I like doing experiments, at least when I am gardening. I think it is an attempt on my part to counter my rule-following behaviour, something which I have been trying to loosen ever since I noticed it in myself. I suspect it is easier to do in gardening – and cooking – because after a while you quickly realise that (a) there are almost as many rules as gardeners/cooks, and (b) actually they are more guidelines than rules, and experience trumps all.

I have been meaning to post about my tomato experiments for weeks now. The main experiment was the obvious, simple one – which tomatoes do we most like to grow? I needed a mix of indoor and outdoor as my greenhouse is only small and I still need room to pot on and generally footle. So, I am trying ‘Gold Nugget’ (which for some reason seems to grow better for me than the ever-popular ‘Sungold’, so not so much an experimet as a return to known loveliness). Sorry, where was I… OK, so ‘Gold Nugget’, ‘Marmande’ (for large beefy toms), ‘Ferline’ (mid sized, allegedly blight resistant), ‘Olivade’ (mid size plum) and both red and yellow ‘Tumbler’. All prefer to grow outside, though I am hedging and trying one each of ‘Ferline’ and ‘Olivade’ inside too, and all, apart from ‘Marmande’ and ‘Gold Nugget’ new to me. For indoors I have gone for ‘Gardener’s Delight’, because everyone seems to rave about it and I had free seed.

I’ve already posted about trying growing some outdoor tomatoes in a growbag on its side held in place by bamboo stakes in a small plastic greenhouse. They seem to like it, as they are now “growing like Topsy“.

Newly Caged Tomatoes
Flourishing Caged Tomatoes

The stack of 10l pots in the left hand photo are now full of tomatoes, creating what I have christened “Tomato Alley”.

Tomato Alley

I figured that since the growbags contain 30l compost then the tomatoes grown in the growbag on its side with the extra pots, and therefore extra 2l compost, might do slightly better. Its hard to tell since they are growing at different heights, but so far there is no discernible difference between e.g. the Ferline growing in a 10l pot and the Ferline growing in the growbag cage. So much for that experiment. The other intentional experiment outdoors is that this year I am growing the ‘Gold Nugget’ tomatoes au naturel, i.e. I am not pinching out the sideshoots. I only discovere this Spring that according to some sources this can produce more fruit than if you pinch them out, and since I am not a huge fan of the relentless race to get rid of the sideshoots that seem to leap into growth as soon as your back is turned, I thought I would give it a go.

Tomato-Filled Greenhouse
Greenhouse Caged Tomatoes

The greenhouse is now being taken over by tomatoes too. The three that I had planted in pots and put on my own self-watering platform are steaming away, all ‘Gardener’s Delight’. There are actually two experiments here, the first being the self watering platform, the second being all Esther’s fault. A while ago she blogged about pinching out tomatoes, saying that while her husband regarded this as essential she left them to their own devices and never saw a difference in yield. Since the tomato plant all the way in the corner is hard to get to anyway, I decided to make a virtue out of necessity and see what difference there was in cropping if I left well alone or pinched out. So that corner tomato has been left to do what it likes, whilst I attempt to keep on top of the pinching out on the remainder. Interestingly, the plant I have not pinched out at all is several inches taller than either of the others. I am also fascinated to see that the three tomatoes planted in the growbag on end, mirroring the outdoor experiment, are fast catching up with the three in pots, despite having been planted up three weeks later than the the potted ones and having been looking rather yellow and potbound because of it.

Growring Tomatoes

The final experiment is not really worthy of the name, since it should be with the same variety of tomatoes as the other growing methods (‘Gardener’s Delight’) but is actually being done with my “what if the blight hits and I never get to try these” ‘Ferline’ and ‘Olivade’ tomatoes instead. I don’t know why I bought a couple of grow rings, I bought them years ago, before I ever got into growing edibles, and found them when tidying up at the end of last year. I wanted to see what difference it made using plain plastic pots with the bottom cut out of them versus “proper” grow rings. I won’t actually learn much from this, as not only are the tomatoes a different variety (two, actually), but there are only two, as opposed to three, planted in the bag, so theoretically they should do better anyway as they have more room for their roots. But hey, nothing’s perfect, and I care more about getting lots of tasty fruit than I do about making my old Science teacher turn in his grave with my less-than-perfect methodology.

Marmande Flowers

I love tomatoes, and the only thing better than seeing loads of flowers everywhere, which are beautiful in their own right, is seeing all the fruits start to develop.

Ripening Tumbler Toms
Ripening Marmande Toms

So much for the experiments, such as they are, on to the surprises.

Rudbekia Rustic Dwarf Mix

Rudbekia hirta ‘Rustic Dwarf Mix’ is even more beautiful than I had hoped, and is starting to flower prolifically.

Foxglove 'Pam's Split'

I would have expected my Foxglove ‘Pam’s Split’ plants to have started flowering by the end of May, instead they have waited until the end of June, but are no less welcome. The bees are happy to see them too.

Geranium phaeum

I thought I had lost my Geranium phaeum, which was sad as it is my favourite geranium, but here is is, better late than never. Definitely one I will be taking with me.


At some point while I was lounging around in bed ignoring the garden a daisy plant suddenly appeared in the middle of the Euphorbia, way too lovely to remove.

Hoverfly On Cornflower

The advantage of not having been up to an allotment trip to plant out the cornflowers is that they have started flowering here in the back garden in their too-small pots, making both me and the hoverflies very happy. I think they may just get planted up here somewhere.

Oakleaf Hydrangea Flower Spike

And having waited over five years for my Oakleaf Hydrangea to flower, I am enjoying the long slow unfurling of the huge flower spikes, and the contrast with the last remnants of the Sweet Rocket. Which brings me to the identity crisis.

I was so excited about my sprouting baycorn, so when Esther asked me if it had got a red stem yet I was a little disconceted. I went and took another look.

Coffee Seedling

Not a Baby Bay Tree at all – turns out this is actually a sprouting coffee bean, another gift from Esther. Something I would have known if I had bothered to check my own label. Which I didn’t, because I knew that it was a baycorn, and anyway my labels sometimes lie to me. So I was extra thrilled to discover that one of the pots that I had been assidulously watering in the greenhouse despite no signs of life was, in fact, a baby bay tree.

Bay Seedling

Complete with red stem, and now sat safely alongside the coffee plant – not that I exactly expect to be grinding my own beans any time soon – safe from the snails that are destroying my other seedlings in the greenhouse.

38 thoughts on “Experiments, surprises and an identity crisis

  1. Hi Janet,

    I’m glad you’re having so much Tomato success, mine are well behind last year but I am sure I will get Tomatoes in the end… I never know which types to get so always end up with boring ones such as Gardener’s delight, I’d love to try some of those big beefy types but then get confused and in the end I’m too late and resort to the trusty tried and tested :P

    1. Hi Liz, I made the mistake of visiting a specialist tomato seed website. Totally overwhelming! In the end I went by things that were RHS AGM and that bloggers I follow had recommended. I figure if I grow at least one new-to-me tomato variety each year I should have explored about a thousandth of the avaialble range by the time I shuffle off this mortal coil! Will let you know which of this year’s experiments were worth it for the taste.

  2. Janet, I absolutely loved your opening paragraph. I couldn’t have possibly said it better. I feel guilty whenever people ask me gardening questions because the fact is there’s no one way to garden and the answer is always variable.

    1. Hi Marguerite, glad that chimed with you. I love swapping techniques and tips with other gardeners but have learnt the hard way not to take it all as gospel or to pretend that what works for me in my garden would work for someone else. Strangely liberating!

  3. As far as I’m concerned, there are no rules for gardening! I love that you have two little trees sprouting. The bay is really striking! What are you going to do with all those tomatoes? We make fried tomatoes here in the summer and they are delish!

    1. tomato salad, roast tomatos, passata, tomato sauce, pizza toppings, minched by the handful… Admittedly I seem to have been a little carried away, but hey, that’s what freezers are for!!

  4. We have often grown Gardener’s Delight and it wasn’t memorable for me (in taste that is) I’m trying heritage seeds this year. I think it may be some misguided romantic notion as one lot ( Yellow Estonian or some such name)hardly germinated at all and the other (Cyril’s Choice ) are quite slow to grow. All ours have to be grown indoors.

    1. |Hi Janet. I felt the same about Sungold – I’d even eaten some home grown Sungold when we lived on Anglesey and thought them really tasty, but we much preferred Gold Nugget last year. Different soil? Will be intrigued to see what we make of Gardener’s Delight. Sorry your romantic toms are not doing the business so far. I suppose the nursery men would say that this is why they created new varieties, because the old ones weren’t as tasty or reliable. I hope yours make up for their unpromising beginnings when you come to eat them.

  5. Janet, I’m impressed with the growth of your tomatoes. Mine still look like your before picture. Do you use fertilisers ?
    I’m growing two in pots and two in a flower bed. The latter seem to be doing much better, maybe the nutrients have washed out of the soil in the pots. To date I haven’t used fertilisers of any sort but I’m thinking about it.

    1. Hi b-a-g. I’m using organic peat free compost (New Horizon Tomato Growbags) and only started feeding two weeks ago, 2-3 times a week with seaweed feed.What size pots are you using? Maybe they need more soil around them? But tomatoes are tough blighters, they may just be sulking because it has been cold and will soon shoot up.

  6. Your tomatoes look wonderful, Janet! Whatever method you are using seems to be working, so I would say all the experiments are a success. Interestingly, I’ve never heard of any of the varieties you’ve planted–perhaps they’re more popular in the UK? I’m experimenting with one heirloom tomato variety this year; otherwise, I’ve stuck to my old standbys. My tomatoes often get hit with the tomato wilt in August, so I like to make sure I have some disease-resistant varieties planted.

    That’s too funny about your bay tree–I often get labels mixed up. Last year I gave my friend what I thought were yellow coneflower seedlings, but actually were kohlrabi plants:)

    1. Hi Rose, I must admit I am chuffed at the vigorous growth – so long as it translates into lots of tasty tomatoes! I don’t know how different the tomatoe varieties are in the US compared to here. I went with the RHS trials as a starter, there are so many different options it did my head in…

      Hope you friend likes kohlrabi – I’ve never got the hang of cooking it myself, so haven’t tried growing it.

  7. Wow, you will have lots of Tomatoes this year — and so many varieties! Yum! And everything else looks so healthy. I’d say your experiments have been extremely successful!

    1. Hi there, so far so good – the proof, as they say, will be in the eating!

  8. You are funny with your seedlings and experiments. Good for you. I am glad one of your seedlings is your Baycorn. I marvel at the number of tomato plants you have. We have one bush tomato on the deck and a couple cherry tomatoes also on the deck. Today I picked two Tobacco Hornworms off the plants….boy did they eat a lot!!
    Love the cornflower, what a great blue!

    1. Hi Janet, happy to provide some entertainment!! I was thrilled to see that I did have a baycorn seedling after all, its so pretty with the red stem. Tobacco Hornworms don’t sound like much fun, hope you still get loads of tomatoes.

  9. You really are having tomato surplus. And having tried so many kinds and ways to grow them. My little plants will make more than I can eat, so I can not imagine all of yours. And I don’t can so what to do but supply the neighborhood.

    1. Hi Donna, we are four hungry adults – at least, that’s my excuse… And did I mention all the other plants that I just didn’t have room for and have palmed off on unsuspecting friends?! At least this way I should know for next year how many plants we really need…

  10. I’ve almost always let my tomatoes go wild, unpinched. It was less me experimenting than me being lazy. It worked just fine, so my slothful ways were rewarded. I hope the easy route for you works as well. There’s enough else in the garden that requires work! I love your Geranium phaeum. It’s now on my shopping list…

    1. Hi James, Gernaium phaeum should be on everybody’s shopping list, delighted to have converted you! Glad to hear that laziness pays off, although I suspect it will make harvesting more exciting, the unpinched plants are VERY jungly already.

  11. Hi Janet, you are very organised with your tomatoes and they look very good plants.
    I’m growing Marmande precoce (early), they are great and have large bunches of big fruit that has few seeds and lots of flavour, unfortunately I have more of them than I thought because when I bought them I thought I had bought other types as well (Daterini and Pacchino) but obviously the labeling had gone wrong and all are Marmande.
    I love the colour of your Rudbekia – these aren’t something I’ve ever grown but I always admire them. Christina

    1. Hi Christina. I love growing tomatoes – the smell of the foliage alone makes it worthwhile. Sorry you fell foul of bad labelling, how disappointing. The rudbekia have been really easy to grow, I’ll definitely try them again, such a glorious set of hot sunny colours, they make me smile.

  12. I’m really, really impressed by your tomatoes – wowzer! I keep being tempted to try not pinching out, but if I did that I’d never be able to get in the greenhouse. maybe I’ll risk one or two next year…

    I am very very impressed by your coffee plant!

    1. Hi Kate, I know what you mean about greenhouse access becoming an issues, I think I may have to employ judicious pruning to allow access, similarly I think Tomato Alley will need some taming. The coffee plant has the largest seed leaves I’ve ever seen, but there is now a tiny little growth tip appearing between them, I can’t wait to see how the plant develops.

  13. Hurrah for the real baycorn – love the thought of you growing and grinding your own coffee ;-)
    The geranium phaeum is rather splendid. And so glad your oak-leaved hydrangea is flowering after you thought you’d lost it. I cheated and bought one just coming into flower at Malvern. It was a bit stressed by the forced conditions leading up to the show though, and already had a few leaves turning red. Hopefully it settles into its new home.
    Sara x

    1. Hi Sara, I have to say I am thrilled with the hydrangea, so I am glad you bought yourself one too. I’m sure it will settle in to its new unforced home soon. Wonder if I’ll get autumn colour from mine this year too, or is that being greedy…

      If I ever do get to grind my own coffee beans you will hear the celebrations from your place, wherever I end up living next!


  14. Wow, they look GREAT!! You are making me have complete tomato envy here! I may need to move mine and will try some peat, they are not happy campers at the moment and are needing some love. How exciting to see the fruit coming in too! Cheers..xx

    1. Hi Julia, sorry to elicit envy. For what its worth, mine do really well in peat free compost – New Horizon tomato growbags to be exact. Good luck!

  15. Wake up and smell the tomatoes – all that was missing from your exuberant post was the lovely aroma when you bruise the leaves and/or water. You’ll soon be able to compete with the Isle of Wight grower who supplies the supermarkets.
    The Rudbeckia is a stunner and reminds me of Autumn but meanwhile the summer harvest lies ahead and your garden is flourishing. Glad you have sorted the difference between your sproutlings – perhaps you should name the greenhouse area ‘Bay leaf cafe’.

    1. Hi Laura, I love “Bay Leaf Cafe” – that might well stick! I must admit I would be tempted to grow tomatoes for the fragrant foliage alone, though perhaps not quite as many… I am now obsessively checking for the first signs of ripening. Over the weekend another of the Rudbekias started coming out, a deeper red which looks rather promising. I’m already trying to work out where I can stand my tripod without trampling other plants. Now if I can just get my basil to grow more enthusiastically, I can look forward to tomato and basil salads.

  16. I love the idea of “Tomato Alley”. The plastic greenhouse frame is a good idea too – it’s probably better at being a tomato-support than being a greenhouse. I had one like that once and it was a liablility! It was forever getting blown away in a gale.
    That little bay tree looks very healthy. Are you planning to train it into a specific shape when it gets a bit bigger?

    1. Hi Mark, having had my larger and much more substantial planthouse tear itself from the wall it was supposedly anchored to and shed seedlings all over the patio, I have to agree with you about the flimsiness of the plastic greenhouses. But, they do seem to work really well as tomato supports, and as greenhouse shelving, so have become invaluable. Re Bay Tree Training, in my dreams it becomes a lollipop, but I will probably be in my eighties by then, so I may just grow it as a bush and hope to be able to cook with its leaves before they cart me off to a slightly stained wing chair staring out at nothing dreaming of gardens past…

  17. Your foxglove actually elicited an “oooh” from me. :) This is my first year pinching tomatoes – thanks to a blog post that showed me how to do it! Sounds like you have a full on science experiment down Tomato Alley. It will be interesting to see how it turns out!

    1. Hi Hanni, I “oohed” too when they finally started to flower, I love the purple speckling. As to the experiments, I just hope I can keep track of cropping sufficiently well to come to some conclusions!

  18. Great tomatoes Janet, doesn’t look like you’ve had problems with the fruit setting on the lower trusses which I’ve experienced due to the cold nights we’ve had. I tend to be a religious side shoot picker on all bar the tumbling or bush varieties so I’m very interested in your experiments. I don’t think the amount of compost matters too much as mine are just in large bottomless pots on a bed of gravel. As long as the watering is regular and the feed is going in then you should have a cracking crop!

    1. Hi Damo, good point on the compost front, I’d forgotten about your “open pots on gravel” method. I seem to have been lucky on the fruit setting front, there is no discernible difference between the number of fruit forming on the outside plants vs. the inside ones, even on the same varieties. I’ve had to bring my chilli plants in to the greenhouse though, they were sulking in the comparative cool of the planthouse.

  19. I too am glad to see that little bay tree. Your description about forgetting it / giving up on it, then suddenly it’s there is a familiar one. They are slow to send out a shoot, hang about a bit – suddenly get going . . . then pause for a few years, solidify . . . and, after that, it depends what ground you plant it out in.

    Feeling a bit apprehensive about my influence re. tomatoes and side-shoots. For a proper experiment, you’d need to have several varieties of un-pinched ones! When you move, you’ll need a MASSIVE greenhouse to keep up with all this!

    Gardeners Delight – they may be common but they are delicious when eaten straight out of the sun – couldn’t be a better taste. One year, I grew half a dozen quite odd tomatoes – different shapes and colours . . . and wasn’t desperately impressed. Sometimes, I think ‘heirloom’ means people gave up on it because the texture (or whatever) was odd. Sometimes plants are popular not just because they are easy to buy – but because they taste good. (Which doesn’t mean some heirlooms aren’t good too.)

    We grew a Sungold plant last year (we were given seed). My husband thought it was great. I thought the first were alright (though I wouldn’t go overboard on this) but the taste waned as the season went on.

    Continue having fun!


    1. Hi Esther, I already have issues about room in the greenhouse due to the lack of pinching out – and that just on one plant stuck in the corner! I may end up just letting the outdoor plants grow “au naturel” – which worryingly reminds me of women who get their pubic hair waxed vs letting it grow wild. But that is a whole other conversation…

      I’m with you on the heirloom varieties side of things, in that I am suspicious that just as not all organic home grown produce actually tastes hugely different to the cheap supermarket equivalent, so too just because it is old and looks different is no guarantee it will taste great or grow well. Or at least, this is what I have found with carrots. I do love variety though, and trying new things. It conflicts with my desire to collect my own seed and free myself from the yearly expense and consumerist process of “buying this year’s seed”. Hopefully my constant see-sawing between the two will eventually become some sort of balance.

      All tomatoes seem to taste different at different times of year, and depending on watering, which always worries me, as I have no idea whether I am “doing it right” – if I don’t like my tomatoes, is it because that variety isn’t to my taste or because I gave them too much, or too little, water?! Questions, questions…

      In the mean time I have my coffee and bay trees to tend, so I am happy!

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