The weather conditions in Essex make it an ideal place to raise plants from seed. On their 300 acre farm in Coggeshall Kings Seeds have been following a production process which has been in place for over 100 years. Ken Crowther meet Andrew Tokely on the Kings Seeds plot to find out more.


Tom is going to be lifting up a border and replanting

Tom is going to be lifting up a border and replanting

We are having some topsy-turvy weather of late. It’s cold one minute and heading for warmth the next, no wonder our plants are shooting and or flowering a little early… and as a result ever so slightly confused. They’ll be fine in the long run so no real worries at this stage. I would take care if we do have a significant frost as any new lush sappy shoots will be scorched. Prepare for this by using horticultural fleece … it really does work. And whatever you do don’t be tempted to put soft sappy plants outside if we are going to have an impending cold snap. Put them in your coolest place and be careful not to over water.

This aside it’s a great time to have a real clear up of any odd leaf piles and as I couldn’t do this last autumn, I’m going to be lifting up a border and replanting. The plants are mainly perennials that will tend to die down during winter and re-shoot in spring … so this is a perfect time. The remainder of the plants will be left alone and pruned at appropriate times throughout the year.

Have a plan if you’re going to lift up perennials. In most cases it may be as simple as lifting up with a fork, splitting and dividing, discarding old and diseased sections followed by replanting sections in the same place. For me, this gives me the opportunity to take all the perennials out and have a redesign of the area. What has worked well? Less well? Do I want to totally change and introduce new forms; although this could be costly!

It may be possible to split and divide perennials

It may be possible to split and divide perennials

It also gives me an opportunity to dig over the ground and incorporate some much needed well rotted organic matter. Digging doesn’t need to be at depth. If the soil is very friable and crumbly it is adequate to lay a good layer of compost on the soil surface – 10cm (4”) and then turn it in methodically over the entire area. If the ground has been more compacted it would be prudent to turn the soil over incorporating compost to the depth of a spade tine. Either way, it requires this to be done uniformly over the area; I’d even add horticultural grit or coarse sand if drainage needs to be improved.

Once the site has been prepared and the plants have been split and divided, this is an ideal time to place them where you think they would be best suited. Remember to note what the overall height was and the typical spread. Think about whether you want to create a border to be viewed more from the side. In this case it may be wise to think about graduated heights; tall at the back with shorter plants to the front. Personally, I like to jazz it up slightly by playing around with the depth of the border. Sometimes plants such as Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle) are great for planting at the front and through to the middle of the border. Plant some of your grasses nearer to the front to give some density to the bed and create pockets of interest. Check out this link to an online design training session it could be perfect to kick start you into action: http://www.bbc.co.uk/gardening/htbg2/virtual_garden/

Once planted water plants in to achieve good soil contact.  If you are doing this now, wait until March to apply feed. There are lots of brands on the market such as Fish, Blood and Bone, Vitax Q4, Growmore. A good application rate is around 50g/ m² (1.8 ounces/ yd²).  Follow this with a good thick layer of well rotted organic matter such as garden compost, mushroom compost or leaf mould at around 10cm (4”). This will assist in moisture retention and suppression of weeds. In time it will also contribute to soil fertility.

This is an exciting time of the year.  Pop to your local garden centre or nursery for new plant forms and cultivars and ask them – they’re all very knowledgeable about their subject, and who knows you could have a completely different border this year.

Good luck and happy gardening!

For any gardening tips why not contact Tom Cole, Senior Horticultural Lecturer, Writtle College, Chelmsford, CM1 3RR by post (including a SAE) or by email at tom.cole@writtle.ac.uk



Tom plans to compost his tomato plants

Tom plans to compost his tomato plants

Autumn is well and truly here and there are loads of jobs to do in the garden over the next coming weeks. This will involve you getting fitter than ever before with all that leaf clearing and digging!

Before you pop out and put beds to rest or tease out any thatch on your lawn, give a thought for those tender salad vegetables such as tomatoes and chilli peppers. I’m just about to harvest and clear away the cordon toms this weekend. They’ve been super this year even though at times watering and feeding has been a challenge… remember all that hot weather and as a result constant watering and weekly feeding regimes? I decided to go away for the weekend, and even though I thought I’d covered all possibilities, I hadn’t envisaged heady temperature and humidity issues during late August and early September. The result was ‘blossom end rot’, a disorder due to erratic watering leading to poor uptake of calcium. This is an essential element for the plant as it helps build cell walls. A lack of it can cause a very distinctive browning to the end of the fruit which can impact on tomatoes and pepper quality. Nonetheless, a super year with bumper crops.

Pepper can be kept through the winter as they are tender perennials

Pepper can be kept through the winter as they are tender perennials

Next, the tomato plants will now be composted; however, the peppers will be kept as they are tender perennials. I treat them like I would treat Pelargoniums cvs, fuchsia and Heliotrope arborescens (cherry pie flower) by bringing them into a cool greenhouse and letting them dry gradually reducing watering to a minimum. Next spring they’ll all be potted on and cut back hard around March. This will invigorate the plant and also provide much needed shoots which could be used as cuttings to further increase stock. None will go back out until mid to late May.   Once I’ve cleared plants I’m ready to provide some much needed maintenance to the patio area by cleaning and tidying up the remaining tubs. All debris is composted, tubs top dressed with fresh compost appropriate to plant need. I also take the opportunity to add spring colour in the form of bulbs and corms such as dwarf Narcissus ‘Minnow’ and crocus. Your local garden centre will have loads on offer to tempt you!

Finally, any perennials that are looking tired should be cut back and spent tops composted. Leave grasses and any interesting perennials with decorative seed heads for the birds to enjoy over the winter months; these down mid to late February next year.

Happy gardening… and take the time to visit a local garden near you. Ever so slightly biased, but I do love to visit RHS Garden Hyde Hall over in Rettendon. Give them a call to check out any events/ activities on 0845 265 8071

For any gardening tips why not contact Tom Cole, Senior Horticultural Lecturer, Writtle College, Chelmsford, CM1 3RR by post (including a SAE) or by email at tom.cole@writtle.ac.uk