Christmas wouldn't be Christmas on a garden-related blog without a mention of poinsettia. And apparently I'm not the only one to think along these lines.
A survey of 1094 people in 16 European countries conducted last December by Stars for Europe (which, yes, represents the interests of poinsettia growers across the continent) found that poinsettias came third as a symbol of Christmas, just behind Christmas trees and candles. Mind you, what they seem to have done is lumped "stars and the star-shaped poinsettia" together as a category, so I can't help feeling that the plant might have been clinging to the coat-tails of the celestial body, if you see what I mean.
However, poinsettias, first bred commercially in the USA in the 1950s, are here to stay for Christmas, and I must admit I rather like them.
Rutger's If Plants Could Talk website has a video in which Dr George Wulster looks at different cultivars (Plum Pudding, anyone?) and also gives tips on poinsettia care from the moment you buy it - take a large bag with you to protect it from the cold. Among other tips are that you only need to water when the surface of the soil is dry to the touch.
It also gives what I think is the clearest explanation of what is good, indirect light - when you can see the shadow of your hand on the surface where the pot will stand (without the sun directly on it, obviously).
Botanical paintings seem to demand more than ordinary painting skills. Not only do you need to be expert with a brush, but you need an eye for detail that is truly a gift in itself.
The annual exhibition of the Society of Botanical Artists (which will take place in April next year) is a delight of close observation and pin-sharp accuracy, revealing beauty in small things that you might not have previously observed. I think vegetables come out particularly well, as normally we just see them on the kitchen table being eviscerated, peeled or chopped for the pot.
Meanwhile, if someone you know would enjoy a botanical study for Christmas, RHS Prints are offering 20% off all orders, with the last order date for the UK being 17th December. They have a large range of flower portraits, fruit and veg, company adverts (or garden heritage, as it’s called) and trees and gardens and sell prints on standard (photographic) paper or as giclée prints on art paper. I’d recommend the latter, as they’ll look more striking on the wall.
The restaurant next door hasn’t exactly closed; let’s just say that the menu has been suspended, and I don’t mean literally. The nuts in the feeder have not been replenished since the frenzy on the first day of opening.
Still, there are measures that will discourage squirrels from bankrupting a bird feeder and you’ll find a good selection on the Dobbies blog which, unlike many blogs attached to commercial sites, is good fun and very readable. And I'm not just saying that because they guested here last week!
Still, if you’ve got a bird feeder that’s being plundered, rather than buying another, squirrel-proof version, a baffle might be the answer. Presents for Men has a sturdy looking one for £24.99. Hanging it above your current feeder might just “baffle” them into giving up. (If anyone's tried making one with a dustbin lid, let us know.)
Finally, squirrels seem to have more than their fair share of video online. Below is the advert for Carling Black Label from 1989, which still makes me laugh, while you can get more giggles at WebTVHub and Tom Jepson’s Funny Squirrels Page, which includes another laugh-out-loud ad, this time for Budweiser.
In summer, vegetable gardens around the country are festooned with CDs. There's no doubt that they catch the light (this summer, a lunch guest stoically put up with being blinded every 30 seconds, as a distant CD twisted in the breeze and sent blazes of light into the dining-room - if only he'd mentioned it earlier...). But they ain't pretty.
So here's another idea for a present. Gardeners who find hanging tat in the garden offensive might be glad to receive a more attractive bird scarer, and something that last year was awarded Gift of the Year in the Outdoor Living Category. Gift of the Year is a competition run by the Giftware Association, which looks for, according to their website, innovative designs of good quality, well presented.
Certainly the Birds Away kit caught my eye, and I wanted to know more. Unfortunately Gifts for the Girls, who include it in their catalogue, never answered my email asking what the little forks and trowels are made of, but one assumes it is something shiny.
If you prefer something with a whiff of magic, however, I think these stainless steel fairies from Black Forge Art fit the bill. At £15 each, or four for £50, they're not as cheap as CDs, of course, but cut from mirror-polished stainless steel, they're definitely more decorative.
Have you bought all your Christmas presents? Sent all your cards? If you're like me, you've barely started and any moment now the frisson of seasonal anticipation will turn to the jagged edge of panic. At the end of November, I met someone who had already baked six Christmas cakes and six Christmas puddings, written all her cards and bought all the many gifts needed for her extended family. I felt, to say the least, inadequate.
With a keen eye for gardeners, Chris Madden has created a range of garden cartoons and could be your answer to both cards and presents.
A Funny Year in the Garden is a collection of his gardening cartoons and would make a fun present, while prints of his work are available at Cartoon Stock. (NB 2015, I wonder if the book is available direct from Chris - it's eye-wateringly expensive on Amazon.)
On his website, he features quite a number of humorous scenes which you download for a fee, paying £30 to print up to a hundred cards, so you’ll probably be most interested if you have a large mailing list. Still, it’s certainly an opportunity to send something a bit different.
Regular readers will have spotted that, when it comes to Christmas presents for gardeners, I like to leave the beaten track. After all, there’s always that gardener who has everything, or the one you wouldn’t dare give any equipment because they’re so fussy about what they use.
So here’s an quirky idea for your favourite vegetable gardener. Simon Drew is a prolific artist who seems to have cornered the market in humorous drawings applied to coasters and trays. If you don’t like puns, then you won’t like Simon, but if, like me, you enjoy a good groan or, more importantly, know someone who does, this is a fun present.
For a huge range of his work, you should visit Castle Melamine. But if they carry the ones I particularly like, then I can't find them.
Simon's "Vegetables of the Silver Screen" is a series taking off famous movies. Can you resist The Gourd, the Bad and the Ugly? Or The Marrow Widow? Or Bean Hur? There are others, but I don’t like to inflict too much pain.
Yesterday, we had the first part of a guest post from Dobbies, giving tips on choosing a tree. But it's not just about choosing a tree; do you know what sort you'd like?
There are many different varieties of Christmas tree, so it might help to know your Noble from your Nordman.
These are the most popular trees sold in the UK:
Norway Spruce A festive classic and long-time favourite. This tree has densely packed needles, providing an excellent shape. They require watering every few days, so ensure you use a tree stand that will hold water.
Fraser Fir Beautifully scented, narrow and retains needles well. The Fraser has been used by the Presidents of the United States more times in the White House than any other variety.
Noble Fir Holds needles better than any other and has well-rounded edges on its blue-green foliage. Very popular in America, where it originates and can usually be found at high altitude.
Nordman Fir Trees Dark green, slender and soft, this variety also holds onto its needles very well making it a very popular tree throughout Europe.
Lodgepole Pine With softer needles than most and also heavily fragranced, this pine is grown in the Highlands and its needles will last well through the Christmas period.
We hope with these tips you are now better equipped to pick the perfect pine for the seasonal celebrations. Have a Happy Christmas.
Ooh, the unexpected pleasures of a blogger! I’m quite excited because this is the first guest post to feature on Weeding the Web, and I'm very pleased to welcome Andrew from Dobbies. This post in is two halves. Today we have some useful tips, including how to spot a good tree from a bad one. Come back tomorrow for a quick rundown on the different types of Christmas tree.
How to choose the perfect real Christmas tree
Now we’re into December, even the biggest of Scrooges will be thinking about Christmas. Near the top of the list of Christmas to-dos, will no doubt be a tree.
Ever since St Boniface cut down a sacred Norse tree and put it in his home to prove a point some 400 years ago or so, people celebrating Christmas continue the tree tradition. However, this being the 21st century, the modern consumer is less likely to step outside and chop down a tree in defiance of Thor. Much more likely is that they will want a tree that looks good and hopefully won’t cover the house in spiky needles.
Tips to help pick the perfect Christmas tree:
1. Measure up - Before you leave the house, work out where the tree will be going. Measure the height and width of the space you have chosen and write them down. If you have a decoration that goes on top don’t forget to allow for that too.
2. Take a tape measure - whereever you end up getting your tree, take a tape measure with you so that tip #1 isn’t in vain.
3. Pick your moment - real trees will last 3-4 weeks when taken care of, sometimes a little less. So think about how long you want the tree on display and plan a date to get one.
4. Give a thought to your decorations - varieties of Christmas tree vary in colour and shape, from dark green to greenish-blue as well as having different densities of foliage. So choose a tree that will complement your decorations.
5. Select a fresh tree - healthy trees will have shiny green needles that stay on the branch when shaken. Look out for dishevelled bark and use your nose - you’ll know a fresh one when you smell it.
6. Give a thought to the environment - although most real Christmas trees are grown to be environmentally sustainable, there are further steps you can take. For example: make sure the grower has FSC accreditation, meaning they replant 2 or 3 trees for every one cut. Or, even better, get a potted Christmas tree that can be replanted in your garden.
In some parts of the country it is possible to rent a potted Christmas tree. This year some garden centres are also giving away free saplings with their Christmas trees. So you can plant them in your garden to replace the tree you use. The sapling will also provide you with your own homegrown tree in a few years’ time.
At the beginning of the year, the variegated myrtle that I’d finally settled on to grace our large terracotta pot, received as a wedding present, gave up the ghost (I'm just hoping that’s no portent for the marriage). I think it decided that being buried over its head in snow for the second time in twelve months was a weather condition too far.
It had struggled after the first occasion in 2009, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. Plants in pots are particularly vulnerable to cold weather, as Alys Fowler pointed out in her Guardian column a couple of weeks ago. She spent her internship at the Botanical Gardens in New York and, given the lack of green space, perforce learned a lot about rooftop gardening. “A plant that can withstand -15F in the ground,” she says, “can probably withstand only -5F in a pot.”
Down here in the south-east we’re under serious snow for the third time in two years. The variegated myrtle is more tender than its monotone sister, but even that survived one icy spell, so based on that experience, I’d say it’s not too late to save vulnerable plants if you move them somewhere warmer and sheltered now.
But here’s something I came across earlier this year. The GreenSafe, basically an inflatable greenhouse. It's from Germany, where it was designed by an industrial engineer, and seems such a simple idea that you wonder it hasn’t been done before.