Green Fingers I Wish

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Hellebores produce gently nodding flowers that open as early as January and carry on until late April. The plants produce large saucer-shaped flowers and are ideal for the front of an early spring border.

The flowers of hellebores herald the start of the new year, with plants coming into bloom in early January. Not only do they produce attractive, flowers, but their deeply-lobed, thick leathery leaves create an attractive evergreen backdrop to spring bulbs and flowers.

The most popular hellebore is Helleborus niger, the Christmas rose. Thought to have been first introduced by the Romans, it is one of Britain's oldest cultivated plants.

It is native to southern and central Europe and is found primarily in mountainous areas, but also survives in a range of other habitats from light woodland shade to open alpine meadows.

Despite the conspicuous colour of the plant's blooms, the Latin name actually refers to its hidden black roots and derives from two Greek words, 'hellin', to kill and 'bora', food.

Recommended species and varieties;

H. niger itself has been crossed with other species to produce a few interesting hybrids.

* Helleborus niger, the original Christmas rose produces gently nodding flowers that open as early as January and carry on until late April.
* H. 'Louis Cobbett': One of the earliest varieties with pinkish blooms and very dark red stems.
* H.'Potter's Wheel': Perhaps the most famous hellebore variety of all, 'Potter's Wheel', in its true form, has immense white flowers up to 13cm (5in.) across, comprising five broad, overlapping petals.

Other hellebores to try

* Helleborus purpurascens: A purple-coloured hellebore with blooms that open as early as mid-December.
* H. x ericsmithii: A similar cross with H. x sternii, resulting in pinkish flower buds that open to a greeny white.
* H. x ballardiae The result of cross-breeding with the slightly tender H. lividus. The results are short stems of white blooms tinted brownish-pink in bud that are held above silver-veined leaves.
* H. x sternii: An easy-to-grow hellebore that produces clusters of showy green flowers tinged with pink and purple.
* H. x sternii Blackthorn Group: This plant has impressive purple stems, silvery-grey foliage, and pink-tinged green flowers.
* H. orientalis: A very popular variety is the Lenten rose, H. orientalis, with its captivating range of colours from pure white, apple green, pale pink and primrose yellow through to the most exquisite plum-purples and slatey blacks. All of these colours may be enhanced by varying degrees of dark red spotting and the flower outline can be rounded or slightly star-shaped.
* H. argutifolius, Corsican hellebore : Impressive evergreen foliage and subtle green flowers that appear in winter,and remain on the plant well into summer.
* H. foetidus, Stinking hellebore: Elegant and finely divided leaves with lime-green flowers appearing in spring.

Growing tips

Most hellebores grow happily in shade. They appreciate plenty of organic matter in the soil, topped up with a mulch every spring.

All types prefer a sheltered position away from the effects of strong icy winds in winter and spring that can damage the emerging blooms and leaves.

H. niger is not the easiest hellebore to establish in the garden but should take to a stony, fertile soil, preferably on the limey side, that doesn't get too dry in summer.

Buying hellebore seeds offers an even cheaper alternative to stock your garden with plants. Ideally, seeds should be sown fresh in late summer but, if sown in the spring, they will germinate the following October. Expect to wait about three years for them to produce flowers.
Plant care

The dark green leathery leaves of all forms of H. niger , persist throughout the year, but are often laid flat by frost, which opens the centre of the plant to the elements. This allows the flowers to be easily viewed, but these too can suffer from excessive cold. The old practice of covering a plant with a glass cloche in winter entices a few earlier blooms to open. These will remain pristine under this temporary protection and can be cut for a long-lasting arrangement. In a vase it is easy to admire the finer qualities like the golden crown of stamens that adorn the flower centres and the speckled pink flower stems, almost the colour and texture of succulent young rhubarb sticks.

Hellebores, like roses, can suffer from a type of black spot that at best is unsightly and at worst can prove fatal. A systemic fungicide used once a month, drenching the whole plant, will help to prevent this disease. Any plants that are badly infected should have the worst affected leaves removed. Other than this, hellebores enjoy a fairly pest and disease-free life.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Ants - Not a Gardener`s Friend!

Ants can actually KILL, as this news story showed:-

Beware of the Bugs: Fire Ants Can Kill Americans
A South Carolina Woman Died After Being Stung by Fire Ants

In about five percent of cases, fire ants can actually cause death.

July 2, 2006 — Last week, Janet Wallace Roedl Shiansky, a 68-year-old South Carolina woman, went into anaphylactic shock and died after being attacked by ants while she was gardening. The ants that attacked her are called fire ants and are the most aggressive ants in the world — and they are spreading to other parts of the country.

Entomologist Mike Raupp said that when fire ants attack they usually cause minor red welts and a pustule that will fade in a couple days. In about five percent of cases, fire ants can actually cause death.

"In those cases, where people have a volatile reaction, some of them actually do die," said Raupp. "It's a severe allergic reaction — throats swell up and people literally suffocate. But that is very rare. Most people won't react that way."

Shiansky died after several ants ran up her sneaker last weekend and stung her foot. Her husband brushed them off and treated the stings with ammonia, according to the Associated Press. A few minutes later, he went inside to check on her and found her lying on a bed unresponsive with her sunglasses still on. At the hospital, doctors found that her brain had begun to swell. She died the next day from what doctors said was an allergic reaction that caused her airways to close.

Dangerous Ants

Fire ants, which often attack and kill small animals like kittens, are primarily found in the Southeast, Raupp said. Their range extends from North Carolina across Tennessee, Oklahoma and Texas — and there is also a colony in California.

"You might find some in other parts of the country — but there aren't large concentrations in the North," Raupp said. "If you see them in the northern states it's largely due to landscaping transplants. The fire ants are transported on plants that are taken from the South and planted in the North. … But most fire ant stings happen to people in the southern states."

Fire ants have become such a problem in the Southeast that phorid flies have been imported to combat them. The flies lay larvae on the ants. When the larvae hatch they eat the fire ants' heads.

abc news

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Orchid displays to mark reopening

Orchid display
Orchid displays in the east corridor of the glasshouses
Exotic orchids have been put on display at the Cambridge University Botanic Garden to mark the reopening of its restored glass houses.

Purple, white and pink blooms include slipper and moth orchids, vivid dendrobium and paler cymbidium species.

Staff are also providing guidance on growing these flowers at home.

The show includes flowers that conceal trap and trigger mechanisms designed to attract a wide range of pollinators including moths and beetles.

Rob Brett, glasshouse supervisor, said: "This will be our most spectacular orchid display yet."

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Brazil Nuts` path to preservation

Brazil nuts' path to preservation
Brazil nut
The nuts are actually seeds encased in an outer shell

Help is at hand for the Amazon rainforest and Brazil's poverty-stricken rural people - courtesy of the country's famous native nut.

Brazil nuts are a valuable food source with a huge market in Europe and North America: up to 7,000 tonnes of unshelled nuts and 20,000 tonnes of shelled nuts are shipped every year.

And because the trees that supply the nuts grow wild, they offer a way for communities to make a living from the forest without destroying it - something that is now being put to use in the country.

"This is a real financial resource for communities," Dr Rafael Salamao, who works at the Museo Gelde, one of the most important centres for the study of the Amazon, told BBC World Service's One Planet programme.

"A tree which is over 400 years old can provide for generations and generations."

Tree cemeteries

Brazil nuts are considered to be one of the most valuable products that can be harvested from undisturbed rainforest. The nuts, known to Brazilians as Castanha do Para, grow uniquely in the Amazon basin.

They are hazardous to collect: each hard outer shell weighs over 1kg.

Deforestation in the Amazon basin
Unfortunately, when they have talked about sanctuaries - places where you can't touch any plants at all - well, they don't exist
Hans Muller, Embrapa Institute
However, they offer an alternative to the way that many areas of Brazil are trying to develop - by clearing the forest to create areas suitable for either grazing cattle or growing products such as soya.

For many years, this meant the destruction of Brazil nut trees, even after they became officially protected.

"Sadly, today, we have cemeteries of Brazil nut trees," said Dr Salamao.

"It's because of the arrival of agriculture. We call it the 'agricultural frontier', which goes along with cattle ranching.

"When this arrives, they destroy the forest. First, they exploit the valuable wood, and then the cattle ranchers come and turn it into pasture.

"Having said that, they keep the Brazil nut trees as well as the rubber trees, as these are legally protected. But they burn the forest to clear the land and the Brazil nut tree is very sensitive to fire. After three years of repeating this process, the trees are dead."

What is worse for Brazil nut collectors is that once the trees have been destroyed, there is little chance of getting them back.

Attempts to replace them have been largely unsuccessful. Saplings will not grow in shade and take up to 15 years to begin producing nuts.

"Brazil nut trees do not have an easy natural regeneration," said Hans Muller, who works at Belem's Embrapa Institute, specialising in agricultural research in the Amazon.

"When you destroy one, it's a real loss.

"Unfortunately, when they have talked about sanctuaries - places where you can't touch any plants at all - well, they don't exist."


However, at the end of 2006, the governor of the large state of Para announced a protected reserve of 16.4 million hectares of forest, with the aim of creating a huge conservation corridor through northern Amazon.

River Amazon in Amapa (Pic: WWF)
Amapa is home to the largest rainforest reserve in the world
And in the state over Para's northern border, Amapa, small communities are taking to the challenge of using the Brazil nut to generate income from the rainforest without destroying it.

"We had this idea, we've a vast resource of Brazil nuts and we needed to create organisations in the region in order to strengthen local production," said Ajama da Silva Mendes, from the Amapa state department of industry, commerce and minerals.

"So the government gave some incentives to create co-ops, together with the communities.

"Now we can see the promise of bigger production and better living conditions for rural workers."

Brazil nut gatherers and their families are now able to maintain a decent livelihood.

And small-scale factories have been set up producing Brazil nut biscuits and oil, broadening the range of products available for export, meaning there is a better way for people to get a fair price for their valuable resource.

But there are further problems. Subsidised production in Bolivia is challenging Brazil's dominance in the market.

And when, in 2004, the European Union found that Brazil nuts with shells on had traces of aflatoxins, which can cause liver cancer, strong regulations were put in place regarding the nuts.

While the American limit on aflatoxin levels in Brazil nuts is 15 parts per billion, the European limit is just four parts per billion. This has hit Brazil nut exporters hard.

"In case the product doesn't meet the EU's laws, all the costs which have arisen have to be paid by the exporter," said Benedito Mutra Emfilio, chair of Association of Brazil Nut Exporters. "This is impossible."

Source:- BBC News