Year of Green Action Garden at RHS Hampton Court

Many of us owe our love of plants, gardens and wildlife to early experiences in childhood. Even on a small scale, places that enable young people to connect with the natural environment can begin a relationship that lasts a lifetime.

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The YoGA Garden is full of interesting features to engage children with nature

At a time when we need the younger generation to understand, cherish and protect the environment like never before, these early experiences are vitally important. The Year of Green Action Garden, created by DEFRA and the Sensory Trust, explores ways that children of all abilities can get involved with nature through gardens.

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Starting early often fosters a lifelong love of plants and wildlife

It aims to inspire people to create sustainable, resilient outdoor spaces at home, in schools, workplaces and communities, with environmentally-friendly top tips including:

Peat-Free Compost

Healthy peatlands are crucial in combating climate change, so always buy peat-free and tell friends and family why peat-free is so important too. The compost in the YoGA Garden is sourced from Melcourt.

Water

Opt for drought-resistant planting schemes to conserve water. Key examples in the garden include low-growing woolly thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus) and wild strawberries (Fragraria vesca).

Year of Green Action Garden. Designed by Helen J Rosevear and Jane Stoneham. Sponsored by Defra and Sensory Trust. RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival 2019. Stand no. 329

The sensory plant wall, including woolly thyme. Image credit: RHS Joanna Kossak

Paving

Permeable paving is vital to avoid flooding on hard surfaces, an increasingly common issue as the climate becomes warmer and wetter. Accessible permeable surfaces in the garden include turf reinforced with a grid system, recycled shredded rubber paths and porcelain paving made from recycled materials.
 

Pollinators

Nectar-rich plants with different flower shapes attract a range of pollinating insects. Designers Helen Rosevear and Jane Stoneham chose common garden plants like nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) for long-tongued bumblebees and butterflies, woolly lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina) for wool carder bees (which collect the hairs and eat the pollen and nectar) and Verbena bonariensis, a magnet for a range of butterfly species.

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Nasturtiums attract a range of pollinating insects

Native Plants

Plants from other areas of the world are useful for pollinators, but native species also provide food and habitats for wildlife, especially larval forms of invertebrates that provide the vital foundation of many food webs. As non-natives often don’t provide for the larval stages, it is important to include a range of native plants to support healthy ecosystems in the garden. Silver birch (Betula pendula) was chosen as part of the canopy layer in the YoGA Garden as it casts dappled shade on the sensory dome and also provides a habitat for over 300 insect species, seeds for birds and homes for woodpeckers. For these reasons we planted a silver birch in our garden this year and I can’t wait until grows up to join the two neighbouring birches, playing host to daily goldfinch visits and redwing and waxwing in the winter.

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Redwing in the silver birch outside my study window

All the ideas in the YoGA Garden are designed to be affordable and accessible. From the wheelable thyme lawn tables and planters filled with edibles, to the shrub den and willow tunnel, the garden encourages physical and emotional participation, helping children to learn about the natural world.

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The vibrant planters are full of edibles, including foliage with colour contrasts for partially-sighted visitors like this red-veined sorrel

If you visit the garden or the website (www.yearofgreenaction.org), you can make a pledge to take green action and help protect the natural environment. I hung my promise on the tree among many others:

I pledge to encourage my young children and my nieces to engage with nature through wildlife gardening in the coming years.

Year of Green Action Garden. Designed by Helen J Rosevear and Jane Stoneham. Sponsored by Defra and Sensory Trust. RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival 2019. Stand no. 329

Featured image credit: RHS Joanna Kossak

 

Fruity New Ideas in the Edible Eden Garden at RHS Hampton Court

Beautiful blackcurrants, deep rosy red fleshed apples, delicious patio tomatoes, and a ginger rosemary cocktail that will blow you away – all on offer at Hampton Court this week in the Edible Eden Garden, designed by Chris Smith of Pennard Plants

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Companion planting in the Edible Eden Garden. Image credit: RHS Joanna Kossak

Edible Eden combines a formal vegetable area, unusual edibles in the forest garden and a soft fruit display in a garden that is a feast for the eyes as well as the tastebuds. Chris explained that he collaborated with Burpee Europe and Lubera on the garden, two companies specializing in breeding and producing new varieties of fruit, vegetables and flowers. Initially Simon Crawford, of Burpee Europe, had the vision of a field of sunflowers and this developed into the impressive display of dwarf sunflower ‘Sunray’ which leads the visitor into the vibrant edible garden.

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Field of Sunflower ‘Sunray’ glory

Passing the Riverside Shepherd’s Hut, which would be wonderful to use as a potting or writing space, the sunflower field leads to a vegetable area full of ripe tomatoes, peppers and fiery marigolds grown as companion plants to ward off unwanted insects. 

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The ideal writing retreat…

Of particular interest was Sweet Pepper ‘Lemon Dream’, launched at Chelsea last year as a companion to ‘Tangerine Dream’. I’m growing both for the first time this year and peppers have just started to form – I hope my plants prove as ornamental and productive as the Pennard peppers at Edible Eden!

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Who could resist Sweet Pepper ‘Lemon Dream’?

The forest garden area showcases new fruit from Lubera including the Redlove apple varieties – ‘Era’, ‘Lollipop’ and ‘Calypso’. I was impressed by the amount of fruit produced on these trees in such a small space. The apples are particularly attractive with a deep rosy red colour that shows all the way through the fruit. The high levels of anthocyanins found in the skin means the apples are healthy to eat as well as being beautiful and the deep colour is retained even when they are cooked. 

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Redlove ‘Lollipop’. Image credit: Lubera

The apple trees have deep pink flowers in spring and beautiful autumn colour, making Redlove both ornamental and productive – an ideal tree for a small garden.

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Redlove blossom – a welcome sight in spring. Image credit: Lubera

Next to the apple trees, my eye was drawn to a display of several different Szechaun peppers from the Pennard Plants collection. These hardy shrubs are easy to grow and provide different flavoured peppercorns depending on the variety. Some also have edible leaves to extend the cropping period outside the ripening of the berries. I love the range of leaf shapes and colours from the purple-leaved Japanese Sansho pepper (Zanthoxylum piperitum) with its aromatic leaves, to the lush deep green foliage of the Korean lime pepper (Zanthoxylum coreanum) which has edible berries and leaves. Pennards have collected over 15 different Szechuan and other pepper varieties all with different flavours and preferring different garden situations, so there’s sure to be one that will thrive in every garden.

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Chinese Red Pepper (Zanthoxylum bungeanum) in the Edible Eden forest garden

Inside the Alitex greenhouse, the fruit on Melon ‘Mango Mel’ (bred by Burpee to thrive in a northern climate) made my mouth water.  Fortunately I had the opportunity to taste the melons later when writer and grower Mark Diacono, of Otter Farm, prepared a range of cocktails to showcase the fruit, vegetables and herbs from the garden.

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Each melon resting in its own individual hammock

Mark’s Pimms with ginger ale and garden produce (cucumber, melon, lemon, strawberries, Moroccan mint and even radish) was delicious and then he prepared a ginger rosemary gin with ginger rosemary syrup (equal amounts of water and sugar, on a low heat until dissolved, add ginger rosemary or any other herb and steep until required strength, then remove), lots of lemon juice to add the sharpness and a good quantity of gin. This is one to drink at the end of a visit to the show though – not before touring the gardens!

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Beware Mark Diacono preparing (delicious) cocktails

Finally Chris showed me a new tomato due to be launched at RHS Tatton Park Flower Show later in the year. This tiny tomato combines a diminutive stature with a deliciously sweet taste – the holy grail of patio tomato breeding. Christened ‘Veranda Red’, this variety is ideal as a tabletop tomato and would be perfect to grow at home with children.

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Tiny tomato ‘Veranda Red’

As I was leaving Edible Eden, full of new ideas for my ornamental fruit and vegetable plot back home, I noticed blackcurrant ‘Black ‘N Red’ which develops gorgeous deep burgundy leaves as the summer progresses. I’ve just removed a blackcurrant that had become unproductive, so I think the sweet fruit of ‘Black ‘N Red’ along with its ornamental foliage might just be the next edible addition to my garden.

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Blackcurrant ‘Black ‘N Red’. Image credit: Lubera

Featured image credit: RHS Joanna Kossack

 

 

‘Snickets’ by Nic Wilson

Lovely to have one of my nature pieces included on the Landlines: British Nature Writing, 1798-2014 site this week. I’m celebrating the daily renewal offered by the nearby wild…

Land Lines: British Nature Writing, 1789-2014

Snicket Steps, Gyffin. Image credit Rob Carter
Snicket steps, Gyffin, image credit Rob Carter
We are delighted to announce the start of a special series of blog posts throughout July, August and September featuring new work from emerging nature writers. First up is Nic Wilson’s beautiful meditation on memory and the daily renewal of our contact with the land.

‘All locales and landscapes are … embedded in social and individual times of memory. Their pasts as much as their spaces are crucially constitutive of their presents.’
Christopher Tilley A Phenomenology of Landscape

Snicket, n. – a narrow passage between houses, an alleyway, origin obscure.
Oxford English Dictionary

There are many different types of snicket and each has its own story to tell. I surface in these riven-pathways early; they tower above my head. The stones at eye-level jut out of the mortar and despite their unforgiving corners I’m compelled to run my fingers along the broken edges, remembering…

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Gardeners’ World Live: Water, Water, Everywhere…

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Helping with A Resilient Garden in a Changing Climate was an inspiring (and soggy) experience

Water has been a key focus at this year’s Gardeners’ World Live, both in terms of garden design and the inclement weather. Professor David Stevens, designer and winner of eleven RHS Gold medals, believes it has never been wetter at the show, yet last year’s weather was scorching and all through the summer designers struggled to keep show gardens looking at their best. This year the rain and cold winds were the biggest challenge in the build phase – risking damaging delicate plants, creating banks of mud and making working conditions wet and chilly. I didn’t mind the rain but putting wet gardening gloves on again after tea break is a particularly unpleasant sensation! The teams all did a magnificent job and by Wednesday afternoon as the rain started to clear, the gardens were immaculate, ready for the show to open the following morning.

Once planting was finished, I headed off to explore the other gardens and was immediately drawn to the Canal & River Trust Garden. It was easy to become absorbed in the reflections of the tranquil water in the full-size canal and I rather wished I could live in the traditional legger’s hut with its canal-side cottage garden. The Canal & River Trust Garden is not the first design this year to place water at its heart – the RHS Chelsea Welcome to Yorkshire Garden incorporated an entire lock gate into the design, donated by the Canal & River Trust. The combination of canal and wildflower planting in the perennial meadow, represented both Yorkshire’s industrial past and its breathtakingly beautiful natural environment. 

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Naturalistic planting around the canal in Mark Gregory’s Welcome To Yorkshire Garden at Chelsea

Water and Wellbeing

The Canal & River Trust Garden is subtitled ‘Making Life Better by Water’ (also the subtitle of the Trust), emphasising the positive effect that the UK’s 2000 miles of historic waterways have on the wellbeing of everyone who comes in contact with the water. Richard Parry, chief executive of the Trust, explained that volunteers David and Hilary Godbehere inspired the garden and also worked with Chris Myers, the designer, to develop this serene and undisturbed space. 

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Canal & River Trust Garden – Making Life Better By Water. Credit: Steve Granger

Hilary and David, lock keepers on the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal, are clearly passionate about communicating their love of the canals and the benefits of being close to water. With a huge range of activities including exercising, boating and exploring the rich wildlife habitats and historic features beside many of our waterways, spending time by water can have a positive impact on everyone’s wellbeing. 

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Airy planting of geranium, nicotiana and salvia in the canal-side garden. Credit: Steve Granger

Water in a Changing Climate

The theme of water isn’t restricted to the show gardens; the beautiful borders also consider the impact of water on our daily lives and our gardens. As we’ve seen in microcosm over the past two show seasons, high temperatures and extended periods of heavy rain are increasing as the climate changes. As these changes become more extreme, gardens will be subject to longer periods of drought and possible flooding, making it vital for gardeners to store water, create effective drainage and make plant choices to cope with changing conditions.

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Astrantia ‘Abbey Road’ thriving in the damp soil in A Resilient Garden in a Changing Climate. Credit: Steve Granger

Tessa Parikian’s Resilient Garden in a Changing Climate demonstrates simple ways to mitigate the effects of extreme weather conditions in the garden. Her border includes both damp and dry areas, and Tessa suggests using 150cm depth of gravel as a mulch around plants. In damp areas  this will help to stabilise the soil, preventing runoff and soil erosion, while in dry borders it will keep any moisture in the soil rather than allowing it to evaporate. She also advises incorporating water putts into the garden, like the stylish water butt planter by Garantia at the centre of her border. 

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Drought tolerant artemisia and Mexican fleabane in the Embracing Change Garden. Credit: Steve Granger

The Embracing Change Garden, designed by Lucy Miller, also addresses the issue of changing climatic conditions. Her border channels rain water runoff into planting areas and she has chosen versatile plants that tolerate both wet and dry conditions to ensure that they have the best chance of surviving whatever the weather. 

Waterwise Planting: Dry Conditions

Both beautiful borders include plants that add colour to the garden during late spring and summer. They also tolerate dry conditions so they minimise the need to water. Plant choices such as Mexican fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus), rose campion (Lychnis coronaria), Stipa tenuissima, Dianthus carthusianorum, fennel (Feoniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’), Salvia verticillata, Briza maxima and prostrate rosemary (Rosmarinus prostatus) prefer drier soils and will cope with periods of drought, especially when established.

 

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Credit: Steve Granger

Waterwise Planting: Damp Conditions

In the damp areas the designers have chosen plants that tolerate wet ground, such as snowy woodrush (Luzula nivea), Atrantia major ‘Burgundy Manor’ and ‘Abbey Rose’, Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) and Primula bulleyana and Primula beesiana. These vibrant candelabra primulas create colour and interest in the damp area of the Resilient Garden and are very happy in damp, wet or pond-edge positions in the garden. They multiply each year and create a stunning floral display in late May and June, as shown at Gardeners’ World Live. 

 

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Credit: Steve Granger

With a combination of rain-saving measures, good drainage and plants that tolerate dry and/or damp conditions, our gardens will be more able to tolerate changing weather conditions, allowing us to continue creating beautiful gardens and borders into the future.

Gardeners’ World Live continues until tomorrow evening and is a friendly and inspiring show to visit. If you’d like to read more about this year’s shows, you can follow the blog below:

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Coral, Peach and Ivory Tones in Jo Thompson’s Wedgwood Garden

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Coral, Peach and Ivory Tones in Jo Thompson’s Wedgwood Garden

The Wedgwood Garden, designed by Jo Thompson, marks the 260th anniversary of the company, founded by Josiah Wedgwood in 1759. The hard landscaping is inspired by Etruria – the pioneering Staffordshire village that Wedgwood built for his workers – and the canals that transported his pottery throughout the UK. 

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One of the vistas through the garden

Many of Wedgwood’s motifs were based on Greek and Roman mythology and this influence is captured in the interlinked arches that provide multiple frames through which to view the garden. The importance of the Staffordshire canals are referenced in the watercourse that flows through the garden, connecting the architecture with the surrounding planting. The garden includes sculptures by Ben Barrell – ‘Erosion’ is a rippled stone surface inspired by centuries of erosion and ‘Poldhu Point’ is a bronze sculpture inspired by a headland on the Cornish coast.

The overarching conifers (Pinus nigra, Sequoia sempervirens and Cedrus atlantica) and soft colour palette of the shrubs, perennials and annuals creates a warm, secluded atmosphere, perfect for relaxation. I’m helping on the garden this week – answering questions about the design and planting, but what I most want to do is settle down amongst the umbellifers and peonies to drink in the sights and scents.

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Water is the key element in this garden – seen here in Ben Barrell’s sculpture

Jo’s planting takes my breath away with its subtle, natural combinations of form, texture and colour. I am particularly drawn to certain plants – as are many of the visitors to the garden – these are all cultivars that would be easy to grow at home in both formal and informal gardens:

Iris ‘Pink Charm’

A gorgeous bearded iris with a name that belies its delicate peachy falls and intense tangerine beard. This iris creates drama and height among the lower perennials on the margins of the garden. The fragrant flowers will reach 60cm and bloom throughout May and June. Iris need full sun and well-drained soil in a sheltered position. If you can give them the conditions they require (sadly not easy in my garden), they will repay you with bursts of peachy joy in your early summer borders. Without a doubt, my favourite plant in the Wedgwood Garden.

Iris ‘Pink Charm’

Eschscholzia ‘Ivory Castle’

Another flower attracting a lot of attention from the crowds is Eschscholzia (bless you) ‘Ivory Castle’, the Californian poppy. This delightful annual has glaucous feathery foliage and ivory flowers with a creamy eye. It’s not too late to sow seeds and as ‘Ivory Castle’ only grows to 40cm, it is ideal for softening the edges of beds and borders.

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Eschscholzia ‘Ivory Castle’

Paeonia ‘Pink Hawaiian Coral’

This herbaceous peony has semi-double flowers that last well in a vase. Peonies prefer well-drained soil in full sun, and prefer a sheltered position. It will reach 90cm and produces scented blooms throughout May and June. The glowing coral-pink flowers fade as they age, revealing a centre filled with soft yellow stamens. It’s a real beauty.

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Paeonia ‘Pink Hawaiian Coral’

Daucus carota ‘Dara’

Jo’s planting is light and airy using umbellifers like Ammi majusAngelica archangelicaAnthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’ – another of my favourites – and Daucus carota ‘Dara’. I grow this cultivated variety of wild carrot for its light burgundy umbels and ferny foliage. At 90cm, the flowerheads create drama above the surrounding planting, but don’t obscure the views beyond. As with many umbellifers, Daucus carota attracts pollinating insects and later in the season provides seeds for birds. Another bonus is the concave seedhead which is almost more beautiful than the flowers themselves.

Daucus Carota flowers and seedhead

DSC_0063 (2)Verbascum ‘Helen Johnson’

I love verbascum in all its shades and sizes – from native Verbascum nigrum (dark mullein) and Verbascum thapsus (great mullein) to cultivars like ‘Clementine’ and ‘Gainsborough’. ‘Helen Johnson’ was found as a chance seedling at Kew and its pinky-coppery shades bring together the dusky tones in Jo’s planting. Verbascum flowers attract a wide range of pollinating insects – bees, butterflies and flies. Rather wonderfully, hairs are also combed from stems and leaves by wool carder bees to use as nest material, and males guard areas of the plant for potential mates. 

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5 Environmentally-Friendly Ideas to Take Home from the RHS Chelsea Flower Show

1. Wildflower Power

Everywhere you turn at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show, indigenous trees, shrubs and perennials are interpersed with native biennial and annual wildflowers. The gardens are awash with hornbeam, birch, willow, yew, guelder rose, cow parsley, foxglove, ragged robin and sedum. The pinks of red campion and ragged robin are particularly conspicuous across the showground, creating a frothy haze around the garden borders.

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‘R’ is for RHS, Red Campion and Ragged Robin

We’re all aware of the importance of growing flowers for pollinators and there are many different ways to create a mini-meadow even in the smallest garden. While pollinator mixes and seed mixes for pictorial meadows do provide pollen and nectar for pollinating insects, unfortunately they do little to support the huge numbers of other invertebrates that feed on indigenous flora. So if you can keep even a small area of the garden for native meadow flowers, you will be creating the best garden habitat for all manner of invertebrates that, in turn, support healthy local ecosystems.

One way to create a mini-meadow is to add wild flower plants as we are doing in our garden this year. I bought 140 plug plants from Naturescape a month ago – some have been planted in bare areas and some I’m growing on to add to wild patches at the edge of the lawn. Plants include a range of shade and sun lovers – ox-eye daisies, red and white campion, garlic mustard, mallow, yarrow, field scabious, knapweed and selfheal. I can’t wait to see the flowers develop later in the summer and to investigate what invertebrates these native plants attract to my garden.

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Wildflower turf contains a mix of many native annuals and perennials

Another way to create an area of meadow is to use wildflower turf. When I talked to Lindum, who are showcasing their turf at Chelsea this week, they explained that wildflower turf is now a hugely popular product – demonstrating the growing desire of UK gardeners to support biodiversity in their own backyard. The wildflower turf is grown on a biodegradable backing that breaks down completely as the plants establish, and it includes a wide range of plants – 27 native wildflower species in total. 

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Lindum also sell sedum matting

2. Peat-Free Potential

As always, I made a bee-line for Dalefoot Composts, who are launching their new peat-free tomato compost at Chelsea this year. I’m looking forward to trying it when I pot on my tomatoes next week. The wool-based compost is designed specifically for tomatoes, reducing your workload and environmental impact as plants do not need additional feed during the growing season (the compost has all the nutrients the developing flowers and fruit need) and watering requirements are reduced by 50%.

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Dalefoot Composts have a wide range including the new tomato compost. Image Credit: Dalefoot Composts

3. Circular Design

The Morgan Stanley Garden, designed by Chris Beardshaw, considers ways to manage resources in more sustainable ways, beginning with the creation of the show garden itself. From the domed yew balls to the spherical sculptures, the shapes in the garden depict the cyclical pathway of recycled products that keep materials in circulation for as long as possible. The Hi-Vis jackets and plant pots are made from recycled materials, the flooring is constructed out of bamboo, a rapidly renewable resource, and the rear relaxation pod is clad in an ultra-thin layer of stone that reduces demands on natural resources. These lightweight materials also lower the transportation carbon footprint and reduce the structural demands on the building.  

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In the past few years, the RHS has made huge steps in ensuring that gardens and their products and plants are reused across London and the UK. This year’s Morgan Stanley Garden is destined to be repurposed within the local community by Groundwork London. It would be great to see the commitment to reuse, recycling and minimising energy use embodied in the Morgan Stanley Garden rolled out across all Chelsea show gardens in future years.

4. Growing Heritage and Heirloom

Pennard Plants always creates a fabulous garden in the Great Pavilion and this year is no exception. Next month they have the honour of being RHS Master Growers at Chatsworth Flower Show – demonstrating the RHS commitment to growing your own fruit, vegetables and herbs. 95% Pennard Plants’ seeds are heritage or heirloom varieties and they offer 500 plant cultivars in their nursery and online. Providing such a wide range of different cultivars helps to conserve genetic variation for the future.

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Pennard Plants’ 2019 Chelsea Dig for Victory Garden complete with Anderson Shelter

At this year’s show Pennard Plants are launching the blight-resistant tomato ‘Cocktail Crush’ which produces sweet, small fruits with an acid tang. Blight has become more prevalent in the past 30 years and there are no chemical controls available. 

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‘Oh Happy Day’ – another blight-resistant cultivar available from Pennard Plants

The best option to avoid blight on outdoor tomatoes is to maintain good plant hygiene, maximise airflow around plants by trimming foliage and sideshoots, and growing blight-resistant cultivars like ‘Cocktail Crush’, ‘Oh Happy Day’, ‘Crimson Crush’ and ‘Nagina’ (another new introduction from the nursery).Pennard Plants is also one of the best UK nurseries for unusual edibles – this year I picked a new plant to try – Epazote or Wormseed (Chenopodium ambrosides). A native of Central and South America, this leafy herb was used by the Aztecs in tea, as a leafy vegetable (used sparingly) and to favour bean and rice dishes. Believed to be an aid to prevent flatulence, this would also seem to be the perfect companion plant for anyone growing Jerusalem artichokes this year.

5. Forest Carbon

Forest Carbon finance projects across the UK, planting woodland and restoring peatland with support from both companies and individuals who want to mitigate their carbon footprint. They are certified under the Woodland Carbon CO2de, meaning their carbon capture statistics are based on sound science, the woodland has the right species in the right place and sites are sustainably managed after planting. They also explained to me that they undertake survey work after planting to check that the woodland is having a beneficial effect on biodiversity.

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Riparian woodland creation in the Cheviots. Image Credit: Forest Carbon

Carbon offsetting is a complex issue. If companies and individuals use it as a smokescreen or a way of assuaging their guilt whilst continuing to live and work in an unsustainable manner, then offsetting may well have negative net effects. If, however, offsetting is practised as part of a broader sustainable lifestyle, then it could be argued that it has a place in an environmentally responsible lifestyle. I might, for example, choose to offset the carbon produced by our small amount of driving, whilst saving for an electric car – we’re hoping it won’t be long now! And there’s no doubt that the seven million trees planted by Forest Carbon since 2006 and projects like the peatland restoration at Dryhope in the Scottish Borders and Doddington North Forest – a new 350 hectare forest in Northumberland – are beneficial to people and wildlife. 

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Native woodland creation near Dunbar. Image Credit: Forest Carbon

Forest Carbon are running a new scheme called the Carbon Club for individuals and families to offset their carbon footprint with a monthly payment which helps fund afforestation and peatland restoration. Alongside undertaking other steps to minimise carbon footprints, this might be a suitable option for some.

 

What are your opinions on wildflower planting, peat-free compost, sustainable design at RHS flower shows and carbon offsetting? Please leave me a comment about what you believe to be the most sustainable and environmentally-friendly options for gardeners. Thank you.

As always, my observations and suggestions come from my own opinions on which companies and gardens are offering environmentally-friendly choices for the consumer. I have no connection to Lindum or Forest Carbon except through the discussions I’ve had with them; I’ve bought from Naturescape and was pleased with the quality of the plug plants.

I have, on several occasions, been given a few of packets of seed by Pennard Plants to trial, but I have spent far more buying seed and plants from them. This is also the case with Dalefoot Composts who have sent me bags in the past (including the tomato compost) to trial. However, I also purchase the majority of my peat-free compost supply from them and have done for several years now. I support these companies because they offer fabulous products and really care about the environment.

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Why Nature Matters: In Our Gardens and Our Countryside

Book Review: The Secrets of Great Botanists and What They Teach Us About Gardening

For my birthday this year I received the ultimate present – money to buy gardening and nature books. Matthew Biggs’ The Secrets of Great Botanists was one of the books I bought and it turned out to be an excellent choice…

RHS-The Secrets of Great Botanists

The Secrets of Great Botanists by Matthew Biggs is published by Mitchell Beazley in collaboration with the RHS, £15.99.

From Pedanius Dioscorides’ seminal work De Materia Medica to Patrick Blanc’s modern, innovative mur végétal structures, Matthew Biggs explores the lives and scientific endeavours of 35 of the most influential botanists of the past 2000 years. Although the histories stand alone as individual vignettes, the beauty of this book is in the way it reveals the progression of botanical knowledge over time, exploring developments like James Edward Smith’s purchase of Carl Linnaeus’ botanical collection after the Swedish botanist’s death and his founding of the Linnean society in 1788.

The author recounts the lives of famous botanists like Leonhart Fuchs, John Lindley and Joseph Banks, but also introduces less well known pioneers such as the botanist-pirate William Dampier who was collecting plants in Australia seventy-one years before Sir Joseph Banks, and the botanical illustrator and plant collector Charlotte Wheeler-Cuffe, who designed and oversaw the development of the Maymyo Botanic Garden in the early twentieth century.

Although only eight of the 35 stories focus on female botanists, they comprise some of the most remarkable tales in the collection. Who could fail to be inspired by Anna Atkins, who perfected the art of the cyanotype and produced the first book in the world to be illustrated with photographs? Or the indomitable Jeanne Baret who accompanied naturalist Philibert Commerçon on his plant hunting expeditions around the world disguised as a boy, collecting specimens and acting as chief botanist when Commerçon was ill?

The Secrets of Great Botanists is beautifully illustrated with period botanical images including Marianne North’s painting of the pitcher plant, Nepenthes Northiana, and several of Anne Atkin’s fern cyanotypes. The text covers daring exploits and exciting discoveries, but I most enjoyed seeing how the legacies of these botanists influence horticulture and design today. Nikolai Vavilov’s work to conserve genetic diversity and Philipp von Siebold’s introduction to Europe of over twenty hosta species, Wisteria brachybotrys and the infamous Japanese knotweed have never seemed so relevent.

If you would like more inspiring gardening and nature reading, here are some other reviews of books I’ve enjoyed:

Book Review: Dahlias by Naomi Slade and Georgianna Lane

Year Of The Almanac

Book Review: James Wong’s ‘How To Eat Better’

Book Review: RHS Plants From Pips and The Little Book of Hygge

Book Review: Around The World In 80 Plants

The Paper Garden: Mrs Delany [Begins Her Life’s Work] at 72

 

What Nestbox Where?

During the People’s Walk for Wildlife and the rewilding conference in Cambridge last year, I learnt in disbelief about the dramatic declines in insect, bird, mammal and wild plant populations since the 1970s – the decade in which I was born. This year I have resolved to put nature at the heart of our garden in an effort to support the natural world in my small piece of over 400,000 hectares of gardens across the UK – a collective habitat with the potential to make a real difference for wildlife.

We already feed the birds and have nestboxes; we grow plants for pollinating insects and garden organically without peat. So I am beginning to look for more ways to make our garden accessible and welcoming for wild creatures. We are currently adding a range of nestboxes for different species of birds to the small hole boxes we already have, and there are plans to install a barrel pond, create a small wild flower lawn, build hedgehog habitat beneath log piles and monitor the garden birds, amphibians, mammals, mini-beasts and wildflowers throughout the year.

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Building, installing and monitoring nestboxes is a great activity for all the family. My dad made this robin box and the kids helped him put it up

In early March there’s still time to put up nestboxes before the breeding season is in full swing, so this seems like a good place to start. I hope you’ll join me throughout the year, as we encourage as much wildlife into our modest-sized garden as possible.

What nestbox where?

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Blue tits laid in one of our small hole nestboxes last year

When putting up nestboxes, it is important to ensure they do not get overheated during warmer weather. Unless they are sited in good shade, it is best to site them on a wall or tree, facing between north and east, so that they are protected from the sun for much of the day. Unless otherwise stated, it is advisable to fit them at least 1.5 – 2m above the ground. It is also worth remembering to put them out of reach of neighbouring cats.

As a general rule, it is best to avoid the “decorative” nestboxes frequently seen in garden centres and some craft shops; they are often too small and may have the hole too close to the floor of the box (a distance of at least 120mm is recommended).

Small Hole Nestbox

This traditional nestbox is frequently used by Blue Tits and Great Tits, depending on the size of the hole (Great Tits need a hole with a minimum diameter of 28mm, while Blue Tits can fit through a 25mm hole). If you are lucky enough to have Coal Tits in your garden, they will also sometimes use artificial nest sites (again, a 25mm hole is big enough for them).

We’ve had both great and blue tits nesting in the small hole boxes in the garden

House Sparrow Terrace

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House sparrow populations have declined by 50-60% since the 1970s and it’s now a red-list species of high conservation concern

House Sparrows generally nest in small colonies and will readily accept boxes if there are several close together. For this reason, many wildlife product suppliers offer “House Sparrow Terraces”, which usually take the form of a long box with 3 separate compartments. However, the same effect can be achieved by placing three, or more, boxes in close proximity to one another. Being somewhat bigger than Great Tits, House Sparrows need an entrance hole of at least 32mm diameter. Boxes should be at least 2m above the ground and, preferably, somewhere that is not subject to too much human disturbance.

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I saw sparrows with nest material on top of this box last week

Medium Hole Nestbox

Starlings typically nest in holes in trees or under roofing tiles if they can get access. They happily accept nestboxes but need more space than smaller species, so use a slightly larger box with an entrance hole of 45mm. Boxes should be placed at least 2.5m off the ground.

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This nestbox is destined for the side of the house – our neighbours already have starlings nesting under their eaves

Open-Fronted Nestbox

These boxes are aimed primarily at Robins although will sometimes be used by Wrens. Being open-fronted, they are more susceptible to predation than conventional nestboxes and should be placed in a well concealed site such as under overhanging ivy or clematis. Height off the ground is unimportant although, again, it is best to try to keep them out of reach of the local cats.

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My dad constructed this open-fronted box and the kids helped him install it under our winter-flowering clematis

Swifts and House Martins 

Swifts have declined as a breeding species in Britain as many older buildings with access to the eaves have been demolished and new houses do not usually offer any access. Specially designed Swift boxes can be put up under the eaves of your house but it might be necessary to play Swift calls throughout the summer months to attract them to the site. Artificial nests for House Martins are also available and can be fixed under the eaves.

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House martin boxes mimic their natural mud nests, like this one

Other Species

Many species will not nest in boxes. Some that will, but are less likely to be encountered in most gardens are listed below:

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Some birds – like this long-tailed tit – prefer to make their own nests

Nuthatch
Pied Wagtail
Spotted Flycatcher
Pied Flycatcher
Redstart
Jackdaw
Stock Dove
Tawny Owl

If you live somewhere that has any of these species and would like to try to get them to nest in your garden, I would recommend “The BTO Nestbox Guide” by Chris du Feu, an excellent publication, with details of a wide range of nestboxes. Good quality nestboxes can be bought from the RSPB, CJ Wildlife, Ark Wildlife and other reputable wildlife equipment providers.

What Next?

If you have a nestbox in your garden, why not take part in the British Trust for Ornithology’s “Nestbox Challenge”. They provide guidance on how to monitor nesting birds safely, without causing them to desert their eggs or chicks.

With thanks to bird guru, Alan Garner, aka my generous, talented and fabulous dad! If you’d like to follow our garden rewilding this year, just click below to subscribe. 

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25 Colourful Crops for a Vibrant Vegetable Garden

In January I banished grey days by reading The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St Clair. It took me on a vivid journey through the history of colour, to explore the unknown corners of sepia, fallow, orchil, Isabelline and vantablack. As I read, I noticed how many of the terms are derived from plants like madder, amaranth, saffron, ginger, avocado and violet. Often these words referred to the dye the plants produced as with woad, or the colour of the plant’s blooms, like heliotrope. Colour is an integral part of our relationship with plants, we have used them over the centuries to produce dyes and paints, to bring colour into our homes with cut flowers and recently we’ve learnt more about the health benefits of many of the antioxidants that give plants their colour.

Now we are nearing the middle of February and my dining table is splashed with colour as I sort my seed packets. I usually avoid sowing anything except chillies until early March, so there’s still a couple of weeks to select a rainbow of colour for health and happiness later in the year. Here are my top picks for a vibrant vegetable patch in 2019:

Red

  • Suttons’ new lettuce ‘Outredgeous’ is the first plant to be grown from seed, harvested and eaten in space. It has vivid red leaves, a sweet crunch and can be grown in part-shade as well as full sun
  • Sprout ‘Red Rubine’ is an unusual brassica with red/purple sprouts. We particularly liked the red sprout tops which taste like sweet, crunchy mini-cabbages
  • One of my favourite salad onions ‘Apache’ produces glossy red spring onions that keep their colour when peeled. They are also ideal for container growing
  • The first oca I grew was ‘Helen’s All Red’ from Real Seeds. It produced heavy crops and is also one of the best flavoured of the 15 or so varieties I’ve grown. With edible leaves and ruby fruits in November when the rest of the garden has gone into hibernation, this is one colourful crop you won’t regret growing this year

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    Oca ‘Helen’s All Red’

Orange

  • Suttons’ Squash ‘Uchiki Kuri’ has dense round fruits which keep well and look superb hanging off the climbing plants in the autumn
  • Chilli ‘Apricot’ from Sea Spring Plants was a first for me last year. Its mild fruits matured late and tasted more like a sweet pepper than a chilli – a good choice if you want chilli plants for young children or chillies for stuffing
  • Tomato ‘Sungold’ is an orange winner time and time again in taste tests for the sweetest tomato. The cherry-sized fruits are irresistible to both kids and adults, especially when eaten warm straight out of the greenhouse

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    Squash ‘Uchiki Kuri’

Yellow

  • Visually, I prefer ‘Chioggia’ beetroot with its striking pink central rings, but the kids’ favourite is always ‘Burpees Golden’ for its mild, sweet taste
  • Tomato ‘Golden Sunrise’ is a beautiful contrast in a salad to darker varieties and ‘Striped Stuffer’ has scarlet skins striped with vivid yellow making the most beautiful hanging display
  • If you prefer your chillies hot then try ‘Lemon Drop’, a delicious Aji chilli that comes in at a spicy 30,000-50,000 SHU rating

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    A mix of yellow and orange tomatoes

Green

  • A poor relation in the garden, green is often dismissed as simply the colour of foliage, but it can be beautiful and vivid in its own right. Try Tomato ‘Green Zebra’ with its deep green stripes over a soft lime background
  • Or try the tinted white-green patty pan squash with their prolific scalloped fruits – a seed mix like ‘Summer Mix’ from Thompson and Morgan combines the paler squashes with dark green and yellow fruits
  • Cucamelons also celebrate the colour green with their beautiful speckles over the paler skin and Romanesco broccolli excudes lime green from every fractal millimetre

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    Cucamelon green

Blue

  • An unsual colour in the vegetable garden, many ‘blue’ crops tip over into tints of purple. You could try Tomato ‘Blue Bayou’ from Chiltern Seeds for its ‘richly coloured dark navy-blue to purple fruits’
  • Alternatively try Sweetcorn ‘Hopi Blue’, an American Indian heirloom variety from Jungle Seeds to find out if blue is for you in the vegetable garden

Indigo

  • We like the meaty, deep flavour of Tomato ‘Indigo Rose’ from Suttons. This almost black cultivar has a secret – lift up the calyx and underneath you’ll find remnants of the red coloration where the skin isn’t exposed to the light

Violet

  • I love deep purple vegetables – whether it’s ‘Purple Haze’ carrots, ‘Kolibri’ kohlrabi or the dwarf bean ‘Purple Queen’ There’s something deep and mysterious about them – especially when the colour magically disappears during cooking as with the beans or gives way to the traditional orange centre inside the carrots

Rainbow carrots and the orange inside

Rainbow

  • If your garden is too small to grow a wide range of crops or you fancy more colours for your money, rainbow collections are a fun way to liven it up. Chilli ‘Prairie Fire’ moves through the colours of the rainbow as the fruits mature
  • We love growing carrot ‘Rainbow Mix’ as the kids never know what colour carrot will appear when they gently pull out the roots
  • Beetroot naturally lend themselves to multicoloured seed mixes. ‘Rainbow Mix’ includes ‘Chioggia’, Burpees Golden’ and Albina Verduna’
  • Of course, the ultimate rainbow crop has to be Swiss Chard ‘Bright Lights’one of the first vegetables I ever grew. If the neon stems of ‘Bright Lights’ don’t convince you of the charms of colourful crops, nothing will!

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    Beetroot ‘Rainbow Mix’

What colourful crops are on your seed list this year? Do you have any favourites that you grow time and time again?

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7 Green Gift Ideas for Gardeners

Is Christmas a time for delight or dread? A combination of both if you’re anything like me. There will be more opportunities to talk, go for walks, play games and share meals than at any other time, but the endless stuff, the commercialism and the waste accepted by society makes me uncomfortable at Christmas.

David Attenborough’s words at the UN Climate Change Summit play on my mind as I write my Christmas lists, test my daughter on the words for her Christmas show and put up the decorations. The immense challenges facing us concerning the climate, plastics, pollinators and many other issues arising from our past and current treatment of the natural world can’t be solved by small changes at Christmas, but I believe it is part of a changing mindset and complements more direct activities such as writing to MPs and supporting environmental charities and campaign groups. If you are buying gifts for Christmas, here are a few sustainable options for the gardeners in your life…

1. Grow Your Own

Plug plants are ideal for busy gardeners who like to grow their own or those who would like to begin. They normally come in plastic modules that can’t be recycled, but this selection from Pippa Greenwood arrive wrapped in paper and are grown in Lincolnshire. 

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Grow Your Own with Pippa Greenwood (Image credit: Pippa Greenwood)

The selection includes your choice of 15 different vegetables and the recipient gets a weekly email from Pippa tailored specially to the plants in the pack with advice right through from soil preparation to feeding, watering, staking/supporting, pinching out, and pests and disease.

Top Tip – Avoid wrapping paper at Christmas and for birthdays, as it is usually only suitable for landfill. It often contains plastic, glitter, dyes and is covered in sticky tape. DEFRA estimates in the UK we buy enough of this single-use material each year to gift wrap the whole of Guernsey!

2. The Gift of Time

Time is a valuable gift – far more than money or stuff in so many ways. Give a friend or family member a voucher for help with the allotment in the New Year or help create a new growing space for children. Meals for the freezer made with ingredients from the garden are also a way to pass on a little love without costing the earth.

Gifts involving experiences are a favourite in our house. For a keen gardener there are fabulous courses like those at the Cambridge Botanic Garden (I’m particularly looking forward to the ‘Rewild Your Garden’ this year) and for new gardeners there are often short courses and sessions at local community gardens. As a new mum, I joined a course on fruit pruning at my local community garden many years ago and it gave me the confidence to start formal horticultural qualifications.

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Tending the apple cordons at my local community garden where I learnt to prune in my first horticultural session

Top Tip – Instead of wrapping paper use fabric bags or scrap material and ribbons which can be used for many years. The Japanese art of furoshiki is centuries old and is enjoying a resurgence in Japan now that the issues with plastic bags and wrapping are becoming clear.

3. Festive Fungi

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The oyster mushrooms we grew a couple of years ago

The Espresso Mushroom Kitchen Garden from The Espresso Mushroom Company is an edible gift grown on the biodegradable, recycled coffee grounds of one hundred espressos. Made by a family firm in Brighton, these sustainable oyster mushrooms are a fun way to get growing in the New Year. 

4. Share Seeds

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Yin Yang beans are objects of beauty

Reusing materials is the most sustainable way to create a gift and seeds are so easy to share. Choose favourite seeds – this year, for me, it would be the French Dwarf bean seeds ‘Yin Yang’. I’m passing some onto friends to grow next year and even a handful for a fellow gardener who makes beautiful jewellery so that she can create a necklace.

Top Tip – Ditch the sellotape and buy 100% recycled paper tape with a natural latex adhesive backing. 

5. Donate

Charity gifts allow someone less fortunate to benefit at Christmas. I like the gifts from Send A Cow where you can donate to a Mandala Garden, a Keyhole Garden or even an Allotment in a rural African community. I saw a keyhole garden at Gardeners’ World LIVE a few years ago and was impressed by the design which allows a family to grow enough food for three meals a day – even in the face of an extreme climate and poor soil.

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Little Havens Hospice garden (Credit: Greenfingers)

 Alternatively you could gift a donation to gardening charities like Greenfingers or the Gardening for Disabled Trust. Greenfingers creates beautiful gardens in children’s hospices across the UK. This is the interactive garden at Little Havens Hospice in Essex, designed by Matthew Eden and completed in 2014.

 

Gardening for Disabled

Gardening for Disabled Trust Logo

The Gardening for Disabled Trust provides small grants for people with all kinds of chronic disabilities – mental and physical – to help get them gardening again, from money for a ramp so that a gardener with MS can access her garden again, to grants to set up gardening clubs in care homes. This work is vital to enable all members of society to benefit from the therapeutic effects of gardening and interacting with the natural world.

6. Plastic-Free Pots

The majority of the 500 million pots we buy in the UK each year are incinerated or sent to landfill. Part of the solution to this astounding amount of plastic needs to be to reduce the amount of plants we produce and buy, alongside using more sustainable containers. Garden Ninja presents an interesting discussion of the issues with and alternatives to plastic containers on his blog this week. 

In addition to Garden Ninja’s recommendations, these attractive biodegradable containers available from Pippa Greenwood are made from sustainable bamboo and rice. They are sturdy enough to last several years and when they finally need to be replaced, they can be added to the compost heap where they will biodegrade in 6-12 months. They are available in 5in and 6in, and come in packs of 5.

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No plastic here (Credit: Pippa Greenwood)

Top Tip – Use newspaper to wrap presents – iron it first to set the ink, or buy a roll of recyclable brown paper and jazz up with stencilled designs or ribbons. Include a note explaining that the wrap is recyclable.

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My daughter has used brown paper with stencilled snowmen (biscuit cutters for stencils), a recycled tag from last year’s cards and reusable ribbon on this present for her brother.

7. Perennial Power

Perennials are a gift that by their very nature just keep on giving. I love growing perennial vegetables like rhubarb, sorrel, Daubenton’s kale, perennial onions, garlic chives and Jerusalem artichokes. My first port of call when I’m after a new perennial for the garden is Alison Tindale at The Backyard Larder. She grows an interesting range of perennial vegetables in peat-free compost from seeds and cuttings. The plants arrive in recycled shoe boxes using as near to 100% recycled or fully biodegradable materials as possible and she is always on hand to give advice.

 

Marsh mallow and red-veined sorrel – some of the perennial vegetables I’ve grown in the garden and allotment over the years

Please do pass on your top tips for wrapping and presents in the comments below – there’s still time to make changes before Christmas and I’m keen to learn as much as possible about how to make this festive season the most sustainable yet. 

This is not a sponsored post – all the products are ones I have either bought myself and been impressed with or have come recommended. The only product I’ve tried but didn’t initially buy myself are the oyster mushrooms which I was sent to trial a couple of years ago. They were such fun to grow and so delicious to eat that I’d definitely grow them again and have bought them for others since.

(Featured image credit: Pippa Greenwood)