Atco

  • Say a few words for World Nursery Rhyme Week!

    Remember when you were little, and you’d learn reams of nursery rhymes off by heart and recite them all back, over and over again?

    Well, it seems that nursery rhymes are just as popular as ever - there’s even a World Nursery Rhyme Week which runs from 18-22 November.

    This got us reminiscing about our favourite nursery rhymes - and noticed just how many of them have a garden or nature theme. Like these super seven …

    Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush (origins - England, 1800s)

    Here we go round the mulberry bush
    The mulberry bush
    The mulberry bush
    Here we go round the mulberry bush
    On a cold and frosty morning.

    Lavender's Blue, Dilly, Dilly (England, 1600s)

    Lavender's blue, dilly, dilly
    Lavender's green
    When l am King, dilly, dilly
    You shall be Queen!

    Ring-a-ring o' Roses (England, probably late 1700s)

    Ring-a-ring o' roses,
    A pocket full of posies.
    Atishoo! Atishoo!
    We all fall down.

    Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary (England, 1700s)

    Mary, Mary, quite contrary
    How does your garden grow?
    With silver bells
    And cockle shells
    And pretty maids all in a row.

    Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue (England, 1700s)

    Roses are red,
    Violets are blue
    Sugar is sweet
    And so are you.

    Two Little Dickie Birds (England, 1700s)

    Two little dickie birds sitting on a wall
    One named Peter, one named Paul
    Fly away Peter! Fly away Paul!
    Come back Peter! Come back Paul!

    Sing a Song of Sixpence (England 1700s)

    Sing a song of sixpence a pocket full of rye
    Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.
    When the pie was opened the birds began to sing
    Oh wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the king?
    The king was in his counting house counting out his money
    The queen was in the parlour eating bread and honey.
    The maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes
    When down came a blackbird and pecked off her nose!

    Of course, one of the reasons that nursery rhymes have endured for centuries is because we pass them on to the next generation - and long may that tradition continue. They’re also educational, helping young children develop their language and numeracy skills. Two very good reasons why nursery rhymes have earned their world celebration week!

  • Celebrating Apple Day

    Did you know that the UK produces thousands of apple varieties? From the Bloody Ploughman in north-east Scotland to the Slack ma Girdle in the far South West of England, our orchards are home to varieties that go back hundreds of years - and many of them have wonderful names.

    To mark Apple Day on 21 October, here are 10 of the best!

    Anglesey Pig Snout - So-called because of its shape, this Welsh wonder is thought to originate from the early 1600s. Although largely culinary, it can be eaten as a dessert apple, too.

    Brown Snout - Another snout, this time from Herefordshire. Dating back to the mid-1800s, it produces a sweet apple juice and a mild to bittersweet cider.

    Bloody Ploughman - A spectacular deep red dessert apple from Perthshire. According to legend, it takes its name from a ploughman who was shot dead when a gamekeeper caught him scrumping apples.

    Cat’s Head - One of the oldest apple varieties in England - possibly going as far back as the 11th century. The cooker is so-called because of its supposed resemblance to the shape of a cat’s head.

    Greasy Butcher - Not much is known about this apple, other than it goes back a long way and was once found in orchards in South Devon. Probably a cider apple.

    Hoary Morning - A Somerset dessert and culinary variety first recorded in the early 1800s, this apple has a striking colour scheme, with pink and red stripes on its flesh. The name ‘hoary’ refers to its white bloom.

    Isaac Newton’s Tree - These cookers are direct descendants the original tree in Isaac Newton’s Lincolnshire garden, where the idea of gravity came to him when he watched an apple fall to the ground in the 17th century.

    Pig Skin - Another Anglesey apple with a memorable name. This variety is a sweet, colourful dessert apple dating back to the 1850s and gets its name from its rough skin.

    Slack ma Girdle - A heritage apple from Devon, producing sweet cider and good for jams. Lots of stories surround the name, some suggesting it’s about waistlines, another that it means “slack my girl”.

    Sops in Wine - Thought to originate in Cornwall in the 1800s, this is a lovely red variety of apple. It’s a good all-rounder and famed for its pink juice.

    After decades of decline and destruction of our orchards, there’s been a renewed interested in these fabulous old apple varieties in recent times - we’ll raise a glass to that!

  • Celebrating the colours of Autumn

    Autumn: for many of us, the most glorious season of the year, with all those hues of gold, yellow, orange, bronze and red.

    But just why do these fabulous colours emerge? And what happens to the green leaves?

    Without getting too bogged down in the science behind it, leaves get their colour from three pigments: green comes from chlorophyll, yellow from carotenes and reds from anthocyanins.

    The pigments are all present within the leaves, but during Spring and Summer, the sun and light-worshipping green chlorophyll takes over, effectively hiding the other colours.

    The arrival of shorter, cooler days breaks the chlorophyll pigment down, allowing the other pigments to suddenly become visible until eventually, they’re dominant.

    So why aren’t Autumns colours always the same?

    The answer is simple - it’s all down to the weather. If we get lots of very cold nights in Autumn, we’ll see more yellows because the temperatures will kill off the chlorophyll pigment and the carotenes will flourish.

    Warmer nights, on the other hand, are good for anthocyanins, which is why we see more reds and fewer yellows if we have a mild Autumn.

    Dry and sunny weather in Autumn has the same effect of accentuating the reds because it increases the sugar levels of leaves - something that anthocyanins love at this time of year.

    This vibrant show of colour doesn’t last long, just a few short weeks, before the leaves fall from the trees and winter takes over - so we must make the most of it while we can. We reckon a woodland walk followed by warming roast dinner is just about the perfect way to spend an Autumn day!

  • The perfect time for a new lawn

    Rolls of new sod wait to be laid in place

    If you’re thinking of having a new lawn, then early autumn is a good time to do it.

    There are two options for creating a new lawn - from seeds or from turf. Both methods have their advantages. A new lawn from seeds is cheaper and can produce excellent results. A new lawn from turf is quicker and can be used again within a day or two.

    Why now?

    Early autumn usually offers the best conditions for sowing a new lawn. It’s not too hot or too cold, there’s plenty of moisture but the soil is still warm - all ideal for the seeds to germinate. The conditions are also good for laying turf. With little mowing needed during the winter, the new turf can be left to establish itself with minimum disturbance and without the need for frequent watering.

    Whichever option you choose, there are three steps to follow - preparation, creation, and aftercare.

    Preparation:

    If using seeds, choose a seed mix that’s right for your purpose. Do you want a general-purpose lawn, a fine lawn, or is the lawn in shade?

    Whether sowing or turfing, good seed bed prep is needed, so remove weeds (but not with residual weedkiller as it will stop the grass from growing) and cultivate the soil. Get the surface as level as you can.  Ideally, you should then leave it to settle for five to six weeks - or even longer if possible.

    Creation:

    The more care you take, the better the results. The RHS has a precise, step-by-step guide on how to make a new lawn from turf or seeds, with links to both methods at: www.rhs.org.uk/advice/in-month/september/lawns .

    Aftercare

    If you’ve sown a new lawn, you will need to lightly re-firm the soil when the grass reaches about 7.5cm (3 ins). You can do this by carefully treading any raised areas. Wait for another two or three days and cut the grass down to about a third of its height - make sure your mower blades are very sharp for this important job. It shouldn’t need mowing again until the following spring. Try not to use the lawn until early summer.

    Aftercare for a turfed lawn is simpler. You can mow the lawn, with the blades high, once the grass has grown to around 5cm (2 ins). Keep the turf moist by watering it once a fortnight during dry spells.

    And finally, enjoy

  • Don't bin those fallen leaves!

    fallen leavesWant some freebie compost, or a healthy supplement for your lawn? Then take a leaf out of our book: don’t throw out your fallen leaves this autumn - put them to good use instead.

    Leaf mould is packed with fabulous properties that boost moisture and drainage - great for use all around the garden.

    Start collecting now

    If you gather your fallen leaves up regularly, you’ll soon be accumulating a decent amount for your store. Depending on the size of your garden and the volume of leaves, you can use a rubber rake, leaf boards or a vacuum. But collect by hand around flowers and plants to prevent damage.

    A covered cage outdoors is a good storage idea if you have lots of leaves, and you can help the process by treading on the leaves and watering them before covering the top of the cage. Keep adding fallen leaves and perhaps top them with an inch or so of soil.

    If you’re using big bin liners to store your leaves, make a few holes to let air in and always dampen the leaves with a hose before filling the bags. Tie the tops of the bags and store them away.

    3 great things about fallen leaves

    Lawns - If you have leaves on your lawn, shredding them finely by mowing them with a rotary mower (use a high cut setting) will speed-up the rotting process and add nutrient-rich grass clippings to the mix. You can leave this on the lawn as a lawn supplement for the winter or add to your leaf mould.

    Plants and fruit & veg - The fibre and microorganisms in leaf mould are a healthy addition for bulbs, alpine plants, border perennials, woodland plants and fruit & veg. Use a garden sieve first, however, to filter out any parts that haven’t completely decomposed.

    Biodiversity - Birds and insects are attracted to leaf mould - especially if it’s stored in an outdoor cage.

    Worth the wait

    Deciduous leaves will generally take a year to turn into leaf mould. Others, such as oak and beech, will take two years or more to rot down. Beech, oak and hornbeam are especially good.

    So, while it might take a bit of effort and patience to begin with, your on-tap free store of compost, mulch and soil enhancer is definitely worth the wait.

  • Dig in for National Allotments Week 2019

    vegetables growing in a little vegetable patch in a garden

    It’s National Allotments Week on 12-18 August - but you don’t need an allotment to grow your own food.

    In fact, more and more of us are setting aside a part of our gardens to grow fruit, veg and herbs. According to Garden Design Magazine, it’s one of the top garden trends - and it’s a trend that just keeps on growing.

    If you do have an allotment, then lucky you. If not, there are plenty of things you can grow at home - even if you have only a small space. Here are a few easy-to-grow foods for you to try.

    Containers and pots:

    Microgreens are dead easy - all you need are seedlings and a pot - even an old yoghurt pot or takeaway container with holes in the bottom for drainage will do the trick.  Pea shoots, cress, and mustards are good to start off with - a tasty and colourful addition to a meal.

    Pots are also great for herbs. The list is endless, but easy ones include parsley, sage, oregano, mint and rosemary.

    There are so many varieties of tomato, that it seems a shame that so few choices are on offer in the supermarkets. Growing your own means that you can pick your own toms, literally. If you enjoy a bit of spice, get yourself a chilli pepper plant and a biggish pot.

    Citrus fruits, especially lemons, are also increasingly grown in pots in the UK - but you’ll need to bring them indoors during cold winter spells.

    Soil

    So much veg to choose from, where on earth do you start? For beginners, beetroot, courgettes, French beans and radishes are among the easiest to grow. Globe artichokes are another one to try.

    For those with a bit more space, there’s nothing better than home-grown fruit. Apple trees are probably the easiest to grow but should be bought from a specialist nursery. And what goes well with apples? Blackberries! Cultivated blackberries are more productive than wild blackberries and thornless varieties will even grow in pots.

    Blueberries, raspberries and strawberries are also very easy to grow. Yum!

    Of course, it also makes sense to grow the things you enjoy the most, ensuring you have a fresh supply of your favourite fruit and veg. The RHS website has an A-Z of grow your own produce, with all the advice you need for success -  www.rhs.org.uk/advice/grow-your-own. For more on National Allotments Week, visit the National Allotment Society website at  www.nsalg.org.uk/news-events-campaigns/national-allotments-week/

  • Tap into the benefits of a water butt

     

    No ifs, no buts - water butts save you money and water as you care for your garden at this time of year.

    And, with the UK’s National Drought Group recently urging everyone to use water wisely and conserve water supplies, it makes sense for us to harvest as much rainfall as we possibly can.

    It has been estimated that up to 24,000 litres of water can be saved from the average house roof each year. Southern Water calculates that average rainfall in the South East of England can fill a water butt up to 450 times a year and that a butt can fill 25 watering cans - that’s 11,250 watering cans!

    It also means we’re taking less water from our rivers, conserving a precious resource that is needed for our drinking supplies.

    There are other advantages to using harvested water in our gardens. For a start, plants, fruit and veg prefer natural rainwater because it’s packed with beneficial nutrients. Tap water, on the other hand, commonly contains chemicals.

    The ambient temperature of water from a butt is also better for the garden than the water we get from our cold taps.

    And of course, a butt provides a handy source of water for your garden, if you don’t have an outdoor tap.

    So, what are the practicalities of having a water butt? They come in various shapes and sizes - most household butts tend to be from 100 to 500 litres. You can connect several together, using butt linking kits. Most are plastic, but wooden and metal ones are also available. Prices typically start at under £30.

    Water butts are relatively simple to install. The key requirements are a level ground surface and a downpipe from your roof. In simple terms, a connector hose diverts the water into your butt.

    It might be too late to benefit from a water butt this summer, but if you install one now, you can start saving up for next year. Time to tap in?

     

     

     

     

  • Get in a flutter for our butterflies

    The UK’s 2019 Big Butterfly Count takes place across the country from 19 July to 11 August, when people are encouraged to find a nice spot in their garden, park or local woodland and take 15 minutes to record sightings.

    Last year, more than 100,000 people took part, making it the biggest citizen science insect survey in the world. Between them, they spotted almost 1 million of the 19 target species.

    The count is run by Butterfly Conservation and gives us a picture on the health - or otherwise - of the environment.

    The nature charity also offers tips on how we can attract more butterflies to our gardens. With three-quarters of British butterflies in decline and some facing extinction, they need all the help we can give them.

    Here are a few simple things we can do.

    Introduce nectar-rich plants - preferably in a sunny, sheltered spot. Choose different plants to attract more types of butterfly but clump the same plants together. And have plants that flower at different times of the year, so butterflies have a rich source of nectar from spring to autumn.

    Top butterfly plants include buddleia (blooms in July and August), English lavender (all summer), perennial wallflower, or Bowles’s Mauve (from April), wild marjoram/oregano (June to September), and verbena bonariensis (August to October). Other butterfly-friendly plants are red valerian, common knapweed and hemp agrimony.

    Deadheading the plants will allow them to flower for longer, and regular watering will keep them healthy. Do these two things, and the butterflies will keep fluttering back.

    Allow part of your grass to grow long and let a patch of weeds such as dandelions to flourish - butterflies and bees love them.

    Butterflies enjoy basking in the sunshine, so give them somewhere they can ‘sunbathe’ such as a fence or a flat rock.

    There are some important don’ts, too: Don’s use pesticides; don’t use peat-based compost because many butterfly species need peat bogs; and don’t keep your garden too neat and tidy during winter, as a small area with logs or leaves provides shelter for butterflies during their dormancy.

    To log your sightings during the count period and for tips on how to make your garden butterfly-friendly, visit www.butterfly-conservation.org - it also has a butterfly identification page.

  • The Perfect Picnic

    As some parts of the world celebrate Picnic Month this July, we look at what makes the perfect picnic - and how your garden is the best possible spot for the kids to have a picnic tea.

    The long-term weather forecast is promising a warm, dry month for much of the UK, so with the weather seemingly set fair, what else do we need for a fabulous picnic?

    Picnic in the ATCO Garden

    Preparation and packing

    Choose your equipment carefully and make sure all the lids seal properly. Re-useable, lightweight plastic plates and cutlery (or try bamboo plates) are easier to pack and carry - and the same goes for wine ‘glasses’ and teacups. It also prevents accidents with glass. Just don’t forget your bottle opener!

    Store foods in Tupperware containers in a cool box, keeping food types separate - especially meats and pungent cheeses. On warm days, keep the food in the cool box until you need it - having it all laid out might look nice, but it won’t taste great and might risk poor food hygiene.

    Cut your quiches, pies and cakes beforehand, so they’re ready to serve. And when packing a selection of condiments such as dressings and sauces, keep them in the containers. Don’t add to your salads in advance - they’ll turn soggy.

    A picnic blanket and comfy cushions are essential, and maybe some picnic chairs, too. Finally, you’ll probably need sun cream and insect bite cream, just in case. Serviettes and hand wipes or anti-bacterial gel are also musts but are easy to forget in all the excitement.

    The picnic spread

    Quiches, pork pies, sausage rolls, scotch eggs and chicken drumsticks are all picnic favourites and hard to leave out. Offer boiled eggs, falafel Scotch eggs and veggie quiches for those who don’t eat meat and add a Mediterranean touch with stuffed vine leaves, hummus and olives.

    Choose a nice selection of sandwiches or rolls - tuna & sweetcorn, and salmon and cucumber will keep fishy people happy. Or slice up a baguette or two so people can add their own cold meats, cheeses and salad.

    For the salad, keep it simple - some sweet, juicy tomatoes, sliced cucumber, colourful peppers and fresh lettuce leaves should do the trick. Throw in a potato salad or pasta salad, and you’re away.

    The same ‘keep it simple’ message applies to dessert. Fresh strawberries and/or raspberries and cream can’t be beaten, and you can scrunch some bought meringue nests over the top. Chocolate brownies go down well with younger members of the party, and you can’t go too far wrong with a nice slice of lemon drizzle cake.

    All that’s left is to pack your tipples of choice, some soft drinks and plenty of water - and enjoy.

    The great thing about a having a picnic is that you don’t have to go any further than your own garden - if you have a nice lawn, of course! It’ll save all that packing. And if you want to keep the children occupied and happy, why not let them choose and create the menu?

  • Looking after your lawn during this soggy summer

    Looking after your soggy lawn

    Looking after your lawn during this soggy summer

    Is there anyone out there who’s been able to mow their lawn this month? Nope, we thought not!

    Where-ever you are in the UK, we’re guessing that your mower hasn’t had much of a run-out yet this summer. The constant downpours may even had left your lawn waterlogged.

    There are some important ‘dos and don’ts’ for lawn care during prolonged spells of wet weather - here are the main ones.

    • If your lawn is waterlogged - or even if it’s just very wet - avoid walking on it unnecessarily.  It will cause more damage.
    • Assist drainage by spiking your lawn with a garden fork. Where the ground is very saturated, the RHS advises creating deeper holes or slits, which can be filled with free-draining materials such as horticultural sand to help drainage.
    • The RHS, and indeed every lawn expert in the world ever, cautions against mowing wet grass. There are three very good reasons for this: it’s bad for the turf and soil, it’s not great for your mower, and you could end up injuring yourself. If the mower sinks down into sodden soil, you should definitely hold fire. If your blade isn’t as sharp as it once was, it will struggle with wet grass. And it is NOT safe to mow a wet lawn if you are using an extension lead with an electric mower.
    • If you really must go against all good advice, then there are some steps you can take. Firstly, remove as much of the surface water as possible - dragging a hose across the lawn is one good way of squeezing the moisture out of the grass. Secondly, raise the mowing height to reduce the strain on your mower.  For the same reason, empty the box often. And opt for a ‘slow-mow’ - this will reduce the load on the mower’s blade.
    • Your poor mower won’t be very happy, so afterwards, give it a quick hose-down and allow it to dry out.

    The bottom line? Unless you really have to mow your wet lawn, don’t.  Wait until the conditions are dry.  It shouldn’t be too long now ... surely?!

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