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  • 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.

  • How to help our hedgehogs as they awaken from their winter slumber

    How to help our hedgehogs as they awaken from their winter slumber

    Time was when hedgehogs were regular visitors to our gardens in the UK. Not any longer. According to The State of Britain’s Hedgehogs 2018 Report, Britain has lost half its hedgehogs since the millennium.
    Hedgehog
    March is when the prickly creatures start to re-emerge again, following their winter hibernation. But it seems we’re less likely than ever before to catch a glimpse of them.

    It’s a huge loss. In 2013, the much-loved hedgehog topped a vote to find a national species for Britain – but now, we’re in danger of losing them. Latest estimates put their numbers at around a million. In the 1950s, there were 30 million.

    Habitat destruction caused by land development, and a lack of landscape-scale connectivity are among the main reasons. The use of pesticides on farmland and in gardens is another factor, greatly reducing their food supply. In towns and cities, fences they can’t navigate through, and the loss of compost heaps are all hitting hedgehogs hard.

    The Woodland Trust is doing what it can by creating and restoring woodland, planting hedgerows, and working with landowners to manage their land in hedgehog-friendly ways.

    But there are things homeowners and communities can do, too. Trees, hedges and wildflower patches help hedgehogs as well as other wildlife. Make hedgehog corridors by having a small hole in your fence to allow hedgehogs into your gardens or have a tunnel at the bottom of the fence.

    Hedgehogs are big eaters – they can eat their own bodyweight in food every night! They eat beetles, larvae, caterpillars, worms, slugs, snails, eggs, berries and frogs. Creating a herb garden with mint, dill and fennel attracts some of the insects hedgehogs love and a compost heap will provide earthworms as well as a cosy home.

    We can also do our bit by putting down food that’s good for them – hedgehog food, tinned dog or cat food – but not fish-based – crushed cat biscuits, cooked mincemeat, and chopped boiled eggs. A good tip is to put food into a plastic box with a lid, measuring at least 30x40cm. Cut a hedgehog-sixed hole into one end and place the food at the other end, so they don’t tread in the food. Place a heavy stone on top of the box. This will ensure other animals such as cats and foxes can’t get to the food.

    Always put some fresh water down in a shallow dish if you do feed them. Never give hedgehogs milk, as this upsets their stomachs and can make then very ill. And bread is no use for them either.

    You can make your garden even more of a home from home for hedgehogs by having log piles, leaf piles and ponds – but only if the ponds have gentle slopes for them to get out safely.

    Hedgehog hazards include slug pellets, as they are poisonous for them, and garden clear-outs can prove dangerous, too. If you’re about to clear your garden of leaves, make sure you don’t accidentally throw a hedgehog out with them.

    If you do see manage to spot hedgehogs in your gardens this spring and summer, you can count yourself very fortunate. Tell-tale signs are small paw marks or dark droppings.

    The People’s Trust for Endangered Species and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society have joined forces to launch a campaign, Hedgehog Street, to help us to help our hedgehogs. www.hedgehogstreet.org

  • Mothering Sunday

    The story behind Mothering Sunday

    In the UK, Mothering Sunday is celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent in the Christian calendar. It comes as no surprise then, to learn that the origins of Mothering Sunday had more to do with the church than it did with mothers.
    Mothers Day
    Hundreds of years ago, churchgoers would, on one Sunday each year, attend service at their ‘mother church’ – defined as the church in the parish where they were born. The fourth Sunday of Lent was the chosen day.

    Over time, Mothering Sunday evolved and gradually became a day for sons and daughters to say ‘thank you’ to their mums. This might well have been because Mothering Sunday had become an annual family get-together.

    Historians believe that many boys and girls – working in other parts of the locality as domestic staff or apprentices from an early age – would pick springtime wild flowers on the way to church on Mothering Sunday and present them as gifts to their mothers. And so Mother’s Day as we know it today, was born.

    In those early days, the flowers were often sweet violets because these would have been widely available to pick along the lanes at this time of year. Later, carnations became the most popular flower to give on Mothering Sunday, because it was seen as a symbol of mother love.

    Today, mixed bouquets are the order of the day, bought from the local florists or store. But it’s still possible to retain the spirit of those days when people would hand-pick spring flowers.

    Ask your florist to create a seasonal bouquet with flowers such as Lily of the Valley, Magnolia, Forsythia and Hellebores. Other colourful flowers to add to the mix are bright yellow Narcissus and vibrant tulips.

    For a beautiful scent, include roses in the bouquet, too. And by adding some seasonal foliage – from your own garden if possible – you’ll be able to create that natural, ‘just picked’ look.

    If your mum is a keen gardener, why not buy her bulb flowers that are still growing? They’ll look lovely indoors in a pretty pot, and the bulbs can then be planted in the garden. Again, choose local flowers that are in season.

    Using seasonal, British flowers is much better than buying flowers with a big carbon footprint – and it’s thoughtful to make that extra bit of effort.

  • March - Scarification

    MARCH – at last! Even if the weather is poor, there’s something in the British gardening psyche that says it’s time to get going! And the great thing is that while it may be too early to do much else, it’s a great time to get your lawn set up for a fantastic year ahead. Better still, get ahead now, and you’ll have more time to sit back and enjoy the fruits of your work in a few month’s time. 
    Scarifying

    SCARIFICATION – PRUNING YOUR GRASS:

    If there’s one thing you can and should be doing now, it’s to renovate your lawn after its winter sleep. And that means scarifying – and yes, even if you don’t have moss!

    Many people think scarifying is simply to deal with moss, but they’re wrong. Instead, think of it is pruning. You see, mowing deals with the top of the grass plant, the ends of the leaf blades and encourages better growth, but it does nothing to sort out the mess lower down, closer to the ground. And it’s down there, with our bents and fescue grasses, that you need to thin out the dead organic matter that forms excess thatch. Some thatch is essential, but too much is disastrous. Scarifying thins this out and prunes the plant to let air and light back into the lower parts and also to regenerate new plant growth.  A double whammy!

    Proper scarification is a light intervention – and must be done with the correct machine. Yes it makes a mess but only for a short while; the grass will soon thicken back up all by itself and look healthier than ever. Surely that’s better than having to rely on reseeding?

    Start scarification by setting the machine high on the first pass and then lowering if need be on the second pass.  Don’t ever try and remove 20 years of dead material in one go and always do it in a diagonal direction to the main mowing direction.
    Mid-Scarifying
    Once you have finished scarification and cleaned all that mess away, apply a moss control and then a quality feed.  This will allow the grasses to thicken back up, helped by the other form of ‘pruning’ we have to do, mowing. In fact, a great tip when you have finished scarifying your lawn is to try not to change your mowing regime at all.  Apart from maybe the first week afterwards, keep the mower set at your normal height (or a fraction higher) and continue to lightly ‘top off, even the smallest of growth.

    AERATION – BREATHING LIFE INTO YOUR LAWN:

    After-Scarifying
    You can still hollow tine aerate your lawn too; it’s not too late.  And you can do this before scarifying so that you needn’t worry about filling up those holes (unless you cylinder mow of course, in which case you’ll need to add some top dressing material to restore a smoother surface).

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    So, seize the moment! Make March the month for getting the ‘hard’ work out of the way. It’ll make the rest of your year much easier – and give you a much happier lawn.

  • Golden daffodils herald the arrival of Spring

    Daffodils. A modest, humble flower that has inspired some of the world's greatest artists and poets to eulogise about their beauty and what they represent.

    William Wordsworth's most famous poem, 'I Wondered Lonely as a Cloud' is also known as 'Daffodils'. The romantic poet was moved to write the poem following a walk in Ullswater in the Lake District with his sister, Dorothy. The 'host of golden daffodils' that he described might not be such a familiar sight today as they were in the early 1800s, but perhaps that’s what makes them even more welcome when we do manage to catch a glimpse of them out in the wild.
    Daffodils
    Image by AJ Garcia (Unsplash)
    Of course, there's another reason why we all love to see daffodils start to poke their heads up. Their emergence is a colourful sign that winter is - at last! - about to turn into spring. It's why daffodils are referred to as "the heralds of spring".

    Britain lost many of its daffs during the war, when every available piece of land had to be used for food. One of the most prolific areas for daffodil growing used to be the Tamar Valley on the Devon-Cornwall border.

    Here, the market garden heritage goes back generations – it helps to explain why there is such a connection to the dear old daff in this area. When landowners and flower producers pulled up their daffodil fields to help the war effort, they simply tossed them aside or into hedgerows, which is why today, you can see all sorts of local varieties in seemingly random places throughout the valley.
    field of Daffodils
    Image by Katherine McCormack (Unsplash)
    There are now a number of national campaigns to help restore our daffodils. Because daffodils aren’t just a part of the British landscape. They’re also part of our heritage.  

    The Tamar Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) was awarded National Lottery funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for their ‘Heralds of Spring’ project. Volunteers are out and about in the valley this spring, locating, identifying and mapping daffodils so the sites can be protected as much as possible in future.

    Now in its second year, the project has already identified more than 100 old local varieties. Wow! Who knew that there were so many different types of daffs, even in such a small part of the world.

    In 2016, English Heritage launched its biggest ever bulb-planting initiative to help save native and historic varieties of daffodils and bluebells. The charity’s gardeners planted 25,000 heritage bulbs at its historic gardens.

    We can all do our bit by making sure we plant native varieties in our gardens. Daffodils (Latin name Narcissus), should be planted in September to October to guarantee a beautiful display from February to May. They’re hardy and they enjoy a sunny spot or somewhere with light shade. They’re great for pots, too.

    Because they’re so easy to grow, they’re unlikely to let you down. And what a sight for sore eyes they are at the end of those long winter months!
    Daffodils in vase
    Image by Annie Spratt (Unsplash)

  • 3 of the best gardens to see in South Korea, hosts of the 2018 Winter Olympics

    South Korea is the first Asian state outside of Japan to be chosen to host the Winter Olympics and Winter Paralympics.
    Winter Olympics 2018
    The 2018 Games got under way on 9 February in the mountainous area of Pyeongchang in the north east of the country. South Korea is hoping the event will boost the tourism industry.

    At one time, forests covered two-thirds of the country, but most of these are now gone. However, several thousands of plant species are known to remain.

    So, what can visitors expect if they want to see beautiful landscapes and gardens? The answer is: a lot! For thousands of years, Koreans have created stunning gardens, using the landscape around them. Historically and to this day, the people here just love beautiful gardens.

    Here are three of the finest.

    The Secret Garden of Changdeokgung

    The World Heritage-listed Changdeokgung Palace is a must-see attraction for anyone visiting South Korea’s capital, Seoul. Dating back over 600 years, the Palace is one of the city’s five main palaces and regarded as the most majestic.

    Among the grounds is the secret garden, a serene glade reached through a wooded area. The focal point is a pond with a series of ornate pavilions and trees and shrubs awash with colour. Tourist visits are tightly managed on a booking-only basis.
    Secret Garden in Seoul

    Seoullo 7017

    A complete contrast to the regal splendours of Changdeokgung, the Seoul Skygarden is South Korea’s newest world class garden. Seoullo 7017 is a pedestrian walkway with 24,000 trees, shrubs and plants boasting some 250 varieties.

    What makes this 1km-long garden so remarkable is that it has been transformed from what was previously the dangerous Seoul Station overpass highway. Costing over $50 million – much of which went on strengthening the structure – it’s a contemporary example of the walk-orientated gardens the country is famous for.

    Why the name, 7017? Because the original road was built in 1970 and its rebirth as a sky garden came in 2017.

    Garden of Morning Calm

    Some 50km outside of the capital, this privately-owned garden was created in the 1990s and offers 30,000 square metres of largely indigenous species. What you see depends on the season – but whatever time of the year, a riot of colour is guaranteed. The name comes from ‘Land of the Morning Calm’, the descriptive term often used to describe Korea.

    Pyeongchang

    But what of Pyeongchang itself? Apart from the world class skiing and winter sports facilities, the area offers plenty of mountain and woodland scenery. The top tourist attraction in the area is Woljeongsa Temple in the Odaesan Mountain National Park, which administers 60 Buddhist temples. Relics relating to Buddha, including bones, were said to have been brought here.

    If gardens and green landscapes are your thing, then maybe it’s time to get your skates on and head to South Korea!

  • Red Roses - the universal language of love

    February 14 … Valentine’s Day, and the day when red roses sell like hot cakes across the world.

    There are a million and one stories about why Valentine’s Day is on this particular day. Our favourite is that people in England and France in the Middle Ages wanted to mark what they believed was the start of the bird mating season – 14 February.
    Valentines day Red Rose
    But why do love birds give red roses on Valentine’s Day? We’ve been digging deep to unearth some of the folklore and facts surrounding roses.

    Saying it with a red rose

    – Of all the theories, the most probable is that this developed out of ‘floriography’ – the language of flowers. Giving flowers as a message, without words, is said to date back thousands of years, possibly originating in the Middle East. The red rose was associated with romantic love and so the tradition grew.

    In Victorian times, the term “tussie-mussie” was coined to describe a posy that would be carried as an accessory – and to convey a message to an intended recipient. Of course, it was important that people used the correct flowers to convey their message. It was apparently not uncommon for people to get the wrong end of the stick because the incorrect flowers were worn or presented as a token!

    Aphrodite’s tears

    – In Greek Mythology, the red rose was created by Aphrodite, the Greek Goddess of Love. When her lover, Adonis, was killed, her tears fell into his spilled blood, out of which a blanket of red roses bloomed.

    Roses go back a long, long way

    – Fossils have been discovered in Colorado which suggest that roses were grown there 35 to 40 million years ago. However, it’s thought that they originated in Asia long before then.

    There are plenty to choose from

    – It’s believed that there are 30,000 different varieties of roses grown all around the world.

    The oldest rose

    – There is a rosebush in Hildesheim near Hanover in Germany that has been dated at over 1,000 years old. It climbs on the wall of Hildesheim Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The pale pink flowers tend to blossom in late May and last for a couple of weeks.

    The Wars of the Roses

    – Roses can symbolise division as well as union and love. The series of civil wars between the houses of Lancaster and York bedevilled England from 1455 to 1486. Lancaster’s symbol was a red rose, York’s was a white rose. It ended at the Battle of Bosworth, when Henry Tudor (Lancaster) defeated King Richard III. Richard was killed in battle and Henry became the first Tudor king. He famously combined the red rose of Lancaster with the white rose of York, which was the central part of the rose. However, for some reason, the white part of the Tudor rose has been lost over time and has developed into the red rose of England.

    The final word – we’ll leave that to the King of Quotes, William Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet.

    What's in a name? That which we call a rose
    By any other name would smell as sweet.

    Happy Valentine’s Day!

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