30 Days Wild-sign up time

It’s that time of the year again when I start preparing for a month of wildness. I originally set up this blog in support of the Wildlife Trust’s 30 day days wild initiative. Through June the WIldlife Trusts encourage you to do one wild act each day. This can be as simple as cloud gazing, finding something blue. Or you may actually get out to a reserve or go on a day out in nature. It is a great way to connect with our natural world. Connecting with nature in this way has been shown to improve happiness, reduce stress and make you more mindful of the world around you. But mainly it’s good fun. There isn’t any pressure to do something every day but there are basic enough ideas you should be able to manage something.

I signed up for the school pack. This comes with some lovely ideas on large cards. There is a pack of information, posters, stickers and a colouring wall sheet. Alice wants to steal the wild teacher badge from me so I don’t know how long I’ll manage to hold onto that.

People who have followed the blog for a while will know I’ve taken part for several years now. Earlier in the year, I was asked if one of my previous wild acts could be used in a book the Wildlife Trust was putting out for 30 days. The book is now out. 365 days wild by Lucy McRobert lists lots of ideas, as the name suggests, of things to do through the year to connect with nature. The book has been put together well. Attractively designed, it features many photos and details of the wild acts. It’s a book you can settle down to read or just flick through to get inspiration.

I’m proud to have a small entry within the book from my previous years taking part in 30 days wild. I wrote a haiku as one of my previous wild acts. There is a description of how to write a haiku and then my little effort at the bottom of the page. The family have taken the mick that it was just this small entry, but then they’re not published poets like I now am. Took me at least two minutes work.

30 Days Wild is great fun to take part in. There are great online communities through Twitter and Facebook sharing their efforts. I highly recommend signing up.  Never been a greater need to show appreciation for nature.

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The Mattock-The right tool for the job

Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen a run of photos on Twitter and Facebook of broken spades. People have tried using their garden spades to dig out established shrubs and trees or trying to break up hard landscaping. These were all cases of people using the wrong tool for the wrong job.

As mentioned in previous blogs I have lots of building work going on and I am having to remove a number of established shrubs to accommodate the changes. One of the hardest jobs has been removing the hebes from the front garden. I think these have been growing there for about a decade and were starting to die off and no longer flower. The ground was a solid mass of roots. There was almost no soil between the roots to depths of four to six inches. I removed the first one with shovel, loopers and weeding knife. While this got the plant out I knew these were the wrong tools for the job. I figured an axe might be a better tool for the job so did a bit of research and discovered the mattock. I asked around to see if anyone had one I could borrow for the job and had no luck. Pretty much no one even knew what a mattock is. This seems a great pity for such a useful versatile tool.

The term mattock is sometimes used interchangeably with a pickaxe. However, they are different tools. A mattock is a tool with a long handle and metal head. The head has two sides. On one side a narrow axe, then on the other an adze (a horizontal axe blade). The handle is usually wood or fibreglass. The axe head is not fixed on. It can be dismantled for transport. To put the head on it is slid down the handle. Then tapping the handle into a firm surface allows the weight of the head to secure it onto the handle. As such it isn’t designed to be swung up high as the blade can become loose. The mattock is lifted to just above waist height and the weight does much of the digging. The axe can smash apart roots. Then the adze can be used to scrape through. It works through mats of root and sod more easily than the shovel could. The weight adds force you would struggle to deliver with a spade even pushing with your foot. While still a hefty tool to use it is going to prove useful in my front garden where I have solid soil to break it up. This isn’t suitable for breaking up rock, a pickaxe would need using for that. But my ground is just compressed soil with lots of thick roots through.

Evidence for mattocks goes back to the Mesolithic period with mattocks made of antler. By the Bronze Age the mattock design we still use had been established. They have also been used to strip blubber from whales by the Inuit people and the Broch people in Scotland. It was used in agriculture to make planting trenches. Specific forms have been developed for different jobs such as the hop mattock with two forks instead of the axe. The shorter Japanese Ikagata has the same basic adze side combined with a three-pronged fork used for weeding. But the basic design of the mattock has remained the same signalling that this is a useful tool.

BBC-A history of the world-Matthew Bigg’s mattock

A hand mattock in the Hornsea Museum ca. 1840

Within Sumerian mythology the God Enlil created the mattock to give to the humans. It is described as an object of beauty made of pure gold and a head made from lapis lazuli. The tool gives the Sumerians the power to build their cities, subjugate the people and take up weeds. Enlil is an important God within Sumerian mythology separating Earth and Heaven making the world habitable for humans. He is seen as a patron god of agriculture. It’s interesting to read about a tool like this in mythology which has lost its significance in the modern world. But for much of human history, this tool has proved invaluable in digging the earth.

Mesopotamian daggers and mattock head ca. 1000 BCE

My mattock finished off the remaining four hebes in an afternoon. It had taken me an afternoon to remove one without. Whether it is a tool of the gods or not it has proved worth its cost. This might not be a tool you are going to use regularly but it will save time when it is employed for the right job. Which I suppose you can say about any garden tool. But it seems worth saving the lives of all those broken spades and forks and recommending you get a mattock for the serious business of removing roots.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my shout out for this humble and almost forgotten tool. In a day and age where most families will only have a spade, maybe a fork and a hand trowel it is worth looking back to think if you are using the right tool for the job. Is it worth struggling on or go and spend a tenner on a tool that will save you time and stress using the wrong tool? I know I’m thankful I bought my mattock.

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And as a bonus the mattock in poetry.

 SIMON LEE,

THE OLD HUNTSMAN,

With an Incident in which he was concerned.

In the sweet shire of Cardigan,
Not far from pleasant Ivor-hall,
An Old Man dwells, a little man,
I’ve heard he once was tall.
Of years he has upon his back,
No doubt, a burthen weighty;
He says he is three score and ten,
But others say he’s eighty.

A long blue livery-coat has he,
That’s fair behind, and fair before;
Yet, meet him where you will, you see
At once that he is poor.
Full five-and-twenty years he lived
A running Huntsman merry;
And, though he has but one eye left,
His cheek is like a cherry.

No man like him the horn could sound,
And no man was so full of glee;
To say the least, four counties round
Had heard of Simon Lee;
His Master’s dead, and no one now
Dwells in the hall of Ivor;
Men, Dogs, and Horses, all are dead;
He is the sole survivor.

And he is lean and he is sick,
His dwindled body’s half awry;
His ancles, too, are swoln and thick;
His legs are thin and dry.
When he was young he little knew
Of husbandry or tillage;
And now is forced to work, though weak,
—The weakest in the village.

He all the country could outrun,
Could leave both man and horse behind;
And often, ere the race was done,
He reeled and was stone-blind.
And still there’s something in the world
At which his heart rejoices;
For when the chiming hounds are out,
He dearly loves their voices!

His hunting feats have him bereft
Of his right eye, as you may see:
And then, what limbs those feats have left
To poor old Simon Lee!
He has no son, he has no child,
His Wife, an aged woman,
Lives with him, near the waterfall,
Upon the village Common.

Old Ruth works out of doors with him,
And does what Simon cannot do;
For she, not over stout of limb,
Is stouter of the two.
And, though you with your utmost skill
From labour could not wean them,
Alas! ’tis very little, all
Which they can do between them.

Beside their moss-grown hut of clay,
Not twenty paces from the door,
A scrap of land they have, but they
Are poorest of the poor.
This scrap of land he from the heath
Enclosed when he was stronger;
But what avails the land to them,
Which they can till no longer?

Few months of life has he in store,
As he to you will tell,
For still, the more he works, the more
Do his weak ancles swell.
My gentle Reader, I perceive
How patiently you’ve waited,
And I’m afraid that you expect
Some tale will be related.

O Reader! had you in your mind
Such stores as silent thought can bring,
O gentle Reader! you would find
A tale in every thing.
What more I have to say is short,
I hope you’ll kindly take it:
It is no tale; but, should you think,
Perhaps a tale you’ll make it.

One summer-day I chanced to see
This Old Man doing all he could
To unearth the root of an old tree,
A stump of rotten wood.
The mattock tottered in his hand;
So vain was his endeavour
That at the root of the old tree
He might have worked for ever.

“You’re overtasked, good Simon Lee,
Give me your tool,” to him I said;
And at the word right gladly he
Received my proffered aid.
I struck, and with a single blow
The tangled root I severed,
At which the poor Old Man so long
And vainly had endeavoured.

The tears into his eyes were brought,
And thanks and praises seemed to run
So fast out of his heart, I thought
They never would have done.
—I’ve heard of hearts unkind, kind deeds
With coldness still returning.
Alas! the gratitude of men
Has oftener left me mourning.

William Wordsworth

Thompson and Morgan stunning succulents grow kit

I won this kit through a Twitter competition and have since been holding out on sowing the seeds. I want to try to time it so they can go outside later in the year. I have several pots of sempervivums already and these look like they’ll fit in well to fill a few gaps. Here is a round-up of the kit and the first steps to growing.

The kit comes with 5 pots and pellets, labels, snips and seeds for two all together are succulents. Sempervivum hybrdum mixed and Sempervivum tectorum.

The pellets need to be soaked in water for them to grow to size. These are magical to watch as they soak up the water and slowly rise wobbling upwards.

The peat discs can then be crumbled into the pots provided. Then the pots need a good soak to ensure it’s all nice and moist before seed sowing.

The seeds are tiny so a brush came in handy to get them out the pack and into the pots. I then labelled up the pots to keep track of progress.

The pack came with a plastic bag to wrap them in to keep them moist while they germinate, but I’ve put them in a propagator so I can do them altogether. The advice then states that they need leaving somewhere warm with low light such as an airing cupboard until they germinate.

The instructions suggest it will be a few weeks before they germinate so I will report back in a month or so with an update. All in all, this is a nice little kit ideal for a present. There are a number of other kits in the range covering fruit and veg and even a bonsai kit. At £10 they are reasonably priced as a present though many of the plants can be bought cheap as seeds so probably not something you’d buy for yourself. It’ll be a few weeks until these need pricking out so for now they just need keeping moist and warm. Wish me luck!

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The Plant Based Podcast review

Today a new gardening podcast came on the air. I was excited for the release of this as the two presenters Michael “Mr Plantgeek” Perry and Ellen Mary have always come across as knowledgeable and likeable people through their various outputs. Both push the boundaries of gardening in exciting directions. I’m also confident between them they will have many interesting connections to get guests on the show. It sounds like they’ll be looking to try and cover different ground to existing media and I reckon they will have a few surprises in store.

My love of gardening podcasts has been discussed on the blog before. It’s a format which surprisingly works well for something people would associate as being very visual.

The first three podcasts have all been launched together. In the first podcast, the duo interviewed Beverley Glover of Cambridge Botanic Garden. There was a good discussion on how we can help bees. I was reminded of the need to stick to single forms of most flowers to help bees. I generally don’t select double forms and do try to choose pollinator friendly forms. It was this desire to help wildlife that led to me having mass ox-eye daisies in the garden this year. They ended up spilling all over the border but I was rewarded with many visitors.

The second podcast was with vegan bodybuilder Paul Kerton. While I’m not about to go vegan with my low blood pressure and dietary problems a lot of interesting points were made. Most of all the need for people to see other peoples points of view.

The third podcast with Liz Browne from Urban Jungle Nursery. This covered a lot of topics that have been done to death in the gardening media recently. The return of the houseplant is all over the place. But the three of them together made for good listening. There was a nice shout out for Will Giles known for his exotic garden and books on the subject.

They went on a tangent to discuss how much of the gardening media is out of touch with younger gardeners. While I enjoy watching much of the traditional gardening shows. We aren’t all Monty with space for multiple garden areas. In the words of the Smiths, “Because the music that they constantly play. It says nothing to me about my life“.

Then a little discussion about taking houseplants outside in Summer to use as an alternative to traditional bedding plants. This is just what I’ve been planning to do with several spider pups and string of hearts cuttings destined for outside. I want to try a few more adventurous options on the patio. The aspidistra can have its Summer vacation as well.

All in all a very good start for a new podcast. Three episodes with very interesting podcasts. They kept my attention while I listened back to back cooking dinner. Three different but engaging guests. My only criticism is the volume went up and down during interviews but this is a common podcast problem.

The podcast is available through iPlayer and podcast player. There were quite a few named plant-based podcast but a search for plant-based podcast and Perry brought it up. Though I’m sure it will go up the rankings fast with popularity. Well worth checking out and I’m looking forward to seeing who else they interview.

Link to site.

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7 Days of Wild Christmas: day 5 cutting the damage

Not all the wild acts involved in the Wild Life Trusts initiative involve getting outside. Some encourage looking closer to home at our impact on the environment.

One of the wild acts I started on back as part of 30 days wild was to start using more eco-friendly products. We use Tesco’s own brand Eco-Active products to cut down the harmful chemicals we are washing down the drains.

Amy attended an Norwex cleaning party earlier in the year and shifted to an alternative wash powder. A bit like an old-fashioned tupaware party women are encouraged into a pyramid scheme of selling eco products. The enviro cloth is supposed to cut down the need for surface sprays and the need for kitchen roll that adds to landfill. The silver it contains is supposed to act as a microbial agent and reduce the smell of the cloth. They claim to remove 99.9% of bacteria. These claims are clearly nonsense as is their faith in silver. However, it does wipe well and we have no werewolves in the kitchen as a bonus.

Also from Norwex, we changed to their laundry detergent. This doesn’t contain as many bulking agents or harmful chemicals as normal detergents. The Norwex speel is that normal wash powders contain unnecessary chemicals designed just to make bubbles to convince you they are doing their jobs. Norwex has no scent which was the biggest change using it. We add a few drops of essential oils to it so the washing comes out with that fresh wash smell. It does do the job though. Clothes come out feeling clean and we haven’t had any issues of allergies.

In the bathroom, we started to use eco-friendly spray and toilet cleaner. The toilet cleaner isn’t really as powerful as standard bleach. But it isn’t supposed to be causing as much damage polluting our waterways.

Amy made the shift back to bars of soap for washing with in the shower. Though we haven’t been as good with this one as other steps we took. These soap bars came in cardboard packaging with paper wrapping rather than the plastic liquid soaps come in of the plastic wrap many soap bars have. So right down to the packaging, it pushes better eco credentials.

Then the must-have eco product of 2018, the water bottle. I’ve never really bought mineral water in one use bottles. I’ve used reusable bottles for a long time as a tight fisted Yorkshire resident. At work, I try to keep my self hydrated through the day and this has lasted me a good while.

Within the gardening industry, there is a lot of plastic waste. This has been examined well within Gardener’s World this year with Monty cutting down the waste at Longmeadow. One product I’ve bought to cut this back is a Burgon & Ball pot maker. These make paper pots to start my seedlings in.

It doesn’t look exactly like the product photos as the photos from the site show a metal cap on the top, which this doesn’t have. This won’t affect the functionality of it though. The reason I bought this one over several of the competitors was that it makes 3 different sizes while many just do one.

These might only be little steps in cutting my damage to the world, but every step helps. The more people buy eco-products, the more it sends a message that people want to make a difference. Then they become more readily available until they become the norm. If you’ve bought a real Christmas tree this year here is an interesting article on how these trees could be put to use after the Christmas period.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-46647790

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Geo-Fleur plant subscription

In my previous blog, on buying houseplants, I had mentioned plant subscription services. One I mentioned was Geo-Fleur. In this blog, I’m going to look at my experiences with Geo-Fleur.

Geo-Fleur

Geo-Fleur is a Yorkshire based company. It was started in 2014 by Sophie Lee and has been gradually growing. There are several shop based stockists of their plants.

The Hepworth Cafe-Wakefield

North Star coffee shop-Leeds

Laynes espresso-Leeds

Fred Aldous-Leeds and Manchester

As well as the stockist, they offer their plants by subscription or you can choose plants, pots and books through the online shop. Workshops on terrariums and kokedama are currently available to book. Sophie Lee, the owner, has made her contribution to houseplant literature with her book living with plants. In this basic plant care is dealt with, along with a number of DIY projects. I’ve only got the kindle version of the book, but I imagine it’s quite a lavish coffee table book from the reviews.

Plant subscription

Geo-Fleur offer a plant subscription. This seemed like an odd idea to me when I first heard about it and I suppose it is. You subscribe to receive a surprise plant each month. The aim is to send out rare and unusual plants each month. The plant is sent in a pot or other suitable receptacle. They can be purchased in 1, 3, 6 or 12-month subscription packages. It becomes cheaper the longer a period you subscribe for.

They suggest the subscription as a gift, which I think is quite a nice idea. You can pay for someone to have a direct subscription posted to there door. This saves you needing to wrap or sort out postage of a present. It could make a good gift for a plant lover of interior nut.

Along with the plant and pot you receive a plant related accessory and notes on the care of the plant. Within the constraints of posting the subscriptions are currently UK only and limited to small plants. That said, plenty of small to mid-sized fascinating plants that can fit. Have a look through Twitter or Instagram for the #PlantPostClub hashtag to see previous boxes.

Alternatively, there is the post grow club. Instead of a full plant you receive a cutting and instructions on how to grow on. While this will take longer to grow it allows bigger plants to be offered by subscription.

My box

My first box contained a string of hearts (ceropegia woodii). Also known as rosary vine you will see this plant and string of pearls featuring hanging from bookshelves in fashionable photoshoots. A world apart from my child-friendly house. This is an evergreen succulent native to South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. It grows up about 10cm before trailing down up to 4m. The leaves are about 1cm and heart shaped. In good light they go darker. Whereas in the house you will usually see them looking paler. In 2017 it gained the RHS award of garden merit.

Its trailing nature makes it a good choice for hanging pots. Alternatively, it can sit on a bookshelf or high shelf. It likes good light, plenty of sunshine, though not too much direct sun. It doesn’t need too much attention. The soil needs to dry out between watering.

The plant subscription string of hearts I received appears to be in good condition. It was packaged well with the vine coiled well. It came neatly packaged with wrap and cut tissue to keep it safe. It came in an attractive hexagonal pot with a drainage tray. String of hearts doesn’t like sitting in water, so this is a good set up for the plant. After watering the excess water can be drained off.

My surprise for this month was a plant person badge. It’s a nice quality enamel badge. Fit on my bag along with my RSPB goldfinch. Geo-Fleur also sell a plant killer badge. We’ll see whether I need that a few months into owning my string of hearts.

The plant care instructions are presented stylishly on a postcard-sized note. I can see these would build up into a nice collection if you subscribe long term.

Price wise, it costs £25 for a single month subscription. It’s cheaper if you pay for more months. String of hearts cost from about £5 to £20 without a pot. So with a rather nice ceramic pot and postage, it is a reasonable price. Towards the top price end, but it is a well looked after plant of a good size.

Overall, I’m happy with my first experience of plant subscriptions. The plant is a nice little addition to my house. It’s possibly not one I’d have bought for myself. I’ve not really considered buying vines and climbers before. That said it looks good where it is. As I clear my spare room I have a better spot in mind for it. Both better for the light requirements and the look of the vine. I look forward to seeing what I get next month.

Kickstarter

I have mentioned in a previous blog, but Geo-Fleur has started a Kickstarter campaign. So forgive me, but I’m going to repeat myself. For those of you who don’t know Kickstarter, it is a website where people fund money to help projects. It has become a popular format for funding game development and gadgets. People pledge money and if the campaign is successful they gain rewards. The company sets a target of how much money they need for their project. If they get enough pledges they receive the money. If they don’t get pledges up to the target you don’t pay anything and the rewards don’t go ahead.

haworthia and pot up for grabs

Geo-fleur is looking to expand the business. They are looking to invest in a larger greenhouse and develop a collection of rarer plants. In exchange for funding these improvements, you can choose from a number of rewards. There are a number of lovely looking handmade pots up for grabs. There is also a reduced price available for you to get a plant subscription. So if the concept interests you it’s a chance to buy in cheaper. Make your pledge if interested and share on your social media of choice. The campaign is halfway to the target, but the whole amount has to be pledged for it to go ahead, so please add your support if you’re interested.

Check it out on kickstarter

Competition time

To add a little support to Geo-Fleur’s Kickstarter campaign I have a little giveaway competition on Twitter. I found another copy of The Houseplant Guide by Dr Hessayon in my local charity shop. For those unfamiliar with the houseplant expert is generally considered one of the best houseplant books ever published.

To quote the blurb:

Quite simply, the best-selling gardening book in the world. Over a million copies have been sold in the U.S., and nearly 14 million worldwide. According to one reviewer – “after the Bible, the best-selling reference book of all time.”

It tends to be my go-to book for checking care and problems with plants. On the ledge podcast makes regular references to it. If you have any interest in houseplants you should own this.


To enter check my twitter feed and you should find a pinned post. To be in with a chance of winning like and retweet the post. I will run the competition until the end of the Kickstarter campaign when I will pick a winner at random to send the book onto.

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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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