Current Issues, Gardening, Lotti, Wildlife

wild space in garden

The State of Nature Report

In 2013 over 50 British wildlife organisations worked together to release the State of Nature report, the first report of its kind which set out to undertake a “health check” of nature in the UK. The results were, to say the least, troubling. All around the UK, all kinds of wildlife was suffering – there were declines in populations of insects and butterflies, in birds and mammals and even in plants.

The UK is not left wanting when it comes to green space as over half of the total urban area in England is made of green space: parks, gardens and allotments as well as grassy verges take up a significant amount of room. The demand for houses with gardens is still very high but the shrinking amount of land available means these gardens are getting smaller and smaller. The urbanisation of formally wild spaces can even increase the impact of invasive species on local wildlife populations as they usually arrive via human transport routes.

In non-urbanised patches or arible or farm land, the trend continues. The report showed that since the 1970s there has been a rapid decline in farmland bird populations which showed no indication of improving any time soon. There were similar results when looking at farmland moths and beetles, with 64% of moths and 70% of beetles in decline.

A further report taken in 2016 held similarly worrying results, showing that 56% of species in the UK were in decline and 165 species were considered critically endangered – that’s one in ten species across the UK. One in six animal, bird, plant, insect and fish species had been lost altogether. While between 2013 and 2016 more steps were being taken to combat these problems, researchers could find no statistically significant improvements between the two reports that showed long-term change for the good.

The reports picked up on two trends which could be most closely linked with the continued drop in numbers of local birds, animals and insects. These were the lack of wild, uncultivated spaces and the use of pesticides, particularly agricultural ones.

Britain is, thankfully, a nation of nature-lovers. We’re birders and badger-watchers: where else would Springwatch reach as many people? The two State of Nature reports demonstrated this, as hundreds of volunteers popped up all over the country (and in Britain’s overseas territories) to count, track and observe the plants, animals and insects that the reports were focusing on. England loves its wild spaces – loves its moors and mountains, loves its beaches and brooks.

But do we love our gardens more?

The English Garden

It’s no coincidence that the word “paradise” stems from the ancient Hebrew word “pardes”, meaning “park” or “garden”. If a man’s home is his castle, then his garden is his estate. The garden is an important motif in popular culture; from the romantic gardens in which the heroine and hero walk in regency novels to the biblical Garden of Eden. The garden is the backdrop to scandalous love affairs, secret meetings and grand denouements.

English garden

The lawn – that big patch of green space you’ll probably find at the back (and front, if you’re lucky) of your house – has been a staple of Western homes for hundreds of years. The garden how we imagine it today has a carefully curated image which has evolved over time to become what we know today – a couple of flower beds, a vegetable patch hidden near the back, maybe a some patio furniture and, most importantly, a lot of grass. The lawn is as far from a “wild space” as it’s possible to get. Considering its popularity, then, what kind of impact is the British garden having on local wildlife?

Homeowners’ love of open spaces, trimmed lawns and pesticides is making it harder and harder for our favourite species to continue to survive. Bugs which would breed in long grass have nowhere to go, making it harder for garden birds to find reliable sources of food. Butterflies and bumblebees, which are integral for pollination, have fewer wildflowers to feast on and often find pesticides in maintained flower beds. Wild mammals such as hedgehogs, badgers and rabbits have nowhere to hide, breed and hibernate and the changing climate often means that those animals who do hibernate are waking up far too early.

What Can I Do To Help?

By making room for a wild space in your garden, you can start to support British wildlife in a real, active way. You don’t need to transform your whole garden into a meadow, but something is always better than nothing. Take a few square meters of space at the back of your lawn, overturn an unused vegetable patch or repurpose some beds and borders and allow the space to return to nature. By letting grass grow out and planting wildflowers (which often take a full season to come in), you can encourage more insects to land and breed, in turn feeding your garden birds. Long grass and flowers give small mammals more places to hide and you can combine your wild space with a compost heap or log pile to provide hedgehogs with a safe space to hibernate in the winter.

wild hedgehog in garden

Stop your endless battle against the weeds and simply let them grow – and put that bottle of weedkiller down! A weed is just a flower that’s grown in the wrong place: start viewing it as a flower that’s grown in the right place. Plant more self-seeding flowers (or make an effort to seed your own flowers) which not only saves you money but also encourages plants to grow just as nature intended: wherever they land! Replace traditional fence panels (which can often trap animals) with hedges which allow them to pass from garden to garden, as well as providing a safe place for birds to nest.

If you’re keen on growing your own food, step away from pesticides and try using garlic water instead. If you’re still worried about slugs, encourage nature to solve the problem for you – a pond will attract frogs and toads, and they’ll eat the slugs. A garden pond with sloping sides (or an exit ramp) will also give garden birds and wild mammals a safe place to drink and bathe.

A wild garden is, invariably, a messy garden. For hundreds of years we’ve taken pride in our perfectly manicured, well-curated gardens with neat flower beds and horizontally-striped lawns. But in 2018, we have to ask ourselves a question: what do we value more – our perfect lawns or the beautiful, natural world which is struggling to thrive around us?

Jenny at PrimroseLotti works with the Primrose Product Loading team, creating product descriptions and newsletter headers.

When not writing, Lotti enjoys watching (and over-analyzing) indie movies with a pint from the local craft brewery or cosplaying at London Comic Con.

Lotti is learning to roller skate, with limited success.

See all of Lotti’s posts.

Composting, Flowers, Gardening, Grow Your Own, How To, Planting, Plants, Primrose.co.uk, Watering, Wildlife

Rose

There is no doubt that roses are one of the most popular flowers to grow in Britain. In fact, so many are planted each year that if you set them out as a single row these plants would circle the equator! With the proper care and maintenance you can expect your rose to last for at least 20 years. However, many roses fail to thrive and a lot of that is due to improper planting and care. There are several elements to consider before attempting to plant a rose in your garden and this step-by-step guide should help you to navigate the pitfalls ensuring your rose is a success!

Planting

Planting Position 

Choosing the correct position for planting your rose is crucial. If it is not in a suitable spot it will not thrive. Plenty of sun is needed for your rose to grow, slight shade in the afternoon is good but not continuous shade. Your rose needs shelter from the cold winds. A nearby hedge or fence is good but should not be too close that it shades the bush. Your rose will need good drainage as it will not grow in waterlogged soil.

 Soil Conditions 

When planting your rose it is important that the soil is suitable. Ideally the soil should be medium loam, slightly acid with a PH of 6.0-6.5 and reasonably rich in plant foods and humus. Roses cannot thrive if the soil conditions are poor. Roses should be planted from Late October to March and the ground should not be waterlogged or frozen.

Preparing the Rose 

Cut off any leaves, hips or buds that may still be present. If the stems are shrivelled place all of the bush in water for several hours. Cut off any decayed or thin shoots before planting. Plunge roots into a bucket of water if they seem dry. It is crucial that the roots do not dry out before planting and make sure they remain covered until you are ready to set the bush in the planting hole. Cut back any long or damaged roots to about 30cm.

Planting the Rose 

Mark out planting stations to make sure your rose bush has enough space. There should be a distance of about a metre between each plant. When planting make sure that the bud union is about 2-3cm below the surface.

Caring and Maintenance

Mulching 

Roses benefit from having a layer of mulch on the soil surface around the plants as it reduces weeds, keeps soil moist in summer, improves soil structure, reduces black spots and some mulching material provides plant foods. Some suitable materials used for mulching include moist peat, shredded bark, well rotted manure, good garden compost and leaf mould. Prepare the soil surface for mulching by clearing away debris, dead leaves and weeds. Water the soil surface if it is dry. Spread a 5-7cm layer around the rose. Mulching reduces the need for watering and hoeing but does not replace the need for good feeding.

Watering 

Roses have a deep-rooting habit meaning that the watering of established plants is not crucial in some seasons. However, some roses need watering after a few days of dry weather. For example, newly planted roses, climbers growing against walls and roses planted in sandy soils. All roses will need plenty of water in a period of drought in spring and summer. When watering, use about 5 litres of water for each bush or standard rose and 15 litres for a climber.

Hoeing 

The main purpose of hoeing is to keep down weeds that are not smothered by mulching. Hoeing needs to be done frequently to make sure that the underground parts of the weeds are starved. Do not hoe any deeper than 2-3cm below the surface or the roots could be damaged.

Cutting 

Roses are perhaps the most popular flower for cutting and using as decoration. To make sure you don’t weaken the rose bush, do not take more than one third of the flowering stem with the flower. Cut just above an outward facing bud. Do not cut struggling or newly planted roses.  

Feeding 

Roses make heavy demands on plant food reserves in soil. If one or more vital elements run short your rose will not thrive. Feed your rose every year using a proprietary compound fertiliser containing nitrogen, phosphates and potash. You can use powder or granular fertiliser, liquid fertilisers or foliar feeding.

Deadheading 

It is important to regularly remove dead blooms. Remove the whole truss when the flowers have faded. Cut the stem just above the second or third leaf down. This will help the rose conserve energy.

 Pruning 

Roses do not produce shoots that increase in size steadily each year. Therefore, if they are not pruned the rose becomes a mass of live and dead wood. The purpose of pruning is to get rid of the dead wood each year and encourage the regular development of strong and healthy stems. For more details click here.

 

Current Issues, Gardening Year, Lotti, Wildlife

friluftsliv

In the lonely mountain farm, My abundant catch I take. There is a hearth, and table, And friluftsliv for my thoughts.

– Henrik Ibsen

According to The World Happiness Report, Norway is the happiest country in the world. There’s a huge number of reasons for this, from their supportive welfare system to their high average income, but when you ask Norwegians why their country appears to be so content, there’s a very consistent answer: friluftsliv.

Friluftsliv (literally, “free air life” or “open air living”, and pronounced free-loofts-liv) is one of those scandinavian words which which is so unique to a language and culture that it becomes hard to describe in English. Like its Swedish predecessor Hygge (pronounced hoo-ga), friluftsliv encompasses an idea which is both familiar yet near-impossible to put into words.

In short, friluftsliv describes a connection to nature, a strong desire to spend time outside and connect with the world around you. To describe Norway’s infatuation with the outdoors as a “way of life” is, really, disingenuous to the real meaning of Friluftsliv. Friluftsliv is a feeling, a sense of self. It goes far beyond a mere life choice and becomes more like a cultural identity.

free land

In 1957, Norway officially introduced Allemannsretten (the ‘all man’s right’) with the passing of the Outdoor Recreation Act. This right to roam means that in Norway you can go on skis or foot wherever you want provided you are within unfenced land – this means all land that isn’t privately owned (like a garden) or cultivated land being used to grow crops or rear animals. In the winter months, when Norway is transformed into a white blanket of snow, Allemannsretten is extended to fields and meadows. Not only can you go wherever you please, you can also set up camp and sleep everywhere except in lay-bys or cultivated fields so long as you remain over 150 meters from the nearest house. If you want to stay another night, you need to ask permission from the owner of the land (unless you’re in a remote area).

It’s well researched that spending more time outside is better for your overall mental and physical health, yet in the UK, lots of people avoid going outside unless they have to. Going outside is part of a chore, of a larger pattern. You need to walk to work, you need to take the dog out, you need to bike to the train station to visit your family. This isn’t friluftsliv – friluftsliv means going outside because you want to, because nature calls to you, not because you need to.

In the UK there are fewer wild spaces than ever, and it can often be difficult to “get lost” in nature in quite the same way as our Scandinavian neighbours. In the UK, where our population is fifteen times that of the Norway’s and our land mass smaller, there simply isn’t the space for rolling wilderness. If you’re very lucky, you might live near a patch of National Trust land which (save for the odd sheep) will be left as nature intended. So, if you don’t feel like emigrating to Norway, you’ll have to start looking for nature a little closer to home.

lake

There’s a surprising number of wild spaces in the UK if you just know where to look – the lofty peak district, the rambling chilterns or the Cornish Heritage Coastline. There’s something very atmospheric about finding yourself alone in nature – be it the middle of a deep wood, atop a mountain doused in clouds or perched on a cliff watching the sea beat at the rock. Finding land which is completely untouched by humans can be difficult in the UK: you can see the annals of human history spelled out before you in the land itself in ancient stone circles or crumbling tin mines. Sometimes, despite our best intentions to run away from the effect of people on the world around us, it has an unerring way of following us. It shows us that humans have, for thousands of years, been wanderers. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing.

On my way to work I used to travel through a strange patch of wilderness on the outskirts of Wokingham; partly a dirt track through fields and partly through an actual wood. When you grow up in a busy town with only man-made outdoor spaces (which tend to be flat, grassy affairs), finding a wood feels almost like a miracle. On the way home after one particularly stressful day, I thought to myself there’ll always be another bus, and let myself get lost. At first I followed the little dirt paths and then I decided to forego the paths entirely and just wander whichever direction I felt like.

Wandering through the woods was freeing. I was there for no reason other than that I wanted to be there, crunching through the leaves and running my hands along trees older than my great-grandparents. I followed a robin hopping from branch to branch and spent a good ten minutes chasing down a strange noise which turned out to be an angry squirrel – something I’d never heard before. I walked past the same group of ramblers three or four times, who’d at first looked at me (dressed in my work clothes and unsensible shoes) like I’d gone mad, and then started to greet me with the rambler’s head nod. This is what friluftsliv feels like.

fjord

There’s a sense of freedom synonymous with Friluftsliv which is what makes it so appealing. A sense of disconnection from the rest of the world and contentment with being at one with nature. Our lives are driven by purpose – we have to do this, we must do that – and so when that falls away and the only purpose is to simply exist, it’s a lot easier to feel content.

No one’s asking that we all suddenly rise from our desks, leave our jobs and run away to live in the woods. Sure, it sounds like a great idea now, but soon enough the last phone will run out of battery and then we’ll all be stuck with nowhere to watch Game of Thrones. Whether you live in the middle of London or in the concrete jungle of Milton Keynes, there’s always a place to find a bit of nature. Every town or city will have a park somewhere, even if it’s just a small patch of land in between office blocks and rows of terraced houses. The thought of going outside and standing in the garden in the middle of winter doesn’t necessarily fill people with inspiration, but finding and supporting local wild spaces is easier than it seems.

In the harsh winter months it can be tempting to stay indoors and avoid the chilly bite of the cold air. But in Norway, where the temperature regular dips into the minus digits (currently standing at a brisk -7°C), spending time outside is simply the done thing. As the Norwegians say – there’s no bad weather, just bad clothing. So it’s time to swap those jeans for a pair of practical waterproof hiking trousers, the slippers for a sturdy pair of boots and get outside to get back in touch with nature.

Jenny at PrimroseLotti works with the Primrose Product Loading team, creating product descriptions and newsletter headers.

When not writing, Lotti enjoys watching (and over-analyzing) indie movies with a pint from the local craft brewery or cosplaying at London Comic Con.

Lotti is learning to roller skate, with limited success.

See all of Lotti’s posts.

Animals, Birds, Current Issues, Lotti, Wildlife

Bird watching and mindfulness

According to the mental health charity Mind, about 1 in 4 people people will experience a mental health problem each year. Across the world, there’s a growing effort to find better ways of providing support for people who struggle with their mental health. Mindfulness entered the general consciousness several years ago and has since only grown in popularity: even the NHS has a whole webpage dedicated to the act of mindfulness with tricks and tips to achieving this possibly enigmatic state of mind. Mindfulness-Based therapies have been found to be effective at treating depression, anxiety and stress.

Becoming mindful isn’t an overnight event. You can’t wake up one morning, look out the window at the growing light and say to yourself – this is it. Today I am mindful. Like any skill, it requires practice and perseverance. By actively engaging with mindful practices, we can start to become more relaxed in our day-to-day lives and be less prone to the effects of stress and anxiety. So how can we incorporate mindful practice into our everyday lives?

Why not look to the skies?

No – I’m not talking about parachuting.

Last year a group of scientists published research showing that watching birds had a positive impact on your mental health. Focusing on office workers, the researchers showed that people reported lower levels of depression, stress and anxiety when they could see more birds in the afternoon. To reap the benefits of local wildlife, participants didn’t even need to actively interact with the birds in their lives: simply watching the birds was enough to register an improvement in people’s mental health. In fact, lots of research shows people’s mental wellness can be improved by watching birds.

‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

Emily Dickinson

How do we start? First, you need to set aside time to practice mindfulness – in this case, by watching birds. Trying to engage in mindful practice while you’re otherwise preoccupied isn’t likely to be very successful – this isn’t something you can do when driving the kids to school or staring out of the window at work. You don’t need hours and hours – just five minutes every day, or every other day, which you set aside purely for watching the birds in your garden.

You can be outside, with them, or if you can’t face the chill then a window is just as good. There is never a “must”, never “you have to”. You can’t watch birds in the wrong way. If on Monday you feel up to sitting in the garden then that’s great, but if on Wednesday you just want to curl up inside then that’s fine too.

Woodpecker

Focus on beginning to notice the birds in your garden. Even if you live in the UK where the most exciting thing you’ll ever see in your garden is a woodpecker, you need to remember that this isn’t about seeing the “best” or rarest birds. This isn’t birdwatching how you might imagine it with a pair of heavy binoculars and a long list of birds which need to be meticulously ticked off. This is probably one of the most important things to remember: This is not a competition.

It’s not about categorising the birds in your garden – chances are you can already list the birds you see every day anyway. In my garden live a couple of robins, blackbirds, some pigeons. If you stand on my driveway and look out towards the Thames you’ll see at least three Red Kites, their pointy tails steering them as they battle the wind. If you wait for long enough, the birds will come to you. The hopping robins perched next to your trowel to look for worms, the blackbird watching you from the fence, the big fat pigeon who doesn’t care whether you’re there at all.

Next, you listen to their calls, to their tweeting. Even if there aren’t any birds in your garden right at that moment, what can you hear from far away? A pair of robins, perhaps, at opposite ends of a garden twittering at each other. An angry blackbird chirruping at a cat in your neighbour’s garden. Even a seagull who’s flown too far from the ocean. If you’re lucky to live somewhere with a high number of birds of prey, you may even be able to hear one of them screech across the sky. Try to really focus not just on the noises themselves, but how they rise and fall, their pitch, how far away the song is and if it’s getting closer or moving further away.

Now focus on what you can see. Focus on the birds’ wings, their eating, their beaks, their playing together. Focus on the young ones. Now the old ones. Look closer at the patterns on their wings. Even the most boring pigeon is beautiful if you look at him the right way. And I should know: I love pigeons.

Pigeon

Pick a bird, any bird. Focus on it. Follow its path around your garden, into the sky, until it disappears. Pick another one. And another. The point, of course, is not to observe the bird but rather to focus your mind. You’re aiming for what psychologists call “flow”: a sense of feeling at one with the world, of having such strong focus on a task that you’ve let go of your own feelings and worries without even really realising it.

Achieving a state of “flow” can also be described as “being in the zone” – Imagine trying to perfect a new physical skill like roller-skating or rock climbing, or maybe even doing something as simple as watching a movie in the cinema or the final episode of a season of your favourite TV show. You are so engaged, so engrossed, that the thoughts which can often plague us go unnoticed. There’s no room for negative thoughts when your mind is focused on keeping your balance, which hold to grab next or figuring out who’s just killed your favourite character. Finding yourself in a place of “flow” leaves you feeling more relaxed and content. By knowing how to enter a state of flow and making sure we regularly do, we can make this feeling of contentment a more prominent presence in our everyday lives. It’s virtually impossible to feel happy all the time, but we can all strive to feel content and secure more often.

By watching the birds in your garden, it’s possible to get in the zone and engage in mindful behaviour without even realising you’re doing it. By taking time out of our busy, hectic days to reconnect with nature we can feel more relaxed and at ease with the world around us. There’s endless research showing how interacting with wildlife and spending time outside is beneficial for both our mental and physical health, yet we’re all lingering inside more than ever before. Perhaps as spring rolls around again, it’s time we all ignore the typical British weather and spend a little more time in our gardens.

For more information on garden birds and how to attract (and keep!) birds in your garden, check out our other blog posts:

Jenny at PrimroseLotti works with the Primrose Product Loading team, creating product descriptions and newsletter headers.

When not writing, Lotti enjoys watching (and over-analyzing) indie movies with a pint from the local craft brewery or cosplaying at London Comic Con.

Lotti is learning to roller skate, with limited success.

See all of Lotti’s posts.

Share!