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First smartphones, then smart homes. Now, prepare yourself for the smart lawn.
Remember when the weed eater was invented or the first home leaf blowers. These were revolutionary in their impact and almost immediate in their spread. I note these introductions not to show how ancient I have become, but rather to compare how the appearance of new-fangled products change outdoor horticulture. If you doubt this, note the arrival of another revolution brought on by the spread of the "smart home." For those who are out of the loop, Apple, Amazon, Google and others have developed the "internet of things" into the ability for us to use our phones to operate these various "things" from afar. It started with thermostats and lights, moved on to security cameras and door locks, spread to baby monitors and lately, refrigerators, stoves and ovens. All of this is lumped into a category known as the "smart home." And this year, welcome to the "smart yard." The biggest attempt will be to get all of us to switch from our tractors and push mowers to, you got it, "smart lawn mowers." The automatic, indoor vacuum comes to the lawn in the form of GPS-guided mowers that you turn on and walk away from while they continuously groom your yard. Then there are automatic sprinklers. Sprinklers have been automated for a long time, but now you can use your phone to turn yours on or off. Or, have it set up to a weather station and monitor that tells it when to go on or off. Watering lawns is not really a problem but an auto watering system in the garden beds might make some sense if you are away from them enough to justify the cost. Sprinklers can be connected to your other home systems like your thermostat, and you can even use voice control via your phone. Silicon Valley is pushing data monitors to gather information about growing sites. The idea is to use one to find out what will grow best in the area you choose for your garden. Maybe these are kind of silly as you seemingly have to wait a whole year to gather information. I am sure there are times when one might become useful, however. A Garden Sensor will monitor existing gardens; it also will tell you what you need to do. Does this take the fun out of gardening? Or do you couple it with an automatic watering tool so you can be notified and then act when your garden needs water and you are not there? Every garden has different needs.  Finally, check out the lighting options that are now available for your yard. We know Phillips, for example, makes the Hue, which are controllable and come in colours. Using these or similar systems, you can create your own outdoor light shows. I wonder what will be next? Surely the "smart yard" is an area ripe for development. Let's see if they figure out a way to automate those leaf blowers (but first, please make them quieter). In any case, take a bit of time this week to travel around the internet checking out the up-and-coming smart yard. Whether you find something you like, or not, the impact of these connected tools is bound to be great once they permeate our horticulture culture. There are many  smart homes already using those little speaker assistants, and these are less than a year old. I know there must many folks who are looking forward to saying "Hey Siri (or Alexa), mow the lawn." You might also ask your assistant if there are any new smart yard tools. Author: Jeff Lowenfels
Remember when the weed eater was invented or the first home leaf blowers. These were revolutionary in their impact and almost immediate in their spread. I note these introductions not to show how ancient I have become, but rather to compare how the appearance of new-fangled products change outdoor horticulture. If you doubt this, note the arrival of another revolution brought on by the spread of the "smart home." For those who are out of the loop, Apple, Amazon, Google and others have developed the "internet of things" into the ability for us to use our phones to operate these various "things" from afar. It started with thermostats and lights, moved on to security cameras and door locks, spread to baby monitors and lately, refrigerators, stoves and ovens. All of this is lumped into a category known as the "smart home." And this year, welcome to the "smart yard." The biggest attempt will be to get all of us to switch from our tractors and push mowers to, you got it, "smart lawn mowers." The automatic, indoor vacuum comes to the lawn in the form of GPS-guided mowers that you turn on and walk away from while they continuously groom your yard. Then there are automatic sprinklers. Sprinklers have been automated for a long time, but now you can use your phone to turn yours on or off. Or, have it set up to a weather station and monitor that tells it when to go on or off. Watering lawns is not really a problem but an auto watering system in the garden beds might make some sense if you are away from them enough to justify the cost. Sprinklers can be connected to your other home systems like your thermostat, and you can even use voice control via your phone. Silicon Valley is pushing data monitors to gather information about growing sites. The idea is to use one to find out what will grow best in the area you choose for your garden. Maybe these are kind of silly as you seemingly have to wait a whole year to gather information. I am sure there are times when one might become useful, however. A Garden Sensor will monitor existing gardens; it also will tell you what you need to do. Does this take the fun out of gardening? Or do you couple it with an automatic watering tool so you can be notified and then act when your garden needs water and you are not there? Every garden has different needs.  Finally, check out the lighting options that are now available for your yard. We know Phillips, for example, makes the Hue, which are controllable and come in colours. Using these or similar systems, you can create your own outdoor light shows. I wonder what will be next? Surely the "smart yard" is an area ripe for development. Let's see if they figure out a way to automate those leaf blowers (but first, please make them quieter). In any case, take a bit of time this week to travel around the internet checking out the up-and-coming smart yard. Whether you find something you like, or not, the impact of these connected tools is bound to be great once they permeate our horticulture culture. There are many  smart homes already using those little speaker assistants, and these are less than a year old. I know there must many folks who are looking forward to saying "Hey Siri (or Alexa), mow the lawn." You might also ask your assistant if there are any new smart yard tools. Author: Jeff Lowenfels
First smartphones, then smart homes. Now, prepare yourself for the smart lawn.
First smartphones, then smart homes. Now, prepare yourself for the smart lawn.
Christmas decorations picked out of your own garden
Decorating the home for Christmas can make a lovely family ritual. While it’s fun using the box of twinkly ­tinsel and baubles ­retrieved from the loft, the Christmas holidays are a ­wonderful ­opportunity to get outside, check how plants are faring and gather ­interesting specimens to bring indoors.  Whether you invite along parents, siblings, children or grandchildren, try to get everyone engaged in the picking as well as the creating of displays; it’s often the simplest tasks which are done together each year that build the fondest memories.  Garden picking to harvest Christmas decorations Alongside a pair of sharp secateurs, it’s worth having a large basket and some thick ­gardening gloves to protect against thorns. If you take the time to analyse plants in detail during the ­winter, you will gain a greater ­understanding of which ones hold themselves well against the elements, what colour combinations work best and how they catch the light.  Look out for glossy leaves and berries, fluffy seed heads and sculptural, skeletal forms. No doubt you’ll find that nature can provide a unique, albeit subtle, sparkle all of its own. The swag around the fireplace is composed of three pieces, the central part that sits on the mantelpiece and the hanging parts either side of the fire. For the central portion we measured the length of the mantelpiece, cut a thin plank of wood to size and used this to support the decoration. Photo by: Andrew Crowley. Decorations over fireplace Chrismas garden decoration made Soak three Oasis bricks and cover with thick aluminium foil (to prevent water leaking out). Glue and tie them to the wooden plank. Using a wooden base makes the arrangement more stable and allows the somewhat messy process of building the decoration to be carried out elsewhere. Place it in position when nearly finished.  Cover the bricks with a loose cushion of foliage from the mossy textured cypress, Chamaecyparis pisifera '' Squarrosa', and then add in the larger sprigs of tree ivy, Hedera colchica 'Dendroides . This provides volume, the large leaves contrast well with the cypress foliage and are a smart foil for flowers and berries. Once the body is formed, decorate with snippets of holly and trusses of rose hips. When making the drops for either side of the fireplace, measure the two sides and top of the fireplace and cut a piece of thickish rope to size. You will only decorate the vertical lengths, as the middle section of the rope will sit behind the central portion.  Start at the bottom of the rope and work up, with each conifer twig hanging over its predecessor. Secure the twigs with florists wire and then a dab from the glue gun. Once you have covered the rope, add the ivy in the same overlapping manner. Last, add the holly and rosehips.  If assembled elsewhere, put the sides in first, push the top horizontal rope to the back of the mantlepiece, then add the central portion – it will need titivating once it has been installed, so have a few extra sprigs to hand.  The evergreens and berries will last for a few weeks in a moderately heated house before they start to lose shine. For special occasions, thread fresh flowers through the foliage – we used the white amaryllis ' Mont Blanc '. Table decorations and napkins For the table centrepiece we used a large glass vase to hold four golden candles and encircled it with a mix of small antique glasses of varying heights filled with miniature posies.  Photo by: Andrew Crowley. PhDining table centre decoration Put the candles in low candle holders and arrange in the vase, then snip small cuttings of conifer leaves to cover the base inside the vase. Arrange a circle of slightly larger conifer leaves around the outside of the vase then add in a few thistle-like Eryngium giganteum seed heads, sprayed gold to give added sparkle.  Make tiny bunches of dried hydrangea flower heads, tassels of tawny miscanthus grasses, various small seed heads, and sprigs of orange rosehips (we used some from the rambling rose 'Toby Tristam'), then wrap the stems tightly with paper-covered wire to hold everything together. Snip off the stems so that the miniature posies sit neatly in the small glasses. These serve as a sort of 'nature table' in miniature to be appreciated close-up. To decorate napkins, use smaller posies of a similar combination of plants, held with a twist of paper-covered wire. Tie loosely in place with dark-red silk ribbon.  Photo by: Andrew Crowley. Napkin decoration Note: candlelight is  magical, but bear in mind the highly flammable nature of dried plants. Birch pots and vases Look for old, fallen silver birch trunks in your garden  with the bark in good condition. When the wood inside has started to rot, it’s easier to skin the bark away – but make sure the bark isn’t too thin or brittle. Ideally, it should be about 1mm thick, clean looking, with good markings. Once the bark is free, carefully rub its surface to remove any debris or loose matter. Photo by: Andrew Crowley. Birch pots and vases in the window  Measure the height of your chosen glass jar or flower pot and, using a Stanley knife, cut a strip of bark to the same depth. Ideally, the bark should wrap around the receptacle and overlap  at the back.  Roll the birch tightly around the jar or pot, and secure with a length of pale-coloured raffia. To finish, lightly spray the bark with white paint to lift the whiteness (we like the effect of chalk line marker paint as it’s light with a powdery finish). Insert your chosen winter-blooming plants or flowers (we used hellebores and forced paperwhite narcissi) into the pots. In the case of plants actually growing in pots, we put freezer bags around them first to retain moisture. Use a generous topping of moss to decorate the top of the pot and cover soil. It also retains moisture. These are temporary displays only, but when watering plants ensure they don’t become waterlogged.  A festive flower crown It’s fun to decorate any sculpture you may have around the house or garden with a festive flower crown (or if you’re feeling adventurous you could try to persuade your guests to wear them rather than the usual paper crowns from crackers). We used tufts of the golden grass Miscanthus nepalensis, which catch the light beautifully, with orange rose hips from ‘Toby Tristam’, seed heads from ox eye daisy (Telekia speciosa), interspersed with fronds of Japanese cedar Cryptomeria japonica ‘Elegans’.  Photo by: Andrew Crowey. Festive crown  Measure the head of the piece for which you’d like to create a crown. Make a base by using several strands of thin aluminium wire to form a hoop of the same size, and twist the ends together to hold everything tight.  Gather sprigs of your chosen plants and twist florists’ wire tightly around the stems to hold the cluster together firmly. Make up enough sprigs to encircle the crown and wire these to the base, interspersing them with sprigs of evergreen foliage.  Spray a few seed heads of a small teasel (Dipsacus pilosus) with gold and use these to fill any remaining gaps. A swag for a staircase This swag needs a lot of foliage, and making it can be a lovely way to bring the family together, send everyone out into the garden to gather evergreens and then sit them down to help make the bunches needed to clothe the swag. Conifers make a good base; we used Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) but use whatever you have available.  Photo by: Andrew Crowey. Swags for the stairs  Make thick bunches of fir about 12in (30cm) long, by tightly wiring 3-5 shoots together. Then fix the bunches with florists’ wire to a piece of rope the length of your staircase banister; each bunch should overlap and face the same direction.  To attach bunches, wire at the top and in the middle of each and glue gun them to prevent slippage. Once the rope is covered, attach it to the staircase banister (it helps to have a few people to help with this) with the tips pointing down.  We use Flexi-Tie to attach it to the banister (it doesn’t slip or dig in). Then embellish with whatever you have in the garden – we used the large tree ivy foliage - to contrast with the conifer and poked seed heads of Eryngium giganteum (sprayed white, left), and the flowers of the Christmas rose (Helleborus niger), through the foliage. The Telegraphe, Lifestyle, gardening https://www.whatsorb.com/agri-gardening/why-would-you--green-your-garden--remove-as-many-tiles-if-possible
Decorating the home for Christmas can make a lovely family ritual. While it’s fun using the box of twinkly ­tinsel and baubles ­retrieved from the loft, the Christmas holidays are a ­wonderful ­opportunity to get outside, check how plants are faring and gather ­interesting specimens to bring indoors.  Whether you invite along parents, siblings, children or grandchildren, try to get everyone engaged in the picking as well as the creating of displays; it’s often the simplest tasks which are done together each year that build the fondest memories.  Garden picking to harvest Christmas decorations Alongside a pair of sharp secateurs, it’s worth having a large basket and some thick ­gardening gloves to protect against thorns. If you take the time to analyse plants in detail during the ­winter, you will gain a greater ­understanding of which ones hold themselves well against the elements, what colour combinations work best and how they catch the light.  Look out for glossy leaves and berries, fluffy seed heads and sculptural, skeletal forms. No doubt you’ll find that nature can provide a unique, albeit subtle, sparkle all of its own. The swag around the fireplace is composed of three pieces, the central part that sits on the mantelpiece and the hanging parts either side of the fire. For the central portion we measured the length of the mantelpiece, cut a thin plank of wood to size and used this to support the decoration. Photo by: Andrew Crowley. Decorations over fireplace Chrismas garden decoration made Soak three Oasis bricks and cover with thick aluminium foil (to prevent water leaking out). Glue and tie them to the wooden plank. Using a wooden base makes the arrangement more stable and allows the somewhat messy process of building the decoration to be carried out elsewhere. Place it in position when nearly finished.  Cover the bricks with a loose cushion of foliage from the mossy textured cypress, Chamaecyparis pisifera '' Squarrosa', and then add in the larger sprigs of tree ivy, Hedera colchica 'Dendroides . This provides volume, the large leaves contrast well with the cypress foliage and are a smart foil for flowers and berries. Once the body is formed, decorate with snippets of holly and trusses of rose hips. When making the drops for either side of the fireplace, measure the two sides and top of the fireplace and cut a piece of thickish rope to size. You will only decorate the vertical lengths, as the middle section of the rope will sit behind the central portion.  Start at the bottom of the rope and work up, with each conifer twig hanging over its predecessor. Secure the twigs with florists wire and then a dab from the glue gun. Once you have covered the rope, add the ivy in the same overlapping manner. Last, add the holly and rosehips.  If assembled elsewhere, put the sides in first, push the top horizontal rope to the back of the mantlepiece, then add the central portion – it will need titivating once it has been installed, so have a few extra sprigs to hand.  The evergreens and berries will last for a few weeks in a moderately heated house before they start to lose shine. For special occasions, thread fresh flowers through the foliage – we used the white amaryllis ' Mont Blanc '. Table decorations and napkins For the table centrepiece we used a large glass vase to hold four golden candles and encircled it with a mix of small antique glasses of varying heights filled with miniature posies.  Photo by: Andrew Crowley. PhDining table centre decoration Put the candles in low candle holders and arrange in the vase, then snip small cuttings of conifer leaves to cover the base inside the vase. Arrange a circle of slightly larger conifer leaves around the outside of the vase then add in a few thistle-like Eryngium giganteum seed heads, sprayed gold to give added sparkle.  Make tiny bunches of dried hydrangea flower heads, tassels of tawny miscanthus grasses, various small seed heads, and sprigs of orange rosehips (we used some from the rambling rose 'Toby Tristam'), then wrap the stems tightly with paper-covered wire to hold everything together. Snip off the stems so that the miniature posies sit neatly in the small glasses. These serve as a sort of 'nature table' in miniature to be appreciated close-up. To decorate napkins, use smaller posies of a similar combination of plants, held with a twist of paper-covered wire. Tie loosely in place with dark-red silk ribbon.  Photo by: Andrew Crowley. Napkin decoration Note: candlelight is  magical, but bear in mind the highly flammable nature of dried plants. Birch pots and vases Look for old, fallen silver birch trunks in your garden  with the bark in good condition. When the wood inside has started to rot, it’s easier to skin the bark away – but make sure the bark isn’t too thin or brittle. Ideally, it should be about 1mm thick, clean looking, with good markings. Once the bark is free, carefully rub its surface to remove any debris or loose matter. Photo by: Andrew Crowley. Birch pots and vases in the window  Measure the height of your chosen glass jar or flower pot and, using a Stanley knife, cut a strip of bark to the same depth. Ideally, the bark should wrap around the receptacle and overlap  at the back.  Roll the birch tightly around the jar or pot, and secure with a length of pale-coloured raffia. To finish, lightly spray the bark with white paint to lift the whiteness (we like the effect of chalk line marker paint as it’s light with a powdery finish). Insert your chosen winter-blooming plants or flowers (we used hellebores and forced paperwhite narcissi) into the pots. In the case of plants actually growing in pots, we put freezer bags around them first to retain moisture. Use a generous topping of moss to decorate the top of the pot and cover soil. It also retains moisture. These are temporary displays only, but when watering plants ensure they don’t become waterlogged.  A festive flower crown It’s fun to decorate any sculpture you may have around the house or garden with a festive flower crown (or if you’re feeling adventurous you could try to persuade your guests to wear them rather than the usual paper crowns from crackers). We used tufts of the golden grass Miscanthus nepalensis, which catch the light beautifully, with orange rose hips from ‘Toby Tristam’, seed heads from ox eye daisy (Telekia speciosa), interspersed with fronds of Japanese cedar Cryptomeria japonica ‘Elegans’.  Photo by: Andrew Crowey. Festive crown  Measure the head of the piece for which you’d like to create a crown. Make a base by using several strands of thin aluminium wire to form a hoop of the same size, and twist the ends together to hold everything tight.  Gather sprigs of your chosen plants and twist florists’ wire tightly around the stems to hold the cluster together firmly. Make up enough sprigs to encircle the crown and wire these to the base, interspersing them with sprigs of evergreen foliage.  Spray a few seed heads of a small teasel (Dipsacus pilosus) with gold and use these to fill any remaining gaps. A swag for a staircase This swag needs a lot of foliage, and making it can be a lovely way to bring the family together, send everyone out into the garden to gather evergreens and then sit them down to help make the bunches needed to clothe the swag. Conifers make a good base; we used Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) but use whatever you have available.  Photo by: Andrew Crowey. Swags for the stairs  Make thick bunches of fir about 12in (30cm) long, by tightly wiring 3-5 shoots together. Then fix the bunches with florists’ wire to a piece of rope the length of your staircase banister; each bunch should overlap and face the same direction.  To attach bunches, wire at the top and in the middle of each and glue gun them to prevent slippage. Once the rope is covered, attach it to the staircase banister (it helps to have a few people to help with this) with the tips pointing down.  We use Flexi-Tie to attach it to the banister (it doesn’t slip or dig in). Then embellish with whatever you have in the garden – we used the large tree ivy foliage - to contrast with the conifer and poked seed heads of Eryngium giganteum (sprayed white, left), and the flowers of the Christmas rose (Helleborus niger), through the foliage. The Telegraphe, Lifestyle, gardening https://www.whatsorb.com/agri-gardening/why-would-you--green-your-garden--remove-as-many-tiles-if-possible
Christmas decorations picked out of your own garden
Christmas decorations picked out of your own garden
Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton teaches gardening the royal way
Celebrating 10 Years of School Gardening. Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Cambridge, visits a London school to mark the anniversary of the RHS Campaign for School Gardening. The Duchess of Cambridge visited green-fingered youngsters at Robin Hood Primary School in Kingston Vale to learn more about the health and wellbeing benefits of gardening. With a fondness for the outdoors, the mother of two was right at home as she pulled on a pair of gardening gloves and got to work with the youngsters, planting some winter bulbs. Notably dressed down for the outing, Middleton sported her Barbour olive green jacket layered over a black knit tunic with her decade-old Penelope Chilvers boots.  Helping to plant spring bulbs and build bug hotels  Her Royal Highness got straight to work with some of the school’s 5-11 year-old pupils by helping to plant spring-flowering bulbs, including daffodils and snake's head fritillaries and then build bug hotels for garden insects in the shadow of the school’s existing ‘Bug-ingham Palace’. Robin Hood Primary School Robin Hood Primary School is one of over 34,000 schools and youth groups now signed up to the RHS campaign. With support from the RHS, the school has developed a progressive outdoor learning curriculum where pupils have access to a range of outdoor classrooms within woodland. They give children the opportunity to explore the natural environment and take part in challenging yet achievable activities that bring their learning to life.  More reasons why gardening for children is so important? Engages All the Senses Kids learn best when engaging all their senses. With gardening, kids can touch and feel the dirt, seeds and flowers, see the vibrant colors and varied sizes of the plants, hear the sound of the vegetable when it is taken from the plant and smell the amazing scents of the flowers. Allowing all the senses to be involved helps kids understand and grasp the concept of gardening along with all the math and scientific concepts that go along with it. Encourages Healthy Eating Eating healthy food is vital for brain and body development but it can be hard at times to get kids to eat those fruits and veggies. By having them grow their own string beans, carrots and lettuce, they will have a sense of pride in eating what they have “created.” This, in turn, will emphasize the importance of healthy eating. Kids will soon learn to love eating strawberries, blueberries and even broccoli! Enhances Fine Motor Development Scooping up the dirt, placing the seeds in the pots and pouring the water all take fine motor control and strength. As kids garden, they develop important motor skills that will help them improve their academic skills such as writing, cutting and typing. Introduces Kids to Scientific Concepts Gardening is a wonderful introduction into the world of science especially botany, biology and chemistry. When kids plant their first seeds they become curious about what will happen next. They make their own hypothesis and monitor the progress each day. Without even realizing it, kids are learning the basic steps of the scientific process. As kids get older, they learn about the impact of sunlight and water on the growth of a plant. They learn which plants need more sunlight, which need less water and how long they take to grow. Gardening offers wonderful science lessons right at home! Fosters Family Bonding I have so many friends that love to garden with their parents. In fact, it is often a spring tradition that carries well into adulthood. This shows what a wonderful bonding effect gardening can have. Kids and parents can work together to decide what flowers and vegetables to plant and where to plant them. Families can then work together to make meals using the vegetables they have grown. Teaches Responsibility Gardening is a great way to teach kids about responsibility. Kids learn that they have to take care of their seeds each day in order for them to become healthy plants. To help, you can make a checklist that kids can use to make sure they care for their plant every day. Highlights the Importance of Taking Care of the Environment When kids garden, they realize how important it is to take care of the Earth if they want their garden to grow and produce healthy plants. It creates the perfect opportunity for parents to talk to their kids about concepts such as pollution, pesticides and recycling. Develops Math Skills There are so many teachable math moments when gardening from measuring the soil depth to counting the seeds. You can also embed math lessons into the gardening experience. For example, your child can measure the growth of the plant and then create a graph. Kids can also measure and compare the sizes of the vegetables as well the number of petals on the flowers. Another fun lesson is to identify all the different shapes that can be found in the garden. This is a great introduction to Geometry. Teaches Patience As I begin the gardening process with my children, it has become abundantly clear how important it is to have patience. Kids are used to immediate gratification; however, gardening is often a slow process. Kids have to learn to be patient when waiting for their flowers and vegetables to grow. The waiting actually makes the moment the flower or vegetable sprouts even more exciting! Enhances the Ability to Plan and Organize For those that garden regularly, you understand that planning and organizing a garden can be time consuming and somewhat of an art form. You have to know what flowers bloom during what time of year, how long it takes a seed to actually turn into a vegetable and when is the best time to plant your seeds. Involving kids in this process helps increase their planning and problem solving skills. It also enhances their organizational strategies which can be carried over to every facet of life! While the children were clearly enthusiastic about getting to spend part of the day outside with the duchess, she was equally happy to be sharing her passion—one she also has handed down to her own famous children, 4-year-old Prince George and 2-year-old Princess Charlotte.  "It's been lovely to meet all of you and thank you so much to all the children who've shown me what they've been doing in their gardens," she said as she addressed the group. "I've got such fond memories of being in the garden and being outside from my own childhood, and I'm sharing that with my own children, George and Charlotte, at the moment." As she sweetly concluded, "What you have created here is really so special. Hopefully you'll have lots of memories of your time here in the garden, looking for insects or planting bulbs...and I really hope you remember these special times for the rest of your lives." Speaking to keen young gardeners and teachers about the impact of gardening  During the visit, The Duchess received a briefing about the RHS nationwide campaign and heard from the keen young gardeners about the things they enjoy learning in a garden setting and from their teachers about its impact. A recent survey of those taking part in the RHS campaign found that four in five young people have used gardening to improve health and wellbeing. Pete Boulton, Headteacher at Robin Hood Primary & Nursery School, said: “Our outdoor learning approach and gardening opportunities support children’s development, enabling them to develop their confidence and resilience in a sociable and stimulating environment.  We’re delighted that The Duchess has given our garden and its keen gardeners her royal seal of approval, and we now look forward to welcoming the inhabitants of our newly built bug house and enjoying the colourful spring bulbs.” Free RHS Campaign for School Gardening resources   Schools and youth groups can sign-up to receive free resources and support from the RHS Campaign for School Gardening. Useful tools include seeds, plant labels, stickers and posters, as well as ideas for practical activities and lesson plans to help make the most of a school garden.  Sources: Royal Horticultural Society, Yessica Lopa, Kevin Zelman Neil Mockford/GC Images, EDDIE MULHOLLAND/AFP/Getty Images A Dutch design firm has redefined living by creating a house that doesn’t need a foundation, can be built in one day and is three times more sustainable than a normal house. The Wikkelhouse, designed by Fiction Factory in Amsterdam, is built by snapping multiple 1.2 meter (4 feet) wide sections together. Each section is made by wrapping a basic house shape with curved edges in 24 layers of cardboard that are glued together. The sections are then finished with waterproof, breathable foil and covered with a layer of wood paneling for extra protection. “Using cardboard as its main building material, Wikkelhouse is a cutting-edge sustainable house with a beautiful design and exceptional constructive strength,” the website explains. With the flexible construction process, a house can range from the standard order of three sections to as many as desired. Each section of the Wikkelhouse only weighs 500 kilos (1,100 pounds). It can be taken apart and moved easily when you want to relocate or remodel. You can place the house on the beach, in your backyard or even on top of a building, Fiction Factory boasts. Despite being lightweight, the Wikkelhouse is durable and has a minimum life span of 50 years. The wood outer layer is designed to protect the house from all types of weather elements and events. The cardboard layers also provide maximum insulation, cutting down on energy costs for the owner. The Wikkelhouse is designed to accommodate a kitchen, bathroom and bedrooms, making it fully functional. Customers can pick the inside wall and floor design as well as glazed or opaque facades. Fiction Factory only produces 12 homes a year to maintain optimum quality control, each selling for 25,000 Euros or around $28,000. There is a wait list for orders.
Celebrating 10 Years of School Gardening. Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Cambridge, visits a London school to mark the anniversary of the RHS Campaign for School Gardening. The Duchess of Cambridge visited green-fingered youngsters at Robin Hood Primary School in Kingston Vale to learn more about the health and wellbeing benefits of gardening. With a fondness for the outdoors, the mother of two was right at home as she pulled on a pair of gardening gloves and got to work with the youngsters, planting some winter bulbs. Notably dressed down for the outing, Middleton sported her Barbour olive green jacket layered over a black knit tunic with her decade-old Penelope Chilvers boots.  Helping to plant spring bulbs and build bug hotels  Her Royal Highness got straight to work with some of the school’s 5-11 year-old pupils by helping to plant spring-flowering bulbs, including daffodils and snake's head fritillaries and then build bug hotels for garden insects in the shadow of the school’s existing ‘Bug-ingham Palace’. Robin Hood Primary School Robin Hood Primary School is one of over 34,000 schools and youth groups now signed up to the RHS campaign. With support from the RHS, the school has developed a progressive outdoor learning curriculum where pupils have access to a range of outdoor classrooms within woodland. They give children the opportunity to explore the natural environment and take part in challenging yet achievable activities that bring their learning to life.  More reasons why gardening for children is so important? Engages All the Senses Kids learn best when engaging all their senses. With gardening, kids can touch and feel the dirt, seeds and flowers, see the vibrant colors and varied sizes of the plants, hear the sound of the vegetable when it is taken from the plant and smell the amazing scents of the flowers. Allowing all the senses to be involved helps kids understand and grasp the concept of gardening along with all the math and scientific concepts that go along with it. Encourages Healthy Eating Eating healthy food is vital for brain and body development but it can be hard at times to get kids to eat those fruits and veggies. By having them grow their own string beans, carrots and lettuce, they will have a sense of pride in eating what they have “created.” This, in turn, will emphasize the importance of healthy eating. Kids will soon learn to love eating strawberries, blueberries and even broccoli! Enhances Fine Motor Development Scooping up the dirt, placing the seeds in the pots and pouring the water all take fine motor control and strength. As kids garden, they develop important motor skills that will help them improve their academic skills such as writing, cutting and typing. Introduces Kids to Scientific Concepts Gardening is a wonderful introduction into the world of science especially botany, biology and chemistry. When kids plant their first seeds they become curious about what will happen next. They make their own hypothesis and monitor the progress each day. Without even realizing it, kids are learning the basic steps of the scientific process. As kids get older, they learn about the impact of sunlight and water on the growth of a plant. They learn which plants need more sunlight, which need less water and how long they take to grow. Gardening offers wonderful science lessons right at home! Fosters Family Bonding I have so many friends that love to garden with their parents. In fact, it is often a spring tradition that carries well into adulthood. This shows what a wonderful bonding effect gardening can have. Kids and parents can work together to decide what flowers and vegetables to plant and where to plant them. Families can then work together to make meals using the vegetables they have grown. Teaches Responsibility Gardening is a great way to teach kids about responsibility. Kids learn that they have to take care of their seeds each day in order for them to become healthy plants. To help, you can make a checklist that kids can use to make sure they care for their plant every day. Highlights the Importance of Taking Care of the Environment When kids garden, they realize how important it is to take care of the Earth if they want their garden to grow and produce healthy plants. It creates the perfect opportunity for parents to talk to their kids about concepts such as pollution, pesticides and recycling. Develops Math Skills There are so many teachable math moments when gardening from measuring the soil depth to counting the seeds. You can also embed math lessons into the gardening experience. For example, your child can measure the growth of the plant and then create a graph. Kids can also measure and compare the sizes of the vegetables as well the number of petals on the flowers. Another fun lesson is to identify all the different shapes that can be found in the garden. This is a great introduction to Geometry. Teaches Patience As I begin the gardening process with my children, it has become abundantly clear how important it is to have patience. Kids are used to immediate gratification; however, gardening is often a slow process. Kids have to learn to be patient when waiting for their flowers and vegetables to grow. The waiting actually makes the moment the flower or vegetable sprouts even more exciting! Enhances the Ability to Plan and Organize For those that garden regularly, you understand that planning and organizing a garden can be time consuming and somewhat of an art form. You have to know what flowers bloom during what time of year, how long it takes a seed to actually turn into a vegetable and when is the best time to plant your seeds. Involving kids in this process helps increase their planning and problem solving skills. It also enhances their organizational strategies which can be carried over to every facet of life! While the children were clearly enthusiastic about getting to spend part of the day outside with the duchess, she was equally happy to be sharing her passion—one she also has handed down to her own famous children, 4-year-old Prince George and 2-year-old Princess Charlotte.  "It's been lovely to meet all of you and thank you so much to all the children who've shown me what they've been doing in their gardens," she said as she addressed the group. "I've got such fond memories of being in the garden and being outside from my own childhood, and I'm sharing that with my own children, George and Charlotte, at the moment." As she sweetly concluded, "What you have created here is really so special. Hopefully you'll have lots of memories of your time here in the garden, looking for insects or planting bulbs...and I really hope you remember these special times for the rest of your lives." Speaking to keen young gardeners and teachers about the impact of gardening  During the visit, The Duchess received a briefing about the RHS nationwide campaign and heard from the keen young gardeners about the things they enjoy learning in a garden setting and from their teachers about its impact. A recent survey of those taking part in the RHS campaign found that four in five young people have used gardening to improve health and wellbeing. Pete Boulton, Headteacher at Robin Hood Primary & Nursery School, said: “Our outdoor learning approach and gardening opportunities support children’s development, enabling them to develop their confidence and resilience in a sociable and stimulating environment.  We’re delighted that The Duchess has given our garden and its keen gardeners her royal seal of approval, and we now look forward to welcoming the inhabitants of our newly built bug house and enjoying the colourful spring bulbs.” Free RHS Campaign for School Gardening resources   Schools and youth groups can sign-up to receive free resources and support from the RHS Campaign for School Gardening. Useful tools include seeds, plant labels, stickers and posters, as well as ideas for practical activities and lesson plans to help make the most of a school garden.  Sources: Royal Horticultural Society, Yessica Lopa, Kevin Zelman Neil Mockford/GC Images, EDDIE MULHOLLAND/AFP/Getty Images A Dutch design firm has redefined living by creating a house that doesn’t need a foundation, can be built in one day and is three times more sustainable than a normal house. The Wikkelhouse, designed by Fiction Factory in Amsterdam, is built by snapping multiple 1.2 meter (4 feet) wide sections together. Each section is made by wrapping a basic house shape with curved edges in 24 layers of cardboard that are glued together. The sections are then finished with waterproof, breathable foil and covered with a layer of wood paneling for extra protection. “Using cardboard as its main building material, Wikkelhouse is a cutting-edge sustainable house with a beautiful design and exceptional constructive strength,” the website explains. With the flexible construction process, a house can range from the standard order of three sections to as many as desired. Each section of the Wikkelhouse only weighs 500 kilos (1,100 pounds). It can be taken apart and moved easily when you want to relocate or remodel. You can place the house on the beach, in your backyard or even on top of a building, Fiction Factory boasts. Despite being lightweight, the Wikkelhouse is durable and has a minimum life span of 50 years. The wood outer layer is designed to protect the house from all types of weather elements and events. The cardboard layers also provide maximum insulation, cutting down on energy costs for the owner. The Wikkelhouse is designed to accommodate a kitchen, bathroom and bedrooms, making it fully functional. Customers can pick the inside wall and floor design as well as glazed or opaque facades. Fiction Factory only produces 12 homes a year to maintain optimum quality control, each selling for 25,000 Euros or around $28,000. There is a wait list for orders.
Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton teaches gardening the royal way
Largest botanic garden in the world revealed
Bold, innovative and set to become the largest botanic garden in the world, images of Oman’s future light-filled oasis in the desert have been revealed. A collaboration between Arup, Grimshaw, and Haley Sharpe Design delivers the architecture, engineering, landscaping, and interpretive design in a scheme of over 420 hectares for the Oman Botanic Garden. The gardens, with guidance offered by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said will celebrate the country’s botanic diversity in the foothills of the Al Hajar Mountains. Here, an ancient seabed is still visible after it was elevated to 100m above sea level by tectonic activity. The scheme uses the diverse landscape to its advantage, working within the undulating land and natural ridges and ravines to generate walkways and inform building elements. Central to the site, eight defined habitats reflect the habitats of the country, featuring a range of endangered, native and endemic flora. Two sensitive habitats are enclosed by large biomes – shimmering glass structures woven seamlessly into the rolling plains of the desert. The Northern Biome recreates the varied environments of the Northern Mountains while the Southern Biome will house habitats of the Dhofar region, including an immersive green forest ‘Khareef’ setting. The habitats will be supported by a visitors center and education and research facilities and connected by a cable car. The organic forms of the biomes were driven by the atmospheric conditions of the site, working with the topography and using the sun orientation and weather patterns to optimize natural lighting and cooling and the most efficient plant irrigation. All the water for the site is sourced sustainably with no wastage, contributing to the scheme’s plan for achieving the globally recognized sustainable standard - LEED Platinum.  “The Oman Botanic Garden is an astonishing project with many layers of interwoven cultural and environmental significance. Its scale and diversity is truly world-leading, and we are honoured to work as the architects for a project that has the conservation of bio-diversity as a core design driver.” The Oman Botanic Garden will allow visitors to experience the flora of the Sultanate of Oman in only a few hours, and no doubt become a much-loved attraction for locals and tourists alike. by Tessa Forde, Images via ©Arup/Grimshaw
Bold, innovative and set to become the largest botanic garden in the world, images of Oman’s future light-filled oasis in the desert have been revealed. A collaboration between Arup, Grimshaw, and Haley Sharpe Design delivers the architecture, engineering, landscaping, and interpretive design in a scheme of over 420 hectares for the Oman Botanic Garden. The gardens, with guidance offered by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said will celebrate the country’s botanic diversity in the foothills of the Al Hajar Mountains. Here, an ancient seabed is still visible after it was elevated to 100m above sea level by tectonic activity. The scheme uses the diverse landscape to its advantage, working within the undulating land and natural ridges and ravines to generate walkways and inform building elements. Central to the site, eight defined habitats reflect the habitats of the country, featuring a range of endangered, native and endemic flora. Two sensitive habitats are enclosed by large biomes – shimmering glass structures woven seamlessly into the rolling plains of the desert. The Northern Biome recreates the varied environments of the Northern Mountains while the Southern Biome will house habitats of the Dhofar region, including an immersive green forest ‘Khareef’ setting. The habitats will be supported by a visitors center and education and research facilities and connected by a cable car. The organic forms of the biomes were driven by the atmospheric conditions of the site, working with the topography and using the sun orientation and weather patterns to optimize natural lighting and cooling and the most efficient plant irrigation. All the water for the site is sourced sustainably with no wastage, contributing to the scheme’s plan for achieving the globally recognized sustainable standard - LEED Platinum.  “The Oman Botanic Garden is an astonishing project with many layers of interwoven cultural and environmental significance. Its scale and diversity is truly world-leading, and we are honoured to work as the architects for a project that has the conservation of bio-diversity as a core design driver.” The Oman Botanic Garden will allow visitors to experience the flora of the Sultanate of Oman in only a few hours, and no doubt become a much-loved attraction for locals and tourists alike. by Tessa Forde, Images via ©Arup/Grimshaw
Largest botanic garden in the world revealed
Largest botanic garden in the world revealed
Using bats for combating mosquitoes and other pests in gardens by providing bat houses.
Startup BatBnB hopes to help gardeners combat mosquitos and other pests by providing habitat for bats. Through an alternative roost, BatBnB encourages bats’ presence in gardens and fields to prey on undesirable insects and worms. Bats typically live in caves, mines, rock crevices, tree hollows, plant foliage, and tree bark as well as the roofs of homes, attics, football stadiums, bridges, and artificial bat houses. The BatBnB roost can provide living space when these roosts are in decline or no longer available. The wooden units safely harbor bats when they come out of hibernation and house owners benefit from their instinctive role as pest control. In exchange for protection from predators, stable temperatures, and safe shelter in which to rest and raise their pups, occupying bats take care of some damaging pests by preying on night-flying insects, moths, mosquitoes, and worms. BatBnB launched the final product line in July 2017 and hopes to raise awareness about bats and their importance for healthy ecosystems. Food Tank had the opportunity to discuss current solutions to mosquito control and the sustainable alternatives with Christopher Rännefors, co-founder of BatBnB. Food Tank (FT): What motivated you to start this project? Christopher Rännefors (CR): My business partner Harrison Broadhurst and I are both planning to start families in the next couple of years, but we also want to travel a lot before we settle down. We worry a great deal about traveling to Zika hot spots around the world because of the impact it could have on our future children as well as our own personal health. When we looked at the market, all we found were more pesticides and chemicals. There were very few good sustainable solutions. Fortunately, we knew about bats. I grew up building bat houses with my dad, and Harrison learned about bats from his mom’s science classes. We dove into the research and learned more, and that’s when our motivation evolved for the project. Yes, bats eat mosquitoes, but they also eat pests of all kinds and save the U.S. agricultural industry between US$23 billion and US$50 billion in crop damage every year. We wanted to use our respective skills, mine in marketing and entrepreneurship, and Harrison’s in design and architecture, to help raise awareness about bats through a line of designer bat houses which really helps spark the conversation about bats and their value. FT: Among the eco-friendly solutions to pests, why choose bats? CR: Bats are amazing pest eating machines, and incredibly misrepresented. Few people know about the impact that bats have on the ecosystem. All they can think about is how scary bats are because they have been brainwashed since childhood with everything from halloween props to vampire TV shows. I bet that the majority of people who are scared of bats have never seen one before—and that’s because bats avoid people. Bats stay out of our way and eat the pests while we are in bed sleeping at night. FT: What is your target market with this innovation, and which would cause a more lasting impact: domestic users or agricultural firms? CR: Farms and agricultural firms that love us will care about the landscape, decor, and aesthetic of their properties, but we’re also trying to reach farmers who really want to be serious about seeking alternative solutions to pesticides that are still effective in cutting down on pests. If companies take the time to invest in high-quality expert recommended units like BatBnB, they can house hundreds of bats, re-grow their local bat population, and potentially save thousands of dollars a year on pest control—both in damaged crops and savings from not buying as much pesticide. The product is made from rot-resistant cedar, so will last for many years outdoors without need for replacement. I also think farmers who are interested in eco/agri-tourism will be very interested in BatBnBs to show off to guests as a unique form of natural pest control. FT: What are some of the biggest challenges for bat pest control? CR: Misunderstanding bats and not looking at the facts. People fear bats for no good reason. There are already hundreds of thousands of bats living in bat houses all over North America and there isn’t a single recorded case of a bat house owner being attacked by a bat. And the biggest challenge is that bats are under threat now more than ever. They are dying by the millions, and mother bats only have a single pup every season. That’s why having safe BatBnB homes are so critical for the bats to raise their pups in a comfortable environment. FT: What are some of the policy changes you would like to see surrounding bat and wildlife conservation? CR: When we set out on this venture, we were very aware that both Harrison and I are not bat experts. That’s why we partnered closely with Merlin Tuttle, of Merlin Tuttle’s Bat Conservation, an internationally acclaimed bat researcher, and probably the world’s foremost authority on bat houses and bat conservation. He has wholeheartedly endorsed the BatBnB product line. He says ‘the biggest single threat to bats is the major scare campaign in which a few greedy virologists are making sensational claims linking bats as sources of scary diseases in order to divert hundreds of millions of dollars from far higher public health priorities into grants for them to search for new viruses, mostly in bats.’ According to him, ‘we’re increasingly poisoning our food and water as we also kill natural enemies of pests, such as bats. Policies that continue to expand pesticide-dependent and monoculture-farming threaten both humans and bats. Government subsidies that support careless use of wind farms also pose a rapidly growing threat to bats.’
Startup BatBnB hopes to help gardeners combat mosquitos and other pests by providing habitat for bats. Through an alternative roost, BatBnB encourages bats’ presence in gardens and fields to prey on undesirable insects and worms. Bats typically live in caves, mines, rock crevices, tree hollows, plant foliage, and tree bark as well as the roofs of homes, attics, football stadiums, bridges, and artificial bat houses. The BatBnB roost can provide living space when these roosts are in decline or no longer available. The wooden units safely harbor bats when they come out of hibernation and house owners benefit from their instinctive role as pest control. In exchange for protection from predators, stable temperatures, and safe shelter in which to rest and raise their pups, occupying bats take care of some damaging pests by preying on night-flying insects, moths, mosquitoes, and worms. BatBnB launched the final product line in July 2017 and hopes to raise awareness about bats and their importance for healthy ecosystems. Food Tank had the opportunity to discuss current solutions to mosquito control and the sustainable alternatives with Christopher Rännefors, co-founder of BatBnB. Food Tank (FT): What motivated you to start this project? Christopher Rännefors (CR): My business partner Harrison Broadhurst and I are both planning to start families in the next couple of years, but we also want to travel a lot before we settle down. We worry a great deal about traveling to Zika hot spots around the world because of the impact it could have on our future children as well as our own personal health. When we looked at the market, all we found were more pesticides and chemicals. There were very few good sustainable solutions. Fortunately, we knew about bats. I grew up building bat houses with my dad, and Harrison learned about bats from his mom’s science classes. We dove into the research and learned more, and that’s when our motivation evolved for the project. Yes, bats eat mosquitoes, but they also eat pests of all kinds and save the U.S. agricultural industry between US$23 billion and US$50 billion in crop damage every year. We wanted to use our respective skills, mine in marketing and entrepreneurship, and Harrison’s in design and architecture, to help raise awareness about bats through a line of designer bat houses which really helps spark the conversation about bats and their value. FT: Among the eco-friendly solutions to pests, why choose bats? CR: Bats are amazing pest eating machines, and incredibly misrepresented. Few people know about the impact that bats have on the ecosystem. All they can think about is how scary bats are because they have been brainwashed since childhood with everything from halloween props to vampire TV shows. I bet that the majority of people who are scared of bats have never seen one before—and that’s because bats avoid people. Bats stay out of our way and eat the pests while we are in bed sleeping at night. FT: What is your target market with this innovation, and which would cause a more lasting impact: domestic users or agricultural firms? CR: Farms and agricultural firms that love us will care about the landscape, decor, and aesthetic of their properties, but we’re also trying to reach farmers who really want to be serious about seeking alternative solutions to pesticides that are still effective in cutting down on pests. If companies take the time to invest in high-quality expert recommended units like BatBnB, they can house hundreds of bats, re-grow their local bat population, and potentially save thousands of dollars a year on pest control—both in damaged crops and savings from not buying as much pesticide. The product is made from rot-resistant cedar, so will last for many years outdoors without need for replacement. I also think farmers who are interested in eco/agri-tourism will be very interested in BatBnBs to show off to guests as a unique form of natural pest control. FT: What are some of the biggest challenges for bat pest control? CR: Misunderstanding bats and not looking at the facts. People fear bats for no good reason. There are already hundreds of thousands of bats living in bat houses all over North America and there isn’t a single recorded case of a bat house owner being attacked by a bat. And the biggest challenge is that bats are under threat now more than ever. They are dying by the millions, and mother bats only have a single pup every season. That’s why having safe BatBnB homes are so critical for the bats to raise their pups in a comfortable environment. FT: What are some of the policy changes you would like to see surrounding bat and wildlife conservation? CR: When we set out on this venture, we were very aware that both Harrison and I are not bat experts. That’s why we partnered closely with Merlin Tuttle, of Merlin Tuttle’s Bat Conservation, an internationally acclaimed bat researcher, and probably the world’s foremost authority on bat houses and bat conservation. He has wholeheartedly endorsed the BatBnB product line. He says ‘the biggest single threat to bats is the major scare campaign in which a few greedy virologists are making sensational claims linking bats as sources of scary diseases in order to divert hundreds of millions of dollars from far higher public health priorities into grants for them to search for new viruses, mostly in bats.’ According to him, ‘we’re increasingly poisoning our food and water as we also kill natural enemies of pests, such as bats. Policies that continue to expand pesticide-dependent and monoculture-farming threaten both humans and bats. Government subsidies that support careless use of wind farms also pose a rapidly growing threat to bats.’
Using bats for combating mosquitoes and other pests in gardens by providing bat houses.
Using bats for combating mosquitoes and other pests in gardens by providing bat houses.
Agri & Gardening

Growing food, either commercially or as a hobby is one of the most satisfying things you can do. It is however not without chalanges. Protection agains natural or man-made threats, irrigation or other treatments of the soil has to be done with care. Read all about world wide initiatives to make agriculture more sustainable in these articles.

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