Green Fingers I Wish

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Tidy gardens' cause hogs' demise

Tidier gardens and urbanisation have led to a decline in the number of hedgehogs in the UK, a survey says.

Development of parks and gardens have contributed to a 50% decline in some areas, the HogWatch survey suggests.

Nearly 20,000 people took part in the two-year survey, making it one of the largest of its kind, organisers said.

The survey was carried out by the University of London for the People's Trust for Endangered Species and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society.

The data gathered by the volunteers allowed the research team to develop a better understanding of the small mammals' nationwide distribution.

They said that the study revealed an east/west divide, with more hedgehogs spotted in eastern regions.

Badger theory

Commenting on the findings, study co-ordinator Paul Bright from Royal Holloway, University of London, said: "Increasing urbanisation and tidier gardens are pushing hedgehogs out from the places where most of us live.

Distribution of hedgehogs in the UK

"In the wider countryside, landscapes that have smaller fields appear better for hedgehogs," Dr Bright added.

As well as development in urban areas, an increase in the number of badgers (which eat hegehogs) has been linked to the decline.

However, Hugh Warwick of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society said the jury was still out on that hypothesis.

"Hedgehogs and badgers have co-existed for millenia, and still live side-by-side... and where the decline in hedgehogs is highest, there are fewer badgers," he said.

"It seems likely that the way we have altered the environment is at the heart of the problem."

The team said the two-year project had provided them with possibly the largest distribution dataset for a single species over a short period of time.

Dr Bright and his team plan to use the results to compare current hedgehog distribution in Greater London with data from the 1960s.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Attracting bees to your garden

Wherever you live in the UK, you should be able to attract at least six bumblebee species to your garden, and perhaps as many as ten.

Some of our rarer bees tend not to visit exotic garden flowers, preferring native British wildflowers. These are easy to grow and thrive in the average garden being hardy and much more resistant to slugs and mildew than other garden flowers. For example Viper’s bugloss, Echium vulgare, makes a magnificent plant for a herbaceous border, with spikes of vivid blue flowers up to 60cm (2ft) tall. And it will attract a cloud of bumblebees in high summer.

Bumblebee species differ in the length of their tongues, and, as a result, prefer different flowers. For example the longest tongued species, Bombus hortorum, loves deep flowers such as honeysuckle, foxglove and aquilegia. Create a garden with a selection of garden flowers and wildflowers that bumblebees love, and that caters for both long and short-tongued species. If you have room for even one or two of these they will attract many bees. Most of these plants will also attract a range of other interesting insects to the garden, including butterflies and honeybees.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Migrating Birds Giving Britain A Miss

Britain is losing its appeal as a winter feeding station for migrating birds, with significant declines in at least eight species of wetland birds. Global warming is thought to be responsible.

The trend was identified by the State of the UK’s Birds 2006, a report by conservation organisations as part of a wetland bird survey project.

Mallard ducks, dunlin and ringed plovers traditionally fly hundreds or thousands of miles to reach Britain for the winter. They set off from their spring and summer breeding grounds in regions such as Greenland, Siberia and Canada in search of a milder climate. But some no longer fly so far because they can get what they need elsewhere on their route.

The biggest decline, of two thirds, is among European white-fronted geese. They are showing a preference for the Baltic and the Netherlands. Mallard numbers have fallen by a third.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Don't Let Age or Aches Keep You Out of the Garden

I like this article which shows just how much gardening can be very therapeutic, both physically, and mentally.

Don't Let Age or Aches Keep You Out of the Garden

After a day of gardening, do you crawl into bed with a heat pack, an ice pack or maybe even a six-pack? Do you have a special pillow for knee pain, one for neck aches and a pair of wrist splints for carpal tunnel pain? When you limp to the kitchen for a midnight snack of Aleve, do you have so many magnets strapped to your body in hope of pain relief that you stick to the refrigerator door?

Don't let anyone ever tell you that gardening isn't exercise. As many will attest, sometimes a fair amount of hurt accompanies participation in this "sport." Hauling, digging, raking, exhuming rocks or a tug of war with an obstinate taproot can invite an aching back, sore joints, strained muscles, even serious injury. All this is particularly challenging to anyone with preexisting conditions and becomes more apparent as we age.

Tools with ergonomic handles, such as this transplanter from Radius Garden, can ease hand pain.
Tools with ergonomic handles, such as this transplanter from Radius Garden, can ease hand pain. (Courtesy Radius Garden)

Gardening is so therapeutic and rewarding, though, that people with seemingly insurmountable difficulties manage to keep their hands in the earth, regardless of the limitations. The keys to perseverance are in what mode of growing we undertake, how we move about the garden, what we wear and what tools we use.

One way to make gardening more manageable is to downsize. Restrict plants to a smaller area, confine growing to window boxes, troughs and other containers, or bring gardens within easier reach. You can use raised beds, table gardens, vertical wall gardens and hanging baskets that rely on pulley systems to raise and lower pots. These enable people with back problems, partial mobility or restricted vision, as well as wheelchair gardeners, to work with relative ease.

Once upon a time, Jack Shaffer, winner of many awards for his gardens, stewarded an acre in Potomac and gardened 40 mostly wooded acres in Rappahannock County. Now 89 and in a wheelchair, he tends a more modest 400 square feet at his new home outside of Buckeystown in Maryland's Frederick County.

"I can no longer do vegetable gardening in the back of the house," he says, "but in front I have a 30-by-12-foot mixed border. Hard to get into with my chair, but I grow tree peonies and mostly herbaceous perennials -- iris, day lilies, bulbs and so forth -- and manage fairly well. The soil has been amended so it's easy to dig. I use a long-handled trowel and have no problem planting. Hauling hose is difficult in a wheelchair, though." Mechanical watering systems are available and could help solve even that problem.

Elizabeth Farley, one-time teacher and assistant director of the Arboretum of the Barnes Foundation outside Philadelphia and a respected gardener in that area, was not about to give up her love of plant nurturing after her recent move to a retirement community. Now she gardens in containers on a small terrace.

"My former quarter-acre garden in Bala Cynwyd had mostly small trees with multi-seasonal interest and flowering shrubs, many of which I'd propagated from seeds and cuttings from my days at Barnes. Also ferns, a number of which I grew from spores, native plants and a small kitchen garden for my herbs, which I used lavishly in my cooking," she says.

"The patio here is about 20 by 12 feet. I have a variety of containers, including small troughs with rock garden plants. I've tried to stage the containers to provide greater interest in this long, narrow space. In addition to my herbs, which do so well I'm able to take bouquets to friends here who, like me, still cook, I have some slow-growing conifers, small boxwoods, several tropicals and perennials with colorful foliage, and small ornamental grasses.

"When it comes time to care for the pots, I whip out a little folding stool which I bought at a camping supply store, making it easier for me to maneuver down the line as I groom the plants. I also have three of those wrought-iron shepherd crooks on which to hang flowering annuals," Farley says.

Many of us, regardless of age, have certain health or mobility "issues." If you suffer from arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, obesity, tennis elbow, high or low blood pressure, Lyme disease, or knee, hip, rotator cuff, back, foot, neck or hand problems, you qualify. To compensate for my personal amalgam of maladies, I seek tools that make cutting, digging, bending and stretching easier. I check tool supply houses, garden shops, hardware stores and catalogues for ergonomic tools and gadgets: pruners with ratchet mechanisms, with long-reach and/or rotating padded handles, swivel heads, sliding mechanisms or other innovations that are a boon for those with carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis sufferers or anyone with strength or agility issues. You'll find your own personal favorites.

Protect yourself with sunblock cream, insect repellent and clothing that shields your body from scrapes, thorns, poison ivy and other hazards while still allowing freedom of movement and comfort. Reject the instinct to recycle your run-down street shoes as garden wear. Overly flexible shoes and worn-down soles can alter your gait, causing back, hip and knee aches, twisted ankles, even broken bones. Sandals expose feet to danger, too. Opt for sturdy, thick-soled, supportive footwear.

To prevent cuts, poison ivy and ingrained grime, I prefer disposable latex surgical gloves from the drugstore for weeding, deadheading and executing tasks that require the greatest dexterity, for handling liquid and granular chemicals and for squishing grubs and slugs. For heavy duty and thorny gardening, PalmFlex makes a series of flexible gloves for gardeners, and Bionic gloves, recommended by the Arthritis Foundation, may be the creme de la creme for ultimate protection and mobility.

It also helps to keep hand tools in a bucket or tool belt so they're accessible. I use a four-wheeled wagon to cart large tools, sprayers, plants and mulch. It's easier to pull around than a wheelbarrow, even with one hand. Test before you buy to make sure the wagon is well-balanced and lightweight.

Containers made of plastic foam, resin, fiberglass and other lightweight materials are simpler to move around than terra cotta, stone or lead containers. Many of these replicate the look of natural materials rather well.

For large containers, I use less soil and fill the bottom with "eco-friendly mats made from 100 percent nonwoven post-consumer recycled plastic" packaged by a company called Better Than Rocks, instead of heavy pebbles or those pernicious foam peanuts. These mats add no weight and ensure good drainage, even in pots left out in heavy rain that might become waterlogged. They come in sheets, so you don't have to mess with pellets or small pieces.

Pace yourself. Rotate tasks to avoid repetitive motions that cause or exacerbate disorders. Don't do all your weeding, edging, planting or pruning in one day. Instead, alternate activities: standing, sitting, hauling, bending. Stay in the shade as much as possible. Drink lots of water. If you have blood pressure problems, don't weed while bending over or rise too quickly from a crouching position. I use an old chaise cushion to kneel or sprawl on, rather than those small rubber kneeling pads.

Stop for lunch and a nap when you feel the urge, especially during the hottest times of the day. I garden a lot in a prone position. That works well with the nap idea.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Planting Herbs in a Container

To save time, you can buy ready grown herb plants from the garden centre or specialist supplier. Many herbs are only sold under their generic names rather than as named cultivars like flowers or vegetables although a few, such as thyme, have named variegated forms.

Decide on how many plants you want to grow and then choose a container that is wide and deep enough to accommodate them comfortably. Depending on the varieties, you should be able to squeeze six plants into a 30cm (12in) container.

If you've bought large pots from your supermarket, split the clumps to make more plants and space them out in the pot. Cover the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot with some broken pot shards and then add a layer of compost.

Arrange your plants in the container, making sure lower growing plants are placed around the edges. Fill in the gaps with compost and firm around plants, leaving a 2cm (1in) gap between the top of the compost and the rim of the bowl. Water well.

After planting, put the pot in a sunny spot, near the kitchen door or an outdoor kitchen area so you always have them close to hand.

Place the pot in full sun and water regularly, especially during the summer. Add a liquid feed to your watering can once a week to give plants a boost during the growing season. To ensure you have lots of new leaves, pick regularly from the tips of plants. This stimulates bushy new growth.

By autumn annual herbs, such as basil and coriander will run out of steam and can by lifted from the container and discarded. Perennial herbs such as mint, thyme oregano or chives will die back, but will re-grow in the spring. Protect the pots during a hard frost.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Tips on buying and using lawn care tools

If you want some advice on the purchase or use of garden tools and equipment such as mowers, trimmers and chainsaws here`s a handy site to take you through the pros and cons of which tool will suit your needs. Click here.