Category Archives: environment

2016 Welcomed With Open Arms. New Year, New Start

Viewing platform, Eden Project, Cornwall

Viewing platform, Eden Project, Cornwall

January 1st 2016

Happy New Year out there.

Well, it’s a brand new start again today. After a year of torturous health problems I can finally move on and look forward to achieving what had to be put on hold. So I have plans. Not huge ones, but this is the year I concentrate on achieving some of my own goals.

I started well. I considered the real start of my new year to be Yule, the 21st December. And I’d planned Christmas as the Eden Project in Cornwall. For those who haven’t heard of it it’s an educational charity promoting balance in nature, a better understanding of our eco-system and research. It rivals Kew. Built from an old clay pit, dead and disused, it contains two huge biomes that house thousands of plants from around the world. You can find out much more at

Anyway, we went for Christmas, and had the most wonderful time. Astoundingly, there were outdoor fuchsias, roses and other plants in flower, and wild strawberries in fruit. We’ve had strange seasons and they are obviously confused. Flooding over the north of England and Scotland have blighted many people’s Christmas, and we are lucky not to have had such severe weather here. Close to my home town folk were evacuated following unprecedented rainfall – two months worth in 48 hours. Poor things!

So now for my plans. The garden is in a mess due to this year’s neglect. I need to get fit, so that will be the main focus. I want those raised beds stuffed with goodies. And now my neighbour has erected a new fence, I can plant along it some fruit bushes and some native shrubs. Building is happening on the fields behind us and there have been burglaries of sheds, so we’re are trying to make the place as secure as we can. Thorny shrubs will help. I’m on my own with it all. No-one else has any enthusiasm for it, so all progress and achievement will be mine. Eventually, I’d like to get my garden up to Yellow book standard. The yellow book is a listing of gardens open to raise money for charity, and they have pretty high standards.

Anyway, inspiration comes from our trip. Eden puts on a special show at Christmas, lighting the tropical biome, putting on entertainment and taking people on a quest. We spent three days there, and I even saw real reindeer for the first time in my life. I took a lot of photos, so here are a few.


Recipe for Eden


Bananas growing inside the tropical biome, Eden Project, Cornwall


Fuchsias in Flower at Christmas. Eden Project, Cornwall


Produce and Plant display, Eden Project, Cornwall


Massive Progress In The Garden About To Begin

Fuchsia, My father's and my favourite lower

Fuchsia, My father’s and my favourite flower

Tomorrow is a huge day in the life of my garden and myself. It’s been a journey of three years plus to get this far. I’ve struggled with health, bereavement, injury and lack of finances through the recession. But that now all changes. I am very happy to say that two men will be turning up at 9am to start digging out the path that will allow safe, level and easy access right down my garden. The shed we put in the wrong place will be moved and the metal one which got buried under last autumn’s leaves will be erected in the correct place. My pre-formed pond liner arrives on Friday and my newly acquired team will be installing that for me. THEN I can really get going. All the seedlings I’ve optimistically sown will actually make it onto the ground. I am over the moon. Once the shed has been moved  to the bottom of the garden under the trees I will be able to have raised beds I can access without straining myself or risking tripping up (my legs don’t always do as they’re told these days).

To add to my delight, my seeds, listed in my last post, have arrived. I can sow them while my team get to work on the heavy stuff. I can also continue to sort out my containers, rescuing fuchsias and bulbs that have survived the last eight months of neglect. And even further (yes, it’s good news week!) I saw new friend today at my craft club whose partner is into fuchsias in a big way. This means a lot. My father, who died last summer, was the same. He went to a fuchsia specialist to buy his plants, raised and cosseted them like babies. I inherited his love of them. Now my friend says I can meet her husband and he will no doubt let me have cuttings. I can’t wait!

So much to do at this time of year, and so wonderful that my whole attitude towards the garden has changed for the better. I spent last winter  feeling quite depressed after having to leave it alone all these months. I feared I wouldn’t be able to get on top of it and make it the stunning garden I know it could be. Now I’m so enthusiastic it’s the first thing I think about when I wake, eager to see the next seedling emerge or a plant sprout shoots outside. Gardening will never leave me. My connection to the life cycle is too strong for me to let go so to find a way to cope with my physical limitations is wonderful.

I’ve even found a way to have a unique table on the patio! We have an old metal cage which was a stage set (we ran events in the past) will become a base for the table top, which I found on Ebay. A hardwood top which, if I’d bought it with legs and paid the normal price would have been four times the price. It will look great when I’ve painted the base, and maybe the top, to go with the chairs I got last year.

Feeding The Bees From Spring Until Fall

Doronicum. Bee magnet from the start!

Doronicum. Bee magnet from the start!

Exciting new plants!

I’ve now got some help with my garden, and the greenhouse is filling up with seedlings. It’s been cleared of all debris, dead plants and empty pots, the benching moved around for my summer tomato growing and still has room for more trays. So, as my borders will be expanding with the extra help coming, I want to incorporate even more pollen rich, bee friendly plants that also please me. I’ve decided to indulge myself in perennials, but I’m not going to spend a fortune. I’ve ordered packets of seeds, so I will have to wait a while longer for flowers, but ultimately will have many more of them for the bees and moths and butterflies to feast on.

I already grow some of the best, such as Hebes that have practically flowered all winter and are still doing so. And I have bought some flowering plants as I’ve seen them. No sooner had I brought home a doronicum (see Photo)  than a bumble bee landed on it to feed. The same is true of the heather. We’re lucky enough to have slightly acid soil, so heathers love it. I plan for more!

Mecanopsis Horridla. Much more beautiful than it's name would suggest.

Mecanopsis Horridula. Much more beautiful than it’s name would suggest.

I placed my perennial seed order yesterday. Some are quite rare or scarce. I haven’t seen them in the garden centre. And I want something different, unusual, so chose ones unfamiliar to me, that sound exciting, but that are also good bee plants. Here’s my list. I can’t wait for them to arrive!

Liatris Aspera, a gorgeous pink open flower the bees will love. Thalictrum Aqueligifolium Album, white fluffy pollen laden heads, angelica gigas, which has red flower heads and stands 5 feet tall. It’s stunning, will feed the bees, then the birds if we don’t harvest the seeds for ourselves. Viola Odorata is rather more diminutive, has a gorgeous scent, sweet flowers for those bees and a lovely colour. Then there’s Meconopsis Horridula. I must admit, I’ve always wanted to grow the Himalayan poppies and never had the right soil. I do have that here, but the name of this one struck me as my partner writes horror fiction. And of course bees love poppies! This next one is a biennial, but of course once I have it I can allow it to seed or take seed to keep it going every year. I hadn’t heard of it before, but as an umbelifer will doubtless make a good bee plant. Seseli Gummiferum (common name Moon Carrot) is listed by the Gardeners World’s website as a superb garden plant that likes good drainage. Here is the advantage of latin names. I put Moon Carrot into Google. It told me that this was a rare British native growing only in a couple of places. But wait. That’s Sesesli Libanotis! It looks the same, but growing conditions would be very different, as Gummiferum is from Spain/Portugal and needs sun and great drainage. Always check the Latin names if you want to be accurate with growing conditions, height and spread of plants.

Verbasum Chaxii. Stunning!

Verbasum Chaxii. Stunning!

I’m sure most gardeners will have grown Centaurea, the blue cornflower. I’ve found the orentalis form, which is a stunning yellow, to add to my collection. Campanula Latifolia, standing about 4ft tall, white with lovely conical flowers should be a hit with the bees  and hoverflies as well as brightening a semi shaded border. Geranium Pastel clouds seeds sound really good. Apparently you can’t buy plants here in Britain, so the only way to grow these is from seed. I love geraniums, and I know the insects do, too. These geraniums should self sow and are very delicate and pretty, so I hope they do! I had to have another penstemon, too, after the one I have giving so much last year. It flowered its heart out, and was being constantly visited by bees. So I’ve ordered Penstemon Lyallii, a lovely pink form. I’ve saved the best until last. Verbasum Chaixii is absolutely stunning, has open flowers that will shine like beacons to any passing bee or human!

Once I add all these beautiful wonder of nature, my bee offerings will be much more substantial. Seed sowing will allow me more plants than I could afford to buy in one go and I’m adding to a collection aimed for wildlife as well as myself.

If you want to feed the bees and welcome wildlife, grow flowers that are open in the centre and have lots of nectar or or pollen. For example, if you grow dahlias, which you can from seed. Mine have just come through, choose something like Coltness hybrids, which give bees easy access to the pollen. Single rather that double or cactus type flower heads are best. Check seed sites and catalogues when ordering. Many now indicate which they recommend for bees or butterflies or both. And have as many different choices for them as possible. Scientists state that like us, bees need a varied diet so that they get a good balance of nutrients, and we all know what happens if we don’t balance our diets in a healthy way.

There’s an archived post listing early spring  flowers to feed the bees if you want more information.

Returning To Ambitions



There’s a reason this blogs been inactive. I have. Broken ribs last August on top of lifes little curve balls that piled into a mountain last year took their toll. But spring of a brand new year is here, so I’ve come back to continue with my dreams and ambitions.

I’ve been off the garden for months until recently. As I’ve mentioned, August last year saw me unable to do anything due to broken ribs, and I lost heart over the winter. But something stirred in me a couple of weeks ago and I’m back on the case. It helps that I now have the money to pay for the big heavy jobs. I can concentrate on what I can do, and not feel snookered by the path building, shed erecting or new raised bed building. I can get on with growing stuff and sorting out borders (when I have a bit of strength and energy).

The greenhouse and conservatory are filling up as I sow more seeds and things need pricking out and take up more space. So far the broad beans have come through. That’s a blessing as the first batch were all pinched by mice. So I re-sowed in the greenhouse. Onion seeds have just started to germinate, and I’m trying them from seed for the first time this year. Khol rabi is in modules, and I’m hoping to keep a more continuous supply than I’ve previously managed. There are also leaf salad, blood red spring onions, leeks and greyhound cabbage yet to push through.

I’ve also sown two types of sunflower,  giant and red, 5ft tall ones. That’s just as well, when sunflower seed for the birds is working out at £1 per large feeder refill. And during the worst weather we were filling it, plus another feeder, once a day! I’m hoping the achillea, zinnia, dahlias, cosmos all do well, as I’m going to have a lot of space to fill this year and many of the seeds from these are good extra bird offerings. The garden has to work for the wildlife as well as me.

My ambition is to make my garden good enough to get into the yellow book in a couple of years time. That’s a massive amount of work, but I think worth it.

I am installing a pond as part of that plan. It was going to be large and butyl lined, but Daisy could easily damage the liner, so a prefabricated one will be better. I’m looking at one that holds 750l or 170 gallons and is about 6ft x 4ft for £163 delivered. I’ve found a dog paddling pool for £30 so if I get Daisy that and make the pond less attractive by not having the very shallow sloping sides of a butyl lined job she’ll prefer to jump in her own pool and leave mine alone! I can always protect mine with a wire grid, too, as long as the animals I want to reach it can.

I’m already watching the blue tits build a nest in the box screwed to the patio fence. I hope the other four boxes are occupied this season, too. Four of the five were last year. While eating lunch on the patio (it’s been a warm, sunny day) I saw a sparrow hawk flash through the garden. I love all the sightings I get just from being in my garden and keeping my failing eyes peeled. Yes, failing until I have cataracts removed. Hopefully that will be soon. We’ve had greater spotted woodpeckers in in the last couple of weeks, and all the usual suspects. Now I want to find a hedgehog, a grass snake and even slow worms, though if I ever will is a matter of wait and see.

I’ve bought plants as well as sown seed. The primroses in the photo adorn a cool windowsill in the house now, but once hardened off and split they’ll be great for the spring garden next year. I’ve planted a new clematis called Freckles today against the arch. There are heathers, more primroses and even some daffodils to get in the ground. Pots of meadowsweet, tradascantia and other perennials sit waiting patiently for their turn, but I can only do so much then have to rest, so still tons to do! I’ll try and keep you informed.

World Food Security And Growing Your Own


Sprouted Beans. Ready in days, tasty cheap and easy. Just add water!

Sprouted Beans. Ready in days, tasty cheap and easy. Just add water!

The global population is estimated to reach between 8.3 and 10.9 billion people by 2050. Food security is a major worry for the world’s leaders. It is now known that the millions of people growing their own food throughout the world already play a big part in providing food that eases the food security issue, The more of us that can grow our own, on our own land, the more we can reduce the pressure on land and resources elsewhere. The ratio of energy needed to produce food and the energy this food actually produces has increased negatively too, because of fuel used to produce the food and transport it, and the use of fertilizers. That’s another improvement when it’s grown in your own place (garden or pot) as there are NO fuel costs beyond buying the seed initially. No airmiles, no artificial fertilisers and no petrol or diesel to get to the shops, and YOU save energy not going shopping, carrying the food and throwing away the wrapping.

Surely then we should all be doing our utmost to grow what we can, for the sake of our planet and our children. We are learning to re-use items otherwise destined for landfill, to reduce pressure there, but this, our food, is so important that we need to do what we can. It’s so simple! Anyone could grow beansprouts or lettuce leaves on the windowsill. There are only benefits to growing your own. No trip to the shops, much cheaper food and no air miles. Food is as fresh as it can be, loaded with good nutrients that haven’t had time to deteriorate and tastes marvellous. It also costs you a lot less than that lettuce wrapped in a plastic bag and refrigerated to stop it wilting. Convinced yet?

You don’t have to have a huge plot and grow potatoes to make a difference. As one supermarket chain keeps re-iterating, every little helps, especially if we ALL do a little. Beansprouts of various kinds, salad leaves and even beetroot can be grown in pots and containers. Spring onions, chives, herbs and even tomatoes can be grown easily, cheaply and need only a little TLC for success.

Have you tried? So many people have said to me they kill things. They can’t grow things. Keeping plants alive is just a matter of giving the plant what it needs, and that’s a fairly simple matter to understand. They need something to grow in (compost) some food (compost then liquid feed), light and warmth. Then they need water. But they, like us, drown in too much of the stuff. There you have it. Simple. The internet abounds with specialist techniques for growing various things, and if you’re that interested you can follow them, as I do sometimes. But I’m passionate about gardening. You don’t have to be to grow basic stuff and get good results.

Try this. Take one tablespoon of mung beans or whole lentils. Place in a large jar, cover the end with old tights or a bit of muslin. Fill the jar with water. Empty. Leave on windowsill  but not in strong sunlight. Repeat rinsing twice a day and eat within the week. Simple!

Come back and see me again. I’ll give some basic hints and tips, tell you what I’ve done and what works and doesn’t work for me. Have a try. It’s very satisfying to pick and eat something you’ve tended, however nervously.

What a Difference a Year Makes

The Garden Being Cleared

The Garden Being Cleared

What a difference a year makes! Last year, when the monsoon summer threatened to wash gardens away, we were just beginning to clear a neglected-for-several-years plot. This bed was a tangle of brambles, nettles and neglected shrubs.

But look at it now! Still not perfect, still not as I want it, but a huge improvement, and buzzing with bees and butterflies.

I lifted the plants that were in the bed, removed tons of Spanish bluebells, added some organic matter, replanted some shrubs and plants after cutting them, quite harshly, back. Then I started adding my own plants, either grown from seed or bought from various places. As you know, I wanted to help wildlife as much as possible. I’ve used some wild plants, like the mullein (see last post) and some garden cultivars to fill the bed with colour and flowers for our bees, butterflies and moths. Achillea, foxlgloves, heuchera lambs ear and geranium have attracted lots of different bees, and the buddleia, just starting to flower, is a butterfly magnet. We’ve had a lot of Meadow Browns so far, but hope to see other kinds as they build their numbers back up following last year’s wash out. There is still a lot of work to do on our 120ft long plot, but it’s great to see some planting working out. I will, of course, be moving those plants that are in the wrong places, but not until the autumn.

Garden After a Year

Garden After a Year

Trees Are In Trouble! Join The National Survey

The Great Oak in Nottingham Forest

The Great Oak in Nottingham Forest

A new tree survey has been launched today. It is the first one to involve the public and it needs you. Designed in collaboration with Forest Research and FERA (department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs) and run by OPAL (Open Air Laboratories network) a survey pack has been issued for you to download and be a part of saving our trees.

In the past decade at least 17 new pests and diseases have been found in Britain, attacking some of our most iconic trees, including the mighty oak and the chestnut. I for one would be very sad to see our trees dying due to these unwanted pests from the continent. I have a chestnut tree at the end of my garden. It’s a favourite of mine from childhood with its sticky, fat buds and fresh unfurling leaves.

The environment has changed. Our recent years of unusual weather patterns have stressed the trees, and this leaves them even more susceptible to pests and disease. Losing two seasons in the last year (no Autumn and no spring) has further added to their distress. Now we can get involved with conservation in a way we could never have done without the internet, so this is going to be the largest, most extensive tree survey ever.

To take part, click this link which takes you through to OPAL’s tree survey page, but there is lots more on there for you to get involved in if you wish.

Can you help save our trees?

The Buzz About Bees. Can We Help Them?

Painted Lady Butterfly

Painted Lady Butterfly









At last the government have got involved. But they are still debating, procrastinating, about the use of neonicotinoids. Nicotine based pesticides are modern, used only for the last twenty years. Bees are in trouble, as we’ve known for a long time now. If we lose them we’re in big trouble. Our food supplies would be hugely affected. That’s why we should all be doing our utmost to help them. I’m no expert on insects, I’m just a concerned gardener and amateur naturalist.

Members of the Commons Environmental Audit Committee are calling for a moratorium on the use of sprays containing neonicotinoids. If you want to know more about it there’s an article currently on the BBC website.

So here’s my plan for this year. I planted early flowers for bees last year, and two days after snow cleared, as I mentioned in my last post, I have violas flowering. There is also heather in flower, growing in my holly.  Crocus, too are there providing that vital nectar. I had nesting solitary bees last year, and left them undisturbed. Primroses and cowslips will also help as soon as they begin to flower. I have also made insect hotels out of lengths of cane, and we currently have piles of rotting wood which will provide more insect hide-aways.

Almost all the flowers I plan to grow this year are single flowers, as these provide the most pollen and nectar. Daisy flowers of all kinds are loved by bees with their composite heads, therefore lots of pollen and in one place. I will have, as long as they all germinate, bidens, felicia, dahlia (single flowered), aster, coreopsis, sunflowers, and a blended mix of wildflowers. The packet says they are to attract butterflies, but many of the flowers for them will also feed and attract bees.

Bee On Geranium Flower

Bee On Geranium Flower

I’ve planted a buddleia, the butterfly bush, and have more cuttings of that to give away or plant elsewhere. My son has planted one in his tiny garden in a nearby town. Spread the bee and butterfly love!

Sedums are excellent nectar plants, and I have planted several. I’ve also planted  geraniums. The hardy type. As you can see from the bee photo, they love them, and they are for the most part easy going plants that will give pleasure for years.

The great news for today is….drumroll….I saw the first bee and the first butterfly. Spring on the wing. Hooray!!!

Spring. It’s Surely Now Here!

Spring Violas. They made it through the snow.

Spring Violas. They made it through the snow.

Spring is finally on its way, according to the weather forecast. Warming up this weekend, or at least the Easterly wind reducing in strength. So at last we might be able to contemplate sowing seed outdoors soon. The snow has now gone from the garden, thankfully, though in northerly aspects on the fields it remains.

My son came over yesterday and helped me complete the clearing of the bed near the house I’ve decided will be a good vegetable starting point for this year. It’s higher, being closer to the house, so better drained, easy to access from the patio and therefore easier to water and harvest. There’s a water butt very close by and outdoor tap should I need it. Here I will plant the broad beans I sowed last October and are now desperately in need of planting. I’ve put a tunnel cloche with fleece over the newly invigorated soil. It’s been cleared of builder’s rubble, thoroughly aired, stones and old tree roots removed and every weed removed. It’s also been protected from the cold by covering it loosely with plastic sheeting since before the snow. This has kept it relatively free of frost and will consequently be warmer to put my young plants in.

A Work in progress. Tunnel cloche up.

A Work in progress. Tunnel cloche up.

I then added loam made from last year’s turf stripping that has been stacked and covered with old carpet ever since. So my beans and garlic plants, in modules since October, can finally go in. I’ve also got rhubarb to plant, though that will be in the lower bed that drowned last year. I’m raising it using gravel boards (very cheap) and praying for a better growing year with a more moderate rainfall. There is a lot to do.

I’ve also had a rare brainwave. I’d bought some little plastic balls designed to connect canes together to make a cloche. They didn’t work very well, but I had some old tent poles that link together. With the addition of the plastic balls I’ve made a cloche for the small bed next to my greenhouse, so that’s now covered with a decorating sheet and an old shower curtain just to get the soil warmed before I sow and cover with protection from the pigeons. I’m not sure yet what to plant there, but I’d like to put some meadow flowers in to attract in the bees and other insects. I have plenty of seed, so it’s just a case of making up my mind!

I’ve written this over a couple of days. Today (Sunday) I finally managed to get my garlic out of modules and into actual living soil. Hooray! I’ve put it in the bed near the patio, which has now had some blood, fish and bone added. I’ve spent the last two days on gardening after a long period of cabin fever caused by the cold and snow. It’s been hard work but bliss to be outside. As I’ve been given a power washer by a kind neighbour, I’ve even  started cleaning the filthy, neglected for twenty years patio. The slabs are coming up OK. It all needs re-doing, really but cash is needed for that so it will have to wait. It’s uneven, we think because of the trees that were planted too close to the house, so we will attempt to level it up for now with the help of my son.

Cheery daffodil

Cheery daffodil

Last years’ Spanish Bluebell fight is back on. I’m still digging them out. But my daffodils are open, and look lovely. Strangely, so are snowdrops. They’ve been delayed by the cold, but are a welcome sight. The big hit is my violas, planted last Autumn. They sat under all that snow and flowered as soon as it melted.

The jet stream is still too far south, but tomatoes were ready to be pricked out today, and now sit on my windowsill in the conservatory. Three varieties. More about those next time.

My new dog, Daisy, has really settled in and is determined to help by making sawdust of any stick I’ll throw for her. Here she is after an exhausting game of ball. She’s going to be my very own Nigel, for those who watch Gardeners World. She follows me around as I get on with work out there, and seems to love watching what I’m doing. Or chewing up wood, or watching next door’s chickens through the fence.



The Coldest Spring In Fifty Shades of White?

Conservatory with Ice 24th March 2013

Conservatory with Ice 24th March 2013

Snow. March. It’s pathetic  but I am disappointed. I was hoping to get on the garden this week, not least because our family will soon be extended. I’m getting a rescue dog from the RSPCA, She’s a gorgeous Staffie cross  called Daisy with a very sweet nature. Before I can give her the run of the garden I need my neighbour’s co-operation to clear our boundary and install some fencing behind the hedge, or she could escape. Of course under all the white stuff everything is delayed. So it’s not JUST about the gardening.



We went to take Daisy for a walk today. She’s already partly trained, and will walk to heel, sit and lie. But her recall is bad, so we really do need the garden to be secure. And the RSPCA won’t let us have her until we have a safe area, so we’ve hastily fenced in the patio for now. That fence will go when the rest of the work is done.

We were surprised when we left Coalville for Leicester to see how much more snow we had compared to slightly lower lying land. There’s grass showing through closer to Leicester, and as you can see we’ve had about 7″. It snowed constantly from Thursday night/Friday morning and was still snowing when I woke up this morning. It’s marked to be the coldest March for fifty years. Since we moved here 16 months ago the weather seems to be determined to break records. First for a hot dry spring, then the wettest summer, which it missed by millimeteres, now the coldest, snowiest March. How about the record for the most perfect, average British summer?

Three Days of Snow

Three Days of Snow

Nobody told the plants about spring refusing to arrive. Seedlings are coming through in the conservatory so I’m having to ensure they get enough light until things warm up. Otherwise, there is very little to do for now. We just have to be patient. At least we are warm safe and dry. It’s been great watching the birds, who of course are coming in droves for food. Don’t forget to feed your flock. They really need it right now.