It was such a beautiful gardening weekend. The Genus garden is now really coming into life. After all the planting, weeding, hoeing, feeding and mulching it's sure to look good. Whilst we have been at it, the birds have been a particular pleasure. The robin has been busy following us around picking over the turned soil.
This year we decided to keep the bird feeder up a bit later than usual (we normally put it away at the end of March) because it’s been attracting so many visitors and giving us so much pleasure. The different bird species have really different personalities. The nuthatches are noisy and bossy, the woodpeckers nervous and shy, and the great tits down right argumentative. It’s great too to know that many of these birds will go on to help us out during the gardening year.
The tits and nuthatches will be picking off caterpillars and other insects from trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants. Many of our favourite garden birds won’t breed without a supply of natural food. When we take the feeder down in a few days, the birds will be looking for high protein soft and easily digestible food as they feed themselves and their broods. Blue tits and great tits in particular will be keeping down aphids as they make tasty food for chicks and fledglings. Although they tend to have one big clutch (all their eggs in one basket as it were) if it's a really good year they may have more than one brood and help out with insect pest control right through to the end of summer. It's amazing just how much they get through. The BTO estimates that just one baby blue tit needs 100 caterpillars. Occasional starling visitors will be busy eating up the leather jackets, and we are very privileged to have green woodpeckers close by picking out ants in the orchard.
There are some downsides and disadvantages to having so many feathered visitors. I left the backdoor open when I was out weeding and when I went back into the house for lunch, it was obvious the house had been invaded ….. little calling cards everywhere. Can you imagine …. a couple of partridges had been casing the joint for titbits and were hiding out in my kitchen!! I also caught them pecking off the shots of some of my favourite herbaceous plants including the peony. Wood pigeons are the bane of my life, and it’s a never ending fight with them in the veg patch. We really don’t know how best to keep them away. Of course we could use our old gardening clothes to make a scarecrow but experience suggests that the fear factor doesn’t last long, and you need crowds of scarecrows to protect the entire garden! The other annoyance are the blackbirds messing up the borders as they flip over leaves, stones and soil, and their habit of stirring up the pond and balding the marginal plants as they take their daily baths.
Never mind. On balance it's great to give the birds a home they do more good than harm.
It is a fact that in our society neighbours seldom talk to each other. You can live for years next door to someone and never even know their name. A lack of community can lead to violence, alienation and depression.
So it is a big ask to suggest that gardening can be the catalyst that brings communities together and lifts individuals out of loneliness and sadness.
But that is exactly what the RHS initiative “Britain in Bloom” claims to achieve.
This morning, BBC Breakfast featured a back alleyway in Cecil Street, Wavertree, Liverpool, that has been transformed from waste dump to an urban oasis, a wonderful avenue of plants, trees and flowers, all created and maintained by local people.
Two grandmothers started collecting bathtubs to fill with bedding plants and four years later the neglected alley has, not only plants but chickens, fruit and vegetables, chairs and tables to relax in after a hard day’s gardening, and a children’s play area.
The garden has won a clutch of awards from the Royal Horticultural Society and Britain in Bloom, but most importantly, it has brought the whole community together. Neighbours now talk to each other.
Genus are really excited about the first outdoor show of the year – it means Spring has sprung and the gardening calendar has turned full circle again! Cardiff 2014 starts today and ends on Sunday 13th. It’s the 10th anniversary of the show on the current site.
Cardiff is best known for fruit and flowers from Welsh producers, and of course, for daffodils, one of the symbols of Wales. This year the show has included new features such as a special family zone (with activities such as face painting, seed planting and tree climbing) and more attention to wildlife gardening supported by Welsh conservation organisations.
Eating fruit and veg has been a big topic in the news for some time. In the UK the campaign to “Eat 5 a Day” was launched in 2002 in the hope of persuading more of us to eat well and get the full benefits that fruit and veg can give us.
It seems that despite spending several million pounds on marketing and communicating “5 a Day” the impact has been minimal and depending on which sets of statistics you look at, the percentage of adults eating 5 portions a day has actually been declining. Now we hear that we should be eating 7 a day and this can “save lives”.
The latest British research shows that the benefits to physical and mental wellbeing of eating fruit and veg peak at 7 portions a day. The reason the UK government chose “5 a Day” is because this is the level at which cardiovascular health improves, and it was also seen to be a more realistic target to aim for.
What a shame that science alone isn’t likely to change our national eating habits! What stops people from eating more fruit and veg? It seems to be down to, habit, cooking knowledge, cost, and availability, so depending on who you are, where you live and the level of income you have, your fruit and veg eating behaviour is quite different.