New Year in the garden

Hi, my name is Peter Frances a.k.a. the Hairygardener

This month I want to say a few words about foraging, maybe there isn’t a lot of plants and herbs growing well at this time of year but this is the time to familiarise yourself with basic foraging plants by recognising them from the countryside and your gardens and also from guide books. So this topic I think will be what I write about for most of the coming year.

Foraging for wild food should be a way of life for all serious foodies whether you live in the countryside or in the city. Kids should be encouraged to get out there and forage away from technology, even if it’s only for blackberries.

You and the kids will feel an enormous sense of achievement and satisfaction that comes from being involved in the creation of something that is food you have foraged for. It is a healthy way of shopping (I might keep that as a slogan).

The first step in foraging is to familiarise yourselves with a few plants in the analytic sense, then quickly follow this up by cooking and eating them.

Before the day is out when the time is right for you, go outside, into your garden, a local park or a nearby country lane and try and locate a familiar edible plant.

You will almost certainly recognise one of the following: nettle, dandelion, blackberry, rose or rose hip. Other likely candidates are elderflower (or elderberry), chickweed and crab apple.

Take a pair of secateurs or scissors with you and gloves for nettles and cut a good section of the plant and a good quantity of the leaf, flower or fruit with which to cook. In case of dandelion cut it just below all the leaves so they stay together.

Once you get home, refer to the description of the plant you have gathered and look at each detail: the shape of the leaf, the length of the leaf stalk, whether the leaf has toothed edges or is divided into leaflets.

By starting with a plant whose identity you already know you have a distinct advantage, rather than using the description to identify the plant, you can use it to familiarise yourself with various common characteristics of plants.

For example you can notice perhaps for the first time that nettle leaves are cordate or oval, have toothed edges and are arranged in opposite pairs (they also have stalks, the presence or absence of which identifies many plants.)

So familiarise yourself with plants around you it’s important.

Until next time Good Gardening

Posted by on January 12th, 2016


The story of holly leaves and berries

Hi, my name is Peter Frances a.k.a. the Hairygardener

For most of us the sight of Holly leaves and berries is inextricably linked with Christmas, whether we celebrate this as a secular or a religious festivity.

Christmas brings with it many traditions and it is probably the one time when many of us still practice at least a few old folklore customs. In some parts of Britain holly was formerly referred to merely as Christmas, and in pre-Victorian times ‘Christmas trees’ meant holly bushes.

Though holly doubtless was, and still is, brought into the house for its shiny green leaves and red berries, which reflect the light and add colour to the dark days of Yule, it has another significance as well.

Christian symbolism connected the prickly leaves with Jesus crown of thorns and the berries with the drops of blood shed for humanity’s salvation as is related, for example, in the Christmas carol, The Holly and the Ivy.

Yet even here the reference to these two plants refers to a pre Christian celebration, when a boy would be dressed in a suit of holly leaves and a girl similar in ivy to parade around the village, bringing nature through the darkest part of the year to re-emerge for another years fertility.

Holly was also brought into the house to protect the home from malevolent fairies or to allow fairies to shelter in the home without friction between them and the human occupants.

Whichever of prickly-leaved or smooth-leaved holly was brought into the house first dictated whether the husband or wife respectively were to rule the household for the coming year.

In Celtic mythology the Holly King was said to rule over the half of the year from the summer to the winter solstice, at which time the Oak King defeated the Holly King to rule for the time until the summer solstice again. The Holly King was depicted as a powerful giant of a man covered in holly leaves and branches and wielding a holly bush as a club.

He may well have been the same archetype on which the Green Knight of Arthurian legend was based, and to whose challenge Gawain rose during the Round Table’s Christmas celebrations.

Just a few facts and fables about the Holly, believe or disbelieve, your choice. I’d like to wish you my reader (you know who you are).

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year


Posted by on December 11th, 2015


November and the purchase of another fruit tree

Hi, my name is Peter Frances a.k.a. the Hairygardener
I had a few topics to talk about this month but I was swayed by the fact that I arrived home this morning with another fruit tree, an apple tree in fact.
The variety is Discovery, you know the one with bright red skin, a real nice dessert apple. One of its parent plants is Worcester Permain, a beautiful tasting apple, some gardeners say Discovery surpasses its parent.
In my own experience all my home grown fruit be it apples, pears, gooseberries taste better than shop bought. The fact is I haven’t bought an apple from a shop for 18 months and that is for one reason, they have no flavour, you are just eating water if that’s possible. Get out there now and get yourselves a couple of apple trees it will be ten pounds well spent believe me.
This particular tree is grafted onto a rootstock M26, which is a dwarf rootstock and makes it suitable for small gardens or even pots. Its maximum height would be 12 foot when fully mature about eight to ten years, but if you train the branches to grow horizontally you can keep it at about 6 ft.
At this time of year it is the optimum time for planting out a fruit tree as long as there is no frost and if your trees roots are in a plastic bag remove the bag and give them a soaking by standing the tree in a bucket of water prior to planting.
Planting the tree, this goes without saying dig a big enough hole to accommodate the roots and spread them out. The hole should also be deep enough but don’t plant it deeper than the graft.
Some gardeners don’t add any manure or rotted compost to the hole as they say this confines the roots to one area and they will not spread, I think a gardener as an individual knows his/her own soil and whether it’s poor in organic matter, if I was that tree root and had been confined to a plastic bag I would want a nice meal of organic matter to set me on the way to growing a healthy tree so gone spoil it, the tree will repay you in years to come.
Cover the roots with soil firming in well as you go to avoid air pockets and stake the tree or not. The reason I say not may be a bit controversial but as long as your garden is sheltered i.e surrounded by fences, hedges a little natural movement by the wind on the tree strengthens the roots holding the tree so a good firming in when planting, a big drink of water and all will be well.
Until next time Good Gardening


Posted by on November 9th, 2015


October has arrived

October has arrived but at the time of writing it feels like early May, the gardens that have been productive, now need a tidy up but before we rush out one of my least favourite topics has risen to the surface again.
Lawns are not my greatest topic in gardening but let’s take time to rethink our lawns.
They need a lot of upkeep and a few celebrity gardeners and me think that they have had their day in their present format.
So what can you do to your lawn to be able to call it a productive lawn. Well this is best done gradually by adding plants a few at a time, top of this is to add fruit trees in the Autumn time, this adds to productivity right away with the fruit produced.
Or you start slowly yard by yard and turn your lawn into a wild flower meadow, with an existing lawn this best done by adding plants not seed. As I have mentioned before I have planted lavenders and these plants have thrived.
A few of wild flowers that you could use are as follows Betony (Stachys officiallis), Heartease (Viola tricolour) also known as Wild Pansy the flowers can be eaten in salads, Self Heal (Prunella vulgaris) an attractive plant with bright purple flowers much loved by bees.
The list is endless and it is quite good fun to look up wildflowers in reference books and see what will grow in grass, these plants will not only bring your lawn to life by adding dots or splashes of colour,they will bring textures and different tones to your green canvas that is your lawn.
The adding of plants to your lawn benefits you in lots of ways as these plants can be food or medicinal as well as attracting wildlife. One thing before I leave the lawn I recommend that start small, a square yard at first and make it larger if it is to your taste.
Just a few words about composting, keep adding to your heap and bin and turn it or aerate it regularly as this aids the composting process and stops vermin setting up their winter quarters in it.
One thing vermin hate is being disturbed so don’t you hibernate from your compost this Autumn/Winter. One of my successes that I may have mentioned before is that all my hanging basket tomatoes both red and yellow have ripened that hasn't happened for quite a few years.
Until next time Good Gardening

Posted by on October 13th, 2015


Great Outdoors

The primroses are out, Spring is springing up and we are preparing for our next fantastic Great Outdoors activity – building a cob oven.

Work is underway with the foundations, preparing the space and gathering materials. We begin work with the public this Thursday 19th and Friday 20th March. If you’re interested in joining us, learning how to make a cob oven or taking part in a fabulous communal activity, please come along and join us.

Cob is an earthen building material that is made of clay, sand, straw, and water. It has been used for thousands of years to construct homes and buildings. Cob has its origins in millennia of traditional building, in some of the oldest permanent human dwellings.


The word ‘cob’ comes from an old English word meaning ‘lump’ or ‘loaf’. The wet cob mixture is used to build thick earth walls; the building technique is very similar to sculpting with modelling clay. Because cob building requires no forms, we can build our walls into any shape we choose. Curves, niches, arched windows and built-in furniture are common features in cob buildings.


We will be using this cob technique to build our new cob oven, onsite here at the National Wildflower Centre. We plan to make use of it in our health and wellbeing sessions to make pizzas, bread and roasted vegetables, freshly harvested from our food growing beds.

We’ll be keeping you informed about our progress as we get going with it all.

Places are FREE and limited to Knowsley residents only.

We aim to support development of self esteem, confidence, social skills and improved well being through a deeper connection with the natural environment.

For further information and to book your place, please contact, tel: 0151 738 1913

Posted by on March 31st, 2015



It’s all go in 2015 with our Great Outdoors programme. Walking, Nordic Walking, volunteering, healthy eating, gardening, ecotherapy and a packed community programme.  Based at the National Wildflower Centre, our 5 Ways to Wellbeing programme offers new and innovative ways to get active outdoors, in nature, in all weather. throughout the year.

We offer a variety of activities for all ages and abilities. Our Community Programme provides a range of free family activities during school holidays including bug hunts, creative fun, planting, growing, bushcraft, celebrations and more.

For Knowsley residents, come along and join one of our FREE activities, get your ‘Naturally 5 ways’ loyalty card and start earning loyalty points to bag yourself a fantastic 5 ways hessian bag.

Get closer to nature, sow some seeds, watch plants grow, spend regular time outdoors

take a walk or cycle, get kids playing outdoors, join a park community group, enjoy local nature events, start gardening, grow your own food

Be curious about nature, look at the seasons – what’s changing?, stop and listen, be aware of the world around you, slow down

where are your local nature places, what can you find there? Learn to sow seeds, look after plants, cook healthily with fresh garden produce, find out more about nature

grow a wildflower meadow and give nature a helping hand, share your enthusiasm with friends and family, start volunteering, share your food harvest

Even a small step for change in health and well-being can help to increase physical activity and improve our mental health.


Posted by on March 17th, 2015


One Ark reflects on year of success as it plans growth and expands team

Liverpool City Region investment charity, One Ark, is celebrating 12 months of achievement alongside its one year anniversary, and has undertaken an analysis of key projects to measure long-term sustainability in terms of wellbeing and economic impact.

Alongside drawing tangible results from its previous activity, the charity has also appointed a new Director of Enterprise and Investment, Helen Wills - who has previously held senior positions at Balfour Beatty Investments and regeneration programmes across the North West - to focus on growth and increasing the number of collaborative partnerships it undertakes.

Since its launch, One Ark, part of the First Ark Group, has focused on creating social value and economic impact opportunities for businesses and individuals across the Liverpool City Region. One such project was New Horizons, which supported young people at risk of becoming Not in Employment, Education or Training (NEET), utilising a collaborative delivery approach in conjunction with social enterprise Fusion 21 and Greater Merseyside Connexions Partnership.

As with all its work, One Ark used HACT, a detailed econometrics model which is designed to evidence and measure the social impact, to evaluate the success of New Horizons. In total, the campaign secured 139 jobs with local employers, provided qualifications for 1,030 individuals and improved the school attendance of 1,549 Merseyside students, engaging with a total of 2,819 young people.

Another successful project was One Ark’s Eco Teams, which sought to provide the region’s residents with effective ways to save both energy and in turn, money. Engaging with over 1,000 individuals directly, a total of £78,000 was cut from Knowsley residents’ energy bills and 1,000 tonnes of CO² was saved. Furthermore, Eco Teams enabled 3,720 people to access a Free Home Energy Audit, an assessment which identifies how a property’s energy is used and how this can be reduced to create environmental and financial benefits.  

In addition, following extensive research into the needs of those it aims to support, One Ark has pledged a commitment to several digital inclusion projects in an aim to tackle issues associated with the internet. This includes the provision of internet access and tablets to a high-rise residential development in an area of deprivation. This allowed the residents and a further 900 SMEs to access job opportunities, essential services and future support via affordable, pay as you go Wi-Fi, with free access to employment and government websites. As part of this project, 78 individuals received training on internet use, 56 of which had never previously used the web.

One Ark has also worked with Barclays to hold digital inclusion events in the community, which provide top tips on using the internet. In order to maximise engagement for these events, the charity conducted wide-reaching marketing and PR activity.

Commenting on the charity’s plans for growth, Helen Wills said: “Collaboration is something that doesn’t happen enough in the public or private sector, despite the benefits it provides for all involved. I’m keen for One Ark to build on its success and to utilise like-minded partners in order to deliver tangible results, which provide measurable economic and wellbeing impact for those we aim to support.

“Conducting such activity will also provide concrete returns for One Ark, building resilience and sustainability for us as a charity as well as for our partners and beneficiaries.”

Posted by on March 16th, 2015


The Budget 2014 - social enterprise

“I welcome further Government encouragement towards social enterprises. The Chancellor has announced a new 30% tax relief rate for individuals investing in social enterprises.  With tax relief incentives set (up to £290k is allowable over three years), the investment in social enterprises is likely to increase, encouraging private sector businesses to contribute to or set up foundations and funds to benefit the communities they work within.

“The measures announced today have the potential to see millions of pounds moving towards the support of the UK’s social economy, which in turn will allow us, here in the UK, to create sustainable economic growth.  More social investment will create the conditions for change which will inspire individuals and give communities the power to generate long term social and economic solutions. 

“This move shouldn’t be underestimated but likewise must be handled correctly to ensure that there’s enough take up to make today’s announcement a reality.  Those advising businesses now have a responsibility and a role to play in ensuring they promote social investment.”

Income tax threshold rise

“The Government has delivered good news in today’s Budget, with a rise in the income tax threshold, which will subsequently lift many people out of tax altogether.   It’s a critical announcement which should give support to families across our region and beyond. This is encouraging news and one which I hope will positively affect the number of people actively looking to get back into employment.”

“It further reinforces a commitment to ensure that we can make work really pay and I would welcome commitment from the government for further increases in the threshold in future budgets”

Posted by Bob Taylor, CEO of First Ark Group on March 21st, 2014

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