Thursday, 21 August 2014

Trial, Corruption and A Few Good Plants

Gardeners are an optimistic bunch. If a crop or plant doesn't succeed in one growing season, we reason that we can always try again next year. Eventually, after another year (or years if stubbornness and tenacity are combined with our natural gardeners' optimism), we might decide to move on and when we do there is usually something new, more vigorous, sweeter, higher yielding, more floriferous, taller or more compact to try, all thanks to the huge amount of work involved in breeding, selecting and trialling plants.  



I had the immense pleasure of touring the Thompson and Morgan trial site last week. The remnants of Hurricane Bertha had swept across this secret location the day before and threw hail and thunder at us while we were there, yet the Delphinium looked splendid. These glorious Delphinium are from Terry Dowdeswell in New Zealand and they are strong growing, blackspot resistant and have well-spaced flowers. 



The site is home to an extensive collection of plants being trialled in containers. These include shrubs such as Buddleja 'Buzz' and Hydrangea paniculata ‘Sundae Fraise’ which look great in pots. Needless to say, this is a popular spot with butterflies.


I love Limonium vulgare. We see it growing in the dunes on the beaches in Norfolk and I grow it in the farmhouse borders. The problem for me is that it is so insignificant in the garden setting that it is easy to overlook. Limonium ‘Blue Velvet’ has none of these shrinking violet tendencies. It is beefy without looking as if it is pumped up with steroids and although it is a good house plant, it looks wonderful outdoors. I sincerely hope it makes it through the trials as it has been catapulted to the top of my wish list. 


The container plants at the trial site are given a liquid feed every other day. At the other extreme, those growing in the field are watered when they are planted and then left very much to their own devices. The field, with its rows of crops and flowers battling with the elements is more akin to the growing conditions in my garden, so naturally I was keen to discover how the plants there fared. The truth is that not all of them are happy, which is just as it should be, otherwise how would we gauge any improvements?



I am particularly partial to pea tips, so I would normally look upon a pea trial as a potential grazing opportunity, but since most of the peas were mildew-ridden, I was saved the embarrassment of being caught eating the trial. I wouldn't have minded some of ‘Terrain’ though, it stood out like a beacon of health in a swamp of mildew. The contrast between the plants was astonishing. 



Strangely enough, an ornamental carrot really got me drooling. The frothy burgundy flowers of Daucus carota ‘Dara’ added that intriguing combination of darkness of colour and lightness in form to the border.  Although it is ornamental it produces a white edible root, but since it is a carrot, the flowers ought to be attractive to pollinators so despite my unseemly drooling, I won't be pulling up the roots for lunch.



A plant which is definitely great for pollinators is Ageratum. I have spent the past few years feeling guilty that I don’t grow it as I sow only larger annuals. Ageratum houstonianum ‘Timeless Mixed’ which is new for 2015, is a taller version which means that I will be re-introducing Ageratum to my garden next year. It also makes a good cut flower, which will doubtless continue the Ageratum cycle of guilt when I steal stems from the pollinators to pop in a vase. 



On a happier note, Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Cupcakes’ is simply beautiful. Even a cake-shy coeliac like me will want to see these cupcakes in the garden in 2016. It is just a pity we will have to wait for so long. 



In the meantime, there are always tomatoes. In a blind taste test of five varieties, ‘sweet aperitif’ came out tops for me. It will certainly be making an appearance on my seed wish list for 2015.



During the evening after the tour, it became apparent that my camera and computer were no longer happy to communicate with one another. My camera card was corrupt and my lap top was having none of it, so I was left pictureless. My thanks go to Thompson and Morgan for supplying the wonderful photos in this post. Thank you too to Michael Perry, Kris Collins and Hannah Ashwell for a fascinating tour coupled with timely cups of tea and the sweetest of pink blueberries to nibble on. 

If you want to know more about Thompson and Morgan, they are at:
http://www.thompson-morgan.com/

If you want to read more about the day:

http://www.blackberrygarden.co.uk/2014/08/a-visit-to-thompson-and-morgan-trial.html
http://blog.plantpassion.co.uk/2014/08/great-new-cut-flower-varieties-at-the-thompson-and-morgan-trials-field.html
http://gardenerinnit.wordpress.com/2014/08/18/my-first-attempt-at-this-blogging-malarkey/
http://hoehoegrow.blogspot.co.uk/
http://vegplotting.blogspot.co.uk/


42 comments:

  1. I have found Thompson & Morgan seeds difficult, but you have just proved that the problem is me, not them.

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    1. Have you? I haven't noticed a difference between brands. My mind is turning to autumn sowings, so I'll see if there's a difference. It would be fair to compare only the same cultivars, which could lead to us being inundated with one variety of sweet peas. There are worse gluts, I suppose.

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  2. Yours is the third review I've read of visiting T&M It;s like reading about a party everyone else went to :) You have answered my mystery of a purple cow parsley like flower- thanks.

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    1. That sounds so sad. I'm pleased the ornamental carrot mystery is resolved though.

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  3. Sounds like you guys had a great time. Shame we couldn't make it but happy enough to see the features on other blogs of the day :)

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  4. It was a fab afternoon, and it is fascinating reading the different posts about it, and seeing a different perspective from one's own. It's a lovely idea to put links on to the other blogs, so thank you for that!

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    1. I have enjoyed reading everyone else's posts and seeing which plants they favoured.

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  5. I read Jane's (HoeHoeGrow) post on this but was distracted by a rather gorgeous man that appeared in her photos. But thankfully I concentrated on what you were saying about the flowers - it must be very interesting to see new flowers in situ giving an idea of what they would look like in the garden. I expect you were all taking notes like mad of those plants that you fancied - very tempting - did you get any freebies?

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    1. My sincere apologies for the lack of gorgeous men in my post. I took copious notes and yes, there were some lovely freebies. I look forward to seeing how they do in my garden.

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  6. Fun day! I would have been frantically scribbling down the names of plants I liked, too. It's reassuring that they held field trials to really find out how a plant performs. I"m tired of pampered babies that only grow well in greenhouses.

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    1. I agree. The field was very open to the elements, which is how I garden here.

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  7. This is an experience that I would have enjoyed for sure! I am always curious when I drive down the road and see plants that are completely left alone in parking strips and they look fantastic. I'm interested in plants for my own garden that can hold their own in our zone so this is right up my alley. I found it interesting that some of those containers were fed every other day...wow! And those delphiniums were extraordinary! Thanks for sharing friend! SO SO many outstanding species up there! Have a lovely weekend! Nicole

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    1. Thank you, Nicole! The feeding every other day part is completely beyond me. I probably underfeed my plants, which is great for tomatoes as I am convinced they taste better under stress (at least that's my defence for forgetting to feed them). The Delphinium were amazing.

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  8. I have never been to a trial garden before; that must have been fascinating! The pea that sat in splendor amidst mildew-ridden companions must surely make it through the trials with flying colors! It was also interesting that they fed their container plants every other day. Mine are lucky if they get fed twice a month.

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    1. It is quite shocking to see so much mildew and then to see the resistant variety performing. Well done for feeding your plants twice a month - my tomatoes appear to have gone green with envy!

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  9. What a great day out. Some good reviews there of plants to watch out for in the future, I shall make a note of the names.

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    1. It was an excellent day out. Inspiring, in fact.

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  10. Such fun to be able to visit the trial site of Thomson and Morgan, I should have liked to be there too. The new Delphiniums and the ´Cupcakes´ Cosmea are something for me.

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    1. Yes - Cosmos 'Cupcake' looks a stronger pink in the photo - it was a rather subtler and prettier shade in the field and I can't wait to grow it.

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  11. That's a great day out! How interesting to see the trials-especially liked the mildew plants with the contrasting lush green one. I'm very interested in what's going on with container planting as I'm just about to move into a house with a small garden and I love containers...but not the ones full of twee begonias!

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    1. The shrubs in pots were an eye-opener. The Hydrangea and Buddleja in the photos above looked especially good. There are some fab patio veg varieties around too, so you won't have to go without your greens!

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  12. A great place to visit Sarah. Certainly colourful. I have read a couple of the other blogs and you all sound like you had a good visit and was nice to get a bit of a heads up on some of the plants.
    I read with interest about the smaller Buddleia, I have read on more than one occasion that if planted in the ground they are not dwarfs and are not much smaller than say B. davidii. The GCs here are certainly full with them so they must do a fair bit of trade on them.

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    1. That's interesting, Angie. I have a dwarf Buddleja in a border in the farmhouse garden, but it has been there less than a year. I will keep an eye on it to see what happens.

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  13. Thank you for the tour. It must be so interesting to see what is being tried. What a rainbow of colors! The Delphinium and Cosmos really caught my eye. Unfortunately, in my family, Ageratum was very popular as a cemetery plot plant and that's the first thing I think of when I see them!

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    1. Oh dear! Although those little cushiony Ageratum would make lovely cemetary pot plants.

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  14. Sounds like a fine way to spend a day out! Pleased to see that I'll now be able to plant wild carrot and call it an ornamental, rather than just letting the weedy variety grow and pretending it was meant to be there all along... do you know if seed will be available from next year?

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    1. I always feel like that about Ammi majus and cow parsley! The seed of Daucus carota 'Dara' is available now.

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  15. I must admit I do persevere, optimistic? well I more often get called suborn. Great to embrace new plants, love Cosmos gives a terrific show, wish it were perennial.

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    1. Ah yes - perennial Cosmos would be brilliant!

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  16. Oh, how incredibly frustrating to have your camera punk out on you on such a day. Even so, what a fun visit.

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  17. And the wish list just keeps getting longer and longer......If you are like me , you always need more land!! Thank you for the lovely tour!

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    1. The day I hear a gardener declare that they have every plant they could ever want, I will eat the contents of my compost bin!

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  18. What a dream opportunity......really envy you.
    Never seen so many colours, I would have a wish list as long as my arm :)

    I love cup cake......now that is a plant to look out for.......

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    1. It was really interesting, Cheryl - and colourful! I think we will all be trying cupcake in 2016!

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  19. Now that sounds like an interesting day. I shall be on the lookout for 'Terrain'. My peas are also mildew-ridden this year!

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    1. Here's hoping you find 'Terrain' - it looked as if it was going to pass the mildew test with flying colours.

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  20. Hi Sarah, it sounds like you had a great day. The fact that T&M are trialling in open ground with little attention gives me more confidence in their product catalogue. I expect I'll be getting quite a bit of seed from them to get the new garden going (once I've done digging the borders).

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    1. It was very open - those plants are really taking a battering from the elements. Exciting times for you, Sunil, once those borders are dug!

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