Animals, Current Issues, Lotti, Wildlife

How much attention do you pay to your windshield when you’re zipping down the M40 on your way to work? Probably not a lot – most of us are too busy watching what’s happening on the road in front of us. Next time you go on a long car journey, keep an eye out and see if you notice one of the biggest signs that Britain’s insects are in decline: the lack of squashed bugs on the glass. When I was a kid, we used to take long journeys down to Cornwall a few times a year. I remember, distinctly, the mess of bugs splattered on the glass. In fact, even a shorter journey would result in a filthy windscreen and a lot of complaining from my Dad. The lack of bugs isn’t something I noticed until I read about it online – and once I had noticed, I couldn’t stop noticing.

Of course, squashing bugs with your car isn’t a good thing, but this realisation – called The Windscreen Phenomenon (and, yes, that’s what entomologists call it) – is just one small indicator that Britain’s bugs are in trouble. In the UK, insects are currently struggling to survive (as are lots of animals, plants and birds) against increased urbanisation, use of stronger pesticides in farms and gardens and the ongoing effects of climate change. The State of Nature Report suggested a 59% decline in insects in the UK since the 70s, but how many of us noticed, and how many of us cared?

Often, insects and invertebrate have a bad reputation with the general public as people dismiss them for being ugly, boring or scary. Endangered mammals like dormice are popular thanks to their cuteness, and at-risk birds like the cuckoo are iconic and enduring. People often dismiss British insects for their more exciting overseas cousins – huge iridescent beetles in Africa or giant spiders in Australia. Aside from butterflies and (occasionally) bees, bugs in the UK just don’t get the best press when compared to their cuddly counterparts.

When you think of British bugs, you probably imagine the humble ladybird or the friendly bumble bee. Some of us might immediately think of the not-so-fearsome house spider or the spindly daddy long legs with his long, wispy limbs. What a lot of people don’t realise is that the UK is host to a whole range of exciting and interesting insects and invertebrate hiding right under our feet! We’ve put together a list of some interesting and unusual British bugs to demonstrate how diverse these creatures can be.

Warning: If you don’t like insects and spiders, you might not want to continue scrolling!

The Ladybird Spider

Ladybird spider
Eresus Sandaliatus Hoge Veluwe (1) by Viridiflavus is licensed under CC BY 2.0

This tiny, brightly-coloured spider was thought to be completely extinct in the UK until a small population was found in Dorset in the 1980s. Female ladybird spiders can reach up to 16mm long and the males only 9mm, the males boasting distinctive red and black colouring which gives them their adorable-sounding name. It’s easy to see why this little spider could be confused for the more common ladybird with its striking red abdomen and dark black spots. After a push to support dwindling Ladybird Spider numbers in Dorset, there are now eight wild populations in the heathlands, but in order to really keep it safe at least 20 populations need to be established.

The Lobster Moth

Lobster moth
Stauropus fagi larva by Wilhelm Helmut is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Lobster Moth is an interesting addition to this list because the moth itself is particularly interesting – while being significantly fluffier than a standard house moth, its mottled grey form isn’t going to catch anyone’s eye. The caterpillar, however, is probably the most unusual bug you’re likely to come across in the UK. With a round, alien-like head, a large ‘tail’ and long legs, it looks very similar to the crustacean from which it gets its name. As it matures, it develops “bumps” along its body and darkens, resembling a dead leaf, which makes it quite hard to spot in the wild. These unusual creatures are found all over Europe but in the UK are mostly found in Southern woodlands.

Stag Beetles

stag beetle

Stag beetles are probably one of the most famous beetles in the world, known for their fierce looking pincers, dark wing-cases and long legs. You’ve probably seen stag beetles on TV or maybe at a zoo or animal park and they get their name from their distinctive, antler-like mandibles. In Japan, these beetles are often popular pets and can be found in pet shops and even department stores! It might surprise you to learn, then, that these impressive beetles are actually a native UK species. Often seen flying around at dusk in the summer months as they search for a mate, these giant insects prefer warmer temperatures and low rainfall so are most common in the south, but can be found all over the country.

Stag beetles can spend a staggering seven years in their larval form hidden deep underground or amongst rotting wood before eventually emerging as an adult to mate. Despite their sharp-looking mandibles, Stag Beetles are not harmful and the adults cannot eat solid food, instead drinking sap. Stag Beetles are currently one of Britain’s rarest beetles due to the devastating effect of deforestation as there simply isn’t enough rotting wood for larvae to hatch in and feed on. If you’ve seen a stag beetle in the wild, please take part in the People’s Trust for Endangered Species survey to help researchers track wild populations in the UK.

Elephant Hawk Moth

Deilephila elpenor caterpillar
Deilephila elpenor caterpillar by Richerman is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Unlike the Lobster Moth, the Elephant Hawk Moth is a fascinating caterpillar and a truly striking adult as well. You might have seen the caterpillars making their way across your garden – in fact, at a whopping 85mm long they’re very hard to miss. These giant caterpillars are really a sight to behold, and when you see one of them slowly making its way across your deck you’d be forgiven for assuming that a Pokémon had just appeared in your garden as it looks up at you with those big eyes. In fact, those “eyes” are a clever kind of camouflage, and the round “head” is a decoy which conceals a much smaller head which extends outwards as the caterpillar searches for food. When it feels threatened, the caterpillar retracts its real head, expanding the decoy head to make the “eyes” look bigger and scaring away potential predators as the tasty caterpillar appears to transform into a much less tasty snake.

Deilephila elpenor
Deilephila Elpenor 04 by Entomolo is licensed under CC BY 2.0

When fully grown, the caterpillar pupates and transforms into a beautiful Elephant Hawk Moth, a striking insect with bright olive and pink wings. Their 60mm wingspan makes them larger than your standard British moth and they tend to eat tubular flowers such as honeysuckle. These moths are common across all of the British Isles and can occupy all kinds of habitats, so unlike a lot of insects on this list they aren’t endangered at all.

Rosemary Beetle & Tansy Beetle

In the UK, we often imagine our beetles to be drab little things with dark brown or black cases in matte shades. In fact, we’ve got a wide array of gorgeous shimmery beetles right under our noses – so many that we’ve had to pick just two to write about.

Rosemary Beetle

Rosemary Beetle
Rosemary Beetle by Robin Sanders is licensed under CC BY 2.0

These striking beetles are a relatively new species to the UK, and were first discovered wild in 1994. Found mostly in the South-East, these little shiny bugs are drawn to aromatic plants and herbs like lavender, sage, and of course rosemary. Quickly earning themselves the label of “pests”, Rosemary beetles are particularly hardy and are often unaffected by pesticides, much to the chagrin of gardeners. While these beetles are only around 7mm long, their shiny, striped cases make them easy to spot nestled among the pastel purple lavender.

Tansy Beetle

Tansy beetle
Tansy Beetle 2 by Geoff Oxford is licensed under CC BY 2.0

These iridescent beetles were once widespread across the UK, but today are one of our most endangered insects. In fact, they’re so rare that they are currently only found on a stretch of the banks of the River Ouse around York. Despite their limited spread, in 2016 the number of recorded Tansy Beetles nearly doubled, showing that there might be hope for these bugs yet. Tansy Beetles are famous for the popular myth that their dazzling cases were so attractive to the Victorians that they were used for jewellery and fashion, attached to collars in place of sequins. While it’s hard to tell just how true this myth is, it’s a known fact that actress Ellen Terry wore a gown adorned with individual beetle cases in the 1880s during a production of Macbeth, so beetles certainly played a part in fashion at the time.

Cockchafers

maybug

Depending on where you live in the UK, these scarab-style bugs are either a regular pest or a complete mystery. They’re known by a number of names across the country: Doodlebugs, Maybugs or Cockchafers (stop giggling at the back, there). Once, these bugs were widespread: in 1911 in an only 18km2 area of forest, over 20 million Cockchafers were collected. These bugs had a devastating effect on harvest as there was no effective way of stopping them. In one bizarre tale from 1320 England, Cockchafers were brought into a courtroom where they were ordered to withdraw their presence within three days or risk being outlawed. The bugs, of course, failed to comply with this sentence so were consequently collected and killed en mass.

After modern farming techniques became popular and the invention of chemical pesticides, Cockchafer numbers finally began to fall, which saved the crops but brought the insects to near-extinction. In the recent move away from chemical pesticides, Cockchafers once again are slowly increasing in numbers.

These bizarre-looking bugs are known for the “leaves” which adorn their antennae; males have seven and females six. They measure about 30mm which doesn’t make them the smallest bug on our list – but does make them the scariest when they decide to fly at you.

Protecting British Bugs

So what can we do to look after our British bugs? Allowing a patch of long grass in your garden is a good start, as well as encouraging the growth of wildflowers or flowers which attract insects such as lavender, foxglove or honeysuckle. For the more dedicated, you can install a bug barn to give insects a place to eat, rest and breed or a bee hive for solitary bees to help support pollinators. For gardens with children, bug hotels are a great way to help support the bugs in your garden while teaching children about all the creepy crawlies they may find. Generally, a bug hotel is built around a base of recycled wooden pallets and can then be filled with all kinds of materials: old wood, hay, bamboo or even sand and old planters. The diverse materials will tempt a wider array of weird and wonderful minibeasts to your garden, perfect for budding entomologists.

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.

Barbecues, Garden Furniture, Guest Posts, How To

A beautiful garden is something every outdoor lover should have. And while spring is approaching, it is the perfect time to start getting your garden ready for entertaining. If you want to enjoy your garden comfortably and be a host your guests will remember, check out these tips.

entertaining in garden

1. What Is the Occasion?

Are you planning an intimate dinner with your closest friends and family, or perhaps you are inviting your coworkers to discuss business strategies on a Sunday afternoon?

The occasion determines the type of guests that are coming, and you should make plans according to them; after all, you want to impress and entertain them. Once you think about the occasion and the people that are arriving, you can move on to other things.

2. Determine the Style

Before you decide on seating and decor, you should probably determine the style of your garden even if you never set one before. Rozzane & Friends suggest the following styles: Japanese, modern, Mediterranean, eco-friendly and so forth. This choice can be based on your personal style, occasion and budget. Regardless what your choice is, make sure that you can arrange everything, and if this is your first time doing it, perhaps going with something simple is the best choice.

4. Seating

Now that you took care of the “abstract” things it’s time to become practical and decide on accommodation; after all, your guests will probably want to sit somewhere, especially after they have a couple of drinks. Homify suggests a patio because it usually comes with a table, four to six chairs (depending on your choice) and a parasol.

Furthermore, make sure that the seating is aligned with the style (if you decided on one). If you do not have a particular style in mind, then make sure that everything fits in the overall environment of the garden.

garden decor

5. Decor

Your guests have the food, the drinks and are in their seats; now you want to focus on the atmosphere. Believe it or not, a single rock can change the way you perceive a place, so you can start decorating by adding some stones in your garden.

Again you have to think about the style. Do you want to create a calm or rustic atmosphere? Will your garden be a place of peace (which gardens usually are) or you want to breathe more life into it by adding colourful figurines or decorative lights? If it is a party, you should try to create a cheerful and friendly atmosphere.

6. Music

Speaking of atmosphere, you will probably want music. As Martha Stewart said, “music can make or break the party.” You do not have to complicate things too much, but you can if you know what you are doing.

Perhaps opting for live music is preferable if you are trying to impress someone. Then again, if you are throwing a casual party for your friends, just play the music of your choice. The benefit of playing your music on your device is that everyone else can pitch in and play the song they want.

7. Activities

What do you have in mind for your guest when it comes to activities? If it is a formal dinner, than conversing and sipping wine is probably all you need to have a pleasant evening.

However, if it is informal, then you can come up with something fun, something. Simple activities dancing or playing Pictionary, can bring things to another level. Again, it all depends on the type of guests that are arriving at your home.

garden activities

8. Enjoy Yourself!

If you do not enjoy the party, then others will not enjoy it. All that planning can tire you so much that you forget to relax and enjoy yourself. If you have problems with planning your party, you can always ask your friends and family to pitch in.

Someone might bring a bottle of sweet wine, while others might bring a dessert with them. The whole purpose of organizing the event is that everyone enjoys it, and that includes you.

Abby DrexlerAbby Drexler is a contributing writer and media specialist for Jackson’s Home & Garden. She regularly produces content for a variety of lifestyle and home blogs.

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.

Tomatoes

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.

Strawberries

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

Roses

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.

Orchids

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.

orchids

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.

Compost, Gardening, How To, Megan, Organic

Why Compost?

There are countless benefits to composting and it is easier to get started than a lot of people think! When you use it as a soil amendment it improves the soils structure, provides a source of plant nutrients and stimulates beneficial organisms. Other benefits include saving money you may be spending on expensive soil amendments and reducing waste sent to landfill, contributing to a more sustainable planet. It is also great if you want to transition to transforming your garden into an organic, pesticide-free environment. It is easy to learn how to compost and it is a great investment of your time!

Compost Bins

How to compost: compost bins
How to compost: compost bins

First things first – investing in a great compost bin will make your life as a composter gardener a lot easier. There are numerous compost solutions on the market today. These include easy-load compost bins and tumbling compost bins for faster composting. Accessories such as compost aerators which helps speed up the decomposition process are also available. If you want to be extra kind to the environment, avoid plastic and invest in a wooden compost bin.

Alternatively, you can recycle and use an old rubbish bin as a compost bin. Saw off the bottom and drill holes in the bottom half of the bin, then bury the section with holes in the soil. This will allow microorganisms to more easily enter your pile.

We have highlighted below some items you can and cannot compost. All you need to do to get started is start loading into your compost bin, and wait for it to do its magic!

What You Can Compost

How to compost: peeling potatoes

You can compost the majority of the organic matter from your food waste, including but not limited to:

  • Tea bags (be wary that some tea bags are encased in plastic and other inorganic materials.  If in doubt cut open and just compost the contents)
  • Egg shells
  • Fruit & vegetable scraps
  • Coffee grounds & filters
  • Leftover cooked pasta & rice
  • Stale food, such as bread, cereal and crisps (bury bread deep to discourage pests)
  • Cardboard food packaging with any plastic removed, cut up for easier decomposition
  • Herbs & spices

But composting materials aren’t just limited to kitchen scraps! Many people aren’t aware you can also cultivate other household waste, including:

  • Facial tissues
  • Cotton items – cotton wool, clothing, fabric
  • Newspaper & waste paper, as long as it’s not glossed (best to feed through a shredder first)
  • Crumbs and dust collected from your dustpan
  • Uneaten dry dog & cat food
  • Dead house plants & flowers

And last but not least, don’t forget to compost your garden waste, such as:

  • Grass trimmings
  • Leaves
  • Dying plant material
  • Non-toxic weeds

What You Can’t Compost

how to compost: walnuts

There are some things better left out of compost. These items may slow decomposition and produce a lower quality of compost. Others aren’t just bad for compost, but bad for the environment. The general rule is you can compost anything that is organic matter that was once living. Some exceptions to this rule are:

  • Cooking oil
  • Diseased plants
  • Dairy products, including milk (although plant-based milks can be composted)
  • Meat scraps
  • Any inorganic materials
  • Walnuts
  • Pet faeces

How to Use Your Compost

how to compost: compost in scoop

Compost can be used in many beneficial ways. As already mentioned it is a great organic soil amendment. Simply spread it onto your flower bed or veg patch to make your flowers lusher and your vegetables hardier. Compost can also be used as a lawn topper. It will encourage growth and ensure your grass is as green as can be. It can also be used as mulch, helping retain soil moisture as well as boosting its health.

What about pests?

It is pretty easy to keep unwanted pests just as rats, away from compost. Keeping meat and dairy products out of your compost will help as these are big for attracting rodents. Another solution is to buy a closed compost bin with a lid. This will keep pests away as well as conceal the smell of the compost. Also be sure to keep your compost bin away from other animal food sources, such as berry bushes or bird feeders.

Overall, composting is a great thing to do for you as a gardener, your garden and the wider environment. The benefits are endless and there is no better day to start than today!

Megan at PrimroseMegan works in the Primrose marketing team. When she is not at her desk you will find her half way up a hill in the Chilterns
or enjoying the latest thriller series on Netflix. Megan also enjoys cooking vegetarian feasts with veggies from her auntie’s vegetable garden.

See all of Megan’s posts.