete growing guide”

Growing Echiums from seed

Why I’m addicted to these exotic giants

Echium pininana
Proud mother – with Echium pininana Blue Steeple raised from seed

You may not have heard of them, or recognise them, but if you’re a fan the exotic, dramatic and downright tall, you can’t beat the Echium family.

Our native variety, E. vulgare, also known as viper’s bugloss, is a bristly biennial to 75cm, with lance-shaped, hairy leaves and cylindrical spikes of bell-shaped violet-blue flowers in early summer that bees love.

Although a great plant, I’m a massive fan of its bigger brothers and sisters, mostly natives of the Canary Islands.

Don’t let this put you off – I’ve grown them from seed (easy) for the past few years and they have survived the North East winter well – fair enough, the last four years haven’t been that cold. I also live in a relatively dry area, which is the main reason for winter failure. Continue reading “Growing Echiums from seed”

Tomatoes 2017

It’s cherries all the way after Green Zebra mutiny

Tomato Rosella
Rosella is making a comeback for this season

Small and perfectly formed are the watchwords for this year’s tomatoes – all cherries and in a host of bright colours, some old, some new.

Last year, I did get a massive crop from Green Zebra but my family hated it – only I liked it – it does have a reputation as a ‘Marmite’ tomato, so I decided to stick with the acid/sugar balance in the cherry tomatoes they will all eat.

They’re also the most expensive in the shops, so it makes economic sense to be self-sufficient in them from late June to November fresh (and over the winter if you use my tomato concentrate recipe).

They are all cordon varieties (upright vines that need support and side-shooting) that need to be grown under glass – my garden isn’t warm enough to grow tomatoes outdoors. Continue reading “Tomatoes 2017”

Sweet peas sown at last!

First proper job of the gardening year done

Sweet peas
This year’s packets

Much later than normal, I was finally well enough to sow my sweet peas yesterday.

It’s always a benchmark event in the gardening year – usually, the first seeds to be sown – so you know spring is on its way.

It’s even better when it’s a glorious day outside and the temperature in the conservatory rises high enough to work in a T-shirt and feel the sun on your skin. Continue reading “Sweet peas sown at last!”