Lead the Good Life Blog

Winter Wildlife by Adam Woolcott

 

winter-bird

One of the many privileges of being a self-employed gardener over the last 27 years has been discovering the amount wildlife that exists in peoples’ gardens. Over the years I have seen, deer, foxes, weasels, rabbits, hares, squirrels, stoats, hedgehogs, mice, adders, grass snakes, slow-worms, frogs, toads, newts, countless types of birds and even one of the big black cats! And of course all sorts of insects and creepy-crawlies.

When working in so many different gardens and aspects you tend to get a feel for what type of wildlife you’re likely to discover and therefore the conditions in needs to thrive. One thing I’ve really noticed over the years is that nature and wildlife will take advantage of the smallest opportunity in your garden and that you don’t need to go to great lengths in order to attract it. In fact on occasions I’ve even seen wildlife take advantage of areas that we’d rather not even see such as compost heaps, old sheds and piles of dumped rubbish. Of course nobody really wants piles of old tyres and a broken washing machine in their back garden, but there are other very simple things you can do to bring wildlife into your garden.

hedgehog

A few years ago I bought a very old earthenware sink that didn’t even have a plughole, it was only small, about the size of a footrest and only 6” deep. The idea was to fill it with water and just have some ornamental aquatic plants, but to my surprise within weeks three frogs and a newt took up residence and then dragonflies began to hover over the feature. So you can see that even the simplest of water features can attract wildlife.

Just leaving a hidden area of your garden untouched can help wildlife enormously, this allows wild flowers and grasses to grow, creating a habitat that will provide, food, shelter and a place for butterflies for example to lay their eggs.Log piles are probably the most amazing habitat for wildlife benefiting everything from soil bacteria all the way up to foxes and badgers who will feed on juicy worms, slugs and snails attracted to the area. These also make amazing homes for hedgehogs to hibernate and species of mice to name but a few.

Bird baths and bird tables are guaranteed to bring many species of birds into your garden and the use of fat balls and fresh unfrozen water in the winter will be a huge benefit for them.In a nutshell introducing simple features into your garden and leaving small areas untouched will automatically bring wildlife in, where it can feed, breed and feel safe.

Make sure you look after the wildlife in your garden this winter with our expansive range of wildlife products on Lead the Good life.

Office plant of the month – Blueberry ‘Pinkberry’

image-3

November’s office favourite is the Blueberry ‘Pinkberry’; a plant that fruits with pink blueberries that taste even sweeter than normal blueberries.

The bark of the pink berry is intricately patterned – a rough feel – on such a delicate stem. Lime coloured branches shoot off with leaves of rich green.

My pinkberry was first housed on the left of my computer screen but lack of natural light and being potted in a coffee cup didn’t do too much for its health.

The leaves paled and fell sadly on to my desk, and the poor thing just looked limp and lifeless.

I reminded myself that: “a pink berry’s for life not just for one week on an office desk”, and made the decision to take the pink berry home and give it as much TLC and ericaceous plant food as possible.

So I did a little research, wrote a shopping list, and headed off to my local DIY store. The list I took is pictured below:

list

At the local DIY shop I found a 30 cm diameter pot and a bag of ericaceous compost.

Next up the broken tiles; these are used in the bottom of containers to help retain moisture.

With all the equipment needed I set to the task at hand. I began by throwing the tile pieces at the conservatory step to break them up in to smaller pieces. I then layered the bottom of the pot with the pieces before scooping up compost with my hands and planting the pink berry.

Now it stands proud and perky (well a lot perkier) in a pot in the garden, will it survive the winter and fruit in the summer – watch this space!

image-1

Let us know if you choose to join me on the quest to grow these fairy tale fruits

Happy growing – Steve

Buy your very own Blueberry Pinkberry Plant here

 

Discussing Japanese Acers with Adam Woolcott

acer-2

Japanese maples or acers are exquisite garden shrubs or small trees that add elegance, colour, structure and a sense of the exotic to the garden.They’re probably most famously known for the range of mind blowing autumn colours they display. Fiery reds, golden yellows, amazing oranges and other colours in-between.

Many acers not only finish the year changing leaf colour but begin the year doing the same. Many varieties have leaves that emerge in the spring brightly coloured red, orange, pink or yellow before mellowing to softer shades as the leaves mature. Japanese maples also flower in late spring with tiny red or orange flowers that then develop into winged seed pods.

Some varieties have incredibly attractive bark while others have bark that peels off in thin, brown tissue paper like layers.Many varieties of Japanese maple are upright and branched but others weep and hang like bonsai willow trees and look amazing planted near ponds or streams.The array of leaf shapes is quite staggering, most are palmate or hand shaped going from smooth edged leaves to the most incredibly intricate shaped leaves.Even in the winter when the leaves have fallen their elegant branch structure looks fascinating covered in frost or a light fall of snow.

acer-1

They form an essential part of a Japanese style garden but also fit in very well with a tropical or jungle like planting scheme. They’re as happy in pots as they are in the ground.Japanese maples are very easy to grow subject to a few demands. They generally prefer dappled, cool shade, a moist, organic rich soil and despise exposed, windy positions or parts of the garden prone to late spring frosts that can damage the newly emerging foliage.

Plant them very slightly higher or exactly the same level as they were in the pot. Japanese maples have very thin bark and if planted too deep can rot at the base and gradually perish. Following these simple rules you’ll find Japanese maples incredibly easy to grow and they can live for hundreds of years eventually growing into small trees.

In pots they can look glorious under-planted with grasses, ferns or heathers for example and in the garden they associate brilliantly with foxgloves, hostas, black snake grass and liriope, to name but a few.

Every garden, balcony or patio will be enhanced by one of these magnificent plants and if loved and cared for will give you many years of pleasure.

Growing Holly by Adam Woolcott

holly

Holly is an amazing plant, incredibly hardy, drought tolerant, shade tolerant, and easy to grow in almost any situation.Holly has amazing attributes, it’s evergreen, it flowers, has berries which can be red, yellow or even black on some species and has glossy foliage that can be plain green, or variegated with gold or silver coloured leaves. The leaves can be smooth edged, serrated, prickly or even rounded in shape.

Ilex aquifolium or English / common holly grows wild in the Britain and so varieties of it are extremely happy and adaptable when it comes to growing in our gardens.

Holly can also be clipped into fancy topiary shapes, cones, balls or even animals! It makes a fantastic hedge that will remain green all year, have attractive berries and with its prickly foliage deter unwanted intruders!

Holly is known as a “dioecious’ plant meaning that male and female flowers grow on separate plants. This isn’t a problem for pollination in general, as there’s so many holly trees around that cross pollination for berries is pretty much assured. If you are in an isolated spot grow a male and female variety in close proximity to ensure pollination and therefore berries.

hollyyyyy

One strange paradox in the world of holly varieties is that there are two strangely named varieties, ‘Golden king’ is a female variety and ‘Silver queen’ is a male variety, so always read the labels when buying holly plants.

Holly looks so elegant and attractive in the garden as it’s great to use in a formal foliage colour scheme, to grow in pots, to hide ugly structures such as old sheds or for creating interest in the depths of winter.

Use holly topiary in the form of cones or balls for example to create features in the garden and to give beds and borders shape, interest and definition. Standard hollies are particularly elegant with their slender, straight stems and rounded heads of glossy leaves and blood red berries. Plant them in an attractive pot and in the winter plant winter flowering violas or pansies around the base with ivies trailing over the side. In the summer use red geraniums and blue lobelia for trailing.

Hollies provide an air of elegance and romance in the garden and standard hollies look good either side of a front door or at the base or top of steps. If you’re looking for a shrub that ticks all the boxes then holly is certainly at the top of the list, plant it, love it and enjoy it.

November Gardening Tips From Adam Woolcott

november-adam

The first thing to do is check for any house plants you may have put out in the garden for the summer such as Christmas cacti or orchids. Bring them in now and check there are no slugs, snails or other pests on them.

Don’t bring these straight into a hot heated room but into a cool but bright spot in order to acclimatise them. They may shed a few leaves but this isn’t anything to worry about. After a few weeks place them somewhere warm, draught free and with as much natural light as possible.

With many plants it’s not possible to bring them indoors for example palms, bananas and cordylines. Tie the leaves of plants like these loosely together or with hardy bananas cut the leaves off just leaving the thick stem. Create a circular barrier around the plant using chicken wire, clematis netting or bamboo canes. Next loosely push straw inside the circle covering the foliage, as if you were packaging a delicate item for posting.

adam

Finally go around the outside of the barrier with horticultural fleece at least half a dozen times from top to bottom and then tie of the top like the end of a Christmas cracker. Gladioli corms, dahlias and begonias can be lifted, cutting off the dead foliage and allowing them to dry upside down in a cool, dry place for a week. Then store them covered in dry sand or compost somewhere dark, dry and frost free for the winter.

Tough shrubs in pots such as bay or box may just need tucking away near the house or under a large conifer for example. Plants like cannas or dahlias can stay in the ground providing it’s well drained and sunny, but will benefit from a thick layer of bark chippings put over the top to prevent from reaching the roots.

Summer bedding such as fuchsias and geraniums just need to be trimmed back and kept cool, dry and bright for the winter, perhaps a windowsill in an unheated room or a greenhouse with a frost protection heater.

Enjoy putting your plants to bed and look forward to seeing them wake up next spring!

adam-nov-4

How to Grow Lilies

how

Growing Lilies 

One of my favourite cut flowers has to be the lily. Not only do they have massive blooms on top of long sturdy stems but cut flowers last for up to 10 days. And let’s not forget their most gorgeous scent.

You may think that due to the high prices of lilies that they are difficult to grow, but that’s not true at all. Lilies are so easy; you can almost plant the bulb and forget them. Other than feeding and watering them that is all you really do need to do. Why spend lots of money on buying flowers from a florist when you can grow your own?

If you are thinking of growing lilies next year, now is the time to plant them. Although they can be planted from now till spring, it’s a lot easier to plant them now before the ground freezes and when you’re at less risk of frost bite whilst gardening!

What sort of lily shall I grow?

When you search for lilies you will find hundreds of beautiful blooms from the lovely two toned pink blooms of Lily Defender to lofty heights of gold of Tree Lily Golden Rocket. But each of the lilies has their own advantages. Here are three of the most common and easily grown lilies:

Oriental lilies such as ‘Lily Defender Pink’ have massive flowers with a lovely strong scent that will fill a room.  They have roughly 2 to 6 flowers per stem and will come back year after year. The bloom July – September.

Asiatic Lilies have slightly smaller flowers although just as many blooms per stem as the Oriental lilies. They are unscented which some prefer, and they reproduce well. They will double in number nearly every year. They tend to bloom June – August.

Trumpet Lilies have more unusual shaped blooms that the other two lilies. Also with multiple flowers per stem they are also scented but their scent is less powerful than the oriental lily and is sweeter, more like the scent of freesias.

how2

How to grow lilies

The best place to plant lilies is in a sunny position in rich, fertile free-draining yet moist soil. As with all bulbs they need to be planted ~3 times the height of the bulb and they like to be around 15cm (6in) apart.

You can also plant them in containers. Be sure to choose a nice deep container that will allow for the bulbs to be planted 3 times their depth with space for roots. Plant them a little closer than you would in the ground to get a fuller display.

If you live in a windy area, once the lilies start to flower you may want to think about staking them to prevent them bending and snapping. Alternatively you could try the spiral supports which look more aesthetically pleasing than canes and twine.

Aftercare

To get the best from almost any plant it needs fertilising, liles are no exception. From when they first flower to when they start to die back be sure to feed them with a high potassium fertiliser such as tomato feed to get a good display year after year.

They will also need deadheading regularly to encourage more blooms. Snip the dying flower off where it meets the stem.

When cutting the flowers to display inside make sure to leave a third of the stem remaining and do not be tempted to remove the leaves until they have completely died back.  As the plant needs to gather energy to put into the bulb for next year

Tip: To avoid getting covered in lily pollen or getting a tableful of it, just nip off the stamen before bringing them inside (you may wish to wear gloves to do this.) Outdoor lilies need pollination but cut flowers do not, and it reduces the risk of yellow stained clothes and tablecloths.

As with most bulbs lilies can also be lifted and divided. Every few years in Autumn you can dig up your lily bulbs and separate off and new bulbs. They can then be planted as you would initially. Smaller bulbs or bulblets may not flower for a few years so be patient.

how3

Pests and Diseases

One reason people do not grow lilies is for fear of the dreaded lily beetle. The shiny red beetle and grubs will quickly devour the entire plant. Whilst it is sadly quite a common pest, there are varieties of lily that have been bred to be more lily beetle tolerant. If you are worried about encountering this beetle before you give up why not try these new varieties. If you do happen to come across them remove and squash and bugs and lava, or for heavy infestations there some insecticides that will solve the problem.

As with most plants in your garden, lilies do get eaten by slugs and snails so it is important to keep an eye out and remove any of the offenders.

I hope you feel a little bit bolder to trying to growing lilies this year. They really are easy to grow and cut lilies make a perfect gift plus there are so many different shades and sizes they will suit almost anywhere.

How to grow Raspberries & Strawberries

raspberries

Whilst it may not be quite the time of year for you to be thinking about planting strawberry and raspberry plants, now really is the time to do so! If planted now strawberry plants will give you 50% better yield next summer than if you plant them in the spring. And raspberry canes planted now will have time to get properly established before the cold weather sets in and they will thank you for it.

There are two types of raspberry plants; summer fruiting and autumn fruiting. For a long period of harvesting it’s best to plant a few of both or try our full-season collection. Summer fruiting varieties will need supporting with a fence, wall or framework, unless you try the new dwarf patio variety, Ruby Beauty. Autumn fruiting varieties will normally not need a support. Although they tolerate shade raspberry plants prefer a good sunny spot in the garden in fertile, well drained soil. It’s best to mix in some organic matter such as compost or manure.

strawberries

As with raspberries there are a few different varieties of strawberries; alpine strawberries which produce lots of small sweet berries, summer fruiting strawberries which produce heavy flushes of larger fruits in early and midsummer, and ‘ever-bearing’ strawberries which produce smaller flushes of fruits from early summer to early autumn. We also have a full-season collection of strawberries to make life even easier for you. Strawberries are best planted in spring or autumn in a sunny and sheltered position in fertile soil (mix in lots of organic matter to get a really good yield!).

When you plant them make sure to plant the crown at soil level, plant them too deeply and they could rot, too high and they can dry out and die.
If you are lacking in space in your vegetable garden or even just have a balcony you can easily plant strawberries in hanging baskets and containers. This also helps to keep away slugs and snails! Just be sure to keep an eye on the compost to make sure it doesn’t dry out.
One important thing to think about when planting both these fruits is that you will need access to harvest them. This is especially important with strawberries as you could end up trampling your fruits (something that we have learnt the hard way).

How to Successfully Grow Bulbs

bulbs banner

If you haven’t done so already you’d better get planting your spring bulbs before the weather gets too cold. Bulbs can be planted in containers, borders or even amongst your lawn so there is no excuse not to plant some.

Different species will need different growing conditions but in general all bulbs need well drained soil that won’t get waterlogged in winter (this will cause your bulbs to rot). They also need to be planted growing tip upwards and at roughly 3 times their height in depth. If you aren’t sure which way round is the growing tip, simply plant them on their side (this is also handy for Fritillaria bulbs which rot very easily, planting them on their side prevents water entering them).

You may have heard of naturalised planting. This is where the bulbs are scattered across the planting area and planted where they land. This prevents planting bulbs in straight lines which look unnatural and strange in a border or amongst a lawn. If you do plant them in your lawn be careful walking on the ground straight afterwards as this can damage the bulb whilst the ground settles.

allium2

How to successfully grow bulbs

1. Whilst bulbs may be in stock in your local garden centre from mid summer onwards you can really wait until mid to late autumn to plant them. The longer in the ground the more time they have to rot. So October and even November is the perfect time to plant them. It’s not cold enough for the ground to be solid or for you to get frozen whilst planting them

2. In order to keep your bulbs coming back year after year you need to wait till their foliage completely die back before removing it or cutting it back. This foliage is gathering energy for the flower next year. So whilst you may want to cut it all off as it becomes unsightly, unless you want to buy and plant more bulbs next year it’s best to leave them be.

3 .Remember where you plant them! There’s nothing worse than doing weeding in the middle of summer and accidentally spearing a clump of bulbs. I’m sure we’ve all been there! In reality it is not easy to remember where you planted your bulbs, so a little bit of common sense comes into play. Use the plant labels (or plant sticks) to mark where you put them. Or even better you can use our bulb baskets to lift your bulbs out of the ground completely. You can even do this when the foliage is starting to die back and let them die back completely in the basket before storing them in a cool dry place in a breathable bag.

4. One of the main predators of bulbs is squirrels. Mice can also prove to be a nuisance. If this does happen place some chicken wire over the pot or area. Once the shoots start poking through it is safe to remove it.

We hope this will inspire you to get outside and plant some bulbs

allium4

Product Showcase : Green Velvet Lawn Seed

BannerThe Royal Barenbrug Grou is a hugely accomplished global seed company that has grown into the world’s largest grass seed producers. The family run business started in 1904, and over the years have developed their own breeding stations in various climates in both the northern and the southern hemisphere.

Barenbrug have been perfecting grass seeds for over 100 years, becoming a well-valued name you can truly believe in. Distributing more than 4,000 tonnes of grass all over the world; lawns, pastures, golf courses and football grounds are being sewn with barenbrugs grass seeds. Something they have specialised like no other company.

In 2011, they treated Manchester City Football Club to a sneak preview of their breakthrough product – Regenerating Perennial Ryegrass (RPR). This creeping perennial ryegrass promises to be of great benefits for football, rugby and other sports surface applications. The product is now in in-field trials at seven sites across the UK, with conference attendees given an early opportunity to trial this unique Barenbrug-bred cultivar as part of the final stages of testing their commercial launch.

man city

The finest-quality seeds are used for golf greens all over, so that the ball will smoothly roll over the closely mowed grass. Also used at the Aintree Racecourse, tolerating very heavy wear. Barenbrug are devoted to satisfying client needs, ensuring customers can make their choice from a global range of grass seeds and varieties. This really is a grass seed to rely on.

Lead the Good Life are now launching the incredible ‘Velvet Green’ Lawn Seed. A collaboration between PlantWorks and Barenbrug; this is the first, and currently the only lawn seed to carry endorsement from the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). Suitable for creating new lawns, overseeding and repairing patches, this fantastic perennial ryegrass has a strong creeping habit that is quickly established and chosen for its natural toughness and vitality.

Velvet Green copes easily with everyday family use and holds in enough nutrients to keep it looking great for longer. The seed uses ‘rootgrow’ mycorrhizal fungi, which is a beneficial fungi that slowly builds up so that it can soak in nutrients from the soil. This increases water uptake, lessening the need for watering – an impressive environmental credential!

“The RHS has used Barenbrug seed and recognises the heritage of the company, both in terms of its seed breeding and research programmes, and its international achievements. We are delighted to collaborate in the launch of the first Green Velvet product for the UK retail market and look forward to developing the relationship to offer additional premium products to the market in the coming years.” - RHS’ Giant Tripp.

PlantWorks and Barenbrug believe that this is the seed to become the number one choice for gardeners, produced to the highest possible standards, it’s no wonder they received the RHS seal of approval.

This range includes the awesome All Rounder for everyday lawns, The Life Saver for quick repairs, The Shady One for use under trees and shady areas, The Action Hero, a hard wearing mixture for high traffic and wear, and the fine and luxury Perfectionist. So you’re sure to find the perfect lawn seed for your needs. Whether you want a beautiful show lawn or a tough lawn for sports and recreation, Green Velvet will never disappoint!

allrounder Tlifesavertheshadyoneactionherotheperfectionist

A Sense Of Place by Max Smith

Capture

We’ve stumbled upon some great inspiration this morning in the shape of a short film by filmmaker Max Smith. This is the first in a series of films that highlight the beauty of hidden wild habitats across Britain.

Today we see an intimate take on Argyll Forest Park, which we’re sure lots of you will enjoy.

www.maxsmith.tv