Monthly Archives: November 2018

  • The Christmas tree that is ‘the Queen of the Forest’

    The Christmas tree that is ‘the Queen of the Forest’

    Every December, since 1947, the people of Norway have given the people of the United Kingdom a giant Christmas Tree which takes pride of place in Trafalgar Square.
    christmas tree trafalgar square
    But what’s the story behind the annual gift? And how do they go about selecting the tree each year?

    The annual gift is presented in recognition of Britain’s support for Norway during World War Two. Despite its neutrality, Norway was invaded by Germany in April 1940 and, following defeat two months later, remained under German occupation until the end of the war.

    The Royal Navy sought to hold back the German invasion, and both navies suffered casualties.  Britain and its allies also sent an expeditionary force to Norway.  Ultimately, the Allied campaign in Norway was lost in June 1940.

    But the King, members of his family and Government ministers managed to flee Norway on board the Royal Navy ship, HMS Devonshire, enabling the Norwegians to set up a Government in exile in London. However, their evacuation led to the loss of some of HMS Devonshire’s escorting ships.  When Norway was liberated, the Royal Family and Government in exile returned to Norway on board HMS Norfolk.

    The Trafalgar Square tree symbolises the enduring friendship of the two nations. And it’s no ordinary tree, either. Great care is taken in growing and choosing the tree. As you would expect, it is usually a Norwegian spruce. It comes from the forests on the edge of Oslo, is about 25 metres high (82ft), and between 50-100 years old.

    The tree is often selected years in advance – and it must be absolutely perfect. The foresters who tend the chosen tree call it ‘the Queen of the Forest’.  Once chosen, the tree gets extra special treatment, which includes an area of clear space all around it, so it gets good light.

    The felling is a ceremonial event that takes place in November, attended by dignitaries from Norway and Britain. The tree is then brought to London by sea and lorry. Putting the tree up in Trafalgar Square is a major operation, requiring a specialist rigging team and a hydraulic crane. Once up, it is always decorated in traditional Norwegian style.
    christmas tree
    This year, the lighting ceremony at the tree takes place on 6 December at 6pm. Carol singing takes place at the tree on most days in the run up to Christmas. The tree is taken down for recycling just before Twelfth Night.

    Although the most famous, the Trafalgar Square tree isn’t the only one sent to the UK from Norway as a mark of friendship. Other places include The Orkney Islands, Edinburgh and Newcastle.

  • Happy 90th Birthday Mickey Mouse!

    Mickey Mouse, the lawnmower, the hose pipe and other garden adventures!

    Disney’s best-loved cartoon character, Mickey Mouse, turns 90 this month. And, to mark the 90th anniversary of his first ever appearance in Steamboat Willie on 18 November 1928, we’re celebrating some of Mickey’s most memorable moments in the great outdoors.

    As part of our ‘research’, we have trawled the Disney archives (have watched cartoons all afternoon) for examples of Mickey’s gardening ‘prowess’.

    Who knew that everyone’s favourite mouse is a keen gardener?  And that he loves getting out and about in nature?  Just for fun, we’ve selected the pick of the crop, in our top 6 Mickey Mouse short animation movies-with-a-nature-theme.
    mickey mouse tomato

    1. Mickey Cuts Up, 1931. Did you know that there is a Mickey Mouse film about a lawnmower? With Mickey pushing it and Pluto pulling it, you know it will end badly. This is one of the earliest MM shorts and also features Minnie Mouse, a large number of song birds and a cat. It’s when Pluto starts to chase the cat while still pulling the lawnmower that it all gets a bit messy.
    2. Mickey’s Garden, 1935. Times were different then. You could get away with making a cartoon where the main character (Mickey) gets high on insecticide and has trippy dream about giant insects and fights with a snake that’s really a garden hose. This is where we learn that despite his love of gardening, Mickey never really manages to get anything right. Pluto, meanwhile, gets his head stuck in a pumpkin.
    3. The Little Whirlwind, 1941. Mickey offers to clean up Minnie Mouse’s yard, in return for some of her home-baked cake. This involves sweeping up all the leaves, dead easy until a little whirlwind arrives. Mickey finds out that it doesn’t pay to pick a fight with a little whirlwind. It just flies off to fetch a bigger whirlwind. “Be careful of my begonias!” shouts Minnie. Oops!
    4. Potatoland, 2013. Goofy has always wanted to visit the Potatoland amusement park, so Mickey and Donald Duck decide to make his dream come true. The only problem is, the potato-themed park doesn’t exist, it’s just a recurring dream Goofy keeps having. To avoid shattering Goofy’s dreams, Mickey and Donald build a potatoland in Idaho – ‘America’s Potatoland’. If you think that’s surreal, wait until the bit where there’s a gravy flood!
    5. Feed the Birds, 2018. Mickey befriends a little bird called Tuppence but every time he tries to feed the bird, a gang of pigeons swoops and gobbles everything up. Mickey brings a now starving Tuppence into his house to share the contents of his fridge – but the pigeons invade the house and kick Mickey and Tuppence out. Finally, Mickey and Tuppence set a trap for the pigeon bullies and send them into space in a rocket.
    6. Steamboat Willie, 1928. We couldn’t leave this one out, could we? The first ever MM animation is about a river steamboat ride, with Mickey as the pilot. This is another plot that features potatoes. There are also livestock on board, which Mickey and Minnie use as musical instruments, as you do. When the real skipper, Pete, finally gets fed up with Mickey, he sends him below decks to peel spuds. Very badly.

    Happy 90th birthday Mickey!
    mickey mouse

  • NOVEMBER is a month when we really can learn something from the pros

    NOVEMBER is a month when we really can learn something from the pros. From golf courses to formal gardens, professional gardeners will be hard at work doing housekeeping. And it’s all because of leaves…
    frozen leaves on lawn
    We don’t think about it much but leaves actually play a big part in lawn care. In the spring and summer when they’re on the trees, they’re creating shade just where we don’t always want it; and in the autumn and winter, they’re falling off and settling on the grass – again just where we don’t want it. It’s not so much of a problem on flowerbeds where we can leave them to rot and for the worms to pull them down. But on our lawns, fallen leaves can cause lots of problems, not least being the duration of the leaf-fall season itself. No one wants to be popping out every day for weeks on end to clear the latest fall.

    So here is some information and advice to encourage you to do your own good housekeeping during November (and beyond).

    1. Get some kit: If you have big deciduous trees, then it’s worth investing in some machinery to make your leaf-clearing a lot easier. You can of course use your mower to pick up fallen leaves, but a good leaf blower can be just as easy – in fact it’s quite fun! You might even choose to secure a large heap of blown leaves in a quiet corner to give some hibernation shelter to some wildlife – just remember to check carefully next spring when you clear the pile.
    2. Prevent disease: Leaves on the lawn aren’t just untidy; and they don’t just create pale and slow-growing patches of grass. They can actually kill your grass. And they do this by encouraging our worst known lawn disease, fusarium.

    Fusarium is a fungal disease that comes to life in the winter months, and the fallen leaves create a warm, damp environment that is perfect for it to flourish. And fusarium can be fatal. It takes no hostages and if given a chance will attack all types of well-looked-after lawns including sports turf.
    disease scar fusarium
    Fusarium can be discouraged by using good healthy lawn care practice, but the most important thing you can do is to remove those fallen leaves. And keep on doing it. Get them off the grass as soon as possible.

    You should also be wary of any sections of lawn that don’t get much winter sunshine. Damp, dewy mornings are a fact of winter life (and a delight too) but if the grass never gets the chance to dry out, then fusarium can take hold.

    But how do you dry a lawn? Well, all that’s actually needed is what I want you to do anyway – walk out across the grass (knocking of the dew) and use a mower or a leaf blower to shift those leaves. That much can make all the difference to those especially damp areas (a blower can actually remove dew to enable a dry afternoon winter cut.)

    We don’t always have to be as meticulous as the professionals in every aspect of our lawn care, but with autumn leaves we definitely do!

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