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Women in the Garden

11 March 2017

Mother’s Day is just around the corner and with the shops filling up with cards and flowers it got us thinking about the relationship between women and gardening. I suppose it’s a bit like food – the top chefs tend to be men, but it’s the women who do most of the cooking in the home. A straw poll of the top garden designers, head gardeners and TV gardening celebrities will probably reveal that the majority are men. Think of Dan Pearson, Fergus Garrett, Monty Don and Alan Titchmarsh. But in millions of households across the country it’s the women who are doing the everyday work of looking after the garden.

Any gardening magazine will tell you that three-quarters of its readership are women. Garden centres are full of products targeted at women. Genus sells five times as many of its gardening clothes to women as to men.

In the garden traditional gender roles still hold sway. “I mow the lawn, the wife weeds the beds.” “If it’s a machine with a motor, it’s his job.” I wonder if this is a legacy of the age-old practices of pre-industrial farming. In a village in Africa where I have spent a lot of time, women are responsible for the home garden, the patch of land close to the house where they grow vegetables and also for the cultivation of rice, the staple food. The men control the production, and therefore the proceeds, of cash crops such as peanuts, cashew nuts, oranges and mangoes.

I’m quite fascinated by this subject so I’ve been hanging around Waterstones lately looking for books on women and gardening. Here are a few I found: Virgins Weeders and Queens: A History of Women in the Garden by Twigs Way, 2006; Gardening Women: Their Stories from 1600 to the Present by Dr Catherine Horwood, 2010; and two published in 2015: Women Garden Designers: 1900 to the Present by Kristina Taylor; and First Ladies of Gardening by Heidi Howcroft. All these books tell the story of women busy in the garden, active behind the scenes, and struggling to find a voice in the male-dominated institutions of the gardening world

Last Wednesday was International Women’s Day so minds were focused on the role of women in world affairs. Currently there are 15 female heads of state, a paltry 10% of the UN membership, but nevertheless a number that has been increasing steadily and three fifths of these, nine in total, head up European countries. In every walk of life, women are winning the fight for equality step by step, inch by inch.

So, all you women gardeners, now that spring has arrived, start mowing the lawn and get practicing with the strimmer and the hedge cutter.

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Galanthomania – A Mystery

9 February 2017

The snowdrops are out en masse in the Genus garden. Carpeting banks in the woodland garden they bring a little spot of liveliness into the otherwise bleakness of late winter. Snowdrops are indeed lovely, but why they inspire otherwise well-adjusted people to resort to theft, back-stabbing and humungous expenditure is totally baffling.

A low growing plant with a small flower, the genus has only about twenty species. Native to the southern Mediterranean, Near and Middle East, and known since the Roman Empire, the plants were probably brought into England with soldiers returning from the Crimea in the nineteenth century.

Galanthophiles become Galanthobores who emerge for just one month each year to fuss over the size of the petals, the shape of the petals, whether they look up or down, whether there are green or yellow markings or stripes. Sometimes you need to get down on your hands and knees just to be able to see the differences.

For over a century, this obsession with snowdrops was exclusive to plant connoisseurs but for some reason, in the 1980s galanthomania exploded into our consciousness. Specialist gardens open their doors in late January for four to five weeks and then close to visitors until the following year. Wikipedia lists 24 snowdrop gardens in England alone. Commercial growers chop up rare bulbs into 20 or 30 small chips to sell at huge profits. Bulbs are sold for hundreds of pounds at specialist galanthus sales or on the internet. In 2015, one bulb was sold on ebay for £1390.

And worst of all is the crime. It is not unusual for plants to be stolen, dug up or spirited away when no-one is looking. The most famous theft was of a yellow Galanthus elwesii dug up in 1997 at Colesbourne Park, not far from here in Gloucestershire.

It’s a mystery. Are there tulipophiles, or delphiniumophiles, or even rudbeckiaophiles? We can only assume that the pure white flowers of the snowdrop marking the end of the winter and heralding the beginning of spring are unique in making the gardener’s heart race with excitement and burst with joy at finally getting down to a new gardening season.
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Sending Flowers to Your Man

25 January 2017

Valentine’s Day is nearly upon us and thoughts are turning to gifts for our loved one. Flowers are always a popular choice, and the relationship between flowers and love goes back thousands of years.

In the Song of Songs, the rose and the lily are used as symbols of love. Shakespeare referred to flowers more than one hundred times, most often in the context of love plays such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In Greek mythology, in Japanese traditional culture and in every country today with its national symbols, plants and flowers have been given meaning.

The language of flowers became very popular during the Victorian era in England and America, coinciding with the growing interest in botany and plant hunting, and as a response to the restrictions on expressing emotions in Victorian society. Both men and women exchanged messages using “tussie-mussies” or “talking bouquets” of mixed flowers that could be “read” by the recipient.

Today, however, the giving of flowers is very much one-way. Women receive flowers on a regular basis, from lovers, family and friends, yet very few men ever get given flowers. But why not? They’re beautiful, they instantly cheer up a room, they let him know you’re thinking of him, and they’ll bring a smile to his face.

Of course, you need to select your flowers very carefully, not pink, not too feminine, or maybe a living plant would be better. Choose vibrant colours, exotic blooms, angular arrangements. Dress up a practical gift with flowers. One car mechanic delighted in receiving a set of wrenches artfully secured inside a bouquet of daisies and carnations. A single red rose sent by a wife to her husband at work inspired admiration, as well as envy, from his colleagues. Or try attaching February snowdrops, with their meaning of "new beginnings", to your gift of Genus Gardening Trousers for Men.

So go on ladies, be brave, send flowers to your man this Valentine's Day.

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Our New Year Resolution: Do More Gardening

29 December 2016

It’s January 1st and with pen poised over a sheet of paper, we’re planning how we’re going to make the very best of 2017. Some of us are focused on losing weight, getting fit and becoming more active. Some are thinking about enriching our social lives, helping others, giving back to the community. Other people are bent on starting a study course, setting up a business, or facing some sort of individual challenge.

The beginning of the year is also the time when Governments send out warnings and launch campaigns to encourage people to change their behaviour for their own good. This year, Public Health England, a Government agency, has issued press releases alerting people to the impending “Middle Age Health Crisis”. It seems that eight in every 10 people aged 40 to 60 in England are overweight, drink too much or get too little exercise.

In 2016, the previously taboo subject of mental health was catapulted into the limelight with the BBC running a season of programmes called In the Mind, exploring a very wide range of mental health issues. In the same year, The Mental Health Foundation took as its theme, the role of relationships in maintaining a healthy and fulfilling life.

In these blogs, we have returned time and again to the role that gardening can play in our own wellbeing. It’s no secret that gardening is as good as, or even better, than going to the gym. Gardening helps you to lose weight and stay physically active. But research has also shown that time spent in the natural environment fosters creativity, improves mood and self-esteem. GPs are even beginning to prescribe gardening instead of medication for those suffering from depression.

Gardening with others, such as in community gardens, gives you all of the physical and mental health benefits of your own garden, as well as opportunities to make friends and get involved. Police departments and social services agencies all recognize the role of community gardening in forging local bonds, integrating diverse groups, and reducing crime.

Gardening is an escape, a feast for all of the senses and an opportunity to experience and facilitate growth. The Genus team is out there, even in the middle of winter, thermals under our gardening trousers, cosy in our gilets and busy tidying the beds.

So let’s all go for it. Let’s do even more gardening in 2017.

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Last minute gifts for gardeners: Christmas rush

17 December 2016

Don’t panic! It’s the week before Christmas and the atmosphere is getting hectic. For many of us the thought that we need to find something special for that significant somebody has just hit home, but the remaining shopping days until the big weekend have really dwindled. It suddenly feels like it’s time for that last minute present buying rush.

There is some interesting research by consumer psychologists in America that has shown how last minute gift shopping often means a better gift is bought. Apparently in last minute shopping we don’t overthink, we distill our understanding to the essence of the person we are buying for and hone in on things they will really appreciate. Many retailers are innovating to get in on the act of last minute gifting, bundling up goods in prettily wrapped parcels.These days we are lucky the internet has opened up the possibility of buying last minute gifts, and making it so much easier than tramping down to the shops and negotiating the queues. Gift tokens can even be bought up until Christmas Eve and Christmas morning.

If not over-thinking the buying, and keeping to something simple, is the key to buying a gift which is just right, then last minute gifts for gardeners need to pick up on those ideas. There are lots of last minute gift suggestions by garden writers in the daily papers and gardening columns, and similar from major garden centres. But, we’d like to suggest that the most practical, gardener-focused, gift might just be one from Genus Gardenwear! We'll be working right up to Christmas Eve, and we have a great range of Genus gardening clothes and accessories that make the perfect gift for the serious gardener in your life. We even do gift vouchers. Happy Christmas!

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Homemade Christmas from the garden

11 December 2016

One of the very best things about Christmas is the gift giving, and how much nicer if those gifts come from the heart as homemade treats? The garden is a great source of material for unique homemade gifts. That’s what we have been doing this week. The Genus fruit and vegetable garden provided us with the chance to make:

  • Herbal sugars:add fresh herbs to jars of sugar, after 2 weeks the sugar imparts great flavour to drinks and baking
  • Jams and jellies: blackcurrant jam has been this year’s major hit, we had such a large crop
  • Pickles:we persevered the best of the salad crops tomatoes, and made pickles out of tomatoes, nasturtium capers, and cucumbers.
  • Fruit liqueurs: we wrote a blog about this a couple of months back. Now we can gift delicious blackcurrant rum, redcurrant vodka and rhubarb schnapps.
  • Pressed and pasteurised home grown apple juice, a brilliant new discovery. This year our Genus apples were sent to Richard Padget who returned our own bottled juice.

The flower garden has been press-ganged into use for making other presents and seasonal decorations:

  • Packets of seeds: given to our gardening friends, home saved seeds from those plants most coveted and presented in pretty packets
  • Christmas tree decorations: silver spray paint the most ornamental seed heads from the garden to add as decorations to the tree
  • Christmas wreath: cornus prunings (willow is traditionally used) twisted together into a wreath decorated with sprigs of holly and the trimmed lower branches of the Christmas tree

We have really enjoyed creating so much Christmas cheer from the garden, wellbeing lifted all round. Now back to fulfilling our Christmas orders for gardening clothes!

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Garden in a cold climate: Christmas is coming

1 December 2016

Well, it’s here. December has arrived. The weather for the past three days has been gorgeous, cold, crisp, and frosty. The garden looks like Christmas is on the way; it has been so seasonally white and sparkly. We took a break from fulfilling Genus' Christmas orders, donned our warmest gardening clothes (the Genus gilet, gloves with silk liners and the arm and neck warmers were all hotted up in front of the wood burner before putting them on – we suggest you do the same!), and we spent several hours outside, yesterday and today, continuing to enjoy and love the garden in winter. The seed heads of various plants looked great, with the clematis making it’s own form of fluffy snow falling across the rose arch. There were veg to be picked, the cavolo nero also looking magical in its own way, catching the light and glistening with icing sugar frosting. The other amazing feeling was coming back in from the cold and warming up again, such a treat to have the wood burner and a freezer stocked with homemade soup from garden veg to do that job. All we can say is get out there and enjoy the garden in all it’s winter beauty. We love it.
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Keeping warm in the garden as winter draws closer

23 October 2016

It’s been chilly in the Genus garden this week, we think that autumn 2016 has probably arrived at last. The leaves have properly started to turn from green to their autumn livery and have begun to fall across the lawn. We have been outside braving the strong easterly breezes, making sure the lawn gets its last cut before (hopefully) we can pack the mower away. We also tidied up the vegetable garden, applied compost for overwintering and covered the raised beds until we resume work in the spring.

Keeping warm outside has been important. Our top tips for that are obviously to don our Genus gilet and accessories! The gilet, arm protectors, neck collar and a pulled down beanie have kept us snug enough.The other thing we enjoy that keeps the warmth with us, is to take a flask of soup out, so lunch and tea breaks are enjoyed outside: Homemade and home-grown Jerusalem artichoke soup at the start of the week and spinach today has kept us going and given us reason to lean against the stone wall, stretch our back, and take in the autumn scene around us. Hopefully we have built up enough garden trash to have a bit of a bonfire this evening, nothing better for a sense of autumnal atmosphere, and giving us a reason for staying out past sundown.

It’s also been time to think about keeping the Genus chickens warm too. Apparently a single hen generates about 10 watts of heat, and it’s a matter of capturing that inside the coop in a healthy way. So we cleaned the coop out, and then laid down new clean shavings in the form of a deep litter cover. There’s new straw in the laying boxes too, as these invariably end up as the hens' preferred roosting spots.

Let’s hope that the bedding down of the plants and the animals stands us in good stead for the weather to come.

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A gardening bucket list: 6 garden must sees and must haves

10 October 2016

Jacaranda trees in Pretoria, South Africa

The Genus new edition gardening trousers come in three beautiful new colours. This is something that we have always wanted, and something that our customers have been asking us for. It's been the work of a couple of years to get these trousers to market including getting the fabric dyed to exactly the colours we designed. But now our customers, as well us those of us at Genus HQ, can choose a pair of gardening trousers in a colour that suits our mood. Getting something that we have always wanted got us thinking about other garden related wishes we had. What would our gardening bucket list look like? It seems our half dozen gardening wishes fall under three different headings:

Gardens to visit

  • Monet’s garden at Giverny has always been the garden we aspire to visiting, the complex colours in his garden have inspired us over the years, and it would be brilliant to experience this living work of art
  • The Lost Gardens of Heligan cover a thousand acres and fell into disrepair after WWI when the male workforce failed to return. Over 200 acres is now restored with the gardens holding the national collection of camellias

Plants to grow

  • Vanilla orchid just too delicious, but oh so difficult it’s never going to happen!
  • Jacaranda trees look absolutely stunning along the roadsides in some American, African and Australian towns

Garden luxuries

  • Garden hot tub what could be nicer than having a hot tub in the corner of the garden and spending time in bubbles looking out over the fruit of our labours?
  • A natural swimming pool would be a fantastic addition, not only looking good and providing a home for wildlife, but also a place to get fit and relax.

Perhaps we can only dream?

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Getting the garden ready for autumn: The lavender pruning debate

18 September 2016

This week we went along to the Bibury Gardening Club, which meets once a month, and is always a great place to socialise with other keen gardeners as well as pick up the latest gardening news. Paul Gray head gardener at Williamstrip Hall spoke about getting the garden ready for autumn. We blogged last month about the extended summer season and how best gardeners could respond with colour in late summer early autumn, but one of the items Paul touched on was late summer and autumn pruning getting plants ready to produce super shows of flower next year.

The treatment of lavender was the subject of some debate. There seem to be divergent opinions about whether late summer or early spring pruning is best. Late summer pruning at the end of August and early part of September is recommended by the RHS, and allows new growth to come through from the woody stems whilst the weather is clement, providing enough time for new shoots to harden off before the winter. But take care because this simple principle belies complexity. How hard you cut varies by variety and how it responds. English lavenders (Lavanduala angustifolia) can be cut back to old wood, but other varieties such as the lavandins and stoechas or Spanish, French and tufted lavenders (Lavandula x intermedia and Lavandula stoechas) are less hardy and should be given more gentle trims that don’t go right back to the old wood. The benefits of spring pruning are the flush of growth that quickly flowers and hasn’t had to cope with the British winter. Helen Yemm suggests that lavender benefits from a twice yearly cut, a trim in the spring helping plants to keep their shape and vigour.

The Genus garden is pretty exposed and suffers from hard frosts and biting winter winds. Our lavenders are planted against the southwest facing wall of the house and have very sharp drainage. We'll do the pruning soon in the hope the new growth hardens and overwinters happily.