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Best plants for birds

Gardening with birds in mind is so important these days when small birds are challenged by problems such as climate change, habitat challenges and bird flu.

There are lots of great plants to grow in your garden and some of them provide fantastic food and shelter for garden birds as well. You don’t need to have a big garden to attract wildlife, you just need to think about what birds need and plan – and plant – accordingly.

Best trees for birds

Holly  – A holly tree provides great shelter during nesting season. Add to that the berries they produce during winter and you’ve got a tree that birds adore.

Fruit trees  – As well as attracting birds, fruit trees are great for insects and bees. They will pull in pollinators from far and wide which makes for a healthy, happy garden with plenty of fruit and flowers. If you’re short on space, you can buy dwarf trees and plant them in pots.

Amelanchier – Trees are great for providing shelter and protection for birds. Even if you have a small garden, do make room for one tree.  Amelanchier is a great choice. Birds love the little fruits it bears and it has gorgeous colour come autumn which you can admire.

It’s not just trees that attract birds, there are various shrubs that fulfil their needs too.

Sambucus – Elder As well as the birds loving this shrub, so do we! It’s a very easy going plant as it will flower year after year and is happy anywhere in the garden. It has very tasty shiny fruits in late summer, and insects love the spring blossom, which in turn attracts birds to feed on those insects.

Lavender – Lavender is one of those must-have garden plants that looks great planted on its own or with other plants. It’s a multitasker, providing cover for some birds and seeds for others!

Cotoneaster – Its not fancy but this shrub provides food and shelter – from it’s berries and it’s twiggy growth.

Barberry – Berberis Another shrub providing a combination of food and shelter. It’s not quite as ‘pretty’ as other shrubs but it’s attractive to birds nonetheless.

 Wisteria – Wisteria is definitely a looker! But its what underneath that counts and this is a cracking climber. With its woody growth and large leaves, it’s a fantastic shelter for all sorts of birds. Perfect for nesting, it also is a haven for insects, which keeps the birds fed and happy.

Ivy  – A familiar climber, the flowers of ivy attract insects and the birds that feed on them.  Its foliage provides cover for nests while the black berries are sustenance during winter

Sunflower – Once in flower, a very popular plant for birds and insects alike. Insects adore the pollen it produces and birds the seeds.

Ice Plant – Sedum – A classic addition to the late summer border, the Ice Plant is also a winner when it comes to bird life too. There are lots of varieties to choose from but go for a species rather than a hybrid if possible, such as sedum spectabile forms like ‘Autumn Joy’, as these will produce seeds which some birds like finches are drawn to. But it’s leaving the stems through the autumn that is crucial, providing a habitat for insects and foraging birds late in the season.

Ornamental grasses – Grasses with ornamental flower heads and foliage provide a fantastic food source for birds. In autumn and winter it has lots of tasty seeds and its stems make for excellent cover. By spring its stems and foliage have died off but are ideal for building nests.

Lawn flowers – Gone are the days of a perfectly mowed lawn! If you can manage, give the grass a cut every few weeks. Clovers, dandelions and daisies will appear and it will be heaven for insects thereby attracting the birds.

Thistles – Thistles can get a bit of a bad rep but birds love their seeds. Eryngium is a particular favourite here at The Green Room as it comes in a range of sizes so can fit into the smallest of spaces.

If you need any help choosing plants to attract birds to your outdoor space, get in touch, we’d love to help.

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Creating a pollinator friendly garden

Creating a pollinator-friendly garden involves providing a diverse range of plants, habitats, and resources that attract and support pollinators like bees, butterflies, and hoverflies. Here are some tips to make your garden more pollinator-friendly:

Plant a Variety of Flowers – Choose a variety of flowers with different shapes, colours, and bloom times to attract a diverse range of pollinators. Native plants are often well-adapted to local pollinators, so include some in your garden.

Include Pollinator-Friendly Trees and Shrubs – Trees and shrubs such as fruit trees, hawthorn, and hazel can provide additional food sources and nesting sites for pollinators.

Provide a Water Source – Set up a shallow dish with water, stones, or floating vegetation to provide a water source for pollinators.

Create Nesting Sites – Leave some areas of the garden undisturbed to provide nesting sites for bees and other ground-nesting insects.  You can also install bee hotels or nest boxes for solitary bees.

Avoid Pesticides – Minimise your use of pesticides, especially those containing neonicotinoids, which can be harmful to pollinators.

Plant Herbs – Herbs like lavender, thyme, and mint are not only aromatic but also attract pollinators.

Encourage Wildflowers – If you have the space let some areas of your garden to grow wild with native wildflowers, which can be particularly attractive to pollinators.

Get the timing right – Plant flowers that bloom at different times of the year to provide a continuous food source for pollinators.

Consider Vertical Gardening – Vertical gardening is proving ever more popular. Utilise vertical space by growing climbing plants and installing hanging baskets to maximize flower coverage.

Provide Sun and Shelter – Many pollinators, especially butterflies, benefit from sunny spots for basking and sheltered areas to escape from strong winds. (and lets be honest – Scotland has a lot of strong winds!)

Mulch Wisely – Use organic mulch to retain soil moisture and suppress weeds, but avoid excessive mulching in areas where ground-nesting bees may need access to the soil.

Even by adopting a few of these tips, you can create a welcoming environment for pollinators and contribute to their conservation.  Alongside this, a pollinator-friendly garden enhances biodiversity and promotes a healthy ecosystem.

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Meet Caitlin

We caught up with Caitlin, the newest member of the Green Room team and found out a wee bit more about her!

What attracted you to a career in floristry?

I love getting the chance to be creative therefore I was immediately attracted to a career in floristry. Getting to create different types of arrangements every day and experiment with colour and form always keeps it exciting.

What is your ideal flower arrangement?

My ideal floral arrangement would be a simple vase arrangement with a natural colour palette i.e greens, whites and yellows. Waxflower is one of my favourites as it not only looks good but also has a beautiful scent, so this would be a must-have in my arrangement.

What’s the one top tip for looking after your flowers?

Where you place your flowers in your home is crucial. You should avoid placing them in a space where they would be exposed to things such as direct sunlight, radiators and draughts. The cooler the flowers are kept the longer they will last.

If you hadn’t become a florist, what would you be doing?

I studied Fine Art at university so I would like to think that I would be doing something related to that. Whether that be taking painting commissions, teaching art classes or hosting exhibitions. I would be happy doing anything creative!

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Where should I place my bird box?

Placing bird boxes in suitable locations is crucial to attract and provide a safe environment for birds. Different bird species have different preferences for nesting sites, so it’s essential to consider the needs of the birds you want to attract. Here are some general tips:

Height

Most bird boxes should be mounted at a height of 2 to 4 meters above the ground. This height helps protect the birds from predators while providing easy access for the birds to enter and exit.

Orientation

Position the bird box facing between north and east to avoid the prevailing wind and strong sunlight. This helps regulate the temperature inside the box.

Protection from Predators

Ensure that the bird box is not easily accessible to predators like cats or squirrels. Consider adding a predator guard or placing the box where predators cannot easily reach.

Distance Between Boxes

If you plan to install multiple bird boxes, make sure they are spaced well apart to avoid territorial conflicts between nesting birds.

Vegetation

Birds often prefer boxes placed near vegetation for protection and camouflage. However, make sure there are no branches or plants blocking the entrance.

Quiet and Undisturbed Area

Choose a quiet and undisturbed location to minimize human disturbance. Birds prefer areas where they feel safe and secure.

Openings and Clear Flight Paths

Ensure there are no obstacles blocking the flight path to the entrance hole. Also, check that the entrance hole is the right size for the specific bird species you want to attract.

Proximity to Food and Water Sources

While not a strict requirement, placing bird boxes near food and water sources, such as bird feeders or birdbaths, can increase the chances of attracting birds.

Monitor and Maintain

Regularly monitor the bird box to check for signs of wear and tear, and clean it out after each nesting season. This ensures the box remains a suitable and safe environment for birds.

Make sure you research the particular needs of the bird species you want to attract, as different species have different requirements. Additionally, local environmental conditions may influence the suitability of a particular location.

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Protect your plants from frost

Last year December’s cold snap was devastating for a lot of plants. The heavy rainfall in November followed by a cold snap in December meant that our borderline hardy evergreens were hit hard.

With temperatures now falling, and dipping below zero across Scotland, it’s important to protect plants that hail originally from warmer climes. They need to be moved under cover, into a cold frame, conservatory, mini greenhouse, porch, shed or greenhouse, or given some protection outdoors.

Which plants should you protect from a cold snap?

The plants you need to protect (to name a few) include;

  • Rosemary
  • Phormium
  • Cordyline
  • Lavendar
  • Ceanothus
  • Cistus
  • Camellia

If you’re in doubt, come and ask us, we can advise on any plants that may need protected.

What to do now

It’s important to mulch, fleece and wrap your susceptible plants and pots as soon as cold weather is forecast.  Bring tender plants inside into conservatories, greenhouses, or homes.

Repair greenhouses, mending cracks and gaps. Use fleece and recycled bubble wrap to fend off cold. This also helps to keep plants dry.

Gather frost prone produce i.e. beetroot, celeriac, and scabbage – and store under cover. You can leave carrots in the ground but cover them with cardboard as they taste best if left in the soil. It is worth covering winter leeks and parsnips so that some can be lifted even in a bad frost.

Give evergreen branches a shake after snowfall, as they can snap if weighed down too heavily. Deciduous plants aren’t so much at risk of damage as without their leaves the snow will fall straight through.

Watch your wildlife

By leaving vegetation for as long as possible before clearing it, gives wildlife a chance and provides shelter for insects and food for birds.

Top up bird feeders and position bird boxes to shelter birds and enable them to identify nesting sites in good time.

If it’s cold enough that you think your pond may freeze, pop a floating ball in it.

As ever, if you’ve any questions please do come and talk to us, we’re happy to help!

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Improve soil health

Improving the health of your soil is essential for successful gardening. Healthy soil provides the necessary nutrients, water retention, and structure for plants to thrive.

So how do we do this? Here are our tips to make your soil healthier:

Test Your Soil

Start by getting your soil tested to understand its pH and nutrient levels. You can use a soil testing kit (we have them in stock!) If your soil’s pH is too high or too low for your desired plants, consider adjusting it by adding lime (to raise pH) or sulphur (to lower pH) following soil test recommendations.

Feed it!

Add compost to your soil to increase its organic matter content. Compost improves soil structure, water retention, and nutrient availability. You can always make your own compost as well.

You can also use organic mulch. You can create this from fallen leaves and raw veg peelings. It’s great for the environment due to the reduction in waste as well as using the seasonal leaf fall. It will protect it from erosion, regulate temperature, and improve moisture retention.

Alternatively, choose organic or slow-release fertilizers that promote soil health. These options release nutrients gradually and encourage microbial activity.

Rotate Crops

If you’re growing vegetables or other annual plants, crop rotation can help prevent the buildup of diseases and pests associated with specific plant families.

Promote Biodiversity

Encourage a diverse ecosystem in your garden or landscape to support beneficial insects, worms, and other soil organisms that contribute to soil health.

Avoid Using Harmful Chemicals

Limit or eliminate the use of synthetic pesticides and herbicides that can harm beneficial organisms and disrupt the soil’s natural balance.

It’s all about learning from experience! Gardening and soil health are continuous learning experiences. Keep notes to see how your soil responds to different practices.

By following these practices and adapting them to your specific garden you can improve the health of your soil, leading to healthier, more productive plants.

 

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Make your own compost

Making your own compost is a great way to recycle organic waste, enrich your garden soil, and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers. Compost is created through the decomposition of organic materials, such as kitchen scraps and garden waste. Here’s how to make your own compost:

Materials You’ll Need

  • Compost bin or pile: You can use a designated bin, a pile in your garden, or even a tumbler-style composter.
  • Organic materials: Collect a mix of brown (carbon-rich) and green (nitrogen-rich) materials.
  • Brown materials include dried leaves, straw, cardboard, and newspaper.
  • Green materials include kitchen scraps (fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, etc.), grass clippings, and plant trimmings.
  • Water: Compost needs moisture to decompose properly, so you may need to water it occasionally.

Steps to Make Compost

  • Select a suitable location for your compost bin or pile. It should be well-drained and receive partial sunlight.
  • Composting is all about balance. Layer brown and green materials in your bin or pile. A good rule of thumb is to use a 3:1 ratio of brown to green materials. Start with a layer of brown materials, followed by a layer of green materials.
  • Regularly turn or mix the compost with a pitchfork or a compost aerator. This helps introduce oxygen into the pile, speeding up decomposition.
  • Keep the compost moist but not soggy, similar to a wrung-out sponge. Water it if it becomes too dry or cover it during heavy rains to prevent it from getting too wet.
  • Chop or shred larger materials, like branches, to speed up decomposition.
  • Composting is a natural process, and it takes time. Depending on your composting method and conditions, it can take several months to a year for the compost to fully mature.
  • When the compost is dark, crumbly, and earthy-smelling, it’s ready to use in your garden. This can take anywhere from a few months to a year or more.

What to Compost

  • Brown materials (carbon-rich):
  • Leaves
  • Straw
  • Cardboard (shredded)
  • Newspaper (shredded)
  • Sawdust (in moderation)
  • Green materials (nitrogen-rich):
  • Fruit and vegetable scraps
  • Coffee grounds
  • Grass clippings (in moderation)
  • Plant trimmings
  • Eggshells

What NOT to Compost

  • Meat and dairy products (they can attract pests)
  • Diseased plants
  • Pet waste (it can contain harmful pathogens)
  • Weeds with mature seeds (they can survive composting)

By following these steps and maintaining the right balance of materials, moisture, and aeration, you can create nutrient-rich compost to improve your garden soil. Composting not only reduces waste but also helps you grow healthier plants.

 

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Meet Stan

What inspired you to become involved in horticulture?

It was my mother that really got me into it. My siblings and I spent a lot of time outside on riverbanks, in woods and climbing trees. I was the geeky child who could tell you what a tree was by the shape of it, even in winter! I had a sink that I kept frogs and toads in too. I went on to do Agriculture at University then got my first job at Beechgrove and it all grew from there.

What have been the highlights for you over your career?

Highlights for me are really based around seeing other people get enjoyment from plants and nature. Greens space makes such a difference to peoples lives. Plants and flowers can evoke memories and make people light up. One of my particular memories is a visit to Cornton Vale prison. I saw firsthand, the joy and pride that the garden there brought to female prisoners who had little hope. But outside, in nature, they found a sense of pleasure and purpose.

Most recently, being awarded the Pearson Memorial Medal for services to horticulture, was such a proud moment. I was quite, and still am, quite overwhelmed!

Top tips for sustainability?

Don’t try to do too much! Start small. And work with nature, not against it. Once you understand your outdoor space and what it needs you can work more sustainably.

What’s your vision for the Scottish horticulture?

To embrace the challenge of reducing our carbon footprint. Lets pick up where we left off 100 years ago and get back to local growth and supply while working within the confines of our climate.  I’d like to see a robust future for employment within horticulture across Scotland and beyond.

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Looking after houseplants in winter

With the setting back of the clocks, the colder, darker days are beginning to set in. But with the proper care and attention, you can ensure your houseplants thrive even as daylight becomes scarcer.

The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) and Tropical Plants UK have shared their top tips for caring for your houseplants during the winter months.

Watering: less is more

When it comes to watering your houseplants, ‘less is more’ is a good rule of thumb at any time, and even more so in the last few months of the year, when overwatering can easily lead to root rot and other issues. Plants take up as much oxygen by their roots as they do by their leaves, but the shorter days naturally mean a reduction in the amount of light available to them. Giving your houseplant a moderate amount of water and allowing its compost to dry between waterings will promote root growth, which can be affected by the dark winter days.

Make your water wetter

In most cases your plant will tell you when it needs water – it may go from a vibrant green to a green-grey colour, or start to wither, or the stem might tilt in one direction. Just a small amount of tepid water – that’s ideally been boiled and then allowed to cool to about 20 degrees Celsius – should restore your houseplant to full health. And adding just one or two drops of washing up liquid will make your water ‘wetter’ and mean you need only use about half the amount.

Floral compass

You might be able to put your plant near a window and hope for the best during the summer months, but in winter, it’s not so simple. You should be led by the direction of your windows: south-facing windows attract the most light and heat all year round, while those that are north-facing see the least amount of light. East- and west-facing windows fall somewhere in between, with those facing west producing slightly more light.

More often than not, when a plant loses its leaves during the winter, it’s because of a lack of light. Even those that enjoy some shade during brighter months – like a Monstera Deliciosa (also known as a Swiss cheese plant) or a Ficus – should be moved to south-facing windows in the winter.

Winter winners

If you’re thinking about adopting a new houseplant and wondering which types fare well in the winter, look no further than the tropical jungle. Dracaenas, Epipremnums (commonly known as Devil’s Ivy or Pothos), and Philodendrons are resilient all year round, but they especially thrive in the winter. That may seem strange, but it’s because they’re adept at surviving in very low light levels, with about 95% of sunlight being filtered out by the time it gets to the dark forest floor.

Contrary to popular belief, poinsettias – a flower synonymous with Christmas – require a lot of discipline to succeed in winter. They need as much light as they can possibly get during the daytime – preferably from a south-facing window – followed by 12-13 hours of darkness, continuously for a period of about 8 weeks, to achieve their iconic vivid red colour. Moving your poinsettia from the window to the table to use it as a centrepiece in the evenings could be an easy solution to this – just remember to put it back at its window the next morning.

Living feature

Placing your houseplant in a lightbox or under a spotlight could have the dual effect of exposing it to more light, while also making it a living feature in your home. During the festive period, adorn your houseplant with fairy lights and baubles for a less expensive, more sustainable alternative to a Christmas tree. Ficus Benjamina, Palms and Yuccas, which can grow up to six feet tall, are the perfect candidates for this.

*With thanks to the HTA 

 

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Pumpkin pointers!

It is the perfect time of year to enjoy your pumpkin and/or squash crop.  Halloween means creating brilliant pumpkin designs but it’s important to remember that pumpkins are a great food source. And they taste even better if you’ve grown them yourself.

A recent study showed that waste from Halloween celebrations included eight million pumpkins which became food waste.

So how to get the best out of your pumpkin? As long as you haven’t painted your pumpkin, you can reuse it. However, remember that while most pumpkins are edible to both animals and humans, double check  that you have an edible pumpkin before you cook it.

Everything from inside your pumpkin can be recycled or used. Pumpkin innards, the stringy orange mess can be roasted, or pureed for cooking in soups.

When you’re scooping out the innards, save the seeds as they’re a brilliant snack for human or birds and squirrels.

The team here love a roasted pumpkin seed! Just follow the steps below for a tasty treat;

  • Pull out all the pumpkin innards and then to separate the stringy pumpkin innards from the seeds themselves.
  • Rinse the seeds thoroughly and spread them over a large baking tray.
  • Choose what you want to flavour your pumpkin seeds with, you could opt for paprika, sea salt, chilli flakes. Cover the seeds in your flavour and in a few glugs of olive oil.
  • Bake them at 180 degrees C for about ten minutes.
  • Voila! Tasty seeds for salads or sprinkled on soups!

Can I plant the pumpkin seeds?

Yes you can! A brilliant way to grow your own is to plant the seeds from this year.

Remove the seeds from the pumpkin, make sure they are dry and clean. Spread them out on a piece of paper towel and then leave them to dry in a cool dry area. Then they’re ready for planting.

Planting pumpkin seeds is usually done a month before the last frost in the new year, so that your crop is ready for late summer/autumn time, although you can still plant pumpkin seeds as late as May.

After Halloween (as long as they’re not painted), you can leave the pumpkin outside to feed the birds. Or pop it onto the compost heap.

Recipe inspiration

It’s definitely the time of year to be making soup! One of our favourites is a Thai pumpkin soup;

Ingredients

  • 5kg pumpkin (or squash), peeled and roughly chopped
  • 4 tsp sunflower oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 tbsp grated ginger
  • 1 lemongrass, bashed a little
  • 3-4 tbsp Thai red curry paste
  • 400ml can coconut milk
  • 850ml vegetable stock
  • Lime juice and sugar, for seasoning
  • 1 red chilli sliced, to serve (optional)

STEP 1

Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. Toss the pumpkin or squash in a roasting tin with half the oil and seasoning, then roast for 30 mins until golden and tender.

STEP 2

While the pumpkin is roasting, put the remaining oil in a pan with the onion, ginger and lemongrass. Gently cook for 8-10 mins until softened. Stir in the curry paste for 1 min, followed by the roasted pumpkin, all but 3 tbsp of the coconut milk and the stock. Bring to a simmer, cook for 5 mins, then fish out the lemongrass. Cool for a few mins, then whizz until smooth with a hand blender, or in a large blender in batches. Return to the pan to heat through, seasoning with salt, pepper, lime juice and sugar, if it needs it. Serve drizzled with the remaining coconut milk and scattered with chilli.

Enjoy!