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June 2014

Garden chickens for gardeners' wellbeing

29 June 2014

Garden chickens once part of the household economy, now kept for enjoyment
Garden chickens once part of the household economy, now kept for enjoyment
The last few days, it’s been raining a bit too much for there to be much gardening.  However, the newly arrived chickens at the bottom of the Genus garden provide a reason to get out there whatever the weather.  We are following a trend.  Since 2007/08, the ownership of garden chickens has increased significantly.  Estimates suggest there may be as many as 750,000 garden chickens nationally.  The British Hen Welfare Trust, rehomes an amazing 60,000 battery chickens a year to new owners keeping hens at home.

What’s the attraction?  These days, it’s certainly not the economics of home egg production.  By the time the coop and food is bought, and the fences put up, costs per egg are bound to be more than in the shops.  No, it’s the fun of having the chickens there.  Something else to provide enjoyment and make a gardener feel good.  The eggs are much nicer too.  There is no evidence of any nutritional difference between garden chicken eggs and commercial ones, but they just seem to taste better and the yolks look yellower too.

The other feel-good factor is being able to contribute to chicken welfare by taking on an ex-battery hen and giving it a new lease of life, or alternatively, contributing to the continuation of traditional and rare breeds.  The Burford browns and Cotswold legbars we have here tell an interesting story.  They are both modern traditional breeds!  The Burford browns were developed locally during the 1990’s, the exact heritage is a secret, but with the bloodlines inherited from his grandmother the farmer developed hens that are prolific layers of dark brown eggs. These have gone on to provide supermarkets with alternatives to more commercial eggs.  Cotswold legbars lay eggs in pastel shades, they were first recorded as a hybrid breed in the 1920s, and, revived during the 1980s, they led the way bringing traditional coloured eggs back to the market.

As well as contributing to gardeners wellbeing, there’s no doubt that the chickens have a part to play in the garden, eating kitchen scraps or garden waste and producing great manure for accelerating compost well suited to vegetable growing. 

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Cotswolds strawberries ready for Wimbledon 2014

22 June 2014

 In time for Wimbledon, strawberries in the Genus garden this morning
In time for Wimbledon, strawberries in the Genus garden this morning
It’s just a couple of days to go before Wimbledon 2014 starts.  It’s my only must-see sporting event of the year.  The strawberries in the Genus garden have been in full production for the last fortnight, so we will be well placed to munch on delicious strawberries and cream through the matches.  It’s a brilliant gardener's reward!  The strawberry and cream tradition at Wimbledon coincides with the early British strawberry harvest.  There are numerous accounts of how and when it started.  Some people believe King George V, who was an avid tennis fan, began the fashion for strawberry eating, others that it was a post-war introduction, and others finding evidence of strawberry eating as early as 1877.  It’s certain that the strawberry and cream combo became a real fixture in the 1970’s.  The Lawn Tennis Association has an interesting page of Wimbledon facts and figures, the strawberry statistics make interesting reading.

The strawberries normally come from Kent, and are picked just the day before to ensure freshness and quality arriving at 5:30 in the morning so they can be cleaned and prepared ready for customers once the gates open.  An average of 28,000 kg are eaten through the fortnight, with 8,615 punnets  sold.  The punnets must contain a minimum of 10 berries.  More than 7,000 litres of fresh cream is served.  That too has a minimum quality set at 48% butterfat.   The price of strawberries and cream has slowly increased over the years, reflecting changes to growing conditions and new horticultural systems. 

The gardening connections aren’t just strawberries.  The gardeners and groundsmen at Wimbledon are working flat out at the moment to get the lawns into perfect condition, and the floral displays (in green and purple) neat and prolific.

Well, I’ll avoid the lawn mowing, and with all those strawberries ready for me, all I can say is roll on the matches, I want to enjoy putting my gardening feet up!

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Right royal gardeners

8 June 2014

Queen Elizabeth loved to garden as a child
Queen Elizabeth loved to garden as a child, she retains a passionate interest
Prince Charles is well known as a thought leader.  This week he is set to burn clothes in his garden to illustrate how wool is a technical and ecological fabric.  His thought  leadership as a royal gardener comes from his "hands-on" "back-bending" approach to gardening at Highgrove.  He has created here a fantastic garden on what was a blank grass canvass when he bought the house nearly 35 years ago.  The Prince has always drawn on new ideas, and was a pioneer in the restoration of wild meadows, renewable heating systems in the glasshouses, reed and willow bed filtration systems for garden irrigation water, and organic techniques. 

Other members of the royal family have a keen interest as royal gardeners.  The Queen has private gardens within Buckingham Palace in which she has a large vegetable garden where she grows heritage varieties.  She also keeps bees which not only help with pollination but produce honey for the royal table.  Her gardens are also run on organic or low input principles.  Mark Lane, gardens manager at Buckingham Palace mentions that 99% of green waste is recycled on site. Green waste includes grass cuttings, twigs, branches and "arisings" soiled straw from the stables in the Royal Mews.

Queen Victoria too was a well known gardener with Prince Albert.  They famously developed their interest in fashionable European gardens at Osborne House, where they also planted hundreds of trees, a vegetable and fruit garden and cut flower beds.  Their children were encouraged by Prince Albert to learn about growing food in their little garden beside the Swiss Cottage, and he even bought the produce from them at market rates.  This was thought leadership of it's own time, encouraging royal gardeners to garden as an important educational tool. It introduced the 9 royal children to the science of agriculture and horticulture as well as making a connections with the “normal life” of the British public.

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Is the gardener's calendar changing?

2 June 2014

Changes to blossom time are one of the effects of climate change
Changes to blossom time are one of the effects of climate change
There is much talk of climate change and how gardeners will need to adapt their gardening practices as a result.  When we think about the last few years it’s easy to remember the extreme events: The severe storms and flooding in the winter of 2013/14 a new challenge for soil management; the late deep snow in 2013 which extended the winter and shortened the growing season; the long hot springs of 2011 and 2012 which increased the need for watering and saw spring and summer flowers out at the same time; and the terrible washout summer of 2012 prompting extreme slug control measures!  These kind of weather events don’t tell the whole story.  What’s more telling is evidence about the long term trends.  The science of phenology is all about this, including observations about flowering times and the emergence of species and the arrival of migrating birds.  There are gardeners who blog about the weather and garden phenology too.  When I was clearing out the attic of old clothes and assorted junk last weekend, I came across one of the children’s books from the 1960s.  The “Golden Book of Mother Goose Verse”.  Inside was a British folk record of the climate past captured in a rhyme which read:

January brings the snow, makes our feet and fingers glow.

February brings the rain, thaws the frozen lake again.

March brings breezes loud and shrill, stirs the dancing daffodil.

April brings the primrose sweet, scatters daises at our feet.

May brings flocks of pretty lambs, skipping by their fleecy dams.

June brings tulips, lilies, roses, fills the children’s hands with posies.

Hot July brings cooling showers, apricots and gillyflowers.

August brings the sheaves of corn,  then the harvest home is borne.

Warm September brings the fruit, sportsmen then begin to shoot.

Fresh October brings the pheasant, then to gather nuts is pleasant.

Dull November brings the blast, then the leaves are whirling fast.

Chill December brings the sleet, blazing fire and Christmas treats.

 Seems to me things have shifted a little since that was written?  I’m sure spring comes earlier (we get the primroses inFebruary and March now?) and winter (leaves stay fixed to some of our trees well into December?) later?

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