Garden Design, Gardening, Liam, Plants, Trees, Wildlife

Cherry trees are one of the nation’s, if not the world’s, favourite species of ornamental tree. However, there is another tree which flowers heavy, remains small but also gives the added appeal of bright and colourful fruit; the humble crabapple. Often overlooked by gardeners a crabapple tree is fully hardy and well suited to the UK climate with a fantastic spring bloom. With smaller growth than most cherry trees they are perfect for a more modern, compact garden. The benefits and aesthetic achieved with a crabapple tree can be a refreshing surprise.

In many ways the crabapple serves a national duty. Native to these shores they tolerate the worst of the British weather and can be grown in almost any soil type as long as it is well-drained. Nearly all are recognised wildlife benefactors and so are fantastic for up-keeping our national biodiversity. There really should be a crab-apple for every home!

Crab-Apple Blossom
Beautiful Crab-Apple Blossom

Most crabapple varieties produce a bloom heavy enough to rival that of any cherry tree and can come in a variety of different tones. You may get light white or deep pink, sweetly scented flowers. Flowering in Spring they are one of the first to add colour to the garden. This is an essential helping hand to pollinating insects coming out of winter. All of this keeps the rest of your garden healthy and looking great!

What a crabapple gives you over an ornamental cherry tree however is the colourful, jewel-like fruit which can hang on well into winter and even through to the new year depending on variety. The tree therefore gives you a rich and varying pallet of tones potentially for over half a year! The deeper roots of a Crabapple also make them a safer bet to maintaining a healthy lawn than a cherry blossom.

But that’s not all, the fruit serves more functions than those purely aesthetic. Despite the fact that nearly all varieties are far too sour to eat in their natural state crabapples serve a host of culinary functions. Rich in pectin crab apples are used for making fantastic jams and jellies which can be served on bread, scones or used to compliment various meats. And if you won’t eat the fruit, birds and small mammals certainly will in those tough winter months.

If you already own apple trees then you’ve just been given another huge reason to love the crabapple. Crabapples can cross pollinate nearly all other varieties of apple as long as they both have a similar flowering period. It is for this reason that crabapples are often dotted around apple orchards to offer variety and pollinate the edible cultivars enriching their flavour.

Bird Enjoying Crabapples During Winter

So there you have it; if you have an ornamental cherry (or two) in the garden, or if you are just looking for something a bit different then look no further than the crabapple. Hardy, beautiful and versatile they continue to serve us well and are becoming increasingly important as our gardens become smaller and our native species come under increasing attack.

Liam at PrimroseLiam works in the buying team at Primrose. He is passionate about studying other cultures, especially their history. A lover of sports his favourite pass-time is football, either playing or watching it! In the garden Liam is particularly interested in growing your own food.

See all of Liam’s posts.

Charlie, Grow Your Own, How To, Plants

As the autumn approaches, and summer’s rays (or rain in this summer’s case) start to fade, thoughts can turn to the harvest. Whether you’re an urban harvester seeking out the best picked fruit in your local market or even supermarket aisle, driving down to a local orchard for a spot of apple picking, or gathering in your very own harvest from apple trees in your garden, look no further than Primrose’s guide to apple harvesting to help you get only ripe, unspoilt fruit in your larder.

A Pick Your Own Orchard

One of the perplexing things about apple harvesting is the dazzling variety of types of apple available to harvest, and the different seasons in which the apples can be harvested. One of the most popular supermarket varieties, for example, the Gala apple, is harvestable from May to September. Whereas one of the most common non-commercial apples, Cox’s Orange Pippin is generally harvestable from around mid-September. Producers tend to favour the Gala over the Cox because the latter does not tend to keep well after harvesting – but it is still grown commercially to brew cider.

So it is important to consider, before your visit to a pick-your-own orchard, whether you are after apples to eat, apples to cook or apples to make a refreshing cider, and whether it is important that the apples keep for a long period. What you are going to use the apples for will influence the quality of apples you need.

Tips for visiting orchards:

  • Plan your visit! There is a great site at http://www.pickyourownfarms.org.uk/ that showcases where the pick your own sites are in the UK near you.
  • Be clear on the varieties the orchard in question contains, and plan your visit when the variety you want is in season.
  • When it comes to picking, you will know the fruit is ripe when the starches are beginning to turn to sugar. However, it is probably not advisable to do a taste test on each apple you want to pick!
  • The colour of a ripe apple changes depending on the variety, so your best bet at a pick your own orchard is to ask the farmer which trees are ripe. He will be able to tell you what characteristics to look for in each variety and should have a record of how many weeks it was since the tree flowered.
  • Watch out for bruised apples. Even if you just want to press the fruit to make cider, bruises often indicate rot and despite the famous saying, one rotten apple really can spoil the whole batch!
  • Don’t shake the tree! This can cause other apples to fall which may then spoil. Instead, pick the apples in a twisting motion to free them from the branches. This should be done gently, leaving the stem intact.
  • Place the fruit in the basket or container, do not throw them as this can cause them to bruise. A bruised apple rots easily, as it is the hard skin that ensures its longevity.


Harvesting apples at home.

If you’re lucky enough to have an apple tree in your back garden, harvesting can be done at home. If you don’t, why not? Primrose have a wide variety of apple trees available now for purchase for delivery in November, to ensure they are bedded down nicely in your garden in time for the spring.

Harvesting apples at home can be easier, as while not good etiquette at a pick your own orchard, shaking the tree is permissible on your own property. A good tactic is to place a sheet under the tree and then shake the tree onto the sheet, this will ensure only the ripe apples fall from the tree. However, many of the other apple picking tips above still apply.

Follow this advice and you’re sure to have a bumper crop of apples this autumn. Don’t forget to check out our guides to apple storage and cider making for advice on what to do with your apples once you’ve harvested them.

 

CharlieCharlie works in the Primrose marketing team, mainly in online marketing.

When not writing for the Primrose Blog, Charlie likes nothing more than a good book and a cool cider.

To see the rest of Charlie’s posts, click here.

 

 

Garden Design, Gardening, How To, Plants, Sean Riggs

The key element of having a good landscape is making it look natural. However, the beauty of nature lies in the chaos it presents and how organic it is at all times. This implies that creating a natural landscape design not only involves thorough planning, but also requires the use of organic materials for its better growth.

Landscape design
The end result would comprise of a beautiful landscape made out of native plants and will also have sustainability features. Here are a few tips for designing a landscape that focuses on natural, sustainable plants:

1. Make use of native plants

Keeping the native growth intact is one of the first steps towards a natural landscape. The native plants are more adaptable to the weather around and require a lot less maintenance as compared to the new, brought in plants. These plants can handle extreme conditions like drought in their area and are thus sustainable in nature. Apart from that, the natural growth of these plants adds to the beauty of the design and gives a more natural feel to the landscape.

2. Add edible plants onto the landscape to make it sustainable

A landscape can become sustainable only by adding a mix of edible plants to the already growing native plants. Trees providing fruits and nuts are very popular in landscape designs as not only they adapt well to the landscapes, but also provide food for the community around. Edible plants are becoming a major part of the landscape design these days in the form of individual vegetable gardens as well as community garden plots.

Snail eating strawberry

3. Take inspiration from the surrounding native landscape

A landscape must always be designed on paper or a screen first to understand how it might really look. Using a landscape design software will allow you to draw a plan of your site before moving further with any decisions. One can always take inspiration from the neighboring and surrounding landscapes to get a clear idea of what needs to be made. This will help one understand the nature the plants need to take along with maintaining the aesthetic appeal of the landscape as well.

4. Make use of all the space available

Open spaces play a major role in natural landscapes due to their disorganized nature. These landscapes include logs of wood lying here and there, meadow grass, and a couple of pathways to walk into. Landscape designing software can help the designers plan the area out well, leaving enough room for open spaces and the plantations to breathe in. Empty spaces also allow the plantings to take a course of their own, giving the landscape a more rugged look.

5. Stay away from pesticides and fertilizers

A fully functional and sustainable landscape intercepts rainwater, keeps the air clean, forms a micro climate, and also provides grains for the community around. However, use of pesticides and unnatural enhancers may make them grow faster but doesn’t make them last longer. The chemicals have a harmful effect on both the land and the plants they’re used on. The fruits and nuts obtained from edible plants too aren’t free of these chemicals and could prove harmful. Thus, a natural landscape should be designed and grown with the help of organic materials.

Sean RiggsSean Riggs is a seasoned entrepreneur and technologist with over 20 years of experience in building, operating, scaling and managing technology focused businesses. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.

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.

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