Tag Archive: africa

‘Weather watching’, or rather using forecasts of it and then responding so as to maximise plant growth and health, is a central task for most gardeners, especially those growing food. So my next object (no it’s not a weather vane), marks the massive progress there’s been in forecasting over the last 50 or so years; it’s one of the first satellites to be launched with the aim of improving meteorological forecasting, the TIROS-1.

Artist's impression of the TIROS 1. Picture by NASA Kennedy Space Center

Artist’s impression of the TIROS 1. Picture by NASA Kennedy Space Center

Launched way back in 1960, the TIROS Program (Television Infrared Observation Satellite) was NASA’s first experimental step to determine if satellites could be useful in the study of the Earth. At that time, the effectiveness of satellite observations was still unproven. Since satellites were a new technology, the TIROS Program also tested various design issues for spacecraft: instruments, data and operational parameters. The goal was to improve satellite applications for Earth-bound decisions, such as “should we evacuate the coast because of the hurricane?”. The TIROS Program’s first priority was the development of a meteorological satellite information system. Weather forecasting was deemed the most promising application of space-based observations.

TIROS proved extremely successful, providing the first accurate weather forecasts based on data gathered from space. TIROS began continuous coverage of the Earth’s weather in 1962, and was used by meteorologists worldwide. The program’s success with many instrument types and orbital configurations lead to the development of more sophisticated meteorological observation satellites. Read more here.

We gardeners have benefitted enormously from improvements in both long and short-term weather forecasting; I especially like the three-day forecasts broadcast on the BBC here in the UK, which usually turn out to be pretty accurate. Of course, with climate change affecting weather patterns, leading, it seems, to ever-increasing ‘unusual’ weather events, the future challenges for gardeners and growers (as well as the general population) are perhaps greater than they were. The worst effects of extremes of wet, dry, wind, hot and cold can be ameliorated with physical changes to the layouts of our gardens to create ‘micro climates’ and we need to be ready to supply extra water and perhaps food for plants in times of drought.

And in these days of ‘big data’ it is also interesting to see how further technological developments could help to improve farming (and in due course gardening?) practices. So called ‘Cloud Farming’ is being trialled in Kenya, Africa to help small holders monitor and manage key elements of their plots in ‘real time’. As a recent blog post on ‘Can We feed the World?’ says:

‘Although a sophisticated technology relying on expensive high-tech equipment, and thus not practical for the average smallholder farmer, cloud farming is increasing our knowledge of what happens on a farm scale, knowledge which could be useful in providing technical assistance on a broader scale. IBM’s EZ-Farm project, which is currently being piloted in Kenya, aims to explore how advanced data collection and analytics can help farmers monitor farming conditions on their smallholdings. Around the farm, sensors and infra-red cameras are strategically placed to monitor water tank levels, the amount of moisture in the soil, the performance of irrigation equipment, and rates of photosynthesis. This data is then streamed wirelessly to the IBM Cloud and can be accessed by the farmer via a smartphone app. The hope is that with access to such information, farmers can modify their practices and make their farms more productive…’

6928926222_9304a04498_zSo, while a weather satellite might seem a bit removed from the essence of gardening, I think it symbolises both gardeners’ historic need to monitor and forecast the weather (perhaps with something as basic as a weather vane), and our continuing need to do this, using technology to arm us with the information we need in more unpredictable times.

 Old School Gardener

A Baobab Tree- probably 2000 years old

A Baobab Tree- probably 2000 years old


World Vision UK – the world’s largest, international children’s charity – has a new campaign called “Grow Hope”, which is aiming to raise awareness of Ethiopia’s transformation from drought to lush vegetation and get help to achieve similar results in other parts of Africa.

This year marks the 30 year anniversary of the 1984 Ethiopian famine, the worst in living memory. Thanks to World Vision and the generosity of supporters, the Antsokia Valley, which was hardest hit by drought, is now a lush, green oasis. Hope of a future free from hunger has grown into a reality. This video tells you more…


World Vision will be exhibiting gardens at three RHS Flower Shows this summer to mark the anniversary of the famine and celebrate the transformation of Antsokia. They are also offering a chance to win RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show tickets when you register for a Grow Hope pack, on the World Vision website: http://www.worldvision.org.uk/growhope/competition

For every person who signs up, World Vision will give vulnerable families in Zambia orange maize seeds, rich in Vitamin A, to ensure children can live a life free from the fear of hunger. They hope that the free packs will encourage people to reflect on the progress made and spread the word about the help that is still needed – to grow hope and share hope.

I’m signing up, will you?

Old School Gardener


PicPost: Snookered

KniphofiaA genus of 70 or so rhizomatous perennials from central and southern Africa, Kniphofia – or ‘red hot pokers’ – can often be found in moist places; alongside river banks, in grasslands or mountainsides. They are also called tritoma, torch lily, knofflers or poker plant. The Kniphofia genus is named after Johann Kniphof, an 18th-century German physician and botanist.

Kniphofia form clumps, with arching, strap-like leaves. They can be evergreen or deciduous, the leaves of the deciduous varieties tending to be narrower and shorter than the evergreens. They thrive in any soil as long as it is moisture retentive, prefer sun but will tolerate light shade and can vary from tender to fully hardy. Many tolerate coastal conditions. Coming from South Africa, they are not completely hardy, particularly in the far north. For safety grow the more hardy evergreen varieties, where you should tie up the leaves over the winter, so protecting each other from frost.  They are also susceptible to ‘wet feet’ – this is particularly bad in clay soils when they are also cold.

The flowers are cylindrical or tubular and usually hang down (‘pendent’), though in some varieties are upright. Flowers are borne well above the leaves in dense spike – like racemes. The flowers come in various colours, including green and toffee, but most of the commonly seen types open red and turn to yellow, giving  the characteristic, bicoloured flower spikes.

Red Hot Pokers make good cut flowers. The flowers produce copious nectar while blooming and are attractive to bees and butterflies. In the New World they may attract sap-suckers such as hummingbirds and New World orioles. They are low in allergens.

Tritoma group

A group of Kniphofia or ‘Tritoma’

Red hot pokers seem to have suffered a bad press over the years, stemming from Victorian times when one influential garden writer (Shirley Hibberd) thought they were vulgar and that their use required “a little extra care to avoid a violation of good taste”.

Cultivars range from 50cm to 2 metres in height, and the taller ones may need staking. Late-summer flowers such as Crocosmias look good with them, as do different sorts of marigolds; e.g. ‘Touch of Red’ and ‘Art Shades’ which are ideal for a showy look. Salvia uliginosa combined with yellow or coral-coloured pokers gives a more subtle effect. They mix well in the border with other tall plants such as Alliums and Echinops.  Sometimes a mixture of gaudy colours – Delphiniums, Alliums, Lilies and Knifophia – is quite attractive.

Kniphofia caulescens

Kniphofia caulescens

You can grow them from seed quite easily using ordinary seed compost – just push the seeds partially into the compost in April, water and they will be transplantable by summertime. Once mature, after a year of growth, the plant is dividable to increase stock. Do this in late September, into pots of 50% compost 50% grit. Dividing is easy enough, they pull apart quite easily and you can simply pot them up. Leave the divided plants in pots in a cool but frost-free greenhouse, and replant in May the next year. When transplanting your Kniphofia, dig a hole that is about 20cm deep by 10cm wide, and half fill with 50% compost, 50% grit mixture and then top up with compost and plant in this. Each spring give them a mulch with good rich compost. You can also give them a liquid feed in June when they start to show signs of flowering. I have some in my long borders at Old School Garden and they are just coming into flower.

Kniphofia and Echinops. Photo- Jenny Cochran's garden

Kniphofia and Echinops. Photo- Jenny Cochran’s garden

Further information:

How to grow Kniphofias- Telegraph article

How to grow Kniphofias-Mirror article

RHS- Kniphofia ‘Bees Sunset’ and other links

RHS 2007/9 Kniphofia trials

Old School Gardener

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