10 Ingredients you can Forage Pep Up Cocktails- According to an Expert

foraging for cocktails

The country's leading urban forager shines a light on wild herbs and plants to jazz up your garnish, and much more, says Sam Wylie-Harris.

Since the dawn of time we’ve been foraging for wild foods to use in drinks and as medicine.

To really get a taste for the year-long bounty around us, how about delving a little deeper for sprigs and slices to add a quirky twist to a classic cocktail?

However, you don’t need to run to the hills, go down to the woods or take a jaunt to the seaside to scout for wild ingredients if you want to make a variation on a much-loved tipple.

Founder of Forage London and author of The Edible City cookbook, John Rensten wants to give city dwellers the chance to enjoy and discover some of the wonderful wild foods that grow all around us – some of which can be used in cocktails, as he recently demonstrated on a guided foraging walk for Bushmills Irish Whiskey.

To steer you through the urban landscape, here are Rensten’s top 10 foraged ingredients that can be used as part of your cocktail repertoire…

foraging for cocktails

1. Lime blossom

“Used fresh it gives sweet notes of melon and a hint of cucumber. Great as an addition to a mint julep,” says Rensten.

2. Hogweed bitters

“Tastes like bitter orange and numerous other dried spices all rolled into one. Works really well in place of Angostura bitters when making an Old Fashioned.”

foraging for cocktails

3. Fig leaves

“When crushed and made into a syrup, these taste like coconut. Great for giving depth to a Gimlet or adds extra coconut flavour to a Pina Colada.”

4. Crab apples

“Some sweet/sharp varieties work well instead of orange peel in an Old Fashioned,” when dried says Rensten.

5. Sumac

“Has strong citrus elements but less sour than lemons. Can be used as part of a Whiskey Sour.”

foraging for cocktails

6. Magnolia blossom

“Tastes a lot like ginger with additional bitter notes. A magnolia blossom syrup would work really well as part of an Agave Ginger Rita,” suggests Rensten.

7. Dandelion root

“Tastes like nutty coffee but is caffeine free. Roast [the roots] first and grind, then use as part of an Irish coffee.”

8. Sorrel

“Has a tart/sweet lemon meets apple flavour. Can be used in place of lemon juice when making a Tom Collins, with gin, or a John Collins, with whiskey.”

foraging for cocktails

9. Quince

“Another great substitute for lemon because of its intense citrus taste. Can be used as part of a Whiskey Sour.”

10. Nettles

“Cook gently with water and sugar to make a nettle syrup, to give an interesting twist to a [bourbon based] Southern Spell,” says Rensten – wear gloves when you go harvesting to mind the sting.

3 Themes for Al Fresco Feasting: Love Island, Festival and Country Cool

al fresco dining

Little beats a lingering outdoor meal in summer. Gabrielle Fagan reveals three ways for setting the scene in style. There's something about eating outdoors. A generous helping of fresh air and (hopefully) sunshine can magically make even the simplest meal taste delicious.

al fresco dining

That’s all to the good, because summer’s no time to be slaving over a hot stove indoors – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a little time and trouble over the table.

By giving a setting a real sense of occasion, maybe opting for a theme, you’ll not only make it memorable but you could ramp up the fun – a few drinks could turn into a party and a supper into a celebration.

“Having lunch and supper parties outside is one of the real joys of summer,” enthuses interior designer, Joanna Wood. “I really like using unusual nature-inspired dishes in the shapes of leaves, and I like to work to a theme and pick a different one each year.”

This year she’s creating her own ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ al fresco setting, to give a patio area a theatrical touch. “A theme allows you to be creative and you can incorporate flowers, candles and maybe floating flower heads with tea lights for evening parties,” she says. “It’s all about a bit of imagination and planning that will result in something you can enjoy for the whole season.”

So turn the tables on dull dining and instead experiment with one of these three themes: Love Island style, a fun festival vibe, or a little slice of calm with country cool…

al fresco dining

Dine like a Love Islander

If you envy those fit reality TV show residents in their sun-drenched Mallorcan villa, create your own sizzling Mediterranean hotspot. It could be perfect for leisurely meals and chilling (romancing optional!).

Group potted palms, ferns and other tall foliage around simple seating. Low benches or boxes made comfy with foam rectangles wrapped in bright fabric will do nicely. Finally, inject another zip of sunshine colour with outdoor rugs and cushions. Then sit back and enjoy the banter!

Mix a decor cocktail and pick up on Love Island style with slogans and beach style accessories – pool blue and flamingo pink rules!

al fresco dining

Go full-on festival

Festival season’s arrived. No tickets – no problem! Simply give a table setting a boho, laid-back vibe, turn on the sound system, and have your own personal ‘feastival’ – without the mud, wellies or sagging tents.

This look i all about personality – pops of colour, mismatched china, and lots of freshly cut flowers and foliage. Don’t take it too seriously – there’s no room for formality here – just give it a bit of hippy-dippy character that makes it kick-off-your-shoes relaxing.

Feel free to pile on the paper lanterns and garlands – use solar lights for when the sun’s gone down – and add jewel-coloured glassware for a dash of glamour.

John Lewis is a brilliant destination for homeware that will ramp up al fresco style, including a brilliant range of tableware and furniture. Their Croft Collection Garden Dining Table Bench, £220, is ideal, while a Camden Garden Bistro Table and Chairs Set is currently reduced to £63 from £79. A Sol Pouffe – Multi, £120, makes a great finishing touch.

al fresco dining

Conjure country cool

The beauty of a rustic scene is its simplicity. All that’s needed are a wooden table and chairs, a linen runner and napkins, and plenty of lanterns and candles. Don’t forget to cater for chilly nights by putting a throw or a blanket on each chair.

“I live on a farm in the glorious West Country, so I really enjoy the chance to make the most of time outdoors with friends and family. And come the summer months, there is nothing I love more than a picnic or eating al fresco,” says Liz Earle, founder of Liz Earle Wellbeing magazine (lizearlewellbeing.com).

“Picnics and meals outdoors are a great way of enjoying the great outdoors and making the most of nature’s beauty, but they don’t just have to be daytime affairs. There’s nothing nicer than lingering over a meal on a sultry evening and pretty lighting will transform a setting.”

Battery operated tea lights, which will twinkle into the night, are a pretty and safe way to add enchantment, Earle says.

“Perch them atop jam jars or logs to give them a bit more height, or use them in hanging glass lanterns above a table to turn it into a focal point,” she suggests.

The closer you get to echoing your indoor taste outside in your garden ‘room’, the more successful the result will be. Opt for accessories that would look just as good in a living room as on a terrace.

al fresco dining

9 Expert Tips to Transform Your Greenhouse from Messy Junkyard to Rustic Retreat

updating your glam greenhouse

Hannah Stephenson reveals how to banish the greenhouse clutter and create a horticultural haven instead. If you're tripping over compost bags, battling with broken pots and spent seed trays and can't find a tool in sight, your greenhouse may be in need of a serious makeover.

updating your glam greenhouse

Smart gardeners can create a space that’s not only useful for growing plants but acts as an extension of their home – a stylish, comfortable bolthole through the warmer months and beyond, with the help of a little furniture, cushions, wall art and some nifty tidying accessories.

Where to start with your makeover? Follow this greenhouse guide for inspiration, including tips from garden styling pros and Richard Baggaley, director of The Greenhouse People (greenhousepeople.co.uk)…

updating your glam greenhouse

1. Create a potting corner

To prevent clutter in your greenhouse, carefully plan your layout and segment the space into purposeful areas. Create a potting corner next to where you grow your fruit and vegetables to make planting more efficient and to save space.

This area needn’t be dull. Place seed packets in a brightly coloured tin to store them safely and add a pop of colour to your greenhouse. Rather than leaving tools in a chaotic heap, a row of hooks will keep everything off the floor and neatly stored.

updating your glam greenhouse

2. Be bold with plant choice

The greenhouse needn’t just be a space to nurture seedlings. Exotic and tender plants will thrive in the warm environment and brighten up the space.

Fill your greenhouse with a range of desert and succulent plants like cactus, agave and crassula. These easy-care plants flourish inside a greenhouse and are very on-trend.

If botany is more your style, orchids are among the most beautiful and exotic greenhouse plants. They require a high level of humidity though, so store your misting bottle nearby to keep your orchid healthy.

Tom Barry, managing director of Hartley Botanic (hartley-botanic.co.uk), adds: “Architectural tropical and subtropical species are still very popular with both homeowners and gardeners alike.

“These plants look dramatic and add height within a greenhouse which works well when combined with bench-level succulents and cacti. For colour, and to add an exotic look, orchids in pretty ‘sweet shop’ colours can be grown in individual pots.”

updating your glam greenhouse

3. Create a cosy nook

Acclaimed author and botanical stylist Selina Lake (Selinalake.co.uk), who styled for Alitex (Alitex.co.uk) at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show, suggests you update tired items such as old chairs, metal furniture or plant pots by adding a pop of colour with paints. A simple bench can be turned into a sumptuous day bed with a mass of comfy cushions.

updating your glam greenhouse

4. Use insect designs

Entomology, or the study of insects, is the new botanical trend, adds Lake. Get the look by having a go at drawing bugs on greenhouse windows using a chalk pen.

Add prints and posters in frames or clipped to bare walls and use a wire washing line for another display.

updating your glam greenhouse

5. Go for a natural look

‘Upcycling’ is the word on everyone’s lips – and for a good reason. With items sourced from second-hand shops, or even junkyards, it’s easy to go boho on a budget. Simple changes like a lick of paint on wooden furniture or changing the handles on drawers can have a huge impact, says Baggaley.

In line with environmental issues, forgo plastic items for furniture and accessories made from natural materials such as metals, rattan and bamboo.

updating your glam greenhouse

6. Find space to sit

Baggaley advises: “Add comfort to your glass-walled structure with seating and soft furnishings. Textiles will instantly soften the space and make it feel inviting.

“Be aware that these will fade under the concentrated sunlight, so shop for items with a vintage-inspired design or are second hand to accomplish the shabby-chic look.”

updating your glam greenhouse

7. Make use of mirrors

Add mirrors inside your greenhouse to reflect light and the sight of your beautiful plants, Baggaley says. Careful placement will give the illusion of more space but do consider what it will be reflecting. Try to reflect the leafy interest in your greenhouse, rather than watering cans or plastic pots.

updating your glam greenhouse

8. Use your greenhouse as a gallery

To add further interiors-inspired touches to your greenhouse, wall art is a great option to make the space ooze personality and feel more like a home.

Get creative and create your own works of art to display. You could decorate a canvas with cuttings from garden magazines, known in the art world as ‘decoupage’, for garden inspiration as well as decoration.

updating your glam greenhouse

9. Create a herb haven

Drying herbs in a greenhouse is ideal as they dry quickly under the concentrated sunlight, add scent to the space, and look decorative.

Lavender, sage and thyme retain their fragrance when dried – just try to keep them out of direct sun. They dry quickly, so check periodically and package for storage as soon as they are crisp.

Carol Klein Spills the Secrets of the Top British Gardens – So You can Copy their Success

Carol Klein garden secrets

As her new Channel 5 series Great British Gardens begins, TV garden expert Carol Klein offers tips from the head gardeners who tend them.

Carol Klein garden secrets

TV plantswoman Carol Klein has spoken to head gardeners and owners of four of Britain’s most glorious gardens to find out how they achieve such amazing results – and is now sharing the secrets of their success with the public in her new Channel 5 series Great British Gardens.

Here, she offers top tips from her visits to the gardens – which all open their doors to the public at different times of the year – to help amateur horticulturists achieve stunning results in their own plots this summer.

Carol Klein garden secrets

Great Dixter, East Sussex (greatdixter.co.uk)

Great Dixter is a gardening masterpiece and quintessential English country garden incorporating an historic house, a garden and an education centre.

It is now under the stewardship of Fergus Garrett, who became head gardener in 1992, working closely with Christopher Lloyd until he died in 2006, and the Great Dixter Charitable Trust.

Garrett’s biggest emphasis currently is upon increasing plant and animal biodiversity.

Two top tips Klein gleaned here are:

1. If some of your plants are in pots, rather than space them out, make maximum impact by grouping them together in an attractive arrangement. Incorporate houseplants out for their summer holiday to add extra interest. Go for harmony by putting together plants with similarly coloured flowers or make dramatic contrasts with leaf shapes and zingy colours.

2. Try adding height by incorporating climbing plants into your beds and borders (it’s not too late to sow nasturtiums and sweet peas). Exploiting the vertical space will add an extra dimension. You don’t need a costly obelisk, a few tall bamboo canes entwined with string will be just as effective.

Carol Klein garden secrets

Gravetye Manor, East Sussex (gravetyemanor.co.uk/the-gardens/)

Once the home and living laboratory of one of British gardening’s greatest innovators, Edwardian and Irishman William Robinson, the manor has now become a stunning country house hotel and beautiful garden.

Head gardener Tom Coward and his team have balanced the garden’s historically important heritage with the demands of a modern productive kitchen garden.

Two top tips Klein gleaned here are:

1. Recognise the beauty of so many vegetables by incorporating a few with your flowers. If you haven’t got any, invest in a packet of Rainbow Chard, sow one seed per module and in a few weeks, you’ll have plants big enough to put out and later on you can eat some of them too.

2. Even in a small border, use several of one plant at intervals throughout the border. At Gravetye Manor dahlia Magenta Star is used like this. It brings cohesion to your planting and at the same time leads your eye through it.

Carol Klein garden secrets

Gresgarth Hall, near Morecambe, North Lancashire (arabellalennoxboyd.com/gresgarth/)

This is the country house retreat of Lady Arabella Lennox-Boyd and her husband Sir Mark. Lady Arabella is one of Britain’s most renowned garden designers, with a 45-year career designing for the great and the good, and has six gold medals from the RHS Chelsea Flower Show under her belt.

Two top tips Klein gleaned here are:

1. The way you train your climbing rose is just as important as how you prune it. For an abundance of flowers, tie in some of the vertical, upward growing shoots to the horizontal. That will help all the smaller shoots along its length make buds and flowers.

2. Instead of providing a trellis for your clematis to grow up, why not train one through an early flowering shrub so that the clematis can continue the show through till the autumn? Many clematis viticella varieties will rise to the challenge, such as Clematis ‘Polish Spirit’ in deep purple or Clematis ‘Huldine’, pearly white.

Carol Klein garden secrets

John’s Garden, Ashwood Nurseries, South Staffordshire (ashwoodnurseries.com/visit-us/johns-garden/)

Set against the beautiful backdrop of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, this three acre private garden is the brainchild of award-winning plant obsessive John Massey.

It features huge informal borders, island beds, a stunning pool and rock garden, woodland dells and the charming Ruin Garden.

Two top tips Klein gleaned here are:

1. A bit of ‘transparency’ pruning makes all the difference. If shrubs or trees have turned into blobs and their branches are congested, cut some of the wood away to reveal the true nature of the shrub. Shrubs which flower early such as forsythia benefit from having branches cut back after flowering to encourage new growth and improve flowering next spring.

2. ‘Tweaking’ is an important job at John’s Garden. They keep a constant eye out to make sure that each plant can give of its best by cutting back or staking other plants that might spoil the show and ensuring that every plant can shine.

The four-part series of Great British Gardens: Season by Season with Carol Klein starts on June 4 at 9pm on Channel 5.

Father’s Day: 10 Great Gifts for the Green Fingered Types

fathers day gift garden

From new gloves and accessories to the latest high-tech tools, Hannah Stephenson rounds up her top picks for plant-loving dads.

Chelsea garden product of the year

Want to treat your dad to a gardening gift he’ll enjoy on Father’s Day and beyond? Whether it’s a plant, a patio pick-me-up or a shiny new power tool, here are 10 of the best…

fathers day gift garden

1. Tea Plant Fresh-T (£14.90, Lubera.co.uk)

Your tea-loving dad could make his own cuppa from scratch with a tea plant, Camellia sinensis, a shrub which should grow well in British gardens in either a large container or in the border. For best results, plant it in acid soil in semi-shade (use ericaceous compost if you’re putting it in a pot). It grows to around 1m in diameter and the leaves are great for green teas and fragrant tea infusions.

fathers day gift garden

2. EGO Powerload 38cm Loop Handled Line Trimmer (£279 inc battery and standard charger, Egopowerplus.co.uk)

Does your dad huff and puff when he has to replace the line on his grass trimmer? Well, this new tool from EGO can end all those frustrations of fiddly threading, looping and getting it wrong. This new gizmo, using Powerload technology, automatically winds your line trimmer. Just thread the line, press the button and the tool will do the rest. It’s got a lot of power – a 56V Arc Lithium battery gives the trimmer the oomph it needs to tackle the toughest jobs and there’s also a soft start function and constant speed control so your trimming remains consistent. Yes, it’s more expensive than other line trimmers but think of the hours of frustration you’ll be saving your dad.

fathers day gift garden

3. EasyHedgeCut 18-45 (£119.99, Bosch-garden.com)

This new cordless hedge trimmer from Bosch is great if your old man has small hedges and limited space. It’s powered by an 18-volt battery, so there’s no faffing with cables, it’s lightweight, and will cut around 160 square metres per battery charge. Each charge will last around 40 minutes and it takes 105 minutes to recharge. The battery is also interchangeable with many other Bosch DIY and garden tools.

fathers day gift garden

4. Garden Chair (From £570, Theposhshedcompany.co.uk)

A comfortable place to sit is an asset in every garden – and now your dad can have a personalised chair to relax in. Thanks to the treated wood and weatherproof design, it can be left out all year round, removing the hassle of storing it away. Available with the engravings ‘Head Gardener’, ‘The Boss’, ‘Dad’s Chair’ or ‘Grandad’s Chair’, the Posh Garden Chair adds a lovely personal touch to the garden. Additional words can be engraved for an extra cost.

fathers day gift garden

5. Master Gardener Gloves (£5.99, Townandco.com)

It’s not only Father’s Day coming up. If your dad wants to join in National Weed Your Garden Day on June 13, you could get him a new pair of gardening gloves just in time. The Master Gardener gloves will enable him to tackle weeding, pruning and a host of other tasks in comfort. They offer protection against thorns and other sharp objects and have excellent grip in wet and dry conditions.

fathers day gift garden

6. Father’s Day Gift Coffee Mug (£14, normadorothy.com)

Make him his morning coffee in his own personalised contemporary, botanical inspired enamel mug, which he can use when he’s outside too – whether taking a break from gardening or venturing further afield on a camping holiday or fishing trip. White with a black curled lip, you can choose your own personalisation and the reverse side can also have wording of your choosing on it.

fathers day gift garden

7. Super Slice Weeder (£29.99, Burgonandball.com and good garden centres nationwide)

Any dad who feels overfaced by the amount of weeding he has to do should welcome the new Super Slice, which has an extra wide head for rapid weeding. It tackles weeds on a range of surfaces, from contemporary garden aggregates to allotments, beds and borders. Hand-forged in Sheffield, the high carbon steel arrow-shaped head is 23.5cm wide, skims just below the surface and slices through weeds with minimum soil disturbance, cutting on the push and pull stroke.

fathers day gift garden

8. Folding Kneeler and Seat (£32.95, Harrodhorticultural.com)

Double up with a luxury kneeler and seat for your dad, which will also fold up flat so should be able to fit in his shed. The seat is sturdy and ideal for perching on at a comfortable height, while the padded foam kneeling pad will provide the support he needs when weeding or working at ground level. It has arm supports for help with getting up too.

fathers day gift garden

9. GoodHome Grill Set (£30, B&Q stores and Diy.com)

If your dad is a dab hand on the barbecue, make the job even easier and more enjoyable by treating him to a hot accessories kit, which includes everything he’ll need for forking, flipping, skewering and cleaning. All the accessories are uniquely designed and made from long-lasting stainless steel with soft grip handles. They come in a handy case for easy storage too.

fathers day gift garden

10. National Garden Scheme open garden visit (Prices vary, Ngs.org.uk)

Whether your dad is an allotment ace, a horticultural hero or simply a cake connoisseur, why not treat him to a garden visit over the Father’s Day weekend?

The National Garden Scheme, which raises money for nursing and health charities through admissions, tea and cakes, has 218 exceptional gardens opening on June 15 and 16. For details, visit ngs.org.uk/fathers-day-gardens/.

Innovative, Eco-Friendly and Smart: Check Out the Gardening Products of the Year

Chelsea garden product of the year

From eco-friendly home composters to super quick pizza ovens and inventive garden lighting, we look at 7 garden products of the year.

Want a composter with a difference? Or a light that doubles as a Bluetooth speaker? Or even a pot or seed tray made from bamboo?

These are just some of the finalists for the RHS Chelsea Product of the Year title which may take your fancy in the coming months, whether you’re looking for the practical, the sustainable or the high tech.

Here are 7 clever products which have impressed the RHS judges:

Chelsea garden product of the year

1. Obelisk Composter and Obelisk (£39 composter, £59 obelisk, wilstone.com)

This ingenious invention launching at RHS Chelsea Flower Show features a galvanised mild steel compost bin which you put directly on to your flower bed or in your vegetable patch, and an elegant obelisk which goes over it which you can use as a support for anything from climbing beans to sweet peas or clematis.

You scoop compostable waste directly into the drum and the resulting compost inside then feeds the growing plants directly into their roots without you having to lift or carry the compost anywhere.

Chelsea garden product of the year

2. Cuba LED lantern and combined Bluetooth speaker (£249, lightinnovation.com)

Shed a little light on your patio and enjoy music at the same time with this new lantern and combined Bluetooth speaker, which will be available from the end of May.

It’s highly portable and can be used indoors or out, recharging from 0 to 100% in six hours. The dimmable 7 watt LED light will work for up to eight hours on one charge and the lantern will connect to any Bluetooth-enabled device, from a phone to a tablet.

Chelsea garden product of the year

3. Swan Watering Can (£8, madewithhusk.com)

With an emphasis on sustainability, this swan-shaped indoor watering can (to be launched on May 20) is fully biodegradable and made from 75% waste bamboo powder collected directly from farms. Testing has shown that the product can last up to seven years, although this was based on a pot that had been left outside, so it’s likely that if kept indoors, it will last longer.

Chelsea garden product of the year

4. Hotbin mini (£150, hotbincomposting.com)

Following in the footsteps of the award-winning Hotbin which can transform your food and garden waste into rich compost within 30-90 days, its smaller sister, the Hotbin mini (launching at Chelsea) does the same thing but is easier to house in smaller gardens.

It reaches temperatures of 40-60C which allows the efficient composting of more types of waste, more quickly. All food and garden waste can be added in, including cooked food, small bones and perennial weeds.

It’s also sealed well enough, with a bio-filter in the lid, to stop odours that can attract rats and flies. Add a bulking agent such as wood chippings to aid the process.

Chelsea garden product of the year

5. ‘Grande’ Plant Belles (from £53, will be available to order from Chelsea plantbelles.co.uk)

To mark the company’s 10th year of trading, it is launching three new ‘grande’ plant belles, elegant but robust steel wire frames to support larger freestanding herbaceous plants, unruly shrub roses and other floppy heavy headed shrubs like Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’.

The new taller, wider and heavier plant belles are inspired by the Sissinghurst method of training shrub roses, offering needy plants support once grown through, but also give the gardener the chance to prune and train shrubby plants in creative ways, by looping and tying branches back to the structure.

Chelsea garden product of the year

6. Ooni Koda Gas-Powered Outdoor pizza oven (£244.99, uk.ooni.com)

If you love eating pizza in the open air and you don’t want to wait too long, you may invest in this smart, sleek pizza oven which you can assemble in seconds, place on your patio and have a pizza ready in 60 seconds.

Flip open the foldable legs, put the stone baking board into the oven, connect it to a gas tank and pre-heat the oven for 15 minutes. It reaches temperatures of up to 500C, which is why it can cook your pizza so quickly. It has a clean, streamlined silhouette paired with one-touch gas ignition for easy, convenient outdoor cooking.

Chelsea garden product of the year

7. Bamboo Pots and Seed Trays (£3.99-£6.99, www.haxnicks.co.uk)

Continuing the eco-friendly theme and the war on plastics, these bamboo pots and seed trays from Haxnicks are made from bamboo and rice, can be used indoors or outdoors and are reputed to last for five years or more. They’re also biodegradable and compostable, so give a feelgood factor to gardeners who really care about their environment.

Hanging Basket Masterclass: Here’s how to Make the Best Flower Display in 8 Easy Steps

best hanging baskets

It's time to create a riot of colour with hanging baskets. Hannah Stephenson tries a masterclass to learn the secrets of success.


So often my hanging baskets end up looking lacklustre and forlorn, with gaps where filler plants should have gone, holes in my moss liners and a lack of regular watering.


However, expert Nathan Syrett, assistant plant manager at Squire’s Garden Centres, has been running hanging basket masterclasses at its Stanmore store for a number of years, and offers the following advice to hanging basket hopefuls (including me)…

best hanging baskets

1. Choose the right materials and plants

Go for the biggest basket you can, as this will hold more compost and require slightly less watering than smaller baskets. Metal-framed baskets are ideal, but you will have to line them.

Various water-retaining liners include coir and sphagnum moss, although you can even cut up an old woolly jumper to line a basket, which will soak up the water and keep in the compost.

If using moss (which you can buy at garden centres), use long strands of it laid laterally across the inside of the basket, working from the bottom, so the moss does not escape out of the holes.

Build the lining up in circles until it reaches the top of the basket, and lift it up to make sure you can’t see any gaps.

best hanging baskets

2. Make a reservoir

Cut a small circle of plastic from your compost bag to make a reservoir in the bottom of your liner, to hold just enough water to keep the compost moist, while still allowing free drainage at the sides.

best hanging baskets

3. Add your compost

Multipurpose compost, preferably the sort which has added plant food, is ideal, although you will still have to feed your basket plants during the summer, bearing in mind how many of the nutrients will be washed away when you’re constantly watering. When you reach the top of the basket, firm the compost down so there are no air holes.

best hanging baskets

4. Choose your plants

If you want your basket to be admired from all sides, choose one larger plant to put in the centre, such as an upright fuchsia or geranium, and select around five other plants to place around it.

These could range from trailing petunias and calibrachoa, to bacopa, lobelia, nemesia, diascia and helichrysum, although there are many other suitable plants available.

best hanging baskets

5. Position the tall and the small

Try positioning your chosen plants on top of the compost before planting, so you can decide which looks best where. Make sure your gaps are even when placing the outer plants.

Usually the tallest plant will go in the centre, surrounded by the lower trailers, which need to be planted closer to the edge, but if your basket is going to face in a particular direction, put the biggest plant at the back and the lower trailers in front of it.

To minimise any damage when planting, remove each plant from its pot and use the pot alone as the planting template, easing it down into the planting hole to make it the right size. Then your plant will slot right in.

Cover it with the compost you removed to make space for the hole. Repeat using the plant pot template until all your plants are in.

best hanging baskets

6. Hang it up

Hang up your basket on a wall bracket or other hook or frame (some hanging baskets are really heavy, so make sure your bracket is secured tightly and is strong enough to take the weight).

best hanging baskets

7. Be waterwise

Water your basket well using a watering can rose. That way, the water will seep into the compost to reach your plants, rather than running straight through it.

best hanging baskets

8. Keep it healthy

Keep your basket well watered. In the height of summer you’ll need to do it twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. Feed your basket bedding plants regularly with either plant food or tomato food, following the instructions on the packet, and deadhead often to encourage further blooms.

Squire’s Garden Centres are holding Large Summer Basket Masterclasses on Friday, May 17. Tickets cost £25. For details visit squiresgardencentres.co.uk

Tool School: 5 Clever Gardening Gadgets for Spring and Summer

new technology for the garden

Get yourself some high-tech help with these time-saving technological innovations to make life easier in the garden.

The swallows have returned, tulips and wallflowers are blooming and Chris Packham and Michaela Strachan have warmed up their binoculars.

Gardeners can finally look forward to some fair-weather gardening during spring and summer.

So now is the time to invest in some new high tech gadgets to smarten up your outdoor space and make this season a fruitful one.

new technology for the garden

1. Flymo 1200 R Robotic lawnmower and charging station, £599, for stockists visit flymo.com/uk

If you live in the city and only have a small piece of grass to mow, but don’t have time to do the basics, this new Flymo robotic lawnmower may be for you.

It operates via sensors around your borders and when its charge is running low, it will know to return to its charging port before you have to carry it there.

This efficient, Lithium-Ion battery powered device is capable of effectively mowing a lawn area up to a maximum of 400m2, negotiating itself around trees and fences.

new technology for the garden

2. Chester Up & Down Solar Wall Light, £29.99, thesolarcentre.co.uk

Give your outdoor space some extra green credentials with this solar-powered wall light. All energy comes from an accompanying solar panel – no need for any fiddly wiring – resulting in a soft, warm, naturalistic glow. Sleek, waterproof, and wrought from stainless steel, this little lamp turns on automatically once darkness falls.

new technology for the garden

3. iGrill 3, £94.99, weber.com

Bid farewell to underdone or charred BBQ meat. Owners of a gas-powered Weber Genesis II, Genesis II LX, or Spirit II barbecue can invest in this weatherproof digital thermometer, which monitors the ‘doneness’ of up to four cuts of meat at once and sends its data straight through to an app on your smartphone.

new technology for the garden

4. Hozelock Cloud Controller Set, £142, johnlewis.com

This gadget allows you to control garden watering from your mobile, anywhere in the world. After attaching the controller to your garden tap, use the accompanying app to remotely set a watering schedule. The app will let you know if the weather changes back home, so you can pause watering if it turns wet or step it up when a heatwave strikes.

new technology for the garden

5. Dynamic BT Ear Protectors, £85, stihl.co.uk

If you like listening to music, and dislike having your eardrums savaged by the drone of your hedge trimmer, these Bluetooth ear protectors might just be for you. Each unit hosts a set of speakers that can connect wirelessly to your smartphone, playing for 38 hours on a single charge.

Everything you need to know about Joe Perkins new Facebook Inspired Chelsea Flower Show Garden

Joe Perkins connected Chelsea garden

As a father-of-three, garden designer Joe Perkins is well aware that social media can lure young people away from the great outdoors.

Enter Beyond The Screen, Perkins’ Facebook-sponsored show garden at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show, within which he’s going to reveal how online and offline worlds can come together.

Visitors may think the Facebook garden, set in a 10x10m plot in the ‘Space to Grow’ category, is going to be high-tech, with state-of-the-art screens and speakers popping out from behind the flora and fauna. But Perkins’ vision is very different.

It’s a coastal garden for young people, featuring plants from around the world that can withstand salt-laden winds and harsh weather. Euphorbias, agaves and maritime pines are among the plantings.

Joe Perkins connected Chelsea garden

“I’ve got plants from Mexico, the Balearics, India and the US, but the point is, they all share this tolerance of particular conditions, so they have these shared interests – which brings me back to the community groups on social media.”

Other elements of the garden include water, a copper canopy and a dramatic rock formation.

“The coastal element for me is all about connection. The oceans connect us all geographically, water connects us physiologically and as a landscape, it’s evolving, just as online communities are constantly shifting and evolving,” he explains.

There’s a copper canopy which references back to connectivity (copper is a conductor), the parallel being that social media is a conduit for global interaction.

He’s also using vertical layers of rock to show that geological forces have transformed the landscape, just as social media has changed the social environment in which we live.

Joe Perkins connected Chelsea garden

Perkins, 42, who runs his own garden design business in Brighton, has been involved in many Chelsea show gardens over the years, but this is his first solo project. He approached Facebook with a design plan, and they were quick to jump on board.

“My inspiration is a very personal one. It’s drawn from my experience of having family holidays on the Atlantic coast of Spain. My wife’s family is from the Basque country and I’ve taken my three young boys there every summer for years.”

His aim is to show how our worlds – both online and offline – collide, and he hopes the Facebook garden will spark debate about the value of social media.

“It’s about having a proper discussion around how we can use it better, and recognising the difference between how we should and shouldn’t be using it, and how we can be responsible.

“Social media is about global connection and the possibilities it’s opened up for us to connect with people all over the world, and join like-minded people in community groups, on Facebook in particular. In the UK, there’s something like 1.5 million gardeners on Facebook.”

Joe Perkins connected Chelsea garden

Facebook is partnering with the community charity Groundwork, which works with disadvantaged young people throughout the UK, on the project. Some of Groundwork’s young ambassadors will be helping to build the garden, and getting involved with moving it into the community once the show’s over.

“While you can argue that young people have less inclination to go out and engage with nature, you could equally argue that they’re doing a lot of positive stuff online, and a lot of that involves gardening,” Perkins says.

Joe Perkins connected Chelsea garden

On a personal level, Perkins’ sons’ introduction to social media isn’t too far away, with the eldest aged 12 and the youngest aged eight.

“That’s really why I wanted to explore and open up the debate about what we should be doing as parents. How can we help young people, and what do they themselves think about the time they spend online? Many people of my generation feel that time spent online is negative, but what do younger people think?

“Independent research has found that young people feel a lot of the time they spend online is productive and positive, because they engage in community groups, community projects, shared interest groups and keeping in touch with friends and family. That can reduce loneliness, help engagement and actually get stuff done in the real world.

“Obviously, the negatives are mental health and wellbeing, and all the headlines we’ve read about. But social media isn’t going away, so let’s look at what’s good about it, talk about what’s bad and see if we can actually produce a healthy discussion about how we can move forward.”

And what if the only thing you see your teenager doing in the garden is taking a selfie, unaware of the real beauty that lies around them?

“By doing that, young people are broadcasting our fantastic industry around the world,” he says.

“Look at the big UK growth in interior plants. It’s clear from social media that young people are very interested in plants and how they can use them to decorate their houses. If you can make gardening cool and desirable, that can only be a good thing.”

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show runs from May 21-25. For details visit rhs.org.uk

Make a Splash for Wildlife: Here’s how to Create your own Mini-Pond

As charities focus this year's Wild About Gardens challenge on ponds, this step-by-step guide will help you build your own pocket-sized pool.

create mini pond

Fancy a pond but don’t have much space? Now’s your chance to make waves with a mini-pond – which will not only look pretty, but will also attract beneficial insects and other wildlife to your plot.

Gardeners across the UK are being urged to encourage wildlife with water, as ponds form this year’s Wild About Gardens challenge, from The Wildlife Trusts and the RHS.

The UK has lost ponds, rivers and streams at a rapid rate, and only a small amount of our natural ponds and wetlands remain, the charities warn.

Helen Bostock, senior horticultural advisor at the RHS, observes: “Even cheap container ponds made from upcycled materials will quickly be colonised by a whole host of creatures, and help form a living chain of aquatic habitats across the neighbourhood.”

Here’s how to build a mini-pond yourself…

create mini pond

1. Choose your spot

Your mini-pond will need some sunlight, but not full sunlight all day. Make sure it’s in shade for some of the time. Light shade is fine and will reduce water loss. If you are thinking of placing it under a tree, a few fallen leaves aren’t a worry. However, heavy shade under a tree, together with lots of leaves blowing in, isn’t a good spot for a container pond.

A patio is ideal as it’s where you are likely to spend time watching all the wildlife come and go. But remember to add a wildlife ramp inside and out, and ideally cluster with other pots so amphibians such as frogs have a little cover while coming and going.

The best way to create shade is with another plant or two (they can be in pots), perhaps a Japanese maple or some tall grasses.

2. What type of container is best?

Be creative – is there anything you could upcycle, such as a washing-up bowl, wheelbarrow basin, sawn-off plastic dustbin, half barrel, rubber trug, large plant pot or sink?

You can easily recycle an old sink or bowl, but make sure it’s watertight. If you are using a garden container that has drainage holes in the bottom, use a piece of pond liner to cover the holes.

Unglazed terracotta containers may lose water through the sides very slowly, though quicker on hotter days. It depends on the quality of the terracotta. There will be a degree of water loss through evaporation, whatever the container.

Your pond will need a wide ‘neck’ so wildlife can get in and out. Other than that, the shape really doesn’t matter. Sink your pond or add a ramp for creatures to access.

create mini pond

3. Choose the right plants

Water forget-me-not and flowering rush are pretty. Other suitable specimens include waterlily (Nymphaea ‘Pygmaea Helvola’), Lesser spearwort (Ranunculus flammula) and Starwort (Callitriche stagnalis).

Avoid anything that is too invasive or vigorous. Water soldier and sweet flag are unsuitable for small ponds.

4. Place your plants in baskets

Place aquatic plants in baskets lifted up to the correct level of the water by standing them on bricks, stones or other pots. Aquatic baskets are ideal as they allow plenty of water flow around the roots, although normal planting pots can work too.

Use aquatic compost, which can be bought from specialist aquatic nurseries. This is heavy (so plants won’t float away) but low in nutrients (so the water won’t turn green with algae).

create mini pond

5. Fill your mini-pond with rainwater

Install a water butt to collect rainwater with which to fill your pond, and continue to use this water to top up if levels drop. Check on levels a couple of times a week in hot weather and top up as needed.

But don’t panic – even if the levels drop to half way, most creatures will survive. If desperate, just use tap water, but this contains nutrients so it’s not a good idea to regularly top up with this.

You won’t need a pump in a mini-pond to stop the water stagnating. It may go a little green at first or before the plants fill out, but it will settle down.

6. Tackle weed problems

If you get blanket weed, remove it by hand or use a barley straw extract available from pond specialist companies. Water in a wildlife pond will usually settle into a balance without needing a lot of treatments.

For more information, download the Big or Small, Ponds for All booklet – a step-by-step guide to creating the perfect pond at Wild About Gardens (wildaboutgardens.org.uk).

create mini pond

How to make your Garden a Plastic-Free Zone

There are different materials and products out there to help you go plastic-free in the garden. Hannah Stephenson looks at 5 options.

So, you want to help stop the scourge of plastic by making your garden a plastic-free zone?

It’s estimated that 500 million plant pots and seed trays are sold each year, the majority of which are sent to landfill or incinerated.

Few garden centres offer take-back pot recycling or reuse schemes at present, although you can check at Recycle Now (recyclenow.com/local-recycling) to see if your council recycles plant pots, though these also tend to be few and far between.

plastic free garden

Plastic gardening products can take up to 450 years to biodegrade if they aren’t recycled, according to greenhouse manufacturer The Greenhouse People (greenhousepeople.co.uk), which has put together some top tips for going plastic-free:

plastic free garden

1. Seek alternatives

It may seem obvious, but the most effective way to reduce plastic in your garden is to simply stop buying it.

With demand growing, more garden centres are offering biodegradable pots made using materials such as coir (from coconut husks), wood chips, rice husks and seaweed. Terracotta also makes a great rustic alternative.

If you’re feeling extra resourceful, scoop out the insides of half a lemon and fill with soil, before scattering a small number of seeds. Once the seedlings sprout, you can transfer to a larger area. Lemon peel also acts as a natural fertiliser, making it a great multi-purpose alternative to plastic.

Use biodegradable jute netting to tie in peas and beans, rather than plastic netting, and wire mesh to create fruit caging to protect your harvest from birds.

plastic free garden

2. Try wooden seed trays

They will still get your seeds off to a flying start and are much more eco-friendly than plastic ones. You can also now buy bamboo seed trays which are biodegradable. You can even plant seeds such as broad beans and sweet peas in loo roll tubes.

plastic free garden

3. Make use of broken pots

One of the main benefits of plastic is that it’s durable and very unlikely to break. The same cannot be said for the more brittle terracotta and ceramic pots.

But don’t dispose of them if they break. Plant pot shards are easy to repurpose by placing them at the base of larger pots to improve drainage, or stick them in the ground and write on them to create handy plant labels.

plastic free garden

4. Choose tools wisely

When it comes to gardening tools, it’s important to think about durability, comfort, as well as the interests of the environment.

With this in mind, if you’re serious about reducing the amount of plastic in your garden, opt for metal tools with wooden handles, which should outlast their plastic rivals.

Metal can rust, so a little TLC is needed at the end of each season to keep them in tip-top condition. Clean each tool with a rag or brush, using warm soapy water, then when dry, spray with WD-40 or rub down with mineral oil. Store by hanging on hooks (away from the damp floor) in a dry airy location for the winter.

gardening with kids

5. Be caring and sharing

If you find you’ve somehow accumulated lots of plastic-based tools and equipment, don’t fret.

Should you use a community allotment or have friends who also enjoy a spot of gardening, why not suggest sharing your plastic equipment or handing it down?

Be a green pioneer and inspire fellow gardeners with the changes you’re making and they may just follow suit. Remember, knowledge is power, so if you’re serious about preserving the environment, lead by example.

How to Transform a Garden Shed in a few Steps – and 7 ways to use the Spruced up Space.

There's much more to sheds than cobwebs, unused bikes and rusting toolkits. The possibilities are endless.

shed renovation

Do you have an old shed (or even a relatively new one) quietly rotting away at the bottom of your garden? It may be housing a few rusting tools or a long-neglected lawn-mower, but is it really paying its way?

Sheds like this can go one of two ways. They can drift towards degradation, becoming grotty grime-holes that kids run past after dark, ruining the aesthetic of even the most lovingly crafted garden. Or, you can take things in hand and turn it into a designer den.

We know which option we like the sound of. Tempted to work some transformation magic and take your shed from drab to fab? These simple steps should help get you started, along with seven suggestions for how to use it…

shed renovation

Start with the basics

First things first – you need your shed to be structurally sound, and even relatively recent models often aren’t. Replace any rotting boards, use wood filler to seal gaps in the walls or ceiling, and mend any really large cracks that can’t be papered over.

Next get the place clean – and we’re not talking about a 30 seconds of abject sweeping, we mean properly clean. You don’t want to be painting over any spider’s webs or lichen and you certainly don’t want to conceal any rot, so a once-over with a fungicidal wash might be a worthwhile move too.

shed renovation

Perfect your paintwork

Now for the colour: Apply a layer of oil-based primer, and once it dries you’re ready for your first layer of paint (always check products are suitable, and ask a specialist shop for advice if unsure). Paint pumps are much faster than brushes and power sprayers are faster still, but a simple roller will still be perfectly effective.

Remember to put down a tarpaulin to protect nearby areas (grass doesn’t like paint much more than flooring), and cover hinges, handles and window frames with masking tape to stave off unwanted splash. Let it dry, repeat, and let dry again. Depending on your materials, a decent two-coat paint job should last up to five years.

Just like that, your shed has shifted from haunted shack to handsome beach hut.

shed renovation

Keep it cosy

Damp is the number one enemy of a shed-turned-living space, and its number one entry point is from the ground, so it may be time to surface your floor. We recommend vinyl sheeting – it’s relatively cheap, insulating, easy to clean and fares well with heavy footfall. It can even do a creditable imitation of the hardwood floors so many homeowners crave. Most importantly, it’s waterproof, and seasoned DIY-ers can install it by hand in a single sheet.

Unless your shed is for seasonal use only, you may need to insulate more than just your floor. Mineral wool; wood fibre; insulation board – you’ve got plenty of options, but it’s advisable to get in a professional for a job like this.

shed renovation

Fixtures and fixings

Your shed is now fundamentally functional, but if you are really going to make the most of your new-found space, you’ll probably want lights and a heater. Battery operated appliances do work well, but in the long run it may be more convenient to wire up a power supply. Of course, suitability and safety are paramount for anything like this – so call in the professionals before making elaborate plans, and make sure any electrical jobs are done by a qualified electrician.

Otherwise, experiment at your leisure: Deck out the front area as a makeshift patio, hang some fairy lights for extra cosiness. You could even look into adding solar panels to the roof to boost sustainability.

shed renovation

How to use it?

Your shed is your oyster – and pearls are in the making. When it comes to exactly what to do with your newly-spruced up shed, the options are almost endless, and though luxuries like a Jacuzzi might require a little extra elbow grease (and cash!), you can conquer some quite nifty designs with minimal extra effort. Check out these seven ideas for inspiration…

1. The home office

In the age of the internet, laptop and smartphones, more and more people are working from home – and it’s hugely helpful to have somewhere specific to work, that’s away from your TV/bed/toddler. You’ll probably want to add Wi-Fi – and be sure that heater is working in winter – but many a good book has been written and small business begun from the ‘office at the bottom of the garden’.

2. The ‘pub’ shed

This one’s a lot easier than you’d think. Pick up a flat-pack table-top to serve as a bar, throw in a few stools, a dustbin and a cooler (an ice box would do) and technically you’re done. From there, the devil is in the decor: Pin up some posters, chuck a few beer mats on the counter, line the back wall with empty bottles, erect a shelf for your spirits and another for your pint glasses. Before you know it, your mates will be round your backyard every night complaining that you don’t have Sky Sports.

3. The play shed

Playroom or play-house, a little home of their own can keep the kids happy for hours. A cardboard box cooker (or commercially made plastic one) with dishes and utensils, a little table and chairs and they’re set. You might like to help them make curtains for the window or decorate the walls. Maybe even throw in a couple of sleeping bags and let them camp out for the night.

shed renovation

4. The hobby house

Teenage son wants to play the drums? Partner sick of your model train set covering the sitting room floor? Sheds are the perfect place for housing hobbies the rest of family doesn’t share. They may not contain a whole rock band of course, but it’s certainly be better than having them in the kitchen.

5. The art studio

Sheds are particularly good at keeping mess away from your actual home, and allowing the creative process to go on unhindered at any time of day or night. Paint splashes, oozes of glue and a soft layer of wood shavings are much more acceptable in the shed than in the dining room, while paints or tools can be positioned permanently on the walls in perfectly easy reach.

6. The man cave

We’re not sure why this a male thing particularly (women, quite fairly, might like some peace and quiet sometimes too), but the man-cave-shed is certainly a thing. A comfortable old sofa (if it can fit through the door; cushions and beanbags if it can’t), a telly, games console and sound system are all simple plug-ins for the well-wired garden room, and roomier models might squeeze in a pool table as well.

7. The teen den

Rather than escaping to the shed yourself, why not hang onto the house and banish the kids instead? Much the same provision as the man-cave should keep them happy – if perhaps with a different set of tunes. The teens get a bit of privacy while you get a quieter life, while still knowing where they are. Win win.

shed renovation

5 Fun Ways to get your Kids into the Garden this Spring

gardening with kids

Lee Connelly, aka the 'Skinny Jean Gardener', says encouraging green fingers is all about making it fun. As the weather warms up, it's time to don coats and wellies and fire up the imagination to encourage your kids to get into the garden, with fun projects to stimulate their interest.

Podcaster, former Blue Peter gardener and RHS social media host Lee Connelly, known as the ‘Skinny Jean Gardener’, is creating a children’s garden at this year’s Ideal Home Show (idealhomeshow.co.uk).

“A study by the National Trust has found that our children nowadays are spending half the amount of time outdoors as we used to when we were younger,” says Connelly. “Getting outside is all about creating memories as a family. Just getting out there, playing games and stimulating the imagination is what it’s all about.”

Fancy getting your youngsters outside for some green-fingered fun? Here, with help from his four-year-old daughter, Olive, Connelly offers five tips on how to encourage kids to get off their screens and into the great outdoors…

1. Give them their own space

Let them have their own patch in your vegetable bed or allotment. If you have limited space, use an old washing-up bowl, putting holes in the base for drainage and then creating a mini-allotment for them.

Good crops to plant include salad leaves and other fast-growing vegetables, so they can see the results quickly. “If you have an allotment, give them their own space to do what they want,” says Connelly. “It gives them a sense of responsibility. Just be there for guidance.”

gardening with kids

2. Encourage them to grow their own

“My daughter didn’t used to like eating vegetables much, until she started growing them,” says Connelly. “But start them off growing something they like eating, or they won’t care about it as much.

“Tomatoes, lettuce and peppers are a good bet. My daughter loves going to our allotment and picking the tomatoes and the strawberries and eating them while we’re down there. Pumpkins and runner beans are also good to sow.”

gardening with kids

3. Encourage wildlife

Children will be engaged when they see butterflies, beetles and other bugs. “We have a hedgehog home in our garden and we often see them in the evenings,” says Connelly. “Make your own hedgehog home – it’s cheap and easy and you can use things you have around the house. Use a plastic box that you can cut holes out of and put up against a fence line. Cover the box with natural materials such as wood. Everything needs to be accessible and easy.”

gardening with kids

4. Make wildflower seedballs

“If your kids like getting messy, this is a lot of fun,” he says. “You get clay, compost, water and wildflower seeds, mix them all together and you make these small wildflower seedballs.

“Dry them on the windowsill and then find a spare area of the garden, throw the seedballs on there and lots of wildflowers will pop up in the summer, attracting bees and butterflies.”

You can also make butterfly fizzy pop by mixing a sugary drink for them. Get a plastic bottle, put a water and sugar mix in the bottle and give it a shake to dilute it, then stuff a sponge into the neck of the bottle and hang it upside down in the garden with string. The sugary mixture will seep through the sponge, creating a magnet for butterflies.

gardening with kids

5. Make a runner bean teepee

Children love to make dens in the garden, but this one could have added interest. Create a wigwam out of bamboo, leaving a space for the entrance. You can then dig a trench around where it needs to be placed, ready to plant runner beans at the end of May or in June.

The beans will grow around the wigwam and provide shelter for the children, as well as some delicious beans. You can move it each year around the garden. Line the floor of the den with bark, gravel or matting for the kids to sit on.

Connelly’s children’s garden at the Ideal Home Show features ideas from schoolchildren, as well as his own designs. He will be hosting gardening workshops at the Ideal Home Show, open from March 22 until April 7 at Olympia London. For tickets, see idealhomeshow.co.uk.

The Do’s and Dont’s of being a vegan gardener.

Committed vegan and gardening expert Matthew Appleby shares some of his top tips. If you care about what you eat, you probably care about how food is grown too. So if you're a gardener who likes to grow their own, and - like many others right now - have decided to go vegan, then it's useful to know how to approach this at every stage of the process.

So says committed vegan and gardening expert Matthew Appleby, whose new book, Super Organic Gardener: Everything You Need to Know About A Vegan Garden, explains all – from the types of produce you might go for, to the techniques you’ll need to use to ensure your garden remains truly vegan.

“Vegans believe animal farming is wasteful of land and resources, cruel to animals and the resulting milk, dairy and eggs are bad for their health. While they seek to remove the foods from their diet, other aspects of making a lifestyle truly vegan may have been overlooked,” says Appleby. “Cutting out animal inputs in your garden, as well as growing the best products for a vegan diet, and how to be a truly animal-friendly gardener, are the subjects of my new book.”

how to be a vegan gardener

He says he hopes to bridge the gap between vegan food and vegan lifestyle.

“Many gardeners who care about animals and who care about the origins of what they eat, may not be aware of the impact eating animals or animal products has on the environment, or their health (let alone the animals themselves), and they may not know their gardening and growing their own is part of the problem,” he adds.

Here, Appleby offers some of the key dos and don’ts of being a vegan gardener…

how to be a vegan gardener

DON’T… Use animal manures

As well as avoiding animal manures, vegans don’t use blood, fish and bone products. “You can make your own fertiliser to replace blood, fish and bone products – the by-products of the slaughterhouse, which can also attract vermin to your plot,” says Appleby. “I make comfrey ‘tea’ by stewing the herb in a bucket of water, which I strain off to give plants a tonic. Comfrey contains high levels of potassium, nitrogen and phosphorus, which are the essential nutrients for plant growth. Seaweed is good too.”

DO… Make your own compost

“Making compost to replace animal manures is a cornerstone of vegan gardening. Animal manures can contain harmful bacteria such as e-coli, and they are the by-products of the animal farming system, which vegans do not want to support,” Appleby adds. “Compost made from green and brown organic material and (vegetable) food waste make up your growing media. Commercial mixes from companies such as Fertile Fibre (fertilefibre.com) are now available too.”

To make vegan compost, use grass cuttings, leaves, garden clippings and vegan food bin waste.

how to be a vegan gardener

DO… Make your own fertiliser from comfrey

“Comfrey is good at sucking up nutrients from the soil and contains calcium, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin A, C and other trace materials. Grow comfrey by, with permission, digging up a bit of someone’s crop. When divided, it grows again easily and produces leaf rapidly. You can buy root cuttings to plant from May-September.”

Make a comfrey liquid feed by filling a container with leaves and topping up with water. Leave to steep for a week and pour the liquid onto crops. Then add the used comfrey to the compost pile, where its nutrients will both enrich the whole heap and encourage decomposition.

DO… Use alternative plant tonics

These include rock dust, ash and rotted woodchip.

DO… Grow green manure

Grow a green manure by sowing nitrogen-rich seeds, such as red or white clover, over winter on bare soil. This fixes nitrogen from the air and brings up minerals from the ground, as well as stopping bare soil eroding. Plant as a cover crop, and as an under-sown crop. Rake it in two weeks before planting potatoes.

In the spring, sow trefoils, crimson or sweet clover, mustard, buckwheat or phacelia. Vetch, lucerne, mustard, buckwheat, phacelia and red and white clover are also good for autumn planting.

how to be a vegan gardener

DO… Grow your own protein and iron-rich veg

Include artichokes or broccoli in your planting scheme, to make sure your vegan diet is not lacking in any essential minerals and vitamins.

DO… Deter animals that might eat your crops

Grow banks of plants that predators live in, including buddleia, nettle, dandelion, horsetail, grey willow and brambles. Also include log piles as insect habitats.

DO… Be prepared to sacrifice some of your crops

Sacrificial crops, which will keep pests at bay, include nasturtiums and nettles (aphids), chervil (slugs), French marigold (slugs and thrips), and radish (flea beetle). Netting, scents and scarers are all alternatives to killing ‘pests’.

DON’T… Kill wildlife and insects, including slugs

Make room in your garden for all living creatures, who will help provide the balance of nature in their own way.

how to be a vegan gardener

Super Organic Gardener: Everything You Need to Know About A Vegan Garden by Matthew Appleby is published by Pen & Sword on January 31, priced £16.99.

How To Make Your Own Christmas Wreath Using Succulents

Follow this step-by-step guide to creating a door wreath using on point succulent plants, which will last into the New Year.

DIY Christmas wreath succulents

If you want to go chic on the Christmas wreath front this year, consider succulents – they’ll last through the festive season and may even transfer to your garden later on.

Living wreaths give a great natural look indoors and out, but you’ll need different plants for different places – so indoors, you can experiment with echeveria and haworthia, while for an outdoor wreath, you can use succulent alpine plants such as sedum or sempervivum.

DIY Christmas wreath succulents

Here, Claire Bishop, plants buyer at Dobbies Garden Centres (dobbies.com) offers this step-by-step guide to creating your own natural succulent door wreath for Christmas…

What you need to get started: 12 succulent alpine plants, like sedum or sempervivum (house leeks), selecting small plants in 5cm or 9cm pot sizes; moss, an oasis ring, florists wire, wire cutters and pins.

DIY Christmas wreath succulents

1. Cover your oasis ring

Soak your moss in water and use it to cover the oasis ring completely

DIY Christmas wreath succulents

2. Position your plants

Place the plants one by one into the oasis ring, securing with pins as you go

DIY Christmas wreath succulents

3. Secure the wreath

To make your wreath extra secure, wrap florists wire around it to reduce any movement.

DIY Christmas wreath succulents

4. Complete the look

Add some finishing touches to fill any gaps – pine cones or red berries are great for adding a festive touch.

DIY Christmas wreath succulents

Living wreaths are perfect for indoors or out, but the type of plants used will depend on where you are ultimately going to display it.

“For an indoor wreath, succulents are the perfect choice as they love a drier climate and are very low maintenance,” says Bishop.

“They have become one of the most popular indoor houseplants due to their stand-out style, with Instagram feeds and Pinterest boards awash with cool cacti displays and trendy terrariums. This take on the wreath gives the succulent a new lease of life for the festive season.

DIY Christmas wreath succulents

“When it comes to choosing the right ones, in general, the greenest succulents will fare the best indoors. Succulents thrive in as much light as possible, so displaying your wreath in view of a window is ideal.”

If you are making a wreath for your door to greet guests, choose small plants in 5cm or 9cm pot sizes and try alternating the types of plants for maximum visual impact.

She continues: “If you’ve opted for an indoor wreath using succulents, make sure it looks its best by watering it once a week. You can do this by soaking your oasis ring in water and using a misting spray if required.

“For outdoor alpines, depending on position, mist if and when required to keep plants looking fresh.”