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  • Red roses - the universal language of love

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

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

    Saying it with a red rose

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

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

    Aphrodite’s tears

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

    Roses go back a long, long way

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

    There are plenty to choose from

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

    The oldest rose

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

    The Wars of the Roses

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

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

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

    Happy Valentine’s Day!

  • FEBRUARY means one thing for certain..

    FEBRUARY means one thing for certain: spring is getting closer! But it’s not here yet and, even though the days are growing longer, this month can feel like the darkest, saddest one for gardeners. Fortunately your lawn is the gift that just keeps on giving – there’s always something to do; and right now you can do the work indoors as well as outside!
    February Moss Control

    PLANNING:

    This is the job that you can do from a comfy armchair. If you kept a simple record of your lawn care last year, now is the time to review it, see what worked well and what didn’t, and make some adjustments for this year’s schedule. And if you didn’t keep a diary, now is when you can start one. Set it up so you can log the main interventions month by month, note any extreme weather, and of course remember to record how the lawn responds. It takes very little time but can transform your lawn care, making it more efficient and more effective.

    MOWING:

    Don’t just leave your mower gathering dust until you need it. You may need it right now! Grass does like to be ‘topped off’ during February; it keeps the air circulating and stops it becoming a dense wet mess that attracts disease. But it will need the same sharp blades you’ll need once your spring mowing begins. So first things first, get the blade sharpened – and get the rest of the mower into good order too, lubricating, tightening, generally making sure this much neglected machine becomes the jewel in your lawn kit for the year ahead.

    LEAVES AND ROOTS:

    You can be nourishing and supporting your grass right now by applying a ferrous sulphate feed (if not already done), and also by doing a hollow-tine aeration. UK weather is unpredictable, so do pay attention to the prevailing conditions, but if they’re right then these two jobs can really help your grass stay fit until the warm spring sunshine does its stuff.

    HOUSEKEEPING:

    Too early for a spring clean in the house? No problem; start outdoors! “But it’s too wet to get the leaves off the lawn; and what’s the point of moving the wooden benches?” Common excuses, but there’s a reason the professionals will be out there doing exactly that. And that reason is prevention. Some routine housekeeping on your lawn will help prevent disease and other problems from taking hold.
    Hollow Core Shot
    So, don’t just peer nostalgically through your window into the garden; get out there and get busy. Just a note to finish with, however: there’s a lot of bad lawn advice circulating out there, which is why I’m always telling people to learn from the professionals. But just as important is to decipher what we learn. You don’t have to become a lawn obsessive; just take the common sense stuff and only do what your lawn needs. It’s just good simple lawn husbandry.

  • 6 Nations Rugby From muddy mayhem to perfect pitch - the story of rugby down the years

    We’re kicking off the 2018 Rugby Union Six Nations Championship with an affectionate look at the game’s colourful history …

    Atco 6 nations rugby
    Image by Ben Hershey (Unsplash)

    Remember when rugby matches used to be played on muddy quagmires? When, by the end of the game, there was hardly a blade of grass still to be seen and all the players would leave the pitch caked in mud?

    How things have changed. In December 2017, the French club side Racing 92 inaugurated its new indoor stadium which has an artificial pitch and a permanently closed roof. No chance of rain or mud here!

    It’s just the latest development in a sport that, like so many other things, appears have been started by the Romans 2,000 ago, when they played a game called harpastum.

    A rugby-type game was later documented in France and Britain, where players were at times guilty of over-exuberance. In England, the game was blamed for causing injuries and even death! Laws were passed in medieval and Tudor times, banning the “devilish” and ‘beastlie’ game, which often involved hundreds of men from neighbouring communities.

    The game became somewhat more refined in the 1800s, although there was still no rugby pitch to speak of – it was usually a case of two teams of indeterminate numbers doing battle in fields. The most famous fields were in Rugby.

    Rugby School in Warwickshire had moved to its new site in 1749. It was a large plot, with three rough fields for sporting activities. It was on these fields that the game was to undergo its biggest change in 1823. At this time, teams could have as many as 200 players and the ‘try line’ at Rugby was a tree. Teams had to reach their opponents’ line (or tree) to have the chance to ‘try’ to kick a goal – again, this would involve the tree. If they successfully dropped the goal, they would earn a point.

    Unsurprisingly, games could last for days without a point being scored!

    Having so many players on the other side made reaching the line difficult. As did the rule which said that players were not allowed to carry the ball. They could kick the ball, like football, but carrying the ball was a complete no-no.

    Not exactly a winning spectator sport. No wonder local lad William Webb Ellis decided to shake things up a bit in 1823 by collecting the ball and running with it. Sometimes rules are there to be broken. It became an accepted part of the game and was written into the laws in the 1840s.

    In other major changes, the round ball became oval, rugby split into two – Union (15 players) and League (13) – and the rule-makers agreed the game would benefit from more points being awarded.

    As for the Six Nations Championship, this grew from the Home Nations, first staged in 1883, to the Five Nations with the addition of France, and finally, in 2000, to its current format with Italy becoming the 6th team.

    Which seems like a perfect full circle, given that the Romans probably gave us the game in the first place!

  • RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

    RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

    House Sparrow by Andy HayImage by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

    How we can all help the RSPB to help our garden birds

    January sees the annual RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch – the world’s biggest wildlife survey. In 2017, eight million garden birds were sighted by the 500,000 people who took part across Britain.

    The 2018 birdwatch takes place on 27-29 January. To be part of it, download a pack from the RSPB website – it includes a picture chart so you can correctly identify the birds you spot. Simply spend one hour looking out for birds in your garden or in a public space and note down your sightings.

    The Big Garden Birdwatch gives the RSPB a snapshot of how our garden birds are faring and enables the charity to compare figures to previous years, providing a picture as to which species are doing okay and which are struggling.

    And, just because a species comes top of the list, it doesn’t mean that historically, they’re doing well. The fact is, the UK bird population has suffered a huge decline since 1970 – some species are down by 95%. The main cause is modern agricultural practices in the UK and Europe. Most species have been affected. A notable exception is the house sparrow, because populations in urban areas appear to be self-sustaining.

    It’s no surprise, therefore, that it was top of the league at the last count. The 2017 birdwatch produced this Top 10:

    Robin by Ben AndrewImage by Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)

    1 – House sparrow

    2 – Starling

    3 – Blackbird

    4 – Blue tit

    5 – Woodpigeon

    6 – Goldfinch

    7 – Robin

    8 – Great tit

    9 – Chaffinch

    10 – Long tailed tit

    Things you can do to help our birds

    Great Tit by Chris GomersallImage by Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)

    Feeding:

    Birds benefit from all-year-round feeding. In autumn and winter, make sure they get two good meals a day, in the morning and early afternoon. High fat bird foods are especially helpful during these months, as they give the birds the increased energy they need.

    In spring and summer, garden birds need protein. Black sunflower seeds, mealworms, and quality seed mixes are good. Even mild cheese will go down a treat. Birds also love fruit such as soft apples and pears – slice them in half for them – and bananas and grapes. Don’t use peanuts, fat or bread during these months as they can harm chicks if adults take them back to the nest to feed them.

    Whatever the season, use the same feeding times so the birds get used to their ‘dinner times’ and visit your garden accordingly. And regularly clean the feeding area to prevent the risk of disease spreading among the birds.

    Blue Tit by Ray KennedyImage by Ray Kennedy (rspb-images.com)

    Water:

    Keep a supply of water for the birds to drink – they like to drink a couple of times a day. A bird bath is equally important. It keeps them clean and preening their feathers also improves their insulation. Again, keep the birdbath and the water hygienic with weekly cleans if possible.

    Shelter:

    It’s not just nest boxes that help garden birds. Allowing trees, shrubs and hedges to grow undisturbed also provides a safe haven. Check with the RSPB before doing anything that might disturb birds. Remember: all birds, their nests and their eggs are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act.  www.rspb.org.uk

  • 11 ways to put your old Christmas tree to good use in the garden and home

    bird feeder from recycled Christmas Tree

    11 ways to put your old Christmas tree to good use in the garden and home

    If you haven’t got rid of your Christmas tree yet, then don’t worry – there are loads more useful things you can do with it than just taking it to the recycling centre.

    An estimated eight million people in the UK bought a real tree. Sadly, many of the trees will end up in landfill because a lot of owners put them straight into their bins – bad for the environment and a real waste in every sense, when they could be put to great use.

    Bear in mind that if you’re going to saw the trunk, if your tree is sappy, it’s best to wait until it’s dried out to avoid damaging your saw and making a mess of you!

    Here are 11 great ways to make use of your old Christmas tree, otherwise known as our ‘Logs 11’

    1 – If you have a log burner or fireplace, use the trunks and branches for firewood or fire starters.

    2 – Create mulch for your garden – pine needles make excellent mulch.

    Christmas Tree recycling

    3 – Birds will love your old trees. With their pot or stand as a secure base, they provide shelter and sanctuary for garden birds. Or you can use the tree to tie bird feeders.

    4 – Cut off the boughs and use them to insulate perennial beds, providing a warm covering during cold spells.

    5 – Cut the trunk into round discs about 5cm thick (2 inches) and use them as decorative edges for paths or borders.

    6 – Cut the trunk into a good height for flowerpot risers.

    7 – Slice the trunk thinly to make coasters. Sand and treat them, to prevent the risk of sap damaging your furniture. These are real eye-catchers and a talking point when you have guests.

    8 – Tealight holders are another creative way to use the wood.

    Christmas Tree in bin

    9 – If you’re feeling particularly creative and confident, you can even make a log bird feeder.

    10 – Logs, sliced up and imaginative arranged, can make for a stunning piece of rustic wall art.

    11 – And finally, we love this one … how about cutting lengths of log or reasonably sturdy branches, with the top bit sliced at a downward angle, and painting a gnome’s face onto the wood. Instant woody gnomes for your garden!

    Do you have any other great ideas for making practical or creative use of your Christmas tree? Share your photos on our social media pages – we’re on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

  • January Garden Care Tips

    January Garden Care

    JANUARY for many can be a dark and cold month, the middle of winter with spring still months away. However, there are still things going on out there – nature doesn’t stop – and there’s always something you can do for your lawn. Here are a few things to think about.

    Disease : Cold temperatures together with a lack of sunshine can really stress the lawn, making it more prone to disease. And you can help your grass by keeping it clear of debris. Just simple leaves and twigs can create ideal conditions for fusarium, a deadly disease. So remember to pop outside and do a little routine cleaning up, especially after windy weather.
    Fork aeration
    Changing weather: This is affecting all of us and changing the gardening calendar we’ve been used to for decades. So there may be some jobs you would normally have left for a month or two that should be done now in January. Here are the three most important:

    1. Feed: That’s right, a mid-winter feed! And just by including an application of Sulphate of Iron or FE (no NPK so don’t panic) you can perform little miracles - helping the turf to harden off against disease attack, locking up any leftover nutrients, killing off any moss bloom and even gaining the lawn a little colour! It’s what the pros do all over the world, and it could just be one of the most important feeds you will ever do! This can be applied via lawn sand, but as this product is a foliar feed it is better to use a sprayer or even a watering can, for a much better coverage.
    2. Mowing: If it’s still growing, then keep mowing! And even though your winter feed lacks nitrogen, it will still help invigorate the grass enough to warrant getting out the mower. Give the blade a good sharpening first, and set the cut high for a light trim. With the extra colour from the winter feed, you can even get creative with stripes! Believe it or not, light winter mowing can be really good for the lawn; good mowing is good maintenance and prevents problems from occurring – the best of proactive lawn care!
    3. Grass Topsoil Subsoil
      Soil: Lawns and grasses are all about the soil. And good lawn soil is all about aeration, stimulating the soil to keep it healthy. But don’t reach for your garden fork; put it away and leave it for the rest of the garden. It’s not meant for the lawn and you will only get poor results. We want maximum impact – and that means hollow tine aeration. Pick some good weather conditions, use an efficient machine or hollow tine fork, and remember to collect those cores from the surface. Add them to the compost bin or you could even use them to fill in any hollows. This way you won’t even need to reseed these as the cores are full of the natural grasses that are already in your lawn.

    So, unless there’s snow and frost, don’t let the January blues stop you enjoying a little light lawn care. It will all help your grass to start the growing season in a much better condition.
    David Hedges Gower
    David Hedges Gower
    The UK's Leading Lawn Expert

  • 12 Garden Jobs of Christmas

    12 Garden Jobs of Christmas

    For December’s top garden tips, we’re adding a sprinkling of festive inspiration that will give your garden a lovely Christmassy feel, and we’re going to keep things as natural as possible. So here goes, with our 12 garden jobs of Christmas, starting with some wonderfully simple seasonal ideas.

    Jobs of Christmas

    Creating a festive look

    1 - Make a traditional Christmas wreath. This is dead easy and, if you’re lucky, you might find most of the ‘ingredients’ in your own garden. First off, buy a floral foam ring – 30cm (10-12ins) or so should be fine. You’ll find them at florists, garden centres, major stores or online for £3 to £4. Give it a good soaking in the sink and use some floral preservative if you have some. Then gather up a mixture of foliage such as holly and red berries, ivy, and evergreens. Cut the sprigs down to size and arrange them all around the foam so you can’t see it. Decoratively tie a ribbon around the middle section of the top of your wreath and that’s it! Nothing says ‘welcome to our home’ more than a hand-crafted wreath! Remember to take it down and soak it once a week, to keep the foliage nice a fresh.

    2 – Get potting. Trees make for great decorations in their own right. Why not put a Christmas tree in a nice pot in the garden? There’s no need to decorate it. Pine and fir are best as they don’t lose their needles as quickly as spruce. Conifers in pots also look good – you could have one or a cluster, to add to the effect.

    3 – Brighten up leafless midwinter trees. Create some Christmas cheer by hanging brightly-coloured baubles on your leafless trees. Use those that are suitable for outdoors. Think twice about lights, however. As well as using up electricity, they also have an impact on light pollution.

    Lawn care

    4 – For many of us in the UK, it’s been an exceptionally mild start to the winter, which means lawns have continued to grow. If you need to give your lawn a trim, don’t cut it too low. It needs to be 3-4cm long at this time of year.

    5 – At the time of writing, the UK was just having its first cold snap of the winter. Did you know that walking on a frost-covered lawn causes damage? So steer clear until it’s thawed out.

    6 – If too much water is the issue with your lawn, you may want to improve the drainage by using a garden fork.

    7 – Make sure the lawn is clear of leaves, which block out light and moisture. This is a constant job during the winter months!

    General garden care

    8 – Check for and clear out weeds from borders and other areas of the garden, but avoid weed-killers. Troublesome annual weeds can be smothered by organic solutions such as bark.

    9 – Check on plants and pots to make sure they’re not being damaged by cold and wet weather. If needs be, bring vulnerable plants inside and put a protective covering around pots. During wet spells, containers might need something to sit on prevent water-logging. Bricks on each side or corner should do the trick.

    10 – This is a perfect time for pruning certain deciduous trees, shrubs and hedges because you can actually see what you’re doing without leaves and foliage in the way. Apple and pear trees should certainly be pruned now. Check the advice for your particular trees and shrubs before making a start on your pruning, however, as some are better left until Spring.

    Plan ahead for 2018

    11 – Plant roses in December, always ensuring they’re in a new area. Using the same area where they’ve grown before can cause disease.

    12 – Soft fruits such as berries can be planted at this time of year and will get you thinking of warmer times ahead!

    And finally, however you spend your time in your garden, enjoy it.

    Wishing you a very happy and peaceful Christmas!

  • November - Keeping the lawn and garden ship-shape

    November … the clocks have gone back in the UK and people in some parts of the country are waking up to a ground frost. Autumn is turning into winter – but there’s still plenty to do in the garden.
    Bonfire Night

    The lawn

    For many gardeners, the lawnmower will have been put away for the winter. But if there is a prolonged period of mild weather this month, the grass will continue to grow and might need a little trim. Don’t overdo it though: the grass needs to be a few centimetres long to prevent damaging the turf.

    It’s important to clear fallen leaves from your lawn to ensure it gets the light and moisture it needs. Remove any fungi that might have appeared.

    Garden machinery and tools

    Before putting your lawnmower, hedge-trimmer and other machinery away for the winter, make sure you give them a good clean first. Allow to dry before putting away. And, importantly, remove any remaining petrol because it doesn’t keep and might cause problems when you next try to start your petrol mower. In fact, a winter service might be in order to ensure your mower is in tip-top condition in 2018. Clean and sharpen hand tools, too.

    Flowers & plants

    November is a good month for planting lily and tulip bulbs, and if you haven’t done your winter bedding plants yet then get cracking now before it’s too late.

    It’s also an ideal time to plant roses, but choose an area of the garden where roses haven’t been before to avoid the risk of replant disease. Established bush roses and climbing roses should be pruned to prevent possible damage from windy weather.

    Check for any flowers that still need to be dead-headed or cut back and you might want to lift movable tender plants and bring them into a shed or garage. Some wall shrubs and climbers will need a helping hand to see them through the winter, too. Tie them to their supports to keep them safe during high winds.

    As with the lawn, remove fallen leaves from your borders and dig up any weeds that emerge, which perennial ones are particularly prone to do during mild spells.

    For those of you with fruit and veg, now is the time to prune your fruit trees and thin out spurs where needed. If you have a vegetable plot, keep it clear of fallen leaves and plant debris.

    General maintenance:

    A winter mulch will help to protect plants and are also good for the soil. Large pots that aren’t frost-proof should be wrapped up to prevent them cracking. Use a good insulating material, such as hessian or fleece.

    And don’t forget our wildlife:

    Garden birds need some help at this time of year. Energy-providing fat blocks in wire cages are great, as are berry cakes. A grain mix will keep most garden birds happy – feeders are best for keeping out larger animals – while fruit such as ripe apples go down a treat with thrushes and blackbirds. Leave a dish of clean, fresh water out, too, but not where birds might be prey to cats. Of By helping our vulnerable garden birds, you’ll be rewarded with the sight and sound of some very welcome visitors during the winter months!

  • Bonfire Night - 10 tips on taking care of you, your pets, your garden and wildlife

    Bonfire Night
    Bonfire Night is a great time for family and friends to get together, share some winter warming food and hot drinks, and enjoy some spectacular fireworks.

    But for our wildlife, it’s a time of noise, damage, danger – or worse. Our gardens would benefit too, if we didn’t inflict fire and smoke onto them every 5th of November.

    If you’re having a Bonfire Night party at your house, there are some things you can do to make sure it passes enjoyably and safely.

    When to make your bonfire

    Build it just before you light it, to minimise the risk of wildlife making a home inside. Creatures at risk include hedgehogs looking for a cosy place to hibernate, frogs, toads and newts. Double check for wildlife at the very last minute before lighting your bonfire – and use a torch so you can see into all the nooks and crannies. If you’ve already built yours, then move it to a debris-free area to give creatures the chance to escape.

    If you find a hedgehog

    Wearing gloves, carefully pick up the hedgehog and move it to a nice sheltered spot under a tree or hedge and well away from the bonfire.

    Save some materials for the wildlife

    Don’t use up all the deadwood and leaves for your fire. Remember, this is what birds and other wildlife use to make their nests and homes for winter hibernation. You can help them by building inviting woodpiles that they can use – but make sure these are a safe distance from the fire. In fact, this is a great ‘diversionary tactic’ to keep them away from the bonfire. Or why not position a hedgehog hutch with clean straw as an alternative home for visiting wildlife?

    Where to site your bonfire & Catherine Wheels

    An open space is best. If the fire is too close to trees and hedges, it will scare away nesting birds and other creatures. It also poses a risk of the fire spreading. Never pin a Catherine wheel to a tree because it’s potentially dangerous and it will also disturb birds. Use a fence post or stake instead, in an open area if possible and 1.5 to 2m above ground so everyone can see it safely. Move bird feeders and other wildlife food away from the bonfire site at least a week before.

    How to light the fire to allow animals to flee

    Light one side of the fire only, not all the way round. This will enable any animals inside to scurry to safety. Always have a plentiful supply of water to hand just in case of an accident to animal or human.
    Bonfire Night

    Put the fire out properly afterwards

    The ashes can smoulder and remain dangerously hot for quite a long time afterwards, even if it looks as though the fire has gone out. The embers can sometimes remain hot for a day or longer and can reignite. Make sure you put it out completely by using water. Also be sure to clear away the remnants of your fireworks as these, too, can be a hazard to wildlife.

    Take care of your furry friends

    Keep your pets safely indoors on Bonfire Night and on nights before and after, when loud bangs might scare them into running off.

    Avoid garden damage

    The best way to avoid scorching your lawn is obvious: don’t build the fire on your lawn! Invest in a brazier or a firepit. Not only are they stylish, but they also ensure the fire is kept at a reasonably small size. Of course, this would also be better for wildlife. Set rockets off from a bucket filled with soft earth to prevent scorching the lawn. When it comes to avoiding wider damage, the RHS recommends leaving a space of 10m between a bonfire and structures such as fences and garden sheds. However, by keeping your bonfire small, this distance might not be quite so necessary. Bark and twigs are extremely vulnerable to radiant heat so common sense dictates you should keep fire well clear.

    Don’t waste all that wood ash

    Wood ash can be a great addition to the compost heap. Rich in potassium and trace minerals, it can be applied to fallow ground and dug in. As it has a liming effect, it is particularly useful in acidic soils.

    Have fun & stay safe!

    And remember, remember … to stay safe. Read Rospa’s advice before lighting any bonfires or fireworks – www.rospa.com/home-safety/advice/fireworks-safety. For further advice on how to celebrate Bonfire Night safely and without breaking the law, visit www.fireservice.co.uk/safety/bonfires and www.bonfire-night-safety.co.uk. Alternatively, you could just attend a public event!

  • Halloween - Give your garden a 'spook-over'

    Give your garden a Halloween ‘spook-over’HalloweenEver wondered how Halloween started? Or how it has evolved into what it is today? We’ve dusted the cobwebs off our history books to find out the story of Halloween.

    And we’ve got some great tips on how you can celebrate 31 October by creating a spooktacular Halloween garden, complete with a perfectly carved pumpkin!

    Halloween history

    Halloween is old, very old! It can best be described as a bringing-together of Celtic, pagan and western Christian festivals.

    The date, 31 October, is the day before All Hallows’ Day, which is also known as All Saints’ Day in the Christian calendar. The Christian festival remembers all the saints and martyrs and the name comes from the old English word ‘hallowed’, meaning holy or sanctified. It was on the eve of All Hallows’ Day that Christian churches would hold a vigil before the huge feasts on 1 November.

    The Christian origins of dedicating a day to saints and martyrs appears to date back to the fourth century but it wasn’t until 837AD, when Pope Gregory III extended it to include all the saints and martyrs, that the day was moved from 13 May to 1 November and named the Feast of All Saints.

    Some historians believe the origins aren’t Christian at all, but are rooted in Celtic and pagan traditions. A number of different theories have been put forward. One is that the festival on the original date of 13 May was originally a pagan event to win the favour of the restless sprits of the dead. At some point, the festival was Christianised.

    It seems likely that many Halloween traditions are linked to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, which was also subsequently Christianised. It was held on 31 October and 1 November to mark the end of the harvest season and the start of winter.

    As part of the rituals, the souls of dead kin would be beckoned to attend the feast table and a place would be set for them. Bad spirits would be placated to ensure those attending and their animals would survive the winter. People would dress up and candles and bonfires would be lit. It’s thought that bobbing for apples also took place as part of the festivities.

    These Celtic and pagan elements can be seen in the way we celebrate Halloween today, and the event is now secular and community-based rather than religious.Halloween - Trick or TreatThe mass immigration of people to America from Ireland – where Samhain was a very strong tradition – popularised Halloween in the US in the 1800s. And guess what? It seems England exported trick-or-treating to America and not the other round. On All Souls’ Day – 2 November, the day after All Saints’ Day – poor citizens would beg for food and families would give them pastries called Soul Cakes. In return, the poor people would pray for the families’ dead relatives.

    This ‘going-a-souling’ tradition changed over time so that children would later knock on neighbours’ doors and ask for food or money. Which brings us to today, when Halloween is all about ghosts and ghoulies and trick-or-treating …

    Tips for creating a spooktacular garden for Halloween

    Of course, you could buy all of the following in shops or online, but where’s the fun in that?!

    Make your own graveyard

    Dead easy! Simply make half a dozen or so gravestones out of polystyrene sheets or thick cardboard and paint them. Search the internet for DIY polystyrene gravestones for plenty of tutorials – although cardboard is easier and more environment-friendly.

    Create spiders’ webs

    String or rope is easiest, although cotton wool looks great, especially in amongst the trees. Again, check out the tutorials online.

    Bring some ghosts to the party

    It’s amazing what can be done with some old sheets and a bit of imagination.

    And don’t forget the skeletons

    Just one tip for you here: Search online for ‘how to make a paper plate skeleton’. You’ll be amazed!

    Perfect pumpkin jack-o-lanterns: Here’s how

    Buy your pumpkins as close as you can to Halloween to avoid them going off before the big day. Choose one that’s firm and heavy and has an even, orange colour. Check that it ‘sits’ straight on a flat surface – if it doesn’t, you’ll need to level the bottom by removing a thin slice. Or choose one with a flatter bottom!

    The first job is to slice off the top of the pumpkin using a bread knife and to then scoop out the flesh with a spoon. Start with the flesh and seeds in the middle and then the flesh on the inside of the skin. Keep the sides about 2.5cm (1-inch) thick.

    Draw on your face design with a marker pen – three triangles make the eyes and nose (triangle point at the top for the eyes and at the bottom for the nose) – and then carefully, with a small serrated knife, cut all the way through, remembering to always cut away from you.

    For the mouth, cut out the flesh in a straight-ish line about an inch wide, with an upward curve at each end. But don’t forget to carve in a couple of teeth top and bottom in the middle of the mouth. Rubbing Vaseline over the cut edges will preserve your lantern for longer. As these lanterns are for the garden, there’s no need to pierce holes near the top for string handles. For the purposes of safety, use a battery-powered candle inside. Pop the crown back onto the top and you have a perfect pumpkin to go with your Spooktacular garden!

    Happy Halloween!

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