21 April 2015

Gardening with ME: My Favourite Gardening Tool

While it often easy to just choose the cheapest tools for gardening, it can quickly become a chore to use and maintain them if they're not ideal for your garden or your physical abilities.

Websites such as Thrive have a section with tools that can make gardening easier and the telegraph has a slideshow of interesting tools. I like the look of these tools and think that whether or not someone has a disability, they can be very useful.

Prior to ME I would always use full length tools, such as spades and forks, but quickly realised that with ME they take too much energy and move too much soil. Therefore, these days I tend to focus on smaller areas, where possible, and use hand tools with a small trugg, so I don't overload myself.

I also found that energy could quickly be sapped away by touching metal surfaces of tools, so I either wear gloves or use tools with plastic or wooden handles. I also have different seating options depending on the length of tool I'm using for a task - I know that some people buy full length tools and cut them down to 3/4 length, which I might think about in the future. Using small tools has helped me think about how I move when using tools in an attempt to reduce pain during and after activities. This is something the RHS is currently researching.

My favourite gardening tool is one that I've used most of my life and I find it to be a versatile and basically awesome tool! It is the bog standard patio weeder and if I'm gardening I probably have it with me. But why you ask!!? Here are a few things I use this tool for:

  • Weeding the patio.
  • Weeding pretty much anywhere!
  • Getting out tap roots without disturbing too much soil.
  • Cleaning the underside of the Flymo (one of the original uses I found as a child).
  • Making holes for seeds.
  • Making holes for planting small plants.
  • Making rows to sow seeds into.
  • Getting through though plants by slicing the sharp edge against it.
  • Refreshing border lines when the grass gets too adventurous.
  • Removing moss and the top layer of soil when maintaining pot plants.
  • And probably many more!

What's your favourite tool? Has your favourite tool changed due to illness?

13 April 2015

Trunk of the Month: April 2015: Abies grandis

This is quite an unassuming trunk that looks quite standard in the world of tree trunks. However, this is the trunk of Abies grandis, or the Grand Fir, a tree that can grow to over 80 metres tall. The current tallest can be found in Glacier Peak Wilderness, a wilderness area located in Washington, US and has been measured to be 81.4 m (267 ft). The photo below gives an idea of the size of the trees we photographed at Westonbirt Arboretum - for scale, my wife is 6 ft (1.82 m) tall.

Being quite an adaptable conifer, it can grow all the way from the coast to inland elevations of around 2000 metres as long as it's growing by a water source; such as a stream.

This tree is monoecious, meaning that the flowers are either male or female, however unlike the holly, both sexes are found on the same plant.

Plants for a future note that the inner bark can be cooked. When dried, the inner bark can be ground into a powder that can be used to thicken soups or when making bread. Along with other uses, the shoot tips can be used as a tea substitute. I could certainly use this tree right now as the Plateau Indian tribes are said to use this tree for treating colds (and fever).

Along with edible and medicinal uses, the wood from this tree is used in construction because it resists splitting and splintering. Finally, it is used socially too and is said to be a popular Christmas tree in the United States.

The Grand Fir was first described by the ill fated David Douglas. He collected specimens in 1831 along the Columbia River, located in the Pacific Northwest.

What I find fascinating about this trunk is that while it looks so plain, it hides within it a power to grow to massive heights. I guess we can't judge a tree by it's cover!

10 April 2015

Friday Five: Orchids


Orchidaceae has around 25,000 species organised into 850 genera along with over 155,000 hybrids - a number which grows by around 300 hybrid varieties each month.
The orchid appears in texts such as Dioscorides De Materia Medica (written between 50 and 70 AD), where it was thought that if the orchids greater root was eaten by men it would give them male children, whereas if women ate the lesser root, they would conceive girls - I have no idea what they thought would happen if a child was conceived when both parties had partaken.
The Dutch were the first to cultivate a tropical orchid in Europe. The orchid was listed as a Epidendrum and was introduced to Holland from Curacao and grown in the garden of Casper Fagel. This orchid became the first tropical orchid to appear in a woodcut, when it was illustrated in Paul Hermann's Paradisus Batavus (1698)

In 1887 a massive orchid bouquet measuring 4' tall and 5' in diameter and said to have 50,000 orchid flowers was presented to Queen Victoria to celebrate her Golden Jubiliee. It was displayed at Buckingam Palace and was made up of Cattleya mossiae, Odontoglossum, Oncidium and Vanda, with VRI (Victoria Regina et Imperatrix) spelled out with the scarlet flowers of Epidendrum vitellinum.

Importantly, due to over harvesting of orchids, they have the protection of CITES, an organisation that monitors and controls the international trade of threatened plant and animal species - including herbarium specimens. This includes all European species along with Cypripedium calceolus, all Paphiopedilum, and others.

Orchid flasking is where the orchids have been grown on agar instead of with a fungal partner. Sterilisation is important to prevent the growth of fungi or bacteria, which can destroy whole batches of plants. This video shows part of the process.

Jennifer Potter, 2013. Seven Flowers: and How They Shaped Our World. Edition. Atlantic Books.