Tuesday 29 December 2015


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Its great to grow something a little different and exotic, and the coconut delivers this just fine. You can grow a coconut palm (Cocos nucifer) indoors as a house plant from a shop bought coconut.

Select a fresh coconut that still has the husk on, and ensure that still has coconut milk in it by shaking it.  Roughly remove the husk fibres with a sharp knife and place the coconut in a bucket of water, letting it soak for 2-3 days.

Fill a large 30 cm pot with a mixture of potting compost and vermiculite/sand to ensure a free draining soil. Plant the coconut in the soil on its side, leaving the top third proud of the soil. 

Coconuts love warmth so move to a warm, sunny position. Temperatures in excess of 21C/71F will suit it well. water frequently during germination but do not allow the coconut to sit on waterlogged soil. You should see your seedling sprout within 3-6 months.

Your coconut palm reach a height of about 150 cm. Water and fertilise your coconut frequently during the summer, but reduce this during the darker winter period. Coconuts do not like the cold, so move to a warm position in the winter and avoid cold draughts. Repot your coconut every few years.

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Feeding plants

Thursday 17 December 2015


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The pineapple (Ananas comosus) is a tropical plant, originating from South America. These bromeliads are herbaceous perennials, growing up to 5 feet across. They have tough, waxy leaves and a short stem. 

When creating its fruit pineapples usually produces up to 200 flowers. Once it flowers, the individual fruits of the flowers join together to create the pineapple fruit. 

It is easy to root a pineapple from just the pineapple top, and yes you can use a pineapple bought from your supermarket! 

Cut off the leafy top about 1 inch below the leaves before removing some of the lowest leaves. Then place in a pot or directly in the soil.  And thats it.  Keep it simple.  No trimming of the fruit, no drying the top out or placing it in water.  Just cut the top off and plant in the ground or in a pot of light soil mixed with perlite. 

Water thoroughly and place in a sunny position away from direct sunlight. Allow the soil to dry out between watering and place outside  in a sunny position during the summer if you can. Your new plant will flower 20–24 months later, followed by fruit in the following six months

Pineapples like warm conditions so if you plant directly outside ensure you give them frost protection. They grow quite big too, so give them plenty of space.  

So go on, have a go at planting that pineapple next time you eat one. 

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Feeding plants

Sunday 13 December 2015


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Venus fly traps (Dionaea muscipula) are carnivorous plants native to subtropical wetlands on the East Coast of the United States. In order to secure additional nutrients in the poor boggy soils the plants catch small insects such as beetles and spiders.  Their clasping leaves have a trapping structure which is triggered by tiny hairs on their inner surfaces. When an insect or spider crawling along the leaves contacts a hair, the trap closes if a different hair is contacted within twenty seconds of the first strike. 

I have always been fascinated by venus fly trap plants, ever since I was a kid and used to catch flies to feed to  it.  But they never seemed to last more than a month or so before they died. However it is possible to grow venus fly traps successfully, both indoor and outdoors. 

Firstly it is important to mimic their natural growing environment. Venus fly traps are bog plants, liking wet conditions away in a sunny position, although not in direct sunlight as they will scorch.  They grow in moist, acidic soils in full sun, but will not survive the cold weather in the UK so bring them inside during the winter. They need a period of winter dormancy when they appear to be dead and the leaves may die back, but are merely resting.

Venus flytrap thrives in poor, acidic soil with good drainage. Avoid planting it in regular potting soil: Instead use a blend of one-third sand and two-thirds sphagnum peat moss to provide the best drainage and moisture retention. Do not add lime to the soil and never fertilise the plant.

If your Venus flytraps don't show a pink interior or if the plants have long, spindly leaves, they are not getting enough sunlight. Keep the environment humid and the soil moist but don't let the plants stand constantly in water. Grow them in a pot with drainage holes.Use rain or distilled water to take care of your Venus fly trap, because tap water is often too alkaline or may contain too many added minerals.

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Saturday 12 December 2015


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I was inspired to make this after visiting Marrakech earlier this year.  You don't need a tagine to cook it in as it works just as well in a casserole pot.  Service it with coriander and lime couscous for a yummy meal.

Serves 4


8 Chicken legs/thighs
15 Dried apricots
Can of chick peas
200 ml chicken stock
3 flat mushrooms, sliced
fine green beans, sliced
butternut squash, cubed
1 table spoon olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons honey


Preheat the oven to 180/gas mark 6.

Place the chicken in a frying pan and fry it in the olive oil until it has browned.  Remove from the pan and set aside. Add the onions to the frying pan until they have softened.

Place the chicken and onions in a casserole dish or tagine, and add the apricots, chickpeas, mushrooms, beans, squash, garlic and chicken stock.  Add the ginger, cumin, turmeric, and honey and stir well.

Cook in the oven for 1 hour, stirring occasionally and topping up with water if necessary to keep moist.

Serve with couscous.

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Chicken and apricot tagine
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Recipe for Asparagus Quiche
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Recipe for cauliflower cheese
Recipe for chicken fajitas
Recipe for home made olive bread
Recipe for Italian pizza
Recipe for Italian tomato sauce
Recipe for lasagna
Recipe for Quiche Lorraine
Recipe for pea salad with mint
Recipe for pickled cucumber
Recipe for Plum Chutney
Recipe for Salmon with lemon and herbs
Recipe Spaghetti bolognese
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Vegetarian recipes - vegetable fried rice


Saturday 5 December 2015


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It is universally accepted that green space is valuable, and trees play an important role in our landscape. Not only do they beautify our surroundings, purify our air, manufacture precious oxygen and act as sound barriers, they also benefit us in many other ways:

1.     Trees absorb CO2, removing and storing the carbon while releasing the oxygen back into the air. In one year, an acre of mature trees absorbs the amount of CO2 produced when you drive your car 26,000 miles.

2.     Trees clean the air, absorbing odours and pollutant gases (nitrogen oxides, ammonia, sulphur dioxide and ozone) and filter particulates out of the air by trapping them on their leaves and bark.

3.     In one year an acre of mature trees can provide enough oxygen for 18 people.

4.     Trees cool city temperatures by up to 10°F, by shading our homes and streets, breaking up urban “heat islands” and releasing water vapour into the air through their leaves.

5.     Three trees placed strategically around a single-family home can cut summer air conditioning needs by up to 50 percent. By reducing the energy demand for cooling our houses, we reduce carbon dioxide and other pollution emissions from power plants.

6.     Shade from trees slows water evaporation from thirsty lawns. Most newly planted trees need only fifteen gallons of water a week. As trees transpire, they increase atmospheric moisture.

7.     Trees reduce runoff by breaking rainfall thus allowing the water to flow down the trunk and into the earth below the tree. This prevents storm water from carrying pollutants to the ocean. When mulched, trees act like a sponge that filters this water naturally and uses it to recharge groundwater supplies.

8.     On hillsides or stream slopes, trees slow runoff and hold soil in place, helping to prevent soil erosion.

9.     Trees reduce UV-B exposure by about 50 percent, thus providing protection against skin cancer.

10. Aside from fruit for humans, trees provide food for birds and wildlife. An apple tree can yield up to 2500 apples per year and can be planted on the tiniest urban lot.

11. Studies have shown that patients with views of trees out their windows heal faster and with fewer complications. Children with ADHD show fewer symptoms when they have access to nature. Exposure to trees and nature aids concentration by reducing mental fatigue.

12. Neighbourhoods and homes that are barren have shown to have a greater incidence of violence in and out of the home than their greener counterparts. Trees within the landscape help to reduce the level of fear.

13. Trees mark the seasons. Is it winter, spring, summer or autumn, look at the trees.

14. Tree plantings provide an opportunity for community involvement and empowerment that improves the quality of life in our neighbourhoods. All cultures, ages, and genders have an important role to play at a tree planting or tree care event.

15. Trees as landmarks can give a neighbourhood a new identity and encourage civic pride.

16. Trees provide a canopy and habitat for wildlife. Sycamore and oak are among the many urban species that provide excellent urban homes for birds, bees and squirrels.

17. Trees can mask concrete walls or parking lots, and unsightly views. They muffle sound from nearby streets and freeways, and create an eye-soothing canopy of green. Trees absorb dust and wind and reduce glare.

18. In suburban and rural areas, trees can be selectively harvested for fuel and craft wood.

19. Trees increase property values. The beauty of a well-planted property and its surrounding street and neighbourhood can raise property values by as much as 15 percent.

Tuesday 17 November 2015


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Woodlands and forests are great places to explore and chill out. They are both full of trees right, but what are the key differences between them?

Woodlands and forests cover between 30–35% of the world’s land surface. When I think of a forest I think of Robin Hood in Sherwood forest, a vast place that sustains and hides a small tree top village. Infact the terms forest and woodland are often used almost interchangeably, and if there is any differentiation then most people see a forest as a remote, large, dark forbidding place while a woodland is smaller, more open and part of an agricultural landscape.

One way to distinguish between a forest and a woodland is to look at the tree canopy.  If there is a great canopy cover where different tree leaves and branches often meet or interlock than it is likely to be a forest. It is common to have areas in forests where sunlight never reaches the ground.

A woodland has many open spaces and the density of trees is much less, with large spacings between trees that enable light to easily penetrate through the canopy.

Another difference lies in the quality and quantity of fauna complete forest or woodland is the sum of the tens of thousands of other plants, animals and microbes.. A forest can sustain a larger biodiversity and more animals. In woodlands smaller and fewer animals are found.


A forest is a vastly wooded habitat that supports a complex ecosystem and include rainforest, boreal forests, and tropical forest. They often appear monumental and unchanging and can be classified as evergreen  or deciduous.

The term forest is usually reserved for a relatively large area of trees forming, for the most part, a closed, dense canopy. A forest has a largely-closed canopy where the branches and foliage of trees interlock overhead to provide extensive and nearly continuous shade. They support an understory of shrubs, herbs, or grasses.

A forest does not have to be uniform over large areas, and indeed is often made up of a series of stands, groups of trees varying in such features as age, species or structure, interspersed with open places such as meadows and lakes and areas where grazing animals are limiting tree development.

Forests provide a wide array of goods and services, including timber,and fuel, food, animal fodder and medicines. 


Wooded land currently covers between 30–35% of the world’s land surface or around 39–45 million km2. Woodlands may transition to savannas or shrublands under drier conditions.

A woodland has a lighter tree cover and more open spaces than are there in a forest. A woodland is defined as a small area of trees with an open canopy, often defined as having 40% canopy closure or less. Plenty of light reaches the ground, encouraging other vegetation beneath the trees. Since the trees are well spaced they tend to be short-trunked with spreading canopies.

Tuesday 3 November 2015


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Autumn is my favourite time of year because the changing leaf colour always reminds me of the start a new year at school or college, having fun trudging through the leaves and bonfire night.

Trees during the autumn mirror the bright fireworks in the sky, with leaves turning red, yellow, purple, black, orange, pink, magenta, blue and brown. This autumn colour can be stunning and is certainly worth a visit to a woodland or arboretum to observe.

Deciduous plants shed their leaves in autumn due to a number of factors including high level of maintenance required for a vastly reduced return via photosynthesis, insect predation, water loss, and damage from high winds or snowfall.

The shortening of daylight hours and reduction in temperature triggers the dormancy of trees and therefore autumn colour. A special cork layer forms at the base of each leaf, reducing the fluids carried into and out of the leaf.  As this cork layer develops, water and mineral intake into the leaf is reduced, slowly at first, and then more rapidly. It is during this time that the chlorophyll begins to decrease.

Autumn colour occurs due to a number of chemical changes within leaves, which affect the coloured pigments within them. Pigments within the leaves give leaves their distinctive colour; Chlorophyll (green), Carotenoids (orange-yellow) and Anthocyanins (reds and purples).  

The brown colour of leaves is not the result of a pigment, but rather cell walls, which may be evident when no colouring pigment is visible.The amino acids released from degradation of these pigments are stored all winter in the tree's roots, branches, stems, and trunk until next spring when they are recycled to re‑leaf the tree.


Chlorophyll plays an essential part in photosynthesis, converting the sun's rays into energy. Chlorophyll is therefore most abundant during the growing season (summer). It is the presence of chlorophyll within a leave makes it green, which masks out other colour pigments that may be present in the leaf.

In late summer, as daylight hours shorten and temperatures cool, the level of chlorophyll reduce and the leaves lose their green colouring. As the chlorophyll's degrade, the hidden pigments of yellow and orange are revealed. Red pigments form when half the chlorophyll has been degraded. 


Carotenoids are present in leaves the whole year round, although are masked when chlorophyll is present. As the level of chlorophyll reduce at the end of summer this masking effect fades away and the pigments begin to show through. 


A group of pigments in the cells called anthocyanins are responsible for the reds, the purples, and their blended combinations. Unlike the carotenoids, these pigments are not present in the leaf throughout the growing season but are actively produced towards the end of summer.

Their formation depends on the breakdown of sugars in the presence of bright light as the level of phosphate in the leaf is reduced. The brighter the light during this period, the greater the production of anthocyanins. The brightest colour display results when the days of autumn are bright and cool, and the nights are chilly but not freezing.

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What is the difference between a woodland and a forest?

Monday 26 October 2015


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I recently went on holiday to Tenerife and in the hotel grounds was an amazing Franzipani tree.  It looked similar to a magnolia tree but had the most wonderful, scented white flowers.  
Plumeria (common name Frangipani) is a small genus of 7-8 species native to tropical and subtropical Americas. Frangipanis are relatively small trees growing only to about 5-6m in height. They have gnarled branches, long leaves and distinctive flowers. Frangipani flowers appear in clusters at the the end of the branches, and are distinctively scented. The petals are waxy with the centre of the flower a different colour to the rest.

This tropical plant cannot be grown outside all year round in the UK, and requires moving to a heated greenhouse for the winter. However this makes it ideal to be grown in pots and brought in during the colder winter period. 

You can grow them successfully in large containers filled with well drained, fertile soil.  Mix two parts John Innes No 3 with one part horticultural grit. Choose a large container with a diameter of at least 40 cm and plenty of volume. If over time the tree becomes pot-bound, lift it out and prune back the roots before re-potting into fresh potting mix.

Frangipanis should be positioned in sheltered, sunny position with at least 6 hours of sun each day. These are tropical plants so place them in the warmest, sunniest spot in the garden.  During the growing season feed your frangipani occasionally with a soluble fertiliser, high in nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous. Water moderately in summer and just enough to ensure that young trees become established.

Frangipanis respond well to pruning, which should be carried out in late winter or early spring. Frangipani flowers appear only at the end of branches that are two years old, so in order to ensure a continuous display of flowers consider pruning the plant over two years. Cut back the branches to half or one third of their natural length to encourage them to sprout multiple branches near the pruned ends.

The plants require a dormancy period during in the winter. In the autumn move them to a warm protected area such as a hot house or placing your frangipani on a concrete path against a brick wall where it will get radiated heat (and be protected from frost and wind).  Do not water or feed the plants as Frangipani will not tolerate its root system being over wet and cold at the same time.

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