March in the garden

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

With the dry spell that we have experienced over the last week or so, practical work could begin in ours and I suspect your gardens.

I never fail to alter something in the garden every year, this year I’m underplanting our fruit trees with useful plants (every plant is useful).

Planting herbs around fruit trees such as marjoram, lemon balm will benefit the tree by attracting beneficial insects, providing interesting ground cover options and us gardeners with more herb beds.

But don’t leave it there become more radical grow black currant bushes underneath trees, grow thornless blackberries up and through the tree branches, the options and combinations of plants are endless.

Hanging bird feeders on the branches of your trees is both beneficial to you and the trees and birds, the birds that you attract into your garden feel a bit safer feeding in a more natural environment of a tree away from predatory sparrowhawks and cats.

Over the last two articles I’ve wrote brief articles about foraging,with this months I’d like to focus on one particular forage plant per article and this month I thought I’d start with the Nettle.

Nettles are one of the most useful plants,despite their nutritious, a natural vitamin and mineral supplement.

Medicinally the leaves, seeds and roots are used to treat a wide range of conditions including anaemia, arthritis. Nettles can also be used to make rope, a linen – like cloth and paper, a dye, insect repellent and green manure.

Nettle was the Anglo-Saxon sacred herb, Wergulu, and in medieval times nettle beer was drunk for rheumatism. Nettle tops helped milk to sour, as a rennet substitute in cheese making.

Nettle’s high vitamin C content made it a valuable spring tonic for our ancestors after a winter of living on grain and salted meat with hardly any green vegetables. Nettle soup and porridge were popular spring tonic purifiers, but a pasta or pesto from the leaves is a worthy nutritious modern alternative.

Nettle soup is described by one modern writer as “Springtime herbalism at one of its finest moments”. This soup is the Scottish Kail. Tibetans believe that their sage and poet Milarepa (AD 1052-1135) lived solely on nettle soup for many years, until he himself turned green, a literal green man.

Modern lifestyles need the kind of nutrition that nettles can offer. It is now known that the mineral content of intensively farmed foods has decreased dramatically over the past half century, so even people eating a healthy diet may be mineral deficient.

Mineral deficiency contributes to a wide range of health problems, nettles can improve diverse conditions purely through their mineral content. Nettles have an antihistamine effect which is valuable for treating hay fever and other allergies.

They can help reduce the severity of asthma attacks and for treating hay fever they combine well with elderflower. Nettles enhance natural immunity helping protect us from infections.

Nettle tea drunk often at the start of a feverish illness is beneficial. Information like this I hope makes you look at the Nettle plant in a different way.

Until next time Good Gardening

Posted by on March 7th, 2016


February in the garden

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

To continue on a foraging theme this month, I came across legislation which to be honest really surprised me. Foraging is covered by two pieces of legislation; the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Theft Act 1978.
The Wildlife and Countryside Act makes it illegal to collect wild plants or fungi on a national nature reserve (NNR) or a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), without the express permission of Natural England.
A number of plants are protected under Schedule 8 of the Act, making it illegal to collect them without a special license. Licences are not granted to collect for human culinary use so these plants are off the menu. The Act also makes it illegal to dig or uproot any plant without the landowners permission.
The Theft Act makes it illegal to collect any wild plant or fungi for commercial purposes without the landowners permission. It is not an offence to collect for personal use.
Enough of this, let’s get back to collecting usable parts of the plants, mostly you will forage leaves and stems, these are least controversial parts of the plant to pick as they generally grow back with no loss to the plant.
However, plants vary in the degree to which they can tolerate being regularly stripped of leaves. Grass, for example, is relentless in its growth, no matter how often it is cut back, and many plants of lawns and other managed turf are the same, e.g. plantains, dandelions, self heal and mallow.
However some plants simply won’t tolerate this treatment and will eventually die if all their leaves are cut back repeatedly.
Plants in the rose family fall into this category, as does sea purslane. Sea beet on the other hand along with most plants in the cabbage and daisy families can tolerate quite regular and thorough harvesting, although they must be allowed eventually to flower and set seed.
Seeds and flowers are the future of the plant population so don’t harvest them exhaustively, although trees, shrubs and perennials are obviously affected less. Annuals will simply not grow back the following year if all their flower or seed is harvested, therefore with annual plants take no more than a fifth of what is to be found in any given place
With roots, in most cases if you gather the roots of a plant you kill it, although for plants with especially deep roots it might be possible to take only part of the root and leave the plant to grow as when taking a root cutting of a garden plant.
For this reason harvesting roots requires more thought and restraint, only collect roots where there are plenty of plants even then only take a very small fraction of what is there.
However in some cases, digging up roots promotes the growth of new plants. For example, burdock seems to thrive after the roots are harvested, as the process of digging them up also works seed into the soil.
Likewise, horse radish is virtually impossible to eradicate by digging its roots as the smallest fragment will produce a new plant.
Until next time Good Gardening

Posted by on February 19th, 2016


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

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