Gardening, Greenhouses, Grow Your Own, Planting, Ross

spring greenhouse

Greenhouses have always been a popular form of gardening. A garden is nice and all, but a greenhouse offers you a small, secluded environment that poses a whole new roster of challenges, even for the seasoned gardener.

For those who are just starting out, though, greenhouses can be something of an unknown entity. What do you grow in them? Why not just keep whatever you DO grow in them outside in the garden? Is it going to be worth all the effort? Well, fret no more, because we’re here to help.

Greenhouses can be used to cultivate any number of flora, but they are at their most potent in the growth of fruits and vegetables. With all that in mind, then, here are just a smattering of the plants that will benefit the most from life inside your greenhouse.


They’re practically a greenhouse staple, and with good reason. Tomatoes thrive in warm, humid environments, which is exactly what they’ll get in a structure made entirely out of glass. Tomato plants and greenhouses go together like bread and butter, and they’re a great place to start if you’re new to greenhouses. Keep in mind, though, that while tomatoes do indeed prefer the warmer conditions of life inside a greenhouse, they do need watering regularly to keep the balance. Most garden hose heads will come with a “mist” function, which is the perfect way to moderate the temperature of your tomatoes and keep them growing strong.


Who doesn’t love a good strawberry? A lot of British gardeners end up giving strawberry growth a crack simply because of their reputation as the quintessential garden fruit. Greenhouses are, just as they were for tomatoes, an excellent place to try your hand at strawberry growth. Strawberries are a shallow-rooting plant, which means they’ll be most comfortable in weed-free environments where they don’t need to worry about competing for space. You’ll need to keep on top of the watering, as ever, but your reward will be a bounty of Wimbledon’s favourite fruits.

strawberry plant

Chillies & Peppers

I suppose it stands to reason that chillies and peppers are both heat-loving plants, given how often we burn the lids of our mouths on them. Both fruits can be a bit of a long job, so if you’re planning on trying your hand with them this year, you might want to think about getting your stuff together early. Ultimately though, given their love of heat, growing them outside amongst the notoriously capricious British weather is a far less reliable tactic than within the confines of a greenhouse.

Amazon Lilies

Amazon Lilies certainly won’t be for everyone, since they require a consistent temperature in the range of 70 degrees to keep them alive. They do also require a lot of sunlight, which is always difficult to guarantee even at the apex of a British summer, but if you can give them what they need, the Amazon Lily will repay you in kind. They can reach up to 60cm in height and can help maintain a sweet scent in your little glass house.

amazon lily


Another greenhouse staple, the rose is a world-renowned flower blessed with connotations of love, life and prosperity. Given their wide array of colours, it quickly becomes obvious why so many greenhouse gardeners decide to add them to their collections. Roses have something of a reputation of being delicate little things, constantly in need of protection and cultivation when left in the open elements. The safety of a greenhouse removes some of those irksome fragilities, and allows you the platform to more carefully monitor their progress.


You may or may not have heard someone described as a “hothouse orchid” – I remember it from an episode of Frasier, myself. Anyway, the phrase describes someone who requires pampering or coddling to live happily. It’s no surprise, then, that orchids themselves require many provisions if they are to grow. Humidity is a key part of orchid growth, since the most common orchids were originally imported from the tropics. Naturally then, a greenhouse environment presents the perfect platform to get your orchids cosy, warm and above all else, blooming.


Of course, there’s an entire roster of greenhouse-friendly options available to you. Oranges, lemons, cucumbers, geraniums, salvia, chrysanthemums; the list goes on. The main thing, however, is getting started. If you’ve never owned a greenhouse before, or maybe your greenhouse is looking a little sorry this spring, it’s never too late to try again.

Ross at PrimroseRoss works in the Product Loading department and gets to see all the weird and wonderful products that pass through Primrose. Ross is a life-long Southampton fan and favours jazz music, reading and a quiet place to enjoy them.

See all of Ross’s posts.

Garden Tools, Gardening, Ross

The growing reputation of the hori hori trowel has cast a long overdue spotlight on historic and artisanal gardening tools. Appearances on TV and radio call-in shows have raised the stock of more classical gardening tools and their uses in modern gardens.

Artisanal tools like the hori hori trowel are not simply for show, after all. They have survived this long because of their versatility and consistency. For some, though, gardening tools are bought more for flair than function. Collecting tools isn’t the worst of hobbies for the passionate gardener, and certainly there are enough variants to please all manner of collectors. Granted, you’re not likely to find any golden tools at your local garden centre, but there’s no reason to believe you can’t find some glorious little collectibles.

So today, let’s take a look at just a few classic tools that, for their beauty, history or timelessness, could adorn your shed wall.

Hori hori trowels

Hori hori trowel

Let’s start with the aforementioned, then; the hori hori trowel. The name of the tool has a simple and enjoyable root; hori not only means “dig” in Japanese, but it is also considered onomatopoeic for the sound of digging (I can’t hear it, personally, but perhaps I just don’t dig enough).

Many of these sorts of Japanese tools were created using similar forging techniques to those used by the Samurai; they were built to get the job done. The trowel has survived for as long as it has because of its enormous versatility; with a serrated edge, a concave design and a depth scale etched on either the handle or blade itself, the trowel can be used for digging, cutting and weeding, among others. It is a true one-stop-shop for jobs in flower beds and other small areas of your garden.

Prime amongst its pros are its durability, too; given the wide variety of tasks it can be employed for, the workload demands that the blade stand up to the rigours of its usage. The best hori hori trowels are forged from a high-quality stainless steel that resists rusting and blunting, unlike some cheaper variants. The hori hori is a gardening tool for nearly every occasion, and takes pride of place among many a tool shed.

Copper tools

Copper & bronze tools

Copper and bronze tools are wonderful things. For a start, when you polish a bronze tool, it breaks out in a golden sheen that mimics the look of a true golden tool. Now not everyone wants their tools to look shiny and lovely, of course, but for collectors that you can be dazzling pieces of art when hung on a shed wall.

The best part about bronze and copper tools, though, is the effect they have on soil. A biomimicry experimenter by the name of Viktor Schauberger conducted a series of experiments to prove that copper tools were would be more enriching for soil and plants than iron tools, which were the preference of his day. His three main hypotheses were simple: it did not follow that using a tool so prone to decay and rust, as metal tools were, could help plants grow; that heat could not cultivate, only kill, and the soil friction created by metal tools would only hinder plant growth; that iron, as a sparking metal, would deplete the electrical charge of rising groundwater, which would leave less for the plants to feast on. Copper and bronze, he argued, were not so prone to rusting, caused less friction and would allow a strong electrical charge to reach the roots in rising groundwater. Bronze tools would even leave enrich soil with copper-trace elements, which created the conditions for valuable micro-organisms to develop. His experiments proved him correct; plants treated with copper tools yielded stronger, healthier crops with fewer pests than their iron counterparts.

What copper tools offer, then, is not only a classy aesthetic that shines like gold, but a number of subtle, practical advantages over iron and steel that help cultivate plants and encourage growth. Not bad for something usually dismissed as all form and no function.



The kunai has a rather colourful history; first designed as a farming tool, it was later adopted by the ninjas thanks to its strength, shape and versatility.

Kunai are forged from soft iron and only sharpened at the tip, since the edges are used to break and smash softer materials such as wood or plaster. A fair comparison would be to a crowbar; the kunai is perfectly capable of prying open gaps and its strength has spawned a number of ulterior uses. The most notable, as previously mentioned, was its adoption by the ninja. It was used at times a weapon, but its true use came in more practical forms. The ninja used it to gouge holes in walls, smashing through softer material just as it did in the tranquillity of the garden. Its shape and strength also made it perfect for climbing; it could be reliably driven into trees or into pitons (a crack in a climbing surface which can help anchor you to a wall) thanks to its strong, compact design. The pommel at the top the handle was perfect for tying a rope to, which allowed the kunai to be tied to a stick and used as a spear, thrown like a Chinese rope dart or simply tied around the handle to give the user more grip.

In spite of all of this, the kunai was never primarily a weapon. It was a tool, used by farmers and warriors alike. It, too, has withstood the test of time thanks to its strong, simple design, and while the kunai has lost some its popularity as a garden tool to the ninja connotations, it is an excellent example of how an ancient tool can find new niches.

Plastic dibber


What a wonderful word that is, too – dibber. Most us are familiar with them any many of us will own one already, but in terms of its history, many underestimate the years in which the dibber has been a staple of the gardeners tool belt.

Its first recorded appearance was during the Roman Empire, and its design has remained consistent ever since. Dibbers, as I’m sure most us know, are pointed sticks used to make holes in which to plant seeds or bulbs. Over the years a few variations of the classic variant have evolved; t-shapes curved handles, straight dibbers that look a little more like the stakes one would employ to slay a vampire.

It was only during the Renaissance that dibbers became manufactured items; some moved away from simple wooden designs and made the tool from iron, perfect for penetrating harder surfaces like clay. The dibber was also a time-saver for farmers; one would walk with a dibber making holes in the soil, and another would follow behind planting seeds in each and fill them back in. Classic wooden dibbers are a vintage little addition to a tool shed, and many prefer the feel of smooth wood to modern plastic or metal handles. As another little nugget for you, it was revealed on an episode of the BBC’s “Would I Lie To You?” that comedian Lee Mack has donated his dibber to the British Lawnmower Museum. Proof that any old tool can become a collectible if marketed properly, I suppose.

garden hoe


I can’t write that word without thinking of the Two Ronnie’s “Four Candles” sketch. “No no, o’s! O’s for the gate, mon repose, o’s! Letter o’s!”


So you may be thinking “why no Earth are we discussing something as common as a garden hoe in a blog that features hori horis and kunais?” Well, dear reader, that’s because the hoe has a rather brilliant historical backstory. The hoe actually predates the plough and may only have been preceded by digging sticks. As one of the oldest tools in our shed, it has evolved to accommodate developing technologies and has seen its head redesigned to meet a wide variety of needs. The hoe is even divinely inspired according to some myths and ancient colonies. In Sumerian mythology, its invention is credited to the chief council of the Gods, Enlil, and Shennong (“The God Farmer”) in ancient Chinese culture. The hoe was even depicted in predynastic Egyptian art, and mentioned in ancient documents like the Book of Isaiah and the Code of Hammurabi from the Babylonian Empire. And here’s another little fact for you, fellow hoe enthusiasts; the short-handled hoe is banned in the US state of California, who deemed it an unsafe hand tool after farmers developed crippling lower back pain after years of usage. The more ya know, eh?

So there we have it – just a smattering of the classic, historical or artisanal tools that could and perhaps should adorn your shed wall. Quite uplifting to know your hoe may be divinely inspired, isn’t it?

Ross at PrimroseRoss works in the Product Loading department and gets to see all the weird and wonderful products that pass through Primrose. Ross is a life-long Southampton fan and favours jazz music, reading and a quiet place to enjoy them.

See all of Ross’s posts.

Heated Clothing, Outdoor Heating, Ross

garden astronomy

Astronomy is a brilliant, fascinating science that uncovers the mysteries of our solar system and the limitless universe beyond. If the concept inspires you as much as it does me, then maybe it’s time to get in your garden and start exploring the skies.

For a complete novice, it can sometimes feel difficult knowing how to get started. You cast your eyes to the heavens, and you’re presented with a blanket of tiny specks, all seemingly indistinguishable from one another. Who knows where Orion is or why he’s of significance. You heard the other day that some of those dots are actually planets, but how are you meant to know which ones? And what’s all this about nebulas?

Well, let’s start out by saying you’ve passed the first test. Looking up and wanting to know more is the entryway for amateur astronomy. There’s an incredible universe out there that many of us don’t pay attention to, but we really, really should. If you’ve a curious mind and you’re serious about finding out what you can see from your back garden, then you’re already half-way there.

Three keys to victory

There are three main areas you need to consider when it comes to amateur astronomy – you, the sky and your equipment. So let’s start with you, because it’s incredibly easy to neglect yourself when you start getting giddy about exploring the skies.

It gets cold at night. Remember this. I know it sounds obvious, but if you’re intending on a lengthy stop-up exploring the skies, you need to be prepared for the cold. Whether you decide to settle by a heater, invest in some heated clothing or you just simply wear a couple extra layers, remember to keep yourself in good shape. Thermos flasks full of tea – or perhaps coffee if you’re trying to avoid the Sandman – are useful too. Scanning the skies can be a test of patience, so don’t undercut yourself by under-preparing for the weather.

The second thing to consider is the sky. Predicting cloud density far in advance is of course a very difficult thing, so check your weather forecast and, y’know, look up, before you decide to set yourself up for the night. The skies are pretty incredible, but they don’t always work in your favour. What also doesn’t help, of course, is light pollution. If you live in a densely populated area with a number of lights blaring, you’ll have to be prepared to see less than you might like, even in the dead of night. There are plenty of cool things to see from your garden, but if light pollution is too severe, you may need to look for other local spaces where the pollution isn’t as bad. Parks, hills, fields, out on the open ocean if that’s at all feasible – stay safe and make sure you’re allowed wherever you’re setting up shop, but there are alternatives out there if the area around your garden is too exposed.

Finally, it’s time to consider what you’re looking with. Your eyes will do if you want to just get acquainted with the broader skies, but if you’re looking for certain objects, a telescope will naturally be invaluable. There is a middle option, too; a decent pair of binoculars can help you get a better look at certain objects in our universe without blowing your budget. Honestly, this can be the best place to start for newcomers to garden astronomy. It’s not easy getting accustomed to the vastness of the night’s sky and the technical details of a telescope at the same time. There are plenty of helpful websites, books and guides out there to help you find the perfect telescope if that’s a route you want to go down.

And now you’re ready to explore. Wrapped in four layers and an army of thermos flasks at the ready, you’ve found a nice clear night unobscured by light pollution and you’re ready to study the skies. Now the fun part – what can you expect to see, and what should you be looking out for?


The Moon

Let’s start with the obvious one – the moon. We’ve all seen it before and we all know the basics, but the moon is still a pretty cool place for us amateur astronomers. It’s a nice place to start because it’s easy to find and it can also demonstrate the sort of unseen detail that you can observe on a clear night. Even through a decent pair of binoculars, you’ll be able to observe a desolate, crater-ridden wasteland and the varying hues of grey that make up the surface of our largest celestial satellite.


The Pleiades

The Pleiades are a small cluster of stars known on Earth as the Seven Sisters. These stars are mentioned three times in the Bible and have become a point of inspiration for nearly all of our ancient cultures, including the Celts, the Aztecs and the Cherokee. When you get a proper look at them, you can understand why. The Pleiades are a dazzling array of gigantic stars blazing their energy into the universe. It’s another easy target in the night sky, given their luminosity and their proximity to the Orion constellation, and one you certainly won’t forget seeing for the first time.

Orion nebula

The Orion Nebula

Speaking of Orion, the constellation holds a number of fascinating celestial bodies and phenomena just begging to be explored. On a clear night, you might just be able to observe a sort of reddish smudge on Orion’s sword (just south of Orion’s belt) with your naked eye, but it comes alive through a powerful enough telescope or pair of binoculars. This is the Orion nebula – nebulas are giant clouds of dust that contain some of the building blocks of creation, like hydrogen and helium. Given that neither Ptolemy nor Galileo – both famous and pioneering astronomers – managed to spot this nebula despite observing nebulosity elsewhere in the night’s sky, scientists theorise that the surrounding stars may have intensified the brightness of the Orion nebula relatively recently.



It’s difficult to imagine what it must have felt like to be have been Galileo when he originally turned his telescope on Jupiter. When he first observed the position and luminosity of the moons, he assumed them fixed-position stars. When he looked the night after, however, they had all moved from east to west. He documented the movement for a number of nights until he reached the conclusion that these celestial bodies must be moons (now known as Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto) orbiting Jupiter as our moon does Earth, bringing an end to the geocentric theory of the universe.

The thought of observing Jupiter usually makes astronomers giddy at the thought of the dense, swirling clouds that rage across the planet’s surface. You’ll need a particularly strong telescope to get details of that clarity, but binoculars will be able to reveal at least a couple of the four moons that circle the gas giant. It’s a beautiful thing to witness first hand.


Andromeda Galaxy

Yup – you can even see a whole different galaxy from the comfort of your back garden. The Andromeda galaxy is the most distant celestial body you can observe with your naked eye, and even through binoculars, you’ll be able to observe the elliptical shape of our nearest galactic neighbour. Andromeda sits just to the south-east of the constellation of Cassiopeia, and looks like a white oval smudge on a clear night. The light from the Andromeda galaxy has taken two million years to reach us here on Earth. Our own fair Milky Way galaxy is on a collision course with Andromeda and is expected to clash in about four billion years’ time, so get outside and take a look before it’s too late.

Famed Roman astronomer Ptolemy once said: “As I trace at my pleasure the windings to and fro of the heavenly bodies, I no longer touch Earth with my feet. I stand in the presence of Zeus himself, and take my fill of ambrosia.” The universe is an incredible, beautiful place, and you don’t need to know what makes a star or what dark matter is to be able to appreciate its majesty. There’s only one thing you truly need to do; look up.

Ross at PrimroseRoss works in the Product Loading department and gets to see all the weird and wonderful products that pass through Primrose. Ross is a life-long Southampton fan and favours jazz music, reading and a quiet place to enjoy them.

See all of Ross’s posts.

Hedging, Plants, Ross, Trees

You may not be entirely familiar with the word “niwaki”, but I’m almost certain you’ve seen its results before. And if you HAVE seen it before, I’m almost certain you thought to yourself, “man, that’s pretty cool” – or words to that effect, anyway.


The word is Japanese in origin, and simply means “garden tree”. While the literal translation may fall foul of your expectations, the implications of the term are decidedly diverse. Niwaki (pronounced ni-whack- ee) represents the Japanese art of tree trimming; in the land of the rising sun, gardens are viewed more as themed landscapes than as simple outdoor spaces. Through niwaki, gardeners can create shapes, forms and moods from their greenery to establish a unique atmosphere.

Perhaps the most famous forms of niwaki are cloud trees – you’ve probably seen them amongst the cherry blossoms circling the outskirts of the world famous Himeji castle. The foliage of a cloud tree is trimmed, pruned and shaped to match the appearance of – yup, you’ve guessed it – clouds. Cloud designs are usually meant to invoke a feeling of peace and tranquillity, but given their use amongst some of Japan’s great pieces of architecture, can also denote status and elegance.

Himeji Castle

Niwaki artists also use their tools to manipulate the tree bark, using grizzly and gnarled carvings to make them look older or as though they’ve been struck by lightning. At its core, niwaki is an expressive art; a gardener reflected in their foliage, if you will. It’s an appealing concept that has not only woven itself into the fabric of Japanese culture, but has been exported across Europe as a symbol of elegance.

Of course, the laymen among us are nowhere near capable of creating such displays on a towering pine tree or trimming a cloud-scape into any old oak. It takes a seasoned student of niwaki to attempt floral architecture on that scale. For beginners, specimens such as the Ilex crenata can present a sympathetic beginning to a lifelong hobby. These plants generally come with predetermined clouds, balanced on short but strong branches that require little maintenance. Thanks to their slow growth speed, crenata only truly require trimming up to three or four times a year. This sort of plant is perfect for niwaki newcomers to practise precision and delicacy in their trimming. Think of it a little like paint by numbers; the structure has been built for you, allowing you the freedom to practise the basics.

As your understanding of the breadth and depth of niwaki develops, along with your trimming technique, the challenges will naturally grow larger and greater. Seasoned niwaki artists can establish the design of a pre-ordained llex crenata in self-grown trees, taking ownership of every branch and bud to sculpt their perfect arrangement. Professionals are hired during the winter months to maintain forests and public displays, stripping discoloured needles from pine trees and using ropes to adjust the angle of branches.

Bonsai tree

For many, niwaki needn’t be a career but simply a hobby; a form of expression akin to writing or painting. What starts with an aesthetic appreciation of the skill may progress to owning an atmospheric table-top bonsai tree, and sometimes culminates in an entire garden designed from the roots to create the perfect outdoor setting. Niwaki represents the purest and most romantic form of gardening to millions around the world, and it’s easy to see why. There must be fewer senses of satisfaction greater than standing in a fully grown garden in which you have influenced every leaf, branch and bud.

If you have an interest in niwaki, drop us a comment below and tell us about it!

Ross at PrimroseRoss works in the Product Loading department and gets to see all the weird and wonderful products that pass through Primrose. Ross is a life-long Southampton fan and favours jazz music, reading and a quiet place to enjoy them.

See all of Ross’s posts.