In 1752, Britain changed its calendar from the old “Julian” style to the Gregorian version that most of Europe was already using. People rioted, demanding back the 11 days of their lives that had gone “missing” in the switchover, but there would be far-reaching effects too. Any festivals set by the phases of the moon continued as ever, but set dates, such as Midsummer and Christmas, now fell on the “wrong” days. Plants didn’t know this, of course, but it muddled folklore, making some customs even stranger to modern eyes.
Spring was hugely important to our ancestors. The Romans celebrated Flora, goddess of flowers; the Greeks worshipped Persephone’s return from the Underworld. Days had been getting longer since the winter solstice (21 December) and people were tired of root vegetables, dried beans and withered herbs. They gathered the fresh, sweet tips of spring greens such as Good King Henry (Blitum bonus-henricus), dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) and chickweed (Stellaria media) for food and medicine.
Gardeners watched for native plants peeping above ground as a sign that it was time to sow their own crops. But it wasn’t a foolproof method. A cold snap was known as “blackthorn winter” because frost suddenly arrived after the blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) had blossomed. It could damage young seedlings, though was also said to herald a good growing season. Late “onion snow” was considered a good thing, however, or at least for the allium crop. Some gardeners used birds to decide the best time to plant. The wagtail is still known as “potato- setter”, “tater setter” and “potato dropper” in some areas, while in Scotland, the first swallow was a sign to get sowing.
Easter is a lunar festival, held the first Sunday after the first
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While bird feeders are common in Britain’s gardens, bird baths are less so. Bird baths are a brilliant way of providing birds with a regular supply of clean water for both drinking and bathing. Bird baths become even more essential in the colder months when natural sources may be frozen or in the height of summer when water can be hard to come by.
In the summer of 1863, a world-famous English botanist was pondering why the shoots of climbing plants twirl around as they grow. In this episode, join Emma the Space Gardener as she explores the fascinating world of plant movement, and what that has to do with the first plants that ever flew on NASA’s space shuttle.
Sometimes, you see a style that’s so over the top, with so many seemingly disconnected designs, that it's a miracle everything flows together so seamlessly. Case in point: the no-holds-barred look of British pop decor. The style combines the best of today’s trending aesthetics with a healthy dose of the posh past—and like all maximalist styles, it's all about the layers.
Indoor plants will instantly add some green to your living space, bringing the outside in and touching base with nature. And when it comes to plant pots to keep them in, there are plenty to choose from.
Whilst we huddle with cups of hot chocolate, wrapped in layers of wool, gearing ourselves up to make those first boot tracks in crisp frost, our wintry gardens are already being enjoyed by the birds. From the cunning Treecreeper to the bolshy Robin, the RSPB help us identify who will be paying your garden a visit in the cold season.
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