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Ther RHS national schools science project starts this week

Today (18 April) British astronaut Tim Peake sent a special message from space to the hundreds of thousands of children who will be beginning our Rocket Science project in partnership with the UK Space Agency experiment this week.

Tim, who delivered the message from the International Space Station where he’s been since December, wished the 600,000 young people signed up to the experiment good luck with their investigations into the impact of micro-gravity and space travel on seed germination and growth. The results will help to form a clearer picture of the potential for astronauts to grow their own food to sustain them on long-term missions.

Speaking while 400km above the surface of the Earth, Tim said:

“This is a really exciting week for the hundreds of thousands of young people across the country who will begin their Rocket Science experiments. I’d like to wish everyone taking part the best of luck with their investigations and I look forward to seeing some of the results.

“It’s possible that among those pupils taking part in the project are the young people who will help mankind reach the next big milestones in space exploration for the benefit of people on Earth. I hope the RHS Campaign for School Gardening’s Rocket Science experiment will spark curiosity and wonder amongst young people who may become the next generation of horticultural scientists.”

With more than 8,600 schools and educational groups poised to begin their Rocket Science experiment this week, the project is now among the biggest mass science experiments conducted in UK schools.

Rocket Science will see school pupils across the country spend 35 days analysing the growth and development of two batches of seemingly identical rocket seeds. However, one batch of seeds has spent time in space with Tim on the International Space Station, orbiting the Earth at 17,000mph. The aim of the experiment is to enthuse young people about science and horticulture and provide the European Space Agency with key insights into some of the challenges of growing food in space.

Results of the experiment will be published later in the year but keep an eye on our website, Facebook page and Twitter page for updates!

Source: RHS

 

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A magnificent Kitchen Garden 'out front' in Drummondsville, Quebec, Canada

A magnificent Kitchen Garden ‘out front’ in Drummondsville, Quebec, Canada

Front Gardens under the Spotlight

A new study to help understand what impact front gardens have on their owners and passers-by has been commissioned by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). Scientists from the RHS are teaming up with academics from the Universities of Sheffield (UK) and Virginia (USA).

They’ll be employing a PhD student to help determine how gardening affects the mood and psychological health of people who have not gardened before, by helping them, amongst other things,  to ‘green over’ once paved front gardens. The societal value of gardens will also be evaluated by gathering information on the extent to which gardening encourages communication and engagement between garden owners, neighbours and passers-by. Here’s a video about the creation of the ‘kitchen garden out front’ in Quebec, Canada.

Part of the RHS campaign ‘Greening Grey Britain’, the new research will seek evidence to make the case for gardening to local and national government, supporting what many of us instinctively know- that green spaces have positive impacts on health and well-being.

On a similar theme, the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show this year will feature four front gardens designed and created by winners of a new competition being hosted by the RHS and BBC Local Radio to design a front garden.

Anyone can enter a ‘feel-good garden, celebrating the health benefits of gardening and taking inspiration from where they live.’

See here for more information and how to enter.

Source: RHS ‘The Garden’ Magazine, February 2016

Old School Gardener

Scylla- '4 weeks late'

Scylla- ‘4 weeks late’ in 2013

‘Everything’s four weeks late’. So said my friends and fellow gardeners Derek and Mary Manning in April last year (we were just emerging from the coldest winter in 50 years). This was when I wrote this last article in the series on gardening and climate change.

You might remember Mary from my first article in the series. She’s the Norfolk gardener who’s been keeping records of when certain plants first flower each year – for over 60 years in fact.

Over that time she’s seen a gradual creeping forward of when some spring flowers do their stuff, so supporting the evidence from elsewhere that the overall climate is warming in the UK and that Spring is starting earlier…. Yes, you did read correctly, spring is starting earlier! That is until 2013, when all the expectations flew out of the window as we had our coldest March for 50 years and, as any UK gardener will tell you, most plants were holding off until the real Spring arrived. The Manning’s evidence in 2013 showed that Scylla (the lovely purply- blue woodland bulb) flowered on the 4th April in 2013, almost exactly a month later than in 2012!

Why do I share this information with you? Well, if you’ve been reading my previous articles in this series you will have gathered that recent events in the UK’s weather (and further afield) seem to be prompting some rethinking of the theories and forecasts of climate change and it’s expected effects.

In my first article, I set out what the forecasts currently are and how these seem to be changing, so that unexpected or abnormal weather events (prolonged periods of unseasonal cold,wet or drought) seem to be increasing in their frequency and impact on gardeners – and everyone else. This could mean that we need to set aside notions of ‘lateness’ in flowers blooming or not, as the age-old certainties of what and when the different seasons happen is changing.

How can we gardeners cope with this increased unpredictability? My second article talked about how we can prepare the garden for this sort of uncertainty – how to create our own, managed ‘micro climate’ if you like. In my last article I talked about how this preparedness needs to be complemented by a watchful, vigilant gardener – I call him/her the ‘Constant Gardener’. A way of gardening which is tuned in to what’s happening in the short to medium term and can take remedial action to further ameliorate or take advantage of the weather we get.

This article is the final piece of the jigsaw, so to speak – what sources of information and intelligence are already open to us and that may possibly develop in the future? In short, how to ensure that as well as being well prepared, watchful and diligent we take advantage of all the information we can to better judge what we do and when in the garden. I want to cover the following topics:

  • Weather forecasting –  can we expect longer range forecasting to improve, to give us the forward view we need of how particular seasons are going to go?

  • Plant hardiness and quality are there any systems for judging and ranking plants to help us?

  • Pests and diseaseswhat early warning systems are there to help us prevent the worst effects of these in our gardens as the seasons roll on?

Warm if not sunny

Weather – can we expect seasonal forecasting to improve?

Back in April 2013 here in Norfolk we were forecast (I nearly said ‘promised’) rain over night on two occasions. This failed to materialise so I had to adjust my plant moving plans a little and the continuing dry weather meant I could get on with other weather dependent tasks in the garden. I have to say, I wasn’t that surprised as here in eastern England the progress of easterly tracking weather fronts can often promise rain, only for this to peter out over the rest of the country before we see any benefit. This day to day uncertainty is to be expected and to be honest I can probably live with it, as the weather forecasts, including their useful ‘severe weather warnings’, are generally reliable enough.

If I were overly anxious or wanting to plan things on almost an hour by hour basis the Met office’s ‘Nowcasts’  use radar to look a few hours ahead. Particularly useful for those harvesting waste water on an agricultural scale as well as extreme weather events involving potentially damaging hail, strong winds and lightning, I could look these up and plan my activities to the minutest degree.  What I really would value though, is a longer term picture of what the next few months or weeks are likely to hold weatherwise. Not surprisingly, it’s this sort of forecasting that proves to be the most challenging as it involves monitoring and then predicting a number of variables and is particularly difficult in the UK because of our position on the globe. As the Met office explains:

‘Our one-day weather forecasts are right six days out of seven, and today’s four-day forecasts are as accurate as one-day forecasts were 30 years ago. While this shows great advances in reliability, we cannot always predict detailed differences in weather at a local level.

This is because the atmosphere is an extremely complicated system, affected by a huge number of factors and with the potential to react in endless different ways. To ensure completely accurate forecasts at all times, we would have to greatly increase the amount of observations we get so they cover every part of the planet, every minute of the day. Even then, a supercomputer far more powerful than anything in existence today would be needed to simultaneously process all this information into forecasts.

We are not there yet, but as we increase the number of observations, the complexity of the models, and the power of our supercomputers, forecasts should get more and more accurate.’

Online Weather services hold awide rnage of information and 'outlooks' for the month and season ahead

Online Weather services hold a wide range of information including ‘outlooks’ for the month and season aheadOf course it doesn’t help matters when the media gets hold of these longer term forecasts and makes simplistic and crude statements like ‘scorching summer predicted’ and so on.

This just discredits the longer term forecasting with all its hedging around with probabilities, if’s and but’s. The Met Office defended it’s work on long-range forecasting following criticism of its forecasts for the Spring and summer of 2012, when exceptionally wet weather hit the UK.

It concluded:‘We are confident that long-range outlooks will improve progressively and that the successes we have achieved in other parts of the world already will, in the future be mirrored in the UK. The Met Office constantly reviews the accuracy of our forecasts across all time scales and is recognised by the World Meteorological Organization as one of the top two national weather forecasting services in the world….Better understanding and representing the drivers of predictability in the global climate system that influence our weather patterns is as ever a priority for Met Office research in order to deliver improved advice and services on all timescales.’

Further comment  came in a reply to my specific questions about longer range forecasting and gardeners. Dave Britton of the Met Office said:

‘The provision of longer-range forecasts is extremely challenging and always will be for the likes of NW Europe and the UK, where only small changes in driving factors can have a big influence on pressure patterns, wind direction and therefore our weather. However the science of longer range forecasting is improving and just as we have seen huge improvements over the last 40 years or so in the provision of 3 to 5 day forecasts, we will see similar advances in long-range forecasting in the future too.’

The position in North America appears to be somewhat more predictable, though even here there have been exceptional weather events in recent years which may point to a more uncertain future. The larger-scale, continental climate here seems to make it easier to predict things like first and last frost days in different parts of the US and Canada, something that the Met Office doesn’t do, mainly because  the weather in the UK is much more variable.

So, apart from hoping that longer range forecasting will improve what other weather data can the UK gardener use to inform his timings and techniques? For fruit and veg growers a critical factor is air and soil temperature for germination and planting. Maybe we need to be even more aware of what’s needed for different types of plant- see the examples of this sort of information below.

Plant hardiness and quality – what systems are there to help us choose plants that perform and are resilient?

Another area of information we gardeners can use to cope with weather relates to plants themselves – their hardiness, resilience to particular extreme conditions and other qualities. In the UK the Royal Horticultural Society has reviewed both its plant hardiness and ‘Award of Garden Merit’ systems. The new plant hardiness system is now temperature based (instead of classifying the UK into four geographical hardiness zones which was the basis of the previous system).

Now plants are being put into seven categories from glasshouse plants (H1) through to plants which are ‘fully hardy’ (H7). The RHS Director of Horticulture, Jim Gardiner says he is conscious that in the UK plants have to contend with other factors than temperature when looking at ‘hardiness’ – the condition of the plant itself, prevailing climatic conditions, growing conditions, position in the garden, age, provenance and so on. We also have temperature swings to contend with (RHS – ‘The Garden’, February 2013). So I guess there is a recognition that this hardiness guide (which is currently limited to the plants in the RHS Award of Garden Merit scheme) has its limitations.

But, as Jim Gardiner says, it is a system which is plant, not place – based (like the US Department of Agriculture Winter Hardiness Zone approach – see the map below). So, it is perhaps more useful for the UK gardener, where our maritime context and variations in temperature and associated growing conditions can be much more localised (as well as increasingly unpredictable) than is the case in such a large continental land mass.

SIMP_All_states_fullzones_300dpi

USA Winter Hardiness Zones

USA Winter Hardiness Zones

The other main plant rating system in the UK – the ‘Award of Garden Merit’ –  is also run by the Royal Horticultural Society, and began in 1922. It received a complete overhaul in 1992 and a ten yearly review cycle resulted in a new list being compiled last year. In addition, following plant trials or round table reviews by plant committees and specialists, new awards are made every year. The ten – yearly reviews ensure that every variety is still available, hasn’t developed disease or pest problems, and hasn’t been superseded by something better. In the 2012 review, for example, the crab apple ‘Comtessa de Paris’ replaced ‘Golden Hornet’, which can suffer scab. In the 2012 review of the nearly 1000 vegetables holding the AGM, 404 were no longer available, so they have been deleted from the list.

The AGM is intended to be of practical value to the home gardener and is awarded only to a plant that meets the following criteria:

  • Excellent for ordinary use in appropriate conditions – a cultivar or selection that outperforms others, perhaps for more flowers, length of flowering, scent, colour, form etc.

  • Available to buy

  • Of good constitution – the plant should be known to be generally healthy

  • Essentially stable in form and colour – it should perform according to its description

  • Reasonably resistant to pests and diseases – it should have no pest and disease issues that would affect growth and performance

Rudbekia laciniata 'Goldkugel'-  in the RHS AGM list and considered to be fully hardy (H7)

Rudbekia laciniata ‘Goldkugel’- in the RHS AGM list and considered to be fully hardy (H7)

Rudbekia laciniata ‘Goldkugel’- in the RHS AGM list and considered to be fully hardy (H7)

Just because a plant has an AGM, does not mean it will do well when poorly looked after. A large number of plants hold AGMs at any one time. The current list (which includes the plant hardiness rating) contains over 6000 ‘ornamentals’ and 1000 ‘fruit and vegetable’ varieties and is used in plant gazeteers such as the RHS ‘Plant Finder’ which lists where plants, including AGM holders, can be purchased. A similar system operates in the US, the ‘All American Selection’ (AAS), which is slightly younger and somewhat different to the AGM. The judges and the trial grounds vary from year to year and four categories are judged: Flower, Bedding Plant, Vegetable, Cool Season Bedding Plant, and only never-before-sold varieties are tested.

So, the new and updated systems of plant hardiness and quality look like being useful sources of information for gardeners considering which new plants (or maybe replacements) to grow in their particular location and with an eye on future weather extremes. And it is no accident that some experts are starting to identify plants that can withstand particular climatic extremes, like flooding.

Potato blight- early warnings of its spread for 8 years in the UK

Potato blight- there have been early warnings of its spread for 8 years in the UK

Pests and diseases – can we get early warning of possible problems?

Finally, it is clear that some (if not many) pests and diseases can flourish in different weather conditions. Is it possible to predict how different pests or diseases might affect your garden so that you can take the necessary preventative action? In the UK there are some useful ‘early warning systems’ especially for food growers. For example there is a system for potato blight, which is prone to develop in damp, warm conditions.  The Potato Council has offered a blight incident reporting service for 8 years. This information is collected on a voluntary basis by 300 ‘blight scouts’ drawn from members of the potato industry who are routinely walking potato fields during the season. You can sign up to be alerted about blight with the Potato Council.

You can  sign up for early warnings of the spread of aphids

You can sign up for early warnings of the spread of aphids

You can sign up for early warnings of the spread of aphids

The UK Horticulture Development Company Pest Bulletin provides early warnings of potentially damaging pest attacks and valuable advice for planning this season’s planting of fruit and veg. Providing information throughout the key periods of pest activity, the HDC Pest Bulletins are updated on a regular basis, especially when particular insects are developing rapidly.The HDC also produces a Pest blog.

The UK  Home Grown Cereals Authority (HGCA) also produces a weekly regional ‘aphid alert’ which you can sign up to. All these systems have their value, but I’m not aware of any system that draws them together for gardeners on a regular, regional basis. Perhaps this is something the RHS might coordinate, incorporating the latest weather forecasts and advice about particular issues affecting different plants?

To sum up, there are already a number of sources of information and intelligence available to the gardener that can help ensure a successful garden. Some of these – e.g. longer term weather forecasting and pest and disease warnings  – would clearly benefit from further investment and coordination. These can  be put alongside measures to prepare your garden for unpredictable weather and adopting an approach to gardening which is ‘watchful and diligent’- the constant gardener. It will also be interesting to see the results of the RHS- University of Reading survey of gardeners and climate change models when it is published- hopefully sometime in April 2014.

Together they give me optimism that the gardener of the future will be well equipped to cope with climate change. And we mustn’t forget the importance of adopting sustainable gardening practices as well as a positive move to reduce the ongoing impact we have on global warming and its fuelling of further climate change.

rain measuring boots

One way of monitoring water levels?!

One way of monitoring water levels?!

If you have any comments on these ideas or have some of your own, I’d love to hear from you!

Previous articles in this series:

Four Seasons in One Day (3): Climate Change and the Constant Gardener

Four Seasons in One Day (2): Preparing the garden for climate change

Four Seasons in One Day (1): Climate change and the garden

Further information:

Top pest and disease threats in Britain

RHS Science Strategy

Dig for Victory- how your garden can help beat climate change

Watering advice

Wikipedia- Tiwanaku

Sir John Beddington’s warnings on climate change

Britain like Madeira?

My Climate Change Garden

UK Meteorological Office – impacts of climate change on horticulture

Royal Horticultural Society – gardening in a changing climate

‘Gardening in the Global Greenhouse ‘ – summary

RSPB- guide to sustainable drainage systems (download)

RHS guide to front gardens and parking

Old School Gardener

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Win a greenhouse for your School!

What is GYGG?
We’ve teamed up with TV gardener, David Domoney to launch Get Your Grown-ups Growing (GYGG) 2014. We are encouraging schools across the UK to host a GYGG event this October where they invite adults from the local community to help out in the school garden….’

Old School Gardener

Keeping the bees happy is one aspect of planting a wildlife garden

Keeping the bees happy is one aspect of planting a wildlife garden

The latest round of RHS Garden Shows winds it’s way around the country – Hampton Court is next up and opens 0n 8th July. I’ve been to this show twice before and I reckon that most if not all of the show gardens (and this is probably true of the other shows too), tend towards what you might call the ‘middle ground’ of design (perhaps considered a ‘safe bet’?) What I mean is that they usually combine that tried and tested formula of ‘formal structure, informal planting’ – what you might call the classic Arts and Crafts/ English Country House style.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a style I love myself and is what I’m trying to create here at the Old School Garden. But every now and then its refreshing to see something at one of the ‘design extremes’- the sort of creation that pushes you into thinking again about structural features or particular planting choices and combinations in your own garden, or even more fundamentally, what you expect your garden to do.

At this year’s Hampton Court Show one garden looks set to do this and at the same time get across some important messages about the potential food value of gardens- and in particular the wide range of good quality food that nature puts on the menu.  ‘The Jordans Wildlife Garden’ has been created to reflect a long-term commitment from Jordans to the British countryside. With a colourful variety of features from edible wild flowers, trees and hedges to oats, fruit and nuts – all of which can be foraged from the countryside – the garden provides a natural ‘larder’ to share as a shelter for birds, bees and butterflies. Its unveiling celebrates the belief that great tasting food comes from working closely with nature, as well as aiming to inspire gardeners everywhere to support British wildlife.

The Jordans Wildlife Garden Design

The Jordans Wildlife Garden Design

This Garden is set to showcase the importance of sustainability and protecting the British countryside to RHS visitors from across the country. Oat fields, inspired by Jordans’ farms, outline the sides of the garden, moving through to mown paths of species rich meadow, which curve through the space. Swathes of meadow alongside the paths give a close connection to nature. The garden is surrounded by a cut log wall and grassy banks, which form a wildlife friendly edge to the garden and a habitat for wildlife. A nut terrace that provides an edible treat for both people and wildlife surrounds the elegant, reflective pool in the centre of the garden. There are also sculpted straw benches, created by willow sculptor Spencer Jenkins, that provide a place to rest and enjoy the relaxing atmosphere. Mixed native hedgerow and fruit and nut trees will surround one side of the garden, providing more edible treats for people and animals.

The Garden features have been designed to support local wildlife, including thatched insect hotels, birdhouses and feeding stations. These were all custom crafted for the Garden and add a unique beauty to the space. Design elements such as cut wood stepping-stones, created by chainsaw artist Ella Fielding, will provide further material for animals to make their homes in, whilst the meadow flowers themselves house a beehive – a core feature of any wildlife garden.

All the sustainable elements of the Garden also represent a commitment by Jordans to The Prince’s Countryside Fund, which works to support the people that take care of our countryside and ensures a sustainable future for British farmers and rural communities. And it just shows the ease with which these elements can be brought into compact garden spaces, whilst still supporting local wildlife.

Selina Botham, a passionate wildlife and garden enthusiast, designed the Garden. She has won numerous awards for her beautiful and considered approach to gardening, from Gold Medal to Best In Show for her first ever garden at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. And as part of its British countryside celebrations this July, Jordans has enlisted the taste expertise of Great British Bake Off winner, Edd Kimber, to create a series of foraged food recipes inspired by The Jordans Wildlife Garden.

Selina Botham
Selina Botham

Long-term supporters of wildlife habitats and increased biodiversity, Jordans’ cereal farmers devote at least 10% of their farmed areas to supporting wildlife. These sustainable practices are at the centre of the company’s ethos and their pioneering work in this area helps to create a more diverse countryside by encouraging up to five times more wildlife in agricultural spaces.

As a daily consumer of their fruity Muesli, it’s nice to know that they promote sustainable farming practices!

Links for further information:

Jordans Cereals and the Wildlife Garden

Up to date coverage of the Jordan’s Wildlife Garden at the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show – on Facebook and Twitter

Old School Gardener

Grow_Hope_Everyly.jpg

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…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19ZsByGtobg

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

 

Green Monday

From the RHS:

‘Blue Monday? Not for gardeners! A new survey has shown that Brits truly are a nation of gardeners with 77% saying they garden and 82% saying it makes them feel happier! A whopping 70% also said that given the choice, they would prefer to spend their working day in a garden. Inspired? See our films of horticulturists explaining their jobs make them happy, and join us on Twitter all day tweeting with ‪#‎GreenMonday‬: http://bit.ly/1b1PJcu’

I’ve just come in from some garden foliage clearing – crisp, sunny afternoon, wonderful sunset….happy.

Old School Gardener

School Gardening Training Courses

All Saints pupils with their school-grown veg in the allotment

This is a link to the RHS programme of courses.

Old School Gardener

Community Food Growing in a Garden City – New project

‘Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation and the RHS are joining forces in an innovative community-focused programme to create three new sustainable green spaces in the heart of the town.

It is hoped that the project will ultimately be used as a model for how communities, especially those in low-income areas, can best utilise their public green space for food production and to create affordable and attractive areas, which are a benefit to local wildlife as well as the community…..’

Click on link above for more info.

Old School Gardener

PicPost: Pumped Up

image via RHS

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