Today is Earth Day when across the world organisations and individuals come together to celebrate and "promote a healthy environment and a peaceful, just, sustainable world". The Washington Institute has published a score card highlighting four key areas of concern for 2015, so what can we do at home to help?
1. Make our outside spaces wildlife friendly
One in four species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish are on the verge of extinction or extinct. We can do our bit for our local species by making our gardens or outside space more welcoming for wildlife. The RSPB campaign Make a Home offers lots of excellent tips for making your space wildlife friendly.
Even the smallest balcony can offer food and shelter for birds and insects. Wildlife friendly does not have to be untidy, a formal pond will attract wildlife and many flowers adored by the most discerning gardener are equally loved by bees and other insects.
2. Use your harvest
One person in six alive today is chronically hungry. I am not sure that the keenest grow-your-own enthusiast can solve this one but there are things we can do to help reduce food waste and local charities. Maybe you have fruit trees but are unable to pick the fruit or it's simply too much for you to use. Locally Northfield Ecocentre run Urban Harvest which collects unwanted fruit and vegetables and redistribute them to local charities, schools and a local Community Café, the rest is used to create lovely juices and preserves. Thousands of tonnes of fruit goes unused in our city gardens so why not help reduce the waste. Or if you haven't got any surplus why not help by volunteering with the harvest.
3. Buy local and recycle
Between between 1970 and today 160 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide have been released into the atmosphere, that's more than in the previous 200 years. We can all help by buying plants and sourcing our hard-landscaping materials locally. There are many small plant nurseries which offer a larger and more interesting range of locally grown plants than you will find in the big Garden Centres. When re-designing a planting scheme or garden I always try and re-use or recycle what I can. If it isn't wanted or doesn't fit with the new scheme then there is nearly always someone who can use it, try advertising on your local Freecycle or Streetlife.
4. Celebrate our green spaces
The final scorecard fact is that the Earth's population has almost doubled since 1970, and in the same period the share of cropland per person has almost halved. I had to think laterally on this one as I am not sure that I can help with either of these : ) But the message I think we should take is how lucky we are to have public and private green spaces to enjoy. We should celebrate this and ensure that we are making the most of whatever outside space we have - every little bit of green we can create in our cities helps reduce pollution, support wildlife and provides enjoyment not only to us but everyone one who passes by - guess which is my outside space?
If you would like to celebrate Earth Day but like me are at work today, then why not go along to the free Birmingham Botanical Gardens Earth Day at the Gardens on Saturday 25th April. This year it also commemorates the 70th Anniversary of the end of World War II highlighting the role of Victory Gardens from their design, propaganda and the impact on gardening today.
Fancy a hit of chocolate without the calories? Cosmos atrosanguineus is a beautiful perennial with velvet maroon petals held above pretty foliage and a mouth-watering scent combination of vanilla and chocolate. It's quite tender so tricky to over-winter, but worth indulging in a plant or two near a favourite seat. The cultivar 'Chocomocha' is said to be particularly chocolate-y, definitely one on the shopping list for my balcony this year.
Photo by pemberlolly via Flikr
A pretty climber with the wonderful combination of chocolate flowers and spicy vanilla scent is Akebia quinata or Chocolate Vine. Semi-evergreen it has fragrant spring flowers sometimes followed by strange purple fruits. The waxy leaves will fall in cold winters but take on a purplish tint as the weather cools. Despite its exotic appearance it's quite hardy and will tolerate some shade.
If chocolate is not for you, how about the irresistibly named Iris 'Butter and Sugar'. It looks as delicious as it sounds and I am looking forward to seeing it in flower in one of my clients' gardens. It is quite happy in moist or boggy soil and we have used it near a pond which sometimes floods. Photo by noramunro via Flikr
One personal favourites is Jasminum officinale 'Clotted Cream'. It has abundant creamy flowers with a rich scent and is perfect near a path or seat. Although said to prefer full sun, I had one which flowered profusely on an east-facing fence despite been overshadowed by mature trees. It can cope with dry soil and so a good choice for containers.
Although a big fan of chocolate Easter eggs, I've been looking for some alternative Easter treats which will amuse my friends and be guilt-free. Luckily I have found lots of inspiration and enjoyed myself browsing through my plant books and the internet. Below are a few of my current favourites.
For friends with a savoury palate or appreciating a more traditional Easter link a packet of Poached Egg plant seeds (Limnanthes douglasii) is ideal. Scatter the seeds where you want them to grow and you will have a cheerful carpet of flowers all summer. It will also attract hoverflies who will hoover up your aphids, so a good choice for your vegetable patch.
Photo by anyjazz65 via Flikr
Finally a suggestion that is edible , Mentha x piperita f. citrata 'Chocolate' or more simply Chocolate Mint. It has lovely dark stems and a purple flush to the leaves. Bees and other pollinators will love the typical mauve flowers and the leaves are delicious. Reminiscent of After Eights when crushed they make a lovely addition to salads, puddings or summer cocktails. Like all mints it prefers the sun and is best in a container as it will spread.
There are many more plants with delicious names so you can tailor your gift (or personal treat) accordingly and have some fun in the process. Off now to finish my Easter shopping, I wonder if I can find something suitable for a liquorice fiend?
All photos used under Creative Commons Attribution licence
Last weekend I spent a grey, wet November morning wandering around the Ventnor Botanical Gardens. Although the weather was dull and gloomy the gardens were guaranteed to lift your spirits. The Isle of Wight benefits from a very mild climate and so many late summer perennials such as heleniums and penstemons were still in full swing. But what really caught my eye were some of the beautiful tree trunks whose colours and textures were glistening and glowing in the autumnal drizzle.
One of the most spectacular sights was the almost luminescent bark of Arbutus 'Hybrid Seedling'.
The Arbutus family is often overlooked despite offering evergreen trees and shrubs with ornamental bark, clusters of creamy flowers and colourful fruits. Surely ticking the boxes of providing year round colour and interest. They are largely tolerant of most soils and aspects and only ask that you protect them from cold winds and water-logging.
The fruits are long lasting and you will have new ones forming alongside the fully ripe , resulting in a wonderful mix of green, yellow and reds. Although they are said to resemble strawberries, to me they resemble fluffy Christmas baubles. They are also edible although an acquired taste. Needing minimal care they offer a lot in return for little input.
Arbutus unedo (AGM) is probably the smallest and can be grown as a shrub or trained to form a small tree (simply prune out unwanted lower branches to create your main trunk) . The tree Arbutus x andrachnoides will provide wonderful bark, similar to the Hybrid Seedling or if those colours are not quite to your taste try Arbutus menziesii. below, delicious in cinnamon and pistachio shades.
Native to temperate climates, they bring us a taste of the mediterranean without the tenderness and difficulties associated the popular Olive tree.
I recently spent an enjoyable morning visiting one of my clients who had finished implementing my design for their small enclosed garden.
Although enthusiastic gardeners, they were struggling with how to make the best of their new outside space, having always had larger gardens before recently downsizing. Their priority was a design which would give them somewhere to sit and entertain and a planting scheme which was pretty, colourful and scented. As the garden is the main view from their lovely conservatory they wanted year round interest which was also low maintenance.
The first step was to create a sense of privacy and enclosure achieved by adding trellis to the existing boundaries and painting all the woodwork to match in a fresh modern colour. After discussion my clients decided to leave the walls unpainted and although I feel this would have helped unify the boundaries, once the climbers mature the walls will become less dominant. Using light colours for the hard landscaping has increased the sense of space whilst a mix of gravel and paving provides changes in texture and interest. With gravel mulching the planting areas the boundaries between hard and soft landscaping are blurred and the area feels larger.
A pretty bench sits on paving surrounded by planting with a simple water feature providing a focal point and gentle background noise. Evergreen planting is combined with a few choice perennials to help add seasonal interest. Herbs including lavender and rosemary provide texture and scent and creeping thyme will release a lovely scent as you walk through the garden. An informal layout softens the hard landscaping and as the planting matures will feel generous whilst still enabling easy movement around the garden.
My clients decided they would like to source the plants themselves and enjoyed visiting some of the smaller local nurseries in the process. Ideally the conifers flanking the gate would be taller and my clients laughed that these provided a lesson in the dangers of ordering plants over the internet when they arrived much smaller than expected.
Removing the old paving, relaying hardcore for the new landscaping and creating dedicated planting pockets was hard work but I am so pleased that my clients followed my advice and didn’t take any shortcuts. This should ensure that their plants grow well and reduce weed growth.
It was lovely to hear how much more they now enjoy being in their new garden. They have done a wonderful job implementing the design and we were all very pleased with the results.
The raspberry muffins were lovely too…