Ellen Mary’s Top 5 Houseplants

Houseplants are bang on trend at the moment and rightly so because not only are they aesthetically pleasing and a great way to soften interiors but they are unbelievably good for us to have around. Many house plants remove large amounts of common toxins from the air around us. My own house is full of them; somewhere in the region of 100 plus cuttings, but who’s counting!? There is a plant for everyone, but these are my top five favourites for any home.


Aloe Vera
Aloe vera

Always top of the list! Not only does Aloe look fantastic, but it’s super easy to look after and needs minimal watering. Not only that, but the gel inside those fleshy stems can be scraped out and used to ease numerous skin conditions, heal burns and many other common health complaints. I store some in the fridge at all times. Aloe also helps to remove Benzene from the air which is found in paint and cleaning products.


Senecio String of Pearls
Senecio (String of Pearls)

A perfect trailing plant that looks great on a shelf or in a hanging basket. These always make an impact because they look so cool, especially in a macramé hanger. The long thin stems have small, round, beaded foliage, hence the name. Needing very little water and just indirect sunlight, it will suit most homes and always draws attention.


Monstera deliciosa
Monstera deliciosa

The highly-desired ‘Swiss Cheese plant’ has made a huge comeback. From dark green, glossy foliage to the much-sought-after white Monstera, they are a stunning addition and really very easy to care for. If you place one in bright, indirect sunlight and away from draughts, it will reward you with long climbing stems and huge heart-shaped leaves. If you start with a smaller plant and pot up as it grows, make sure you have the ultimate spot for it because they can get beautifully big.


Strelitzia reginae Bird of Paradise
Stretlitzia reginae

The stunning ‘Bird of Paradise’ is one of my absolute favourite plants. It may take some years to flower, but when it does, it’s so worth the wait! That tropical feel can’t be beaten as the exotic flower head blooms into the shape of a bird. Mine sits nicely in my office which is also a garden room, so ideal for a conservatory and can even go outside in the summer.


Sansevieria trifasciata var. laurentii
Sansevieria or Mother-in-Law’s Tongue!

Here’s another plant that removes toxins from the air. In fact NASA found that just one ‘Mother in Law’s Tongue’ reduced Benzene levels by over 50% and Trichloroethylene by over 13% in just 24 hours. It’s a great plant to have in your bedroom, which is where I have a few, because they are one of the few plants that continues to convert CO2 to oxygen at night time. Sweet dreams!

The list could be endless as I am also a massive fan of orchids, ferns and easy-to-look-after bryophyllum’s. My cuttings are lined up on bookcases and I can’t help but check them every day. It’s exciting to enjoy houseplants and they’re a trend I hope becomes just a way of life for everyone one day.

Ellen has loved gardens and gardening since she was a child. By her own admission, she now lives and breathes gardening – writing garden and travel content, hosting a horticultural radio show, producing and presenting on television – generally promoting the ways that nature and gardening can benefit well-being. Follow @ellenmarygardening on Instagram

Green-fingered gardening tips from the experts

No matter how expert you are at gardening, there’s always something new to learn!
Image source: Aya Images

The great thing about gardening is that no matter how expert you are, you never reach the end of your personal learning curve. To help you a little further along the way, we asked some of our favourite gardening bloggers for their expert tips – great gardening advice from green fingered folk.

Community

Visit other gardens to see what grows well in your area.
Image source: A Pentland Garden

Before you plant anything, take a look at your local green space, says Nadine from A Pentland Garden. That’s because local conditions have a big impact on what grows best where you live. Nadine’s top tip? Talk to your neighbours:

“Speak to them and see what really thrives. You may be able to take cuttings or gather seeds.”

There really is nothing better than seeing for yourself what grows well, says Julia from The Garden Gate is Open. She says the best thing to do is simply to:

“Get out there and visit another garden.”

It’s also important to network within your gardening community. Pete from Weeds Up to My Knees suggests trying out local plant sales arranged by allotments. He says:

“If you ever need anything in the garden (plants, seeds and tools), I always ask about. People are pleased to get rid of the stuff.”

Cover up

Put a layer of newspapers or cardboard under wood chip to suppress the weeds.
Image source: An English Homestead

If you don’t fancy spending most of your time in the garden weeding, Kev at An English Homestead says you should remember that “nature abhors a vacuum”, and act accordingly:

“I mulch with compost, cover with cardboard or use landscape fabric to help keep weeds at bay.”

As a smallholder committed to feeding his young family healthy, nutritious, home grown food, he says covering up is “the only way I can manage such a big vegetable garden.”

Another gardener who shares the view that exposed soil leaves the door open for weeds, is Geoff from Driftwood by Sea. His solution is to plant plenty of ground cover. He says “never be afraid to pack plants in.”

Alternatively, you could go no-dig, like Richard from Sharpen Your Spades. He tried it last year and now he’s hooked:

“It’s so easy to cover in the winter, there’s less weeds and fantastic crops. The whole allotment is no-dig this year.”

Plant

Acclimatise your seedlings before planting them outside.
Image source: Mark’s Veg Plot

Giving your seedlings the best chance of survival by starting them indoors protects them from the elements until it’s warm enough to plant them out. But be careful you don’t let those tender stems get too hot, says Alicia from Botanical Threads. She recommends you take the plastic lids off your seed trays when it’s particularly sunny:

“It only takes half an hour baking under the plastic in the sun for a tray of thriving green seedlings to go to brown burnt ones!”

If you take seedlings straight from your window ledge and plant them outside, the shock can kill them. Make sure you acclimatise them gradually. Mark from Mark’s Veg Plot passes on his father’s advice on ‘hardening off’ his tomatoes:

“If it has been done properly, the stem will be a dark, almost purple, colour. Pale stemmed plants have not been sufficiently exposed to the outdoors.”

Weed

Make weeding part of your gardening routine.
Image source: Sharpen Your Spades

It’s true that some gardeners find weeding therapeutic. But Thomas from Thomas Stone Horticultural Services isn’t one of them. He prefers to get the job done and dusted, saying: “In dry weather, try and get the hoe around as often as you can.” He adds that with the right tools:

“5 minutes of weeding with a hoe can save 2-3 hours of hand weeding.”

Richard from Sharpen Your Spades says it’s best to make regular weeding your priority or it will eat into your gardening time. His advice is to get it done and dusted:

“It gets the ghastly job out of the way and makes the task of staying on top of the weeds so much easier”.

Alternatively, consider embracing your weeds like forager and print-maker Flora Arbuthnott who puts hers to good use. She says:

Use yellow dock roots as a golden dye for textiles projects.” and for a coffee alternative that won’t make your heart race, Flora says to try “roast dandelion root.”

Do you have any gardening tips that you think we should know? We’re always interested to hear from our readers, so please drop us a line on our Facebook page and leave us a message.

Planting tips from wildlife gardening experts

Cotoneaster berries feed birds through even the bleakest winters.
Image source: Artush

If you’d love to encourage wildlife to visit your garden but aren’t sure what plants to grow, this is the place for you. We asked some of our favourite wildlife gardening bloggers for their planting tips and here’s what they came up with – what to grow to encourage birds, bees, moths and butterflies to share your outside space.

Moths

Willowherb is loved by moths and butterflies.
Image source: Real Moment

Nocturnal insects love plants whose scent makes them easy to locate in the darkness. Wildlife blogger Dan Rouse says:

Plants like lavender are great for attracting moths, which in turn will attract their predators: bats!

Nic who writes Dogwood Days was just a two-year-old in red wellies when her father introduced her to banks of rosebay willowherb alongside the vegetable beds. She says:

Willowherb brings in moths and butterflies – especially the beautiful elephant hawk moth caterpillars with their extendable snouts.

Another favourite for attracting moths is honeysuckle. Bill at Frodsham Marsh Bird Blog says: “A large potted Honeysuckle is brilliant for attracting many types of moth species on those sultry warm summer evenings, and they in turn provide food for the local bats.

Butterflies

The Brimstone butterfly particularly loves Alder Buckthorn.
Image source: Butterfly Conservation

Attracting butterflies to flutter about your garden is all about planting the right blooming plants whose nectar they’ll sup. Remember – the greater the variety of plants and fungi you grow in your garden, the great the range of butterflies, and other insects you’ll get to see.

Lisa at Edulis Wild Food says encouraging wildlife to thrive is all about “Mimicking nature in her timing and choice of habitat.” In her garden she grows:

Alexanders, sweet cicely, japonica quince, wild raspberry, wild garlic, primroses, sweet violets, horse mushrooms, chicken of the woods, oyster mushrooms and scarlet elf cups.

Emma at Never Mind the Burdocks, meanwhile favours “ground elder, wild mints, and Galium species such as odorata which fill a borders edges perfectly and are easy to maintain.”

Providing myriad food sources is a great way to garden for wildlife, but if there’s a particular butterfly you’d like to see gracing your patch, often you’ll need to provide a specific food source. Dave at Why Watch Wildlife shares this example:

A Brimstone is looking for Alder Buckthorn, so think about planting it. Not only will it benefit the butterfly, but in autumn birds will eat the berries too.

Birds and bees

Forget-me-nots are a vital early source of nectar for bees.
Image source: Ian Grainger

As well as enjoying the host of tasty insects living on your wildflowers, birds need winter foodstuffs to keep them going when the nights draw in and the temperature plummets. To help out our feathered friends, Bill says he planted Cotoneaster. He says it’s quite mature now:

In the winter it retains enough berries to entice the local Blackbirds, wintering Blackcaps and once a small flock of Waxwing to feast on its berries.

Bill says the bees and hoverflies love the alliums he buried last year, and Julie of Garden Without Doors is a great advocate of early wildflowers like: “forget-me-nots, green alkanet and deadnettle”. She says the great advantage of spring flowers is that they’re: “beloved by bees and available to them before other flowers start blooming.”

Worried that by filling your borders with spring wildflowers, you’ll have less blooms to enjoy during the summer months? Don’t be. Julie says:

Your spring wildflowers will die back in time for other flowers to take over.

Do you have any wildlife-friendly planting suggestions to share? If so we’d love to hear from you. Just pop over to our Facebook page and leave us a message.

In the meantime, we’ll leave the last word to Alan at the Scottish Wildlife Garden who, once the butterflies have enjoyed his thistles, finds they “have delicious, tender, juicy hearts that are quite easy to prepare once you have the knack.” As he says, that’s one way to “Have your garden and eat it”.

Expert tips to make your garden wildlife-friendly

A small garden pond gives this song thrush somewhere to bathe and drink.
Image source: Ondrej Prosicky

By making just a few small changes to the way you garden, you’ll really help native wildlife to thrive. To get you started, here’s some expert advice courtesy of some of the best gardeners and bloggers we’ve found – tips to make your garden more wildlife-friendly.

Planning

Plan hedgehog highways as part of your garden design.
Image source: Colin Robert Varndell

Begin by asking: “what does the wildlife need?” says Brian of Brian’s Birding Blog. To answer the question, think about basics like food, water, shelter, and safety. By planning your garden around the building blocks of survival, your garden will be nature-friendly by design.

That’s a sentiment with which Nic of Dogwood Days wholeheartedly agrees – an attitude she inherited from her father who always says:

The garden is an extension of the wider landscape in terms of its links to nature – the birds, insects and animals.

But too often, we design our gardens with privacy in mind without thinking about how our wild visitors will get about. With a little thought, hedgehog-loving Adam of My Life Outside says that’s easily fixed:

By creating hedgehog highways through our gardens we can join up vast swathes of land and give these fabulous creatures a fighting chance.

So get together with your neighbours and create animal corridors by “lifting a fence panel a few inches, cutting a hole through wire netting or drilling through boundary walls.”

And do remember to provide a water source – an oasis for living creatures. As Brian says, installing a pond “gives the birds another food source and somewhere to bathe and drink,” and as Dave of Why Watch Wildlife adds “A source of fresh, clean water is good for invertebrates [and] amphibians.”

Housing

This nest box is a safe haven for blue tits to raise their young.
Image source: Erni

Now your garden works for wildlife, where will it live? Wildlife expert Dan Rouse is a passionate advocate of “messy zones” which she says can be a simple as “a small piece of old carpet and some bricks behind the shed” – the perfect hidey hole for insects and shy creatures like slow worms. She also says:

Nest spaces or nesting boxes and roosting boxes are fundamental for wildlife to survive.

But it’s not just birds who need high vantage points, it’s bugs and beasties too, as Bill at Frodsham Marsh Bird Blog points out. His garden features a tree whose “winding twisted trunk and small branches hold a selection of brightly painted bean cans which have been filled with a variety of fibre material”.

And don’t forget to make spaces for “lone fliers” to hang out – Bill says a couple of catering size cans fitted with a wooden plug and drilled with holes make ideal accommodation:

Solitary bees can access the interior to live their lives away from predators.

The same goes for dry hogweed stems which, cut to length, can also be used to stuff a tin – but be careful handling the live stuff, Bill says, because the sap can burn your skin. And because more bugs mean more bats fluttering overhead during spring and summer evenings, you’ll need to remember to install a bat box too.

Planting

An apple tree surrounded by wildflowers provides pollen and ground cover.
Image source: DrimaFilm

Look at your garden through the eyes of prospective wildlife visitors. Do you have a tree? If not, maybe consider planting one, or if space is a problem, make existing structures work for birds and insects. Bill (at Frodsham Marsh Bird Blog) whose garden is on the small side says:

The washing line post has Ivy growing up it and now provides thick cover where robin and wren have nested.

Wildlife expert Dan Rouse says using your planting to create layers ensures there’s food for all: “Shrub-like plants like lavender or fuchsia give off a lot of smell and still carry pollen for our pollinators.”

And remember to make sure there’s plenty of ground cover to provide shelter for bugs and food for predators. Dan says:

Smaller plants like ground creeper are great for our insects and small birds to hide in too.

That goes for grass too. Lisa at Edulis Wild Food says to delay mowing until wildflowers growing in it have had chance to bloom: “The bees are grateful for the early food and you realise how diverse your lawn can be if not totally mono-cultured.”

Do you have any wildlife gardening tips you’d like to share? Just head over to our Facebook page and leave us a message – we’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, we’ll leave you with this gem of a tip from Miles at Forager who says it’s not just the wildlife that benefits from wild planting:

Eat your weeds! Bittercress, sow thistle, chickweed, nettles, dandelion are all delicious and nutritious.

Expert garden upcycling tips

Waste not, want not – the frugal gardener’s mantra.
Image source: Ondacaracola

Savvy gardeners are frugal gardeners for whom “waste” is a dirty word. Here we present some top tips from growers with a passion for repurposing, reusing, and recycling – ways to save money and the environment while helping your garden grow.

Repurpose

tyre-with-grass

Old tyres make excellent planters, but make sure any chemical content doesn’t leach into the soil. Avoid use for food.
Image source: Praiwun Thungsarn

“Stand away from the skip. I repeat, stand away from the skip!” Pete of Weeds up to me knees’ daughter despaired of her dad’s embarrassing habit of examining the contents of every skip he happened to encounter. Pete says:

I’m always looking when I pass skips etc., as I have found some great stuff in them for use in the garden.

Pete adds: “I’m not as bad as I used to be.” Sure, Pete; if you say so…

Another modern-day womble, Sara from My Flower Patch collects mushroom and veg crates from her local pub. As well as offering a good excuse to pop in for a pint, she says she uses the crates to plant up her dahlias: “I can get four or five tubers per blue crate and it uses much less compost and takes up less space than four or five individual pots.”

And then there’s Bill, author of Frodsham Marsh Bird Blog, who, tired of getting sore knees, found a novel solution The Borrowers would be proud of:

An old chair base also made the comfiest garden kneeler to put in some new plants!

Reuse

fabric-reusing-planting

Landscape fabric can be used over and over again if you take good care of it.
Image source: Vadym Zaitsev

If you’re growing through landscape fabric, never cut your holes, always burn them – or at least heat seal the edges, says Kev at the English Homestead: “Cauterising the cut stops the fabric unravelling meaning you can use it again year after year.” Kev says he gets a whopping ten seasons’ use from his.

Another gardener for whom the term “single use plastic” doesn’t compute, is Mal of Mal’s Edinburgh Allotment whose top tip, is as timely as it is ingenious:

Use rewritable tape to transform single use plastic labels into multiple use plastic labels.

Of course, not everyone keeps sheep, but even if you don’t, you’ll like this idea from Karen at the Square Sparrow smallholding in Scotland. She reuses sheeps wool to cover her herbs. As she says:

Sheepish Herbs Survive Winter’s Worst!

Not even the “Beast from the East” could pierce her tender plants snugly covering of sheep’s wool.

Recycle

planting seedlings in eggcups

Never throw away an egg carton – they make excellent seedling trays.
Image source: prachyaloyfar

With leafy ground-covering plants like strawberries, squashes and courgettes, it can be difficult to see where to water, but Belinda from Plot 7 Marsh Lane has a wonderful recycling solution. She cuts the tops off old Cola bottles, to make makeshift funnels which she presses into the ground next to the roots of her plants so the water always gets to where it’s needed.

Another gardener who’s nothing if not resourceful is Rachel of The good life ain’t easy, who germinates seeds in toilet roll tubes and egg cartons, and never one to waste plastic that could be recycled says:

I’ve found grape boxes make perfect reusable greenhouses.

And then there’s Alan of Alan’s Allotment who recycles nature’s bounty itself – specifically comfrey – which he says grows like wildfire and can be used as “compost activator, liquid fertilizer, mulch or side dressing, companion plant for trees and other perennials, and production of potting mixture.

What are your top garden recycling tips? We’d love to hear them. Just head on over to our Facebook page and leave us a message.

Blooming good tips for flower growers

Colourful flower borders are a joy to behold.
Image source: Artens

To help you get the most from your flower garden, we asked some of our favourite green-fingered bloggers for their expert tips and advice. From planning your beds to pruning, here’s some great advice to get your flowers blooming like never before.

Plan

Limiting your colour scheme can have a dramatic impact.
Image source: Elena Elisseeva

Resist the temptation to plant anything until you’ve had chance to think about the kind of display you’d like to create, says Emma at Palais Flowers. She emphasises just how important it is to think about colour:

Block colour makes a real statement whilst clashing tones remind us of the wonder and diversity of flowers!

And do consider how your planting scheme will keep you in blooms throughout the growing season and beyond. Dave at Wild Nature Blog loves year-round colour. He goes for “winter and spring flowering clematis, verbena bonariensis for summer into autumn, and late-flowering species such as sedum.”
Keeping the blooms coming is great for nature too, wildlife loving Dave says: “Insects are a critical part of any food web, so this will benefit all wildlife in your garden.”

Prolong

Removing spent blooms from roses will prolong the plant’s flowering season.
Image source: Jason Kolenda

You want your flowers to bloom for as long as possible, and while staggering your planting is one approach, regular and judicious pruning and deadheading will make all your flowers last longer and produce more blooms.
We all know that bedding plants can get a bit leggy later in the summer, which is why Carol, aka The Sunday Gardener, pinches out the growing tips of her bedding plants during May and June. She says:

It makes the plant grow more bushy and throw out side shoots so the plant has more flowers.

Try this technique with “verbena, begonias, geraniums, busy lizzies, petunias, lobelia, fuchsias, and just about all bedding plants, including sweet peas”. Carol also recommends deadheading your plants regularly to help them bloom until October.

Pick

Enjoy flowers in your home and your garden.
Image source: Maya Kruchankova

Don’t leave it until your blooms are past their best to deadhead them, says Sara at My Flower Patch. She says, picking flowers encourages more to take their place, meaning you get to enjoy all your favourite blooms inside your home as well as out. To give your cut flowers the best chance of lasting, she says to:

Pick freshly opened buds in the cool of the morning, or as the temperature cools in the late evening with a sharp pair of scissors or flower snips.

Pop your cut flowers into “a bucket or jar of water, and leave them to ‘condition’…Then choose your favourite vase to arrange them into.” Her favourite flowers from the garden are, cornflowers, cosmos, ammi visnaga, sweet peas, scabious and antirrhinums, all of which will go on to produce more blooms as you pick.

Prune

For spectacular wisteria you’ll need to prune your plant at the right time.
Image source: SpiffyStephie

Wondering when’s best to prune your wisteria? Horticulturist, Lou Nicholls says to get the best display, remember the old adage:

Longest cut, longest day; shortest cut, shortest day.

By pruning the “long whippy growth at midsummer back to 5 buds” you’ll encourage plenty of side shoots for next year’s flowers, Lou says. Then come midwinter, reduce all those extra side shoots to two buds, and you’ll have lovely “big flowering spikes” to look forward to.
As well as pruning, keep your eye on new growth on your climbers says Thomas at Thomas Stone Horticultural Services:

Look at any climbing plants like roses or clematis at least once per week and tie in any new growth with 3 ply twine.

Do also remember your foliage, as well as flowering plants, Thomas says. Try treating your “box hedging, and topiary, as well as other plants with liquid seaweed which will strengthen the foliage and make them stronger to fight foliage diseases.”
If you have a tip for making your garden bloom, we’d love to hear from you. Just drop us a line via our Facebook page. In the meantime, we’ll leave you with this lovely daffodil tip from Susan Rushton:

Don’t cut daffodils, pluck them.

She says by gripping at the base of the stem and pulling, you leave the end of the stalk sealed; with the sap still inside the flower will last longer and won’t contaminate the other stems in the vase.

Pin It on Pinterest