Thursday, 14 August 2014

A visit to the Thompson and Morgan trial grounds

The other day I received an email that I can only equate to being like finding one of Wonka's golden tickets, it was an invitation to visit the Thompson and Morgan trial grounds which are at a secret location (no, really) to the east of where I live, actually to the east of where many people live.  It was an opportunity I just could not refuse so on the appointed day I set off, sat nav and instructions duly to hand.
On arrival we were warmly welcomed by Michal Perry and Kris Collins; Michael is to many is the public face of Thompson and Morgan on Twitter and on home shopping channels and I suppose for the purposes of this day he was our Willy Wonka.  He showed us around, talking us through the plants: old favourites, new plants and secret developments for future seasons.  He talked about the history of Thompson and Morgan and the various different branches of the company which in itself was interesting as it was founded in 1855 which is a lot older than I thought (though admittedly I had not really thought about it much).  
The trial grounds were fascinating, probably not as large as you would expect, though, again, I didn't really know what to expect.  The mass of colour from the planting was almost overwhelming and there were bees and butterflies everywhere.  Michael talked us through some of the thinking behind some of the developments they make in plant breeding of look for in other plant breeders.  They have buddlijas that do not seed around as prolifically as other types and scented begonias and petunias.  They sell plants that have good colour and performance and can sell plants that garden centres would struggle to market as they might not display as easily as other plants on the shelves but perform brilliantly in our gardens.  This shows I was clearly listening to the sales pitch.
There were also products to see that show off the plants to their best advantage such as wall pouches, planting bags that can be moved around easily and hanging baskets.  They also develop planting mixes for hanging baskets that all flower at the right time yet do not overwhelm each other. 
Now I am not a huge hanging basket fan, but I could see that these were pretty and the hanging basket system they sell certainly seems a good way of doing it.
Beyond the display area were the trial fields.  Michael explained that in the display area plants were cosseted and fed and watered carefully.  In the field they were planted and had to fend for themselves. The field was full of flowers and vegetables.  Some were looking perfect, some were looking manky as some were clearly failing the trial.
Row upon row, some being trialled for colour and form and disease resistance.
and the colour was just wonderful.  As was the view across the fields.  The view across the fields is important as you can see how flat it is and how unprotected the trial field is from the elements.  If plants survive the field test they are going to be tough.
These rows of sunflowers just looked amazing.  It was a very blustery day and even though they were getting quite battered, most were standing up to it ok.  I love growing sunflowers and seeing the range of colour and size was fascinating.  2015 is apparently going to be the year of the sunflower, so expect to see lots of sunflower seeds to tempt you.
There were also some planted up borders and these were very well planted.  They have quite a team of gardeners and you can see the care and pride they take with these borders.  Obviously they are there to show off the plants to look their very best, and they do succeed in this.  This led to various oohs and ahs as we inspected the planting.
I love growing zinnias so these caught my eye,
as did these very jazzy dahlias.
These begonias looked good in the border too, they set off the dahlias and tagetes either side of them very well.  Again I have to admit I am not really a bedding plant sort of gardener, but I looked at them and thought they would also look good in a pot.  I've been trialing Thompson and Morgan plants for a couple of years now and that has challenged me at times at how I would grow plants I would not usually consider, and this has led to some very interesting pots of plants.

We were plied with tea and cake and sent on our way with goody bags.  So you can expect further updates on how these seeds and plants perform.  But I will give you my top tip for the must grow plant from all that I saw .........
...... Daucus Dara, the cut flower carrot, seriously find this and buy it, it will make you glad you did.  Of course I now have a packet of seeds to try so I will let you know how they do next year.

I have to finish with a big thank you to Thompson and Morgan, Michael and Kris for the invitation and for such a great opportunity, it was a privilege to be able to attend.

8 comments:

  1. Sounds like a fantastic visit. Looking forward to reports on flowering carrot - mine get eaten before flowering!

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  2. I'd love to grow more zinnia and that Daucus looks gorgeous. Has Kris Collins left Amateur Gardening mag then? I thought he was just on holiday. Thanks for sharing pics and info.

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    1. Hi Karen, thanks :) yes apparently Kris joined T & M a few weeks ago

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  3. What a wonderful day out for you,wonderful to see so much colour out in the fields, being so flat it must be a good testing ground for all the new plants.

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  4. Reads like a fascinating visit. Being exposed like that must really test the plants. Will be interested to see how the Daucus Dara goes - carrot flowers are very structural & elegant, if you let them get to that stage.

    Michael as Willy Wonka - perfect description. He is like that on Twitter too!

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  5. It was a most enjoyable afternoon - our posts about it share a certain theme ... :-)

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  6. Oooh Dacus Dara and recommended by you - now that's a must - have to confess I'm not a bedding plant fan either, but that will look good in a mixed border...

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  7. The sunflowers were lovely, weren't they? I guess we'll be seeing a lot of sunflowers next year! It was lovely to meet you - and I'm glad you got back safely.

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