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  • Lawnmower racing - the grassroots Grand Prix!

    July 5-8 sees one of the highlights of the sporting calendar, the Formula 1® 2018 Rolex British Grand Prix weekend at Silverstone.
    lawnmower racing
    Hamilton v Vettel, Mercedes v Ferrari; Ricciardo v Verstappen, Red Bull v Red Bull!  With the cars costing millions of pounds to build, and reaching speeds of over 200mph, who wouldn’t want to swap places with the stars of the track, even for just one day? The thrill of the race, the exhilaration of hitting those speeds. Ah, if only.

    However, there is a version of motor racing that’s open to everyone – lawnmower racing. It might not be quite so quick – the top speeds are 50-60mph – but if it’s good enough for Sir Stirling Moss, then it’s good enough for us.

    It all started in a pub

    As with so many good ideas, lawnmower racing was born out of a chat with mates over a beer down the local pub. It was 1973, the pub was The Cricketers Arms in Wisborough Green, West Sussex, and the man with the lightbulb moment was motor sports fan and former Ford rally driver, Jim Gavin. Fed up that Formula 1 had become inaccessible and commercialised, Jim and his pals organised a race in a field in the village – and 80 racers turned up with their mowers. A 1923 Atco was among them!

    The new sport soon took off and has attracted big name celebrities and motor racing legends, including Sir Stirling Moss, Murray Walker, Chris Evans and Kimi Raikkonen. Sir Stirling, a veteran of 16 Formula 1 victories, won the Lawnmower ‘Grand Prix’ in 1975 and 1976 – there’s a wonderful black-and-white photo from the 1975 race, where an Atco lawnmower is pictured just ahead of him! Sadly, the rights prohibit us using the photo – but you can see it if you do an internet search.

    These days, races take place right across the UK, run by the British Lawnmower Racing Association (BLMRA), a non-profit organisation that uses the events to raise money for charity. The biggest event of the year is the 12-Hour Endurance Race which this year takes place near Billinghurst in Sussex on 4 August.

    Push or ride, you decide

    The first ever race was for self-propelled, roller-driven mowers – and the spirit lives on in the Group 1 races. Basically, the mowers will go as fast as you can push them!

    Group 2 is for cylinder-type roller-driven mowers with a towed seat. The BLMRA reckon that Atco lawnmowers are among the most popular in this group.

    Groups 3 and 4 are the fastest. Group 3 is for ride-on wheel-driven mowers with no obvious bonnet, and Group 4 is for ride-on wheel-driven tractors with a bonnet. For more exact definitions and rules and information on how to get involved, visit the website, www.blmra.co.uk.

    Mowers might not be ready to give the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari a run for their money – yet – but lawnmower racing really does bring a whole new meaning to the term ‘grassroots’ sport!

  • July is the pinnicle of summer

    JULY is the pinnacle of summer. It’s when we’re anticipating our holidays and just want to enjoy being in our gardens. And why not? You did all that hard work (well, it wasn’t that hard I hope, but it should have really paid off) – you now deserve some deck chair time. So, other than mowing with a good sharp blade (and keeping the air filter clear – there’s a lot of dust around), the only thing to worry about – or not – is watering. And watering lawns just happens to be one of my hot topics…
    July dog
    If summer is being kind to us, one of the concerns we may be having is whether to water the lawn or not.  In fact, dependent on what our irrational weather has thrown at us, you may already be watering but here are some helping points regarding water.

    Water is the world’s most valuable resource and plenty of thought should be made before you decide to embark on what could be a lengthy and costly watering program.

    DO I NEED TO WATER THE LAWN? You’re going to feel concerned if your lawn is beginning to brown up in dry conditions. But if the lawn is basically in good condition (and assuming the rains return eventually… and they will!) then there is nothing to worry about. Grass always bounces back. In fact the turning brown is not a symptom of it being unwell but simply its own proven survival technique. But yes, there are plenty of reasons why you may want to minimise this seasonal behaviour. So…

    WHEN SHOULD I WATER? Many think about watering when the lawn is already brown.  It’s a simple fact that to get the lawn lush green again, it will take a lot of water; so it makes much more sense to water the lawn earlier, before it gets too dry. With the plant still growing, it can utilise the water more efficiently.

    HOW DO I WATER? For maximum efficiency there are some things to consider.

    Do you have a water supply sufficient to be able to put enough water down in the time frame you have?  Many never know their water pressure and when it comes to the time to water, soon realise that watering may be a mammoth time-consuming task.

    Do you have the correct tools to be able to water quickly and efficiently?  Do you plan to water by hand?  Is your sprinkler working correctly?  Do you have all the connectors you need?

    Have you worked out the best time to apply the water, to ensure the plant gets the best use out of it?  Evening (after 8pm) is the optimum time as the grass has all night to use the water more efficiently.  Mornings are ok, but you have to remember that soon, it will be warm and moisture can be drawn back to the surface.  And that’s not great for the roots.

    July garden

    So, water is expensive and the life source to all; choose to use it well and don’t waste it. If you can live with a little browning mid-summer, then do. It’s just your lawn having a ‘siesta’ as it’s done for millions of years – and when it’s ready it will soon green up again.

  • Three reasons dads deserve a great big Father’s Day ‘thank you’

    It’s time to say: “Three cheers for dad!” – and not just to celebrate Father’s Day on 17 June.

    Because this is the time of the year when dads really do come into their own in the garden.

    We’ve picked out three roles they’ll probably be performing in the garden this summer that all deserve a big cheer.
    fathers day

    1. The Lawnmower King. There was a survey done a few years ago which looked at how household chores were shared out. It asked which ones were done by the men of the house and which ones were done by the women. Mowing the lawn was in the Top 5 list of chores that were deemed to be a job for dad. One theory is that it’s an inherited thing, a job that dads pass on to their sons. And, judging by all the blogs and articles on the internet, they don’t see it as a chore at all, because they enjoy doing it.
    2. The BBQ chef. With the UK enjoying some lovely weather this summer, the chances are you’ve had the BBQ out at least once already. And, with Midsummer’s Day on 21 June, those long, light evenings are perfect for getting in the garden and enjoying a get-together with family and friends. Just like the lawnmower, the BBQ has become dad’s territory. Pass him the sausages and burgers and he’s happy … and you won’t find anyone else in the family complaining about that!
    3. The sports star. School holidays, bored kids … but not if you’ve got a sports complex in your garden. From goalposts and cricket pitches to tennis courts and swimming (ok, paddling!) pools, dads are adept at creating makeshift sports ‘facilities’ for the children. There’s probably a good reason for this – they want to join in the fun and games, too! Either way, it gets the kids outdoors and being active, which has got to be worth a cheer.

    The list could go on and on and yes, we know that mums perform these roles as well. But it’s Father’s Day, so let’s raise a glass, show our appreciation and say: “Thanks dad!”

  • World Cup 2018 and Real Grass

    As the 2018 World Cup kicks off, let’s give 3 cheers to real grass!

    For those of us who love our lawns, the grass v artificial debate is a mis-match: grass wins all hands down!
    2018 World Cup
    And, when it comes to football pitches, it seems that footballers agree there’s no substitute for the real thing.

    The Professional Footballers’ Association in England surveyed its members during the 2017-18 season – and a whopping 94% said they were against artificial pitches, much preferring to play on grass.

    However, it seems it might be possible to have the best of both worlds because, for the first time, the FIFA World Cup Final this summer will be played on a surface that isn’t 100% natural grass.

    The brand new SISGrass hybrid surface has been laid at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, where the Final is being played on 15 July. Developed by UK firm SIS Pitches, it’s made of 95% natural turf and 5% plastic in the form of specially-designed PE yarn.

    The company argues that the technology offers greater pitch stability and that it lasts considerably longer than grass.

    Although it’s a first for a World Cup Final, combo pitches are actually quite common in international football. The Wembley pitch has a Desso Grassmaster system that combines synthetic grass with Wembley’s own ryegrass mix.

    There are some pitches used for international matches that are completely artificial. Last year, England played on an artificial pitch in their final World Cup qualifier in Lithuania, which they won 1-0.

    But the players have made it crystal clear what they think about such surfaces. They are hoping their opinion counts, when the English Football League (EFL) meets on 8 June to discuss whether artificial pitches should again be allowed, in the lower leagues at least. They were banned in 1995, partly because of concerns over player injuries.

    The issue is back on the agenda now because some clubs in the National League – the highest tier of non-league football – are allowed to have artificial surfaces. It raises the prospect of a club winning promotion to the Football League, but not being able to take their place in the higher division, Football League Division Two, unless they dig up their pitch and re-install grass.

    The main reason why clubs such as Sutton, Maidstone and Bromley have an artificial pitch is because they can also use it as a community resource and they can rent it out for events.

    But we agree with the footballers who say grass is best. It’s a living thing, it supports nature, it looks great – and nothing quite compares to the smell of newly-mown real grass!

  • June - Gardening Blog

    spraying-weeds

    JUNE is a strange month when we can be tempted to do things to the lawn that might actually cause more harm than good. The great British weather is responsible - the welcome return of warm, dry conditions tempt us to spend as long as possible in our gardens; but those same conditions mean we must be restrained, just a little….

    MOWING: Whatever else you do or don’t do, one thing’s for certain – you’ll be mowing regularly now. But mowing in hot weather can really stress the lawn, and we need to be counter-intuitive to do it sensibly. The fast growth and fabulous look of a newly-mown lawn encourages us to cut quite short; but if it warm and dry, you really need to raise the height if anything. The grass forms an important cooling, protective canopy of our soils, so by raising the height you can prevent the sun from baking the soil.

    Stress is also the main reason for keeping your blade really sharp too. A blunt blade tears the grass which slows recovery time. And stressed grass won’t make good use of food and water.

    So don’t stop mowing, but protect it. The lawn will thank you for it.
    WEEDS: Warm weather means that herbicides can more easily damage the surrounding grass, so weed treatment can actually be quite dangerous. If you do need to still treat weeds, treat them in the early morning before you get full sun and heat. This will allow the herbicide to get into the plant as safely as you can. Although, if it’s too hot and dry, it’s best left until conditions change and the weed is growing strongly again.

    REPAIRS: The warmth is great for germinating seed; but what about the watering? If it’s dry, you’ll need to water regularly, never allowing the seeds and seedlings to dry out. That’s a lot of work – and a lot of precious water. So try to time your repairs for wetter times if you can.
    garden
    FEED: A summer feed is helpful, especially if you haven’t fed the lawn since Spring. Organic feeds are not just good for the environment but are also a much safer option. Organics also have the benefit of rarely needing to be watered in immediately – you can apply it and then wait for the next rain shower. Beware, however, that products with moss killers should not be used during hot spells as they may scorch the grass.
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    So, do get out there, do enjoy your garden, and do continue looking after you lawn. But bear in mind the stress that this lovely weather can cause – and if you did all the right things early in the spring, your lawn will be in good health and will survive much better in dry weather anyway.

  • Get a buzz by helping our bees!

    For six weeks this May and June, thousands of people across the UK will be on the look-out for bees.

    The 2018 Great British Bee Count takes place from 17 May to 30 June and is organised by the environment charity, Friends of the Earth.
    Bees
    Image by Ron Whitaker (Unsplash)
    In last year’s count, participants spotted almost a third of a million bees, from the Shetland Islands in the north to the Isles of Scilly in the south.

    The findings are passed on to the National Biodiversity Network Atlas and help scientists get a better understanding of how the nation’s bees are coping – or not – with the threats that have already decimated their numbers.

    Around 270 bee species have been recorded in the UK – but our buzzy friends are in trouble, threatened by habitat loss, pesticides, intensive farming, disease and climate change. Thirteen British species are now extinct, and another 35 species are heading that way.

    Sadly, the countryside isn’t such a bee-friendly haven as it used to be. In the past 60 years, 97% of wildflower-rich meadows have been lost, which is why our gardens have become so important for bees.

    Here are 5 ways you can help them by providing their three necessities: Food (nectar and pollen), water and shelter.

    1 – Bees need a nice variety of food during all four seasons, so plant flowers, shrubs, veg, fruit trees and herbs that are bee-friendly and which between them, are available across the year. Pussy willow, lavender, apple and pear trees, hawthorn, honeysuckle, abelia, sunflower, clematis, mahonia, crocus, phacelia, perennial wallflower, snowdrops, chives, marjoram, sage, rosemary, raspberry, strawberry, blackberry, kale, runner/broad bean and ivy are all recommended. The Royal Horticultural Society’s website has full lists of bee-friendly flowers and plants that you can download. But before buying your plants, check with staff whether pesticides have been used.

    2 – Create a mini-meadow. Get a bag with a nice mix of native wildflower seeds and sow in a section of a grassy area in your garden. Plant in the autumn for flowering in early and high summer, and in the spring for flowering in late summer and early autumn. Not only great for wildlife, but a stunning looker!

    3 – Stating the obvious, but don’t use bee-harming pesticides in your garden.

    4 – Provide a source of water for bees – but be careful not to use a container that might cause them to drown. There are lots of tips online on how to provide a safe drink for bees.

    5 – Finally, give bees a shelter. You don’t even have to go to the trouble of making a bee ‘house’, they’re available in garden centres. Place them in a south or south-east facing spot, at least a metre off the ground. Keep the entrance clear of any vegetation or other obstruction and ensure it stays dry, to prevent mould. In winter (Oct-Feb), this might require bringing the shelter into an unheated garage or shed to keep nesting bees safe and sound.

    The Friends of the Earth website has information on how to take part in the Great British Bee Count, using their free app. It also has a bee species identifier, so you know which type of bee you’ve spotted.

  • May - Gardening Blog

    MAY sits on that lovely cusp between spring and early summer. As the whole garden comes to life, you should be able to see the results of your hard work earlier in the year in that beautiful green centrepiece. And as we’re now well into the mowing season, I’m going to focus mostly on that this month – for some mowing means a gentle stroll up and down the garden daydreaming about everything and nothing, but good mowing requires more concentration – and is well worth the effort.

    weeds in a lawn
    MOWING: Most grass looks good just after mowing but yours will look superb after all the remedial work you’ve been doing (and if you didn’t get round to it, make a note for next winter and spring). But good mowing isn’t just about making the lawn look good; it’s a critical pruning technique, and like any technique, it requires a little bit of skill and knowledge:

    1. Height: Different grasses actually prefer to be cut to different lengths, but for a general lawn there’s a simple rule of thumb that we can borrow from the professionals - cut no more than a 1/3 of the leaf blade in one go.  So, for example, if you like your grass to be 2”, then leave it first to reach 3” before cutting.
    2. Frequency: Once a week is enough when growth is good. However, twice a week, removing half as much each time, will not in fact take twice as long but will give you twice the benefit.
    3. Direction: Mow in different patterns to ensure the lawn doesn’t produce ‘grain’.
    4. Blade: Always keep your lawn mower blade sharp. Ideally a rotary mower blade should be given a ‘new’ edge each time you mow. Sounds like hard work? It’s actually really easy if you keep a spare blade – you can switch it in a moment, and sharpen the blunt one when you have a spare moment.
    5. Clean your mower! After every mow remember to clean the underside of the mower. Hard, stuck clumps of dried grass will interfere with its ‘collecting’ performance and drop onto your lawn.

    FEEDING: If you have renovated a couple of months ago in March, you could apply a nice feed now to ensure the optimum health of the lawn.  It’s best never to let the lawn get too hungry, and while feeds can last for up to 12 weeks, things like heavy rainfall can flush it through the lawn and cut this down to as little as a month.

    LAST MINUTE RENOVATION: Both scarification and aeration can still be carried out. However, as we head closer towards mid-summer, you may need to water the lawn to prevent stress; it’s a good idea to look at some weather forecasts to see if nature’s clouds can lend a hand.

    WEEDS: If you have weeds they’ll be doing really well by now! However, my advice remains the same; don’t drown the lawn in herbicide unless you really have to. Spot treatment works just as well even on stubborn weeds, and is much better for the garden.

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    One final tip – the warmer temperatures will really help germination, so if you have small areas to repair, now’s a good time.

  • Gardening – the ultimate workout!

    The 2018 Virgin Money London Marathon takes place on 22 April – but you don’t have to run a marathon to keep fit. In fact, for a great all-round workout, gardening takes some beating.

    London Marathon

    Gardening ticks lots of exercise boxes, which is great news for those of us who aren’t so keen on running 26.2 miles or going to the gym every day.

    Gardening is regarded as moderate to strenuous exercise, depending on the activity involved and how we do it. As with most forms of exercise, we’ll feel the benefit more if we do it for at least 30 minutes a day, a few days a week. The half-hour can be spread out over the whole day, but researchers say each session should be a minimum of eight minutes.

    Here are some of the areas of the body that gardening works on.

    Muscles – You know that gardening works the muscles because of how tired they feel afterwards! Legs, arms, shoulders, back, buttocks, neck, core and stomach are all used while gardening. Muscle work is excellent for toning the body.

    Bones and joints – Gardening can feel like yoga sometimes, with all the bending, twisting and stretching. This type of movement is good for increasing flexibility and balance, while resistance exercise such as lifting and carrying also strengthens bones and joints. Bones are further strengthened by getting a healthy dose of Vitamin D – just by being outdoors.

    Heart – Because gardening is quite strenuous, it gets the heart pumping, boosting stamina, breathing and endurance. Your heart is being worked if you feel slightly out of breath.

    Lungs – Breathing in fresh air is good for the lungs and boosts oxygen levels and vitality.

    Maintaining a healthy weight – Over a 30-minute period, most of the main gardening activities burn 150 to 200 calories. Digging the garden and mowing the lawn are especially good – men can burn well over 200 calories if they mow the lawn for half an hour. Sadly, this doesn’t count if they’re using a sit-on mower!

    So, there you have it – conclusive evidence that gardening really is a brilliant all-round exercise. A note of caution, though: Don’t over-do it. Bend and lift correctly, and although it’s natural to have aching limbs after gardening, you shouldn’t feel any pain. If you do, seek medical advice as a precaution.

    This year, almost 400,000 people applied to take part in the London Marathon, and around 40,000 successful applicants will be lining up at the start of the event. If you’re one of them, have a fantastic time. Me? I’ll be outside, doing the gardening!

  • 5 reasons why gardening is such a great stress-buster

    April is Stress Awareness Month,

    so we thought we’d take a closer look at why gardening is so good at cutting stress levels.

    Stress buster

    We’ve all been there … we’ve had a bad day, or something has got us down, so we head out to the garden to do some work. And before long, we’re feeling much more like our old selves again.

    The feeling of improved wellbeing isn’t just in our imaginations. There’s plenty of scientific proof that it’s real.  Last year, one piece of international research looked at 22 previous studies into the health benefits of gardening and concluded that yes, it really does alleviate stress.

    The researchers said that gardening is so beneficial, that governments should encourage people to do it regularly. And they recommended the provision of public garden spaces to increase access to gardening.

    Two major UK studies, carried out by The King’s Fund/National Garden Scheme, and Natural England/MIND also revealed the benefits of gardening in combating stress.

    And in the Netherlands, a study found a “significant” decrease in stress – as measured by cortisol levels – after participants engaged in gardening. When the gardeners were compared with participants in the study who read a book instead, they were found to be much more relaxed.

    Why does gardening make us feel better? Here are 5 big factors.

    1 – Focus: By putting our minds to something that requires care and attention, we are mentally switching off from all the things that are troubling us. The Netherlands study showed that gardening was better for this than other activities.

    2 – Creating & nurturing: Tending the garden is a creative and caring thing to do. And if our efforts lead to something beautiful, then we’re creating a haven to relax in. Plus, we get to feel a sense of accomplishment.

    3 – Physical exercise: Exercise is a natural mood-booster, but if we’ve had a bad day or week, then gardening is also a way of venting our frustration in a positive way.

    4 – Being in the moment: Call it meditation, call it mindfulness, gardening gives us a feeling of space and time, away from what happened earlier or what might happen later. All that matters is what we’re doing now.

    5 – Being outdoors: Fresh air, sunlight (or even a cloudy day), being in nature, listening to the birds sing, getting our hands in the earth – all of these things are fabulous for our wellbeing. We’re getting Vitamin D, oxygen, and a surge in the natural chemicals that are responsible for boosting our mood.

    No wonder we love getting out in the garden!

  • Wind chimes … sweet sounds or a discordant din?

    Wind Chimes. How do they chime with you? It seems they split opinion right down the middle – people either love them or they hate them.

    They don’t always hit the right note with neighbours, that’s for sure. They’ve even led to legal action, where the chimes have been so loud, they breached noise nuisance levels.
    Wind Chimes
    In fact, a survey of UK homeowners a few years back found that of all the noises caused by our neighbours, it was the constant tinkling of wind chimes that irritated the most.

    So why do homeowners choose to have them in their gardens? And why were they invented in the first place?

    Wind chimes have been used for thousands of years. Ironically, given the mixed modern-day attitudes towards them, wind chimes were believed to promote feelings of peace and well-being when they became popular in Southeast Asia in ancient times. They were also regarded as important within Buddhism. The Romans, meanwhile, used bronze wind chimes, which they called tintinnabulum, as a protection against bad spirits.

    You name it, and wind chimes have made out of it: wood, bamboo, metals, earthenware and, notably in Japan, glass. Archaeologists have unearthed wind chimes from 1,000 years BC that were made of bones, stones and shells – materials all widely and freely available.

    At some point, wind chimes headed West and became popular in homes and gardens in the US and Europe. It’s thought that they might have had a practical purpose in farming, scaring birds away from crops.

    Today, they are often used for feng shui, which is why they’ve become indoor as well as outdoor features.  But they’re not called wind chimes for nothing and their natural habitat is outside.

    What makes wind chimes so wondrous to those who love them is, of course, the music they make. Tubes of varying lengths are suspended by string or wire from a circular platform. In the middle is a clapper. The pitch of each tube depends on the length, as well as the material. Big, long tubes create deep notes; slim, short tubes hit higher notes. But although metal and wooden tubes can be fine-tuned, their music will still retain a randomness, with the wind acting as their conductor.

    The biggest wind chime in the world is in Casey, Illinois, USA, where they have a metal wind chime suspended almost 50ft off the ground. It has five pipes between 42ft and 30ft and was made by a local man, James Bolin, as a way of putting the small town on the map. He succeeded – it has become a major tourist attraction.

    Our top tip? Probably best not to do this at home – that will upset the neighbours! And if you do choose to have wind chimes in your garden, for the sake of harmony, you might want to consider bringing them indoors at night.

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