Tuesday, 27 October 2009

More about bees

I just have to mention this important topic again (previous blog here). A programme on Radio 4 last week – “The Plight of the Bumblebee” – emphasised the importance of bumblebees to pollination. Apparently bumblebee tongues are generally longer than those of honeybees, and able to pollinate differently-shaped flowers. The Bumble Bee Conservation Trust says that, of our 27 native bumblebees, 3 are extinct, and several others threatened. The decline in bumblebees not only adversely affects our food supplies, but the general colour of our countryside, where wildflower species will disappear, impacting on other wildlife which is dependent on these plants.

The Radio 4 programme had some interesting snippets: the use of specially-trained dogs to seek out bumblebee nests in the wild; bumblebees giving a high-pitched buzz while inside a flower, to dislodge the pollen; large areas of land at Dungeness being planted with bumblebee-friendly meadows, where short-haired bumblebees are to be re-introduced from New Zealand, where they were sent from Britain over a century ago (see also here).

As pointed out in “The Plight of the Bumblebee”, if you take all the gardens (and even window boxes) in Britain, the area of land equals more than all of our conservation areas put together, so we can all do our part by growing just a few bee-friendly plants, and avoid modern bedding plants, which are mainly sterile hybrids, with no pollen.
More links on bumblebees:





Thursday, 22 October 2009

Hillier Nurseries Cash & Carry

A big thank you to Hillier Nurseries “Cash & Carry” for their trade open day last week. This proved a very popular event with garden designers, landscape architects and landscapers coming along from a wide geographic area. We were treated in several ways – firstly, and most importantly, with a tour of the revised cash & carry facility (formerly known as the “LCS” – Landscape Collection Service) which showed the huge range of stock – in both variety and sizes – now available, and the very much improved layout which will make browsing the stock for substitutions, extras or even new ideas / inspirations a more time-effective proposition for professionals. The tours were guided by Andrew McIndoe, Deputy MD of Hillier Garden Centres & Nurseries, and Jim Hillier, with his excellent knowledge of all-things-trees.

After the tour, the Hillier team extended their hospitality with tea/coffee and great cakes before a presentation by Andrew on some simple planting combinations to make fabulous use of foliage textures and colours for both border schemes and patio containers. We were then free to wander around the site before leaving with our “goodie bag” containing some notes based on Andrew’s talk, the Cash & Carry stock list, a Heuchera ‘ Peach Flambe’ and a copy of Andrew & Rosamond McIndoe’s book “Planting with Trees” (pub. David & Charles, 2007, ISBN-13: 978-0-7153-2717-3) which is part of the Hillier Gardener’s Guides series.

Hillier Nurseries Cash & Carry is in Jermyns Lane, Ampfield, near Romsey and can be contacted by phone on 01794 368832 or by email at: landscapecolllection@hillier.co.uk

Monday, 19 October 2009

Seed Banks

I was interested to hear about the milestone for the Kew Millennium Seed Bank on Radio 4’s Today programme recently. They have just banked the 24,200th plant species - a Chinese pink wild banana that is much loved by Asian elephants – bringing them to their initial target of collecting 10% of the world’s known wild plant species.

Apparently four plant species risk extinction every day, and the seed bank partnership is working to collect and save seeds worldwide. Kew’s seed bank is based at Wakehurst Place, but their partners around the world also have seed conservation centres. The collection is being used for scientific research, helping poor communities adapt to climate change, for medical research, and for restoring extinct species to the wild. Kew has an “adopt-a-seed” initiative for as little as £25.

On a more down-to-earth level (sorry for the pun) the charity Garden Organic (formerly the Henry Doubleday Research Organisation) maintains a heritage seed library which aims to conserve varieties of vegetables not otherwise widely available. Rather than being a gene bank, they say, they will make all of their seeds available to their members. They are protecting over 800 varieties of seed, mainly European varieties, from the threat of extinction. Garden Organic have an “adopt-a-veg” scheme for just £20.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Climate Change and Gardens - Blog Action Day

This is Blog Action Day, which this year concentrates on Climate Change. I am pleased to be participating in this important event, which aims to raise awareness of an urgent topic which affects us all - not only from damage to the environment but also with the threats of flooding, famine, increased risk of wars and creation of millions more refugees.

As I’ve touched on before in this blog, the gardener can address in small but important ways the environmental challenges which face the world. Whether by providing better conditions for wildlife (see here and here), growing vegetables in small spaces to save food miles (see here and here), encouraging an interest in the environment in young people, through school gardens, or better handling of rain water through rain gardens, we can all make a contribution. The mass effect of each garden in the world becoming just a little more sustainable would surely make a huge contribution to improving climate change.

Some further things to think about if you’re planning to redesign part of your domestic garden or the outside space of your business:

DO: use reclaimed materials where possible for structures, containers and so on - find a local salvage or reclamation yard and re-use items such as old flagstones, bricks, tiles, chimney pots, scaffold boards, sleepers and other architectural salvage – it will bring character into your garden instead of stark/bland brand-new materials;
DO: use recycled crushed concrete as sub-base material for hard landscaping instead of freshly quarried crushed limestone;
DO: use crushed recycled glass as mulch instead of freshly quarried gravel or stone/slate chips – but only if it’s available locally;
DO: cut down or cut out cement usage in hard landscape elements – cement accounts for more than 5% of the world’s CO2 production – which is more than the oft-criticised aviation industry:
Concrete is the second most used product on the planet, after water ... No company will make carbon-neutral cement any time soon. The manufacturing process depends on burning vast amounts of cheap coal to heat kilns to more than 1,500C. It also relies on the decomposition of limestone, a chemical change which frees carbon dioxide as a byproduct... Cement plants and factories across the world are projected to churn out almost 5bn tonnes of carbon dioxide annually by 2050 - 20 times as much as the government has pledged the entire UK will produce by that time.”
DO: use natural stone for garden walls rather than manufactured products if they are available locally; use dry-built stone walls with soil/compost and stone chips to even out the courses rather than cement mortar; planting into the crevices with suitable species (e.g. mat-forming rock garden / alpine plants) as the wall is built will improve the look of the wall and the plant roots will help to bind the walling stone together;
DO: use natural stone paving rather than manufactured concrete slabs if it’s available locally. Wherever possible, for pedestrian purposes, lay it on compacted sand, not cement mortar, and use wider, gravel-filled joints instead of mortar joints – it will look attractive and drain better. Make it even more special by including pockets of planting such as creeping thymes and stonecrop;
DO: ensure your timber, if not reclaimed, is from an FSC source which guarantees that the foresting is sustainable;
DO NOT: use tropical hardwoods without being absolutely sure of their provenance and credentials – the last thing we need is more rainforest cutting down!
DO NOT: use pressure-treated timber if it can be avoided – the chemicals used are mainly petro-chemical derivatives, are harmful to the environment, and the timber cannot be recycled (nor easily used as fuel, due to chemical release) at the end of the product’s life;
DO: consider “composite” decking materials, if you’re planning a deck. This is manufactured from waste hardwood and recycled waste plastic – OK it has a high energy input to manufacture, but it has an extremely long life, and doesn’t need chemical treatment to maintain it during its life;
DO: consider introducing a “green roof” on any flat or shallow-pitched structure, whether a part of your house or an outbuilding. Not only do green roofs look good and add environmental habitat, they slow down and help clean rainwater runoff – especially if used in conjunction with rainwater harvesting or rain gardens. They also add insulation, so reducing energy consumption - which saves you money! The transpiration effect of green roof planting can help to cool city climates in summer, they absorb CO2 and replenish Oxygen in the air as well as helping to filter out gaseous and particulate pollutants. Remember though, to first check the additional weight which will be introduced, and the load-bearing capacity of the existing roof/wall structure!
DO: try to find space for a compost heap/bin to transform your kitchen & garden waste into wonderful soil improver – saves energy of transporting it to the local recycling tip, adds nutrients back into your soil, keeping it “in good heart” - use it as a mulch and let the earthworms do the work for you!

What are your thoughts on how garden design can help fight climate change?
Please add a comment!

Here are 12 suggestions for actions which YOU can take from the Blog Action Day website:
Sign the Tck Tck Tck campaign's "I am ready" pledge supporting an ambitious, fair and binding climate agreement in Copenhagen this fall: tcktcktck.org/people/i-am-ready

Register for the 350.org International Day of Climate Action October 24: http://www.350.org/

Join the UK Government's "Act on Copenhagen" effort to promote a global deal on climate change: www.actoncopenhagen.decc.gov.uk/en

Learn and act with The Nature Conservancy's Planet Change site: change.nature.org

Watch and help promote Current TV's green-themed video journalism at: current.com/green

Support strong climate legislation in the US by making calls to your Senators with 1Sky: tools.advomatic.com/13/calls

Put yourself on the Vote Earth map and upload your photos, pictures and weblinks to show the world future you want to see: www.earthhour.org/home

Put yourself on the Vote Earth map and upload your photos, pictures and weblinks to show the world future you want to see: www.earthhour.org/home

Join the Greenpeace cool IT challenge campaign to turn IT industry leaders into climate advocates and solution providers: www.greenpeace.org/international/campaigns/climate-change/cool-it-challenge

Add your personal story and tell the world what you will miss the most when you lose it to climate change with the United Nations Foundation Climate Board: www.unfoundation.org/global-issues/climate-and-energy/its-getting-personal

Find the latest and most popular climate change actions online at globalwarming.change.org

Join the Causecast community and find new ways to get involved with organizations working to end climate change. Watch videos, read news and support one of the many environmental nonprofits on Causcast. www.causecast.org/environment

Monday, 5 October 2009

Throwing Light on Garden Design

Many enthusiastic people put a lot of effort into planning their gardens, making sure that it suits their daytime needs, but often, in my experience, completely overlook extending the use of the garden into night time. Having invested money in making a garden such a splendid leisure space, why not make it usable for longer? Not only can a good lighting design offer greater flexibility in garden use during summer months, but it can also provide a magical nightscape as seen from the house or conservatory, adding drama and atmosphere to the whole scene all year round.
There are 4 main uses of outside lighting – functional lighting is used to illuminate areas such as dining and entertaining spaces on patios or terraces, or for leisure areas such as pools, hot tubs, spaces for sitting and relaxing with a book, etc; safety lighting is used to mark paths, steps, archways, walls or other obstacles, edges of pools, trip hazards and so on; security lighting would normally be used in conjunction with motion sensors to floodlight areas such as drives and sides/back of properties and outbuildings, and might also be linked in with CCTV recording, or with automatic gate or garage door systems; decorative lighting is used for creating the nightscape scenes by “painting” light onto trees, plants and hard landscape features - using light and shade, shadows, halos, silhouettes, textures, and, perhaps, colours, to transform the garden views into something which could not be achieved in daylight.
Various types of lights - more correctly called luminaires (technically lamp is the bit which gives out light, i.e. what’s loosely called a “bulb”) - can be used for these different purposes. Some are fixed onto walls or other structures, or even attached to trees; some can be set into a lawn, patio or deck; others are free-standing such as bollards alongside a drive, or as pole or spike spotlights used within planting. There are a wealth of styles for the luminaires, from traditional “coach lamp” and lantern styles through to uber-modern chic; they come in finishes of stainless, copper, brass, or colours like black and green. The lamps used can either be mains voltage or low voltage - using weather-proof transformers located near to the string of luminaires to step down the mains to a level (typically 12v or 24v) which is safe even if you accidentally chop through a cable whilst gardening. They will usually be one of 3 types depending on their purpose – most commonly tungsten-halogen (similar to those used in kitchen ceiling downlights) which offer a very wide range of light output (wattage) and beam spread, and can also be faded up & down with suitable equipment. The second type, LED lamps, are highly efficient and stay cool, so they are especially useful in situations such as deck lights or other places where accidental contact with people or animals is a possibility; they also have a very long lifetime and can give out blue, amber, red & green light as well as white light - devices are available to mix the light colours to provide an infinitely variable range of hues which can even be changed to match the mood or occasion, or can be programmed to create varying colour light shows for parties. The third main type is metal-halide lamps which give out high-powered, intense light used for the uplighting of large trees or faces of buildings.

As an aside, the cheap, solar-powered devices now widely available from garden centres, DIY stores and the like are not really viable for effective garden lighting. While the glow they emit (usually low-powered LEDs) means they themselves can be seen over a relatively short range, they do not have the power to illuminate other objects (e.g. plants, steps, etc. as described above), nor to be seen from any distance. They may just about provide “way-marking” along the sides of paths or “twinkle” lights around a small, otherwise dark, feature which is close to the viewing position. Remember too, if you use these, that they must be in a reasonably sunny area in daytime to charge them up – so no use trying to illuminate a path shaded by trees!

Unless you’re using the units to make a “design statement” (e.g. modern stainless steel on a chic terrace), the aim of a well-designed system is to see the lightscape – the results of lighting featured objects - not to see the lights themselves. Carefully considered lighting achieves this without causing “light pollution” to annoy neighbours or glare to make the scene uncomfortable.
As well as basic on/off switching, modern professional lighting systems can be designed to control all of the system, or specific parts of the system, from a portable, wireless remote control unit, with different zones allowing for multiple options of switching and dimming.
By defining which areas of the garden need lighting - deciding on the type of lighting to enhance each feature, and where lights will be placed for maximum effect - a professional lighting plan will provide a scheme to serve all needs, whether safety, security, functionality or decoration. Ideally, this will be undertaken as part of the overall garden design such that the best synergy is achieved and the practicalities of installing the lighting can be done at the same time as other disruptive hard landscaping work, saving costs against grafting on a lighting design once the “daytime” project has already been completed.
If you would like a free consultation to discuss professional outside lighting, whether as part of a new design scheme or for an existing garden, please contact me via my website.
If you fancy doing a bit of research yourself, there's an online catalogue of lighting components here, along with design advice and hints & tips.

Finally, remember that (in the UK) it is a legal requirement for outside electrical work to be carried out by a competent, “Part-P” qualified electrician. Always ask for the Part-P certificate on completion of the works – without this you may encounter difficulties if you subsequently come to sell your property.