Tag: Life and style

Five tips for container gardening success

Five tips for container gardening success

Courtesy of Bonnie Plants Container gardens are an easy way to incorporate color, edibles and interest into the landscape. Container gardens allow you to easily dress up your balcony and patio, create a colorful welcome for guests and keep edibles close at hand for cooking and entertaining. They’re also […]

RHS Garden Bridgewater clears city planning

RHS Garden Bridgewater clears city planning

View of the Welcome Centre. Image: Hodder and Partners The application for the 63-hectare garden will now be referred to the Secretary of State because it is being built on the green belt, on the site of a former historic garden at Worsley New Hall. An RHS spokesperson said […]

Seed Now, Eat Later: The Urban Dweller’s Guide to Indoor Gardening

Seed Now, Eat Later: The Urban Dweller’s Guide to Indoor Gardening


Though it may not feel like it, spring is just around the corner, and farmers are in full swing prepping their seedlings for a lush summer harvest. For home gardeners and urban dwellers—whose unseen gardens dwell on rooftops or tucked into windowsills—that means it’s time to start planting, too. […]

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The Christmas my in-laws threw out my treasured books: Carol Birch

My marriage was on the rocks and then came the revelation that my lifes collection of books had been given away to a jumble sale

Newly arrived in England after eight years in the south-west of Ireland, we dumped our stuff in Kennington, south London, and went to my then husbands parents house for Christmas. It was the late 80s, and our marriage was heading for the rocks.

Thered been some idea that a complete change would do us good, though quite how the flat in Kennington was supposed to energise us I have no idea. It was bleak and damp, three flights up on an estate with stinky stairwells and rubbish overflowing in the yards. Still, it was a change from cabin fever. I was looking forward to furnishing it with my books, which had been stored in a large wardrobe at my parents-in-laws all the time wed been away.

I never wanted to leave them there, but was persuaded. The argument ran: we are going to live in a cowshed, a tent and a derelict cottage for the foreseeable future. It will be damp. You dont want your books getting ruined by damp. Lets store them with my folks and bring them over later. So we did. And over the years a few found their way over, in dribs and drabs. But every time I insisted on getting the lot, there was some reason or other why I couldnt.

Its still too damp. Theyre safer overthere.

Oh, theyre fine. My folks dont mind theyve got loads of room.

Theres not enough space in the car.

Theres just no time.

His mum said she thought they were in the shed. I found a cardboard box among the gardening tools and odds and ends, the kind a printer might come in. Unless it had Tardis-like qualities, my books could not be there. But there they were, a dreggy miscellany not even filling the box.

He was in the kitchen. My books are gone, I said. And he came to look.

I dont remember the conversation in the shed. I remember the picture in my head of my books as they once were, covering a whole wall; and the increasing panic mine that they were gone, his that I might upset his parents.

He loved his mum and dad. Hed put them through some worries in his time and was now very protective of their feelings.

Its OK, he said, they probably just forgot where they put them. Well get Christmas over then Ill sort it out. Could I ruin this family Christmas? Everyone stuffed to bursting, his sister, her boyfriend, her two copper-haired toddlers bouncing about the room to the delight of their besotted grandparents; the tree, the decorations, the old film on the telly, the blazing fire, the discarded wrapping paper. His parents had bought me some furry gloves. When I asked about my books, everything was vague. Theyd been moving stuff around. The loft maybe? Where are the ladders?

Not now, not now.

I found out two days later that theyd given my books to a Boys Brigade jumble sale. I saw my books thrown in boxes, spread out on a table, in piles on the floor, people poking through them, buying my ancient Come Hither for 50p, my dads Lovecrafts for 10p each. I lost the books of my childhood and my lifetime.

The books of my dead father with his signature and the date in faded ink on the flyleaves. His old art books, the big hessian-backed 101 Details From The National Gallery; I copied the pictures out of it learning to draw. I lost the lovely big Dover paperbacks; the Ancient Mariner illustrated by Gustave Dor; my Louis Untermeyer poetry book with the pictures coloured in; a tiny handwritten Song of the Morrow; Ulysses with a bow on the spine; Great Fairy Tales, a galleon embossed on the cover; and my old Bob Dylan catalogue from the Judas concert, 1966, at Manchesters Free Trade Hall. I lost the Moomins andBorrowers and Narnias and Patricia Lynchs (which you couldnt get hold of any more), all the old Ruperts, and Orlando the Marmalade Cat.

Tip of the iceberg. They were only books. He talked about temporality and the virtue of valuing people more than things. They were nice people, his mum and dad, good people. Anything theyd done had been innocently done. They must not be disturbed. They just had no idea that books could matter. No blame, as it says in my old I Ching, the one that vanished with all the rest.

What hurt was his anger at my over-reaction, how paltry he considered the loss. Only books. But everything I lost at that time Ireland, my marriage, old friends, my mother was summed up in those books.

It took a while to see my part. The books were mine I should have taken control, but I had let them drift. Things had to change. It was the end of drifting and the beginning of a different life.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/dec/21/christmas-that-changed-me-treasured-books-threw-out

Lawn wars: leaf blower opponents seek peaceful resolution to neighborly feud

Frustration over noise and pollution have led to campaigns against the gardening tools, and concerns about links to class and race have increased the tension

It will be happening, this weekend, all across the US. The countrys front lawn feuds over the disruptive leaf blower have been at full-blast for decades. Bad faith, personal slights and endlessly circulated misinformation about leaf blowers makes it nearly impossible for those who hate the noise and pollution to come to some sort of agreement with those who love the convenience.

Now, for the first time since the divisive garden tool came into existence in the 1970s, there are signs that the suburban conflict may be starting to subside.

You can imagine people just becoming a bitter neighbor versus neighbor feud, and we have no interest in doing that, says James Fallows, former speechwriter for US president Jimmy Carter and journalist at the Atlantic who is trying to change the way the country deals with the acrimonious problem of leaf blowers.

Fallows became heavily involved with the issue when a leaf blower ban was proposed in his own DC neighborhood, and he soon began to think about the social implications of leaf blower struggles across the country.

He started to blog about his discoveries in the Atlantic and became a force for reconciliation of the bitter disputes playing out in American yards each weekend. My interest in our local Washington effort is to make this very much not a vitriolic struggle, he said.

One of the most common gripes about leaf blowers is the noise they make. Local newspapers across the country are an endless source of acrimonious complaints and counter-complaints about how disruptive leaf blowers are to daily peace and quiet, leading to township and national campaigns to ban them outright.

I think we have a real idolatry of lawns and lawn care in this country, says Ted Rueter of Durham, a political science professor in North Carolina who, for more than a decade, has also headed the campaign group Noise Free America. He has had plenty of time to think about the cultural implications of their presence.

Rueter said that he and other campaigners against the noise created by the leaf blowers engine have on occasion been labeled racist because so many workers in the landscaping industry are Latino.

(One frequently cited case in Los Angeles, in 1999, was particularly racially charged, with the Association of Latino American Gardeners of Los Angeles fighting a proposed ban by hunger striking in front of city hall and claiming that calls for a ban by wealthy white neighborhoods discriminated against Hispanic people.)

Youll never hear any of that from me, said Larry Will, a leaf blower industry consultant who prefers to use more constructive arguments to make the case for the leaf-removing instrument.

Will, former vice-president of engineering at Echo, the company that first developed a new generation of (relatively) quiet leaf blowers, believes that campaigners against leaf blowers are not prejudiced. Instead, as he put it, it is simply that they dont like the sound that comes from leaf blowers.

Will argues that this problem refers largely to the original two-stroke engines introduced to America in the 1970s, and that newer models are less obtrusive. I was involved in the design and development of these products, he says, adding that with Echo in the mid 2000s, he developed the first quiet leaf blower, which had a 75% reduction in measurable sound.

This new generation of leaf blowers, introduced by Echo and copied by other companies, according to Will, is also more environmentally friendly. In a lot of leaf blower disputes, noise isnt the only complaint: the old two-stroke engines are also known for belching out wasted hydrocarbons, as well as kicking up toxic clouds that contain gasoline, dust, pesticides, fecal matter, and pollen.

The American Lung Association put out a statement warning of the dangers of leaf blowers, which is often quoted by doctors who are involved in attempts to ban leaf blowers. Larry Will claims that this doesnt account for the new technology, and that after he spoke with the ALA they changed their position to reflect this. Since 2005, exhaust emission is no longer an issue, Will said.

The ALAs own amended literature on the subject, however, says that only post-2011 models are considered harmless to human lungs.

When asked to clarify this discrepancy, ALA spokesperson Allison MacMunn pointed out that the Environmental Protection Agency updated their standards.

Note, too, that our language did not state that these emissions are safe, MacMunn added. We say they are cleaner. That makes them safer, but that does not mean potential harms are eliminated. By comparison to, say, electricity-powered devices, they would still produce some emissions of concern.

Will argues that leaf blowers are used primarily to clear paths and parking lots rather than lawns, to demonstrate that the problem of these unhealthy clouds is overstated. Yet industry data showing that the greatest part of small landscaping firms work is specifically in domestic lawn care leaves this in some doubt.

As for the citation of the ALAs outdated position by some doctors, Will regards them as a recurring villain in Americas leafblower wars. On his website, he writes that doctors usually live in exclusive communities and in some cases have joined forces with anti-leafblower activists to lend their title to the cause, and when asked if they were abusing their power said: All theyre really doing is lending their title. These doctors that Ive dealt with, they dont know anything about leaf blowers, and theyre just being irresponsible.

Its here that the real acrimony of the issue resides: the majority of campaigns for a leafblower ban seem to take place in upper middle class neighborhoods, and that what is at stake is not merely the noise or the dirt by itself. It is about a peculiarly American concept of the idyllic home, with a clean lawn behind a white picket fence, and of a sense of homely pride in the countrys shrinking middle class.

James Fallows draws from his political experience to understand this dynamic. Having once worked in politics myself, having gone around the country seeing how communities cohere or not, there are ways of approaching issues that naturally divide, he said. While my own view on lawn care may differ from my neighbors, that is an almost inevitably divisive way to approach it, in my experience. Its not good for anybody to have some culture war.

Long after founding Noise Free America, Ted Rueter found himself in one such spat with a neighbor who owned a landscaping firm that would have leaf blowers going all the time on the bosss property. The pair had a screaming row on his front lawn, Rueter said, after his leaf blower-wielding neighbor smugly told him: Its 7am, time for work!

Middle income and professional workers in America are spending more time at work than they did when leaf blowers first showed up in the 1970s, which may account for the explosion in sales of the gardening tool since the 1980s. Rueter came up against more than just a prevalence of a particular piece of lawn care equipment: his neighbor was merely the voice of Americas workaholic culture, which leaf blowers, with the time-saving they afford the user, attempt to complement.

Fallows, Rueter and the American Lung Association all agree: the new, quiet leaf blowers will do fine.

What they and other opponents of two-stroke leaf blowers want to know is: when will they all be replaced? Larry Will says that consumers will usually change a working leaf blower after about fifteen years, and agrees that this process should be sped up and new leaf blowers should be purchased en masse which would certainly do no harm to his industry.

The average landscaping firm has six workers, with the majority of lawn care services provided by the smaller companies with one to four employees. There is scant industry data to trace exactly what it would require for a small firm to take the financial hit of buying new leaf blowers, and Fallows claims that when it comes to replacing leaf blowers, the capital cost is a trivial difference.

Professional industrial leaf blowers can set a company back as much as $500 per unit, a number which has made individual landscapers nervous about overheads. But the new class-conscious approach to Americas leaf blower disputes espoused by Fallows and the campaign at Wesley Heights is trying to find an answer.

Fallows supports the notion of a kind of trade-in program, where loud, old leaf blowers are exchanged for the less offensive kind.

Rueter, in fact, facilitated one such scheme. In the heat of his front lawn dispute with his neighbor, he offered a solution.

If you agree to use them, I will buy you two new leaf blowers, he told his neighbor. The offer was accepted and the noise level in his front yard was restored to a peaceful level. When it comes to the balancing act of protecting landscaping jobs while reducing noise and emissions, it helps that someone was willing to pay for progress.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/dec/20/leafblower-opponents-lawn-care-feud

Hobbies make us happier so ignore the mockery, and enjoy | Fay Schopen

Gardening, birdwatching, stroking your cat whatever it is you like doing, just go for it. Its officially good for you

Its a bleak Monday in January, and you have spent half the morning trying to come up with plausible excuses to get out of doing any work. But I have some good news: the key to a happy life and I know you were wondering about that is, apparently, spending more time on your hobbies.

New research published by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (and not the Institute of the Completely Obvious, as you may have expected), says that valuing your time more than the pursuit of money leads to feelings of greater wellbeing. And by valuing your time, they mean spending it wisely on hobbies, exercising or being with your family.

The researchers even invented two characters, Tina and Maggie, and asked people who they preferred money-grubbing sociopath Maggie, who would rather work more hours and make more money, or workshy hippy Tina who wanted to work fewer hours and make less cash. The option of working less and making more money was strangely absent, although that is of course the obvious answer, as evidenced by the hordes of people who bought lottery tickets this weekend.

My main issue with the research is the idea of adults having hobbies. What are hobbies anyway? Pastimes, suggests my boyfriend, which makes them sound marginally less awful. But is eating biscuits while watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians a pastime? Because if so, I am very serious about it, and presumably I am very happy too, although I wouldnt know it, because I have given up my favourite pastime (drinking) for January and perhaps for ever if the governments draconian new guidelines are to be believed.

After all what is the point of being an adult if you cant gleefully cast off hobbies? Most of them not only smack of Victorian ideals of self-improvement, but are basically activities adults made you do when you were a child so they could get you out of the way for a few hours. If you have been a Brownie or a Scout you will know what I am talking about. Heres what happened when I was a Brownie: I was awarded a badge for collecting scented erasers (a 1980s hobby if ever there was one) and I was made to do Brown Owls housework, under the guise of gaining another badge.

There are very few hobbies that are acceptable as an adult. None involve mindfulness colouring-in and most are a way of life: drinking, eating, listening to music, perhaps a bit of yoga. Of course, there are ways to pass off these everyday activities off as hobbies, mainly by making them as complicated and time-consuming as possible. Cooking is brilliant for this. Simply choose an extremely complex recipe with many obscure ingredients anything by Yotam Ottolenghi is perfect, and I cant recommend Donna Hays beef rendang enough not only do you have to find fresh turmeric, galangal and kaffir lime leaves, it also takes three hours to cook. Bingo!

Pets are also useful. Dogs walks, obviously. Cats well, if stroking cats isnt a hobby then I dont know what the world is coming to. Pets with ailments are fantastically time-consuming. My own cat has inflammatory bowel disease, it turns out. I cant recommend it, but it certainly necessitates spending several hundred hours away from my desk and at the vets.

As with so many things, there is an age dimension. Older people questioned for the study were more likely to say they valued their time compared with younger people. This can only be good news pastimes that your friends previously mocked you start becoming acceptable as you age birdwatching, for example. This seems to be fine after the age of 40. Ditto gardening.

So there you have it. Faff around doing anything you like, really, and you may even fool yourself into being happier. After all, isnt the study basically saying that the more time spent away from work the better? Common sense, really.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jan/11/hobbies-happier-gardening-bird-watching-stroking-cat

Summer hacks: 20 ways to make the most of the heatwave

The sun is finally out time to quit your job and become a full-time Pokmon hunter. Failing that, bunk off, play ping-pong, fry an egg outdoors or just have a nap

That big, round, bright thing in the sky? Its called the sun, and for the next week it should be hanging around. You will, of course, have forgotten what to do in this rare event, so weve handily compiled a reminder.

Have a nap

It is what the experts (people who actually live in hot countries, who dont go deranged once the temperature reaches 26C and start compiling lists of things to do) have known for millennia. Chances are youre sleep-deprived about 46% of British women have said they have trouble sleeping, and 36% of men so take a siesta to catch up. One study, by the Spanish Society of Primary Care Physicians, suggested that a daily half-hour nap could reduce stress, and improve productivity and cardiovascular functions.

Fry an egg somewhere hot

Try a car bonnet rather than a pavement Photograph: Straublund Photography/Getty Images

The idea that you can fry an egg on a hot pavement (or sidewalk, really, since this seems to be an American thing) is an enduring one. According to the US Library of Congress, it is theoretically possible but pretty unlikely. To cook an egg, the temperature needs to be a minimum of 70C, and concrete pavements dont get that hot not even in Death Valley in the US, where officials have asked people to stop cracking eggs in the car park. You would have better luck trying to fry an egg on the bonnet of a car, since metal is a far better heat conductor.

Go wild

Wild camping in Glen Elchaig, Scotland. Photograph: Andy Leader Www.madeinholmfirth.co.uk/Getty Images

Youve ditched your smartphone for an analogue phone to demonstrate how overwhelmed you are by other peoples need to contact you or follow you on your various social media platforms (and, therefore, how important you are). The next logical step is to go off-grid. Rewilding is a buzzword to watch and basically involves, as far as I can tell, people who have never got close to a mud-spattered carrot going all Ray Mears. Or attaching the word wild to other words, instantly rendering them cooler. Which is not to say that a few hours or days spent in the countryside isnt totally glorious. Go swimming outdoors there are numerous books and websites (try wildswimming.co.uk) that list lakes, ponds and gorges to explore. Free camping, or wild camping, where you trudge up a mountain/dive into a forest and pitch your tent, is mostly legal in Scotland, but not in England and Wales, though it is often tolerated (ask permission first) or, you know, never discovered.

Quit your job and become a Pokmon trainer

Its not an established career move, but it seems to be working for a man in New Zealand. Tom Currie, a 24-year-old barista, loved the gaming app Pokmon Go so much he resigned from his job in an Auckland coffee shop to become a full-time Pokmon hunter. This mainly seems to involve posting pictures of himself with his caught creatures on Facebook and Instagram. Meanwhile, in the US, Pokemon trainers have advertised their services on Craigslist. If you cant resign from work, Pokmon Go will at least get you out of the house.

Go on a march

Remain supporters at a rally in London. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA

You know what makes you even angrier about Brexit? Being angry about Brexit while standing next to lots of other hot, angry people in the heat. And marching. One group, Movement for Europe, is staging protests across 16 cities on Saturday.

Hold a jumble trail

There is something so nakedly commercial and competitive about a car boot sale. If youre a buyer, you have to elbow other people past old Amstrad video phones and towers of Andy McNab books to get to the good stuff. If youre a seller, you are at the mercy of market forces and have to drop your prices accordingly. Worst of all, you have to get out of bed really early. A jumble trail seems a kinder prospect, even if the same intent is to make cash people on a street, or in an area, set up stalls of unwanted junk outside their houses. Find out whether a trail is happening near you (visit jumbletrail.com) or set one up yourself. You get to know your neighbours, and make money after that epic KonMari declutter. They are so cosy and community-minded that a jumble trail even featured on the Archers recently.

Avoid children

This week is your last chance to escape kids. Photograph: Moof/Getty Images/Cultura RF

Most schools break up by the end of this week, so if you want to try to minimise how much time you have to spend around other peoples children this summer, this is the week to do it. Failing that, seek out adult-only spaces rooftop bars, late-night museum openings, matinee performances of 15-certified films, no-kids campsites. Alternatively, stay in until September, you child-hating monster.

Bunk off work

Take a duvet day, though in summer I believe its called a clammy-sheet day. This is a sanctioned, no-questions-asked sickie when everyone knows youre not really ill. Some employers have started offering them as part of their employee wellbeing package, although most still dont. Concrete evidence is hard to come by, but companies who do have a duvet-day policy report higher employee satisfaction and lower absence rates.

Create an instant garden

Put plants in pots job done. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Gardening is the opposite of instant gratification, which is no good when youve neglected your patch all year and suddenly want to sit outside, but not amid the sad, empty pots and dishevelled plants. If you plant things now, they could flop in the heat they need a bit more coaxing into life and establishing before they look their best, says Frances Tophill, a gardener and TV presenter. But at this time of year, garden centres have their sales so get cheap annuals in containers and keep them in their pots, stick them all together so you cant see the pots, and make an instant garden. If youre prepared to spend a bit more, A bamboo isnt overly expensive and looks really big and leafy. A nice, big, established olive tree, with a gnarled trunk, looks amazing. For a budget version of that, there is an ornamental pear, which looks like an olive but is much cheaper. If youve been tending house plants, they can be taken outside to boost the greenery; keep plants well watered and do some weeding. It sounds obvious, she says, but mow the lawn. It automatically makes the garden look neater. But if you like a more wild look, or you have a lawn and cant be bothered to keep on top of it, mow a path through it it looks as though its meant to be like that.

Wear a kaftan

Kaftans , very summer 2016. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Because Vogue says so. On social media, a stream of style influencers Miroslava Duma, Poppy Delevingne and Yasmin Sewell have done much to popularise the kaftan, heralding it as an indispensable item that has the power to take you through summer to autumn and beyond. You can style your kaftan in a luxe, urban way according to Vogue, this involves fur-lined loafers, which dont sound great for summer, nor for the kangaroos (yes, really) who provided the pelts. Better to go with pool sliders (never flip-flops, which you will know are past it).

Go to summer camp

Not really part of the British experience, but still familiar to anyone who grew up reading Judy Blume books or watching 80s movies. In the US, where going to camp is part of childhood, adult summer camps have been springing up. One company, Camp No Counselors, is running 10 camps in the US and Canada this year, featuring nostalgic games and bunkbeds, but with alcohol and late nights, too. Start your own version with games of British Bulldog, rounders and a Noels House Party theme.

Start a food truck

A food truck in Crevin, western France. Photograph: Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images

Got an idea for a brand new foodie mash-up, and a vintage horsebox to put it in? Already thought up a punning name? Able to write on a blackboard in a cool font? Youre more than halfway there. Until you realise you need things such as public liability insurance and hygiene training, environmental health registration, and other annoyances. Maybe one for next summer.

Count butterflies

Large blue butterfly, check. Photograph: Gary Chalker/Getty Images

The annual big butterfly count, the worlds largest survey of butterflies, started last week and runs until 7 August. Spot the winged creatures and feed the information back to the Butterfly Conservation organisation, to help it assess the species decline.

Rescue dogs from hot cars

Dogs a happier on the beach than in the car. Photograph: Joanna Cepuchowicz/Getty Images/EyeEm

Last year, the RSPCA received 8,779 calls reporting a dog trapped in a hot car. On a sunny day, temperatures inside a car can reach 47C, and a dog can die within minutes. If you see a dog and youre worried about it, call the police straight away, says a spokesperson for the RPSCA. You can always call us as well as the police, but its more likely that police can get there quicker. You cant really go around smashing peoples car windows, even though it would make you feel like an awesome vigilante, but if you think a dog is critical and about to die, the law will probably be on your side if you choose to do this. Get evidence first, say the RSPCA take pictures or video footage, get names and phone numbers for witnesses, and tell the police of your intentions when you call them. Take the dog to a shaded place, douse it with cool water and allow it small sips. Keep an eye out for the angry/grateful owner.

Do some exercise but not too much

Ping-pong, the perfect summer sport. Photograph: Michael Heffernan/Getty Images

Being active outdoors is one of lifes pleasures, but so is lazing around. This is not the week to discover Ironman training. Instead, find a miniature golf course, which is likely to have the benefit of being in a seaside town, or your nearest ping-pong table (for England, visit pingengland.co.uk).

Go underground

When the heat gets too much, retreat below ground. Two of the best recently opened subterranean adventures are Bounce Below, a former slate mine in Blaenau Ffestiniog, north Wales, which has been transformed into a playground of bouncy nets, tunnels and slides (and has a temperature of 10C), and the Fan Bay Deep Shelter in Dover, a network of tunnels and chambers excavated during the second world war. Excitingly, both attractions require the wearing of hard hats.

Enjoy some open-air culture

An open-air cinema on the beach. Photograph: Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images

Seek out pop-up outdoor cinemas, amble slowly around a sculpture park or visit an open-air theatre, without fear of being soaked by the end of the night. Best of all, if you get bored, you can sneak out without causing much of a disturbance.

Take up foraging

Samphire, best simply steamed. Photograph: Elisa Cicinelli/Getty Images

The summer months are the best times for coastal and estuary foraging, says forager Robin Harford. You can find samphire, which everyone knows about. Sea aster can be sauteed and is good with fish. You can find sea-blite, which you can cook similarly to samphire a steam is all it needs. Or you can have it raw in salads. Elsewhere, meadows and hedgerows are blooming. Chickweed is a salad plant that you can find on the edges of woodland and fields. You can find fat hen at the moment, growing wild in allotments and veg gardens, which you can saute or make into a pesto. Mallow flowers are really nice, and you can put them in salads. Meadowsweet flowers are good in sorbets or panna cottas. Then we have mugwort buds coming through, in meadows and hedgerows, which make a really nice jelly.

Make outdoor art

Im not saying go all Banksy, unless you are in fact Banksy. But there is more to outdoor art than spray-painting and running away from the police. The brilliant recent BBC4 documentary Forest, Field & Sky focused on site-specific artists who make works from nature. Why not create your own masterpiece from twigs and rocks? It will probably look rubbish (certainly not as beautiful as a piece by an artist such as Andy Goldsworthy), but youll be outside and being creative, so youll be happy.

Google all the countries that are colder than the UK this week

Brits like to feel superior, plus you get to stay inside.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/jul/18/summer-hacks-20-ways-to-make-the-most-of-the-heatwave

Spooky! Messages from the beyond or just coincidence? | Oliver Burkeman

Weve all heard eyebrow-raising tales so whats really going on?

In 1944, a British soldier fighting in Italy was knocked unconscious by shell fragments. That same day in Monmouthshire, he later recalled, my wife was washing up after lunch. My daughter, aged two and a half, to whom I was only a name, was playing with some bricks on the kitchen floor. She suddenly got to her feet, went over to my wife, said Daddys been hurt, and went back to her bricks.

This eyebrow-raising tale appears in Connecting With Coincidence, a new book by the psychiatrist Bernard Beitman along with so many others it becomes easier to keep ones eyebrows permanently raised. Beitman has one of his own: in 1973, he found himself inexplicably choking at his kitchen sink only to learn, the next day, that his father had choked on his own blood and died at the same moment.

The rationalist in me knows this all comes down to the law of truly large numbers, which states that, given a large enough sample, many seemingly unlikely things become downright probable. Even assuming the soldiers memories were accurate, so many fought in the second world war that its almost inevitable a few would have odd stories. Beitman tells of one therapist who dreamed of an ex-patient lying immobile in a beach hut; later, he learned that one week after that dream, that patient had taken an overdose in a seaside hotel and nearly died. Spooky! But less so when you factor in the patients the therapist didnt dream about not to mention all the other therapists with no such anecdotes to relate.

Still, Beitman makes an intriguing case for approaching coincidences as if they werent just random, whatever your beliefs. Connecting With Coincidence is full of people taking such happenings as signs, telling them who to marry, whether to have kids or get divorced and it serves them rather well. One widow injures her finger while gardening, forcing hospital staff to cut away her wedding ring, which she takes as a sign from her dead husband that its OK to date again. A message from beyond the grave? Presumably not. Did she subconsciously arrange the injury herself? Maybe. But Im not sure it matters: either way, the incident smoothed a transition shed been struggling to make.

All very unscientific, I know. But the truth is that the biggest personal decisions in life cant be made in scientific fashion anyway; there are too many variables involved. Yet we often do seem to know, just below the surface of awareness, whats best for us and noticing how we respond to bizarre coincidences can provide clues to that subconscious knowledge.

One of Beitmans patients, his marriage on the rocks, has a thrilling encounter with an old girlfriend in a bar, which he seems to take as a sign he should recommit to his marriage. Why not as a sign that he should leave his wife? Both interpretations work, but only one had meaning for him. Its odd to ask whether such coincidental encounters really mean anything, as if theyd need to be choreographed by some cosmic force. Who says thats what meaning means?


Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/jun/17/spooky-messages-from-the-beyond-or-just-coincidence

Stone age cities: what modern urbanites could learn from paleolithic humans

However civilised we may now consider ourselves to be, biologically we remain much as we were before we began farming and moved into cities. Can we create a healthier future by returning to our paleolithic past?

The city is not our natural habitat. For the last three million years, we evolved as hunter-gatherers, living in small tribal societies, breathing fresh air, drinking fresh water and eating fresh foods. But more than half of us now live in cities. Culturally, our society is transforming, but anatomically, our genetic evolution is slower: we remain much as we were even before large-scale farming was adopted 5,00010,000 years ago.

However civilised we may now consider ourselves to be, biologically we are much closer to our stone age ancestors. There is a major mismatch between our modern urbanised world and our paleolithic genome, the genetic material encoded in our DNA, which supports an ancient hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

Put simply, urbanisation which began with the advent of farming is bad for us. Studies of skeletal remains in cemetery sites show that when the Romans introduced town life to Britain 2,000 years ago, they also introduced us to scurvy, rickets, osteomalacia, Reiters syndrome, gout, ankylosing spondylitis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, septic arthritis, tuberculosis, osteitis, poliomyelitis and leprosy. And today, the most common causes of death in half of our urban populations are obesity, cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure and various cancers. It is a sobering thought that all these conditionsare rare or non-existent innon-urban societies, such as the tribal communities in Kitava, Papua New Guinea.

But all is not lost. We can help our society have a healthier future by returning to our paleolithic past.

A daily walk is essential to keep in touch with your paleolithic roots and overcome the negative effects of urbanisation. Photograph: Alamy


Paleolithically correct urban living and city planning requires more than just changing to a proxy ancestral diet (fish, meat, fresh fruit and vegetables, and avoiding added sugars) as is now fashionable although that is an excellent start. We also need to adopt a proxy ancestral activity regime: bending, stretching, carrying and manual labour. A daily walk is essential, at least part of the way to school or work. And spend as little time sitting down as practical, particularly by breaking up desk-bound work with five minute breaks every hour.

We must also re-engage with nature. Time spent with pets, gardening or in parks and gardens is crucial not just for psychological uplift but for interaction with the microbiota that support a healthy immune system. The pioneering work of microbiologist Graham Rook (pdf) has shown how fundamental biophilia is to our immune system, especially for childrens health.

Crime science

If the physiological aspects of our deep past are easy enough to recognise and adapt to modern life, the socio-psychological elements such as the inherent violence of the hunter are rather more complex. According to the Metropolitan police, there are at least 225 gangs in London, 58 of which account for two-thirds of the gang crime. An urban street gang is basically a paleolithic hunting group, with powerful bonding and adherence to a very particular territory.

The Midnight Basketball League in the US started as a way to control inner-city crime by engaging young people in sport. Photograph: AllSport via Getty

Sport, however, can be a socially positive proxy for hunting, and therefore for gang culture. It helps support education, personal development, discipline, social inclusion and enhanced self-esteem in those who might otherwise be drawn to petty crime. One of the best successes is the Midnight Basketball movement, which began in the US in 1986 and has since spread to Australia. In London, the Kickz programme and Arsenal-in-the-Community team do similar work, aiming to improve social cohesion and reduce crime and drug abuse: the latters project on the Elthorne Park estate saw a 66% drop in youth crime in just three years.

City planning for human evolution

Some wider concerns can be best addressed by town planning. To help people walk more, for example, cities can focus on pedestrianisation projects, car-free walkways, river walks, canal towpaths, widening and greening pavements, improving security, cycle lanes, speed limits and above all, air quality our ancient lungs cannot cope with diesel particulates.

Parks, playing fields and sports facilities are vital, as are low-fat buildings and active work practices such as standing desks, cycle racks and showers. The design of offices should encourage walking, with a showpiece stairway rather than just doors to the lift. Good dietary practice at the office extends to the canteen menu and the contents of drinks machines.

The design of residential buildings in a high-density city should be limited to six stories, and have at least some outside space, ample windows and sunlight. Offices, streets, domestic buildings and the public realm all need to be greened, externally and internally. Houseplants, window boxes and roof gardens all have a positive role to play; as do participatory urban green spaces such as allotments, community gardens and city farms, especially in inner-city neighbourhoods lacking a large central park.

Our paleolithic immune systems and psyches desperately need such support. The town may not be our natural habitat, but we can make it our optimal one.

Gustav Milne is an honorary senior lecturer at University College Londons Institute of Archaeology. He presents Urban Wellbeing: How to Live a Paleolithically-Correct Life in a 21st Century City on 24 May at 12noon, as part of the week-long UCL Festival of Culture in London.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/may/23/stone-age-cities-modern-urbanites-learn-paleolithic-humans

No backyard, no problem: how to grow your own vegetables in an apartment

We are increasingly disconnected from the food we eat. What better way to fix that than to grow your own stash? Madeleine Somerville explains how

For the five years I spent as a youth worker, I spent my days playing pool and handing out condoms, functioning as an advocate and running a gardening program called Grow. Grow was designed to reconnect kids with the process of planting, growing and harvesting organic fruits and vegetables.

While bribing teenage boys to care about organic gardening was challenging, it also had unique rewards. I witnessed a 17-year-old kid discover how broccoli grows and watched as he idly picked snap peas right off the vine and declared with shock that they actually tasted good. These discoveries underlined for me how disconnected many of us have become from our food.

Today, the farm-to-table movement has made many of us consider the origins of what we eat at restaurants. But at home it can be difficult to stay mindful. The simplest way to take on a proactive relationship with what you eat is to grow some of it yourself. Its a trend that seems to be taking off.

In 2011, the UK reported that 5% of fruits and vegetables consumed were home-grown, up from 2.9% in 2008. As of 2014, the US, boasted 35% of households, or 42m, growing food at home or in a community garden, up 17% in five years.

The internet offers a wealth of resource guides distinct to your regions soil makeup, climate and growing season, making planting and troubleshooting a snap. So theres just not much standing in between you and your future garden.

How to grow your own vegetables in a flat, condo or studio apartment

If you live in a flat or a condo and lack the space for a garden of your own, you may still be able to access a plot of land through a community garden. Ask around to see if one exists near you.

When you do get started, veggies such as kale, peas and zucchini are easy to grow and can offer a confidence boost to novice gardeners, but the best guide for what to plant should be what you love to eat. Browse through a seed catalogue and see what makes your mouth water Ive always loved West Coast Seeds for unique heritage seed varieties, but finding a seed supplier local to you will give you your best chance of success.

The start of something special. Photograph: David Sillitoe for the Guardian

Fill the garden plot with your favourite veggies or those that tend to be more expensive to buy in grocery stores, such as cauliflower. Staggering the planting of one-time harvest veggies such as broccoli or radishes by planting their seeds in several batches a few weeks apart means they wont ripen all at once and overload your garden (or your capacity to eat them).

Planting a few varieties of squash or pumpkin means youll enjoy harvests all the way into late fall but make sure you have plenty of room for them, as their vines do like to wander.

If a ground-level garden is out of your reach, you can still tackle gardening on a much smaller scale. Growing herbs on your countertop or windowsill allows you to replace dried old pantry staples with the real thing, and growing salad greens instead of succulents means you can enjoy a fresh salad every day, without the plastic packaging or the cost.

This could be the fruits of your labor. Photograph: Igor Golovniov/Zuma Press/Corbis

Secondhand stores often have plant pots for just a few dollars; fill them with spinach, arugula, radicchio and romaine lettuce for a great salad mix you can harvest as needed. Old teacups are the perfect size to hold a handful of herb staples such as basil, cilantro, oregano, and parsley (but unless youre experienced in drilling ceramics, the cups wont have drainage, so be careful not to overwater).

Dont get suckered into buying a whole bunch of specialized gardening gear you can do this on a fairly barebones budget and with repurposed items too. As long as its not leaching anything toxic, your carrots arent going to care what they grow in, promise.

Its incredible how much you can grow on a balcony: things such as chard, tomatoes and strawberries can thrive in container gardens, depending on your growing season and the amount of light you get. You can even regrow some veggies right from the cuttings, without starting over from seed.

Finding a way to grow your own food connects you with what youre eating, and it also offers massive nutritional benefits too. Nutrient degradation occurs rapidly between when produce is picked and when it is eaten green beans, for example, lose 77% of their vitamin C after seven days. The quicker you can eat your produce after its been harvested, the better. Having a backyard or balcony full of fruits and veggies is a great reminder to do so.

But what of those who havent the time, the space or, frankly, the inclination to grow their own food? It neednt be all or nothing, a choice between a backyard garden or a sprawling supermarket.

Farmers markets offer a fantastic in-between option for those who want to close the gap between field and table without getting their hands dirty. Food in the US travels an average of 1,500 miles to get to your plate, but shopping at a farmers market allows you to buy the freshest and in-season produce, absent long-distance shipping or artificial ripening. In the UK, this site gives a great listing of local farmers markets; this site does the same via a zip code search for the US.

At the heart of it, this is about more than carrots or kale. When I speak about being disconnected, its more than kumbaya hippy nonsense. We are increasingly living at arms length from what we eat and wear, from our communities and those we love. This detachment is having a profound impact on our social, emotional and psychological health and although growing veggies in your backyard isnt a cure, its a damn good start. It closes the gap between us and the food we eat, it reminds us that food doesnt come from the supermarket shelves, cleaned, trimmed and packaged.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/apr/12/how-to-grow-your-own-vegetables-herbs-apartment-flat