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  • How gardening boosts our mental and physical health

     

    Our gardens will be playing an important wellbeing role in our lives during the coming months, as we do all we can to keep mentally and physically healthy throughout the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

    Physical Health

    With many people in self-isolation - possibly for months - the garden provides us with a space to take in some much-needed fresh air and exercise. Luckily, gardening is great for both our mental and physical wellbeing.

    When it comes to physical health, gardening is an excellent workout of moderate to strenuous exercise - especially if you can do 30 minutes a day, three, four or five days a week.

    Gardening works on most areas of our body: muscles, bones and joints; heart, lungs, and, because it’s a calory-buster, it helps us to maintain a healthy weight.

    The arms, legs, shoulders, back, glutes, neck, stomach and core all benefit from gardening exercise, while all those bending, twisting and stretching movements increase flexibility. Lifting, meanwhile, is a resistance exercise that strengthens the bones and joints.

    A gardening workout will get your heart and lungs pumping and improve your stamina - and doing the exercise in the fresh air is also good for the lungs.

     

     

    Mental Wellbeing

    Gardening is equally beneficial for our mental health, with scientific research pinpointing several reasons why it reduces stress. The first key reason is simply being outdoors. Fresh air, being in nature and soaking up Vitamin D are all mood enhancers.

    Secondly, the exercise involved in gardening isn’t just good for our physical health, it is also recognised for boosting our mood.

    Thirdly, if we are focusing closely on what we are doing in the garden, we are taking our minds off those things that are causing us worry. This also has an element of mindfulness, of being in the moment.

    And finally, the act of caring and nurturing for something - and seeing it flourish - makes us feel better.

    Let’s hope we enjoy plenty of fine weather this year so we can get out into the garden as much as possible!

     


  • Three simple ways to create your own wildflower area

     

    Did you know that Shakespeare mentions over 100 native wildflowers in his complete works?

    Sadly, however, we have lost 97% of our wildflower meadows in the past century, with a knock-on effect to many species of birds and insects. It’s estimated that meadows and other species-rich grasslands now cover less than 1% of the UK.

    The good news is that it’s dead easy for us to do our bit by creating an area for wildflowers in our own gardens, whether it’s in a border, on a bare patch of ground or in a corner of the lawn.

    When you sow your wildflowers depends on the soil you have, but March and autumn are usually good times. Don’t worry if you have poor quality soil because perennial meadows actually do better on soils that are low in nutrients. Annual meadows prefer rich soils so are better suited to borders.

    There are several ways to get your wildflower meadow started - whichever way you choose, there are three important tips to follow: don’t use weed-killers or fertiliser; always ensure you sow only native varieties of wildflowers, and plant wildflowers only on your own land.

     

    It’s as easy as 1,2,3 …

     

    1. You could keep it really simple by laying wildflower turf.

    Specialist suppliers will be able to help, with rolls of turf comprising half grass and half native wildflowers.

     

    2. Another easy way to kick-start your wildflower area is to simply scatter a seed mix over soil you have just forked and raked.

    If using seed mixes, choose traditional hay meadow mixes with 100% native grasses and wildflowers; pictorial seed mixes that are 100% wildflowers are likely to contain some non-native seeds.

    Follow the quantity instructions on the packet. After scattering the seeds, gently firm the soil with the back of the rake. Keep well-watered during the germination process. Alternatively, you can make a shallow drill in the soil and place seeds in. You might want to place markers in the ground, so you know where and what the seedlings are when they start to emerge.

     

    3. If you are converting a corner of your lawn, then keep the grass low in this area before sowing.

    An effective way is to plant small plug plants. If you don’t get around to creating your wildflower area in a section of your lawn in March, then wait until the Autumn, which is a good time of the year if you decide to go for the plugging option.

     

    It might take a bit of time before all that wonderful colour emerges, but you’ll soon see the benefits to butterflies, bees and birds!

    The Eden Project National Wildflower Centre  and RHS have more wildflower meadow tips on their websites.

     

    We would love to see your wildflower garden meadows - add your photos and comments on our social media channels below.

     

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  • Gardening Calendar - March 2020

    Now is a great time if you want to transplant any shrubs or herbaceous perennials or plant new ones. Remember to incorporate a slow-release fertilizer to get the plants started.

     

    Provide plant supports for early spring growth.

     

    Roses – you may have partially pruned some roses in early winter to prevent ‘wind rock’ and tidy up the garden. Now is the time to make that final pruning, removing dead or diseased wood, opening up the centre of the bush to improve air circulation and pruning diagonally above outward facing buds.

     

     

    Lay black polythene down on cultivated soil to absorb the suns rays and warm up the surface for early seed sowing. Recycle the polythene for further use.

     

    Time to think about the first cut on the lawn. Make sure you have had the mower serviced and the blades sharpened. Set the blades at their highest adjustment for those first mowings of the season.

    The greenhouse is a busy place in March, with regular sowings of bedding plants such as Begonias, Geraniums, Cosmos, Antirrhinums and early vegetables such as tomatoes, aubergines and peppers.

    Remember too that you can purchase small ‘plug plants’ of many of these items from the seed merchants if you are daunted at growing from seed.

     


  • What’s new in the world of gardening?

    March is such an exciting time in the garden, with the days lengthening and the light levels improving. You can almost feel the plants priming themselves to burst into growth!

     

     

    Perhaps you are intending to start a new lawn or refresh an old one?

    If the area is not too big you may be thinking of laying turf, or with a larger space, or where cost is a big issue, then growing from seed is the likely option. You could also look at ‘over sowing’ your old lawn to improve the thickness of the ‘sward.’

    Look for the newer ‘fine-leaved’ ryegrass’s in the mixture you choose. These are very hard wearing, but unlike old ryegrass varieties with their broad leaves, have a very fine ornamental appearance.

     

     

    It’s time to think about your Runner Bean crop this summer!

    Originally these were grown as an ornamental plant for the beauty of their flowers. Nowadays everyone has their favourite eating varieties, but are more prepared to try new ones.

    The big development for 2020 is Runner/French bean crosses. Why?, well Runner beans need bees to pollinate their flowers. Thus early or late in the season, or during bad weather, the bees may not be active, so no pollination and no beans!

    French beans though self-pollinate and so they will still crop without the bees being present. So crossing the two in plant breeding gives the best of both worlds; high yields but with the taste and pod size of runners. Look for ‘Firestorm’ (red flowers), Snowstorm (white flowers), or Tenderstar (red/white bicoloured flowers).

     

     


  • Music to mow to - our Top 20 ‘mow-tivational’ songs!

     

    It’s that time of year when most gardeners will be thinking about giving their lawnmower its first outing of the year, storms permitting!

    Having been stored away in winter ‘hibernation’ for the past few months, some mowers might need a service before being ready for action.

     

     

    The question is: are YOU ready for action?! Or are you in need of some mow-tivation to get cracking in the garden?

     

    We’ve put together a Top 20 compilation of feel-good songs to motivate you and get you in the mowing mood.

    There’s a song for most tastes - a bit of rock, a bit of reggae, a bit of disco - and lots of cheese!

     

    1.Happy - Pharrell Williams

    2. Three Little Birds Bob Marley

    3. Can’t Stop the Feeling! - Justin Timberlake

    4. Stronger - Kelly Clarkson

    5. I Gotta Feeling The Black Eyed Peas

    6. Roar - Katy Perry

    7. Queen - Don’t Stop Me Now

    8. Mr Blue Sky - ELO

    9. Don’t Stop Believing Journey

    10. Uptown Funk Mark Ronson ft Bruno Mars

    11. Good Vibrations The Beach Boys

    12. Jump - Van Halen

    13. Dancing Queen Abba

    14. H.A.P.P.Y - Edwin Starr

    15. I Feel Fine - The Beatles

    16. Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go - Wham!

    17. Shine - Take That

    18. Lovely Day - Bill Withers

    19. I Wanna Dance With Somebody - Whitney Houston

    20. Walking on Sunshine - Katrina and the Waves

     

    Which song would you choose to mow to?

    Let us know on our social media channels. Happy Mowing!

     

    Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/atcolawnmowers/

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  • How to make the most of your extra day this leap year

    DID YOU KNOW?

    Every four years, we get to enjoy the 29th of February, and that four-year cycle has come around again in 2020. But why DO we have a leap year? And how can we make the most of that extra day this month?

     

     

    The additional day is all down to the solar system because it doesn’t take exactly 365 days for a complete spin of the earth on its axis. It takes just under 365 days and a quarter, which is how we gain an extra day every four years.

    The reason it’s called a leap year is because although we only get one extra day, the calendar actually jumps - or leaps - two days when we have a leap year. For example, New Year’s Day this year fell on a Wednesday, while in 2021, it will be a Friday.

    The extra day is, of course, tagged onto the end of February.

     

    Here are five ways you can make the most of that time:


     

    1. Get your walking boots on and take in some fresh air.

    If you have a dog, so much the better - check out our January blog with top tips for a Pawsome walk!

     

    2. Do some prep work in the garden in readiness for Spring.

    Tidy up any winter debris and choose some plants and flowers to add some colour to brighten up the garden.

     

    3. Catch up with friends.

    If you’ve been too busy to touch base with some of the important people in your life, use this ‘bonus’ day as a good excuse for a chat over a cuppa.

     

    4. Plan a 2020 holiday.

    It’s cold, it’s wet, and we’re all looking forward to enjoying a break in better weather. There’s no harm in looking, is there?!

     

    5. Do something cultural.

    Take in a play or movie or concert - or put your feet up at home and get immersed in a good book.


     

    Sadly, 29th February falls on a working day, Wednesday. But we won’t get the chance to celebrate 29th February again until 2024, and time is precious, so why not spend at least part of the day doing something nice?

    And for any women who are planning to propose to their partner on leap year day, we hope the answer is ‘yes’!

  • Top tips for a pawsome dog walk!

    January is Walk Your Dog Month - but what, exactly, do dogs really enjoy about their walks? And what can owners do to make sure their pets get the maximum benefit?

    Walkies help to keep dogs healthy AND happy, because as well as the physical exercise, walks are also a great de-stresser for them. Here are a few tips to follow for a pawsome walk.

    Frequency: Dogs need at least one walk a day - two is best, if possible. Yes, chasing a ball in your secure garden is fun for them, but you can’t beat a decent walk in a different environment.

    When: The best time is just before feeding them. If they have already eaten, give them at least an hour for the food to go down as exercise on a full stomach is as bad for dogs as it for us.

    Length: How long you walk your dog for each day depends on its breed, age and health, but the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) suggests between 30 minutes and 2hrs+. Small breeds, puppies and older dogs won’t appreciate long treks, while fit and healthy larger breeds will usually enjoy them.  You’ll know how long your dog needs - if they are exhausted at the end, make the walks shorter; if they’re still full of energy, they might need a bit longer.

    Where: Variety is the spice of life, so try and vary the location of your walks. It keeps the walks exciting for the dog, especially with all those new trees and bushes to sniff around in!

    Do your bit: You can add to your dog’s enjoyment by actively joining in. Walking should be about bonding, as well as exercising. So put your mobile phone away and focus on your dog - otherwise, they are likely to get bored. They might even start to dislike going out for walkies. And allow them the time to have a good old sniff around - they love it and it helps them to de-stress.

    Throw in some fun: Where safe and secure, and if your dog has been trained recall, let them have a good run-out off the lead.  Always use a ball (not small enough for them to swallow), and never use a stick which might injure their mouth. Adding a few minutes of varied walking for part of the walk - short bursts of faster walking and then normal pace - is another way to add fun.  It’s also a good exercise for both you and your dog.

    And finally … It goes without saying that your dog should be microchipped or wearing an identity tag on its collar - better to be safe than sorry!

    Enjoy your walkies!

  • Count the birdies with the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch

    Every January, the RSPB invites the public to take part in its UK-wide Big Garden Birdwatch to help them monitor the state of the nation’s bird population.

    This year, the event - the world’s largest wildlife survey - is happening on 25-27 January, when hundreds of thousands of people will be recording their sightings. Last year, almost half a million people took part, spotting over 7.6 million birds.

    People are asked to spend a period of one hour, watching birds in their garden or local park, making note only of the bird varieties that land, not those that fly over. You don’t even have to head outdoors to take part if you have a good view of your garden from your home.

    The UK’s birds have been in decline for decades, with changes in farming methods and loss of habitat being the main causes.

    Some species, such as the tree sparrow, have declined by as much as 95% since 1970. Other big losers include the corn bunting (88% decline), starling, turtle dove (both 71%), song thrush (56%), bullfinch (53%), skylark (52%) and cuckoo (33%).

    The annual count gives the RSPB a clearer idea of which species are doing well and in which areas, as well as building a historical picture.

    Here are the species that topped the 2019 birdwatch chart.

    1. House sparrow
    2. Starling
    3. Blue tit
    4. Blackbird
    5. Woodpigeon
    6. Goldfinch
    7. Great tit
    8. Robin
    9. Chaffinch
    10. Magpie

    Visit the RSPB website to sign up to take part in the survey - https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/birdwatch/. The website also has images of the UK’s birds to help you correctly identify them.

    And there are tips on things you can do to attract more birds into your garden. The big three ways to help birds is to provide them with shelter, food and water - lots more advice can be found here https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/how-you-can-help-birds/.

    Happy - and successful - birdwatching!

  • 12 Days of Christmas

    The story behind The Twelve Days of Christmas

    Why do we have Twelve Days of Christmas? Where did the song originate? And why are the presents from the “true love” so bizarre?

    The Twelve Days of Christmas - also known as Twelvetide - is a Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, which is why the first day of Christmas is Christmas Day. It’s thought to have been introduced by the Catholic Church centuries ago, with each of the 12 days up to and including 5 January honouring or remembering important figures or events in Christianity.

    The song came along quite a bit later. But what’s it all about?

    One theory is that the 12 gifts mentioned were a secret code used by Roman Catholics at a time when they were unable to practice their faith openly. So, “true love” means God, “a partridge in a pear tree” is Jesus Christ, 10 Lords-a-leaping are the 10 Commandments, and “11 pipers piping” represent The Apostles.

    This theory has been largely debunked, however.

    The other popular theory - that it was originally a children’s memory and forfeit game - seems much more likely. Children who made a mistake while singing the song would have to pay a ‘penalty’ - often a kiss!

    Although the words of the song were published in England in 1780 in a children’s book called Mirth Without Mischief, the tune’s origins are probably French.  The melody that we use today was written by the English composer Frederic Austin and was published in 1909.

    The bizarre gifts added to the fun of the game, but there seems to be no rhyme or reason to explain their meaning other than they made the song more of a tongue-twister. And while other versions show some variations in the words, this is the one that has stood the test of time.

    So, on the 12th day of Christmas, the ‘lucky’ recipient will have accumulated this collection of gifts from their “true love” …

    Twelve drummers drumming

    Eleven pipers piping

    Ten lords a-leaping

    Nine ladies dancing

    Eight maids a-milking

    Seven swans a-swimming

    Six geese a-laying

    Five gold rings

    Four colly birds

    Three French hens

    Two turtle doves

    ...and a partridge in a pear tree!

    And on that note, we’d like to wish all our customers a happy and peaceful Christmas.

  • From small acorns ... how you can do your bit for National Tree Week

    It’s National Tree Week in the UK later this month, when people are encouraged to get out and enjoy the trees in their local green spaces - and do their bit to boost tree numbers by planting their own in their gardens or as part of a community project.

    National Tree Week is the biggest annual tree celebration in the UK and was first held in 1975 by the charity, The Tree Council, which still organises the event. This year, it’s on 23 November to 1 December.

    November to March is the best time to plant trees, because the wetter weather means they don’t need so much watering and they’ve got more chance of surviving and growing.

    So, which native trees should we be planting? Here are seven iconic trees that will bring colour and biodiversity benefits for years to come.

    English Oak - The mighty oak provides a wonderful home for insects and can live for hundreds of years.

    Alder - Another biodiversity powerhouse, attracting insects and birds, the alder is also a fast grower.

    Rowan - The Rowan’s leaves and bright red berries are a real treat for our birds and insects and they bring a welcome dash of colour, too.

    Silver birch - With its striking white bark, the silver birch is a real eye-catcher. It’s also fast-growing, so will make a rapid impact.

    Hawthorn - Providing wonderful white flowers in Spring and health-enhancing berries, the hawthorn is another native tree that’s much loved by insects and birds.

    Hazel - With their eye-catching ‘lamb’s tail’ catkins and supply of nutritious nuts, this is another tree that species such as dormice just love.

    Holly - A festive favourite with their red berries, holly trees provide excellent shelter for birds and hedgehogs. And they can live for up to 300 years.

    The UK has lost millions of trees in recent years and must now plant 1.5 billion trees by 2050 in order to reach the net zero emissions target. Your native tree might only seem like a very small start, but you know what they say about little acorns …

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