Current Issues, Gardening, Lotti, Wildlife

wild space in garden

The State of Nature Report

In 2013 over 50 British wildlife organisations worked together to release the State of Nature report, the first report of its kind which set out to undertake a “health check” of nature in the UK. The results were, to say the least, troubling. All around the UK, all kinds of wildlife was suffering – there were declines in populations of insects and butterflies, in birds and mammals and even in plants.

The UK is not left wanting when it comes to green space as over half of the total urban area in England is made of green space: parks, gardens and allotments as well as grassy verges take up a significant amount of room. The demand for houses with gardens is still very high but the shrinking amount of land available means these gardens are getting smaller and smaller. The urbanisation of formally wild spaces can even increase the impact of invasive species on local wildlife populations as they usually arrive via human transport routes.

In non-urbanised patches or arible or farm land, the trend continues. The report showed that since the 1970s there has been a rapid decline in farmland bird populations which showed no indication of improving any time soon. There were similar results when looking at farmland moths and beetles, with 64% of moths and 70% of beetles in decline.

A further report taken in 2016 held similarly worrying results, showing that 56% of species in the UK were in decline and 165 species were considered critically endangered – that’s one in ten species across the UK. One in six animal, bird, plant, insect and fish species had been lost altogether. While between 2013 and 2016 more steps were being taken to combat these problems, researchers could find no statistically significant improvements between the two reports that showed long-term change for the good.

The reports picked up on two trends which could be most closely linked with the continued drop in numbers of local birds, animals and insects. These were the lack of wild, uncultivated spaces and the use of pesticides, particularly agricultural ones.

Britain is, thankfully, a nation of nature-lovers. We’re birders and badger-watchers: where else would Springwatch reach as many people? The two State of Nature reports demonstrated this, as hundreds of volunteers popped up all over the country (and in Britain’s overseas territories) to count, track and observe the plants, animals and insects that the reports were focusing on. England loves its wild spaces – loves its moors and mountains, loves its beaches and brooks.

But do we love our gardens more?

The English Garden

It’s no coincidence that the word “paradise” stems from the ancient Hebrew word “pardes”, meaning “park” or “garden”. If a man’s home is his castle, then his garden is his estate. The garden is an important motif in popular culture; from the romantic gardens in which the heroine and hero walk in regency novels to the biblical Garden of Eden. The garden is the backdrop to scandalous love affairs, secret meetings and grand denouements.

English garden

The lawn – that big patch of green space you’ll probably find at the back (and front, if you’re lucky) of your house – has been a staple of Western homes for hundreds of years. The garden how we imagine it today has a carefully curated image which has evolved over time to become what we know today – a couple of flower beds, a vegetable patch hidden near the back, maybe a some patio furniture and, most importantly, a lot of grass. The lawn is as far from a “wild space” as it’s possible to get. Considering its popularity, then, what kind of impact is the British garden having on local wildlife?

Homeowners’ love of open spaces, trimmed lawns and pesticides is making it harder and harder for our favourite species to continue to survive. Bugs which would breed in long grass have nowhere to go, making it harder for garden birds to find reliable sources of food. Butterflies and bumblebees, which are integral for pollination, have fewer wildflowers to feast on and often find pesticides in maintained flower beds. Wild mammals such as hedgehogs, badgers and rabbits have nowhere to hide, breed and hibernate and the changing climate often means that those animals who do hibernate are waking up far too early.

What Can I Do To Help?

By making room for a wild space in your garden, you can start to support British wildlife in a real, active way. You don’t need to transform your whole garden into a meadow, but something is always better than nothing. Take a few square meters of space at the back of your lawn, overturn an unused vegetable patch or repurpose some beds and borders and allow the space to return to nature. By letting grass grow out and planting wildflowers (which often take a full season to come in), you can encourage more insects to land and breed, in turn feeding your garden birds. Long grass and flowers give small mammals more places to hide and you can combine your wild space with a compost heap or log pile to provide hedgehogs with a safe space to hibernate in the winter.

wild hedgehog in garden

Stop your endless battle against the weeds and simply let them grow – and put that bottle of weedkiller down! A weed is just a flower that’s grown in the wrong place: start viewing it as a flower that’s grown in the right place. Plant more self-seeding flowers (or make an effort to seed your own flowers) which not only saves you money but also encourages plants to grow just as nature intended: wherever they land! Replace traditional fence panels (which can often trap animals) with hedges which allow them to pass from garden to garden, as well as providing a safe place for birds to nest.

If you’re keen on growing your own food, step away from pesticides and try using garlic water instead. If you’re still worried about slugs, encourage nature to solve the problem for you – a pond will attract frogs and toads, and they’ll eat the slugs. A garden pond with sloping sides (or an exit ramp) will also give garden birds and wild mammals a safe place to drink and bathe.

A wild garden is, invariably, a messy garden. For hundreds of years we’ve taken pride in our perfectly manicured, well-curated gardens with neat flower beds and horizontally-striped lawns. But in 2018, we have to ask ourselves a question: what do we value more – our perfect lawns or the beautiful, natural world which is struggling to thrive around us?

Jenny at PrimroseLotti works with the Primrose Product Loading team, creating product descriptions and newsletter headers.

When not writing, Lotti enjoys watching (and over-analyzing) indie movies with a pint from the local craft brewery or cosplaying at London Comic Con.

Lotti is learning to roller skate, with limited success.

See all of Lotti’s posts.

Jorge, Plants, Trees

The Rowan tree, commonly referred to as ‘Mountain Ash’ has become an incredibly popular tree in the UK.  With a compact habit and high tolerance of pollution, it has been widely planted in urban spaces. Rowan trees are easily identifiable in the winter with their colourful displays of red, orange, or even white berries.

It was similarities between the Rowan and the Ash’s pinnate leaves that led to the tree’s misnomer ‘Mountain Ash’ – the mountain part having its origin in that Rowan’s are found at much higher altitudes. However, Rowan is completely unrelated to the Ash with the former of the rose family Rosaceae, the later part of the Oleaceae family.

Rowan is typically associated with the European variety Sorbus aucuparia which derives from the Latin word sorbus for ‘service tree’ and aucuparia which is formed from the latin words avis for ‘bird’ and capere for ‘catching’. Rowan trees were traditionally used in game hunting as many birds were attracted to the tree’s berries.

There are other species with the Sorbus genus found throughout the Northern hemisphere including Asia. Sorbus commixta or ‘Japanese Rowan’ is native to Japan and Korea where it is known as nana-kamado, which literally translates to ‘seven (times in the) stove’ as the wood is robust and can be used several times in fires. Additionally there is the Sorbus aria, or ‘Whitebeam’ which hails its name from the lightly coloured timber it produces.

Despite being currently popular in urban spaces, the Rowan Tree has held a special place in our collective imaginations for centuries. The European Rowan is richly documented in folklore as protecting people from evil and demonic spirits and was commonly referred to as the ‘Wicken Tree’ or ‘Witch Wood’. It is for this reason that Victorian writers commented on people, especially in Scotland, having Rowan trees planted outside of their homes. S. aucuparia has also been known as the ‘wayfarer’s tree’ and the ‘traveller’s tree’ as it protected travellers on treacherous journeys and prevented them from getting lost.

One thing is almost universal about the Rowan and that is that they are adored by wildlife. Come Autumn all manner of birds will gorge themselves readying for winter. In their natural form, however, the berries are far too bitter for human consumption, although they can be freezed to break down the acids and then cooked to make jams, chutney, jelly or even a wine! An exception to this is whitebeam whose berries are edible when rotten. Enjoy!

Jorge at PrimroseJorge works in the Primrose marketing team. He is an avid reader, although struggles to stick to one topic!

His ideal afternoon would involve a long walk, before settling down for scones.

Jorge is a journeyman gardener with experience in growing crops.

See all of Jorge’s posts.

Flowers, Gardening, Gardens, Grow Your Own, How To, Planting, Plants, Watering

Rhododendrons and azaleas usually bear their spectacular, large, often scented flowers in spring – but do you know the difference between the two?

Well, both are in the genus Rhododendron –  but azaleas can be distinguished by having five stamens per flower (one per lobe), whereas rhododendrons have 10 or more (two per lobe). Azaleas can be deciduous or evergreen but rhododendrons are all evergreen. Finally there is a difference in size. Azaleas are small to medium shrubs – rhododendrons range from prostrate shrubs to huge trees.

Within this guide you will find information about some of the different varieties of rhododendron and azaleas, as well as information about how to successfully plant and maintain your own.

Main Species

There are more than 28,000 rhododendron or azalea hybrids, as the plants readily cross breed. However, here are the most popular varieties for gardeners:

  • Hybrids or hardy hybrids: What gardeners would consider a ‘traditional’ rhododendron with large flower trusses, some scented, blooming anywhere between January until July – often growing very large.
  • Dwarf rhododendrons: Mainly alpine varieties, ranging from 20cm-80cm, flowering in April.
  • Yakushimanum: Mound-shaped plants reaching 80-100cm, often with unusual leaves. Many brilliant flower colours available.
  • Williamsianum: Unusual rounded leaves, 80-100cm.
  • Deciduous azaleas: Sun lovers, growing up to 150cm, often scented, (especially R. luteum) with rich autumn foliage. They can be divided into Species (Sciadorhodion, Pentanthera, Rhodora, Sinensi or Brachycalyx); Ghent (the oldest hybrid group with multiple small flowers); Knaphill (large flowered hybrids, some of which are scented); Mollis (earlier flowering, more compact and spreading); Rustica (small double flowers, some scented). Other deciduous azaleas include Pratt hybrids, viscosum, occidentale and the Northern Lights series.
  • Evergreen azaleas: Small, slow-growers, suitable for pots, up to 75cm, some are prostrate in habit, with autumn colour. Flowering season is usually May.

Planting

Choose a sheltered site with dappled shade, however, dwarf alpine species will tolerate full sun. Avoid sites exposed to early morning sun in spring, as this may damage frosted flowers.

The most important factor deciding whether rhododendrons or azaleas will grow well in your garden is the pH of your soil. They must have moist but well-drained, acid soil between pH 5.0 and 6.0 that is rich in organic matter. Reducing soil pH is not easy.

October or March/April are the best times for planting – dig in acidic organic matter before you begin (leafmould, rotting pine needles or composted bracken will work well). Don’t just concentrate on the planting hole – mix well around the surrounding soil. Don’t plant deeply, as rhododendrons are surface rooters. Apply a loose 8cm mulch of acidic organic material and water well to finish.

Care

To keep your plants performing at their best, in spring, apply slow-release ericaceous fertiliser and renew the acidic mulch and keep well watered.

Rhododendrons grow best in areas of high rainfall, which is naturally slightly acidic. Using tap water, especially in hard water districts, is not good for the plant as it contains too much calcium which reduces the acidity around the plant’s roots. However, if rain water runs out, tap water is OK to use for a month or so in summer.

Rhododendrons don’t require pruning apart from removing dead wood and deadheading if practical. If the plant outgrows its space, cutting back is tolerated best from deciduous azaleas and rough-barked rhododendrons. After cutting back, mulch, feed and keep well watered.

Growing in Containers

If you have alkaline soil, grow rhododendrons and azaleas as container plants. Use ericaceous loam-based compost and repot every other year into fresh compost in spring. When not fully repotting, top dress the top 5cm of growing medium with fresh compost.

Common Problems

Most problems with rhododendrons and azaleas stem from the soil being too alkaline, drought or other extreme weather conditions. Here are signs to look out for:

  • Non-flowering and bud drop: Flower buds actually start forming in late summer – dry conditions at this time can lead to a total bud formation failure or a partial formation, causing buds to dry up and dropping unopened in spring. Mulch and water thoroughly and regularly during dry periods in summer.
  • Leaf drop: Older leaves droop and roll, then drop off, following extreme moisture conditions – drought or waterlogging. Newer leaves show browning at the leaf tip or edge. However, it is normal for the shrub to shed some older leaves in spring and summer.
  • Leaf droop: Usually a response to severe cold, but they usually recover.
  • Leaf scorch/flower damage: Often caused by windy, cold or wet weather.
  • Yellowing foliage: Caused by nutrient deficiency known as chlorosis, an iron deficiency caused by high alkalinity in the soil.
  • Pests: Vine weevil can be a nuisance for container-grown plants, as can rhododendron leafhopper and scale insects.
  • Diseases: Relatively uncommon are bud blast, azalea gall and honey fungus.

Composting, Flowers, Gardening, Grow Your Own, How To, Planting, Plants, Primrose.co.uk, Watering, Wildlife

Rose

There is no doubt that roses are one of the most popular flowers to grow in Britain. In fact, so many are planted each year that if you set them out as a single row these plants would circle the equator! With the proper care and maintenance you can expect your rose to last for at least 20 years. However, many roses fail to thrive and a lot of that is due to improper planting and care. There are several elements to consider before attempting to plant a rose in your garden and this step-by-step guide should help you to navigate the pitfalls ensuring your rose is a success!

Planting

Planting Position 

Choosing the correct position for planting your rose is crucial. If it is not in a suitable spot it will not thrive. Plenty of sun is needed for your rose to grow, slight shade in the afternoon is good but not continuous shade. Your rose needs shelter from the cold winds. A nearby hedge or fence is good but should not be too close that it shades the bush. Your rose will need good drainage as it will not grow in waterlogged soil.

 Soil Conditions 

When planting your rose it is important that the soil is suitable. Ideally the soil should be medium loam, slightly acid with a PH of 6.0-6.5 and reasonably rich in plant foods and humus. Roses cannot thrive if the soil conditions are poor. Roses should be planted from Late October to March and the ground should not be waterlogged or frozen.

Preparing the Rose 

Cut off any leaves, hips or buds that may still be present. If the stems are shrivelled place all of the bush in water for several hours. Cut off any decayed or thin shoots before planting. Plunge roots into a bucket of water if they seem dry. It is crucial that the roots do not dry out before planting and make sure they remain covered until you are ready to set the bush in the planting hole. Cut back any long or damaged roots to about 30cm.

Planting the Rose 

Mark out planting stations to make sure your rose bush has enough space. There should be a distance of about a metre between each plant. When planting make sure that the bud union is about 2-3cm below the surface.

Caring and Maintenance

Mulching 

Roses benefit from having a layer of mulch on the soil surface around the plants as it reduces weeds, keeps soil moist in summer, improves soil structure, reduces black spots and some mulching material provides plant foods. Some suitable materials used for mulching include moist peat, shredded bark, well rotted manure, good garden compost and leaf mould. Prepare the soil surface for mulching by clearing away debris, dead leaves and weeds. Water the soil surface if it is dry. Spread a 5-7cm layer around the rose. Mulching reduces the need for watering and hoeing but does not replace the need for good feeding.

Watering 

Roses have a deep-rooting habit meaning that the watering of established plants is not crucial in some seasons. However, some roses need watering after a few days of dry weather. For example, newly planted roses, climbers growing against walls and roses planted in sandy soils. All roses will need plenty of water in a period of drought in spring and summer. When watering, use about 5 litres of water for each bush or standard rose and 15 litres for a climber.

Hoeing 

The main purpose of hoeing is to keep down weeds that are not smothered by mulching. Hoeing needs to be done frequently to make sure that the underground parts of the weeds are starved. Do not hoe any deeper than 2-3cm below the surface or the roots could be damaged.

Cutting 

Roses are perhaps the most popular flower for cutting and using as decoration. To make sure you don’t weaken the rose bush, do not take more than one third of the flowering stem with the flower. Cut just above an outward facing bud. Do not cut struggling or newly planted roses.  

Feeding 

Roses make heavy demands on plant food reserves in soil. If one or more vital elements run short your rose will not thrive. Feed your rose every year using a proprietary compound fertiliser containing nitrogen, phosphates and potash. You can use powder or granular fertiliser, liquid fertilisers or foliar feeding.

Deadheading 

It is important to regularly remove dead blooms. Remove the whole truss when the flowers have faded. Cut the stem just above the second or third leaf down. This will help the rose conserve energy.

 Pruning 

Roses do not produce shoots that increase in size steadily each year. Therefore, if they are not pruned the rose becomes a mass of live and dead wood. The purpose of pruning is to get rid of the dead wood each year and encourage the regular development of strong and healthy stems. For more details click here.