Dreaming of a green Christmas

Wooden wreath with berries and leaves

Simplify the season of goodwill
Image source: Galina Grebenyuk

Christmas is the season of goodwill. A time for giving, and enjoying festivities with family. But all too often it becomes the season of ‘stuff’ – unwanted presents, plastic packaging and reams of wrapping paper – symptoms of the over-consumption that has such a negative impact on the natural world.

If you want to simplify the festive season, accumulate less ‘stuff’ and reduce your carbon footprint, here are a some ideas for a greener Christmas…
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Grow Your Own – Colourful Salads

By Sasha Ivanova at London Plantology

Your greens no longer have to be green! Recent research indicates that some of the healthiest “greens” are actually purple, red and yellow. With new varieties of tasty salads and vegetables increasingly available, it’s so easy to create a feast for your eyes at the same time as excitement for the palate.

Spring is the ideal time to grow a range of vegetables for delicious salads. The temperature is not too hot and and the soil is just warm enough for seeds to germinate. This year I’m growing quick crops like radishes, spring onions, lettuce and all year round vegetables like Swiss chard, kale and Mexican tree spinach.

Salads

Lettuce is always on my list. I love fresh leaves, picked with my own hands, and they taste so much more delicious than any shop-bought greens. Lettuce grows well in containers making it an ideal crop for a small urban garden, balcony or windowsill. I prefer loose-leaf varieties as they’re quicker to mature and I can harvest a few individual leaves at a time – just enough for my lunch or a sandwich.

I start my growing season in early spring by sowing “Salad Bowl Mixed” lettuce. One of the fastest to grow, it takes only eight weeks from sowing to cutting and has beautiful green and purple oak-shaped leaves.

My other favourite lettuce is Lollo Rossa, a decorative loose-leaf variety from Italy. Crisp deep red leaves have a nutty flavour and look great on the plate when combined with wild rocket, purple basil and fan-shaped “Reine de Glace” lettuce. I sow both varieties in April and they supply me with tasty leaves throughout the summer.

I can’t imagine my kitchen garden without Swiss chard and kale. These greens are winter-hardy and started in the middle of summer will produce leaves well into the next spring helping to avoid a dreadful “hungry gap”. There are many colourful varieties to choose from and I like to experiment with a new variety every season. Swiss Chard “Bright Lights”, “Scarlet” kale and “Midnight Sun” kale are among my favourites.

Root vegetables

Yellow Radish “Zlata”
Image source: London Plantology

Bringing a variety of flavour, texture and colour, root vegetables like radishes, beetroot and carrots are a great addition to the summer salads.

Radishes are one of the first vegetables I sow directly in the soil. The secret to a good radish? Grow them in a cool location with plenty of water – perfect for the British spring. “Rainbow Mix” radish can be sown as early as March and harvested in 4 weeks. It’s a fun variety to try with kids and contains purple, red, yellow and white coloured radishes in one packet. You never know what colour your next one will be! Gold “Zlata” and “Pink Slipper” are summer radishes that are slow to bolt. Their roots are juicy and radiant, even in the hot weather, and I start them every couple of weeks from May to September. Pale yellow and bright pink radishes mixed with green and purple lettuce look stunning and taste refreshing on warm days.

Beetroot is another great vegetable to begin your gardening adventures with. Performing well in any soil, it’s easy to grow, packed with antioxidants and gives you two delicious crops from the same plant. Beet leaves with bright red stems not only bring colour to the kitchen but many health benefits too. They are high in iron, magnesium and vitamins B6 and K. Purple-red roots have an earthy taste produced by the organic compound geosmin. Some people like it and some don’t, but I personally find this flavour adds an extra dimension to summer dishes. Try the yellow beet “Boldor”; the non-staining, white heritage variety “Albina Vereduna”; or beetroot “Chioggia” with its red and white ‘bullseye’ rings for a tasty alternative to traditional purple beets.

When I was a child, carrots were orange. Boring and orange. Nowadays carrots in my veg patch are nothing like that. From red and yellow to almost black, I’m discovering new varieties to get excited about all the time. The soil in my garden is a heavy clay with lots of stones, so not ideal for carrots. I use containers half-filled with compost and half-filled with sand, instead. Carrot “Sweet Imperator Mix” with thin long roots can be sown thickly in the container and comes in a variety of colours – white, cream, golden, red and purple. Other colourful varieties I like are “Red Samurai” and “Cosmic Purple”.

Edible Flowers

Nasturtium ‘Strawberries and Cream’
Image source: London Plantology

Plants must work hard and provide multiple benefits to earn their place in small gardens. Edible flowers are pretty, attract pollinators and bring a bit of zing to summer salads. There are many edible flowers available: Borage, Calendula, Viola, Bee balm, pea and bean flowers and many kind of herbs. I grow nasturtium and chives year after year in my London garden.

Nasturtium is a truly versatile plant whose leaves, flowers and seed pods are all edible. The leaves and flowers have a peppery taste that is ideal for spicing up salads. This year I’m trying the ‘Strawberries and Cream’ variety with big peach cream flowers. Nasturtium is a magnet for aphids and blackfly and I planted it among peas, beans and courgettes to keep my veg safe and improve pollination. Around August, I’ll collect the unripe green seed pods for pickling. Pickled in white wine vinegar they make great capers – sharp and salty – but don’t forget to leave some seeds for next growing season!

Nasturtium seeds
Image source: London Plantology

Chives are a low-maintenance perennial herb forming neat clumps of green shoots as early as February. The leaves have a mild onion-like flavour and are delicious served in butter with new potatoes. The flowers are also edible and buzz with bees throughout the summer. Purple and pink in colour, they’re an attractive garnish for salads and fish dishes. Like nasturtium, chives are good companion plants in the kitchen garden. The onion smell repels carrot flies which improves both the growth and taste of your carrots.

With a regular sowing of colourful vegetables every few weeks, you can have a rainbow of “greens” to fill your plate all summer long! Keep discovering new exciting varieties to grow and eat, and share your favourites in the comments below.

How do you enjoy your colourful salads? Are there any veggies you like to include that we’ve missed? Be sure to let us know on our Facebook page – we’d love to hear from you!

About the author

Sasha Ivanova is an urban gardener, blogger, and martial artist. Passionate about propagation and growing from seed, she grows all her plants in a small London back yard. Her research has led her to cultivate unusual edible plants, as well as experimenting with fruit trees in what she describes as a ‘garden without trees’. Read more at her blog, londonplantology.com

10 Brilliant Bird Watching Blogs

Fall back in love with our feathered friends, and get inspired by these birdy blogs.
Image: M.Zonderling/Unsplash


Whether you’re a committed twitcher, a seasoned birder or an occasional birdwatcher, following a selection of birding blogs is an excellent way to keep up with bird news and events and meet like-minded people.
We’ve scoured the Internet to bring you ten brilliant birding blogs. These people know their birds, tell a great yarn and share some excellent birding photos. Enjoy!

 

Birding Dad

‘Frank’ the Fieldfare, defending his patch in Jono’s Yorkshire back garden.
Image: Birding Dad

Ever suffered from gull blindness? Jono Leadley – AKA Birding Dad – did whilst visiting a snowbound Yorkshire nature reserve. Eventually he and mate Duncan both spotted an adult Med gull, only to discover they were watching two different birds!

Jono is a “Yorkshire nature geek” who loves nothing more than spending a few hours birding in his native county. When he’s not looking after the two kids or campaigning for wildlife, he’ll be found watching female Smews cavorting with goldeneyes or spotting an unexpected Caspian gull.

 

Black Audi Birding

Black-headed Gull photobombing two Med Gulls on Hayling Island.
Image: Black Audi Birding

“To visit a gull colony… is to be ceaselessly entertained by the constant activity of the birds, accompanied by a cacophony of cries”, writes Ewan Urquhart of Black Audi Birding following a visit to Hayling Island, on the South Coast of England. Friday birding has become a ritual for Ewan and partner Moth – the two regularly set off in the eponymous black Audi, looking for something of interest.

Ewan’s blog is full of poetic birding commentary and stunning photography, not just of English birds, but of those spotted on trips to exotic countries including the Seychelles and Colombia. Ewan will go to any length for a tick – check out his mammoth journey to spot an Amur Falcon in Cornwall last year.

 

Brian’s birding blog

Brian’s beautiful shot of a Red-backed Shrike.
Image: Brian’s birding blog

“If you get out there you might just see something,” is Brian Anderson’s motto. This Essex birder loves driving around the country with Dad and brother Jim, chasing birds and accumulating year ticks.

Brian’s blog is packed with beautiful photography, not just of common and rare birds, but also of butterflies and other wildlife spotted in our isles. And with an Arctic Warbler, a glossy Ibis and a Hoopoe among his photographs of rare birds spotted in Britain, there’s plenty to inspire everyone to do as he says and get out there.

 

Diaries of a Cheshire Wildlife Watcher

Nesting grebe in the Cheshire sunshine.
Image: Diaries of a Cheshire Wildlife Watcher

“I started this blog so I could share my wildlife encounters and stories with other nature lovers around the world,” says Mike Mottram of Diaries of a Cheshire Wildlife Watcher blog. More than just a birding site, keen kayaker Mike shares photographs and film of everything from birds to badgers and fish to funghi.

An expert in wildlife photography, Mike’s blog is a great resource for those wanting to perfect their own techniques. Read all about his adventures with a homemade wristcam, and the drone that he modified into a remote WIFI camera.

 

Cornwall Birding

Close encounter with a Firecrest in Nanjizal, Cornwall.
Image: Cornwall Birding

“Stithians Reservoir is undoubtedly the best area of open water for birdwatching in the county,” writes Paul Freestone of Cornwall Birding. If you live in or around Cornwall, or would love to explore the birding prospects of that county, this is the blog for you. Paul has been a bird-watching tour guide and bird ringer for over 30 years and his blog provides daily sighting information and birding site guides.

But there’s more. With an extensive common and rare birds photo gallery, a complete county list since 1950, and tidal and weather information, this is your go-to site for birding in Cornwall.

 

Dan Rouse

Red Kite spotted in Rhayader, Wales.
Image: Dan Rouse

“It’s always worth checking through wintering flocks of wildfowl for some abnormal or unusual birds,” comments Dan Rouse on her eponymous blog. The hybridisation of wildfowl fascinates this young birder: “how certain species will consider breeding with another species”. Dan’s spot turned out to be a Eurasian Wigeon crossed with a Northern Shoveler.

Her love of birds started early when, at age five, her family built a bird table for their Swansea back garden. Now she writes and speaks on her favourite subject in print and on local radio, with a special interest in encouraging the next generation of birders.

 

Frodsham Marsh BirdBlog

Great White Egret at Frodsham Marsh, Cheshire.
Image: Frodsham Marsh BirdBlog

“The sky was full of the song of Skylark and Meadow Pipits which were performing their parachuting display,” writes birder Bill on the Frodsham Marsh BirdBlog. Bill started the site in 2012 as “a virtual replacement for the trusty old birdlog that was situated on the marsh”.

With almost daily posts from birders, this blog will delight and inspire those who want to investigate the Cheshire hotspot. And counting Green-winged Teal and European Honey Buzzards among top spots, you might want to head to Frodsham yourself.

 

Penny’s Hot Birding and Life!

Spotted! A rare Citril Finch at Burnham Overy Dunes, Norfolk.
Image: Penny’s Hot Birding and Life!

“I have seen several MEGAS in Norfolk inc: Ivory Gull, Fan-tailed Warbler, Thrush Nightingale, Pine Bunting, Stilt Sandpiper… Black-headed Bunting, Alder Flycatcher, Collared Flycatcher, Great Snipe, Citril Finch to name but a few!” writes blogger Penny Clarke.

Daughter of Peter Clarke, founder of the Norfolk Ornithologists’ Association, Penny’s birding pedigree is second-to-none. Follow her blog for daily Norfolk bird news, national mega news, her own birding experiences and anecdotes from day-to-day life.

 

The Deskbound Birder

Pine Bunting spotted in Mongolia.
Image: The Deskbound Birder

“My twitching ‘career’ was relatively short… I realised that crowds were not for me and quickly shunned twitching for the far more honourable pastime of looking for my own rares,” writes Simon Colenutt, AKA The Deskbound Birder.

Since the birth of his son and development of his business, Simon is not so deskbound these days. Birding in the UK is generally split between Hampshire and Cornwall, but he’s also an enthusiastic foreign birder. Follow his blog for accounts of birding trips to places as far flung as Mongolia and the Andaman Islands. You’ll be more than a little bit envious.

 

Too Lazy to Weed

A grumpy Redwing in Nicky’s garden.
Image: Too Lazy to Weed

“I’ve nothing against gulls, but I don’t think I can afford the seed bill if they start regularly hoovering up the bird food!” writes Nicky, the blogger behind Too Lazy to Weed. She’s talking about a large gull which availed itself of her bird table during the recent cold snap.

Organic gardening and lazy weeding has resulted in Nicky and husband Chris inadvertently creating a little nature reserve in their Worcestershire back garden. They capture some great stills and video via various remote cameras including pretty Goldcrests, greedy gulls and the grumpy Redwing pictured above.

 

And that’s the end of our roundup of brilliant birding blogs. We hope you’ve found some new sites to add to your list of favourites. If you’ve got any birdy photos you want to share, we’d love to see them over on our Facebook page. 

6 inspiring garden blogs

inspiring gardens

Some gardens are made to inspire – and here are some inspiring garden blogs
Image: shutterstock

Some gardens and gardening blogs are just too good to not to share, which is why we’ve scoured the web to bring you a bunch of superb blogs that showcase some really special gardens and truly dedicated garden owners and keepers. From the Sussex Weald to craggy Cumbria, here are eight extraordinary garden blogs.

The anxious gardener

anxious gardener tulip tree

The tulip tree in spectacular autumn display
Image: The anxious gardener

Here’s your chance for sneaky peek at not one, but two five-acre plus private gardens – one in the South Downs National Park, the other in the Sussex Weald. This charming and well-written blog is gardener David’s way of bringing these enchanting but rather secluded spaces to a wider audience.

You’ll love David’s post about the tulip tree, which having been planted too close to the house in Sussex, presents a pain in the proverbial for the man tasked with clearing the gutters. But every autumn, this large, but unremarkable tree has a chance to shine – and with his wonderful photography, David does his subject full justice.

Growing family

growing family gardening

Make every minute in the garden count
Image: Growing family

Time starved? From lifting your patio containers to prevent winter water-logging, to a reminder to deadhead your summer flowers, blogger Catherine’s 10 minute gardener  series gives you quick, manageable jobs to help you keep on top of your garden when life’s hectic and crazy.

An account of her gardening life which revolves around growing her family as well as her plants, you’ll love reading about Catherine and co’s latest ventures in and out of the garden. From what to look for when choosing outdoor clothing for kids, to family-friendly holiday activities, there’s something for everyone here.

The middle sized garden

middle sized garden

The magic of an overgrown garden
Image: The middle sized garden

“A middle-sized garden doesn’t usually have a drive, and vistas and views tend to be of next door’s garage,” says gardener, author, blogging expert and writing coach, Alexandra Campbell. But that doesn’t mean a middling-sized patch can’t be something special – which is the raison d’etre of this fun, friendly, info-packed blog.

Renovating a garden, and wondering whether to bulldoze the lot? Don’t says Alexandra: There’s a “magic about it that a brand new garden can never hope to achieve.” Take a look at architect, Tom Croft’s extraordinary garden renovation – we guarantee inspiration awaits.

Dinchope diary

dinchope windfall for birds

Leave some of your windfall fruit for the birds
Image: Dinchope

Want to bring more wildlife to your garden but don’t know quite where to start? Let Jenny Steel be your guide. A plant ecologist and author with over 30 years experience as a wildlife gardener, she certainly knows how to make your garden a hotspot for birds and other wildlife.

About thirty percent of us put out seed and peanut mixes to help keep the birds fed during the winter, but do remember give your feeders and bird tables a clean from time to time, Jenny says. “There are several bacterial and viral diseases that affect our birds and these can be passed from one to another in their droppings or by close contact.”

DIY garden

diy garden butterflies

Grow the right plants and the butterflies will come
Image: DIY garden

Help save the butterflies, says Clive Harris – “Gardener, blogger, outdoor enthusiast, husband, dad, and all the rest!” That’s because three quarters of British butterfly species and a quarter of moths have declined over the last 40 years.

Help by growing butterfly-friendly plants, like nettles, bird’s-foot trefoil, nasturtium, garlic mustard, ladies smock, long coarse grasses, oak, elm, holly, and ivy, says Clive. And that’s just for starters – checkout his post for a wealth of information about the lives of our fluttery friends. DIY garden does exactly what it says on the tin – everything you need to help your garden grow.

Growing nicely

borage growing nicely

Jill looks forward to enjoying her Pimms with a sprig of borage in it
Image: Growing nicely

New to gardening and wondering how to harden off your seedlings for planting out? Find an area of dappled shade, says blogger Jill, and, on an overcast day, put your young plants out for a couple of hours before bringing them back inside. Repeat over the next two weeks, gradually extending the outdoor time until the plants adapt to life in the garden.

Blogger Jill is a professional gardener, garden designer, and instructor, and now creates this wonderfully informative blog which showcases her garden, and gardening adventures, from garden visits to how to grow food for the plate. You’ll love her recipe for elderflower cordial.

Have we missed any fab gardening blogs you love to follow? Do let us know what we’re missing by popping over to our Facebook page and leaving us a message.

10 professional gardeners show how it’s done

pro gardener pruning

There’s more to pro gardening than just secateurs
Image: shutterstock

Looking for a bit of gardening inspiration? It’s always nice to know that the hints and tips your favourite garden bloggers pass on are backed up by some verifiable gardening know how. We’ve scoured the web to bring you the scribblings of ten professional gardeners – blogs from green-fingered pros with skills and knowledge to share.

Jack Wallington

jack wallington

Pro gardener Jack takes some inspiration from the Lost Gardens of Heligan
Image: Jack Wallington

Jack’s rock garden may consist of just the one rock – and not even a real rock at that, but it’s worth a look because it’s just the sort of quirky personal growing project you’d expect from an RHS qualified horticulturist who specialises in creating contemporary gardens with unique plantings.

The Sempervivums are just about hanging in there but what’s really required is a bit of moss to provide the growing media for other plant species to grow into. An entertaining and informative blog, there’s so much interesting reading here, a quick visit could last hours.

Driftwood by sea

geoff stonebanks open garden

Geoff’s stunning garden, with the sea as a backdrop
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

If you’d like to see how someone takes a patch of barren, sloping seaside garden and turns it into a major attraction on the National Open Gardens Scheme calendar, you’ve come to the right place. Aided by a small army of volunteers, Geoff Stonebanks now opens his garden to the public to raise money for charity – raising nearly £100K for a variety of charities, including MacMillan Cancer Support.

We think you’ll agree Geoff’s patch is a heck of a garden, and a must-visit-site for anyone growing in harsh salt-laden conditions near the sea. The great Monty Don himself describes Geoff’s East Sussex garden as “a small garden by the sea that’s full of character”.

Pulling weeds

pulling weeds cydonia pruning

Let Graham help you whip your fruit trees into shape with some winter pruning
Image: Pulling weeds

“Trees put out shoots in all directions, which can lead to them becoming quite congested.” Says professional gardener, Graham Wright. If you’re in need of a quick lesson on the art of pruning your fruit trees, here’s a good place to start. With his quince tree doing just that, he’s waited until the dormant time of the year to get his secateurs out.

What you should be looking for is an open shape, Graham says. This lets the most light into the centre of the tree, which is essential if your fruit is to ripen properly. The quince jelly’s on you then Graham.

David Domoney

david domoney buddleja cottage

Buddlejas make an excellent border plant – just remember to prune vigorously
Image: David Domoney

If you’re looking for some low maintenance outdoor plants to help get a beginner gardener off the ground, you’ve come to the right place. TV gardener extraordinaire, David Domoney gives his top five recommendations. He says: “Buddlejas are great for putting into beds and borders if you have recently moved to a place with a larger garden or are branching out from container planting.”

Presenter of ITV’s Love Your Garden, and the resident gardening expert for This Morning, David’s blog is a superb resource for anyone interested in gardening or wildlife. Fancy testing your knowledge of British birds? Why not take David’s fun quiz?

The tattooed gardener

tattoed gardener

Snake’s Head Fritillaries make a colourful spring display
Image: Tattooed gardener

Looking for something a little different to brighten up your spring garden? Take a look at these Snake’s Head Fritillaries nodding their, chequered purple and white, bell-shaped blooms. Most bulbs like free-draining soils says Dennis, aka the tattooed gardener, but not this one, which makes it perfect for wetter conditions.

Former head gardener at Trinity College, Cambridge, Dennis is now a gardener, garden consultant and children’s writer. His blog is a font of gardening knowledge and wisdom, with tats and the odd bit of Megadeth thrown in for good measure.

Mr Plant geek

mr plant geek

This nandina goes from green to pink to bright red
Image: Mr Plant geek

“Every so often, a plant comes along that makes you question whether it’s actually real or not,” says gardening expert (and former T&M Product Development Manager) Michael Perry. He’s talking about the pillar box red leaves of the unbelievably riotous nandina (pink blush) – a low maintenance foliage plant you’ll love for its year-round colour.

Well-written and quirky, you’ll enjoy Michael’s unique take on gardening. As he says, he’s just a tiny bit lazy, which makes him an excellent source of gardening hacks and shortcuts. Check out his post on “wabi-sabi” – the art of imperfect gardening, which is all about relaxed simplicity and asymmetry.

Judi the gardener

dingly dells

Anyone for a Dingly Dell?
Image: Judi the Gardener

How would you fancy having a Dingly Dell in your garden? Garden designer and developer, Judi will build one for you. We’re talking about the ultimate place to relax and unwind, created especially for you.

A former dancer and choreographer Judi says she loves to put on her creative hat to help her clients unmuddle their ideas and make an exciting plan for their outdoor spaces. You’ll love what she’s done with the olive tree at one satisfied customer’s garden.

Katie Rushworth

katie rushworth container pond

Kids will love creating a mini pond to attract wildlife to the garden
Image: Katie Rushworth

You’ll know Katie Rushworth as one of the team from ITV’s Love Your Garden. Here she blogs about her love of gardening, and offers the occasional tidbit of behind the scenes insight from the show.

Check out Katie’s ideas for creating a kids’ mini pond for the garden. She says “A small container pond can be a fantastic way to welcome wildlife and get your little ones involved in a quick and easy project that will bring joy for years to come! “.  Katie’s blog is a treasure trove of helpful advice for gardeners, complete with recipes to help you use up your bumper crops.

Thomas D Stone

thomas stone moving shrub

Thomas demonstrates how to move well-established plantings
Image: Thomas D Stone

If you’ve ever wondered how to move well-established shrubs from the wrong place in your garden to somewhere better, Thomas Stone says it’s all about getting the root ball out of the ground. Not sure how to go about it? Check out his post which gives you a handy step-by-step process to make a success of your transplantation.

With nearly 30 years as an RHS trained professional gardener behind him, Thomas says the key to keeping his passion for gardening alive, is never to stop learning. That’s good news for his readers  – there’s a wealth of gardening knowhow waiting for you here.

Ellen Mary Gardening

ellen mary gardening edible flowers

Add some colour to your food with edible flowers
Image: Ellen Mary Gardening

Gardening can be hard on your back, but not when you follow pro’ gardener, horticultural TV and radio presenter, and blogger Ellen Mary’s advice to go vertical with your planting. From reusing soft drinks bottles to raised beds and making planters from pipes, she’ll soon raise your gardening sights – and if you want to extend your menus, this is the place to start learning about edible flowers!

A self-confessed gardening addict, Ellen Mary is a trustee of Anglia in Bloom, and horticultural coordinator for the Royal Norfolk Show. We don’t know how she finds the time to pack in all her gardening-related occupations. She says, “If the job is to do with gardening – anything goes!”

Do you have a favourite pro’ gardening blog we’ve missed? We’d love to hear from you. Just head on over to our Facebook page and tell us all about it.

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