North Dorset’s leading Garden Centre with Florist, Café and award-winning Farm Shop
Tel: 01747 835544


How To: Grow summer bedding plants

Summer Bedding Plants

Summer Bedding Plants for sale

Bedding plants provide a wonderful splash of colour and create a decorative seasonal display for relatively little effort. They brighten up a border, fill gaps between plants that haven’t yet flowered, and look wonderful in pots, tubs and hanging baskets throughout the summer.

Bedding can be grown from seed, bought as young seedlings (plug plants) or purchased in packs or pots ready for planting out. Most bedding plants are annual, which means that they complete their whole life cycle, from seed to flower, within one year, and then die. They are discarded at the end of the season which gives you the freedom to change your bedding displays every year!

Getting Started

Pansy seedlings growing in trays

Pansy seedlings


Bedding plants are easy to grow from seed and don’t require anything too fancy. They will thrive in a seed tray or pots covered with a polythene bag on a windowsill, which means that you don’t need a greenhouse. Seed packets all have sowing dates on them.

If you would prefer established plants, seedlings or plug plants, these are readily available at your local garden centre or nursery. Seedlings will need pricking to ensure their roots have room to grow. Keep potting on your plants to larger containers when they outgrow their current ones until they are ready to be planted out in the garden and the weather is warmer with no risk of frost.

Growing and potting your summer bedding plants

To pot up your seedlings and plant plugs, first water the plants well and then lift them gently out of the soil. It is very important when handling them that you do so by the leaves rather than the stems. If you damage a leaf, it will grow back, but damage the stem and you’ll lose the plant.

Plant them into their new home to the same depth as before and firm down the compost. Use a liquid feed to water them in.

It is important to acclimatise new plants to the outdoors before they are planted into their final spots in beds, borders or containers. To do this, harden them off by moving them to a cold frame, an unheated porch or a sheltered spot outside.

How to plant out your summer bedding plants

Petunias in bloom

Petunias in bloom


It is important to wait until the risk of frost has passed before you plant out your new bedding plants to their final positions, usually mid to late May.

A few hardy varieties can be planted out earlier such as calendula (pot marigold), pansies, violas and primulas. These add colour to your garden in early spring, and can then be replaced or added to for the summer.

Caring for your summer bedding plants

Pink begonias growing in a border

Begonias in flower

It is important to water daily during dry spells using rain water from your water butt where possible. Continue to use a liquid feed each week during the flowering season.

Pay most attention to the plants in containers and hanging baskets as they are at most at risk of drying out. There are many products to help retain water in the soil such as gels, crystals and pellets that can be incorporated into the compost before planting to reduce the amount of watering needed, but you must remember to check the soil regularly.

The plants will be encouraged to keep flowering by regular deadheading, so keep an eye out for any fading blooms, which will also keep your displays looking wonderful throughout the summer!


Image credits: Seedlings © Brian Pettinger, Petunias: © PARSHOTAM LAL TANDON, Begonias: © cobalt123

Plant of the Month: April

Blossom is the predominant theme this month.

The Camellias are mostly over leaving the stage clear for gloriously showy Rhododendrons and Azaleas. If it’s an evergreen you are after, Pieris, dwarf Rhododendrons and evergreen Azaleas are particularly easy to manage if grown in good ericaceous compost and given the appropriate feed. Perfect for pots and containers, these will flower year after year with only a small amount of basic attention. Potted dwarf Rhodo’s are perfect for people who have to move house frequently, as well as making an impressive gift – unlike a bouquet of flowers, they last for years! They’re also great if your outside space is restricted to a patio or even a doorstep.

The name comes from ancient Greek meaning ‘Rose Tree’,  the rhododendron family includes Azaleas and has both evergreen and deciduous forms. They prefer shady conditions and are pretty tough and trouble free. Rhododendrons want acidic soil and sheltered conditions growing best in areas with high rainfall, but compact hybrid rhododendrons and azaleas make really good container plants. There are even dwarf alpine forms that look fantastic planted in rock gardens or pots.

Locally we have some fantastic opportunities to see rhododendrons and azaleas in bloom, NT Stourhead Gardens and Chiff-Chaffs at Bourton both have stunning plantings but in different ways. Both gardens use taller, bigger varieties than most of us can accommodate and their soils are well suited to these acid-loving plants. Which is where we came in as plant hunters and breeders have over the years, collected species and developed varieties that can be accommodated in smaller spaces, and adapted to the way we live. So check out your local garden centre or nursery, see the beautiful colour ranges available select from thousands of lovely pots, get the right compost and feed, then enjoy! If you feel uncertain of any of this ask for advice.

Most of us that deal with plants are only too happy to talk about what we have and how best to grow them.

April at Orchard Park

Everyone writes of the joys of spring but it is truly undeniable and such a relief after the winter months. The equinox is behind us and the daylight hours have begun to exceed the night which means we can look forward to some great growing weather!

Our weather is predictably unpredictable; the first 24 hours of April have already delivered strong winds, heavy rain and glorious sunshine! You’ll notice our team working in the garden centre wearing anything from a heavy jacket, fleece and gloves to short-sleeved polo tops and gilets!

Don’t forget we have post a regular gardening month-by-month blog to help you plan your jobs.

Garden Plants

It’s a fantastic time of year for plant growth! The soil is moist and early flowering shrubs, fruit trees and bushes will produce flowers before leaves. Bulbs and early flowering perennials are taking advantage of the space before it becomes occupied by summer flowering plants. These spring flowerers are something special as they really have to try hard to attract the early insects if they want to get their pollen spread about.

Something different to see every day makes spring the most exciting of seasons!

Garden Centre Plants for sale

Anything in a pot can be bought and planted throughout the year, as long as you are ready to water it! You’ll start to see more bedding plants around the garden centre during this month, and we’ve hit grow your own season! Whether you’re looking to grow fruit and vegetables from seeds or small plants, we should have what you’re looking for.

Herbaceous perennials such as geraniums, hollyhocks and delphiniums are in season now and will live from year to year. We’ve also got some lovely big shrubs such as rhododendrons, cytisus and prunus for a big, showy effect in your garden!

Meat Boxes, Dorset

Exciting news from the farm shop this month as meat boxes have landed in Gillingham! You can now become the proud owner of a box bursting with the tastiest, freshest, most local meat in town, hand-selected and prepared by our very own skilled team of “proper” butchers! We will even deliver for free to the local area.


Flowers online, Dorset

Cut out the middle man and order flowers directly from our brand new online flower shop! We can make beautiful flower arrangements for any occasion and deliver them to the local area.


Easter Activities for Children in Dorset

Easter Ideas for Kids

The Easter holidays are the first long break of the year, and the changeable weather can leave some parents and carers pulling their hair out whilst they try to keep the children entertained!

This Easter holiday may have been a little damp and windy so far, but whilst we have our fingers firmly crossed for some warmer weather next week we’ve thought of some great ideas to keep you all entertained.

Easter Egg Hunt

Good Friday 25 March – Thursday 31 March

Entry fee: £1 per child (all proceeds to be donated to Greenfingers charity)

Come and join the fun at Orchard Park and take part in our Easter Egg Hunt which will run over the Easter half term Good Friday 25 March – Thursday 31 March!  It is £1 per child to enter and money raised will be given to the Green Fingers Charity as well as the chance to win a wonderful Easter Hamper packed full of tasty delights.




Hot Cross Buns

Delicious glazed hot cross buns with a cross, sitting on a wooden boardIt is traditional to eat warm hot cross buns on Good Friday. Hot Cross Buns, with their combination of spicy, sweet and fruity flavours, have long been an Easter tradition. The pastry cross on top of the buns traditionally symbolises and reminds Christians of the cross that Jesus was killed on.

The buns were traditionally eaten at breakfast time, hot from the oven. Nothing quite beats the smell and flavour of a freshly baked hot cross bun, so why not bake your own with this recipe? All items marked with a * are available in our Dorset farm shop.


  • 500g Stoates strong white bread flour*
  • 7g Doves Farm quick yeast*
  • 2 heaped tbsp mixed spice
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 150g Wilton Wholefoods mixed vine fruit*
  • 50g Wilton Wholefoods chopped mixed peel*
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 50g butter, softened at room temperature*
  • 200ml warm milk*
  • 2 Blackacre Farm eggs*
  • A pinch of salt*

For the crosses

  • 40g Stoates plain flour*
  • 10g softened butter*

For the glaze

  • 1 tablespoon Billington’s golden granulated sugar*
  • 2 tablespoons of water


  1. Sift the flour into a bowl and mix in the spices, sugar and salt.
  2. Blend in the butter, followed by the dried fruit, the yeast and mix together.
  3. Warm the milk in a separate pan. Take it off the heat and beat in the two eggs. Once beaten, add this liquid to the main mixture and combine together to make a moist dough.
  4. Leave the dough for 5 minutes then divide it into 8-10 bun shaped pieces.
  5. Place the buns on a baking sheet, covered loosely with cling film, then leave for around 45 to 75 minutes until the buns have risen.
  6. Pre-heat the oven to 220°C or Gas Mark 7 (or 200°C for a fan oven).
  7. Meanwhile, put the flour into a bowl and rub in the butter. Add just enough cold water to form a dough then roll it out thinly on a lightly floured surface to an oblong about 12cm by 16cm then cut it into 16-20 strips depending on how many buns you have made.
  8. Bake the buns for around 12-15 minutes until they have risen and are golden.
  9. While they’re cooking make the glaze in a small saucepan by slowly melting together the sugar and 2 tablespoons of water over a gentle heat until the sugar granules have dissolved and you have a clear syrup.
  10. As soon as the buns come out of the oven, brush them immediately with the glaze while they are still warm then cool them on a wire rack.

Let us know how you got on! We’d love to see your pictures.

Image credits: Hot cross bun © Jan Smith / Cress head © Ian Hughes

Plant of the Month: Pansies and Violas

Pansies & Violas

These are terrific, versatile plants that make a great impact in spring time, with abstract splashes of colour they have one of the widest colour ranges and can brighten up any garden space by being planted in beds, borders, containers and hanging baskets. Recommended varieties include: Viola ‘Aspasia’, Viola cucullata, Viola ‘Jackanapes’ and Viola ‘Moonlight’.

When planting pansies and violas in the garden it’s worthwhile considering some contrasting companion plants like shrubs which can complement their mix of colour and lower height. Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postil’, also known as Nepalese paper plant, is an evergreen medium-sized shrub with highly fragrant deep pink and white flowers that are followed by black berries. While, Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae, also known as Mrs Robb’s Bonnet, is a spreading evergreen perennial with dark green leaves from which arise large rounded sprays of yellow-green flowers.

Broadcaster and gardener, Esther Rantzen CBE, the celebrity champion for the month has a great love for pansies and violas. She says, “I love pansies for their soft colours, all the shades of blues, purples and golds, and for their faces, turned down, as if in contemplation. As Ophelia said, ‘There’s pansies, that’s for thoughts’ – and indeed the name comes from the French, pensees. They look fragile, but in fact they are tough, they can survive anything except the burning summer heat, and they seed themselves and return, year after year. And outside the garden wall their little wild cousins, the violets, send out their fragrance to reassure us that spring is on its way”.

Some of the winter and spring bedding has taken a beating but pansies and violas are so resilient that they quickly recover with a few days good weather. March is the perfect time for a garden spring clean after the winter, re-vitalising up existing flower beds, borders and containers. Pansies are the perfect spring plants – along with primulas, forget-me-nots and wallflowers and are perfect contenders for patio pots, hanging baskets and window boxes, ideal and easy to plant.

Pansies and violas are two of the most popular bedding plants and are great for filling the gaps in borders once you have cleared away bedraggled or dead plants. Their names are often used interchangeably. Plants considered to be pansies have four petals pointing upwards, and only one pointing down while Violets have three petals pointing up and two pointing down!

Both are hardy annuals that offer colourful flowers in your garden; they both need watering regularly and need to be planted in moist, well-drained soil.

Pansies and violas like sun and cooler temperatures. Make sure you remove fade or dead flowers to prolong blooming and encourage more flowers to grow bringing a joy of spring to a garden following cold winter months.

Gardening jobs for the month – March

Gardening month-by-month: Jobs for the March

In a nutshell: clearing, pruning, weeding, feeding and mulching!

In the flower beds, the dead growth from last year should be cut back before the new growth gets too far ahead, especially with ornamental grasses and clumps of perennials.

Spring flowering shrubs should be left until after they have flowered but any overgrown summer shrubs could be thinned out by removing old wood (take out about a third of the plant) or cutting back low the fast growing Spiraeas and Buddlejas.

Perennial weeds usually need to be dug out unless you can apply a systemic weed killer such as glyphosate, without touching other plants. If you do use a weed killer then be sure to let it do its job properly; don’t apply it if it is going to rain in the next 6 hours, and let the plant die back before you tidy it away,

Feeding and mulching are the best way to make your garden ‘grow’, a slow release multipurpose feed such as Vitax Q4, TopRose or Miracle-Gro Granular is ideal, or if you prefer a liberal dressing of Blood Fish and Bonemeal.

The best mulch would be your own well-rotted garden compost from your carefully tended compost heap, bagged re-cycled green waste or bark mulch. All work well to keep the weeds at bay, retaining moisture and feeding the soil over a longer period of time.

Summer flowering bulbs and corms such as lilies, gladioli and dahlias can be planted out later in March, and overgrown perennials lifted, divided and replanted.

In the edible garden, fruits trees and bushes are budding up nicely, but the soils may still be too wet to cultivate. It really does need to dry up a bit but from experience it will happen and when it does it will happen quickly.

The soil can be improved with addition of grit and organic manure. If you have time, energy and the materials then raised beds are worth making. They don’t have to be too big, even 1m x 50cm would make a useful space, and raised beds are very much more productive as they are easier to cultivate and maintain.

If you are working on small beds then sow some early leaf crops indoors to get a head start, quick maturing salads and spinach are usually successful. Root crops such as early carrots and beetroot are usually best sown direct as they don’t transplant quite so well.

Potato growers should have their selected seed potatoes set out in a light frost free place to chit (letting the shoots start to grow). The early varieties can probably be planted out early to mid-March if the weather is good and the soil temperature is rising. A soil thermometer is useful as ideally the temperature should be over 7°c.

Onion sets and shallots can go in now as they are quite tough. Birds love to pull them out as they start to grow so either firm them in really well or protect them with a layer of fleece until, they have put roots down.

A few other jobs to tackle: if you have a pond, check the plants in baskets before they start to grow. If they need dividing and replanting use aquatic compost. Well-established pond plants can be fed with a special aquatic plant tablet that is formulated for pond use and doesn’t encourage the growth of algae.

Finally the lawn; give it a light trim on a dry day and see what treatment it needs. A complete weed, feed and mosskill will sort most problems especially if used alongside a good raking over and aeration using a fork, then reseed bare or thin patches or re-turf as this is often an easier and economic option.

March at Orchard Park

March at Orchard Park

March is the beginning of the busy season, the job list lengthening with the daylight. It can be a month of contrasts, too, with wind and frost set to challenge the first of spring growth. Knuckle down and complete winter work to make way for the tasks that are targeted at the growing season. Time spent now getting things into shape is amply rewarded later in summer!

Finishing the pruning, tidying areas before they get overgrown again, removing perennial weeds, feeding and mulching are all essential tasks. Ignore them at your peril! It is also essential to lift and dive overgrown clumps of herbaceous perennials, and take out shrubs that are overshadowing and starving more interesting plants. As usual, we have written a full list of jobs for the month here.

The garden trade associations are working on a campaign this year entitled ‘Love the Plot You’ve Got’ which encourages us to look at what we have now and find ideas to make the very best of that space, our plot! Even if you are thinking of moving house, it makes an awful lot of sense to make sense to improve front or back garden or even chose areas of the garden such as the patio or terrace which will make that part more useful to you and your family in the ‘outdoor’ days to come. Any estate agent will tell you how the value of a house improves with the care and attention given to the garden. The starting point has to be a clear up so that you can see the bare bones of what you have and start the plan.

Around the garden centre the spring colours are blooming, with ranunculus, camellias and heathers looking wonderful! Those of you visiting over the last couple of weeks may have noticed a photographer at work as we prepare for the exciting launch of our new-look website.

Elsewhere in the garden centre, Lagan Farm Shop are just about ready to launch a brand new meat box delivery service at the end of the month, and Orchard Florist are gearing up for the launch of their new online shop! Watch this space for all of the exciting details!

Jobs for the Month: February

We find that January and February are very much the ‘catch-up’ months before we can get to preparing for the new growing season.

Fruit and Veg Garden

There’s plenty to be getting on with in the fruit and veg garden this month.Tree pruning

  • Prune the fruit trees, bushes and vines (unless the weather is very frosty), then give them a feed with sulphate of potash, pelleted Vitax Q4 or poultry manure.
  • Mulch and cover rhubarb crowns.
  • Clear away any rubbish and rough dig areas that need sorting.
  • Protect brassicas from marauding wild life; pigeons are especially hungry and will strip your carefully nurtured sprouting or cabbages in no time. Netting is the only answer but make sure it is secured at ground level.

If you are growing vegetables from seed, it pays to cover an area of ground with black plastic to allow the ground to dry out a little and warm up – makes early seed sowing more productive. Early sowing in seed trays, pots or modules are easier to manage and will be ahead of the outside sowings. A greenhouse is best, but a porch or window sill will make the difference. Seed potatoes and onion sets are now in the garden centre – so for the best selection and the sought after varieties – get there early!

What to sow? Try broad beans, summer and autumn cropping cabbages, celery, spinach and rocket. If you have got a greenhouse or tunnel then start a few tomatoes and cucumbers off now with heat and a second batch in March. Onions grow well from seed and will equal the crop from sets provided they are sown early enough. Spring onions are tough customers and a few sown in modules now will be worthwhile.

Flower Garden

There is a lot to be done in the flower garden as well!

  • Finishing winter pruning of dormant trees and shrubs. Leave those shrubs like dogwoods and shrubby willows plants with coloured stems which are at their best over the next two months.
  • Try to get the roses done as early as is practicable, avoiding pruning in frosty weather as the newly cut surfaces can be damaged by the cold.
  • Shape young trees, thin out mature deciduous trees (general rule of thumb for many varieties is about a third each year) and ornamental trees often need a little surgery. Evergreens are best left until March for pruning although hardy evergreen hedges can be dealt with now. It’s a good time to cut back overgrown deciduous hedges, and, of course, prune the wisteria. Use secateurs on large leafed plants such as laurels to avoid leaf damage.
  • Bulbs have started to push through and crocus, snowdrops and early daffodils will be in colour. If you didn’t get all planted last autumn you can now find potted bulbs in the garden centres to complete your display.

Early spring: February at Orchard Park

Crocus ChrysanthusHooray, we’ve reached the early days of spring! Bring on the longer days and warmer temperatures (hopefully!); perfect for New Year gardening.

We’re absolutely bursting with inspiration this year thanks to the amount of fantastic gardening shows on TV in January, combined with typical early-in-the-year great intentions. Inevitably it will be a compromise between forward planning and Mother Nature, and we’ll only be able to squeeze in jobs around whatever the weather allows. We can look forward to the days gradually lengthening this month, with just over 9 hours of daylight at the beginning of February, yippee!

Soil temperature is a vitally important factor for plant growth and most seeds will not consider sprouting until the soil reaches 7°C (45°F). There are exceptions, but generally we would advise against taking the risk; seeds sat in cold, wet soil can quite easily take up moisture and rot rather than grow. That said, early sowing can be a good idea provided you can give a little warmth starting things off in seed trays or pots.

Anybody starting grow-your-own projects should invest in a small heated propagator. This is simply a seed tray sat on an electric blanket allowing the warmth to travel through the moist compost and giving the seed the stimulus it needs to germinate. Avoid getting seed composts too wet, but at the same time don’t let them dry out once the seeds have started to sprout.

The standard advice on planting through late winter/early spring is to avoid frozen or waterlogged soils. We have had frosts, which are fine and expected, but no deep frozen ground to worry about so far… play it safe though – it might not be over just yet!

Plant of the Month – February

Winter HeatherWinter heathers are looking bright and cheerful this month. They are very hardy and adapt to a wide range of soils including local alkaline clays making it a really useful plant for the garden. Heathers will also bring some much needed colour to the dark winter months, and there are over 4,000 varieties to choose from there’s one to suit any garden! They also make great ground cover or additions to tubs and planters.

Heathers make a great plant for novice or time-short gardeners; they require little maintenance and can last for years, while their hardy and evergreen nature makes them fantastic for ground cover and weed prevention.

Wildlife expert and broadcaster David Lindo, the celebrity champion for heathers this month, is passionate about heather and getting urbanites to realise that there is a whole world of wildlife under their noses in the world’s cities.

He said to the HTA: “Heather is such a versatile plant and different cultivars can bloom in both winter and summer. It provides an invaluable food source for wildlife throughout the year, with bees attracted to its nectar, while smaller creatures can take refuge in the dense close foliage of the plant.

Orchard Park Garden Centre, Shaftesbury Road, Gillingham, Dorset, SP8 5JG
Tel:01747 835544
© 2013-2015 Orchard Park Garden Centre
Site designed by The Graphic Edge
Terms of Service | Privacy Policy | Delivery Terms | FAQ & Returns Policy