Flowers, Jorge, Plants

cherry-tree-flower-in-winter

Plants are intelligent inasmuch as they only flower when the light, age and energy conditions are appropriate to allow the plant to reproduce successfully. To do this, they have developed at least 20 different senses to monitor the complex conditions in their environment and are able to take into account factors like humidity, gravity and even electromagnetic fields. Plants differ greatly in their evolutionary strategy, and possess a diffused brain of sorts as to process information. This is why unlike, say mammals, plants are able to survive a significant loss of body mass.

Most plants flower in the spring or summer when the heat-sensitive bees are ready to facilitate conjugation with trees nearby. Spring is usually preferred because it gives the resultant fruit more months to soak in the heat and sunlight to produce fructose, which feed the sugar-crazed mammals and birds that the plant needs to spread its off-spring far from the mothership. Winter doesn’t work so well as the worker bees are otherwise occupied maintaining the temperature of the queen bee.

bluebells-flower-in-winter

Some, however, such as snowdrops and bluebells, have carved out a niche that allows them to gain a step up over their competitors. By flowering in winter, they are able to survive quite happily in real-estate that most plants can’t – that is, under the heavy bows of large deciduous trees, deep inside the ancient woods. In places where even grass can’t grow, these plants thrive as they utilise their bulbs as an energy storage device that they fill up in the early spring when the sun is weak and the trees leafless. By the time the big trees are fully-leaved, the plants have done their work for the year and their dark leaves are already dying off by the end of spring. The sugars produced by photosynthesis are converted to starch and withdrawn deep into the earth-bound bulb for protection. And by choosing this tactic – the protection of the mighty deciduous trees – they’ve avoided competing with the most ruthless of summer plants like grass.

But what of the winter-flowering trees like the Mahonia and Cherry tree? Most likely, the winter-flowering trees found just a few insects to spread the pollen. And because there were no other flowers around at the time, the winter-flowering trees had hit on a limited but good-enough niche.

mahonia-flower-in-winter

And what are the winter-pollinating insects and why do they seek out flowering-plants in winter? Recent research has shown that one of the UK’s most common bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) is achieving comparable foraging success in winter on plants such as Mahonia to that achieved in summer months. There are also a few moths that, just like many plants, have evolved antifreeze in their blood to prevent the formation of ice-crystals when the temperature falls below zero.

So, therefore just like the winter-flowering plants, insects have crafted themselves their own niches to ensure the survival of their species.

bombus-terrestris

The Science

Many plants flower in time for a particular season by responding to the length of day, a process known as photoperiodism. While scientists do not fully understand how plants do this, it is accepted that when a plant flowers is related to its genes and external environment.

In plants, scientists have identified the CONSTANS and DNF (DAY NEUTRAL FLOWERING) genes as the key mechanisms that regulate a plant’s flowering time in response to day length. In the Arabidopsis plant, scientists recently identified a faulty DNF gene that led to abnormal flowering times in mutant plants. The DNF acted to repress the activation of the CONSTANS gene until light levels rise above a certain threshold in daytime. Hence, once a functional DNF was introduced into the plant, the abnormal flowering was corrected.

In a separate study, scientists identified the sugar molecule trehalose-6-phosphate (T6P) in the Arabidopsis thaliana as playing an essential role in controlling flowering time in relation to energy reserves. As such, once a certain day length was perceived by the plant’s leaves, a mix of photoreceptors and other proteins would lead to the expression of the FLOWERING LOCUS T (FT) gene that would migrate proteins to the tip of the shoot, triggering the expression of flowers. However, as a failsafe, once the plant reaches a certain age, it would begin to flower anyway regardless of day length. As flowering is an extremely intensive process for the plant, energy too must also be available in the form of sugar. Here, the T6P sugar molecule would act as a signal for energy levels, regulating the production of FT protein. Thus, the T6P acts to influence both of the two most important pathways to flowering – the expression of the flowering gene and the production of the flowering protein.

Ultimately, greater understanding of the complex pathways that control flowering times will allow farmers to reduce uncertainty and thus boost their agricultural output.

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.

Forcing Plants, Gardening, How To, Jorge, Plants

forcing vegetables

Forcing fruit and vegetables in winter is fun way to ensure you have a steady supply of fresh greens for your family. It involves producing crops out of season through replicating the environmental conditions necessary for plant growth. This quirky custom dates back to at least the 1600s, but achieved peak popularity with the Victorians, when the better off sought to impress their friends with spring salads.

Forcing Rhubarb

forcing rhubarb

Forcing rhubarb is an easy way to start experimenting with forcing plants, and can be done throughout the winter, although it works best in January and February. Simply start by removing weeds and leaves around the rhubarb crown, and place some fresh mulch. Then use large cylinder (preferably a pot) to cover the crowns, plugging any holes in the process. This exclusion of light will start frenzied growth, and the stems should be ready in only eight weeks, provided the soil is kept moist! You can harvest when the stems hit the roof of the pot, although 20-30cm of growth is to be expected.

It is recommended that you use established plants as the young ones may not have sufficient energy reserves, and that you do not force again for 2 years as the process leaves the plant susceptible to disease. If you are in colder climate, or are expecting a harsh winter, insulating the pot will be necessary. The warmer it is, the faster the plant will grow, and 18-20°C is the optimum temperature. Unsurprisingly, as the rhubarb is deprived of the light, it will be unable to photosynthesise, and will appear paler than usual. Also noticeable, is how the resultant stem is decidedly less bitter, supposedly due to less sugar.

Forcing Strawberries

forcing strawberries

Forcing strawberries can be a little more difficult, but the key is to expose the plant to the cold until at least February, before moving it to a warm environment. This extended cooling is necessary to convince the plant that an extended period of warmth is about to begin, thus signalling the changing of the seasons. When choosing which strawberry plants to force, you can try older plants that perhaps performed poorly in the year, but if you are really keen, you can plant runners up to a year and a half early, and cultivate the plant’s root system through picking off its flowers.

Now, what kind of warmth are we talking about? An unheated greenhouse can produce a small crop, but instead it is better to use a either a propagation mat or a greenhouse heater to raise the temperature a small amount. Now, if you wish to keep your strawberry plants outside, you can use a cloche that can be removed on the milder days to attract bees.

paintbrush-pollination

Once you decide to move to the plant into the warmth, it is now time to apply some TLC. First remove dead leaves, runners and weeds and give them a dressing with mulch. Then as it is cold outside and there are no bees, you’ll have to do the pollinating. Grab yourself a paintbrush or cotton swab and rub it over each of the flowers as often as possible. (Some gardeners do this daily!) Finally it’s time to start the watering regimen, that is until the fruits finally ripen, when you should let the earth dry out. (This helps concentrate sugars in the fruit.)

Forcing doesn’t just have to be used in winter and other vegetables that are historically forced include Chinese Beansprouts, Chicory, Dandelion and Seakale. For fruits, gardeners have reported success with tomatoes and even pineapples. Do you have any experience with forcing fruit? If so we would love hear from you. Post in the comments below!

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.

Dakota Murphey, Garden Design, How To

After all the weeks of planning, builders and tradesmen trampling across your lawn carrying roof tiles, lengths of timber, and panes of glass, your beautiful new summerhouse is finally complete. The paint inside and out has dried nicely, the sliding glass doors open and close effortlessly, the patio decking can’t wait to be walked on, and the wood burner works like a charm.

But there’s one more important thing you need to do and that’s furnish and decorate it. So let’s take a look at some creative décor ideas so that your garden building looks terrific and will be the envy of all your friends.

A garden building is very different to rooms in your home

Stamford Summerhouse 16 x 10

Let’s start with the obvious: a garden building, or summerhouse, is a lot different from other rooms in your house. For one, it’s detached and is probably found at the end of your garden. Because it can be rather hot and humid in summer, many garden buildings have large windows and are built with sliding doors that open onto a patio deck, keeping everyone cool. Windows and glass doors also offer lots of natural light and bring the greenery of the garden into the space.

In winter, unless you’ve had the foresight of fitting insulation and heating, your summerhouse can be a little on the chilly side. That’s why it’s called a summerhouse! When decorating, the trick is to select furniture with these conditions in mind. Modern patio furniture works well together with a mix of chic warm-coloured furnishings.

Choosing the right furniture for your garden room

Before choosing any furniture, it’s a good idea to measure your floor area, making allowance for walkways and doorways. Although there’s a wide variety of easy chairs, sofa suites and occasional tables available, it’s best to keep the interior simple and uncluttered so the room looks bigger than it is.

As there’s such a great choice of stylish garden furniture on the market, you could use some of these to furnish the inside. A small two-seater couch, a traditional cane chair, some small circular tables or a low coffee table are an option. Throw one or two bold, colourful rugs on the floor, match the colours of these in your curtains and you’re well on your way to creating a warm welcoming space.

Access is also very important, so plan beforehand, as you may need to buy furniture that can be assembled inside the summerhouse. If you only have a small garden room and space is limited, avoid over cluttering – try to keep the room feeling light and bright and as spacious as possible.

Traditional or contemporary?

Carmen Wooden Pavilion H2.2m

There are literally hundreds of different styles and designs of furniture, and these range from traditional cane conservatory-style pieces to the more chic, contemporary rattan weave. If your summerhouse is modern and modular, look for pieces that are chunky but not overbearing, sleek, stylish and classic in look and feel.

Popular choices of furniture include: cane, wicker, rattan, seagrass, willow as well as classic Lloyd Loom furniture. Stone, marble-topped or mosaic-tiled coffee tables are very much in vogue, and metal furniture such as cast aluminium or wrought iron and glass are also popular choices. A small, brightly-coloured upholstered sofa in a garden building also works well.

Furnishings and fabrics

Once you’ve decided on the furniture, you need to choose your soft furnishings. These range from traditional floral prints to bold and modern neutral fabrics. Here, it’s all down to personal taste. If you decide to play it bold, then our advice is to go all the way, don’t hold back. Make the room as colourful and bright and as happy as you can. If, on the other hand, you’d rather play it safe, go with muted earthy colours and soft pastels and let the simplicity and beauty of your summerhouse do the talking.

In summer, you’re bound to find yourself entertaining lots of friends and relatives who’ll all enjoy the summerhouse and the barbecues on the deck. If this is the case, it’s a good idea to make sure all your seat cushions, covers, rugs and other soft furnishings can be removed easily for washing. Chairs, sofas and rugs can get a little grubby with all that food, wine and beer you’ll be serving up!

Be creative. Be bold. Incorporate new ideas, different materials and styles of furniture, then sit back and enjoy your lovely summerhouse.

Dakota Murphey, independent content writer & home improvement specialist working alongside Hortons UK Log Cabins to bring you this article.

Amie, Primrose.co.uk, Valentine's Day

Special man in your life? Wonderful woman worthy of your affection?  We’ve the top gifts for lovers!

No matter what the occasion or who the recipient, we’ve something for everyone from water features to companion seats, roses to candles – brighten up a loved one’s day and reap the rewards afterwards… with a gorgeous garden!

Here’s our top six gifts for you!

Smart Solar Dancing Couple Solar Powered Bird Bath Water Feature

Smart Garden Artificial Topiary Heart

Smart Garden Heart of Hearts Garden Mirror

Emily Love Seat Companion Seat

Ultimate Grow Your Own Gift Kit Herbs, Stir-Fry Veg & Chilli Collection – 3 Packs Included

Ease Those Achy Muscles Gift Bag

These are just some of our great gift ideas, we’ve over 10,000 gift ideas online at primrose.co.uk, and with most products coming with next day delivery, there’s something for everyone!

Show us what you plan to do this Valentine’s Day!

We’d love to see your ideas and photos so send them in:

  • Email photos@primrose.co.uk
  • Tweet us @PrimroseUK
  • Facebook us @ facebook.com/Primrose.co.uk

AmieAmie is a marketing enthusiast, having worked at Primrose since graduating from Reading University in 2014.

She enjoys all things sport. A keen football fan, Amie follows Tottenham Hotspur FC, and regularly plays for her local 5 a side football team.

Amie also writes burger reviews on  Barnard’s Burger Blog.

See all of Amie’s posts