Greenhouses, Ross

Whisper it quietly, but spring is just around the corner. I know, I know, it doesn’t quite feel like it yet, but the fact remains the sun is nearly back with us. With that in mind, now is the time for planning.

Another spring provides you the platform to start afresh with your outdoor space. Take the lessons you learned from 2017, all the plans you laid over that bitter winter, and start the process of making them a reality. Of course, the plants in your flower beds aren’t the only ones seeking your attention. Greenhouses are as popular as they’ve ever been, posing their own unique challenges and considerations. For some, a flourishing greenhouse can be as rewarding as a blooming garden, and there are certainly plenty of worldly examples of how to do a greenhouse right.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the world’s greatest greenhouses – we may never be able to reach their dizzying heights, but we can certainly draw some inspiration as we prepare for spring 2018.

Royal Greenhouses of Laeken

Situated in the park of the Royal Castle of Laeken in Brussels, Belgium, the Royal Greenhouses have stood on the grounds since the 18th century. The Greenhouse took 21 years to build and was officially opened in 1895 after the domed greenhouse, known as the Iron Church, was completed. This section of the building was originally meant to be used as the royal chapel, situated in the middle of a vast and flourishing Eden, but was converted into a bathing house after the death of King Leopold II.

Laeken greenhouse
Laken tuinen en serres-B 419. PMRMaeyaert. PMR Maeyaert. CC BY-SA.

Unfortunately, visiting the Greenhouse is not as simple as you might like. Its doors are only open to the public during a two-week period in April and May when the majority of the flora is in full bloom. Given King Leopold’s less-than-chivalrous influence over the Congo, the Greenhouse features a range of flowers from the African continent. The building also houses – at last estimate – 305 species of camellias and 45 orange trees. When the building was first erected, it was estimated that King Leopold owned 130 such trees, some as old as 400 years.

Berlin-Dahlem Botanical Garden and Botanical Museum

“The world in a garden.” That was the ambitious aim of Adolf Engler, who became the first director of the Botanical Garden in 1889. The first record of the garden comes from 1679 at the directive of the Great Elector of Prussia. It was moved to Berlin-Dahlem in the early 1900s and assigned to the German botanist Engler to cultivate the project and craft a botanical garden Germany could be proud of.

berlin greenhouse
Photo by Paul VanDerWerf

Today the gardens contain a collection of nearly 20,000 plants, featuring trees and flowers from across the globe. Between the Italienischer Garten (Italian garden), the Wassergarten (water garden) and the Karpfenpfuhl (carp pond), there’s a myriad of attractions to tickle the fancy of any gardener. You’ll discover a range of statutes dating back to 1916, primarily situated in the Italian garden, and the grounds also feature a small cemetery to commemorate those that helped establish it. Among those buried on site are Adolf Engler and his wife Marie, Georg Schweinfurth, an ex-curator and African explorer, and the tomb of Friedrich Althoff. The Botanical Garden truly has something for everyone – whether you’re there to enjoy the Arbour of Roses in the Pavilion or to study the history of botany in the museum, you could spend an entire day here and still feel as though you’ve only scratched the surface.

Kaisaniemi Botanic Garden

Within the Botanic Garden in Helsinki, Finland, is a rather special collection of greenhouses. Across the ten interconnected structures are a range of themes and environments, including an African savannah and a South American rainforest. Each glasshouse is uniquely managed to best cultivate the plants within; it all comes together to create a bizarre but brilliant experience of stepping between one part of the world and into the next.

kaisaniemi
By Mikko Heikkinen – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, Link

Situated between the greenhouses is a large gallery that usually plays host to temporary exhibitions, predominantly centred on themes of nature as you’d expect. The botanic garden is currently used by the Helsinki University to research and teach plant systematics, but remains open to the public across the year. Although it was originally founded in Turku in 1678, its move to Helsinki in 1829 certainly gave the botanical garden the new lease of life it required.

Jardin Botanique de Lyon

The Jardin Botanique in Lyon, France, is not the only botanical garden in the country, but it’s certainly the most famous. The gardens are open every weekday and are accessible free of charge. The grounds feature an estimated 15,000 plants – among them bloom 200 varieties of water lilies, 100 wild rose species and 1800 types of alpine plants.

jardin botanique de lyon
Photo by Rym Bgt

Within the gardens stands a clutch of greenhouses totalling nearly 6,500 square metres. Within their glass walls, you’ll find a central pavilion filled with tropical plants such as camellias (some over a hundred years old), a greenhouse-aquarium and colder greenhouses with plants requiring cooler, drier conditions such as cacti. You’ll also find a Madagascan greenhouse containing 200 plant species from the island nation, along with a statue of Bernard de Jussieu, a famous botanist from the 18th century who worked in the gardens of King Louis XV and arranged the flowers in the royal garden of the Grand Trianon in the Palace of Versailles.

Kew Gardens Palm House

The Palm House in the Kew Gardens, London, is an iconic Victorian glasshouse originally constructed in the 1840s. Designed by Charles Lanyon, the greenhouse is built with an iron frame and plated with over 1600 glass panels for maximum sunlight. Palm houses, by design, require constant heat and were often seen as a symbol of class and prestige in Victorian England.

Nowadays, the Palm House is a living laboratory for a wide range of plants from across the world. Within the Palm House resides a rainforest climate supporting plants from Africa, Australia, Asia and the Pacific. This man-made rainforest, as it were, allows scientists to learn more about the plant-life and how they interact with one another. The Kew Gardens were an incredible feat of engineering for the time, and remain one of the world’s greatest botanical gardens to this day. And if all that’s not enough? The Palm House plays host to the oldest potted plant in the world – an enormous Jurassic cycad with a Latin name you wouldn’t thank me for challenging you to pronounce. It arrived in London back in 1775, making it at least 243 years old.

Kew Gardens Palm House
By DiliffOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

So yes, it’s true; you and I are not destined to develop a greenhouse on the scale of any of the above in the near future. That said, what these greenhouses all show us are not only how the very best do their work, but also the sort of plant-life we can cultivate in the comfort of our own back gardens. You and I need may need to dream a little smaller than the Kew Gardens, but that kind of inspiration can go a long way at grass roots level.

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.

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.

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.

Kunai

Kunai

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

Dibbers

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

Hoes

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!”

Anyway…

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?

Moon

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.

Pleiades

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.

Jupiter

Jupiter

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

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.