Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Healthy Living with Houseplants

Houseplants can help combat winter ills and ailments and make your home healthier. Not only do they have a good psychological effect on occupants, but also as natural humidifiers, they have other good effects in addition to generally making us feel more comfortable. So, as we turn up the heating to contend with the cold months of winter ahead and encourage the harmful effects of dry air such as blocked sinuses, do not despair, houseplants can help!

Up to 97 percent of the water you give a plant will be returned to the air, although some varieties are more suitable than others to improve humidity levels in centrally heated conditions.

The air always contains bacteria. Other ailments transmitted by air include eye and skin irritations, but perhaps worst of all are the nasty cold and 'flu viruses which are bountiful this time of year. Houseplants can help reduce these. As houseplants absorb toxins from the air - and also have a good psychological effect on occupants - minor ailments such as headaches, blocked noses and skin irritations are reduced substantially when interior landscaping is installed.

Dust is another potentially harmful everyday indoor substance, because it picks up harmful toxins, which we inhale. But again, plants can come to the rescue as they trap dust particles. Hairy and lipophile leaf surfaces attract the dust in the air directly and absorb the toxins that it contains.

Plants are natural humidifiers and air 'scrubbers' which, given the correct location, light and care, can be effective to create more healthy and comfortable environments.

In effect, plants can transform our interiors into healthier living spaces.

Epiphytic Bromeliads, orchids and succulents exchange Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide at night rather than as most other plants do during the daytime. This makes them perfect bedroom plants to refresh the air we breathe during sleep. Some water loving plants are Schefflera, bamboos and hemp. Ferns, rubber plants and Ivy are good all-rounders for removing toxins. They are good air cleaners for rooms with central heating.

-- Rob Amey

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Brrrrrassicas!

This month I'm being asked what on earth can still be growing in my garden as the weather gets colder. Well, actually, truth be told is that even though I'm going to tell you about brassicas, the weather has been so unseasonably mild that I've still got all sorts on the go that was unthinkable this time last year - when we were already covered in, dare I say it, snow!



Brassicas - your broccolis, kales, cauliflowers, sprouts, cabbages etc are just brilliant! Brassicas need a bit of a head start, I usually sow mine into separate modules or small pots, and transplant them into their final growing positions when they have a couple of true leaves. They need firming in well - and here's the thing - I cover all mine with netting. If you'd like to actually eat your greens as oppose to have them devoured on your behalf by caterpillars, I strongly suggest you cover them from first off with netting so butterflies can't get at them!

So the joy at this time of year is twofold - firstly you can remove the nets as the butterfly threat is over and secondly and more importantly - you can start eating the fruits of your labour whilst still being able to munch your way through these hardy veggies all through winter if you plan your planting well! Brilliant brassicas!

-- Holly Rowan Hesson

Thursday, 17 November 2011

The glorious colours of Autumn


I must admit that this time of year is my favourite time - I know that most of the flowers have died back and much of the vegetables and fruit have been harvested- and hopefully eaten- but there is something special about the cold frosty mornings, amazing colours from the changing leaves and that indescribable smell you get in the dark evenings of woodsmoke, earth and cold air!

This was epitomised for our family over the half term week as we went to a cottage in the Lake District - a place I had never been to before and can’t wait to return to. We had a fantastic week walking in Grizedale Forest, Tarn Hows, Coniston and Windermere and even my two boys (aged 11 and 14) were enthusiastic each day as we set out to discover new landscapes and gorgeous pub food. Our Golden Labrador thought he had died and gone to doggy heaven with all those long walks!

Being away, however meant that the tidy up in the garden was put off for (another) week so I had to organise myself when I got home by raking leaves and putting them at the bottom of the garden next to the compost heap. I didn’t put them on the compost heap as keeping them separate means that the most amazing leaf mould will be created next year and can then go back on the soil. Weeding seems easier at this time of year as it is clearer to see the weeds among the plants and I have made a point this week of picking many herbs from the herb garden - namely parsley, oregano, thyme and sage and freezing them as they will be killed off after the first frosts and this way I get to use them during the winter!

The darker evenings mean less time in the garden these days but more opportunities to light the wood burner, sit back and make plans for my garden next year by looking through all the gardening catalogues that seem to have dropped on to my doorstop this week.

I leave you this month with some photographs of our trip to the Lakes which I hope you will like.

-- Jane Dubinski




Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Garden Round Up for November


So many Gardeners think November is the month to shut up shop when it comes to the garden and head for the warmth in doors, but if you do you’ll be missing out. Get yourself wrapped up and head out to see the garden delights in the low sun this time of year. Gardening is a wonderfully relaxing activity because it releases tension and as a result, reduces the amount of circulating stress hormones in the body, while the act of cultivation itself is soothing for the soul. I find that I can lose hours pottering about in the garden this time of year.There’s plenty to be doing this month. Here’s my top ten.

1. November is the month for ground work for the Spring ahead and working on any structural changes to your garden or allotment and improving its design.

2. This is the ideal time to dig over all the beds, improve the soil and sort out any unruly areas.

3. Collect up fallen leaves and store in hessian sacks. Next year they will be lovely compost. Net ponds to avoid leaves falling in.

4. The ideal month is November for planting tulip bulbs to provide plenty of colour in the Spring. Plant them in pots covered in gravel to keep them safe from squirrels.

5. Many would not consider November a month for planting, but now is the ideal time for preparing your early crops of peas and beans. Seeds sown now whilst the ground is still warm and with rain will germinate before the worst of the winter weather hits us. Cover young plants with a cloche and if it is particularly cold use a fleece too.

6. Heathers add colour this time of year. Take a visit to your garden centre and see the colour variety on offer.

7. November is the month for harvesting beetroot, celeriac and carrots. When harvesting divide into two piles – one for good sized crops and a pile for damaged. Any damaged ones are great for chopping up and using in soups.

8. Move your herbs by your kitchen door so that you have a handy supply during winter. If you have herbs growing in your borders, transfer some to a window box or pot to keep a supply of mint, chives, fennel and oregano close by to where you cook.

9. This month, cleaning is key – greenhouses, cloches, pots and polythene tunnels to remove dirt and any fungal spores.

10. Plant any onions and garlics. A handy tip is to snip the ends to make it more difficult for the birds to pull them out.

-- Rob Amey

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Winter and plant diseases

Ah, November, that most delicate of months. The great languid breath of damp warmth before the winter slumber of ice and fog takes hold. I am at present busy putting the garden to bed and am enjoying the task immensely.

Which plants remain intact is my choice. Some seed heads I shall leave for the birds to pick over, other plants I shall leave as they look spectacular in the first heavy frosts. Tidying leaves, mulching borders and generally making the garden change in that dramatic way only those in temperate zones can. Last year I worked in the Botanic Gardens, Singapore and was amused to see they have built a huge glass house with air conditioning - so that they too can appreciate our seasons. Although I miss the constant warmth and sun of the tropics, we are lucky. We have a growing climate which removes pest and disease naturally. Black spot disappears from our roses (burn the leaves), slugs, snails and mice go into hibernation or die, and most fungus becomes dormant. November is a time of change to be appreciated. However, there are dark clouds looming on our horizon.

I recently had a meeting with a man from FERA the government agency charged with protecting our borders from foreign pest and disease. To be frank, things are not looking good. Our obsession with cheap imports has introduced new fungus and insects, which left unchecked will not only decimate but destroy our delicate ecosystem. “Sudden Oak Death” or Phytophthora ramorum to give its correct name, is a very real threat to all our parks and gardens. This is a disease that infects and destroys a vast number of ornamental shrubs. The threat list is extensive but includes: Arbutus, Calluna, Camellia, Choisya, Magnolia, Photinia, Rhododendron and Viburnum. The list of our native trees at risk is also horrifying. For a full list, information and images please click here.

PICTURE FROM THE VICTORIA RHODENDRON SOCIETY. BC . CANADA.

This is only one disease which is a threat to plants in the UK, so it is essential we check the plants we buy for any sign of disease. Remember also many foreign insects, such as the Asian Longhorn Beetle and Thrips palmi have also found a home in our continental neighbours and are a serious threat here too. If we work together, these threats can be addressed and hopefully eradicated from our small island.

-- Guy Deakins