Wildlife sightings

Over the last few weeks I’ve seen some wonderful wildlife. With the heat I’ve not taken the camera out on every trip, but have captured a few delights of the British Summer.

Up at Robin Hoods Bay Amy’s dads new refurbished pond is bringing in the wildlife. I love seeing the dragonflies. There is something nice about seeing a primeval insect that roamed around at the time of the dinosaurs.

In the compost a slow worm has taken up residence. These legless lizards are protected by law as the number has dropped. A pleasure to see one.

While out and about around the bay I spotted this large white. Over the month I’ve taken part in the #bigbutterflycount These have been high on all my counts. Might be common, but lovely on the thistle.

A soggy blackbird on one of the few wet days this Summer.

Out on a walk Alice settled in and refused to move from watching the cows.

The cows were equally interested in her.

In my parent’s garden they have done well keeping this giant sunflower going. The bees have loves it.

Again, in my parent’s garden a pair of robins have been in and out. They are quite friendly and will come quite close.

Down at the mere the water has been spectacular with the bright sunshine of this Summer. We’ve had a few trips down for Alice to shout at the poor ducks.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my sightings. Need to get out in the garden as getting a good variety at the moment. Enjoy your Monday morning’s.

Mossarium

Following on from the open bottle terrarium and blogs looking at houseplants I’ve had a go at another mini-project. A mossarium works much the same as the open bottle of terrarium. For a how-to guide read here. People make really fun mossariums using items like toy dinosaurs and fairies. I am just aiming for a fairly closed system that keeps the moss alive.

Moss is an amazing plant. It acts as a wonderful sponge for carbon and it has been suggested it may hold the key to lowering the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to combat climate change. At the Chelsea Flower Show moss featured in a number of gardens for this reason. A section of moss being more effective at absorbing carbon than an oak tree of a much larger size. So, I quite a fancy a little desktop reminder of the power of moss. I would also like a Japanese style moss garden, but I don’t have the time to build or maintain one. A mini moss patch will suffice for now. Alice helped put the layers in, so the distribution is a bit higgledy-piggledy. But she likes to help and I like to encourage an interest.

I’ve used a medium sized mason jar. The smaller ones don’t give space for the layers. The first layer is a layer of grit or pebbles for drainage.

Activated charcoal stops fungi growing.

A layer of soil.

Then the moss on the top. I’ve added to varieties of moss scraped from rocks under the hebes in the front garden. Then a spray with the mister.

The end result is quite nice. I may try a larger one with a few features in if I keep this going. I quite fancy a stuppa surrounded my moss or an ewok home.

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Open bottle terrarium

Today I’ve worked on two indoor projects: a mossarium (more on that another day) and an open bottle terrarium. I’ve had a fittonia (nerve plant) for a while now. Fittonia is largely grown in this country as a houseplant. It hails from South America, predominantly Peru. Its natural climate would be tropical rainforests. As such it requires high humidity. I’ve been achieving this through misting each day. However with the heat currently the fittonia is needing misting morning and evening. It is a perfect candidate for a terrarium. A terrarium is a closed tank, generally glass, that allows the water to be recycled as it is trapped within the tank. It creates high humidity, so gives people the chance to grow plants that would otherwise be hard to maintain. To make a closed terrarium you need a decent amount of space. James Wong recommends at least 30cm by 30cm. He knows a lot more than me. if you haven’t seen his terrarium table check out his twitter. It is truly a display of wonder. The current terrarium trend is for putting succulents and cacti into them, which serves no purpose. As already said terrariums create high humidity, so the opposite of what most plants you see going into them on Instagram need. As said a terrarium requires a decent amount of space, as I don’t have a decent space in mind for my fittonia I thought I’d attempt an open bottle terrarium. This will still increase the humidity around it, but it will be able to grow out of it. I may find this doesn’t work and I need to repot it when it outgrows the container, but I’m willing to experiment.

Equipment

To make the open bottle terrarium I have used:

  1. wide hurricane lantern.
  2. Small pebbles
  3. Activated charcoal
  4. Houseplant potting mix
  5. Fittonia plant

My container isn’t ideal as the rope will cover the layers going at the bottom, which are quite nice to look at. However, I already have this container and it is currently serving no good purpose.

Fittonia

Process

The first layer to go in was the pebbles. This goes at the bottom to give the plant drainage. While it likes humidity sitting in too much water can still rot the roots.

The next layer to go in was the activated charcoal. This is sold in pet shops for fish tanks and reptile tanks. It helps clean the water going through and stops the growth of fungi.

Next, a thin layer of soil was added. The plant was pulled from its current pot and shook off some of its existing soil and teased the roots out gently. The plant was placed in and then I gently built up the soil around it, trying to be careful not to cover the leaves.

I then gave it a light misting. I can gradually add more if it is looking too dry over the next few days.

It will still need watering as it is still an open system, but hopefully, the little rim it has will help it out a little bit.

Finished product

The end result is fairly pleasing. I’ve placed it in the bathroom where it will get some humidity anyway. I don’t know if it is too light a position, so will have to experiment a bit moving it around. The look isn’t quite right, the bottle should probably be a bit deeper, but fairly happy that it may survive another few months.

Hope you’ve found something of interest here. I will update in a few months as to whether it out grow it’s container straight away or shrivelled up and died.

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Six on Saturday-11.8.18

So after a week off from six on a Saturday, after attending a friends wedding, I’m returning with some of the showier flowers in the garden.

1. Hydrangeas

The two hydrangeas that flank the steps down to the grass are in full flower now. They frame the path perfectly and the symmetry works well. They are planted a bit too close to the steps, so by this point of the year, they almost meet. So each Spring they have to be pruned. They look fabulous from above with their bright burst of colour.

2. Lily solution

I planted two of these lilies in pots. One was eaten and shredded. This one has thrived and has had a few weeks of looking spectacular.

3. Passion fruit

I planted one passion fruit climber last year. It just hung on through the winter. They are slowly working up the fence. I love the otherworldliness of the flowers. The bees love them.

4. Gladioli

I planted these bulbs in my first year to give some late Summer colour. They are showy and a bit brash, but fulfil the brief of adding colour as other flowers go over. I’ve dug the area several times though. Now the bulbs are distributed a bit randomly through the border.

As we were away last weekend a few flopped as I hadn’t staked them. This gave an excuse to cut a few for the house.

5. Heuchera

After saying a few weeks back I’d like a few more variegated varieties I found a few in Tescos to add to the foliage carpet under the acer. They will give some foliage through the year. I like the veined varieties the best. The browner version doesn’t look as impressive, but it has a two tone effect with darker under leaves. The ground was also soft enough after some rain to plant the fern purchased a few weeks back. They will all need watering regularly to establish, but then I should be able to largely leave to their own devices.

6. Festuca blue

I have a small pot of festuca blue on the patio adding a bit of texture and colour through the year.

It has now seeded. I’ve taken some to store in envelopes to sow in Spring, the optimal time to do it. But also stuck a few in a pot now to see if they can get started. Alternatively, I can divide the existing pot to get more.

Enjoy your weekends. I have plans to attempt a mossarium. A stepping stone to a terrarium. Wish me luck.

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Why houseplants?

In the last few weeks I’ve reviewed several books on houseplants I thought I would discuss why I brought houseplants into my house. This year has seen a big trend for a return to using houseplants as part of interior decorating. The range of options within garden centres has expanded from just a few cacti and spider plants to include wider choices. Supermarkets and homeware shops are following the trend. My local Next shop is offering a range of houseplants more varied than many of the garden centres. People are opting for plants over pets. It’s never been easier to buy many of the options available.


Clean air

In the 1980s NASA conducted research on the effect of plants in purifying our indoor air. Many indoor environments, particularly office spaces, produce toxic agents such as benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene. Benzene is a carcinogen which has been linked to cancer and health problems. Formaldehyde is part of our cellular metabolism, but at higher levels can aggravate eyes and asthma. Trichloroethylene has been linked to central nervous system depression. They all contribute to sick building syndrome (SBS) symptoms of which are: eye and throat irritation, headaches, fatigue, chest tightness and skin irritation.

NASA filled a chamber with plants and then pumped in these chemicals. After 24 hours 90% of the chemicals had been broken down. Many of the most effective plants were very common houseplants. Some of the chemicals were broken down by the plants others by bacteria in the soil. For NASA this information gave them a list of plants that could survive in low light and give the maximum benefit. Many were tropical or subtropical and adapted to growing under a leaf canopy with limited light. The conditions they potentially face in space, but also mirrors an office space or many houses.

The NASA chart listed the most effective plants at removing each of the chemicals tested.
Buying a peace lily came out as one of the more effective choices for removing all the chemicals tested. However, it is toxic to many pets. The chart does show which are non-toxic for anyone having to account for pets likely to chomp their plants.

On top of the NASA study, indoor plants have been shown to reduce breathing problems, reduce blood pressure, and reduce fatigue. They are also removing the carbon dioxide from our breathing and contributing fresh oxygen for us.

Psychological benefits

As a species we are designed for green spaces. Our eyes can distinguish more shades of green than any other colour. We have evolved for an outdoor life surrounded by plants. As around 85% of our lives are now spent indoors we are not living in conditions we are naturally suited to. Having access to outdoor green spaces is important, but becoming harder for many with green space disappearing. Bringing outdoors in is a more viable option.

Research has shown indoor plants can lead to an improved mood, reduced stress levels, increased productivity, higher pain tolerance and better attention spans. The psychological benefits of plants can be gained by looking out of a window into green space or by having rooms containing plants. Some research has shown just seeing nature images can help, but you would lose the clean air benefits this way.

For many of these benefits you need leafy green plants, cacti probably won’t cut it for most people. The research differs on how much of an impact plants have. Some suggest small impacts, while other suggest bigger impacts. Working with plants can reduce stress as opposed to working on computers. Part of me wonders if working on any physical task would suffice or whether gardening specifically offers unique benefits. Either way the research does suggest a life with plants gives psychological benefits.

Houseplants are frequently being linked to the practice of mindfulness. While I’m not keen on the trend for secular mindfulness connecting every activity to mindfulness looking after a plant can promote calmness. That is, so long as you choose something easy to care for. If you choose something needing constant care and attention you may not find caring for the plant as mindful. Looking after plants forces you to slow down. You can dedicate small amounts of time to checking plants over, pruning, watering and feeding. The plant will change overtime bringing surprises to enjoy.

Interior decorating

Houseplants have gone in and out of fashion as part of interior decorating. While for aficionados of the houseplant they never left their houses, but for most, the spider plants were removed. Currently though they are very much in vogue. This is probably the area that interests me the least, not caring much for trends. However, a plant picked out well with a good pot can enhance a room enormously. A carefully grouped collection of plants can make for a good feature in a room. However don’t just aim for the Instagram photo. With any plant you still need to keep in mind, “right plant, right place”. Different plants will suit different rooms and different positions within each room.

So with the news that air quality considered safe are still damaging it seems worth trying to make our own safe havens within our homes. There is no better time to look at adding a houseplant to your home. In the next few weeks I’ll be looking at a few options.

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DK-How not to kill your houseplant review

Amazon link Price £9.99 in shops, priced cheaper online.

Continuing on from my focus on houseplants I am looking at another basic introduction to houseplants.  Similar to the RHS happy houseplant book, this is a small hardback book giving an overview of houseplant care. The book is nice quality. The pages feel nice. The information is stylishly presented. It feels like a quality production. I feel like it should have a hitchhikers guide label on the front saying, “don’t panic” your plant will be alright. It simplifies down the plant care to vital information, much like the hitchhiker’s guide. Earth: mostly harmless. Plants: mostly water.

The book starts with some basic information. It covers buying your plants, what to look out for, how to pot it, place it, water it, feed it, pests and diseases. It covers all the basic care most houseplants will need and many of the common issues you are going to come across. The illustrations and photos show convey their messages clearly.

Then the majority of the book is given over to the different houseplants. Each plant has a profile. In these profiles locations, light levels, watering, feeding and care are explained. Common issues such as bug, reasons for plant wilting, leaves changing colour are given. Solutions to the problems to save the plant are given. A good range of plants are presented. All the plants that you can commonly buy from your garden centre and common supermarket are presented here.

Dotted throughout the plant profiles are suggestions for locations such as the desk, sunny spots, bathrooms, etc. In each of these sections you can find a few choices of suitable plants for each environment. The page numbers of the suggested plants are named for easy reference.

Overall this is a useful, little, reference book on houseplants. It acts as a good guide for which plants to buy for set locations. I’ve found myself referring to it lots for common issues and to check watering requirements. While this information is available easily online these days I find it useful to have it in print format to flick through. There are plants I would be unaware of if I had just tried browsing through internet pages. I would recommend this book to people starting out in bringing greenery into their houses. It will hopefully save many plants from mismanagement.

Hope you’re all enjoying the detour inside. What are your favourite houseplants?

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RHS Little book of happy house plants-Review

Amazon smile link currently £12.99 for hardback.

Over the last few years I have put a lot of work into gardening with children. The benefits of outdoor learning and engaging in nature are well documented so I won’t cover it again. I have also kept a number of house plants in the classroom. My bonsai sadly passed on through neglect during my paternity, but a number of others have thrived. I have developed a greater interest in bringing greenery and gardening indoors and over a couple of blogs I’d like to look at a few sources of information starting with a book review.

I bought this little book in the July Kindle monthly sale for 99p. While kindle isn’t my favoured format for gardening books at 99p I thought I’d take a gamble. Holly Farrell has written a number of small guides for the RHS over the last few years: Gardening for mindfullness, minature garden grower and plants from pips. She has also written about jam and growing fruit for cakes. The little RHS books are little introductory books to subjects.

This book introduces you to the basic principles of house plants such as dealing with microclimates, selecting the right plants for the right room and things to watch out for. It presents a number of the current trends for presenting your plants. There is basic advice on buying plants, selecting suitable pots, watering, tools, and compost. It has overviews of some care overtime such as repotting, supports and how to create specific presentations.

The chapter on presentation covers: terrariums, kokedama, hanging gardens, Christmas displays, a child’s sensory garden, an edible kitchen wall, greening your desk space and other projects. This section is probably the weakest with a number of the sections reading as if she isn’t writing from experience. The terrarium section for example talks about being able to make one from a container as small as a testtube. But I don’t know how many houseplants you can manage that small, readily available that aren’t going to outgrow a container that small. The suggestions of terrarium plants are sensible enough, but I get the feeling something created following the advice here would gain the wrath of Wong and deadplants in six weeks. Read here for more terranium mistakes. Article 1. Article 2. Kokedama are something I’d like to have a go at making, but this doesn’t go into enough detail to feel I could manage it. This is really the weakest chapter as none of it leaves you quite satisfied that you have enough detail or it doesn’t feel like it comes from someone who has enough experience to advise.

The chapter on staying alive offers practical advice on keeping the plants alive. It deals with watering and feeding and practical issues such as going on holiday. It offers a good quick overview of each task.

The book finishes with plant files. It describes a number of common houseplants giving you a basic profile of hardiness, type of plant and height and spread. It then splits them into locations and types: sunny spots, succulents, bright spots, orchids, shady and humid spots, bright and humid spots, air plants, shady and cool spots, and bulbs. In a short space it covers a good number of plants.

There are then a few links to websites of interest and further reading. Much of the recomended reading links you back to other books Holly has written. Interestingly no blogs are recommended, which now offer some of the best advice on houseplants. But then they also disappear as quickly as books are published.

Overall the book is fine as a 99p kindle purchase. I wouldn’t recomend it for more than a fiver. It would make a nice gift for someone looking to develop a house plant collection, but the RHS practical house plants book is currently cheaper and offers more detail. But as a starting point to see if you’re are interested in learning more it isn’t a bad choice. The presentation is good and the writing is generally clear. As a short guide it is too brief on areas, but OK as a starting point before looking into subjects further. For example terrariums and kokedama interested me from this book. But I’d need to look up more information to see if they were practical for me.

Overall worth buying if on sale if cheap, probably not worth £12.99 for it in hardback, but good for 99p on kindle.

Hope you’ve found this useful. I’m going to go into further detail of other houseplant books in future blogs as well as looking at some of my own house and class plants.

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