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Homemade Christmas from the garden

27 November 2018

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 at 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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Gardening by moonlight

1 October 2018

Moon planting guide 2019

Gardeners will know that gardening is not just a physical activity, it encompasses a philosophy of life, an approach to growing and a favoured set of techniques that vary from gardener to gardener. Having visited a number of National Garden Scheme (NGS) gardens here in the Cotswolds over the summer, I’ve been reflecting on what I learnt when thinking through my plans for the next Genus gardening year.

At Dillycot located close to the Cotswold village of Ashley, the gardener’s approach is to work with nature and use biodynamic principles to guide the work. I’ve often noticed the biodynamic and Demeter marque when shopping in supermarkets on holiday in Europe, but never stopped to really think through what that means. Biodynamic gardening and horticulture is more than an organic approach, it also seeks to engage with natural energies and forces as yet unseen and poorly understood by man, but certainly part of working with nature.

The moon and lunar cycles are an important force. As the moon waxes and wanes, it has an effect on water, not only creating tides, but also exerting gravitational forces on the water contained within living organisms. Varying degrees of moonlight are thought to influence plant hormones and their associated processes such as flowering. Planting by the phases of the moon phases, or gardening by moonlight, is a way of harnessing the effects of gravity and light at different points in the lunar cycle in order to produce the best plant growth.

There is a simple way of looking at this. When the moon is waxing and pulling water towards it, particularly in the second quarter towards full moon, it’s great for leafy growth. The waning part of the cycle, with less gravitational pull, is better for root growth. The only question left is whether it works to get good results. Might just have to give it a try?

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Inspirational gardeners: Vita Sackville-West

6 August 2018

Vita Sackville-West and Harold on the steps at Sissinghurst Vita Sackville-West and Harold on the steps at Sissinghurst

Vita Sackville-West has many claims to fame. She was an accomplished writer and poet, circulated amongst the Bloomsbury Group attributed with modernising British social attitudes during the inter war years, and she was Virginia Woolf’s lover. She married Harold Nicolson a diplomat and journalist in 1913. It was with her husband that she bought Sissinghurst Castle in 1930. The Elizabethan manor in Kent had once been the ancestral seat of Vita’s family.

Harold and Vita combined interests and passions to develop the gardens together. Harold was interested in the formal structure of the garden, and had an important influence on the layout of the beds, which attempted regularity and intimacy. Vita was interested in a profusion of romantic flowers and colours providing contrasting informal planting. It was all about using as many plants as possible to create lavish impact. The innovation they brought about was the concept of “rooms” or “squares” dividing the garden up into smaller enclosures, each with its own character, whilst maintaining interesting views and vistas through the garden as a whole. This produced the Rose Garden, White Garden, Nuttery and Orchard Garden. Vita’s enduring legacy is her radical approach to colour, exemplified in the White Garden, where she landed on the concept of single colour planting schemes. Today, this is one of the most popular gardens in the National Trust estate attracting around 200,000 visitors a year.

Vita’s enthusiasm for gardening together with her practical and experimental approach made her very popular with the gardening public. She had three firm gardening principles: The first was ruthlessness – if it looks wrong or feels wrong then change it! Second was not to be too tidy in a garden, let self-seeded plants grow where they naturally fall, wild flowers mixing with cultivated plants in a garden was a bonus not a disaster. Thirdly, have an architectural plan, a colour plan and a seasonal plan. Vita passed on her ideas and enthusiasm through her writing in a weekly article on gardening for the Observer, which she continued to do for fourteen years up until a year before she died in 1962.

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Brexit: Lots for gardeners to think about

5 June 2018

The country has spoken and it’s out of the EU we will come. There will now be a period of some uncertainty as we come to terms with the new reality and begin the process of untangling ourselves from a host of EU agreements, trading arrangements and legislative commitments. This is the point at which we will realise just how far an influence the EU has had on so many parts of our lives. Gardeners won’t be immune.

There are legislative commitments such as the EU ban the use of glyphosate (aka Round Up) that we might be happy to abandon, and others such as the EU restrictions on certain neonicotinoids thought to harm bees that we may be less certain about losing. There will likely be changes to the free market for plants. At the moment garden plants are relatively cheap because of an integrated plant production system across Europe. This open movement allows young plant material to flow from producers on mainland Europe to UK growers without hindrance whilst the supply of finished plants to complement the UK production is equally as important to provide additional availability to the garden centres. Whilst border controls are important to all of us we do not want to find impediments coming into place to complicate the movement of plants into or out of the UK, tying us up in red tape which may prove more difficult than we have enjoyed in recent years.

There could be a different way of looking at this though. The UK imports £1bn of plants a year but exports just £50m. This could represent an opportunity for UK growers to fill the gaps in production currently taken by imports, particularly with a weakening pound. There might also be benefits for the control of pests and diseases, if there are new border controls, the UK might be able to introduce restrictions over the movement of plant material from EU countries and businesses that could limit the transmission of plant pests and diseases like Chalara (Ash die-back). This might though depend on recruiting a new cadre of plant health inspectors and whether that is likely to be a policy priority is up for questions.

Horticultural labour, much of which is low paid, is filled by EU nationals, the prospects for such jobs being filled by UK nationals is uncertain. Many horticultural producers have complained over the years that these are not jobs that British people are willing to take up. Linked to this is the issue of funding for horticultural training education and apprenticeships. The new apprenticeship levy designed to pay for training of a new generation of horticultural professionals is essentially a tax on SMEs and larger businesses, and must be threatened by any decline in the UK economy.

Interesting times. Let’s see what happens.

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Do gardens affect house prices?

26 May 2018
Gardens can increase the value of your home depending on the tastes of your buyer
Gardens can increase the value of your home depending on the tastes of your buyer
We’re back after the excitement of Chelsea. The importance and popularity of gardens in Britain was of course really made obvious at the show. The range of items for gardens and gardeners keeps growing and indicates just how important gardening is to the economy. A recent survey estimated that Britons had invested £80 billion in their gardens. That’s a lot of value!

Although the news is full of debate focused on increasing house prices, there is not much discussion about the contribution of gardens to property values. Does all that investment in soil, bloom, decking and parasols make a difference? Some evidence suggests that whatever house prices are doing in different parts of the country, a well-designed and well kept garden can add between 5% and 20% to the value of a property. It’s not just the landscaping and planting that matter, it seems garden furniture too adds to the appeal of a garden and suggests to new owners how a garden might be used. Estate agents agree that selling a house in summer relies in part on a decent garden.

However, a note of caution has to be added. Well designed means simplicity: gardens which are very ornate and complicated, implying lots of work are likely to worry potential buyers who are not keen gardeners themselves. This is as true in larger rural gardens as in smaller urban gardens. Most estate agents would probably tell you that investing a lot of money into a redesign of your garden for sale purposes won’t be worth it as the return isn't there. For many buyers, gardens are now being treated much like interiors. New home owners like to “redecorate” gardens to their own tastes.

Probably the most important thing is to make sure the garden is neat and tidy with a slightly lived in look, so that buyers can imagine, or you can tell them, all about the fantastic benefits of pottering about outside, getting fresh air, and enjoying another “room” on summer nights.

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Why gardening makes us happy

26 April 2018

Happiness gardeningTime and again, surveys and academic studies prove what we’ve long suspected: gardening really does make us happy.

A recent poll of 1,500 UK adults revealed that 80% of people who garden are satisfied with their lives, compared with 67% of people who had other hobbies, and just 55% of people with no hobbies at all.

It’s clear that extracurricular interests have an impact on wellbeing, but what is it about gardening in particular that lends itself to greater levels of satisfaction than other hobbies? Lucy Hall, editor of Gardeners’ World, thinks it comes partly “from nurturing something” and that there is “a natural optimism that no matter how bad the weather, there’s always next year.” We’re inclined to agree: it’s hard to think of many other hobbies that offer the same creative escapism and stimulation of the senses.

Professor of environment and society at the University of Essex, Jules Pretty, says the latest academic research “clearly shows that engagement with green places is good for personal health”. She added: “There would be a large potential benefit to individuals, society and to the costs of the health service if all groups of people were to self-medicate more with what we at Essex call green exercise. Gardening falls into this category - it is good for both mental and physical health, and all social and age groups benefit. It provides a dose of nature.”

We’d love to know how and why gardening makes you happy. Leave us a comment to share your thoughts!

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Easter gardening: Good Friday spuds, new clothes and Easter bonnets

28 March 2018

Pbenjay's blog spotted this amazing Easter bonnet covered in flowers Pbenjay's blog spotted this amazing Easter bonnet covered in flowers

Now that the long Easter weekend is nearly here, there should be plenty of time to get out into the garden as well as enjoying eggs, buns and rabbits with family and friends. Gardeners are very likely to be getting onto the soil to perform traditional Good Friday jobs like planting potatoes. According to some, this tradition comes from the idea that spuds planted on Good Friday were “Baptised” overcoming any restriction on eating a food not mentioned in the Bible. Others believe planting on Good Friday afforded protection from the devil who wouldn’t be able to blight the crop! Other commentators put this potato planting date down to the tradition of gardening by the moon, and the fact that Good Friday is always a good day in the lunar cycle to plant root crops.

Whatever the weather this Easter weekend, gardeners will also be celebrating the start of longer days and spring flowers by sowing packets of seeds themselves or perhaps even buying new plants from nurseries and garden centres.

The celebration of spring flowers is another Easter favourite, taken from the tradition of many European cultures where women herald spring by wearing flowers in their hair and hats, this is the origin of Easter bonnets. This celebration of flowers signifying the birth of a new year combined with British and north European traditions of wearing new clothes at Easter, again as a mark of renewal, carried the idea of Easter bonnets across to the States where they have become a really important feature of American Easter parades. As an 18th century almanac writer put it:

“At Easter let your clothes be new

Or else be sure you will it rue”

This idea that you might be followed by bad luck if you didn’t have something new to wear lasted well into the 19th century.

Brilliant! Another great reason to turn towards the Genus shop and ensure that the new item of Easter clothing is one of ours!

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Super spuds! The joy of choosing potato varieties

2 March 2018

Colourful potato varieties on sale in a South American marketColourful potato varieties on sale in a South American market

The days are getting longer and, despite the most dreadful weather over the last few days, there is a sniff of Spring in the Genus garden, so we have started thinking about our growing again!

February and March are traditional months to start chitting potatoes particularly those early varieties like Orla, Arran Pilot and Pentland Javelin, once the threat of hard frosts has past. Gardeners led the way in maintaining and bringing back some of the many ‘heritage’ varieties of potato that we used to grow in Britain. Before the 1950’s it was quite usual to find tens of different varieties in gardens, allotments and the local grocers. Modern production techniques and the demands of the supermarkets drove the decline to reliance on just a few commercial varieties. Conserving and storing potato genes has become a major concern not just in Britain but throughout the world, as so many people rely on the potato as a key staple in their diets. Collections of old varieties may hold the key to better taste and nutritional characters, but also to disease resistance and the ability to withstand different kinds of environmental conditions. All of this is important in the light of climate change and increasing consumer demand. You'll never think potatoes should be huge, round and white ever again!

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Gardeners lose weight without dieting!

16 January 2018

Fitness and weight loss in the garden Gardeners can lose weight and increase fitness by gardening just 3 hours a week

It’s the month when resolutions are made and so very many people think about dieting to lose the extra pounds gained over the festive season. A recent survey showed that about 6 in 10 people were planning to shed weight or concentrate on improving their fitness for their New Year promise. The good news for gardeners is that gardening substitutes for diets. Yes REALLY! Getting out there and involving yourself in digging, bending, walking, lifting, planting, weeding, pushing and kneeling makes gardening a moderate to strenuous kind of exercise. Estimates vary according to how much you do of which kind of gardening activity, but gardening for more than 30 minutes can help to lose between 150 and 300 calories. Gardeners will be exercising all the major muscle groups as they undertake different gardening jobs, so toning happens as well of course! Clyde Williams of Loughborough University believes that an hour of heavy work in the gym would use about 700 calories, something that can be achieved by three hours gardening varying tasks. You might even consider a gardening weight loss and exercise routine (Wiki has an example and even Bunny Guinness devised one too ). So, all in all, there IS a reason for getting out into the cold January garden and doing a little bit of this and that for the gardener’s sake as well as the garden.

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Garden in a cold climate: Christmas is coming

16 December 2017

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, so seasonally white and sparkly. We took a break from fulfilling Genus' Christmas orders and 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 ready for us to put them on, 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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