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Michael Perry's Gardening Blog

January 2012


I’ve started a blog so I can tell you all about what’s going on in the wacky lab of Thompson & Morgan’s new product development department. I’ll tell the story of how new products come to our attention - sometimes in quite unique way - and the journey they take to get into your gardens at home.

We work with breeders and home gardeners all over the world, sometimes direct, sometimes through agents and various other contacts. But we have many, many tentacles stretched out across the globe, so we can keep abreast of new developments in the green world. I don’t quite get to climb into canyons to find new plants myself, but we know the people who do!

A close-up of Fuchsia 'Lady in Black'

We’re very proud to be the only mail order plant company with its own breeding programme too. A small team of breeders at a secret location beavers away, creating unique and different versions of the garden plants you know and love. Fuchsia 'Lady in Black' is the latest exciting plant they’ve created - it’s a welcome sibling to the already popular climbing fuchsia 'Lady Boothby', a really old variety dating back to the 1930s and which was forgotten for many years until recently. The success of 'Lady Boothby' inspired us to start up a little breeding project to create more climbing fuchsias. 100s of crosses were carried out between tall varieties and a cocktail of other colourful varieties. The offspring gave us plenty to choose from, especially the stand-out variety 'Lady in Black', with almost black, double-skirted blooms. 2 metres in a season, it just keeps going up and up, with a pair of blooms at pretty much every leaf joint.

Now, begonias and fragrance have also been another pet project of ours. If you didn’t know fragrant begonias existed, then where have you been for the last few years? Even though the enthusiasts knew all about them, it wasn’t until we worked with growers to bulk up the mix named 'Aromantics' that we could show our customers what they’re all about. They were a runaway success and we wanted to raise some more, so our breeder started the project. But the genes needed to create the best fragrant plants weren’t always the easiest to get hold of; it took countless emails and phone calls to source the exact species. Then, when we received it, we found that it flowered at a different time to all the other begonias in the programme! So we froze the pollen of this precious species and then thawed it out for use when the right flowers were out to pollinate it with.

Begonia 'Apricot Fragrant Falls

A few generations of breeding later, we now have some fine specimens with beautiful, clear colours and almost a different fragrance per colour, amazingly ranging from citrus to deep spices like cloves and cinnamon. But of course, like wine, it can be a matter of opinion! 'Apricot Fragrant Falls' was the first variety to be launched from the range, we chose this one first as it has the popular colours of our biggest selling plant ever, begonia 'Apricot Shades'. It wasn’t easy to multiply, though and, after a couple of false starts, we moved production to Ethiopia, where the warmer climate accelerates growth and therefore more cutting material is available. Begonia 'Apricot Fragrant Falls' should be used as a prized specimen in any garden or patio this summer; the plants have a very elegant cascading habit and, of course, are smothered in chunky blooms in all sorts of happy shades!

There are plenty more fragrant begonias to come from us in the next few years, not just solid colours but some with flecks and stripes and even one that looks like an iris. Yes, an iris! Keep your eyes peeled for this one!

Our new spring plant range features the fuchsia and begonia, plus lots more - which I’ll be telling you about in my next few blogs. We’ve got new lilies, a spectacular new foxglove and downy mildew tolerant busy lizzies to whet your appetite! But, for me now, I’m looking towards autumn - I’ll soon be on the ferry to the Netherlands to brave the cold and seek out new bulbs for you to buy this autumn. I can just smell the hyacinths now!

Bye for now,

Michael Perry, New Product Development Manager, Thompson & Morgan

Fuchsia 'Lady in Black'

Fuchsia 'Lady in Black'

Begonia 'Apricot Fragrant Falls'

Begonia 'Apricot Fragrant Falls'

Begonias & fuchsias in the glasshouse

Begonias & fuchsias in the glasshouse

Begonias in the glasshouse

Begonias in the glasshouse

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