How to Give Wildlife a Helping Hand with Hibernation this Winter

help with winter hibernation

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

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

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

So, which animals can we help and how?

help with winter hibernation

1. Hedgehogs

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

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

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

help with winter hibernation

2. Frogs

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

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

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

help with winter hibernation

3. Bats

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

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

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

help with winter hibernation

4. Bees

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

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

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

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

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

help with winter hibernation

5. Other insects

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

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

These are the Tools you Need to Make Light Work of Autumn Jobs

Whether you're digging, cutting back, planting bulbs or trimming hedges, we select the right tools for autumn tasks.

What are the must-have tools for autumn jobs? There’s an array of leaf blowers, rakes, spades, forks and hand tools on offer, but what shouldn’t you be without as you take on new season tasks?

With help from Louise Golden, gardening expert at Dobbies Garden Centres, these are the right tools for the right jobs…

best autumn tools

1. Winter digging

You’ll need a good fork to break up the ground and a good spade to clear any old, dusty soil before adding a good dose of organic matter such as compost or well-matured manure to the area.

Try quality spades and forks from Burgon & Ball (burgonandball.com) available in lightweight versions (£39.99 each) ideal for a smaller garden, or regular digging size (£42.99).

If you’re creating a new bed or need to clear a lot of ground, consider the new Ego (egopowerplus.co.uk) multi-tool cultivator attachment with a 24cm cutting width (£149).

It provides an easier way to prepare soil for planting. Its rotating teeth remove weeds and aerate the soil, doing all the hard work so you don’t have to.

Golden also advises giving your lawn some TLC to see it through winter by aerating it with a garden fork to reduce compaction, and scarifying it with a springtine rake to remove moss.

2. Clearing leaves

Clear away leaves from pathways and patios before they become too soggy to rake and make the ground really slippery. If you have a small area you can make do with a standard rake, but if there are a lot of leaves on your lawn, go for a rake such as the Fiskars Gardening Action Xact Leaf Rake (RRP £31.99, available from DIY retailers including B&Q and Homebase and all good garden centres).

Alternatively, go for a combined leaf blower and sucker such as the Bosch UniversalGardenTidy blower-vacuum (£109.99, shop.bosch-do-it.com), a three-in-one gizmo which can blow, vacuum or shred, disposing of leaves and other garden debris.

If you can bear a slightly less pristine garden, leave leaves in your borders, which act as a mulch and can help protect overwintering creatures.

3. Planting bulbs

“Planting spring flowering bulbs is a major autumn task, and so a handy tool to use is a bulb planter,” says Golden. “They make light work of the task and speed up the process, particularly when planting lots of bulbs to naturalise in grass.”

Now’s a good time to plant narcissi, crocuses and hyacinths, so make life easy by investing in a long-handled bulb planter (£34.99, burgonandball.com) with a tough footbar to allow you to go easily to the maximum depth, instead of struggling on your hands and knees with a trowel that will make hard work of digging deep enough.

4. Hedge trimming

“Early autumn is the perfect time to trim evergreen hedges and shrubs for a neat finish that will remain crisp all winter long,” says Golden. “Hedging shears are ideal, whether hand, electric or motor, depending on the size of the task in hand.”

If you’ve followed RSPB advice not to cut hedges between March and August – the main breeding season for nesting birds – now may be a good time to tidy up hornbeam, beech, Leyland cypress and thuja hedges. Fast-growing hedges such as privet or the evergreen honeysuckle can also be cut now, but no later than the end of September.

For smaller hedges you could do the job with a decent pair of shears such as Kent & Stowe hedge shears (£17.99, dobbies.com). For larger hedges, battery power may be the way to go.

5. Pruning

“The end of summer is when we should think about tidying the border by cutting back spent perennials,” says Golden. “A good pair of secateurs will do the trick, and you don’t need to break the bank to get cracking.”

You’ll need a good set of cutting tools for clipping overgrown shrubs and perennials which have finished flowering. Sarah Raven’s new range of tools includes steel-bladed bypass pruners (£19.95, sarahraven.com) with non-slip grips and a quick-release locking mechanism.

You’ll need loppers to tackle thicker branches, and if you don’t like heavy kit, go for Wilkinson Sword’s Ultralight Bypass Loppers (£27.99, wilkinsonsword-tools.co.uk) to help to cut back overhanging vegetation. The non-stick coated blade cuts through young and green wood, while the loppers are 50% lighter than standard, saving arm strain when working for long periods of time.

Got a Garden for the First Time? 9 of the Easiest Things Beginners Should Start With

beginners gardening tips

BBC Gardeners' World presenter Mark Lane shares advice for gardening newbies to live by. By Lauren Taylor.

If you’ve never had a garden before, it’s a real revelation when you finally move into somewhere with a patch of grass to call your own – space to potter around in, barbecues in the summer and drinks in the fading evening light.

But for people who’ve never so much as bought a pair of garden gloves and pulled a weed out, suddenly having to care for and nurture a garden year-round can be daunting.

So before the autumn threatens to dump an additional leaf problem on your garden, here are some of the simplest ways you can take control of your new patch of land – and engage in a spot of therapeutic outdoor activity.

BBC Gardeners’ World presenter Mark Lane shares his advice for newbies…

beginners gardening tips

1. Don’t do anything right away

Lane says: “Wait and see where the sun rises and sets, where the shade lies, where the wind blows, and if you are moving into an established garden, what plants come up before you change anything.”

2. Check your soil

The key to a blooming garden is a healthy soil, so what are the signs that it’s unhealthy? “If it looks light in colour and full of sand and is lightweight, or heavy and full of clay,” Lane says. “Check to see if your soil is full of worms. If so, then it’s probably teaming with life, which is a good thing.”

But the easiest thing to do is buy a pH soil tester at your local garden centre. “This will establish whether your soil is acidic, neutral or alkaline, to work out which plants will thrive. Magnolias, rhododendrons, camellias all prefer slightly acidic soils,” says Lane. “Garden centres will usually signpost which plants like which soils to make buying easy.”

beginners gardening tips

3. Know when to mow

Looking out onto a neat, luscious green lawn is probably probably one of the reasons you wanted a garden in the first place, so how do you get it looking tip-top? Well, how often you mow will depend on the time of year and the weather.

“If in doubt, mow once a week during spring and autumn, and twice weekly during summer – although once a week from spring to autumn may suffice. Mowing is not necessary during winter, especially not if the ground is frozen,” says Lane. “Aim to cut no more than a third of the leaf blade, and don’t set the mower too low or scalp the turf.”

4. Plant in groups

“Keep things simple and aim to plant in blocks of three, fives or seven of the same type of plant to create wonderful blocks of colour and texture,” he suggests.

“All plants like free-draining soils, which can also hold some moisture. Add homemade (ideal) or bought compost before planting – this will help improve drainage on clay soil and encourage moisture retention on sandy soils.

“Mulch after planting – by covering the soil with a 5cm layer of compost around the base of the new plants. Then water well.”

beginners gardening tips

5. Sow seeds

You can’t go wrong here. “If you’re on a tight budget, sow seeds. Follow the instructions on the packets as to how you prepare your soil, and you can create an almost instant garden for around £10,” he says.

6. Start with easy-to-grow veg and herbs

If you fancy yourself as a bit of a kitchen gardener, Lane says radish, carrots and lettuce are the quickest and simplest to grow.

“Oregano is great for cooking and attracting wildlife, and thyme, sage and chives,” he says. “Generally, herbs like a gritty compost so add plenty of horticultural grit when planting, while vegetables prefer nutrient-rich soils with no stones.”

beginners gardening tips

7. Flowers aren’t tricky either

Don’t just choose whatever looks pretty – there are other factors to consider. “Try nepeta (catmint) as a brilliant alternative to lavender, which can often get a bit woody,” Lane suggests, “Rudbeckia (coneflower) and sunflowers too.”

He says herbaceous perennials (a plant whose growth dies down annually but whose roots or other underground parts survive) like nutrient-rich soils that will not dry out with a pH of 6.5, while wildflowers like low-nutrient soil (i.e. the subsoil) and most will grow with a neutral pH7.

8. Choose these easy-to-care-for shrubs

“Abelia x grandiflora, which flowers from June to September, is a wonderful evergreen shrub,” says Lane. “It’s semi-evergreen, so will give shape and texture even during the winter months and the flowers are also fragrant. Grow it in the shelter of a wall or towards the back of a border.

“Choisya x dewitteana Aztec pearl is fully hardy, evergreen, and flowers in May and often late summer. It can also be grown in partial shade. The leaves get damaged by exposure to strong winds or frost, but this won’t kill the plant.

“Pyracantha, again, is fully hardy and evergreen, with small white flowers in late spring and fantastic berries in autumn that attract birds and wildlife.”

All three are easy to care for and can be pruned to keep their shape. “If a shrub has got too large for its spot, or branches are crossing, dead, diseased or damaged then prune to keep the plants in shape and healthy. You want to have an open middle so that air can pass through the shrub, to help prevent pests and diseases.”

beginners gardening tips

9. Don’t over water

Most people over water, Lane says. If a plant needs water it might be wilting or have flowers hanging downwards. “If in doubt, dig a small ‘pit’ next to the plant and fill with water – see how quickly the water drains away,” he adds.

“If planting a dry garden, which will require less watering, then go for plants that will thrive in dry, arid conditions, such as Achillea, Artemisia, Agapanthus.

“If you’re feeling more adventurous, then divide the garden into different zones and grow plants with similar growing conditions in each zone.”

Which Houseplant Works Best Where – and How You Should Care for them.

houseplant care

Unsure which plants to place in the bathroom, lounge or bedroom? Houseplant expert Claire Bishop tells Hannah Stephenson her top tips.

houseplant care

As the seasons change, waving goodbye to summer doesn’t have to mean the end of enjoying gorgeous plants.

You can still keep your home feeling alive with houseplants, whatever your decor style. For those new to keeping plants indoors though, knowing what to have where can seem tricky.

Claire Bishop, houseplant buyer at Dobbies Garden Centres, offers the following tips on how houseplants can enhance a number of different styles and moods – from bright and bold, to soft, subtle and architecturally sculpted – and which ones work best where…

houseplant care

Au natural

Lush green plants paired with rugged terracotta containers bring the outdoors into your home. The popular Boston fern, with its arching green fronds, can develop into a perfect sphere of intricate greenery.

Alternatively, go for the sansevieria succulent, which adds attractive marbling to the mix. Commonly known as snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue, sansevieria are much more soothing to have around than either of their nicknames suggests.

houseplant care

Typically tropical

For a more vibrant look, seek out dazzling tropical plants such as the Calathea peacock plant. As the name suggests, this plant is all about display, with a feathered effect in different shades of green.

Since it originates in warmer climes, Calathea will be perfectly at home in the humid atmosphere of a bathroom or kitchen – where it’s likely to expand over time into a substantial, bushy addition.

houseplant care

Family fixture

For a bright, cheerful addition to any family room, turn to dependable, easy-to-grow favourites such as the spider plant. Thriving even in a brightly-lit lounge, the bold stripes of the variegated Chlorophytum will last all year round. Try a hanging basket to display it to best effect.

The peace lily is another go-to houseplant, being beautiful and almost indestructible – it actually thrives on under-watering. With its pure white flowers and deep green leaves, it’s a calming presence. It’s also one of the best plants for removing air pollution.

houseplant care

Shabby chic

Dispense with tradition and opt for ‘guests’ that will bring personality to your rooms. Coconut shells, coffee tins, brass cans – most houseplants aren’t fussy – they’ll thrive equally happily in unconventional containers.

Based on an ancient Japanese art, Kokedama (which directly translates as ‘moss balls’) are plants rooted in soil, wrapped in moss and bound in thread. Much more than just a houseplant, these are pieces of sculptural art, perfect on a windowsill or suspended from the ceiling.

houseplant care

3 key questions about houseplants

Here, Bishop answers some of the more commonly asked houseplants questions…

1. What common mistakes do people make when it comes to houseplants?

Overwatering. It’s surprising that most of the on-trend plants at the moment thrive upon neglect, as most of them require a bare minimum of care. Also, too much light and draughts can affect plants, so being placed directly on a windowsill where the window is often opened. They can quickly recover if you reposition them.

2. Which plants would you recommend for which room, and why?

Houseplants will work well in most rooms, as long as there is natural light.

In bedrooms… Aloe vera is often recommended, releasing oxygen while you are sleeping. They are one of the best plants for air purification.

In bathrooms… Orchids are popular. They are tropical, so they love the humidity and will be at their happiest on the bathroom windowsill.

Spider plants also work well in bathrooms. Thriving in the often-humid environment, they remove CO2 from the moist atmosphere. They like to be kept in rooms that are fairly well lit and watered once or twice a week, but not in direct sunlight.

3. What tips would you give for caring for houseplants?

Succulents and terrariums are pretty easy to care for and look fantastic in groups. They can instantly change the look and feel of a room, from industrial chic to jungle inspired bold botanicals.

All houseplants require a little clean to keep them looking their best – simply wipe the leaves with a damp cloth. This is not just to keep them looking good. Removing the dust ensures good health. Take off any foliage that is yellowing, and trim damaged leaves of larger plants with sharp scissors at the same time.

During the autumn and winter months, houseplants will look their best if you give them a shower as you water, as this will keep the leaves looking green and glossy. Keep an eye on light levels in the darker winter months – some plants may need a bit more.

houseplant care

From Crazy Paving to Patios: Gardening Trends Through the Decades

garden trends

As Southport Flower Show turns 90, garden designer and broadcaster Matthew Wilson looks at how tastes and trends have evolved. By Hannah Stephenson.

Who remembers when rock gardens were fashionable? Or perhaps at one point in your green-fingered life you attempted to paint your garden fence sky-blue, or adorn your patio with crazy paving?

These are just some of the trends remembered by award-winning garden designer and TV expert Matthew Wilson, a regular on BBC Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time, who will be judging at Southport Flower Show later this month.

And this year mark’s the show’s 90th anniversary – so what better time to glance back at the go-to gardening looks we’ve seen come and go over the years?

Here, Wilson takes us down memory lane with a look at horticultural fads and fashions through the decades…

garden trends

1920s: The rock garden

In the 1920s, rock gardens were the height of fashion. You hardly see them these days, although there are still some designers who produce them.

garden trends

1930s: Art deco designs

As art deco architecture came into fashion, the style often extended into gardens. Exotic plants and evergreens were shown off in simple white-walled plots or within curved brick designs.

A great deal of creative effort was put into the paving, with highly stylised patios and paths.

garden trends

1940s: Grow your own

After the war, rationing continued for many years and the ‘grow your own’ movement was a necessity, rather than a fashion.

Ornamental gardens were dug up to make vegetable patches. Even football pitches were turned into allotments, and London’s Hyde Park had a huge allotment garden.

This trend continued into the 1970s, as seen on TV in The Good Life, and then fell out of fashion – but is very much back on the agenda for very different reasons right now, linked to the concern about the environment, food miles and agricultural additives. It’s come full circle.

garden trends

1950s: Rose gardens

There was a massive interest in rose breeding in the 1950s, with growers trying to produce new and exotic coloured colours. People tried to grow blue roses, which actually cannot exist in nature but have since been grown using genetic modification.

The Royal National Rose Society had more than 100,000 members by the 1970s. People still love roses, but few would have a rose garden that is solely roses and nothing else today.

It was also the start of the British love affair with the well-tended garden lawn, as new weed-killers, mowers and products came on the market, and the 1950s was the decade when the first garden centre opened in the UK.

garden trends

1960s: Mini conifers and heathers

In the late 1960s, there was a trend for mini-conifers and heathers in Britain’s gardens. They were popular because they were fairly low-maintenance and looked good all year round.

“Like many trends, they went completely out of fashion, but I think in the next few years we will start to see a renewed interest in conifers,” says Wilson.

garden trends

1970s: Crazy paving

Crazy paving was big in gardens in the 1970s. It was popular because it gave people a unique design in their garden, often in pink or yellow, and was also cheaper than conventional paving.

garden trends

1980s: Wildlife gardening

The 1980s saw a surge of interest in wildlife gardening, with households encouraging wildflowers to grow in their gardens as concerns grew about the environment.

Chris Baines’ 1985 book, How To Make A Wildlife Garden, shot to the bestseller lists – telling people how to make their gardens a haven for wildlife. The trend of gardening with nature, rather than fighting against it, has continued and is now arguably one of the most important aspects of modern gardening.

garden trends

1990s: The TV makeover

The 1990s was the decade when gardening became prime-time TV, with shows like Ground Force with Alan Titchmarsh and Charlie Dimmock encouraging householders to give their gardens a dramatic makeover.

Decking and other recreational features became popular, as more people made the barbecue and patio table and chairs the focus of their outdoor space.

garden trends

2000s: Naturalistic planting

The new century saw the popularity of ‘naturalistic’ planting start to grow, inspired by designers such as James van Sweden in the US and Piet Oudolf from the Netherlands.

In Essex, Beth Chatto had created the influential ‘Gravel Garden’, and flower shows began to feature planting schemes that had more in common with meadows than traditional flower beds.

garden trends

2010s: Green gardening

Gardeners became far more conscious of the environment. ‘No-dig’ gardening is a big part of what we do now, and is going to become even bigger. It is a less intensive way of cultivating the soil, that prevents damage to the soil flora and fauna that are so important to plant health.

There is a big concern these days about water use and the environment, and this is driving the way we garden. Coastal towns are always drier, so building zero-irrigation gardens – for instance, thinking about the right plants for the right place – is also big.

Southport Flower Show runs from Aug 15-18. For tickets and further information, see southportflowershow.co.uk.

Allotment Challenge: 3 Easy Veg for Beginners and 3 Trickier Crops for Seasoned Growers

allotment veg challenge

Choosing the right veg for your experience level can make a world of difference. Hannah Stephenson shares her top picks.

National Allotments Week is approaching (August 12-18), with gardeners being encouraged to share their harvests and exchange tips.

And if you’re relatively new to the grow-your-own scene, it’s always handy to hear about what’s easy and what’s not – and which crops to tackle once you’ve got a bit more experience under your belt.

Here are three easy veg for beginners, and three more challenging crops for the seasoned allotment holder…

allotment veg challenge

EASY:

1. Onions

The great thing about onions is you can be harvesting them from February to September, if you plant different types.

For the quickest results, grow onions from sets (small bulbs), planting summer (maincrop) types in March and April, in well-cultivated, weed-free ground, pushing the sets gently into the soil so the tips are level with the surface. Spacing depends on the size of the set, so for small bulbs, plant them 2.5cm apart in rows 15cm apart.

Just keep plants watered in dry spells and you could have a succession of onions for much of the year. Spring onions can be harvested as soon as they are big enough to use, while maincrops will be ready in August and early September, when the leaves turn yellow.

Top tip: Keep on top of weeding because onions can’t compete. You’ll need to hoe or hand-weed regularly.

allotment veg challenge

2. Swiss chard

This veg not only tastes good but also makes a great ornamental addition, as there are several types with coloured stalks which add vibrancy to any veg patch or potager.

Related to leaf beet, you can sow it from April to mid-July in rows outside, then thin the seedlings out to 15cm apart, allowing 30cm between rows. The only thing you need to do is keep it well watered in dry spells and free from weeds. It should be ready for picking from July to October.

Top tip: Swiss chard doesn’t travel well as the leaves look sorry a day after picking, so use it fresh.

allotment veg challenge

3. Courgettes

These wonderful summer veg, great grilled on the barbecue or sliced thinly in salads, are easy to grow, provided you give them enough space (one plant will fill a large container). Their yellow flowers are also edible and can add colour and mild flavour to salads.

They need to be started off indoors in spring, sowing singly in pots on a windowsill in April, and then hardening off outside before you plant them after the last frost has passed, at the beginning of June.

Prepare the soil by filling a hole with compost and topping it off with soil to create a low mound, so excess rainwater runs away from the base of the plant, helping prevent stem rot. Space them 60cm in each direction and lay mulch over the soil to retain moisture and smother weeds.

Keep them well watered during the warmer months and feed them with tomato feed every week once fruits have formed. You should be picking them from July to October and have plenty to share with your allotment pals with just a few plants.

Top tip: Choose a variety bred specifically for courgette growing, rather than a marrow type where you can pick the fruits when they are small, because your yield will be better. Good varieties include ‘Soleil’, ‘Clarion’ and ‘Parthenon’.

allotment veg challenge

A BIT TRICKIER…

1. Florence fennel

This aniseed-flavoured veg with a swollen white bulb-like base is delicious used raw in salads or roasted in the oven.

It’s challenging because it prefers a Mediterranean climate, so you need to mimic that as much as possible growing it in a warm spot in light, well-drained soil, working in plenty of organic matter and watering it during dry spells.

Its main problem is bolting – when it produces flowers and runs to seed – which will make the bulbous base inedible. This can be caused by lack of organic matter in the planting area, dry soil and sudden swings in temperature.

Start the seeds off indoors in May, sowing three seeds each in small pots. Germination can be erratic, but remove the weakest two, leaving one seedling per pot.

Harden the plants off carefully before planting outside at the end of June, or when there’s a prolonged period of warm weather. Water them carefully – you don’t need much to start with, but don’t let them dry out.

If you want to sow outside, leave sowing as late as you can, probably late June or early July, as Florence fennel will bolt if sown too early or in a cold summer. The seeds should be sown directly into a well-prepared seedbed. It grows quickly and should be ready in late August and September.

Top tip: Cover young plants with fleece at night if it’s chilly, even in the summer.

allotment veg challenge

2. Cauliflower

Now a designer veg, with purple and lime-green varieties as well as the traditional types, have a go with them on the allotment if you fancy something a little more challenging. The main problems are bolting and poor soil.

You can get summer, autumn and winter varieties which you’ll need to sow at different times of the year – the only one which can be started off outdoors is the winter variety, which can be sown in April and May.

The biggest job is really good soil preparation. They like clay soil which isn’t waterlogged. If you have light soil, dig in plenty of organic matter. If you have acid soil, add lime over the winter to give it a pH of 7 and a good boost of balanced fertiliser, working it into the soil before planting.

Water young plants in well but once they’re established, only water if the soil becomes very dry. Too much water will encourage bigger leaves, rather than curds.

To stop them bolting, feed and water seedlings well and transplant them no later than six weeks old. When the curd looks full-size, cut it off just below the base of the head.

Top tip: When small curds appear in the centres of the plants, bend a few outer leaves over for protection from bad weather, snapping them so that they stay in place.

allotment veg challenge

3. Celery

Delicious in salads, as crudites or cooked in stews, celery does, however, need attention to detail when growing. Sowing needs to be done indoors in relatively high temperatures (60-70°F/16-21°C). For the best chance of success, choose a self-blanching type.

Celery needs rich, fertile soil, which has had plenty of well-rotted organic matter worked into it beforehand. Plant the seedlings out in early June, after the last chance of frost has passed, spacing the plants 23cm apart in all directions. They need close spacing as the plants need to shade each other’s stems.

Water in well and keep them watered regularly. If you let the plants get remotely dry or water irregularly, you’ll lose the crop. Give them a liquid feed regularly too using a high-nitrogen feed, and keep them well weeded.

Top tip: Be vigilant against slugs, which can settle in and feed on the central stems, making the celery unusable.

National Allotments Week runs from August 12-18. Visit nsalg.org.uk.

Want your Little Ones to Love Gardening? Here are the Tools to Give Them a Head Start

children gardening

Former Blue Peter gardener Chris Collins helps us select the kit to get your children interested in gardening.

Gardening can be child’s play if youngsters are given the right tools for the job.

Now, former Blue Peter gardener Chris Collins, head of organic horticulture at Garden Organic (gardenorganic.org.uk), the national charity for organic gardening, has helped us select some basic pieces of equipment to enable kids to plant and grow seeds, care for them and to encourage them to spend time in the garden.

children gardening

1. Tamper and sieve

“Children will love using a tamper to stamp on the soil to firm it and enjoy getting their hands dirty sieving the soil to produce a light crumbly mix,” he says.

These items will get them directly involved in preparing the soil and help improve seed sowing success and avoid any disappointments.

Good seeds to sow for little hands include sunflower, runner beans and sweet peas.

children gardening

2. Hand trowel

Serious young gardeners will be able to prepare beds for sowing, transplant seedlings and remove weeds with a good set of hand tools. Very young children will just enjoy a bit of digging and exploring the soil to look for worms and insects, which is always a cause for great excitement.

For younger children, colourful garden tools are widely available.

children gardening

3. Watering can

Playing with water – especially in hot summer weather – should encourage children into the garden, so a watering can is a must-have. Buy one with a rose to allow for gentle watering so they can get involved with regularly caring for their plants and make sure that the watering can is the right size and holds the right amount of water for the size of your child, so he or she can easily lift it.

Among the best is the Little Pals Children’s Watering Can Kit which includes a metal watering can, pink hand trowel and spotty gardening gloves (£15.90, Amazon www.amazon.co.uk)

children gardening

4. Compost bin

If you have a compost bin, you can help teach them the importance of recycling kitchen scraps and garden waste. Why not get one they can decorate too, making a lovely fun feature in the garden? They can then use the compost to help their plants to grow.

children gardening

5. Wildlife feeder

Just letting your child fill up your regular bird feeder should engage them, especially when they see birds feasting on the seeds and nuts they have given them.

There are plenty of kits on the market to make your own bird feeder or bird house, or alternatively you can recycle old bits and pieces from your home to give them a fun activity of creating a habitat for wildlife, which will help them feel more connected to the garden and make them aware of the many creatures which use your open space.

Alternatively, invest in a good one for your child such as the Yukon Feeder (£24.99, CJ Wildlife – birdfood.co.uk) which enables three different types of bird food to be placed into different slots, to attract a variety of birds.

children gardening

6. Gardening clothes

The oldest clothes are probably the most sensible ones for kids to wear when gardening but if they are going to get their hands dirty, it may be wise to invest in a pair of junior gardening gloves in their preferred colour.

A good bet could be the Vgo gardening and DIY gloves for four to five-year-olds (£14.98 for two pairs, Amazon)

And don’t forget, most importantly, to get your child to wear a hat on sunny days.

10 Ingredients you can Forage to 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.

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.

What is Horticultural Therapy and Who can Benefit from it?

garden therapy

Studies have found that gardening and garden environments can offer a host of physical and mental health benefits. Hannah Stephenson finds out more.

garden therapy

Getting outside among plants and nature can work wonders for the body and soul – and garden designer Michelle Brandon is a firm believer in the benefits of a good gardening fix.

Brandon has helped people affected by stroke, ADHD and mental illness, having worked with organisations including the national horticultural therapy charity, Thrive (thrive.org.uk).

She’s preparing a show garden – The Forest Will See You Now – for the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Festival, depicting how nature and forest environments can help alleviate many of the 21st century illnesses so many of us face.

Ahead of the show, here, Brandon tells us more about horticultural therapy and its benefits…

garden therapy

What is horticultural therapy?

According to Thrive, social and therapeutic horticulture (STH) uses plants and gardens to help support both physical and mental health. It can help people to mix socially, improve their communication and thinking skills, learn practical skills and give them the confidence to become more independent.

Therapists use gardening tasks and projects, or just the garden environment itself to build skills according to people’s individual need, working to goals. “There needs to be an aim, whether it be growing or just sitting and taking in the view,” says Brandon.

garden therapy

Who can it help?

Everyone from children to pensioners. It can be great for children and adults with learning disabilities, people with mental health issues or who’ve been affected by conditions like stroke and dementia, as well as children with ADHD.

It can be used for therapy or rehabilitation programs for cognitive, physical, social, emotional and recreational benefits, thus improving the person’s body, mind and spirit. It is also used to reduce feelings of isolation through the chance to connect with others, and a feeling of wellbeing through simply being outside and in touch with nature.

“The outcome you are looking for is a positive emotional change,” Brandon says. “And nurturing – whether it be growing something, sowing seeds, or just sitting enjoying the space – creates those positive emotions.”

garden therapy

How does it work?

It may be through a garden project, where the patient is referred and funded by their doctor, social worker or care professional. Alternatively, it could be done through gardening at home, perhaps starting with something simple such as sowing seeds or planting bulbs in pots.

“Nurture is a strong positive action, the process of the person taking responsibility for something, which in their life has been taken away from them. It’s about creating positive emotion.”

garden therapy

Can you get horticultural therapy on the NHS?

Schemes may be available in some areas of the UK, although it’s not nationwide. Some clinical commissioning groups include horticultural therapy as part of a social prescribing policy in their areas. Some NHS settings offer STH as part of treatments for patients, for example in mental health and stroke recovery. It has existed within NHS settings throughout its history however, often within occupational therapy.

“At the moment, we are at the beginning of seeing many more people accessing Social and Therapeutic Horticulture (STH) and other green care projects, such as care farms,” says Damien Newman, Thrive training, education and consultancy manager.

GPs have for some time been adopting various forms of “social prescribing” – referring patients to non-clinical activities in a bid to help improve their physical or mental health. “A doctor might recommend an introduction to a garden project. Green prescriptions are being increasingly used,” says Brandon.

Who can be a horticultural therapist?

Many horticultural therapists working at garden projects in the UK have completed specialist training programmes in social and therapeutic horticulture at Thrive. They may also hold other professional qualifications in areas such as horticulture, health and social care, teaching, occupational therapy or nursing.

garden therapy

Is it regulated?

Horticultural therapy is not regulated in the UK (iStock/PA)

No. Most horticultural therapy is carried out in groups in organisational settings, and these organisations will have their own internal regulatory systems in place.

“There’s no national body of registered horticultural therapist professionals,” says Brandon. “But a lot of occupational therapists are involved in horticultural therapy, and they have their own governing body. Horticultural therapists often work for established charities such as Thrive, which would require training and monitoring.”

Thrive holds a database of projects that use horticulture with people accessing health and social care and other STH projects.

Social Farms & Gardens (farmgarden.org.uk) holds a database of more community-focused projects, although many will also be being accessed by people experiencing the challenge of ill health or disability. Often this helps people find good local projects and, through them, understand what is accessible more locally.

Could horticultural therapy help people with are simply stressed too?

Yes. Many STH projects are open to anyone and community gardens are just that, focused on community and the way gardens bring us together.

Community gardens as a whole are very welcoming settings, and near enough all will have members who are experiencing loneliness, bereavement, job loss, stress and other experiences related to mental health.

The RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Festival runs from July 2-7. For details, visit rhs.org.uk/shows-events/rhs-hampton-court-palace-garden-festival.

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.