Animals, Gardening, Jorge, Plants

It has long been reported that plants respond to sound and the belief that plants can respond to music has taken root in the popular imagination. We’ve all heard stories of farmers and hobbyist alike serenading their plants and producing miraculous results. But do these experiments have any scientific underpinnings? Unsurprisingly, there is very little scientific research into the subject and a serious dearth of scientific proof that plants can respond to sound, let alone music. However, scientists have been repeatedly surprised in what plants can respond to and it has been discovered that plants have at least 20 different senses. Will hearing be the next?

The misconception that plants can respond to music has its origin in poorly carried out scientific experiments, wishful thinking, the mixing of science and spirituality of the new age movement, and misreporting by the media.

Experiments documenting the effects of music on plant growth date back to at least 1962 when T.C. Singh, head of the Botany Department at India’s Annamalia University, reported significantly improved growth of balsam plants exposed to music. His ideas were inspired by the Indian plant physiologist, Jagadish Chandra Bose, who spent a lifetime investigating the responses of plants to environmental stimuli, concluding that plants could both feel pain and understand affection. Research continued with Luther Burbank, an American botanist and horticulturalist, who concluded plants possess 20 sensory perceptions. All of this was preceded by Charles Darwin’s early investigations into plant perception, who once played the bassoon to a Mimosa plant, but concluded it had no effect.

Bose, a polymath, conducted research in a range of fields and made his inventions public to develop his research. Here he is pictured in the Royal Institution circa 1897.

The findings of the above researches were compiled into The Secret Life of Plants (1973), by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird. The book, considered a piece of fiction by many scientists, was underpinned by quacky new-age ideas and took into account many questionable experiments and studies including the work of Dorothy Retallack, who eventually published the The Sound of Musical Plants in the same year.

Retallack, an undergraduate student in music, had to take a biology module as part of her course and decided to investigate the effects of music on plant growth. Convinced that rock music was having a negative effect on the nation’s youth, she decided to test how the different genres would affect plants. Unsurprisingly, she found that rock music did have a highly negative effect on plants, causing them to wilt. By contrast, Ravi Shankar’s Indian sitar music led them to thrive. The experiment was fraught with shortcomings with a small sample size (5), insufficient replicates, and plants located in different environments.

The Secret Life of Plants sold well and many of its ideas would seep into the popular imagination. The book would even get its own motion picture adaptation, soundtracked by Stevie Wonder, released in 1979. The score would be expanded and released in the same year as Journey Through “The Secret Life of Plants”. It was made with the film’s producer describing the experiments to Wonder, the final result a mix of instrumental and pop songs, with the best the catchy Outside My Window.

Playing music to plants was a phenomena that preceded the book and musicians even composed music to be played to plants such as Mort Garson’s Mother Earth’s Plantasia. Described on the linear notes as “warm earth music for plants…and the people that love them”, the album was produced using the Moog synthesizer, of which Garson was an early adopter.

So, why do people consistently report music improves plant growth? A good answer comes from a series of experiments described in Peter Scott’s Physiology and Behaviour of Plants. The first experiment tests whether rock or classical would produce faster germination vis-a-vis a control exposed to no music. The results show that while both rock and classical increased germination against the control, there is no difference between the genres. This may seem surprising, but the second experiment adds an extra control – a small fan that blows away the heat generated from the speakers. The results show that there is no difference in germination between the plants exposed to music and the control. The faster germination originating from the heat of the speakers, not the plants responding to music.

Another possible explanation is that those who play music to plants are more likely to create conditions suitable for plant growth. Even if music has no effect on plants, the extra care and attention will, whether it be sufficient watering or correcting nutrient deficiencies for example.

Is there any reason to believe that plants can respond to sound? According to Daniel Chamovitz, professor of Life Sciences at Tel Aviv University, it is possible that we are simply performing the wrong tests. Evolution takes place extremely slowly and music is not an evolutionary pressure on plant development. We need to first identify the ecologically relevant sounds that could affect how a plant develops and adapts to its environment.

Furthermore, it is not necessary for organisms to have complex ears to pick up sound waves as a range of morphological features will suffice. Snakes, for example, use their jawbones to pick up ground-borne vibrations and deliver acoustic information to their mechano-sensory system. The ability to respond to sound may be useful for plants as it allows energetically cheap signalling that could be used for an array of functions.

Both frogs and birds have no outer ear, yet possess more acute hearing than humans.

There are some promising experiments that appear to document plants responding to sound, although increased repetition and further studies will be needed to convince the wider community.

One experiment found that the roots of maize plants grew towards the source of sound, especially at frequencies between 200 and 300Hz and emitted acoustic emissions themselves. Another found that specific frequencies between 125Hz and 250Hz made certain genes more active, while frequencies at 50Hz made them less active. Lastly, one experiment found that plants would respond to vibrations mimicking the sound of a caterpillar’s jaws chewing, producing a class of chemicals poisonous to caterpillars as a response.  

So, what is going on here? These experiments indicate that plants respond to and emit sound when it is defined as vibrations that travel through the air or another medium. These sounds may be not be recognisable to us, but it is sound nonetheless. Ultimately, the identification of the mechanisms through which sound is detected and emitted will be key in transforming the hypothesis into a veritable theory. The how explaining the why.

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.

Animals, Composting, Gardening, Zoe

 

Compost Bins

Composting is a huge trend in the gardening community and it has become a household norm to have a compost bin alongside your general waste and recycling bins. Although the thought of composting may seem cumbersome, there are a tonne of fantastic benefits of making your own compost.

Monty Don has shared his pearls of wisdom regarding the best way to compost, and if Monty is doing it, then it’s safe to say we should probably be doing it too!

What are the benefits of composting?

Composting at home has a heap of benefits including:

  • It helps cut CO2 emissions that are harmful to the environment.
  • It encourages natural wildlife such as small insects which then help to feed birds and hedgehogs.
  • By making your own compost you get to save money by not buying the expensive brands!
  • Turning your compost heap once monthly provides excellent exercise for you no matter what age or ability you are.

No matter the size of your home and garden there is an easy way for you to start composting. Head over to Recycle Now for specific tips on the space you have available. 

How does it help the environment?

Rubbish ordinarily sent to a landfill omits harmful greenhouse gases because there is a lack of air getting to the waste. This in turn creates methane which can damage the Earth’s atmosphere.  However, if you compost at home the oxygen will help the waste decompose aerobically which significantly reduces the methane produced, which is great news for the environment.

By composting at home you also save the petrol used to transport compost rubbish sent to landfill each week!

Landfill

How is the compost produced better?

The compost you can produce at home will help improve your soil structure and also help fight plant disease. Home produced compost contains ingredients your plant love such as: potassium, nitrogen and phosphorus which will make your plants look glorious all year round.

Won’t having a compost heap attract pests?

A well looked after compost bin should not attract any pests such as rats and flies unless it has not been properly secured. One way to help prevent these unwelcome guests is to make sure the moisture levels do not get too high, and you could also keep chicken wire at the base of the bin which can help obstruct an entrance for small mammals.

A compost bin will however host smaller creatures such as slugs and worms – but do not panic! These creatures will help decompose the waste in your compost bin, and they should love their home so much that they do not feel tempted to stray to other areas in your garden.

Slug

Won’t having a compost heap promote weeds?

There is a fear that homemade compost will introduce weeds into your garden. This will only happen if your compost bin does not produce enough heat to kill the weed seeds, so be sure to monitor the temperature of your compost heap with a thermometer – don’t let it drop below 43 degrees Celsius.

What time of year can I compost?

You can compost all year round!

Have we convinced you yet? Head over to our specialist range of compost bins to find the perfect one for you and your garden, and keep your eyes peeled for our next blog on How To Create The Perfect Compost!

Zoe at PrimroseZoë works in the Marketing team at Primrose, and is passionate about all things social media.

After travelling across Europe and Asia, Zoë is intrigued by different cultures and learning more about the world around her. If she’s not jet setting, Zoë loves nothing more than curling up with a good book and a large glass of red wine!

She is an amateur gardener but keen to learn more and get stuck in!

See all of Zoë’s posts.

Animals, Garden Design, Jorge, Water Features

john-constable-water-feature

With the psychological benefits associated with water, it is no wonder water features are an integral part of garden design. Since at least the eighteenth century, doctors have prescribed trips to the seaside to improve their patients’ well-being. Britain’s love affair with water stretches all the way to Aquae Sulis, located in what is today Bath; there both Briton and Roman alike would seek relaxation in its natural hot springs.

Access to water is known to both alleviate stress and promote serenity. For example, psychologists from the ‘Blue Gym’ project found that people have preference for images with water than those with none. Interestingly, the same project found that images with both blue and green garnered the most favourable response (an interesting tip for those designing their garden).

So why is this the case? Why do humans love blue and green? It is probable that our love for water is hard-coded in our genes to ensure our survival. It is a hangover from when humans were hunters and gatherers, when the colours of blue and green signalled a resource rich environment that was conducive to your long term survival. To our savannah-dwellings ancestors, habitat selection was of paramount importance, and lush grasslands and clumps of trees provided evidence of abundant wildlife and a good supply of water.

john-constable-river

It is not incidental that rivers, lakes and seas are blue, and plant life green. Only a combination of both could ensure survival and a view of both signalled the jackpot. It is from this that humans have developed a sense of pleasure when we witness such a view. While now such a view is not necessary for survival, the genetic heritage remains as evolution takes place over extremely long periods, far beyond the 20,000 odd years humans have been living in permanent settlements.

Humans’ preferences for certain habitats have been confirmed in a number of surveys. In one, people from around the world were all shown standardised photos of five landscapes – deciduous forest, tropical forest, open savannah with trees, coniferous forest, and desert – and no category stood out, except that of the desert, which had a slightly negative response. (It is, unsurprisingly, an environment that is both hostile to human life and resource scarce.) When the experiment was extended to young children, they expressed a marked preference for the savannah (where early human evolution took place) as well as landscapes with water, trees, game animals, and cloud patterns among others, which offer opportunities for both food and water.

savannah-environmental-preferences

In another survey, a professional polling organisation conducted a poll of art preferences in ten countries in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas, and found that blue was the most popular colour, followed by green. And again, there was a marked preference for water, plants, and large animals, both wild and domestic, among others.

Indeed, it is likely that such colours also provide animals a rudimentary pleasure as such environments sustain the majority of life on earth, provided they in fact see in colour. Indeed, animals with comparatively low sentience may find it hard to enjoy anything else.

roman-aqueduct
The Pont du Gard, the most famous Roman aqueduct in existence – it was modified in the 1740s to carry a wide road.  Emanuele  (2007)  licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Now, when do man-made water features pop up in human history? Famously, the Romans built a system of aqueducts to supply the city of Rome with water, which was necessary to feed the expanding metropolis. These aqueducts utilised gravity to transport water from the surrounding hills, which was then stored in large cisterns. From these cisterns, the water would then travel through pipes to public distribution points and individual’s houses where there might be fountains. To power these fountains, the Romans again utilised gravity, as because a foot of height generates 0.43 pounds per square inch of water pressure, even a small cistern could power a fountain. As a sidenote, the Romans were not the first to use gravity to power fountains as even such primitive societies such as the Maya did so.

The power of gravity could be utilised in other ways to power fountains. Jumping forward to the 18th century, King Louis XIV’s fountain complex at Versailles was powered by the river Seine. It utilised an convoluted system of 14 huge water wheels to power pistons for over 200 water pumps. The water was transferred through a system of reservoirs up the hill into an aqueduct, which then distributed the water to the various fountains on the grounds. In the intervening years between the romans and Versailles, fountains would find their greatest popularity in the Islamic world (in the famous paradise gardens), and later renaissance Italy. It was in these two golden ages that saw the emergence of such artists and engineers that could enable their construction. The surviving examples from these periods are still highly popular today.

renaissance-water-fountain
The Fontana Masini in the Piazza del Popolo in Cesena, completed in 1591. It was designed by Cesena Francesco Masini and built by the stonemason Montevecchio Domenico and his assistants.

Other more complicated methods of pumping water emerged in time such as hydraulic rams and steam engines. The former is not too dissimilar to the water wheel in that it requires no power other than the kinetic energy of flowing water. The device, in effect, takes in water at one height, and outputs water at another higher height. It was invented in 1796 by Joseph Michel Montgolfier, who is otherwise famous as one of the inventors of the hot air balloon. The steam pump, and its successor the electric pump, would prove revolutionary and greatly increase the power of fountains, enabling such fountains as the King Fahd’s Fountain that produces the largest water jets on earth, possibly surpassing a 1,000 feet.

largest-fountain-on-earth
King Fahd’s Fountain, located in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Now, returning to the original question, a water feature is likely to signal a plentiful supply of water, and allow one to feel relaxed, and at home. Even better, the sound of running water will allow such relaxation when in earshot. Then, once placed in the greenery of the garden, it provides the perfect environment for a human to relax. Now thanks to advances in technology, you can use solar energy to power your feature, allowing one to both save money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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.

Animals, Bird Baths, How To, Wildlife, Zoe

The long awaited Big Garden Birdwatch has finally arrived this weekend – hooray! With this handy guide we will teach you how to make an irresistible bird feeder no sparrow could refuse!

Many of us may notice our little visitors in the garden, but do we really know what kind of bird it is? Luckily for you, our beautifully illustrated infographic may help you identify even the most exotic of species! Top marks if you manage to spot a Chabert Vanga…

The best way to entice any guests is of course with a free buffet, and in this blog we suggest a fantastic range of treats and scrummy dishes no bird could refuse.

Dangerous Food for Birds

However if you want to feed wild birds be careful that it is safe, the following cannot be used to feed wild birds:

  • Spoiled seed – make sure the seeds you put out have not started rot. It should be dry without any strong odour.
  • Large quantities of bread – although filling, bread does not contain any of the lovely goodness that wild birds need in their diet.
  • Milk – Avoid leaving out milk for your birds, many experts claim this will make them ill.
  • Cooking fat, margarine & vegetable oil – These are all unsuitable for birds.

Ingredients Needed for Your Bird Feeder

Now for the fun stuff!

It is SUPER easy to make your own bird feede, and it’s a fantastic activity to get the whole family involved and share in the joy when you spot a red breast in the garden.

Firstly, you will need to get your hands on some lard. This is a great glue that will bond all your ingredients. You want one part lard to two parts of your bird seed.

Next, you can pick and choose what treats you want to include for your birds. We suggest the following, with a brief description of what birds love this treat the most:

  • Millet – sparrows, dunnocks, finches, reed buntings and collared doves
  • Flaked maize – blackbirds
  • Peanuts & Sunflower seeds – Tits and greenfinches
  • Pinhead oatmeal – All birds love this!
  • Nyjer seeds – goldfinches and siskins.
  • Cooked rice – All birds lap this up
  • Mealworms – excellent protein source for many birds

You can also add some grated cheese, dried fruit and much other variation of seed in your unique mix!

Now you have binded the lard and your bird seed you will be able to mould this into a variety of different shapes to catch the eye of birds or as a interesting activity for your children. This is a great alternative to shop bought fat balls that often come in nylon bags that are very harmful to birds that get their beaks or feet trapped in them!

Coconut Shell Bird Feeder

Mould Ideas for Your Bird Feeder

  • You can use a halved coconut shell to fill with your bird food; make sure there is no traces of coconut milk left in this shell however.
  • Orange peel! Remove the fruit from the skin of the orange and, like the coconut, fill to the top with the food for a vibrant feeder.
  • Pine cone – roll the pine cone in your lard and seeds for a more decorative feeding treat.
  • Toilet roll – yes really! Once you’re left with the toilet paper roll you can roll this in the seeds for an innovative feeder for the birds. (Be careful in wet weather as the cardboard will begin to disintegrate)
  • Cooker cutters – fill your cookie cutters with the mix and leave them to harden in the fridge.
  • Or be creative and create a shape of your own!

Once you’ve made your treats place them in different areas around your garden to attract a range of birds, and remember to consider the little birds that will need low hanging treats.

Have fun this weekend, and be sure to send us your photographs to photos@primrose.co.uk, we’d love to see them!

Zoe at PrimroseZoë works in the Marketing team at Primrose, and is passionate about all things social media.

After travelling across Europe and Asia, Zoë is intrigued by different cultures and learning more about the world around her. If she’s not jet setting, Zoë loves nothing more than curling up with a good book and a large glass of red wine!

She is an amateur gardener but keen to learn more and get stuck in!

See all of Zoë’s posts.

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