Flowers, George, Planting, Plants

Laburnum

You may have heard of laburnum and some of the horror stories that surround this infamous tree. It’s been common in back gardens and schoolyards for decades, so can it really be that bad? We set out to investigate what makes laburnum so feared, how deadly it really is and whether we need to get out those chainsaws or not.

What is laburnum?

Laburnum are deciduous trees native to southern Europe. There are two kinds – common laburnum (Laburnum anagyroides) and alpine laburnum (Laburnum alpinum). The trees have beautiful hanging yellow flowers in spring, which gives rise to their nickname ‘the golden chain tree’. The fruit develops into a dangling pod and its wood has historically been used in carpentry, including bagpipes at one stage. Laburnum are often planted as ornamental trees in gardens and parks, which is a significant factor in their notoriety.

Poisonous laburnum

How is it poisonous?

All parts of the common laburnum are poisonous – the bark, roots, leaves and especially the seed pods. They contain the alkaloid toxin cytisine. Consumption of this can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, frothing at the mouth, convulsions and even death through paralysis.

The laburnum hysteria

It’s because these ornamental trees were often planted around gardens and school playgrounds that they started to cause panic. Children would play with and eat the seed pods, which look similar to regular peas. Many kids started to get sick as a result and in the 1970s, 3000 hospital admissions a year were put down to laburnum poisoning. But many of these were reactionary and the children’s stomachs were pumped before they could even be tested for poisoning or symptoms begin to show.

As recently as 2007, children were taken to hospital after a primary school playground was extended into an area with overhanging laburnum branches. Fifteen children had to be admitted after they were caught playing with the seed pods.

Laburnum hysteria

Many parents have cut down laburnums in their gardens as a result of nationwide hysteria since the 70s and there is a deep-rooted suspicion of these trees.

How to deal with laburnum

But do we need to reach for an axe at the first sign of a chain tree? Many experts say this is an overreaction (and we often leave many more poisonous plants in their wake). If you’re worried about young children around laburnum, it’s best to chop off the lower branches so the kids can’t reach any dangling seed pods. You could also erect a fence around the base of the tree to keep stray hands at bay.

Other poisonous plants to watch out for

Laburnum may not be the only potential killer lurking in your back garden. Keep an eye out for these fatal flora:

  • Yew is one of the most poisonous common garden trees. Animals get sick if they chew the bark, yet all parts of the tree are poisonous. Dead branches are supposedly even more toxic.
  • Deadly nightshade is perhaps the most infamous perennial. It was introduced by the Romans and actually used cosmetically for its toxic effect that makes the pupils dilate.
  • Hemlock is an extremely poisonous flowering plant often found near streams and unkempt areas. Eating just six fresh leaves can result in fatal paralysis. Hemlock has even been used to administer the death penalty, killing Socrates.

Hemlock

How worried should we be?

It’s easy to get caught up in the panic around toxic trees like laburnum. But the reality is this plant is very rarely fatal. Of course it’s worth taking precautions if you have young children around and are worried about them taking a fancy to the poisonous seed pods. For everyone else, these trees offer little chance of harm, but plenty of beauty. If you’d like to brighten up your garden with some golden blossom then check out the laburnums we have on offer at Primrose.

George at PrimroseGeorge works in the Primrose marketing team. As a lover of all things filmic, he also gets involved with our TV ads and web videos.

George’s idea of the perfect time in the garden is a long afternoon sitting in the shade with a good book. A cool breeze, peace and quiet… But of course, he’s usually disturbed by his energetic wire fox terrier, Poppy!

He writes about his misadventures in repotting plants and new discoveries about cat repellers.

See all of George’s posts.

Gardening, George, Grow Your Own, Herbs, How To, Infographics, Planting, Watering

Gardening shouldn’t be limited to outside, particularly if you live in the city or an apartment. Having plants inside will enhance your rooms with life, colour and lovely scents. You can also have herbs and vegetables right on hand for cooking. So read on and pick up some tips on how to grow plants indoors with our step-by-step infographic.

And when you’re ready to start growing, we have some wonderful planters that will look great in your house!

How to grow plants indoors infographic

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Infographic by our designer Becky.

Check out the previous installment of The Complete Guide to Container Gardening, How to Grow Herbs in Pots. And keep your eyes peeled for Part 9: How to Plant a Hanging Basket.

George at PrimroseGeorge works in the Primrose marketing team. As a lover of all things filmic, he also gets involved with our TV ads and web videos.

George’s idea of the perfect time in the garden is a long afternoon sitting in the shade with a good book. A cool breeze, peace and quiet… But of course, he’s usually disturbed by his energetic wire fox terrier, Poppy!

He writes about his misadventures in repotting plants and new discoveries about cat repellers.

See all of George’s posts.

Garden Design, Gardening, Jorge, Plants, Watering

Reducing water use in the garden is a no brainer as it saves both the environment and money, leading to lower energy bills. Surprisingly, for a country with supposedly so much rain, the UK’s water supply is under severe stress due to excess demand that has taken its toll on our rivers. This year, there are fears the UK could be heading for a summer drought with rainfall in April 50% below average.  To solve this problem we need to improve water efficiency and doing so in the garden can be extremely enjoyable as it requires nous and experimentation.

Create a water thrifty garden

I recently visited the Cambridge University Botanical Garden, and saw a section comprised of plants that require no watering. The accompanying material described the fascinating ways plants have adapted to arid environments, such as how species of cacti reduced their leaves to spines and adopted spherical forms as to lower their volume to surface ratio, decreasing water loss.

Scientists have identified four strategies such plants use for coping with drought: escaping, evading, enduring and resisting that is described in detail here. Put succinctly, the first two strategies involve restricting growth and reproductive activities to the wet seasons, while the latter two involve reducing transpiration and growth (often through restricting photosynthesis) as to subsist in the heat.

Various morphological and physiological adaptation have allowed cacti to be extremely frugal in their usage of water.

Your own water thrifty garden (or section of the garden) doesn’t have to be made of just succulents or cacti, but can include many familiar plants, and even crops, creating a garden rich with colour and form, but with less maintenance. There are lists of drought resistant plants online and there is great guide to designing a stunning water wise gardens that can be found here.  

Creating such a garden will involve a some trial and error, but there some general practices that can be followed:

  • Permeable paving is a must as it allows water to percolate into the soil below, feeding your plants’ roots. With non-porous materials water will sit on top and evaporate.
  • Divide your garden into hydrozones with plants with similar water needs together. This will allow you to water more efficiently.
  • By using less fertiliser, your plants will grow slower and use less water.
  • Water less, but thoroughly, watering the entire root system. You can gauge how well the water is penetrating through pushing a pipe into the soil (it will move more easily through wet soil).
  • Sometimes it can be difficult to gauge when to water. This can be ascertained by digging into soil. If the soil below the topsoil is moist, there may be no need to water. If it is dry, it’s time to water. It is important to factor in certain soils such as sandy that will feel more dry and clay that will feel more damp. Although, the ultimate measure is your plant’s leaves: darkening or drooping may indicate water stress.
  • Gauge your soil type. Some soils (clay) are better at holding moisture, and can be watered less frequently (but with more water), while others will need frequent watering (sandy soils).
  • Water in the morning and evening when less water will be lost to evaporation.
  • Dig channels, basins, or funnels to avoid run off.
  • Mulching, either with organic or inorganic materials (gravel) will help maintain soil moisture and protect soil life from the sun’s rays.
  • Forgo turf. A perfect lawn is difficult to maintain and will require constant watering in the summer months.
  • Funnel rainwater from your roofs to waterbutts. A simple modification to your guttering will provide much needed water in times of drought.
  • Much of the water your household uses is good to reuse in the garden. Greywater recycling has the additional advantage of reducing the water sent back to water companies, which sometimes ends up in rivers, destroying the ecosystem.
By far the best way to reduce water use, this simple modification to your drainpipe will provide thousands of litres of water year on year.

Hügelkultur beds

Hügelkulturs are raised beds constructed from rotten logs overlaid with organic matter and soil. They aren’t enclosed and therefore slope; henceforth the name: hill/mound (hügel) culture (kultur). Hügelkulturs can significantly reduce water use as the decaying wood acts as a sponge, soaking up rainwater that it slowly releases back into the soil. The beds are so effective that after the first year, there will be no need to water your crops for many years, provided the bed is of a certain size.

Constructing a hügelkultur is relatively simple, but they have to be of a certain height (between two to six feet). The height is important as it determines how effective it will be at holding water. In general, a six foot bed will require no watering after the first year, while a two foot one will hold moisture for three weeks. Upon construction, a bed will begin shrinking, and a seven foot bed will become six foot, so they should be constructed higher than the desired height. To avoid excessive compaction of the soil, and to maintain good aeration, it is recommended that you build your beds with steep sides (45 degrees).

A hugelkultur bed with cds to scare away birds. Picture credit: Maseltov (2005) licensed under CC-BY-SA 4.0.

Certain trees are unsuitable as some trees are allelopathic, that is, will harm your crops with allelochemicals that will persist in the soil. Others take too long to rot. Most tree logs should be fine, and there are lists of allelopathic trees and scrubs online, so do some research. Known trees to avoid include include cedar, black locust, black cherry and black walnut. Excellent species to use include alders, apple, cottonwood, poplar, willow, and birch.

Before building your own bed, it is worthwhile to decide on whether you want to construct it entirely above ground or in a shallow trench (about two feet deep). The latter, lower in a ditch, will not impose on the landscape and will be easier to construct. (Try throwing soil six feet high!) It will also save on digging, as you can reuse the materials acquired when digging the trench, and not dig up other sections of the garden. Building above ground is preferable if you already have materials on hand, or find digging difficult. Constructing on top of sod has the additional advantage in that once the plant matter breaks down it will produce nitrogen for the soil.

hügelkultur beds

Once you have decided upon the above, simply pile your rotten wood, whether it be logs, sticks, timber or chippings, with the biggest at the bottom. Then give it a good drenching. (This will aid decomposition.) Fill in the gaps with kitchen waste, grass, leaves and manure. (Adding organic matter is useful as during decomposition wood will both take in, and then release nitrogen, so it is possible that the soil may be nitrogen deficient at points.) Then add a layer of sod upside down. (You can acquire turf when building a trench. If you have none, just use soil.) Next comes more soil as so the wood is fully covered. The degree the wood is encased is a matter of preference, although anything from a few inches to half a foot works best. Finally, top it off with mulch such as straw that is traditionally used.

Now your hügelkultur bed is complete, it is recommended that you start planting to prevent erosion. (Henceforth, it is useful to construct in time for the growing season.) Over time the wood will decay into rich humus, but at first, the soil will be fairly dense, so certain crops may be unsuitable for planting in its first year. Great crops to plant in this time include members of the cucurbitaceae family such as squash, melons and pumpkins.

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.

Gardening, George, Grow Your Own, How To, Infographics, Planters, Planting, Plants

There’s nothing quite like the taste of fresh, juicy, homegrown fruit. Now’s the time to start on your own edible garden and space is no issue as many fruiting plants can be grown in pots. We’ve created a step-by-step infographic leading you through how to plant strawberries in containers to make it super simple!

And once you’re ready to go, check out our range of strawberry planters.

How to plant strawberries infographic

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Thanks to our graphic designer Becky for illustrating this beautiful infographic!

Catch up with our last infographic: How to Plant Potatoes in Containers. And stay tuned for Part 7 of The Complete Guide to Container Gardening: How to Grow Herbs in Pots.

George at PrimroseGeorge works in the Primrose marketing team. As a lover of all things filmic, he also gets involved with our TV ads and web videos.

George’s idea of the perfect time in the garden is a long afternoon sitting in the shade with a good book. A cool breeze, peace and quiet… But of course, he’s usually disturbed by his energetic wire fox terrier, Poppy!

He writes about his misadventures in repotting plants and new discoveries about cat repellers.

See all of George’s posts.

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