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Facebook Q&A Session Januay 21st

Click here to view details of our previous Q&A sessions.

Name: Philip Robinson

Question: I have just acquired an allotment. What are the best 1st early and maincrop potatoes to grow? I live in Sheffield where spring is always late so digging is still heavy in March

Answer: For the earliest potatoes you might benefit from growing potatoes in containers although they will need frost protection. Otherwise you can continue to plant seed potatoes up until the end of May if heavy soil is a problem. There are so many potato varieties to choose from but for first early potatoes I would recommend ‘Rocket’, ‘Lady Christl’  and ‘Pentland Javelin’  for reliable crops.

For maincrop potatoes I’d recommend ‘Desiree’  (a popular all-rounder), ‘Maris Piper’  (a good all-rounder and makes great chips) and ‘King Edward’  (especially good for roasting). Good luck with your new allotment Philip, feel free to come back to us if you have any further questions.

Name: Helen Rushton

Question: Grew sweet potatoes for the first time last year in my poly tunnel, I was so pleased with the results I've just ordered more. Also trying water melon this year, any tips for getting a good result in a poly tunnel?

Answer: Hi Helen. Watermelons are tropical or sub-tropical plants so they should thrive in a polytunnel, although make sure you regularly ventilate the polytunnel to prevent pests and diseases.

Melons are most successfully grown in rich, fertile soil. A liberal application of well-rotted manure or garden compost should be dug into the soil before planting. Watermelons are extremely vigorous (they can spread 3-4 metres) so give them plenty of space – plant them about 1m apart. After planting, keep them well watered but they must not sit in wet soil for long periods as this will cause them to rot. Feed with a balanced fertiliser every two weeks until the fruits begin to develop.

Pinch out the growing point on each plant when they are about 2m long, to encourage laterals to form. When the flowers form, choose five female blooms per plant (female flowers have a small bump underneath them). Using a fine paintbrush and the pollen from the male flowers, you can begin to hand pollinate your chosen female blooms. As the fruits begin to set, remove any further flowers and feed with a high potash feed. Be extra careful with your watering as the fruits develop. Overwatering as the fruit develops can make the melons watery and tasteless. I know it sounds complicated, but it is well worth the effort! Best of luck.

Name: Jo Turrell

Question: I have a Lady Boothby fuchsia. Can anyone give me advice on when to cut it back please.

Answer: Hi Jo, it’s best to prune Fuchsias in the spring as Kevin has suggested. If you notice any weak spindly growth, cut these shoots right back to the base. If your Lady Boothby is well established, prune out the oldest stems when the fresh buds begin to break, aiming to keep an open framework. Reduce the remaining stems to restrict their vigorous growth to the space available and tie the stems in to their support.

Name: Gina Allison

Question: I have a number of seeds left from last year, but they were left in a box in the greenhouse until now. Will they all need replacing, because of the cold weather we have had, or should a percentage of them be ok? Just to add, the seeds are within date.

Answer: Hi Gina, the cold temperatures shouldn’t have affected your seeds provided they have remained dry in their packets. Given that they are also within date they should germinate just fine.

Name: Kay Crawford

Question: Hi, I'm looking for suggestions for some plants for the front of my house. It is a north-facing wall, with a big bay window, so something that will go underneath, or up and round, the window. I'd like something evergreen, so it looks good all year. Many thanks.

Answer: Hi Kay, there are quite a few evergreen climbers which will happily grow on a north facing wall and can be trained around windows and doors. You could try the evergreen Lonicera japonica ‘Halliana’ (Japanese Honeysuckle) which has sweetly scented flowers in the spring and summer. Pyracantha will do well in a sunless position and will provide both summer flowers and colourful autumn berries although bear in mind it does have woody thorns.

Pileostegia viburnoides is an attractive evergreen climber with heads of small cream flowers in late summer and autumn. For something a bit different you could try Akebia quinata which has scented purple spring flowers and bright green foliage which is semi-evergreen. I hope this gives you some ideas to start with.

Name: Anna Simon

Question: Hi , could you tell me what the minimum distance away from the house a fig tree should be planted please? There are a couple quite close to our new house (5m and 10m away) and I think they may have to go. Many thanks, Anna Simon

Answer: Hi Anna. Tree root systems can sometimes cause subsidence problems when planted too close to buildings; however this only occurs on shrinkable clay soils. Figs can develop large root systems with maturity but this can normally be restricted by installing a root barrier. Figs respond quite well to root growth restriction.

You have not said how large these trees are, or whether they belong to you or a neighbour. If they are yours, and they are quite large then you could remove the closest one just for peace of mind. (Check with the local council that they are not protected by a tree preservation order before undertaking any work.) The other one is 10m distant, and this should usually be far enough away to reduce the risk of subsidence.

If you notice any significant cracking to the building, (particularly cracks which widen after dry weather in the summer and close after wet weather in the winter) then you should contact your building insurers.

Name: Anna Simon

Question: Hi, we have a long(20m), two row asparagus bed. We didn't plant it, we moved here in August so haven't cropped anything yet. It is getting terribly overgrown with grass - I try to weed it but the grass is really hard to get out and takes forever - I am fighting a losing battle! Any suggestions? Thank you.

Answer: What a lovely surprise to find in your new garden! An established aspargus bed is well worth keeping. I must admit that I am rather envious.

Now is the ideal time to get out there and clear the plot. Don’t put it off until spring as you will risk damaging the asparagus shoots as the push their way up through the soil. I’m afraid that hand weeding really is the best method with asparagus as they are shallow rooted and can therefore be damaged by hoeing.  Take your time over it and make sure that you get the perennial weed roots out of the ground as well as.

When faced with a laborious job like this I find it useful to divide the plot into sections and just do a section at a time, so that you feel some sense of achievement. I know that this job probably feels daunting but your efforts will repay you in delicious spears for 20 years or more.

Name: Mary O' Donovan

Question: Hi can you suggest cut flowers that I can grow myself so that I can have a constant supply through the year. Many thanks

Answer: Hi Mary. Here are a few ideas that should keep you well supplied in cut flowers, but if you look at our website in the ‘flowers for cutting’ section then you can refine by flowering month to give you a few more ideas.

November/ December/ Jan/ Feb – Try growing bulbs in containers for forcing. They can be brought indoors for a colourful display.

March – Wallflower

April – Tree Peony

May – Stocks, Sweet Williams, Pinks, Delphinium

June – Phlox, Calendula, Alstroemeria, Sweet Pea, Coreopsis

July –Echinacea, Gerbera, Lavender, Cosmos

August – Candytuft, Helenium, Helianthus, Monarda

September – Rudbeckia, Eryngium, Scabious, Hydrangea

October – Chrysanthemum

Name: Lucy Garden

Question: A slightly wacky one - I have a new boiler which has a steam outlet through an outside wall onto which I was thinking of putting a lean-to greenhouse. Would it be a good idea to pipe the steam into the greenhouse? It would take off the chill in winter, but it would be moist, which not all plants would like in winter.

Answer: Hi Lucy. Large amounts of steam would certainly increase the temperature and the humidity in your greenhouse, but without adequate ventilation this may risk encouraging the spread of disease.

The size of your greenhouse should also be considered. Small greenhouses have a small air volume which heats and cools quicker than in a larger greenhouse, and this can lead to large fluctuations in temperature. This type of heating would also be fairly inconsistent as it is dependent on when your boiler is in use. It’s a great idea but I would be cautious about testing it on your most prized plants!

Name: Beth Stewart

Question: I want to add a greenhouse or a polytunnel to my garden. I have plenty of room for either. I live on the Ards Peninsula with the Strangford Lough on one side and the open sea on the other. The wind comes across the open ground (farmland). I have planted Leylandii and a staggered row of bushes and broad leaf trees as a wind break. There is still a lot of wind though and I am not sure of the benefits of a poly tunnel.

Answer: You have done the right thing by planting a windbreak. Once this becomes established it will become invaluable in offering shelter to your garden. In the meantime, you might find it useful to invest in windbreak fencing/ mesh which can be very effective and offer good protection immediately. It can be removed in 10 years or so, once the hedge has reached maturity. Products such as Paraweb are used by many commercial growers (although this may be out of the price range of most gardeners) but there are much cheaper windbreak fences on the market.

There are a number of polytunnel suppliers who are offering durable products which are specifically targeted at gardeners on windy sites, with strengthened frames, storm bracing, strong anchorage, and more durable covers. It would be worth talking to several of these companies to find out what they recommend for your particular circumstances.

If you are able to position it behind a building where it will be protected from the prevailing winds then this would also help. In such circumstances it is better to save up and buy the right product for your garden than to choose something cheap that won’t last. Once you start using your polytunnel you will wonder how you ever managed without it! Best of luck, Beth.

Name: John Gibson

Question: I have just moved into a cottage with a long stone wall (facing West) along the front of the garden (roughly 3 foot high). I fancy growing some trailing plants or similar to cover and produce a bit more colour. Any suggestions would be great.

Answer: Hi John. Take a look at this list of plants which are all well suited to the hot dry conditions that your west facing wall is likely to offer.

Name: Kevin Joseph

Question: This is a question for Sue, my pansies have took a battering from the cold weather we had recently, as you can see in the picture they don’t look the best atm. I have the same basket out my back garden and are slowly recovering but these are not providing any new shoots. Please advise me

Answer: Hi Kevin. Your pansies certainly do look worse for wear. Pansies are pretty resilient to cold weather and will normally bounce back quite quickly. However I notice that the ones at the top of the basket look fine whereas the ones below are struggling. I think that you should check the compost. In winter it is really easy to get the watering wrong.

If you find that the compost is quite dry, and the basket feels very light when lifted, then you may be underwatering. This is quite a common oversight in winter. Check the compost around the base of the plants hanging from the bottom of the basket to check that the soil is evenly moist. If necessary, give them a good drink in the morning to ensure that they have drained sufficiently before the temperatures drop again at night.

However, take care not to overdo it. If compost becomes too wet and it turns really cold then the water in the soil can freeze. This won’t be a problem over short periods, but over a sustained period this can cause root damage. If they don’t improve then you can cut back the damaged stems to live shoots and they will regrow as the weather warms up.

Name: Darren Harrow

Question: Hi, would love to know your recommended 3 best climbers that are easy to plant, smell ok and grow fairly quickly!

Answer: Hi Darren, the first plant that comes to mind is Clematis armandii. This is a very vigorous, evergreen climber which produces white flowers in the spring and is very fragrant. It will quickly scramble over any surface and can reach up to 5m.

My second choice would have to be Lonicera periclymenum ‘Serotina’, which is a vigorous, twining, deciduous climber with a classic strong Honeysuckle fragrance. It flowers from July through to the autumn and the flowers are followed by red berries which is an added bonus.

I would also recommend planting a Jasmine such as Jasminum officinale ‘Clotted Cream’. It’s a vigorous, twining, deciduous climber and the scent is delicious – you’ll want to plant this one outside your front or back door! All of these plants are easy to grow and should cover their designated space very quickly!

Name: Claire Orwin

Question: All my cordylines are drooping downwards. Does that mean that they are dead or are they likely to come back to life?

Answer: It sounds as though your cordylines may have been caught by the frost. This is quite common but they often reshoot from lower down the stems. Cordylines are surprisingly tolerant of pruning and can even be hard pruned to just above ground level if they are in good health. Be patient and wait until the weather warms up in spring and the new shoots appear. You can cut back the damaged growth to just above the new shoots once all risk of frost has passed. Your plants will also appreciate a good feed after pruning.

Name: Kevin Jarvis

Question: My corkscrew hazel keeps growing straight instead of twisting.This is from the main branches and not from below by the roots. Is there anything that i can do to make it grow properly? We have a north facing garden and it is planted against a fence where it gets the sun (when it does come out) and is away from wind.

Answer: Hi Kevin. Corkscrew Hazel quite often sends out some straight shoots from the branches (as opposed to suckers from the base of the plant). It’s just part of its character! These shoots tend to be quite vigorous and seem to grow much faster than the twisted shoots so it is best to prune them out before they become too dominant.

Name: Jo Moore

Question: Can you tell me how to tame a montana clematis, but still get flowers please ?

Answer: Hi Jo. Clematis Montana falls into pruning group 1 and requires minimal pruning. Take a look at our clematis pruning guide to find out how and when to prune your clematis.

Name: Pauline Askew

Question: Hi i wrote to you before regarding my worm problem in my lawn. I did everything you recomended doing, but they are back with a vengance! My lawn (even at this time of year) looks terrible with small mounds of earth covering my lawn, though it is very wet n muddy (What was a lawn) I have tried encouraging the birds onto the lawn but they are outnumbered by worms lol. Please tell me what i can do next, becase if i cant control them im going to get rid of the lawn!!Please advise me

Answer: Hi Pauline, sorry to hear you are still having problems with your lawn. Even though the worms are destroying your lawn, they are a very important part of our ecosystem and there are no recommended chemicals available (at least to gardeners) to treat the problem. Given there are so many worms you must have very good soil! It may be a good idea to contact a local lawn specialist who will be able to give you further advice. If it still concerns you, perhaps you would be best to replace the lawn with a worm-free patio, or you could change the area usage from lawn to flower or vegetable beds.