It’s the time of year when it’s tempting to introduce some colour into the borders while waiting for the late summer blooms to get going. We all do it – and provided you prepare the ground well, water thoroughly and mulch, the plants should settle in well. But when you buy large plants at this time of year they often have a mass of roots on the margins of the root ball even when they aren’t pot bound. It’s a good idea to gently scuff them up so that when you plant, the roots travel out into the surrounding soil rather than continuing to travel round in circles, following the shape of their previous home. I’ve found that Sophie Conran’s hand rake is the perfect tool for the job – at the end of each of its tines there’s a little kick in the opposite direction and these are ideal for gently loosening the roots. My new plants have all been given this treatment and look very happy in their new home.
Where to start ? A search on google for the term ‘lawnmowers’ brings up 6,550,000 results so there’s plenty of choice. There’s cylinder, rotary, hover, ride on and even robot mowers. I rather like the red ones but I’m not sure that is the right way to go about choosing one fit for purpose.
A good place to start is to take a look at your lawn. Take account of whether it sloping or level ? Does it undulate or is it flat ? How big is it ? Armed with this information you are in a better place to make an informed decision. Like many lawns ours is fairly flat and of the sort of size that you might associate with village living. So how did we go about choosing the right mower ?
The Spring Flower shows are as good a place as any to go to see a range of mowers from some of the big names. That’s where we purchased our first mower. After doing the rounds we settled on the stylish, environmentally friendly Honda Izy mower. It’s a petrol rotary mower which cuts through the grass using a high speed spinning horizontal rotating blade. Rotary mowers are competitively priced and consequently are the best selling type of mower in the UK.
About the Honda Izy
When we bought our mower, around ten years ago, one of the factors that led us to choosing the Izy was the fact that it copes well with most types of lawns. So when we moved house it was not necessary to purchase a new mower. Let’s take a look at some of the other advantages :
Advantages of the Honda Izi
- Adjustable front and rear wheels – choose a suitable cutting height anywhere between 20-74mm. Quite handy if your lawn undulates. On a high setting it’s good at coping with long, damp or rough grass.
- Easy to start – one pull of the cord is usually all it takes.
- Simple to set up and maintain – within ten minutes of opening the box you can be mowing your lawn.
- Quiet (for a petrol rotary mower) – as petrol mowers go this has to be one of the quietest on the market.
- The Izy is available as self drive or propelled. Rear wheel drive is optional and for larger areas of grass this would be recommended.
When it comes to awards the Izy has performed well over the years and in 2011 it won the award for being the Best Buy Petrol Mower. Certainly in our experience the Izy has provided years of reliable service. For £324 you can buy a Honda Izy directly online from honda.co.uk.
When it comes to kitting out your greenhouse you can end up spending a small fortune. Let’s take a look at the essential bits of equipment to help you set up your greenhouse in the right way.
Every greenhouse should have a bench from which to work. When choosing staging there’s primarily three types available :
Slatted staging - Perhaps the most popular as it is both lightweight and cheap to make as it uses less material than other staging types. Slatted staging allows free drainage and also permits air to pass between the slats which helps keep the greenhouse cool on warm days. Ventilation is crucial in not only keeping the greenhouse cool but also reducing pests and diseases.
Solid staging – As the name suggests such staging will have a solid surface. This is often in the form of a tray which can be filled with pea gravel. Consequently solid staging can be useful for retaining a level of moisture which helps to cool the greenhouse as well as providing a moist environment favoured by a number of plant types.
Plunge staging is most commonly used for growing alpines. In this instance the staging usually has a 9 inch deep tray which is filled with sand. Since Alpine plants grow best in conditions where their roots are kept cool the plunge staging help simulate this environment in that the pots can be partially or fully buried in the sand so as to keep them cool.
When measuring up for staging first consider it’s position within the greenhouse. Usually staging runs down the length of the structure. You should opt for as wide as you can and in this regard there are two points to consider :
- How far across it can you reach ? For example will you be able to reach across it to open the side vents of the greenhouse ?
- The staging should not extend so far into the greenhouse that it goes beyond the width of the door.
In the instance you can set the height of the staging you should aim to put it so that staging surface is 500mm above the floor. To put this in context a typical kitchen worktop is 600mm high. Why so low ?
When your staging is in use it should be full of pots and seedtrays – the top of these will likely be nearer a standard worktop height. Bare in mind that you’ll have to water these regularly and holding a watering can high up for any length of time may prove difficult.
Like staging, greenhouse shelving is particularly useful. It is most commonly placed directly above the staging below the eaves of the greenhouse. This usually gets warmer that the staging due to its proximity to the roof glass and is consequently often used to germinate seeds in seed trays. If you plan to use your greenhouse shelving for pots then you should allow ample space between the top surface of the shelf and the eaves. Shelving is often slatted and most widths can accommodate a seed tray which is 34cm wide.
There are a number of options for shading your greenhouse which range in price. At the cheaper end you could opt to whitewash your greenhouse during the warmest months of the year. Equally inexpensive but requiring patience and ongoing maintenance is to plant a vine which can be trained to provide some natural shade (with the advantage that it also provides grapes).
Then there’s the option of retractable roller blinds. These are usually fitted internally and can be utilised when hot and sunny and retracted on cooler cloudier days. Whilst such blinds provide important shade they do not stop the warmth from the sun penetrating the greenhouse. Consequently the greenhouse can get very hot. In the instance that you want to cool as well as shade the greenhouse then consider external shading. A number of suppliers provide external blinds that are either permanently fixed during the summer months or retractable. In either instance if you’re expecting windy weather you should perhaps consider taking them down until the wind dissipates. As you might expect external blinds will deteriorate over time.
Keeping your greenhouse ventilated is vitally important. A well ventilated greenhouse will help keep your plants cool (or alive!) on warm days but it will also assist in reducing plant disease. If you are not around on a daily basis then autovents are a godsend. Relatively cheap and extremely effective an autovent can be fitted to almost any vent.
The autovents respond to changes in temperature, the warmer the temperature the wider they open. They require no electricity. A cylinder filled with mineral wax is the key to how they work. As the wax warms it expands which in turn pushes out a piston. In the evening as the temperature cools the wax contracts, the piston retracts, and the window closes. Genius !
Depending on how you intend to use your greenhouse a heater can be invaluable. Most commonly they are used to keep the temperature of the greenhouse above freezing throughout winter. There are two types of greenhouse heaters :
Parafin – cheap and effective but requiring careful maintenance and attention.
Electric Fan heaters – most come with a thermostat which allows them to start up when a certain minimum temperature is breached. These have the added advantage of being used as a fan to circulate the air in the summer. As you might expect these are more usually more expensive to run and will require a power source within the greenhouse.
If your pinks (dianthus) are looking a bit leggy you can get them looking good again by digging them up and then planting them much deeper so that all the straggly bits of stem are below soil level. They will send out new roots along the buried stems and lose that air of neglect. You can do this with lavenders too. A top dressing of gravel will stop the stems springing up again.
The bags of freshly chipped bark that are waiting to be spread on the paths in the garden have provided an unexpected benefit. When I noticed how quickly the bark was heating up, it occurred to me that I could use them as giant propagators. The broad beans that had shown no sign of germinating in the greenhouse started to shoot after 3 days in their cosy new quarters. Very satisfying. There is an extraordinary amount of bacterial and fungal activity in the chippings, so much so that I’m taking the precaution of wearing a face mask when spreading it to avoid inhaling the smoke-like clouds of dust. For the photo I moved one of the seedboxes to one side to reveal the network of fungus that has formed.