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5 Flowers to Plant Now that will Bloom in Winter

These beautiful florals will brighten up the colder months, says Katie Wright.

With the introduction of new lockdown rules looking likely for many of us, and restrictions already in place for some, there are plenty of reasons to feel pessimistic about the months ahead – especially as we inch ever closer to the clocks going back and dreary, dark days become more frequent.

One way to cheer up the chillier months? Buying plants and sowing seeds now that will flower during winter. Whether you’re lucky enough to have a garden, or you’re restricted to pot plants on a windowsill, there are plenty of easy-to-grow options that will deliver an abundance of colour later down the line.

Here are five winter-flowering plants to sow now…

1. Winter flowering pansies

Flowering from autumn until mid-spring, winter flowering pansies are bright and hardy, making them ideal for beginners, and can be grown in flower beds or pots. Fill a window box with yellow, purple or pink pansies to enjoy a daily splash of colour throughout winter.

2. Cyclamen

With delicate flowers in shades of pink, red and white alongside dark green leaves, cyclamen are very pretty perennials and they’ll start to flower from early winter. In the garden, they’re ideal for positioning at the base of small trees and shrubs, but they can also be grown in pots – and make for a great display either side of your front door.

3. Crocuses

Perfect for planting in pots, crocus bulbs can be sown up until the end of November, and will bloom from February onwards, their purple, yellow or white petals poking up through the soil. Many consider them the first sign that spring is beginning to wake up the earth. Alternatively, plant them throughout your lawn to create a beautiful meadow towards the end of winter.

4. Winter clematis

There’s a clematis for every season: cirrhosa is a winter-flowering variety with cream and maroon speckled petals. The climbing plant is ideal for covering a shed wall or trellis, and will bloom from November to February.

5. Christmas rose

Dreaming of a white Christmas? We can’t promise a flurry of snowflakes, but with the Christmas rose or helleborus niger you can have snowy white flowers during the festive season – if you’re lucky. This hellebore variety usually flowers from January onwards, but can bloom as early as December.

Monty Don’s Wildlife Quest: ‘If Everybody does Something Small, you end up with Big Action’

The Gardeners’ World presenter talks about appreciating wildlife during lockdown and how gardeners can do their bit for the planet.

Gardening guru Monty Don had plenty of time during lockdown to admire the wildlife in his garden at Longmeadow, in Herefordshire, while filming much of the latest Gardeners’ World series virtually.

“I’ve hardly left my garden since early March,” he reflects. “Lockdown hugely affected the filming of Gardeners’ World, but it hasn’t stopped it. We haven’t had a film crew here since the end of February.

“For about a month we filmed it ourselves and since then, the garden has been laid out with miles of cable and equipped with robot cameras. I mic myself up, so everything you see of me is just me alone in the garden speaking to robots.”

He’s also been able to finish two books – My Garden World, about his connection with wildlife, and American Gardens, written with Derry Moore, tied into his recent TV series.

My Garden World features many of his detailed observations about wildlife. “I’ve always been fascinated by birds, wild flowers and wild animals, but particularly birds,” he explains. “Throughout my adult life in the garden, the fellow travellers – the frogs, the beetles, the ladybirds, even the aphids and the worms, as well as the more spectacular birds like sparrowhawks – have been a rich part of my gardening experience.

“That also proved to be very true in lockdown. One of the things we’ve noticed on Gardeners’ World is that more and more people are showing an interest in the wildlife in their garden, not necessarily rare wildlife.

“It’s just as fascinating seeing a robin as it is seeing a peregrine falcon, in its own way,” he muses.

His favourites, he admits, are birds of prey. “I’ve always been completely fascinated by them. In my lifetime, almost all birds of prey have increased hugely, which is one of the success stories. There was a disastrous decline in the Fifties and Sixties, but they’ve recovered very well, with the exception of the kestrel.

“But I’m now seeing birds of prey that I dreamed of seeing when I was in my 20s. Three days ago a peregrine falcon circled around my garden. That was unimaginable 40 years ago.

“Above the farm (he also has a small farm 30 miles from Longmeadow in the Black Mountains of Wales) we watch hen harriers, and there are only [thought to be] 600 [nesting] pairs in [the UK], so I feel privileged, blessed.”

Of course, most of us may not be so lucky to see these majestic species, but we can take pleasure in the more common wildlife, and Don is now urging gardeners to do their bit to attract all creatures great and small to their gardens.

“Instead of trying to attract one type of animal, the secret is to have a rich and varied garden with lots of cover, plenty of shrubs, hedges and trees, seeds and pollen, so you have insects, birds that eat insects, and birds that eat birds – and you have a chain of life.

“One of the points of the book is that even the most humble back garden can do that,” he insists.

Don remains optimistic about the future of wildlife in our gardens, having seen the organic movement grow in the last 50 years, and a trend towards more naturalistic planting.

“We have an environmental crisis that is underway – it’s too late to stop it – but the garden is a way that ordinary people can connect with that crisis and do something about it.

“It’s fine for politicians and campaigners to have big talk about saving the planet – let’s plant trees, let’s all go vegan – but it’s pie in the sky. Most people can’t relate to that. But you can relate to having a little bit of long grass in your garden, or a little pond.

“If everybody does something small, you end up with big action.”

Here are Don’s top tips on how to attract more wildlife to your garden…

Provide water

“It can literally be a little half barrel,” he says, “but having some kind of pond will attract a range of wildlife, from frogs and dragonflies, but also insects which will in turn attract birds and bats. It will create a chain that you will help.”

Plant long grass

“Long grass provides fantastic cover. Not only can you grow wild flowers in it, which is great for pollinating insects, but also it’s good cover for insects and small mammals like voles and shrews, frogs and all kinds of smaller life.”

Be less tidy

“Have a few heaps of leaves around, or gather up some sticks and put them in a corner, which will provide cover. If your garden is big enough to grow hedges or shrubs or trees, so much the better.”

He continues: “A very simple little pond, a patch of long grass that you leave uncut, just cutting it once a year, and a little untidiness, is quite easy.”

Consider pollinators when planting a balcony garden

“Grow plants for pollinators in pots; types which bees and other insects will come to. Even with a window box you can be part of that.”

My Garden World by Monty Don is published by Two Roads, priced £20. American Gardens by Monty Don and Derry Moore is published by Prestel, priced £35. Both available now.

7 Super Sustainable Buys for Summer

sustainable summer products

Has lockdown left you keener than ever to be more a conscious consumer? Abi Jackson rounds up sustainable options for sunny days out and beyond.

If you’re looking to shop more eco-consciously this summer, perhaps the best thing to do is try to buy and chuck as little as possible – only replacing items when they’re really worn out, and re-homing stuff we no longer need.

But if you are in the market for a few new things, there’s a growing range of companies set on making it easier to shop sustainably – many of them home-grown and local.

These seven summer buys have some impressive sustainability kudos, whether you’re splashing out on a fancy new backpack or just want to make picnics less wasteful…

sustainable summer products

1. Recycled Picnic Mat, from £20 (lifeundercanvas.co.uk)

Made with 100% recycled plastic, these lightweight mats are water and mould-resistant, and can be wiped or hosed down when grubby. Available in a choice of colours and sizes, simply roll them up and pop in your kit for camping weekends, trips to the beach, park or even just the garden. Based in Wales, Life Under Canvas is run by a team of ‘passionate campers’ on a mission to help people ‘enjoy outdoor living without it costing the Earth’.

sustainable summer products

2. Waxyz, from £2.60 each (bplasticfree.com)

Scottish entrepreneur Catriona Mann launched Waxyz following redundancy in 2018 and then a trip to New Zealand, where she was inspired by the popularity of reusable food wrap. Working with a range of Scottish collaborators, the biodegradable, vegan-friendly, wax-coated cotton wraps are a plastic-free alternative to cling-film. Waxyz are easy to clean and said to last for a year or more, with loads of sizes and designs to choose from. Ideal for sarnies and flapjacks for those weekend walks and days out.

sustainable summer products

3. Bamboo Cutlery in Handmade Pouch, from £12.50 (loolyn.com)

Based near Belfast, LOOLYN is a ‘sustainable marketplace’ featuring a wide range of eco-friendly, plastic-free products – including a ton of items ideal for summer escapes near and far. If you prefer a picnic that requires cutlery rather than just fingers, but don’t want to lug the metal stuff around (or use single-use plastic), these cute bamboo kits will see you through the holidays and beyond.

sustainable summer products

4. The Level Collective Winnats Roll Top Backpack, starting from £195 (thelevelcollective.com)

If you need to replace your backpack, and you’re in a position to splash out a little more on something super-sustainable, local and crafted to last, check out The Level Collective. Cornwall-based Mark Musgrave wanted to create a quality, ethical product that’s stylish, yet outdoor-friendly, and entirely UK-made. Featuring Scottish waxed cotton, webbing that’s woven and dyed in Cheshire, buckles crafted in Sheffield and wool padding repurposed from carpet manufacturing, these roll-top backpacks tick all the boxes. An investment to see you through many summer adventures and everything in-between.

sustainable summer products

5. OceanPositive Harlequin Swimsuit, £79.95 (life.fourthelement.com)

On the lookout for new swimwear this summer? Cornwall-based diving company Fourth Element’s OceanPositive range features gorgeous one-pieces and bikinis made from ECONYL from abandoned fishing nets and other waste that litters the oceans, and poses a serious threat to marine life. The nets are gathered up by divers before beginning the process of being repurposed for new life as swimwear. Even if you can’t make it to the actual seaside, you can totally rock these at your local lido.

sustainable summer products

6. Green Toys Recycled Ocean-Bound Plastic Beach Play Set, £25 (goodthingsgifts.co.uk)

Kids love learning about the planet and how to protect it, so this fun beach play set will come with a great story and keep them amused for hours on the sand. Green Toys take waste plastic from global communities that lack recycling infrastructure – so would likely otherwise eventually end up in the ocean – and turn it into fab, eco-savvy toys. These are also non-toxic and contain no BPA, PVC or phthalates.

sustainable summer products

7. Palms Reusable Shopping Kind Bag, £10 (kindbag.co)

Everybody needs a roomy tote or two, that you can sling over your shoulder for shopping errands and shove blankets, snacks and water bottles in for days out. Kind Bag’s endless range of fun, colourful designs are bound to brighten up your day – plus each one is made from six recycled plastic bottles. They fold into a lightweight pouch when not in use and 10% of profits go to Just One Ocean, a charity committed to preserving the world’s seas for future generations.

How to Combine Veg and Flowers in Pots for an Eye-Catching Display

veg pots

Horticulturist Tom Harris explains how to combine edibles and flowers to create colour and flavour in containers.

Throughout his life, plantsman Tom Harris has planted thousands of containers to enhance gardens nationwide and beyond. He’s perked up unpromising small spaces with both flowers and edibles, and says you can have a brilliantly colourful effect by combining both, as he demonstrates in his new book, Pots For All Seasons.

“People have different criteria when growing veg. I don’t approach it on the basis of what will provide me with the most food. I just find that many veg and herbs are just as ornamental, and if I get some crops from them, that’s a bonus.”

So, how do you go about growing plants such as lettuce, beetroot and tomatoes, alongside pretty annuals?

veg pots

Go for good-looking veg

“Firstly, look for good-looking vegetables. I don’t grow anything which I don’t consider to be good looking,” he says. “Tomatoes, aubergines and peppers provide brilliant colour in pots, while leafy veg and carrot tops provide the green you also need.”

veg pots

Find out which veg grow better in pots

“Some do better in pots than they would in the ground. Chillies and aubergines, for instance, tend not to do as well in the ground, while you can keep a better eye on leafy salads in containers, where you can crop them young and keep them protected off the ground.”

veg pots

Grow them separately

Harris recommends growing veg separately from flowers in pots, moving them around to experiment with what gives the best effect. “Try to grow them in individual pots and group ornamental and foliage plants around veg, rather than putting them in the same pot,” he explains. “Having said that, I had a great success planting lobelia and lettuce in a pot together. They work really well in a wall pot or a basket. Nasturtiums also work well with lettuce.

“Certain veg don’t like too much competition. Aubergines, for instance, resent anything else competing with them and look great in pots on their own. I grow them in old olive tins which make the fruits look that much more striking.

“Courgettes should be put singly in the largest pot you can. The yellow-fruited or round-fruited ones – I grow one called Greyzini which has beautifully marbled leaves and grey-green fruits – look great.

“The ‘Baby Rosanna’ small-fruited aubergines are very productive but manageable in a container, and with tomatoes in pots, I’d go for the bush or trailing cherry tomatoes such as ‘Sweet and Neat’, a compact variety which comes in yellow or red and ‘Tumbling Toms’ are the most productive.”

veg pots

Combine herbs

If you want your herb garden to be changeable, plant pots of basil, chives, thyme and parsley separately, then group all the small pots into a much bigger container, he suggests.

“Lots of herbs get too big, too quickly. Keeping them in their smaller individual pots allows you to pull them out and put something else back in and repot them, and helps keep rampant herbs like mint in check. Again, it’s about creating a picture; keeping herbs in a display, but neatly separated.”

Make the most of ornamental leaves

Colourful leaves also add interest to your combined pots, says Harris. “Some of the coloured mustard mixes look great, and my favourite chilli is ‘Prairie Fire’ which is very compact and I grow it in a long trough. You might want to grow a taller variety in a single pot.

“In a display, each one can show off the other in terms of texture, colour and shape, and the fruits bring you something extra that you wouldn’t just get with flowering bedding plants.”

veg pots

Which combinations work best together?

If you have a crate, intermingle sun-worshipping Verbena ‘Lollipop’ with trailing pink calibrachoa and cherry-fruited tomatoes, Harris suggests. “In baskets I always plant thunbergia with free-trailing tomatoes and parsley, so you have that wonderful contrast of different greens and then pops of bright colour from the tomatoes and the thunbergia.”

In larger planters with wigwams, grow sweet peas with climbing beans and you’re likely to get a better crop, as bees will be attracted to the sweet peas and will then pollinate the beans, he adds.

“If you group crops of veg with crops of flowers, you will be encouraging biodiversity and hopefully warding off some predators by confusing them,” he says.

veg pots

Think about pot height

In a mixed display, make sure your pots are all at different heights, Harris suggests. “Choose pots of different heights and different widths. I use anything from stacks of bricks with a paving slab, or upturned pots to raise my containers. You need some kind of variation in height and size to get a good look.

“Play around with the pots, rearranging them and placing one plant against another until you have the right combination. You might need to take something away or bring something else in. The display is all part of the fun.”

veg pots

Use colour combinations

Chillies might be partnered with rich-leaved heucheras and sedum, he notes. “Coleus is another great foliage plant. The bright coloured leaves bring out the tones in tomatoes or the chillies, or even echo the red leaves of lettuce or mustard.”

Pots For All Seasons by Tom Harris is published on June 25 by Pimpernel Press, priced £20.

Which are the Best Antiviral Herbs to Grow at Home?

WHICH ARE THE BEST ANTIVIRAL HERBS TO GROW AT HOME?

Herbalist Lucy Jones leafs through 5 of the best antiviral herbs to boost wellbeing through lockdown and beyond.

Medicinal herbalist and grower Lucy Jones believes in the powers of antiviral herbs and how they can play a positive role in helping to maintain our wellbeing in lockdown and beyond.

“Herbal medicine has a very long track record in supporting the immune system and helping patients to recover from respiratory infections,” she says.

Jones, author of a new book Self-Sufficient Herbalism, recommends five top antiviral herbs to consider and shares her growing tips for each.

Remember, do talk to your doctor before changing your diet. Some conditions that mean therapeutic doses of a particular herb should be avoided are highlighted below, but do make sure this is safe for you.

WHICH ARE THE BEST ANTIVIRAL HERBS TO GROW AT HOME?

1. Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)

“I find it very helpful for patients with various different respiratory weaknesses as well as being wonderful for acute coughs and colds.

“Drinking a cup of thyme infusion daily is a great way to strengthen the lungs and support the immune system. Simply use a couple of sprigs of fresh herb per cup and pour on boiling water, cover the cup and leave it to steep for at least 10 minutes until it’s quite strong.”

Growing tips: Thyme is a hardy perennial which thrives in full sun and well drained poor to moderately fertile soil. Plants should be spaced 25cm (10in) apart. Plant in a sheltered place and cut back after flowering to prevent plants from becoming leggy.

Harvesting: “I like to take a small harvest before the plants flower, and then take a second harvest once they’re in flower. Leave the plants enough green growth so that they can recover their strength after harvesting.”

Caution: Avoid therapeutic doses if you’re pregnant.

WHICH ARE THE BEST ANTIVIRAL HERBS TO GROW AT HOME?

2. Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)

“I grow nasturtiums in my herb garden and dry the leaves each year to use in herbal tinctures and infusions during the winter months,” she says. When the plant is crushed or chewed, peppery, mustard-like compounds clear the sinuses as well as directly fighting respiratory infections.

“You can make nasturtium vinegar by picking one cup of nasturtium flowers and putting them in a bottle with a peeled garlic clove and a few black peppercorns. Pour over 500ml cider vinegar and ensure that all the herb material is covered by the liquid. Leave for four weeks in a cool dark place and then strain and bottle. A teaspoon of this vinegar twice a day will give you a daily dose of antiviral goodness and help ease catarrh if you’re prone to it.”

Growing tips: Nasturtium is a half hardy annual which enjoys full sun to partial shade and a rich moist soil. Grow from seed in situ once the danger of frost has passed or start seedlings off indoors and plant out later after hardening off. They will ramble about and self-seed exuberantly.

Harvesting: “Harvest when there’s a high proportion of flowers on the plants. As I intend to dry my nasturtium crop, I cut individual leaves and flowers without the fleshy stalks attached.”

WHICH ARE THE BEST ANTIVIRAL HERBS TO GROW AT HOME?

3. Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea, E. angustifolia and E. pallida)

Echinacea is a medicine known and used for generations by native Americans. Initially it was used mostly for rheumatism and snake bites.

“I use echinacea tincture for people experiencing active infections, including upper respiratory infections and infected wounds such as dog bites.

“The root is the most effective part of the plant, so if you have a large clump of echinacea now may be the time to divide it and take a harvest of the roots. Wash them and cut them into matchstick shapes of even thickness and dry them on a tray in a cool, dark, airy place.

“You can make your own echinacea tincture by putting the dried root into a small jar and covering it with the strongest vodka you can get hold of, preferably at least 60% proof. Leave your jar in the dark for a couple of weeks and then strain and bottle. Take 1-3 teaspoons per day in a little hot water at the first sign of an infection.”

Growing tips: “This hardy perennial prefers full sun and fertile free draining soil. Plants should be spaced 30-45cm (12-18in) apart.”

Harvesting: “Dig the roots of third or fourth-year plants in autumn. Wash the roots thoroughly and cut into matchstick shaped pieces for drying. Alternatively harvest fresh flowers to add to your teapot during the flowering season.”

WHICH ARE THE BEST ANTIVIRAL HERBS TO GROW AT HOME?

4. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)

“Research has shown that lemon balm is good for fighting the herpes family of viruses. It’s a great home remedy to relieve cold sores, chickenpox, shingles and mononucleosis. It has a track record of reducing the unpleasant symptoms associated with the early onset of influenza.

“To make a tea from it, pick a sprig of fresh herb and place it into a cup, add boiling water and leave it covered to infuse for 10 minutes before drinking.”

Growing tips: “This hardy perennial likes a moist, rich soil in full sun to partial shade. After flowering, cut the dead stalks down and remove them.

Harvesting: For tea, harvest early on in the season while the stems are still soft and there’s a mass of foliage. Cut stems about 15cm (6in) from the base, or above the lower faded leaves.

Caution: Avoid therapeutic doses if you have an underactive thyroid.

WHICH ARE THE BEST ANTIVIRAL HERBS TO GROW AT HOME?

5. Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus, formerly Rosmarinus officinalis)

“As well as being associated with youthfulness and improved memory, rosemary has significant antiviral properties. Among its many constituents, it contains oleanolic acid which has displayed antiviral activity against influenza viruses, along with herpes viruses and HIV in test tube studies.

“Rosemary is also considered to be an excellent herb for recovery after a debilitating viral infection. It gently supports the digestion and the circulatory system, whilst relieving tension and lifting the spirits.

“It’s one of the herbs that I always include in my daily pot of ‘garden tea’, not just because it tastes so good but because it has so many health benefits.”

Growing tips: “Rosemary is an evergreen shrub which prefers full sun and a sandy, dry soil. Plants should be spaced 60-90cm (24-36in) apart.

Harvesting: Combine harvesting with necessary pruning of established plants. Cut stems with secateurs and be conscious of maintaining a good shape to the shrub. Cut individual springs as required for teas.

Caution: Avoid if you have epilepsy.

WHICH ARE THE BEST ANTIVIRAL HERBS TO GROW AT HOME?

Are we Harming Garden Wildlife with Plastics, Toxic Food and Bad Design?

dont harm wildlife

Dodgy seed mixes, plastic netting and leftover scraps can all hamper garden wildlife. Here's how to remedy bad habits.

World Wildlife Day is on the horizon, meaning gardeners will be thinking about how to attract more creatures to their plot through nectar-rich plants, bird food and good garden practices.

But what if you are killing your wildlife with kindness? Are you unwittingly putting out the wrong scraps for animals, creating a pond in which creatures become trapped, or tidying your garden to the detriment of nests and sheltering spots?

Here are some common mistakes gardeners make when trying to be kind to wildlife, and advice from experts on how to keep wildlife safe.

dont harm wildlife

DON’T… Serve up fat balls in plastic netting

Peanuts and fat balls are regularly sold in nylon mesh bags. Never put out any food in mesh bags, the RSPB (rspb.org.uk) advises. These may trap birds’ feet and even cause broken or torn off feet and legs. Birds with a barbed tongue, such as woodpeckers, can become trapped by their beaks.

Instead, hang a half coconut filled with fat balls in a tree or from a bird table, the RSPB advises.

DON’T… Feed birds dodgy seed mixes

The RSPB advises bird lovers to avoid seed mixtures containing split peas, beans, dried rice or lentils, as only the large species can eat them dry. They are added to some cheaper seed mixes to bulk them up. Any mixture containing green or pink lumps should be avoided as they are dog biscuit, which can only be eaten when soaked.

Poor quality peanuts can carry the aflatoxin fungus, which can kill birds if they eat it. Instead, make sure you buy peanuts that are guaranteed aflatoxin-free from a reputable supplier. And buy seed mixes from a reputable source such as the RSPB, checking which species the mix is likely to attract before you buy.

dont harm wildlife

DON’T… Use pesticides

Many gardening experts agree that chemical pesticides are mostly non-specific, so will destroy beneficial insects as well as the nuisance ones, which will then start to upset the balance of nature.

Instead, go organic and opt for different methods. You can use beer traps or hand-pick slugs and snails off your plants after a downpour, wipe or wash aphids off badly affected plants as they appear, and use parasitic nematodes as a biological control for vine weevil.

DON’T… Cut hedges at the wrong time

Resist cutting hedges and trees between March and August, as this is the main breeding season for nesting birds, although some birds may nest outside this period, says the RSPB.

dont harm wildlife

DON’T… Box creatures in

You may love seeing creatures visit your garden, but wildlife is not a pet, and should be free to roam in and out of the garden. So don’t box wildlife in with mile-high fencing – a hedgehog, for example, needs to walk a mile a night searching for food and a mate.

Instead, create safe corridors from your garden to the one next door, by making gaps at the base of your fence.

Also, let some of your lawn grow longer. Voles, shrews, frogs, toads, beetles and hedgehogs like to move through long grasses rather than out in the open, the RSPB advises.

DON’T… Tidy your garden too much

If you remove all your leaves and other garden debris from your beds and borders, you’re effectively depriving any visiting wildlife from shelter and food.

Instead, tidy up (if you have to) in spring, when wildlife is waking up rather than going to sleep. And at least plant some strong perennials such as Sedum ‘Herbstfreude’ whose seedheads will be left standing when you prune the rest, to provide birds and insects with shelter and food.

When pruning, save some of the bigger branches and logs to make a log pile in a quiet, sheltered part of the garden, which will provide insects with a haven in the cooler months.

dont harm wildlife

DON’T… Let creatures drown

Yes, wildlife will always be attracted to water, but getting in and out of a pond can be tricky if the pond has a hard edge that sits above the water level. Hedgehogs, for instance, are adept swimmers, but if they can’t climb out of steep-sided ponds or pools, they will drown.

Instead, use a pile of carefully positioned stones, a piece of wood or some chicken wire to create a simple ramp to allow creatures to exit, Hedgehog Street (hedgehogstreet.org) suggests.

DON’T… Give milk to hedgehogs

You may be tempted to treat your visiting hedgehog to a bowl of milk instead of water, but it doesn’t agree with them and can cause diarrhoea, says the RSPCA. Instead, give them a shallow bowl of water and some additional food, such as meaty cat or dog food, and hedgehog food.

dont harm wildlife

DON’T… Think that only the most showy blooms will attract insects

Flowers that come from intensively bred plants, with huge double flowers, may not offer much to visiting insects in the way of nectar.

Instead, go for good nectar plants including foxgloves, wallflowers, Verbena bonariensis and heleniums, as well as herbs including chives, borage and rosemary. For a list of nectar-rich plants visit the RHS (rhs.org.uk) .

World Wildlife Day is on March 3. For details go to wildlifeday.org.

How to Give Wildlife a Helping Hand with Hibernation this Winter

help with winter hibernation

As hibernation season approaches, Hannah Stephenson looks at how gardeners can help creatures bed down for the colder months.

As the cool nights arrive, animals are getting ready to hibernate – and there’s plenty gardeners can do to make it easier for them.

While the only common creatures that hibernate in this country are hedgehogs, dormice and bats, other wildlife, including insects and amphibians, enter ‘torpor’ – a similar state of inactivity which doesn’t last as long as hibernation, according to leading conservation charity the Woodland Trust (woodlandtrust.org.uk).

So, which animals can we help and how?

help with winter hibernation

1. Hedgehogs

If you have a compost heap, you’re already half way there for helping hedgehogs, because these hibernating mammals love them. So make sure you do any compost-turning slowly and carefully during the winter months so you don’t disturb your prickly friends, advises Helen Bostock, RHS senior horticultural adviser and co-author of How Can I Help Hedgehogs? Also, don’t block off the crawl spaces under garden sheds and decking, because hedgehogs also hibernate happily under there.

If you accidentally disturb a hibernating hedgehog, cover it back up as quickly as possible, leave a saucer of moist cat food and a shallow saucer of water nearby in case it needs to replenish its supplies, and give its surroundings a wide berth.

It’s not unusual for hedgehogs to wake up and move hibernation sites once or twice during the winter, so don’t worry if it relocates, but try and leave natural shelter such as piles of leaves in the garden.

help with winter hibernation

2. Frogs

While they may do all their mating in water, most frogs will enter their winter dormancy on dry land, in heaps of leaf litter in soily depressions under a pile of dead wood or rocks; in fact anywhere sheltered that is cool and damp and where they are unlikely to be disturbed. Toads will create burrows in quiet corners.

To help these amphibians, make a hiding place by digging a hole in the ground, around 10cm deep, lining it with gravel, twigs and dry leaves. Then put a large flat stone over the top, such as a piece of paving slab, leaving them enough space to crawl in.

If you have a pond which is well oxygenated, some frogs may overwinter in the bottom of it, burying themselves in the silt layer and breathing through their skin. Stop the pond from icing over by placing a tennis ball on the surface, which will help oxygenation.

help with winter hibernation

3. Bats

Hibernating from November-April, bats can slow their breathing to as few as five breaths a minute, while some can last almost an hour without breathing, according to the Woodland Trust. They eat nocturnal insects, including mosquitoes, so the easiest way to encourage them to your garden is to plant night-scented flowers and introduce a pond.

They usually hibernate in groups in a quiet, cool roost which they seek out in late autumn. Around three-quarters of UK bats roost in trees, preferably old trees with cavities, while others use spaces under the eaves of buildings or wedge themselves into holes in brickwork or in old barns.

The most important thing is not to disturb them. Being aroused from hibernation costs the bats a lot of energy, which makes them lose body fat and can lead to starvation, according to the Bat Conservation Trust. To help their hibernation, you could erect a bat box, ideally above ground, around 4-5m high, in a sheltered spot that receives sun during the day.

help with winter hibernation

4. Bees

For most bumblebees species, winter is a time for hibernation. Queen bees will feast on pollen and nectar to store fat before burrowing deep into soil in early autumn and stay there for up to nine months.

But for the buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) and honeybees, winter can be just as busy a time as the rest of the year. In the warmer parts of the UK, fully active winter colonies of this species are regularly recorded.

Help them survive by choosing a sunny spot for plants which carry nectar-rich flowers through the shortest days of the year, such as Mahonia x media, stinking hellebore and winter-flowering heathers.

Ivy is also a brilliant plant for honey bees, who rely upon its flowers for the majority of the pollen and nectar they collect during the autumn months.

If you accidentally disturb a queen bee, which may have been sheltering in the soil or even in a pot of compost, cover it loosely with soil in the hope it will resume its hibernation. If this fails, mix together a sugar solution of half white sugar and half warm water as a one-off energy boost, placing it on a teaspoon or bottle lid near the bee’s head.

help with winter hibernation

5. Other insects

Log piles are a great place to house beneficial insects over winter. Just gather some large sticks and small logs and pile them in a sheltered spot. Some butterflies, including the brimstone, peacock, comma, small tortoiseshell and red admiral will go into winter dormancy as adults and are often found in cool outdoor structures such as sheds. If they find their way into the house, move them gently to somewhere dry, cool and dark, as they won’t survive the warm temperature in your home.

How Can I Help Hedgehogs? by Helen Bostock and Sophie Collins is published by Mitchell Beazley in association with the Royal Horticultural Society, priced £14. 99. Available now.

Kate Humble on Throwaway Culture, Polluting Plastics and What we can Learn from Rwanda

Luke Rix-Standing chats with Kate Humble about the challenges facing the environment, and finds her in polemical form...

With six years of Springwatch, three seasons of Lambing Live and a succession of BBC nature programmes under her belt, Kate Humble has become an ever-present face on the greener bits of British television.

She’s the perfect person with whom to sit and chat about the world, because over the course of her career, she’s seen most of it. She got her first taste of adventure aged 19 with a nine-month, solo trip across the African continent, and she’s barely paused for breath since.

Naturalist, naturist, and former president of the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), Humble is under no illusions about the state of the planet. She is, to put it mildly, not best pleased about it.

What exactly is ‘throwaway culture’?

“We’ve got into a terrible habit of buying things and throwing away the packaging. Plastic pots, coffee cups – and almost everything we buy for our homes. Obviously some is necessary, but a lot isn’t.

“I’ve been very lucky and travelled to lots of different parts of the world – some countries which, some might say, are not as developed as the UK. But they certainly don’t generate the amount of waste and rubbish that we do

Do you think it’s a particularly British problem?

“No, I think it is a developed world problem. We’ve become a society that seems to value convenience over everything else, and with that comes a lot of waste.

“I went to Rwanda a couple of years ago – a country with an astonishingly brutal history – and there was something about it I just couldn’t quite put my finger on. Then I realised that it’s the cleanest place I’ve ever been.

“The President has banned plastic bags – you can’t use them, you can’t bring them in, they’re just banned – and this in a country that suffered a genocide 25 years ago! It’s so sad that somewhere rubbish-free is so startlingly noticeable, but if they can do that, why can’t we?”

What is the impact? How do you quantify the damage?

“Well, there’s the terrible reality of landfill. There is only so much land and we’re filling it with rubbish. All the stuff that can’t be recycled sits in the Earth and gradually breaks down, and all the chemicals seep into the soil.

“Rubbish that gets dumped in the sea ends up on beaches, and we’ve all seen the effect that has on wildlife. The turtles that have died because they’ve got plastic bags stuck in their gullets, the heartbreaking shots of albatross chicks that are starving because they’ve got plastic beads in their stomachs.

“We need to have a whole cultural shift in the way that we behave. The thing that really makes me furious is that we know how damaging this is. If there are still human beings on this planet in 200 years time, which I slightly hope there aren’t, they’re going to look back at our generation and go, ‘What the f***?’

“It’s really bad for us – we’re poisoning the very environment we rely on. Shouldn’t that matter enough? Apparently not.”

So, how would you go about countering it, and creating this cultural shift?

“Just get rid of humans – my husband is terrified that the world will one day wake to find me as their dictator! Joking apart, we are making changes and I don’t want to get too gloomy, but we’re not doing things fast enough and we’ve all got to commit.

“Do I really need to buy something in a plastic pot? Can I buy coffee in my own recycled mug? Can I reuse this packaging? Do we need to buy endless new clothes every season? No, we don’t – there’s plenty in your wardrobe that’s still nice. I’m wearing a pair of knickers I don’t even want to tell you how old!

“You can be really happy without loads of stuff. Nature is remarkable at clawing its way back every time we do something catastrophic, but there will come a point where it won’t be able to fix things any more. We’ve got to take some responsibility.”

Some have argued that the focus on individuals takes the spotlight off companies and governments. Do you think there’s a problem there?

“I do, but a lot of these big businesses are dependent on us, as consumers, for their very existence. Without doubt, it’s consumers – ordinary people – who have pushed the plastic revolution onto the political agenda.

“Of course big companies should do more, but they will do more if we say, ‘Right, we’re not going to buy from that big company any more’. We do have power as individuals and we should absolutely exercise it.

“Some of us, myself included, have been banging on about plastic for 20 or 30 years, so it’s weird that it’s suddenly come into the public consciousness now. There’s been programmes and films and startling images before. I mean it’s brilliant – hooray – but strange.”

Any idea why that might be?

“I don’t know, but I do think that in times of political turmoil, life feels uncertain. Young people are getting to the end of their school days and thinking ‘what does the future hold for me?’

“We’re seeing a slow realisation that its in our hands, and climate change has begun affecting all of us, regardless of where we live. Maybe, just maybe, some consciousness is creeping in. Now we need to do something about it.”

Kate Humble has recently helped launch the Dettol Trigger Project, to inspire people to make small changes to reduce household waste and trigger a cleaner world.

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