• 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.


    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 - For more on National Allotments Week, visit the National Allotment Society website at

  • 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 - 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?!

  • June - a great month to be outdoors!

    June is officially Great Outdoors Month, when we’re encouraged to escape the indoors and enjoy the natural world around us.
    Whether it’s being active, having fun, or just relaxing, researchers tell us that being outdoors is a tonic for our physical and mental wellbeing.
    Here are 7 top outdoor ideas for you to try this June.
    1. Enjoy your garden. The No. 1 top tip. There are loads of things to do in your garden, to suit all moods. Feeling active? Then do some gardening or move your exercise regime outdoors. Looking for fun? Play with the kids or grandchildren. Feeling sociable? Dine alfresco with family and friends. Just want to chill? Grab a book and pour yourself a drink or a cuppa.

    2. Get your walking boots on. If you have a dog, then you’ll need no encouragement with this one! But for those less keen on walking, especially solo walking, then why not bring together a group of friends for regular walking ‘catch ups’. Or join a walking group.

    3. Head for the blue. The water does amazing things for our wellbeing. If you’re near a lake, a river, or the coast, lucky you. Go for a swim, try stand up paddle-boarding, or take in the scenery and bracing air with a waterside walk.

    4. Go exploring. Discover some of the nature reserves, woodlands and national parks in your area. Or seek out some iconic landmarks.

    5. Be creative. Find yourself a nice spot and try some landscape sketching. Or experiment with photography.

    6. Get on your bike. If possible, use off-road cycling trails that allow you to enjoy nature and scenery along the way.

    7. Go camping. A brilliant way to get right into the heart of the natural world. See if you can find somewhere with minimal light pollution, so you can watch the stars at night.

    Let’s keep our fingers crossed that this June offers us plenty of long, hot, sunny days so we can all appreciate the Great Outdoors. If not, there’s always July … 😊

  • The essential ingredients for a perfect BBQ

    The essential ingredients for a perfect BBQ

    The UK celebrates National BBQ Week on 27 May - 2 June, and we’re all keeping our fingers crossed that we get some fabulous barbecue weather to mark it in fitting style.

    food, people and family time concept - senior man cooking meat on barbecue grill at summer garden bbq party

    Brits love nothing more than to get the grill on when the sun comes out - but what makes a brilliant BBQ?

    We’ve brought together all the best tips from the nation’s top chefs and BBQ experts, to help you create a sizzling occasion for your family and friends to enjoy.

    Preps make all the difference

    A great BBQ doesn’t just happen by accident - it needs the right preparation and tools.

    To achieve all those authentic smoky flavours, a charcoal barbecue beats a gas one hands down. Better still, a barbecue with a lid helps to lock in the flavours and ensure an even temperature. When it comes to fuel, lump wood charcoal creates a natural taste, which is why so many chefs choose it.

    The other essential tools are a sturdy oven glove, a pair of tongs and a fish slice. Have separate tools for cooked and uncooked food, and for your meat/fish and veg, if you have vegetarian or vegan guests.

    We know you can’t wait to tuck in to all that lovely grub, but on this occasion, patience is a virtue. After lighting the coals, wait for the flames to die down and for the coals to turn grey before putting the food on the grill - usually 30 minutes or so.

    Not all the food will need a high heat, so place the coals on one half of the barbecue to allow some items to be cooked on the other half with no direct heat.

    Get the balance right

    A perfect BBQ will offer a nice mix of meat, fish, cooked veggies, salads, sides and some tasty marinades and sauces. Prep your salads and sides before you get the BBQ on so they’re good to go. Burgers, sausages and chicken drumsticks should keep the meat-eaters happy, while salmon, prawns and whole fish are great on the grill. Take the meat and fish out of the fridge about 20 minutes before cooking to avoid burning them on the outside.

    Vegetables are amazing griddled thinly or as chunks on a kebab, while you can’t go too far wrong with veggie burgers and halloumi. And don’t forget the buns - putting them briefly on the BBQ, cut-side down, adds extra flavour. Or warm some flatbreads on the grill. Just make sure you don’t over-cook any of this lovely food.

    Don’t bite off more than you can chew!

    And finally - don’t spend so long at the grill that you forget to socialise with your guests. The key is to not over-stretch yourself and to not cook too much. Yes, offer a choice of fabulous food, but having a nice time with family and friends at your BBQ is the most important ingredient of all!

  • Keeping the ancient traditions of May Day alive!

    may day
    May the 1st … the day when for centuries, communities have enacted rituals to mark the arrival of warmer weather and fresh growth in the fields.

    In the UK, a lot of the old May Day traditions are pagan in origin and are linked to fertility – traditions such as dancing around the maypole, the crowning of a May Queen, and Morris dancing.

    While many of the customs are shared nationally, there are also some famous and, some might say, eccentric events, that are more localised in origin. Here are six of the best.

    Beltane Fire Festival, Edinburgh:

    On the last night of April and into the early hours of 1 May, thousands of people mark Beltane (Gaelic May Day) by heading to Calton Hill for a theatrical celebration involving fire displays, drumming and a pagan performance.

    Glastonbury Tor, Somerset:

    Pagans and druids gather at dawn to welcome in Beltane and the return of warmth and light. They re-enact several May Day customs and a procession carries a maypole – a young tree – to Bushy Combe, below the Tor, for maypole dances to take place.

    Padstow ‘Obby ‘Oss, Cornwall:

    Padstow is turned into a riot of flowers and greenery for the day, as thousands converge to see the two “osses” dance around the streets, followed by their supporters. Various locals take it in turns to don the costumes of Old ‘Obby ‘Oss and Blue Ribbon ‘Obby ‘Oss.

    May Morning, Oxford:

    Huge crowds get up bright and early to hear Magdalen College choir sing from the top of the college tower at 6am. The bells then ring out for 20 minutes, signalling the start of Morris dancing and a procession through the city.

    Clun Green Man Festival, Shropshire

    The action takes place on Clun Bridge, where the Green Man defeats the Frost Queen to ensure there will be summer in the valley. To celebrate his victory, the Green Man then leads a colourful parade to the grounds of Clun Castle.

    Flora Day, Helston, Cornwall:

    Locals festoon the town with floral displays for the ancient Flora Day festival. Four dances take place in the streets, the first starting at 7am. The most famous is the midday dance – The Furry Dance, where participants are chosen by invitation only. Another ancient feature of the day is the Hal-an-Tow Mummers play.

    Let’s hope all those May Day rituals do the trick and we get a summer to remember!

  • 20 great Shakespeare quotes for the Bard's birthday

    April 23rd isn’t just St George’s Day, it’s William Shakespeare’s birthday, too. Or at least, we think it is. Historians have settled on the date because his baptism is recorded in Stratford-upon-Avon on 26 April 1564 – and in those days, this usually happened on or around three days after the baby was born.
    Shakespeares birthday
    More than 450 years later, and many of our most commonly-used terms and phrases are attributed to Shakespeare, such as: All’s well that ends well (All’s Well that Ends Well); Be-all and the end-all (Macbeth); A blinking idiot (The Merchant of Venice); Neither here nor there (Othello); Cruel to be kind (Hamlet); It’s Greek to me (Julius Caesar); Too much of a good thing (As You Like It);  Neither rhyme nor reason (The Comedy of Errors); Wear my heart upon my sleeve (Othello); Wild-goose chase (Romeo and Juliet); The world is my oyster (The Merry Wives of Windsor).

    And, of course, he is English Literature’s King of Quotes. Here are 20 of the best …

    1. “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” (Hamlet)
    2. “To be, or not to be: that is the question.” (Hamlet)
    3. “To die, to sleep; To sleep, perchance to dream - ay, there's the rub.” (Hamlet)
    4. “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” (Hamlet)
    5. “Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t.” (Hamlet)
    6. “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” (All’s Well That Ends Well)
    7. What’s in a name? A rose by any name would smell as sweet.” (Romeo and Juliet)
    8. “O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?” (Romeo and Juliet)
    9. “All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players.” (As You Like It)
    10. “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.” (The Tempest)
    11. “If music be the food of love, play on.” (Twelfth Night)
    12. “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em.” (Twelfth Night)
    13. “Now is the winter of our discontent.” (Richard III)
    14. “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” (The Merchant of Venice)
    15. “When shall we three meet again in thunder, lightning, or in rain? When the hurlyburly ‘s done, When the battle ‘s lost and won.” (Macbeth)
    16. “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? (Sonnet 18)
    17. “I am a man more sinned against than sinning.” (King Lear)
    18. “Nothing will come of nothing.” (King Lear)
    19. “Beware the Ides of March.” (Julius Caesar)
    20. “The course of true love never did run smooth.” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

    By coincidence, The Bard also died on 23 April, in 1616, when he was just 52 – but what a literary legacy he left us.  It seems all the world will forever be a stage for William Shakespeare!

21-30 of 77