It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

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When I was a small child I always thought the plants, the birds and wildlife in the garden were all celebrating Christmas just like the rest of us. The sprouts were just waiting to be picked, knowing they were special; the new potatoes in the bucket were honoured by being pampered in the greenhouse just for this special day. As if they were all a little like the Magi, journeying through the months ready to worship the New Born King on our Christmas dinner plates.

If you have sprouts in the garden, take a bowl out with some ice in it, and cut the buds off into this. They will remain tight and unblown. Sometimes we forget, pick enough for a few days of feasting, and by Christmas morning, their leaflets have loosened.

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Parsnips, our longest growing vegetable in the garden, are at their best following a frost, and this year we have had a week or so of cold – they should be really fine. Collect them on Christmas morning, top and tail them and give them a jolly good wash. Microwave and then add butter – I could eat just them alone!

I always try to grow some baby carrots in sandy tubs for Christmas, and, if you have some, just run them under the tap to get rid of the grit – it is amazing how grit gets everywhere, and you don’t want it in your gravy! I always add the carrot water to the gravy – especially since I give them an extra knob of butter to boil in – you get an ever so rich gravy that way.

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Traditionally, Christmas is a time for sowing onions, so if you want a couple of hours away from the madness of Boxing Day, pop off to the shed and sow your next year’s stock. I always sow them in a large wooden box of compost, (far too many according to the books, but they tease apart really easily) and transplant in the late Spring.

I do hope you get something ‘gardening’ for Christmas. Last year someone bought me a kneeler – and boy, is it useful. I can now get down to basics on my hands and knees without messing my trousers and I don’t get so tired.

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One last thing for the kids is to grow your pineapple tops. If you have a fresh pineapple this Christmas, tease back the leaves to find some buds. Carefully pull them out and plant them in small pots of compost and keep them warm. Of the ten buds you find, five will grow, and then next year you will have some pineapple plants to give to a favourite aunt for Christmas. They are handsome and unusual little house plants.

Do have a wonderful holiday and don’t forget, when you are eating your Christmas Dinner – are the birds topped up with wild bird food? After all, it’s their Christmas too.

Merry Christmas from me and all of the team at Primrose!

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Save the bees!

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Our Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is looking at the consequences of restricting the use of imadacloprid, the most widely used insecticide in the world. A series of publications appeared in 2012 bringing the severe impact of this insecticide to light. Over the past few weeks the media have latched on to this and discussion is building around the idea to ban this particular pesticide. The current debate centralises on the impacts for farmers and the chemical companies which profit from pesticide production.

What is imadacloprid?

Imadacloprid is a chemical insecticide known as a neonicitinoid. This toxin was selected for its purpose as it is more toxic to insects than to mammals. It irreversibly blocks insect nervous systems causing paralysis and death. It is applied and injected into plants and soil in many different ways, as a seed treatment, and in liquid or granular form. As it is systemic, once taken up by roots it can be transported to all parts of the plant. Thus any insect visitor can become poisoned via feeding on pollen or nectar. Imadacloprid builds up in the soil year on year, with many crops being treated multiple times a year.

Why should I care about bees?

As most people know pollinators such as bees are vital for food production. Bumblebees are our most efficient pollinator and for a range of reasons their populations have been falling. Starvation and habitat loss due to insufficient food sources are frequently cited as major factors, but pesticide misuse is clearly one of the biggest issues that need to be overcome if we want to bring back the sound of Summer.

What can I do?

There is a lot you can do in your own garden to help boost bumblebee numbers. By planting colourful pollinator-friendly plants throughout the Spring and Summer you can attract bees and butterflies. When buying plants check with your garden centre to find out if they’ve used neonicitinoids. We sell a selection of pollinator friendly plants in our plants section and as Spring draws near we will be letting you know more about what plants are best to help you create a wildlife garden.

You can also support Charities such as the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

It took ten years from the publication of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring until DDT was banned in the US in 1972. DDT was a chemical pesticide used in large quantities regardless of a lack of a full understanding on its harmful impacts on ecology and human health, and was not banned in The UK until 1984. The toxicity of imadacloprid has resulted in both France and Germany banning the use of the toxin, and The UK is now under pressure to take action too.

Petition your MP to make your voice heard.

Claire small Claire is a member the Primrose marketing team, working on online marketing.

She trained as a Botanist and has an MSc in Plant Diversity where she specialised in Plant and Bumblebee ecology.

She writes our ecology themed articles.

Mr Digwell’s December Tips

December is an important month in the garden, and it is great working next to Robins and various wildlife skittering in and out of the garden in search of food. Lately there have been a lot of Long Tailed Tits stopping by for a chat.

Soil

It’s been hard work in the rain and cold, but ridging the vegetable bed is an important way of helping the soil. Essentially it allows a greater area of soil to be exposed to the elements and therefore to break down naturally. Also, the action of the rain brings nitrates back into the soil – did you know that by ridging you can increase the amount of nitrates in the soil? It is one of the reasons why farmers leave the land ploughed, it improves the fertility of the soil!

Buddleia

Now I have a bit of a problem. I have a Buddleia which needs cutting, but it is in constant use. On the wall of the cottage there is a bird feeder and the birds come and sit in the bush before taking their turn on the feeder! But the problem is this: in order to maintain a really good bush it has to be cut back. If I do it will come back next year with no trouble. But if I don’t it will just become a straggling mess. Out come the pruning shears I’m afraid. I just hope that the birds won’t mind and will still come to the feeder!

Once cut back, I will mulch the base, after clearing away any weeds there may be. You can give it a serious haircut, cutting it back to around 30 cm (1 ft) from the ground. The buds will burst into life in the Spring and the bush will be just as tall as it was last year, but the flowers will be better.

Bare rooted trees

I like to prepare the ground a few weeks prior to planting because this gives the soil a chance to rest. Dig a large hole and half fill it with 50% well-rotted manure and 50% compost and then refill in with your dug out soil. In a couple of weeks you can plant in this mixture.

Don’t forget to support your new trees with a stake and make sure it is really firm. After a week or so you can revisit the newly planted trees and heel them in. This is important because rocking trees do not do well, it troubles new root growth.

Potatoes

Start potatoes! Yes! Start potatoes – not many, just a few. Pop them in a box of compost and keep frost free. In the New Year they can be planted into a frost free greenhouse or polytunnel and ignored, so you have, by Easter, something of a crop – assuming Easter falls in May! Use First Early varieties; these are the only ones that will work in this way. Give them a little water, not too much, and they will surprise you.

Dahlias

Early dahlias are fun to try. If you wrapped your tubers in newspaper and popped them under the stairs – it always was under the stairs for us, but any frost free place is good, then you can try planting some of them in the warm, in large pots of good compost. If you have a conservatory, this is the ideal place. Give them a little water and they will flower in May or early June.

This is the first ever gardening I did as a boy, both my father and grandfather were wild about dahlias, perhaps it was the ten guineas they almost invariably won at the flower show that was the interest. Back then it was almost a month’s wages!

General

Make sure that, every morning, you air the greenhouse – especially if you are actively growing in it. This way the chances of damping off and other fungal infections are reduced.

If you have a rockery, with fairly delicate plants, take some time to remove excess water so they are not broken up by the constant freezing and refreezing. Most alpines are fairly hardy, after all it is fairly cold living up in the mountains where many of them come from, but they do not like to be cold and wet.

Bring strawberries into the greenhouse for forcing. If you want brilliant fruits for Wimbledon, then cloche your strawberries and keep them warm. But to provide fruit even earlier – get them indoors in large pots.

It is also a good time to force rhubarb. We used to dig up the roots and leave them to overwinter on the surface but if you bring a couple indoors, pop them in a large box of compost (I use an old brood box from a beehive) and let them grow in the warm, you will get early rhubarb.

Work if you haven’t already done it includes:

  • Cleaning everything – disinfect tools, pots, work surfaces, greenhouse glass, water butts.
  • Turn the compost heap and insulate the thing so it doesn’t lose too much heat in the winter.
  • Dig out the borders for new bedding, and give onion and carrot beds for next year a really fine loamy soil by plenty of hoeing.
  • Manure potato beds.
  • Go round the garden firming in so the wind doesn’t rock the life from them.
  • Spend 15 minutes of each day, peeping out of the door of the shed or greenhouse, feeling good to be alive.

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Paul Peacock studied botany at Leeds University, has been the editor of Home Farmer magazine, and now hosts the City Cottage online magazine. An experienced gardener himself, his expertise lies in the world of the edible garden. If it clucks, quacks or buzzes, Paul is keenly interested.

He is perhaps best known as Mr Digwell, the cartoon gardener featured in The Daily Mirror since the 1950s. As Mr Digwell he has just published his book, A Year in The Garden. You can also see more about him on our Mr Digwell information page.

Rabbits, Primroses, Lavender and Slugs!

We have received several questions for our gardening expert Mr Digwell lately. Here are his answers:

What kind of plant can plant that bunny rabbits don’t eat?

There are lots of rabbit proof plants. My favourites are Astilbe – with their wonderfully coloured flowers, Galanthus (snowdrops) because they are so wonderfully cute and Hydrangeas. Actually the RHS do a list here.

Why are stems on my primrose weak so it flops?

They are too wet, and probably rotting within. You can dig them up and add a little grit to new compost. Dig a large hole (twice the size of the plant, and then plant in 50% compost 50% grit.

How to care for mini lavender plugs?

Keep them frost free, preferably in a cool greenhouse over winter and then plant them next spring. I say this because the soil is far to wet at the moment and they might rot. Don’t over water over the winter.

How to apply slug bait to hanging plants?

Not easy this one! If they are in a hanging basket put a layer of grease to the fixings and they won’t come – but keep renewing it weekly. If on a tree, try grease bands, they seem to work to keep them climbing up.

Mr Digwell gardening cartoon logo

Paul Peacock studied botany at Leeds University, has been the editor of Home Farmer magazine, and now hosts the City Cottage online magazine. An experienced gardener himself, his expertise lies in the world of the edible garden. If it clucks, quacks or buzzes, Paul is keenly interested.

He is perhaps best known as Mr Digwell, the cartoon gardener featured in The Daily Mirror since the 1950s. As Mr Digwell he has just published his book, A Year in The Garden. You can also see more about him on our Mr Digwell information page.

The Coldest Journey – with Warmawear™ by Primrose

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Tomorrow is the official start of The Coldest Journey and the SA Agulhas will depart London to arrive in Novolazarevskaya, Antarctica, around mid-January. The team, led by Sir Ranulph Fiennes, will attempt to cross the Antarctic over a six month period and are estimated to be spending 273 days on ice with an average of 35km per day. Most of that time will be spent in complete darkness and with possible temperatures as low as -70°C!

In this time the team will have to be entirely self-sufficient as a rescue won’t be possible. Additionally they had to apply for a permit for a winter expedition in Antarctica which is the first time the Foreign & Commonwealth Office has granted one.

Crossing the Antarctic during winter is seen as one of the last great polar challenges. It was first crossed in 1958, but this will be the first time that a winter crossing is attempted.

We are proud that they are considering our Warmawear™ heated clothing range and have trialled our heated gloves and heated insoles which, powered off a strong central battery unit, will protect them against the harsh and life-threatening conditions, such as frostbite.

We wish Sir Ranulph Fiennes and the six explorers all the best!

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Primrose – keeping the nation warm this winter.

wedding-meCat works in the marketing team and is responsible for online marketing, social media and the newsletter.

She spends most of her time reading about a variety of interesting facts, such as oddly named Canadian towns, obscure holidays and unusual gardening.

She mostly writes about Primrose news and current events.