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.

Maldivians are Planting a Community Spirit by Going Farm to Fork

Maldives farm to fork

On a remote coral island in the Maldives, Hannah Stephenson discovers a rural community which has turned its sandy landscape into a farming haven.

Maldivian farmer Ali cuts open a heavy, juicy watermelon from his plot of land, proudly presenting us each with a slice, juice dripping, still warm from the sun.

Standing on his small farm in Meedhoo, an island within the Addu Atoll, the southernmost group of islands in the Maldives – next stop Antarctica – you could be a million miles away from the luxurious five-star resorts complete with picture postcard white beaches, aquatic lagoons, over-water villas and swaying coconut palms synonymous with these islands.

Walking past a corrugated shack, which doubles as his shed, Ali proudly shows us his farm, which looks a bit like a huge allotment.

Watermelons and honeydews are ripening on the ground in the sun, many of which serve the discerning clients at the nearby deluxe Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort & Spa on neighbouring Villingili Island.

Maldives farm to fork

Ali is one of 50 farmers on Meedhoo who have helped form a cooperative to clean up their land and make it more productive, in partnership with the Shangri-La group, and tourists are now being offered the chance to see how this partnership is working in a new farm-to-plate experience.

Since the tourist boom of the 1970s, hotel-islands (there’s only one resort hotel or complex per island in the Maldives) were originally developed with the aim of keeping Western visitors separated from the Muslim localities.

But trends are changing and, despite the continuing political unrest of this nation, tourists are growing more curious about local communities and their cultures, seeking more authentic travel experiences.

The location of Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort is not only ideal for the luxurious fly-and-flop break, where tourists can boast that they’ve crossed the Equator, spotted turtles, seen manta rays and prolific pods of spinner dolphins or enjoyed a round of golf, but being close to the other islands which form the Addu Atoll also allows easy access to an insight into local life.

 

Maldives farm to fork

Once you’ve had a few days to wind down and admire the glorious vista of the turquoise Indian Ocean, the sublime white beaches and the sumptuous accommodation, you may want to sample a true taste of Maldivian life.

A 10-minute speed boat trip takes us to Meedhoo Island, which spans 2km x 2.5km, where we are presented with garlands of frangipani and bougainvillea by beautiful Maldivian children dressed in traditional Dhiveli libaas, dresses with ornate necklines made from traditional weaving, watched proudly by their hijab-clad mothers.

Meedhoo is clearly new to tourism. Only a few years ago, the small beach on which we are standing was a rubbish dump awash with plastic bottles, rusty cans and other debris, a makeshift landfill from its 3,500-population.

Today, thanks to the work of concerned members of the community who formed an NGO to clean up their island and educate adults and children in all matters of eco-friendliness, there’s not a plastic bottle or bag in sight. Adults and children still take part in regular beach cleans three years on and a local waste management company removes the rubbish.

Here, female tourists are politely asked to wear attire which covers their shoulders and knees in respect of the Muslim faith.

Driving on the sandy road past 900-year-old Koagannu, the oldest cemetery in the Maldives, we come across an impressive school hidden behind bright blue walls, while a peppering of stylish gated houses in subtle shades of lemon clash with nearby tired, older buildings with corrugated roofs and fading pink painted walls. Traditional houses used to be made of corals but, of course, that doesn’t happen anymore.

Maldives farm to fork

By the look of things, tourism has clearly helped some prosper on Meedhoo but has been slower to transform life for others.

With a population of 3,500 to feed, farming has always been big here but now it’s bigger. On one farm, we walk past deep troughs of leafy Chinese cabbages, huge banana trees and beds of yam, whose voluminous leaves are known as elephant ears, and are asked to remove our shoes before entering a large greenhouse filled with rows of lofty cucumber plants bearing dangling ripening fruits.

It’s one of four greenhouses made possible through a $15,900 (approx £12,200) loan in 2013 from the Shangri-La group to the cooperative, which has helped increase farming production massively, so much so that Meedhoo and its neighbouring islands in the atoll now provide the resort with around 15% of its fruit and vegetables. The farmers paid back the cost of the greenhouses within 10 months, which was deducted from the resort’s weekly supply.

Hot Maldivian chillis, papaya, bananas and a variety of salad leaves are flourishing on the cultivated land. Fragrant frangipani, bougainvillea and other flowers grown on the island also serve the resort.

Maldives farm to fork

So how can they grow such rich produce on a bed of coral sand?

Rotten leaf matter on the island is broken down to make soil richer, although compost also has to be imported from Sri Lanka and India to beef up the terrain, while great tanks gather rainwater for the crops.

And while problems of whitefly, thrips (an insect) and mites sometimes threaten the harvest, the biggest challenge for farmers is the changing weather patterns resulting in a longer rainy season, says the community environmental officer Mohamed Kamir.

But efforts are being made to expand the types of crops which may be able to cope with changing weather conditions.

Earlier in the day, we visited the resort’s own chef’s garden to pick vegetables and herbs to use in our dishes at dinner.

There’s an abundance of mint, dill and basil, as well as gourds, aubergines, courgettes and spring onions, Chinese cabbage and rocket, all of which provide some of the resort’s needs.

If the chef’s garden cultivates a new variety successfully, it will teach the Meedhoo farmers how to grow and care for the plants, so that they can expand their own crops.

So, as we sit down to our delicious farm-to-plate dinner in stylish settings on Villingili later that evening, featuring locally-caught wahu carpaccio, meaty tuna with lemongrass veloute with some of the herbs and vegetables we picked earlier in the chef’s garden, and fruit cocktail with mango soup courtesy of the farmers of Meedhoo, nothing could really taste sweeter.

Maldives farm to fork

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.”

New Campaign Urges Consumers To Buy British Christmas Trees

christmas trees

A new campaign has been launched by Grown in Britain to encourage UK consumers to buy more assured British grown Christmas trees.

Grown in Britain says many people may be assuming they are buying fresh British grown trees, when they are not. The organisation is urging consumers to support rural businesses in Britain and reduce ‘tree miles’ by checking where their Christmas tree comes from before they buy.

christmas trees grower

According to Government statistics, £3 million pounds worth of real Christmas trees were imported into the UK last year.

Grown in Britain has created a Christmas tree licensing scheme that operates throughout the supply chain from growers to retailers and provides an assurance that trees are fresh and grown in the UK in a responsible way with due regard to the environment.

Chief Executive Dougal Driver says: “The UK has a flourishing Christmas tree growing sector and our auditing process checks that trees are definitely from the UK, grown responsibly and meet a strict forest floor to shop floor freshness test.”

He adds: “This is the start of the campaign with approximately 50,000 Christmas trees currently licensed for sale, but the public can really make a difference by asking their stockists to supply assured Grown in Britain trees now and in the future. This will help ensure the number of assured homegrown Christmas trees rises over time, with a consequential boost to the UK’s rural economy.”

To find out your nearest supplier of Grown in Britain licensed Christmas trees, look at the licence holder map on the Grown in Britain website www.growninbritain.org

christmas trees growing

Fed Up With Smog? 5 Pollution-Resistant Plants to Help you Breathe

As the government pledges the funding of millions of trees in cities to ease pollution, an expert offers a guide to 5 smog-resistant plants.

pollution resistant plants

The government is proposing to fund the planting of millions of trees to boost housing prices in cities, to improve green spaces and help preserve the environment, gardeners can also do their bit by planting pollution-resistant plants.

David Mitchell, buying manager for horticulture at Wyevale Garden Centres, says: “Plants do have a hard time with pollution. Since the leaves need to ‘breathe’, anything that limits that exchange, such as airborne gasses or if the pores are blocked by dust and grime, will limit their potential.

“Fruit trees in particular can struggle and yields can be as low as half of what they would be in cleaner air.”

Here are five of his favourite pollution-tolerant plants and how to care for them…

pollution resistant plants

1. Pyrus calleryana ‘Chanticleer’

This ornamental pear is an exceptionally good tree for small urban gardens, with its upright, narrow shape and branches that are smothered with white blossom early in spring (April to May).

The leaves turn a vibrant red and purple in the autumn before falling and some years, the tree will produce small inedible brown fruits. It does best in moist but well drained soil (clay, sand or loam) and in full sun.

pollution resistant plants

2. Buddleia

Known as the butterfly bush, Buddleia produces clusters of deep scented flowers from midsummer into autumn. Rich in nectar, this fast-growing, hardy deciduous shrub attracts butterflies, bees and other insects, and thrives in any well-drained soil (chalk, loam or sand).

pollution resistant plants

3. Camellia

Producing rich, colourful flowers with ruffled petals and golden stamens in late winter into spring (February to April), which are offset by glossy evergreen leaves, the camellia proves that beautiful plants can also be tolerant to pollution.

Plant in light shade, in shelter, and in moist but well-drained, humus-rich, lime-free soil (loam) or in a container, in ericaceous (lime-free) compost.

pollution resistant plants

4. Buxus sempervirens

This classic British native evergreen is ideal for low hedging, boundaries or divisions in formal gardens in both modern and traditional settings.

It responds well to being trimmed and thrives in the shade, and most well-drained soils (chalk, loam or sand). It’s excellent for growing in containers, as topiary and for training as feature plants.

pollution resistant plants

5. Berberis

This easy-to-grow barberry has spiny shoots and simple leaves. Soft yellow or orange flowers appear in spring (April to May) and are followed by small berries in the autumn. This deciduous or evergreen shrub will succeed in a wide range of conditions. Plant in full sun or partial shade in well-drained humus-rich soil (chalk, loam or sand), although it will be tolerant of most soils as long as they are reasonably well-drained.

Plant Identification and Advice at your Fingertips: 4 of the Best Free Gardening Apps

Want to identify a plant? Need some advice or just want to connect with other gardeners? Hannah Stephenson checks out four free apps to help you.

free garden apps plant identification

Thanks to the advent of mobile phones and other digital devices, we need never come inside again (weather permitting) to investigate the identity of a plant or consult our gardening calendar – there’s now a plethora of apps to do it for us.

These days we are just a green-fingered tap away from being able to identify plants, connect with a wider gardening community, find out how to tackle plant disease and pest control, and organise our gardening calendar.

Here are four of the best apps to save you time and answer those gardening conundrums…

free garden apps plant identification

1. SmartPlant (Android, IOS, smartplantapp.com)

This app used to be known as PlantSnapp but is among the best of the bunch for plant identification and advice.

You take a picture of your plant for identification, or scan the barcode of a plant (partnered with various garden centres and nurseries) you’ve bought to give you monthly care information, identifying your plant’s maintenance needs, possible pests and diseases and searching for plants to add to your collection. It also has a digital care calendar.

It’s also now linked to Alexa, who can give you care advice for your plants, or describe a specific plant. Although the app is free, you can upgrade by paying for membership which gives you unlimited chat access to horticultural experts, as well as plant care advice and notifications.

free garden apps plant identification

2. Garden Tags (Android, IOS, gardentags.com)

This site is a great way to connect with other gardeners as it’s community-based, so fellow green-fingered enthusiasts can share their knowledge with you.

The community of more than 100,000 gardeners not only helps identify plants, but offers gardening advice, tips and ways to tackle tasks, as well as suggesting how to deal with pests.

You can share your successes and failures with a captive audience, who’ll be quick to encourage, sympathise and help. Unlike other apps, when you take a picture of your plant it will ask you to share it with the community or with friends on Facebook and Twitter for identification or advice. You can tag a question with the picture and then just wait for the community’s response.

free garden apps plant identification

3. RHS Grow Your Own (Android, IOS, rhs.org.uk/advice/grow-your-own/app)

From the world’s foremost horticultural charity comes this helpful app, which does what it says on the tin.

It offers easy-to-access advice about all manner of edibles, in alphabetical order, month-by-month growing, planting and harvesting guides, plus information about common problems, along with help in choosing varieties depending on space, time you have to tend your crops and your experience. It also offers reminders of what to do when.

free garden apps plant identification

4. Garden Answers (Android, IOS, gardenanswers.com)

This is a really easy-to-use plant identifier, that gives you an instant answer from its 20,000-plant database.

Just take a picture of the plant, or load it from an existing image on your phone, and it will come back with an answer in seconds. I found it wasn’t always completely accurate, but most of the time it got it right. And it’s quick, so you’re not waiting around in your garden for a response.

For £1.99 you can upgrade to ask a horticulturist for advice. It also identifies pests and has a detailed Q&A section covering a wealth of common gardening problems.

5 Last-minute garden jobs to do before winter arrives.

Almost time to batten the hatches before winter arrives - but you still have time to do last-minute garden jobs to beat the winter chill.

5 garden jobs before winter

You may have been enjoying the balmy autumn, but as the sweaters and woolly socks come out, it’s almost time to put the garden to bed.

So, what last-minute jobs should you be doing?

5 jobs for garden

1. Shelter vulnerable plants

My pots of geraniums (pelargoniums) are still going strong but they won’t be for much longer, so if you want to keep them for next year, find them some shelter now.

Cut them back to 10cm (4in) and put pots in a light, frost-free place such as a greenhouse or a sheltered porch next to the house. If the spot isn’t completely frost-free, wrap the pots in bubble wrap to give them extra protection.

If you’ve a conservatory or a cool spare room, even better. Don’t put plants near central heating or they will wilt and die when you bring them out next year.

Do the same with fuchsias, cutting them back before you put them under cover for winter, and hardly water them at all until growth starts again in spring.

5 garden jobs before winter

2. Divide perennials

The ground should still be soft enough to dig up overcrowded clumps of perennials and split them, replanting the divided clumps to give them more space.

This will lead to better performance in subsequent years and you’ve also increased your stock. Repeat planting is really effective at creating continuity and flow in borders, and dividing perennials is an ideal way of doing this.

Good subjects for division include crocosmia, rudbeckia, helenium, cranesbill geranium and catmint. You can also lift and divide hostas, although you’ll need a sharp knife to slice through the thick, congested roots.

last jobs before winter

3. Trim hedges

Try to do this when the weather’s still fine – you don’t want to be getting the hedge trimmer out when it’s pouring. If you tidy evergreen hedges now, they will look neat until next year as they won’t put on much new growth during the cooler months.

Also, trimming now may save you a bigger job in spring, when you also risk disturbing birds’ nests. Deciduous shrubs can be pruned into winter.

4. Get rid of the last of the weeds

Try to dig out any pernicious perennial weeds you see lurking, such as bindweed, couch grass and ground elder. You’ll need to dig them out completely, root and all, as if you leave any fragments of root in the soil they will come back in spring.

Hopefully, if you dig up the perennial weeds now, your job won’t be as arduous in spring. If you have areas which have been totally invaded, consider covering the ground with sheets of black plastic, secured with bricks at each corner, which will stop the light and hopefully kill the weed in a few months.

end-of-summer, garden-tips, dead-heading

5. Take cuttings

Want to increase your stock? It’s a perfect time to take hardwood cuttings of shrubs including weigelas, roses, dogwood, philadelphus and willow. They can often be grown on outdoors in a prepared trench.

Select vigorous, healthy shoots grown in the current year and remove the soft tip growth. Cut into sections 15-30cm (6in-12in) long, cutting cleanly above a bud at the top, with a sloping cut to shed water and as a reminder which end is the top.

Cut straight across at the base, below a bud or pair of buds. Dip the base into hormone rooting powder, make a slit trench in a well cultivated but vacant area of the garden, push the cuttings in vertically, 30cm (12in) apart and firm the soil back around them, closing the trench.

Water them in. This time next year they may have rooted enough to be moved. This job can be done at any time between mid-autumn and late winter.

Ghoulish Halloween Gardens!

Getting in the Halloween spirit? Hannah Stephenson reveals some of the 'foul and creepy' specimens that could be lurking in your hedges and borders...

halloween garden design plants

Mischievous trick-or-treaters dressed as ghosts and ghouls may be on the prowl on your doorstep this Halloween – but step into your garden and you might find some spooky spikes, noxious nasties and creepy creepers lurking in your borders.

Some plants can sting, burn, cut or emit an acrid, foul-smelling odour. Others have sinister-sounding names or connections with witches or the devil, while there are some which are said to help ward off evil.

Get yourself into the mood for Halloween with this guide to horticultural horrors…

1. Eye-poppers

When you see the spooky white berries with a single black spot emerging from red stems, you can understand why this sinister-looking plant is nicknamed the Doll’s Eye (Actaea pachypoda). All parts of this herbaceous perennial are poisonous and when ingested can cause hallucinations.

halloween garden plants design

2. Strangling suspects

Also known as strangleweed, devil’s guts, witches shoelaces and devil’s ringlet, but better known as dodder (Cuscuta), this pernicious relative of bindweed twines itself round a host plant and inserts itself into the host’s vascular system – sucking out everything it needs to live and killing its plant victim in the process.

halloween garden plants design

3. Prickly subjects

Among the most prickly of plants is the hawthorn. As a thorny hedge, it will stab its thorns into your fingers, even when you’re wearing the toughest gloves, and mature plants will even pierce the soles of gardening shoes – although on the plus side, a hawthorn hedge can also deter even the most persistent burglar.

Other prickly candidates include creeping juniper, common holly, firethorn (pyracantha), juniper and purple berberis.

halloween garden plants design

4. Toxic terrors

Aconitum, also known as monkshood or wolfsbane, is among the most toxic of plants, with ingestion of even a small amount causing severe stomach upsets. But it also slows the heart rate, which can prove fatal.

You don’t just have to eat it to suffer the symptoms. The poison can be absorbed through the skin, via open wounds, and there have even been reports of people feeling unwell after smelling the flowers.

halloween garden plants design

5. Foul smelling specimens

Then there are the plants which literally smell like rotten corpses. The stinking iris, Iris foetidissima, for example, absolutely reeks. If you can stand the smell, or remain downwind from it, this bulb puts on a spectacular display in autumn and winter, when its gigantic seed pods burst open to reveal brilliant orange and sometimes red seeds.

halloween garden plants design

6. Acrid arums

The titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum), also known as the ‘corpse flower’ as it smells like decomposed bodies when in flower, is nevertheless beautiful, growing up to 3m tall, its gigantic crimson flower spanning 3m, and is a great magnet for pollinating insects.

This acrid arum prefers the rainforests of Sumatra as its natural habitat, although you can admire it in the exotic sections of botanical gardens such as the Eden Project in Cornwall and at Kew, where it’s currently flowering.

Others in the bad smells league include Eucomis bicolor, the pineapple lily, and the dead horse arum (Helicodiceros muscivorus), named for obvious reasons.

7. Ghostly apparitions

The ghost plant (Monotropa uniflora), an eerie white specimen found in shady woods is a rare sight.

It has no chlorophyll, the chemical that allows plants to absorb energy from the sun and typically gives plants their green colour. In fact, the ghost plant is a parasite which sucks on fungi connected to a host plant, which is usually a nearby tree. The fungi acts as the middleman for the nutrients provided by the tree.

halloween garden plants design

8. Bizarre bulbs

While many bulbs bring heady fragrance, including the sweetly-scented hyacinth, others have pretty horrible odours, including the imposing crown imperial (Fritillaria imperialis). But don’t let the smell put you off too much, because its impressive orange flowers make more of a statement than its whiffy pong.

halloween garden plants design

9. Poisonous potions

No Halloween would be complete without its share of witches, whose potions have been linked with some of our most common plants. Hemlock, for instance, is highly poisonous and closely linked with witchcraft. It doesn’t look significantly different from the hedge parsley or cow parsley which grows along roads, ditches, trails, or the edges of fields.

Its white flowerheads resemble those of parsnips, carrots or angelica, while the bright green leaves are deeply-cut, even feathery and delicate. Yet all plant parts are poisonous, with the seeds containing the highest concentration of poison, causing toxic reactions.

Deadly nightshade (Belladonna), another common plant often found in hedgerows, was one of the main ingredients in witches’ brews during the Middle Ages, while blackthorn is often referred to as a witch’s tree. As late as the 1940s, anyone seen to carry a blackthorn walking stick was suspected of being a witch.

halloween garden plants design

10. Warding off evil

Plants including rowan (Sorbus aucuparia), hazelnut (Corylus avellane) and elderberry (Sambucus nigra) were once thought to be ‘magical’ trees and shrubs, which could ward off witches and evil spirits.

Ancient Celts believed rowan berries gave good health, and that if you planted them near grave sites, they would help the dead sleep.

People would use branches as dowsing rods and make crosses of rowan twigs to protect themselves on Halloween, while in old Europe, householders would put elderberry branches above their doorways to protect their homes from malevolent spirits. Strands of hazelnuts, worn or kept in the home ,were said to bring good luck.

halloween garden plants design