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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 Mike Erskine (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.

  • 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.

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