Category Archives: Environmental

Harvest festival and your garden

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gypsophilla

Harvest festivals are traditionally celebrated around the time of the Harvest Moon which is the full moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox. It’s an important time in the garden as well as on the farms.

Harvest festivals are thanksgiving festivals, a way of showing gratitude to one’s God or gods for a good store of food to keep the people fed through the lean winter months. Historically, Harvest festival was also an opportunity for the Landowner to give a feast for his workers in recognition of their hard work over the growing season. The first new ale would be drunk and loaves of bread made with the freshly gathered and milled wheat.

So why is the autumn equinox important to your plants? The Harvest Moon usually falls as a full moon at the end of September, but occasionally falls at the beginning of October. It’s at this point in the year that the day and night length are equal. The plants in your garden and allotment will notice the difference as they respond to day length.

chrysanthemum

Well actually, it’s not quite that simple, not all plants decide to hibernate once the nights become longer than the days; whether we’re having an Indian Summer or an early hoar frost makes a difference too. So, without dumbing down as you’re an intelligent bunch of readers, let’s have a brief botanical explanation as to why the plants in your garden start behaving differently now we’ve reached the autumnal equinox.

It’s important for a plant’s existence that it knows not to lets its seed germinate during winter, when hard frosts would be likely to kill the emerging seedling. Nor would it be productive to flower when there are no pollinating insects around. Neither is a good plan for survival of the species! There are both internal plant factors, such as the production of particular hormones and external factors that affect plant growth. It is the two major external factors that we’re looking at, and they are, as you’ve probably guessed, light and temperature.

white tulips

Generally speaking, most plants require a certain temperature in order for the seed to germinate and for the plant to grow. Which is why many plants lie dormant or semi-dormant over the winter months. Some plant species require a period of cold to encourage germination of the seed; for example, Tulips. When these plants are grown where the winter is not cold enough, Florida for example, they can be artificially chilled so as to stimulate flowering in the spring.

Photoperiodism, or plants’ response to day length, has been constant over millennia, and it is only recently, over the past couple of hundred years or so, that humans have been successfully able to interfere with the process artificially. Flowering plants are especially sensitive to photoperiodic stimulus; for example, have you ever forced Hyacinth bulbs for Christmas by putting them in a cool dark cellar then bringing them in to the warmth and light to flower?

There are three main grouping of flowering plants in relation to day length and their growth and flowering. Assuming that the plant is sufficiently mature and ready to flower, the day length becomes crucial for many of our favourite garden flowers.

Hyacinths

Short day plants, Chrysanthemum, for example, react to the day length being shorter than a specified time; or put another way, when the hours of darkness are longer than the hours of daylight. So these plants tend to flower later in the season, during late summer and autumn.

Long day plants, such as Gypsophilla, tend to be spring and summer flowering plant; they respond to the day length being longer than a specified amount of time. However, day neutral plants, for example, Viburnum, are unaffected by the length of daylight hours and will flower when they are mature enough to do so.

So this is why the Autumn Equinox, as illuminated by the Harvest Moon, is a crucial turning point in the gardening year.

The cover illustration for our newest eBook “In Your Autumn Garden with Plews Garden Design” shows Demeter, who was the Greek goddess of the harvest and fertility and one of the aspects of the Triple Goddess, or Earth Mother, Gaia. An appropriate subject for a book about crops and harvest and food in your garden and allotment, we thought.

In Your Autumn Garden with Plews Garden Design - cover illustration by Lucy Waterfield

Allotment Gardens

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sunflowers on allotment

sunflowers on allotment

Many allotments are under attack from councils and developers wanting to build houses, shops offices and generally concrete over the area. Why is this a bad idea?

There are historical, ecological, community and health reasons why we should be finding more land for allotments and community gardens not trying to squeeze them out of existence.

What is an allotment? Allotments are generally understood to be individual plots cultivated for private use, grouped together on a larger parcel of land. A Community Garden is generally a parcel of land which is cultivated by a group together as a whole plot. Most allotments forbid any permanent structures, for example sheds cannot have a concrete base or be larger than a specified size. There are some differences in the terms used internationally, but we’ll use the above.

allotment beds

allotment beds

Allotments are found in many countries; for example, UK, USA, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Philippines and Malta. These latter two are twenty-first century start-ups. Malta’s aim is to encourage more young people to take up organic farming. In the Philippines the allotments offer a means of growing their own food to poor urban families. The countries with long established allotments often started offering such land as a result of the increasing urbanisation of the population which left them without gardens in which to grow their food. The land itself was donated by private philanthropists and landowners or by local councils, on a leasehold rather than freehold basis.

Historically allotments have played an important role in feeding the various nations. They’re also important in showing how society has progressed at grass roots level (sorry for the pun). When the majority of the population was rural based, there was frequently a productive garden around the home and often an acre or more to provide vegetables and keep chickens and a pig. Well, there was until enclosures of common land from the mid eighteenth century onwards. These days most of us live in towns and have small gardens or balconies and probably not enough time to tend an acre after work; but we could manage to till an allotment.

swiss chard on allotment

swiss chard on allotment

Allotments can encourage and support local communities; the majority of plot holders will live within walking or cycling distance so may know each other away from the allotments and are encouraged to get to know each other with regular social events and general conversation when working on their plots. Community gardens can be even better at generating the neighbourly feeling as leisure space as well as productive space is shared.

The health benefits of gardening and being outside are as applicable to allotments as they are to your own private garden. Exercise, fresh air, natural sunlight (vitamin D) and fresh food plus the known advantages of the soil itself, as research has shown that soil micro-organisms could help lift our mood.

Ecologically and environmentally, allotments maintain an important diverse range of plant species and varieties within a species. They are a green space within urban areas, helping to reduce mean temperatures; providing a permeable surface to diminish the effects of water run-off and flooding; and improving air quality as plants take in carbon dioxide and give out oxygen.

mixed calendula and brassicas

mixed calendula and brassicas

I think one of the delightful aspects of British allotments is that the parcel of land you are given is measured in ‘rods’. A rod is 5 ½ yards and was quite literally a rod used by surveyors to measure a plot of land; rods were joined together for measuring longer areas. The usual size of an allotment plot is 10 rods or about the size of a doubles tennis court.

The week 5- 11 August is National Allotment Week in Britain, run by the National Allotment Society. Many local allotment groups are having open days – so why not visit an allotment site near to you and see what they get up to? You could put your name down for a plot – or at the very least support allotment sites such as Farm Terrace so they don’t get built on; they are far too precious a resource as they are.

Marie Shallcross

Plews Garden Design – Resolving your Gardening issues with inspirational ideas and flexible solutions

Sitting in the garden enjoying the sun or sitting on a cool veranda in the shade?
“In Your Summer Garden with Plews Garden Design” – the newest in our series of Gardening Almanacs makes good reading wherever you are.

sweetcorn on allotment

sweetcorn on allotment

Gardening tips for watering in the hot weather

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oriental poppy

oriental poppy

Many parts of Britain are basking under a summer sun; and our gardens are potentially baking under a summer sun. How do we enjoy the fine weather, keep our flowers blooming , our grass green and still have an easy maintenance garden?

We would all like to have an easy life and a beautiful garden in the hot weather. There is the option of not having any organic planting whatsoever, but I will be looking at zero planted gardens in another blog, so we’ll leave that topic for now.

The two main areas to consider for hot weather gardening are watering and drought planting. Watering your garden during a sustained hot spell or drought is  a short term response to the weather. Drought planting is a longer term design plan to reduce the maintenance requirements of your garden in hot, dry summer weather and in cold icy winter weather.

The short term – what do I do about it now? – tips for reducing the amount of watering that needs to be done in your garden during a drought period can be broken down into three types: re-think what and when you water in the garden; reduce the amount of water needed; re-use water when you can.

As most people would prefer to spend their leisure time enjoying the weather rather than watering the garden we’re concentrating on easy maintenance options.

santolina in need of watering

santolina in need of watering

Focus on the plants that need watering; this sounds obvious, but many people use limited water supplies on tending their established shrubs first and have run out by the time they reach their tomatoes! Food crops have different watering requirements. Fruit bushes and trees need watering at key times such as pollination & fruit setting. Annual food crops such as peas and tomatoes need more frequent watering as they have a shallower root system.

Flower, shrub and tree borders planted this year will need watering too as they won’t have had time to send roots deep into the soil. A thorough watering of the roots is more effective than spraying water all over the soil or plants. Not all of your new plants will need watering everyday even in prolonged hot, dry summer weather if you’re thorough in your ‘root watering’ . Check the soil at root level by gently digging down; if it’s damp then the plant doesn’t need watering.

Established plants should rarely need watering. There will be some exceptions, flowering herbaceous perennials under the shade of a tree, for example. Pot plants and annual bedding will also need watering.

Lawns – when you’re in your local park have a look at the grassy areas. They haven’t been watered. Neither do you need to water your lawn at home; the grass will recover when it rains. Set your mower to a medium rather than short cut as the longer blades of grass tolerate drought better. The only exception is where you have a recently laid turf or seeded lawn. These will need regular watering for about six weeks after installation and will require you to water them during a prolonged period without rain in their first growing season.

newly laid lawn with edges of strips separating - not laid by Plews!

newly laid lawn with edges of strips separating- not laid by Plews!

When should you water? Water in the evening as this reduces evaporation; unless you have a slug/ snail problem in which case watering in the early morning is better. This reduces the moistness around the plants overnight, when those gastropods are most active.

Re-use water; how? Your water butt may be empty, but there’s plenty of spare water in western households. When you’re washing up dishes in the sink rather than the dishwasher, wash them in a bowl instead. The water can be tipped into a bucket outside the back door and used on your ornamental plants once it’s cool.

Put a bowl in the basin so when people wash their hands this water can be used as above. This ‘grey water’ doesn’t store without treatment so use within a day or two.

Do you need to run the tap to get hot water? Make sure the water is running into a basin not straight down the drain! As this is clean not ‘grey’ water it can be used on food crops as well as ornamentals.

tomato tigerella

tomato tigerella

If you need to feed your peppers and tomatoes, water them first, as they then absorb the feed more efficiently.

Whilst we need to get the water to the plants’ roots rather than the top level of the soil, the soil surface shouldn’t be crusted. This will cause both your watering efforts and the rain (when it arrives) to bounce off the surface rather than be absorbed, which is not what is wanted! Break the soil up with a hoe if necessary.

Drought planting or designing a garden which is sustainable in prolonged hot weather is a long term view, something which we would plan for at the beginning of a garden design. Part of the design brief and discussion would be to look at how hot the climate is and for how long; what is the water availability for watering ornamental plants; how much time does our client wish to spend maintaining the garden (watering, deadheading, pruning etc) ; and the size of their budget. It’s an interesting topic, relevant to sustainable gardening and easy or low maintenance gardening and worthy of a blog post in its own right. (Watch this space)

For more tips on watering your garden during a drought, check out our blog archives or drop us an email with your specific query. We like to help.

Plews Garden Design – Resolving your Gardening issues with inspirational ideas and flexible solutions

Marie Shallcross, Senior Partner

Chilean Glory Flower (Eccremocarpus scaber)

Chilean Glory Flower

Is RHS Chelsea Flower Show more eco-friendly than your Garden?

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Giant Scabious and spider

Giant Scabious and spider

Answer: in all honesty, probably not. Why? Think of all those mature trees transported in from the continent; all that hard landscaping; all those thirsty plants that need gallons of water as they’ve just been transplanted (if you remember, last year we had the added problem of being in a drought situation); all the lawns that will need re-turfing after the show.

But maybe you don’t think your own garden is very ecofriendly either? You could be surprised, read through ‘The Ten Commandments of Ecofriendly Gardening’ and then you can decide for yourself.

One: Water conservation Parts of the UK have less rain than southern Spain; difficult to believe sometimes, but true. So a water butt is an essential part of your eco-friendly garden. You could also use the grey water from washing up bowls, showers and baths on ornamental plants. Water generously but less often to encourage deep rooting rather than shallow surface roots. Watering in the evening or early morning minimises evaporation, and direct the water at the soil not the plant. You could read one of our water or drought blogs from last year for more ideas.

fountain

fountain

Two: Right plant; right place This is partly about planting acid loving plants in acidic soil, but also about choosing drought tolerant plants for hot, sunny borders; and shade lovers for under trees. Most plants, once established, will manage with very little attention if they’re in the right location or habitat – easy maintenance gardening!  Right plant; right place is one of the starting points when we’re designing a planting scheme for a client, for it to work we need to know our plants and our soils.

Three: Use alternatives to peat Peat bogs are important ecosystems that took thousands of years to establish; when they’re gone, they’re gone forever. There won’t be peat used at Chelsea Flower Show as the RHS has been among those gardening organisations that now use alternatives. There are some good quality alternatives available, including those based on bark and sheep’s wool.

compost bin made of resycled plastic

compost bin made of resycled plastic

Four: Composting Definitely a holy grail of ecofriendly gardening; this is now actively supported by many local authorities, who collect your food and garden waste if you don’t want to or don’t have the space to.  I would encourage everyone who can to compost; there are different methods so there should be one to suit you, your family and your garden. We’ve talked about different composting systems in other blogs and in the eBooks, if you’d like to know more.

Five: Re-use non-biodegradable products This includes plastic plant pots, plastic bottles and plastic trays which can be used many times before being recycled. It also means, for example, using rubber car tyres as a soft surface under children’s play equipment.

Six: Exclude or at least minimise the use of unfriendly chemicals Is it acceptable in an otherwise organic and ecofriendly garden to use a glyphosate based weed killer to clear the weeds initially? I would say not, but I can understand why people prefer this as a quicker method.

crazy paving path

crazy paving path

Seven: Hard landscaping should be minimised Or to be more precise non-permeable hard landscaping such as pavers set in concrete should be minimised. Purists may be against even decking, but so long as there is plenty of planting as well, there’s nothing wrong and much that is practical and right with permeable hard landscaping. You could use re-cycled pavers for example, rather than letting them go to landfill.

Eight: Lighting is evil Light pollution confuses bats and birds, and can be irritating for your neighbours if it’s overdone. But we need some outdoor lighting, whether for security, for street lighting or because we’d like to enjoy our garden when we come home from work. See if solar lighting would be suitable to reduce electricity usage; and ask your garden designer and electrician to plan the lighting so that every day (or night!) lights are kept to the essentials only; but with plenty of scope for party fun.

Nine: Messy bits Also known as wildlife areas, bug hotels, nettle beds and log piles. These provide habitats for all those essential beasties that eat many of the garden pests. Some endangered species such as stag beetles need those log piles in domestic gardens in order to survive at all. Wildlife areas don’t need to be large so most gardens can find a small corner for a messy bit. You could for example, leave a pile of leaves at the back of a border behind the shrubs; perfect for a hedgehog to hibernate in.

bug hotel

bug hotel

Ten: Grow your own and buy local Growing some of your own food, whether this is a few salad leaves in a shallow tray, some herbs on the windowsill, an espalier apple tree along the fence or a fully fledged ornamental kitchen garden is very satisfying. Plews offers lessons in your own garden which can help a novice gardener learn the right way to hold a spade and to transplant seedlings, and there are plenty of evening courses at colleges around the country too.

raised beds with vegetables

raised beds with vegetables

With ‘buy local’ I’m thinking not so much about the salads as about the trees and other imported plants. We have many excellent nurseries in this country capable of growing most of the ornamental plants we want for our gardens, but sometimes we need to bring in trees or shrubs from elsewhere. If all plants coming into the country were properly quarantined we would not be in the situation that we are in where many of our native species – Ash, Oak, Horse Chestnut for example – are under major threat and may disappear like the English Elm did as a result of the 1980s Dutch Elm disease.

A cautionary note to finish on perhaps, but there is a positive, as if you were to start following only one or two of ‘The Ten Commandments of Ecofriendly Gardening’ you would be making a difference. After all, even oak trees start as acorns…

Marie, Senior Partmer, Plews Garden Design

If you’d like an ecofriendly garden designed,  gardening lessons or gardening advice on any of the topics covered, please get in touch:
Email: info@plewsgardendesign.co.uk
Or ring us: 020 8289 8086

pulmonaria

pulmonaria

April showers and May Day in the Garden

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white-honesty (lunaria)

white-honesty (lunaria)

April brings showers to our gardens; this year April has brought showers of sleet and snow; and the plants have suffered.

This year April has been cruel month of rain, and cold and wind, with frosty nights but very few sunny days. The plants in our gardens have suffered, assuming they risked growing at all. This lengthening of winter has been affecting not just British gardens but gardens elsewhere, the United States for example. This last week or so there has been a sudden flowering and greening of our gardens. Next week brings May Day; so will we be celebrating spring in the garden at last?

forget-me-nots

forget-me-nots

May Day, Beltane in the Celtic calendar, is celebrated in the Northern hemisphere as the first day of summer. Certainly May is when the flowers and crops grow in earnest, the days are longer so more work can be achieved out in the fields and plots and life seems full of…life.

Flora, a Roman goddess who appears on the cover page of our Spring eBook, is the harbinger of spring; the bringer of life after the frost of winter. The Romans celebrated her festival, Floralia, around April 28 – May 3; they would decorate trees with ribbons and garlands in her honour; dance and feast. The tradition of a decorated maypole grew out of this, although many places and religions still prefer to decorate the woodland trees.

In Your Spring Garden with Plews Garden Design - cover illustration by Lucy Waterfield

In Your Spring Garden with Plews Garden Design – cover illustration by Lucy Waterfield

Although a minor goddess, the return of spring gave Flora an important role, Rome was a mighty empire with a conquering army, but as we all know, an army marches on its stomach so food and agriculture was central to Rome’s power.

So whilst many see her as a gentle form of spring fertility rites, being more concerned with flowers than animals mating, Flora holds the key to more than a few pretty posies. Without flowers, there is nothing for bees, butterflies, moths and wasps and a host of other pollinating insects and animals to feed upon. Without these natural pollinators, the edible crops would not be fertilised; the flower produced would not run into a fruit, a vegetable or a nut. Reduced to a diet of wind-pollinated plants only, many animals would not survive. In other words, the whole food chain or pyramid, with humans at the top, would collapse. Approximately one third of the food we eat can be directly linked to Flora’s ability to bring her flowers back to bloom in the spring.

Raised beds

Raised beds

If you’d like some help growing your own or to encourage bees in to your garden – lessons perhaps, or an area of the garden re-designed and built to form an ornamental fruit and vegetable potager, why not drop us an email?

pulmonaria

pulmonaria

Compost – the smell of a successful Garden

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serious-composting

serious composting in a large garden

Clay soil, sandy soil, whatever the soil in your garden, it can be improved by adding compost, aka organic matter.

Garden compost should be rich and dark, smelling almost sweetly of earth; if it smells ‘off’ or rancid then there isn’t enough oxygen in the compost, and it probably isn’t decomposing properly. The texture of compost which is ready to use on your garden soil is crumbly, like breadcrumbs, and it’s acceptable to have some bigger pieces of twig or leaf in the mix. Compost should be slightly damp, and warm, especially if it’s from a newly turned heap. If it’s too dry, add some water and allow time for that to soak through before adding the compost to your soil.

damp-compost-in-bin

damp-compost-in-bin

So why would you want to add compost to the soil? It’s plant food. Well, strictly speaking, its soil food, but the plants benefit. Dug into the soil it improves the drainage of heavy clay soils and the water retention of sandy ones. It provides food for the earthworms who do all sorts of wonderful things to improve soil quality, not least helping with the release of essential nutrients from the compost into the soil. This in turn benefits the plants, enabling their roots to soak up all that composted goodness, which leads to both better food crops and ornamental plants.

But if you don’t want to, or are not able to dig your garden compost into the soil at root level, then you could use it as a soil and plant mulch instead. Applied as mulch onto the soil surface, compost can reduce the need for watering; keep plants cool in summer and warm in winter.

If you only have small quantities of compost then you need to direct it where it will do the most benefit. Using organic compost as a mulch in planting holes and as mulch around hungry food crops and specimen ornamentals is more effective than throwing it around willy–nilly.

compost bin and fuschia

compost bin and fuschia

Check out our linked ‘compost’ video on YouTube; where Nathan demonstrates how to turn compost and check it for quality and readiness for use.

Whatever your soil, sometimes there is a need for digging in some black gold. Do you really want to be faced with this when you go to plant the lavender bush you were given for your birthday?

Did you know that the first organised landfill was happening c5000 years ago in Crete? Now we’re running out of landfill space at a frightening rate, it seems crazy not to compost kitchen & garden waste, thereby reducing the quantity of material needing landfill.

compost-layers

compost layers

Plus, the more we compost, the more we reduce the methane gas leaching from landfill into the atmosphere and so help reduce global warming.

If you’re not able to compost your kitchen and garden waste then see if your local council offers a collection service – and if not petition them to start – it really is a waste not to!
An earlier blog on the website explaining different ways of composting in your garden can be found here

Or treat yourself to one of the Plews eBooks“In Your Winter Garden” where we have even more on compost, soil and the worms in your garden, is currently reduced in price.

And if you need help with composting or any other gardening issues, why not get in touch? At Plews we love to Resolve Your Gardening Issues

pink-cosmos-with-bee

pink-cosmos-with-bee

Weeds in the Spring Garden

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mixed-native-species-and-bee

mixed native species and bee

Eeyore, the much beloved if melancholy donkey in the Winnie the Pooh stories by A.A. Milne, says “Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.” So if weeds can be pretty to look at or useful, perhaps we should get to know them better before deciding if they’re plants in the wrong place or not. Many plants that are termed ‘weeds’ are native or naturalised species; they may have been bred and developed into the garden plant varieties that we covet; and have been useful in the past for medicinal or culinary purposes.

If we consider the possible uses of one common weed, which is also a native plant species you may get feel for the dilemma we have. The stinging nettle (urtica dioica) is native to Europe, North America, Asia and Africa and has a long history as a useful plant; to the extent that I would also classify it as a herb. The nettle has culinary uses – soup, salad, herbal tea; and was used as a woven fibre for cloth in the Bronze Age. In the garden it provides food for beneficial insects and is a compost activator. On the downside, nettles are perennial and spread by their root system, so can easily find their way out of that useful corner by the compost heap and into your flower borders. By this action, they have turned into a weed, as they’re now a plant in the wrong place.

stinging nettle

stinging nettle

Firstly let’s consider the lifespan of weeds, knowing the enemy is useful in getting the better of them.

Perennials are plants which live for many years; for example, bramble. They may have growth above ground all year or they may die back to an underground root system over the winter or dormant season. Perennial plants may reproduce by seed or vegetatively (by root or stem).
Bi-ennials are plants which live for two years, for example, spear thistle. In the first year the plant will grow a rosette of leaves at ground level (basal foliage clump). In the second year, the weed plant will flower, be pollinated, set seed and spread the seed, and then that individual plant will die.
Annuals are plants which live for one year only, for example, common chickweed. Each individual weed will grow from a seed, usually in spring, flower and set its own seed over the course of one year or growing season.
Ephemerals are plants which produce many generations in one year or growing season for example, groundsel. In other words these weeds do what annual weeds do but more quickly, with possibly four generations of flowering plants over the season.

dandelion seedhead in paving

dandelion seedhead in paving

So, how to deal with a weed problem? Cultural methods are a good starting point for all of these different types.

For annual and ephemeral weeds, regular hoeing or picking out whilst the plant is still small is the simplest method of keeping them in check. Left on the soil surface to wither, they can then be added to the compost heap. It is particularly important to remove them before they seed. Remember the old but very true saying: “one year’s seed is seven year’s weed”.

Catch the biennial weeds in their first year when they have foliage only, usually a clump or small mound of leaves. The same hoeing technique used for annual weeds will work for small plants. For the larger weed plants, it will be necessary to dig them out with a hand trowel.

Hand dig out perennial weeds such as dandelions to be sure of removing the deep tap root. A specialist dandelion fork can be a useful addition to your garden tool collection, particularly if dandelions have a habit of growing in your lawn a sit is less disruptive to the turf.

dandelion-and-nettle

dandelion and nettle in early spring

As for seriously difficult to eradicate perennial weed plants such as bindweed and ground elder, expect this to take a few seasons. The root systems on these go down a long way and can re-generate from a small piece. If you find that bindweed has twined around your plants, try watching our video on ‘how to remove bindweed’ .

For more tips, check out our other blogs on weeds, especially “A Weed is a plant in the wrong place” which highlights problems with two common garden plants.

bindweed, bramble and clematis

bindweed, bramble and clematis

Which came first, the Chicken or the chocolate eggs? Easter in your garden

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Helleborus-foetidus-(Stinking-Hellebore)

Helleborus-foetidus-(Stinking-Hellebore)

Why the link between Easter and spring festival and eggs? Because eggs are a sign of re-birth in many religions. At Easter weekend it’s chocolate eggs loom large in the mind and stomach. Easter egg hunts in the garden are a great way to entertain the children,whilst hunting for eggs when the birds have been laying outside the coop is not quite as much fun on a cold spring morning.

Keeping hens has been a common practise for hundreds of years both in the country and in town. Although hens have always been found in rural communities, keeping a small number of chickens has become more common again in suburban and urban gardens. Hens have been around humans for a long time; possibly as long as 10,000 years of domestication. There are certainly fossil remains in China from approximately 6,000 BC of a bird that couldn’t have occurred there naturally; the supposition being that it was imported, for food, or entertainment (cock fighting) or both.

hen on the doorstep

hen on the doorstep

Marie is very fond of chickens and has at various times kept Bantams, Leghorns and even ex-battery hens, among other breeds. You don’t need to be a permaculture advocate to see the benefits of hen keeping; as omnivores, ie eaters of a range of plants and animals for food, chickens love leftovers. They can potentially eat seven pounds of kitchen leftovers in a month, although this will depend on the size or breed of your hen; a Bantam is a small breed and obviously won’t eat as much.

Chickens are a very useful creature to keep; not only do they provide eggs (no potentially noisy cockerel needed for that) but they’re also a source of rich manure and a mobile pest control unit. As part of an overall productive unit, that is to say your garden or allotment, hens can be almost indispensable. If they are allowed to roam free during the summer they may well cause some damage to your ornamental flowers and your crops. But given the licence to scratch around after harvest and during the autumn and winter, hens will dig up pests, larvae, grubs that would otherwise damage your plants in the following spring. They can still be contained in a run, just move the run around.

snow-covered-compost-bin

snow-covered-compost-bin

Chicken manure is very rich in nitrogen, and needs to be composted for six- twelve months as it might otherwise ‘burn’ the plants it came into contact with. If you use wood shavings in the run and hen house then you already have a head start on the composting process. Store it in a separate bin to your other compost, making sure it is kept damp, but not wet. Any vegetable peelings etc that you may have put in the run for the hens to eat can be thrown in too.

Although chickens are not difficult or time consuming to keep, they do require a commitment to twice daily care and holiday cover. They are sociable creatures so you would need two or three as a minimum and enough flexibility in your garden to move them around.

Urban and suburban hen keeping could be one way to reduce our landfill problem, improve the soil and increase local food production; a means of bio-recycling. For example, if two thousand households each had three hens, there is the potential for some 225 tons annually to be diverted from landfill to a more productive use.

Hens having a dust bath

Hens having a dust bath

And if you haven’t the room in your garden to keep hens for fresh eggs you could still have an Easter egg hunt in the garden this weekend with real (hard boiled) eggs or chocolate ones. We like to design fun gardens for children with hidden areas and tree houses at Plews; we’ve even been known to test them out…

Happy Easter from Marie, Nathan and all the Plews Team

For more on hens, garden design and gardening tips, why not download our eBook “In Your Spring Garden” available in formats available in formats for PC, iPad and Kindle from Amazon and Smashwords.

free ranging hens and cockerel

free ranging hens and cockerel

Chalara ash disease – learning to live with it?

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Woodland Matters

Reblogged from the tree diseases and pests website:

Trees need help

It’s official – chalara ash disease is here to stay. For confirmation, you need look no further than the front page title of the Government’s ‘Chalara Management Plan’, published on Tuesday 26th March. The interim version of the report, back in November last year, bore the label ‘Control Plan’. So it’s clear that, since then, the Government have got the message that chalara ash disease cannot be controlled, that it cannot be eradicated, there is no available cure or antidote that could be used on a wide scale and so the focus for action must now switch to how we manage the impact of the disease.

The Woodland Trust took every opportunity to offer our advice and views to Defra as the plan was being developed. So we find ourselves in the strange situation of welcoming the report (because it reflects some…

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So you thought the Forestry Commission was safe?

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Woodland Matters

Today is the very first International Day of Forests designated by the United Nations to celebrate forests globally.  But do we have much to celebrate especially in England? In many ways yes, especially with renewed public passion and concern. 

For example, I expect you thought the Forestry Commission in England was safe now that plans to sell off the public forest estate have been well and truly ditched and the government has announced it will set up a new kind of public body to hold the nation’s forests in trust

Well, half of the Commission may be safe but the other half isn’t. The Forestry Commission not only owns and manages the public forest estate (about 18% of the total area of woodland in England) but just as importantly the part known as ‘Forest Services’ also offers advice, support and grants, and regulates the activities on the other…

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