Stiga

  • Valentine's Day - it's sheer poetry!

    valentines day
    Valentine’s Day – it’s sheer poetry!

    It’s that time of year when lovebirds everywhere exchange cards and gifts and enjoy a romantic candlelit dinner for two.

    But why do we celebrate Valentine’s Day each year? What’s so romantic about 14 February? And who is Saint Valentine, anyway? Let’s tackle that tricky last question first.

    It seems there were lots of sainted Valentines in Rome in the 3rd century. Some were said to perform secret weddings that went against the wishes of the authorities – and most of them met a sticky end.

    Others were martyred simply because they administered to persecuted Christians. Legend has it that one of these priests was martyred on 14 February 269 and became known as Saint Valentine, giving rise to the Feast of St Valentine in the Christian calendar.

    That’s one explanation of St Valentine. Here’s another …

    In some folk traditions in Europe, St Valentine’s Day is when people celebrate the start of the new growing season in the fields and vineyards. In these cultures, Saint Valentine is the saint that of Spring and good health.

    So much for the origins then, but where does the romance come into it?

    Historians believe that we have the 14th century poet Geoffrey Chaucer to thank for first connecting St Valentine’s Day with romantic love. His poem, Parlement of Foules (Parliament of Fowls), describes the gathering of birds on “seynt valentynes day” to choose their mates for the year.

    The poem is a humorous and philosophical exploration of love. In the end the birds can’t decide on their mates and put the decision off until the next year.

    More than 200 years later, in Hamlet, Shakespeare also makes a romantic connection, in Ophelia’s song:

    “Tomorrow is Saint Valentine’s day,

    All in the morning betime,

    And I a maid at your window,

    To be your Valentine.”

    So, whatever the true origins of Valentine’s Day, these two giants of English literature probably did more than anyone to popularise it among the wider population as a day for romance. Good for them.

    Wishing a very happy Valentine’s Day to all of you lovebirds – and to those who are taking a leaf out of Chaucer’s birds!

  • Happy Chinese New Year - the Year of the Pig

    chinese new year 2019
    Tuesday 5 February 2019 heralds the start of the Chinese New Year. This year, it’s the Chinese Year of the Pig, which runs until 24 January 2020.

    The Pig is the 12th and last sign of the Chinese Zodiac – according to one particular myth, this is because the pig was the last of the invited animals to turn up to a party hosted by The Jade Emperor, the supreme deity of Chinese tradition. In this legend, The Jade Emperor set a race, which determined the order of the zodiac animals.

    If you were born in the Year of the Pig (1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019), then lucky you, because in Chinese culture, the pig is a symbol of abundance and good fortune. Personality-wise, pigs are likely to be good-natured, generous and compassionate.

    But what about the other 11?

    Rat – Years: 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020. The rat came first, so it comes as no surprise to learn that people born in these years are quick-witted, intelligent, wise, resourceful and often successful. They’re also likeable and kind.

    Ox – Years: 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021. Oxen are hard-working, strong, honest, loyal and reliable. They don’t like being in the limelight but in the end, their qualities shine through.

    Tiger – Years: 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022. Tigers are impetuous, adventurous and courageous – they love a good challenge. They’re also well-meaning and kind.

    Rabbit – Years: 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023. Rabbits are quiet, clever, even-tempered and cautious. They’re also friendly and are blessed with longevity.

    Dragon – Years: 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024. The only imaginary animal in the zodiac, the dragon is the most revered creature in Chinese culture. Those born in these years are strong, intelligent, innovative, confident and fearless.

    Snake – Years: 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, 2025. Wise, intelligent, deep-thinking and sophisticated, snakes are the most enigmatic of all the 12 animals.

    Horse – Years: 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026. Horses are free spirits, full of energy and humour, who love to chase their dreams. Their biggest desire is not materialistic, but to be happy.

    Goat/Ram – Years: 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, 2027. Goats are considerate and caring, usually putting others before themselves. Calm, gentle and shy, they crave harmony.

    Monkey – Years: 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028. Monkeys are jokers who like to make people laugh. They’re also creative, charismatic and intelligent.

    Rooster – Years: 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, 2029. Honest and outspoken to the point of being blunt, roosters are the perfectionists of the zodiac. They’re also hard workers with keen powers of observation.

    Dog – Years: 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, 2030. Likeable, helpful, honest and genuine, a dog is everyone’s best friend! Their defining characteristic is their loyalty, making those born in these years much-loved and popular.

    All of this comes with the caveat that the characteristics also depend on the mineral assigned to each year – 2019 is Earth Pig. Here’s hoping he’s true his nature and brings us a year of good fortune!

  • Trees - the unsung heroes with super-powers

    Trees – the unsung heroes with super-powers

    The UK needs to plant tens of millions of trees in the coming years to help soak up carbon emissions and reduce serious flooding.

    A report to the Government by the Committee on Climate Change says the UK must increase its forest cover from 13% now to 19% by 2050. The advisers also recommend that the Government should more than double the number of trees it plants by 2020.
    tree
    The Woodland Trust describes the advice as a “wake-up call” and should be acted on immediately.

    Whether it’s their leading role in fighting global warming or simply their sheer beauty, trees are super-heroes that just keep on giving. Here are 10 amazing facts about trees.
    mature oak

    1. They help keep us alive – literally. Trees absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen for us to breathe.
    2. They also release chemicals called phytoncides, thought to have health benefits for us when we are exposed to them – another good reason for a woodland walk!
    3. Trees are vital for biodiversity as they provide a home for thousands of species, from birds and mammals to insects and reptiles.
    4. Forest trees are highly social. They communicate with other and share nutrients, using an underground network of fungi dubbed ‘The Wood Wide Web’.
    5. Some trees can emit chemical signals to warn neighbouring trees of an impending insect attack.
    6. A mature oak can ‘drink’ over 100 gallons of water a day.
    7. Scientists believe the first trees on earth were between 350 and 400 million years ago.
    8. The oldest ancient tree in the UK is the Fortingall Yew in Perthshire, thought to be 3,000 years-old – possible older.
    9. There are an estimated three trillion trees on earth currently.
    10. A study by Yale University found that the annual net loss of trees is 10 billion. At this rate there will be no trees left in 300 years’ time.

    So, if you’re looking to add a feature to your garden, why not plant a tree? The Woodland Trust has some great advice at www.woodlandtrust.org.uk.
    hug a tree

  • 5 great New Year’s resolutions for gardeners in 2019

    5 great New Year’s resolutions for gardeners in 2019
    New Year
    As we close the door on 2018 and welcome in 2019, we’d like to wish all our readers and customers a happy and prosperous New Year.

    And, to help you get maximum enjoyment out of your lawns and gardens this year, we’ve come up with some New Year’s resolutions that’ll keep your green spaces – and you! – in good shape.

    1. Get active in the garden.  Whether you’re mowing the lawn, sorting weeds or caring for your trees and plants, gardening activities are great for both physical and mental wellbeing. The fresh air and being close to nature are real tonics, too.
    2. Love your lawn – and your mower.  Get the most out of your lawn by keeping it fabulous all-year-round. You’ll probably want to get your lawnmower serviced before the first mow, which will usually be in March or April. Before that, clear the lawn of any stones or other items that might have got on the grass during the winter months – it’ll save your lawnmower from potential damage. Mow once a week in spring, twice a week in the summer (or once if there’s a drought) and weekly during the autumn.
    3. Grow your own.  Nothing tastes better than home-grown food. Even if you have only a smallish space, make room for some herbs or tomatoes or your favourite veg or berries. You don’t need a bed or a border – you can use pots. If you have a larger garden, local apple and pear tree varieties will deliver an autumn treat.
    4. Be green.  You can start by shredding your Christmas tree for mulch. Compost your veg peelings and garden waste and re-use the composted material in your garden. Encourage wildlife such as birds, bees, hedgehogs and insects by providing food, water and shelter.
    5. Enjoy your garden.  These days, a garden is an extension of your home. It’s a place to sit and relax with a book and a cuppa, or to socialise with family and friends over a drink and a bite to eat. It’s a peaceful haven, or a place to party. Resolve to be kind to yourself in 2019 and get out in your garden as much as you can!
  • The Christmas tree that is ‘the Queen of the Forest’

    The Christmas tree that is ‘the Queen of the Forest’

    Every December, since 1947, the people of Norway have given the people of the United Kingdom a giant Christmas Tree which takes pride of place in Trafalgar Square.
    christmas tree trafalgar square
    But what’s the story behind the annual gift? And how do they go about selecting the tree each year?

    The annual gift is presented in recognition of Britain’s support for Norway during World War Two. Despite its neutrality, Norway was invaded by Germany in April 1940 and, following defeat two months later, remained under German occupation until the end of the war.

    The Royal Navy sought to hold back the German invasion, and both navies suffered casualties.  Britain and its allies also sent an expeditionary force to Norway.  Ultimately, the Allied campaign in Norway was lost in June 1940.

    But the King, members of his family and Government ministers managed to flee Norway on board the Royal Navy ship, HMS Devonshire, enabling the Norwegians to set up a Government in exile in London. However, their evacuation led to the loss of some of HMS Devonshire’s escorting ships.  When Norway was liberated, the Royal Family and Government in exile returned to Norway on board HMS Norfolk.

    The Trafalgar Square tree symbolises the enduring friendship of the two nations. And it’s no ordinary tree, either. Great care is taken in growing and choosing the tree. As you would expect, it is usually a Norwegian spruce. It comes from the forests on the edge of Oslo, is about 25 metres high (82ft), and between 50-100 years old.

    The tree is often selected years in advance – and it must be absolutely perfect. The foresters who tend the chosen tree call it ‘the Queen of the Forest’.  Once chosen, the tree gets extra special treatment, which includes an area of clear space all around it, so it gets good light.

    The felling is a ceremonial event that takes place in November, attended by dignitaries from Norway and Britain. The tree is then brought to London by sea and lorry. Putting the tree up in Trafalgar Square is a major operation, requiring a specialist rigging team and a hydraulic crane. Once up, it is always decorated in traditional Norwegian style.
    christmas tree
    This year, the lighting ceremony at the tree takes place on 6 December at 6pm. Carol singing takes place at the tree on most days in the run up to Christmas. The tree is taken down for recycling just before Twelfth Night.

    Although the most famous, the Trafalgar Square tree isn’t the only one sent to the UK from Norway as a mark of friendship. Other places include The Orkney Islands, Edinburgh and Newcastle.

  • Happy 90th Birthday Mickey Mouse!

    Mickey Mouse, the lawnmower, the hose pipe and other garden adventures!

    Disney’s best-loved cartoon character, Mickey Mouse, turns 90 this month. And, to mark the 90th anniversary of his first ever appearance in Steamboat Willie on 18 November 1928, we’re celebrating some of Mickey’s most memorable moments in the great outdoors.

    As part of our ‘research’, we have trawled the Disney archives (have watched cartoons all afternoon) for examples of Mickey’s gardening ‘prowess’.

    Who knew that everyone’s favourite mouse is a keen gardener?  And that he loves getting out and about in nature?  Just for fun, we’ve selected the pick of the crop, in our top 6 Mickey Mouse short animation movies-with-a-nature-theme.
    mickey mouse tomato

    1. Mickey Cuts Up, 1931. Did you know that there is a Mickey Mouse film about a lawnmower? With Mickey pushing it and Pluto pulling it, you know it will end badly. This is one of the earliest MM shorts and also features Minnie Mouse, a large number of song birds and a cat. It’s when Pluto starts to chase the cat while still pulling the lawnmower that it all gets a bit messy.
    2. Mickey’s Garden, 1935. Times were different then. You could get away with making a cartoon where the main character (Mickey) gets high on insecticide and has trippy dream about giant insects and fights with a snake that’s really a garden hose. This is where we learn that despite his love of gardening, Mickey never really manages to get anything right. Pluto, meanwhile, gets his head stuck in a pumpkin.
    3. The Little Whirlwind, 1941. Mickey offers to clean up Minnie Mouse’s yard, in return for some of her home-baked cake. This involves sweeping up all the leaves, dead easy until a little whirlwind arrives. Mickey finds out that it doesn’t pay to pick a fight with a little whirlwind. It just flies off to fetch a bigger whirlwind. “Be careful of my begonias!” shouts Minnie. Oops!
    4. Potatoland, 2013. Goofy has always wanted to visit the Potatoland amusement park, so Mickey and Donald Duck decide to make his dream come true. The only problem is, the potato-themed park doesn’t exist, it’s just a recurring dream Goofy keeps having. To avoid shattering Goofy’s dreams, Mickey and Donald build a potatoland in Idaho – ‘America’s Potatoland’. If you think that’s surreal, wait until the bit where there’s a gravy flood!
    5. Feed the Birds, 2018. Mickey befriends a little bird called Tuppence but every time he tries to feed the bird, a gang of pigeons swoops and gobbles everything up. Mickey brings a now starving Tuppence into his house to share the contents of his fridge – but the pigeons invade the house and kick Mickey and Tuppence out. Finally, Mickey and Tuppence set a trap for the pigeon bullies and send them into space in a rocket.
    6. Steamboat Willie, 1928. We couldn’t leave this one out, could we? The first ever MM animation is about a river steamboat ride, with Mickey as the pilot. This is another plot that features potatoes. There are also livestock on board, which Mickey and Minnie use as musical instruments, as you do. When the real skipper, Pete, finally gets fed up with Mickey, he sends him below decks to peel spuds. Very badly.

    Happy 90th birthday Mickey!
    mickey mouse

  • NOVEMBER is a month when we really can learn something from the pros

    NOVEMBER is a month when we really can learn something from the pros. From golf courses to formal gardens, professional gardeners will be hard at work doing housekeeping. And it’s all because of leaves…
    frozen leaves on lawn
    We don’t think about it much but leaves actually play a big part in lawn care. In the spring and summer when they’re on the trees, they’re creating shade just where we don’t always want it; and in the autumn and winter, they’re falling off and settling on the grass – again just where we don’t want it. It’s not so much of a problem on flowerbeds where we can leave them to rot and for the worms to pull them down. But on our lawns, fallen leaves can cause lots of problems, not least being the duration of the leaf-fall season itself. No one wants to be popping out every day for weeks on end to clear the latest fall.

    So here is some information and advice to encourage you to do your own good housekeeping during November (and beyond).

    1. Get some kit: If you have big deciduous trees, then it’s worth investing in some machinery to make your leaf-clearing a lot easier. You can of course use your mower to pick up fallen leaves, but a good leaf blower can be just as easy – in fact it’s quite fun! You might even choose to secure a large heap of blown leaves in a quiet corner to give some hibernation shelter to some wildlife – just remember to check carefully next spring when you clear the pile.
    2. Prevent disease: Leaves on the lawn aren’t just untidy; and they don’t just create pale and slow-growing patches of grass. They can actually kill your grass. And they do this by encouraging our worst known lawn disease, fusarium.

    Fusarium is a fungal disease that comes to life in the winter months, and the fallen leaves create a warm, damp environment that is perfect for it to flourish. And fusarium can be fatal. It takes no hostages and if given a chance will attack all types of well-looked-after lawns including sports turf.
    disease scar fusarium
    Fusarium can be discouraged by using good healthy lawn care practice, but the most important thing you can do is to remove those fallen leaves. And keep on doing it. Get them off the grass as soon as possible.

    You should also be wary of any sections of lawn that don’t get much winter sunshine. Damp, dewy mornings are a fact of winter life (and a delight too) but if the grass never gets the chance to dry out, then fusarium can take hold.

    But how do you dry a lawn? Well, all that’s actually needed is what I want you to do anyway – walk out across the grass (knocking of the dew) and use a mower or a leaf blower to shift those leaves. That much can make all the difference to those especially damp areas (a blower can actually remove dew to enable a dry afternoon winter cut.)

    We don’t always have to be as meticulous as the professionals in every aspect of our lawn care, but with autumn leaves we definitely do!

  • Beautiful Lawns With a Few Simple Steps

    Gardeners are always looking for perfection when it comes to their lawns. And those healthy green lawns can be had by following a few simple rules.

    Every gardener wants a healthy green lawn. In most regions, chemicals are now banned. But gardeners can still have a beautiful lawn without their use. All it takes is a little attention, a good seed mix, fertilizer, and water.

    sprinkler watering grass turf
    https://pixabay.com/en/sprinkler-watering-grass-turf-1209900/

    Choosing Lawn Seed

    In choosing grass seed, there's a lot to consider. Superior brands are usually more expensive, but poor investments as grass from this seed may be prone to fungus or rot. The experts suggest sowing a mixture of several varieties of lawn seed.

    A mix of seeds will guarantee the gardener a rich green lawn even if some grass plants don't do as well as others. Different varieties are at their best at different times through the growing season. Even in the drier month of August and well into fall, the grass will be green, because the gardener isn't relying on one type of seed.

    For gardeners in regions with dry gardens, add a higher percentage of seed suitable to withstand dry spells.

    Sow Grass Seed

    The best time to sow grass seed is in late summer. The weeds have exhausted themselves by this time, so there is little competition in the soil. Sowing in late summer also gives the grass a chance to grow on before frost – above and below the soil.

    Aerating and De-Thatching the Lawn

    Lawns need to be aerated. While dense lawns keep the weeds at bay, there has to be a happy medium. Tightly-packed grass doesn't allow water to seep through into the soil. The lawn will need to be hard raked to de-thatch it. Then use a garden fork and walk around with it poking small holes in the lawn. Lack of water at the root level is the most common reason why lawns fail.

    Adding Organic Matter

    compost garden waste bio nature
    Via https://pixabay.com/en/compost-garden-waste-bio-nature-419261/

    Once the lawn is de-thatched and aerated, it's time to add organic matter to the soil. The best time to do this in on the day before rain is expected, to save a little water. For an established lawn, the gardener will need well-rotted or composted manure from the garden center. Fresh manure from a farmyard is full of weed seeds from pastureland, so it's not recommended.

    Add a shovel load of composted manure to an area within a four-foot square and rake it in evenly. Add a sprinkling of mixed lawn seed and rake it in before you move to the next square. The rain will let the new organic matter and the seed seep into the aerated soil. If working with composted manure doesn't appeal to the gardener, garden centers have all sorts of organic fertilizers formulated for lawns.

    Fertilize to Keep Weeds Out

    If weeds are persistent, the gardener needs to stay on top of it to keep them from going to seed in his garden. Fertilizing is the best way to keep the weeds at bay. Be more generous with the feeding if weeds are an ever-present problem. The grass will be more vigorous and the weeds won't have a place to plant themselves.

    By following these few simple tips, the lawn could be the greenest in the neighborhood. It isn't difficult to rejuvenate a tired old lawn or keep a new lawn healthy. Use a variety of lawn seed, aerate the lawn by de-thatching, add fertilizer and water.

  • The Return of the Good Life

    We’re marking British Food Fortnight from 22 September to 7 October by celebrating the Great British home-grown fruit and veg revival.

    It seems that we’ve fallen back in love with ‘The Good Life’, with not enough allotments to go around, and more of us creating our own fruit, veg and herb plots at home.

    The UK’s first own-grown food survey since the Second World War’s Dig for Victory campaign is currently under way, as home-owners and local communities are encouraged to ‘dig in’ for a healthy lifestyle and self-sustainability. More of which later, but first, a brief look at where it all began.
    allotment
    Allotments go all the way back to Anglo Saxon times, from 410 to 1066. But today’s system of allotments was a response to the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s, when there was no such thing as The Welfare State. Pockets of land were given to ‘the labouring poor’ so they could feed themselves. Allotments were therefore born out of necessity.

    Later, at the end of the First World War, an Act of Parliament was passed that allowed land to be made available to all. This was primarily to help the servicemen returning from the war.

    Today there is a statutory obligation on local authorities to provide allotments where there is a demand – but nowhere near enough are being provided. The National Allotment Society reckons more than 90,000 gardeners are waiting for an allotment.

    Which brings us back to the MYHarvest (Measure Your Harvest) survey. It’s being carried out by researchers at the University of Sheffield to help us get a picture of what and how much we are growing at home or in our allotments.

    It comes at a time when more of us are growing fruit, veg and herbs – and amid concern over the UK’s food sustainability. The researchers and its supporters, including the National Allotment Society, are hoping it will lead to more space being provided for grow-your-own projects.

    The survey began in 2017 and runs until the end of March 2019 – anyone who grows produce at home or in allotments can take part by sending in details of their harvest (www.myharvest.org.uk).

    According to the data so far, there is a clear leader in the veg we like to grow the most: let’s hear it for the humble spud. Potatoes are grown by the most people, while strawberries are the most productive when it comes to yield. Apples provide a bountiful harvest too, while courgettes, tomatoes and plums are also popular amongst home-growers.

    Growing your own doesn’t just save money, it’s also rewarding in other ways. It encourages a healthy diet, it’s fun and it’s great for keeping fit. Yep, it seems that people who grow their own really do know their onions!

  • September Gardening Tips

    SEPTEMBER can lull us into that dreadful false sense of security; it can still be blissfully warm and we forget that it is actually the autumn, with winter just around the corner. But the better the condition of your lawn prior to the onset of winter, the better it will cope with the extremities of the weather ahead. So there’s a lot you can be doing this month.

    REDUCING THATCH: Thatch production will be at its highest during summer, so now can be another great time to control your thatch levels. And that means scarification! Yes, it makes a mess, but not for long; the lawn will soon fill right back in with natural grass growth. And that’s the key to proactive intelligent lawn care – letting nature and natural processes do the hard work.
    Grass thatched topsoiled
    Another reason for scarifying now is that the lawn has more time to recover before the hardships of winter. As strong growth returns after the summer, the pruning effect of scarifying – slicing the shoots and stolons – will encourage superb natural thickening.

    MOSS: Now, many people make the mistake of applying moss killer before scarifying; there’s a logic to it as the scarifier can surely pull away the dead moss? Well, yes and no. This way you only kill some of the moss. Much better is to scarify first, thereby opening up the sward and allowing the subsequent application of moss killer to reach right down to the base of the pesky plants. That’s where it works at its most effective. Do it the other way round and you’ll leave behind plenty of living, green moss in the thick thatch layer.

    SQUASHED SOIL? You bet. Even if you haven’t walked on your grass all summer, the soil beneath will have become compacted as it dries out. So now is the time to sort this out in time for the autumn rains, and to make sure plenty of oxygen can reach the roots and the microbes and good bacteria below.

    Hollow tine aeration is essential – never use a garden fork as this just squashes the soil sideways and doesn’t remove those lovely little cores of earth. And those cores make great seedbed soil for patch repairs, or you can rake them into any dips you want to level out. You don’t always need to worry about filling in the holes either. You need good drainage in the months ahead for healthier soil and stronger grass, so leave them open.  It’ll be fine!
    Top Dressing
    TOP DRESSING? If you are cylinder mowing, you should apply a dressing – buy carefully; don’t just throw any old thing down. Once a year is a minimum, but you can do it more often if you wish.

    *

    And of course, keep mowing, and keep that blade sharp. Begin raising the height gradually from the end of the month; you don’t want to be removing too much of the nutrition that’s stored in the leaf – your grass will need it in the months ahead. But if you have to pick just one big job for September, make it aeration – it will always pay dividends!

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