Jules MacIntyre

Blown away by autumn's beauty

As the autumn leaves turn a myriad of opulent browns, yellows and reds, it’s time to celebrate the ripening of fruits and native berries from our gardens and hedgerows, while taking joy in early mists and crisper mornings. The wonderful display of leaves that characterise a British autumn also bring the gardener more than one stint with a rake and broom to clear lawns, paths and driveways before they become soggy with a thick layer of decaying green matter. Here we take a timely exploration into not only the best ways to deal with clearing up your seasonal leaf fall, but how you can make the most of this natural cycle of decay to produce a rich mulch that will keep your plants protected over the winter months.


The science behind autumn magic

An interesting question is why do leaves change colour and trees then shed them in autumn? Essentially, leaf colour is determined by pigments. When leaves are green they are acting as a living and breathing organ, deriving their colour from chlorophyll which transforms sunlight, water and carbon dioxide into sugars that feed the tree in a process known as photosynthesis. This process releases oxygen as a by product and hence their huge importance in combating climate change. In autumn though, colder temperatures and reduced sunlight mean that leaves are no longer needed as a ‘kitchen’ to make food for the tree and chlorophyll levels wane, allowing other pigments such as orange-coloured carotenes and red anthocyanins to come to the fore, and so the glory of autumn colour gets underway. The multitude of leaf hues is like an artist’s palette with each tree species combining different pigments to produce their distinct shades, from warm nut-brown beech leaves to the strident reds and yellows of the rowan, thus creating a kaleidoscope of colour across our native woodlands.     

As the season progresses towards winter, a hormone called auxin which keeps a leaf stem attached to its branch also decreases in a process known as abscission which continues until the bond becomes so weak that the wind takes the leaf away. This is actually a form of self-protection as a bare tree will not only better withstand the storms to come, but the water in leaves would freeze in sub zero temperatures and be too heavy a load for the branches. Hence our bare but often strikingly beautiful trees in winter.        

Autumn leaf clearance made easy

As the leaves begin to fall, garden leaf blowers, sweepers and vacuums take the hard work out of clearing  borders, drives and patios, whether your garden is big or small. Hand-held blowers can be petrol driven or feature cordless batteries and essentially allow you to direct leaves into piles where you can clear them up manually, or some machines have dual functionality and will also vacuum up autumn debris too. No matter what power source you choose, all blowers deliver total freedom of movement, and The Green Reaper stocks a complete range from mini versions right up to the most powerful on the market, designed to tackle heavily wooded gardens.

GreenWorks G24X2AB 48V (2 x 24V) Cordless Axial Blower

Our current favourites include the lithium-ion battery driven Greenworks range which ergonomically fit the body, are light to use and deliver ultimate control. The G24X2AB even features a variable speed trigger, so you can work carefully in small areas and maximise run times. Petrol-wise, we think a Mitox 260BX is hard to beat as the easy start, auto choke and cruise control are complemented by class-leading anti-vibration technology which means extra comfort for longer periods of use. It also comes with a fantastic 5 year domestic warranty. Finally, you might prefer a ‘backpack’ style blower which take the strain if you have large areas to clear and it is worth looking at our Hyundai HYB5200 which is not only lightweight and powerful but features the latest Euro 5 technology to lower fuel consumption and emissions.

Alternatively, a blower vacuum may be your preferred choice as most will also have a mulching facility that shreds your leaves and small items of debris too. Again there are fuss-free cordless and battery powered models, along with economical standard electric models and petrol powered machines for serious jobs and commercial operators. Take a look at our Cobra BV6040VZ cordless blower vacuum which has an ergonomically-positioned quick change lever that allows you to convert from vacuum to blow mode in an instant and is powered by a Samsung 40V lithium-ion battery which delivers a 20 minute vacuum time. Weighing in at under 5kg, this Cobra machine is also lightweight as well as powerful.

For those with bigger gardens or when you want to tackle even the wettest vegetation, you could consider a petrol blower vac as these are true mean machines when it comes to autumn leaves, reaching speeds of nearly 200mph and huge levels of suction and capacity. The Cobra BV26C, for example, is not only a Gardener’s World Best Buy but reduces collected material at a ratio of 10:1 and has both a generous collection bag and shoulder strap for comfortable use.

Cobra BV26C Petrol Blower Vacuum

Recycling leaves into a mulch with many benefits  

When you have made light work gathering your leaves with a Green Reaper machine, why not recycle them into a rich mulch that you can spread around your plants? The benefits are many including enriching the soil with nutrients, helping to maintain moisture, insulating the root system from winter frosts and preventing weed growth. It couldn’t be simpler to make your mulch; just collect your leaves and use the shredder device on your vacuum before spreading the finer matter it produces around your plants to a depth of between 5-7cm. It is important that you do shred the leaves otherwise they can clump together as one surface that is too thick to allow rainfall to pass through.

The only other watch out is to leave a gap of a few centimetres from the stems or leaves of plants so it’s best to spread the mulch a little carefully and not smother your plants. For trees and shrubs, just increase the depth to around 10cm. Making a mulch really is one of the simplest and quickest ways to look after your plants in autumn, effectively wrapping them up in a natural blanket that will keep them healthy and happy until the warmth of spring.

Here’s to leaping into leaves!

Amongst all of the hard work in the garden, it’s also important to take a moment to embrace the mellow calmness of the season and celebrate the golden colours of autumn’s falling leaves. There really is so much to bring us joy.

As Winnie the Pooh said in his Great Adventure, “It's the first day of autumn! A time of hot chocolatey mornings, and toasty marshmallow evenings, and, best of all, leaping into leaves." Oh Pooh, we do so agree with you!           

      

The mowdown on grass cutting

A brief history of the lawn mowers of yesterday, today and tomorrow  

Once only the provenance of the wealthy, the garden lawn emerged as a seventeenth century status symbol amongst wealthy landowners using local workers to keep the grass around their country houses cropped with scythes, the original tool for lawn cutting that we’ve proudly adopted as part of our Green Reaper logo. While a long way from the immaculate stripes of today’s well-tended suburban garden, it was the start of a trend that has become part of British vernacular, with mowing a weekly ritual of simple pleasure that is a welcome contrast to our sedentary, desk-bound lives. And while making this connection to a more pastoral existence seems timeless, the machines that we now use to mow our lawns have certainly developed over nearly two hundred years. Here we trace the fascinating history of the lawn mower, looking at not only how different types of mower came about but what the future holds with even more environmentally-friendly ways to keep your grass greener over the next decade.


Patented during the height of summer on August 31st 1830, the lawn mower was a British invention by Edwin Beard Budding who claimed it was “a new combination and application of machinery for the purpose of cropping or shearing the vegetable surface of lawns, grass-plants and pleasure grounds”. Ironically, it was the industrial revolution that led to the conception of a grass-cutting machine as Budding was a mechanic looking after the equipment in the local mills, and specifically cross-cutters used in textile manufacture which he then repurposed.  Made of wrought iron, his first mower was pushed from behind with gear wheels transmitting power from the rear roller to the knives on the cutting cylinder, with a further roller raised or lowered to alter the height of cut and the clippings thrown forward into a rudimentary tray.

Although cruder in appearance, Budding’s invention was in many ways not dissimilar to today’s timeless cylinder push mowers, such as our ever-popular AL-KO 38.1 HM Premium which at £119 is both easy to manoeuvre and gentle on the lawn while being compact to store with a fold away aluminium handlebar. The AL-KO illustrates that if you want an environmentally-friendly option for a smaller lawn, a basic lawn mower can still be brilliant.

For the next seventy odd years, the use of lawn mowers grew at pace with many different types of machines made with varying degrees of success – including the first steam powered machine designed by James Sumner’s Leyland Steam Motor Company which later became synonymous with the British car industry. It was at the start of the twentieth century though, that the step-change to petrol mowers occurred and took lawn mowing to a new level of ease and efficiency. After Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies of Ipswich produced the first combustion engine mower in 1902, many manufacturers started to compete with ever better models and production soared post WW1.

Today petrol still has its advantages as it enables bigger mowers with definitive power to cut through tough grass in any weather conditions for hours at a time. Our best sellers at The Green Reaper include all different kinds of fuel-driven machines to suit every budget. For example, from just £300 you can choose one of the machines in the hand-pushed Cobra RM range, all featuring rear rollers to produce the classic ‘striped lawn’ look and perfect for the changing conditions of the British lawn, with the blade powered by a choice of Cobra's own brand engines, as well as ones from well-established manufacturers such as Briggs & Stratton, Honda, Kohler and Subaru.

Cobra RM46SPBR Self-Propelled Rear Roller Petrol Lawn Mower

It is also a petrol engine (the Honda GXV390 four-stroke) that drives the most rugged of machines such as our Little Wonder Hydro BRC-26 field & brush mower, designed to cut through overgrown vegetation with ease and featuring a unique automatic transmission with a variable, clutchless speed selection up to 4.2mph so you can cut your own path, at your own pace.     

Most of our best-sellers for domestic lawn-cutting also benefit from technology first developed in the 1950’s which saw the introduction of the rotary blade as opposed to a cylinder cutter. Essentially, a high-speed horizontal blade spins at speed, cutting the grass through impact with  slightly raised edges to deliver a continuous airflow and suction that ‘chops’ the grass before delivering it to a rear collection box. Perfectly suited to all shapes and sizes of mower, a rotary blade is always used on our bigger ‘ride on’ mowers for larger lawns, due to its efficiency, such as our ever popular Lawnflite Optima MiniRider 76 RDHE (image shows 76 RDE) that perfectly suits the ‘step up’ to a sit-on with a compact design, electric start, automatic transmission, five cutting heights and a floating deck that allows you to get closer to edges.

Undoubtedly, we should also mention the electric mower revolution that began some fifty-plus years ago with brand such as the classic 1970’s Flymo ‘hover’ mower based on hovercraft technology. Using a fan so that the mower effectively ‘floats’ above the grass, it is a design that continues today with the self-mulching Cobra AirMow 51 80V and arguably it is still the best way to deal with undulating gardens or slopes effectively. The AirMow is also the world’s first cordless ‘hover’ mower available in the UK, reflecting how much the electric mower market has now moved on from plugging in a lead and the constant vigilance associated with it, whatever type of mower you choose. Indeed, the advantages of the latest lithium batteries for mowers are many fold, including being smaller, lighter, quicker to charge and longer lasting.

We particularly like the way in which manufacturers such as Greenworks ensure that many of their machines come with 2 x 24v batteries to not only power the mower but be interchangeable with their strimmers, chainsaws and hedge trimmers. And if you want even more power, The T3 Awards which recognise category innovation has just voted the Greenworks GD60LM46SP mower a top buy for not only its good looks, long-life steel cutting deck and brushless motor, but the mower’s big 60V battery power that provides the endurance to tackle tough tasks in the garden with petrol-matching performance.

So what’s next in the evolution of the lawn mower? Well perhaps the future has already arrived with the new generation of grass-cutting machines taking robotic form which in theory means that you’ll never need to worry about mowing the lawn again. Sit back and relax with the ultimate mowing status symbol such as one of the machines in the Cobra Mowbot range.

https://www.thegreenreaper.co.uk/lawn-mowers-lawn-tractors/lawn-mowers/robotic-mowers?manufacturer=5434

Sleek, stylish and even available in a range of customisable colours such as camouflage and floral, the Mowbots use Bluetooth technology so you can control the ‘little and often’ mowing technique it uses, or return it to its base station from your phone or tablet. Why not check out this mowing vision with a video that introduces how the Mowbots work, and the programming you’ll need to do before this permanent feature of your garden becomes your AI lawn-mowing friend.   


We hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about mowers and how they have evolved since the first hand-cut lawns of the privileged few. With more options for lawn mowing than ever before, we think that the grass may really be greener on the other side. Why not have a look at our latest range and find out for yourself whether it’s time to upgrade your machine. After all, as a wise gardener once said “A beautiful lawn doesn’t happen by itself”.    

Come rain or shine

Climate change gardening made easy for today’s more challenging weather  

Hotter, wetter and stormier. We all know that climate change weather is already upon us with summers that are positively Mediterranean in temperature and winters that feature daily rainfall amounts more than usual in a month. While we all do our best to reduce our carbon footprint, there can be little doubt that that some changes to our gardening habits are inevitable. So how exactly can we embrace the new normal in British weather and get creative with planning new and more diverse planting schemes?

Making the most of our rainfall

Before we dive into ideas for what plants will tolerate drier conditions, it’s worth considering how we can make the most of the rainfall that we do get, even if summers are hotter and longer. Firstly, we have a useful model in nature’s answer to the situation. Indeed ‘natural soils’ where cultivation and hoeing have never taken place, can contain up to 40% more organic matter through plants photosynthesising and decaying, plus the animal waste that’s naturally added to it. Garden soils on the other hand, have levels as low as 2% organic matter and so the importance of enriching your soil to make it an effective water retainer is a genuine one.

First of all, try spreading a thick layer of natural mulch such as wood bark to help retain moisture around the stems of your favourite plants, while adding organic matter such as manure or home-made compost to the soil, using a cart for larger areas will help create aggregates that hold rainfall. If you do need to buy compost then choose peat-free from one of the many UK suppliers. We particularly like the natural, sustainable and chemical free product from PlantGrow in Norfolk which is made locally and approved by the Soil Association.

Another way to maximise the benefits of our rainfall is to store it effectively. Water collection can range from a simple butt using a downpipe from your guttering, to a more state of the art rainfall harvesting system, increasingly popular in new builds but also relatively easy for the DIY domestic gardener to install. A rainfall harvesting system collects water in a central tank either above ground or buried in the garden, for use with a hosepipe or other equipment during the year, and will supplement or even replace the need for mains water entirely. Starting at just over £1,000, a garden system is not the cheapest option but can be amortised over many years of use and offset against your water supply costs. If you would like to learn more about them or see if they would suit your outdoor space, companies such as Owlshall will always be happy to answer questions or advise on their suitability.     

Getting creative with a rain garden

Perhaps the most exciting way to utilise natural rainwater is to build your very own rain garden. Usually a shallow dip or hollow, it collects water from hard surfaces such as driveways and patios or even surrounding roofs via a dug-out channel or pipe, often eliminating the need for watering the garden at all. An effective planting scheme is required, using varieties that do not mind being waterlogged such as Swamp Milkweed, Great Blue Lobelia and Black-Eyed Susan at the centre of your garden and more drought tolerant ones at the edges. For a great list of plants suggestions depending on the site of your garden, have a look at the Raingarden Alliance website which also gives comprehensive details on how to create one. In essence though, the best site for a rainfall garden is in sun or partial shade at least 10 metres from the house, and it needs to be well-drained to avoid creating a pond, with a longer side facing the run-off on a slope of 10% and an overall depth of 10-20 cm. Whether it is avoiding storm-water flooding or using plants to filter rainfall before it enters the ground, a raingarden is a natural habitat for birds and wildlife that needs little or no maintenance and it provides a wonderful natural answer to wetter and hotter weather.        

Planting for longer, hotter summers

The challenge of more flash flooding in future years is accompanied by the potential for hotter temperatures with upwards of 30 degrees not being uncommon in the UK and especially in the South. Ultimately, planting schemes that account for a hotter climate may alter the look and feel of the traditional English garden but it is possible to embrace change while keeping much of what we know and love in summer borders. For example, if you want to stay traditional, use small plants that will naturally adapt to current climate conditions as they grow and equally, make sure you plant for your soil type to give them the best chance of survival when the going gets tough.

Plants with silvery foliage and leaves that feature tiny hairs are also generally more drought resistant so think about varieties such as Stachys Byzantine or ‘silver carpet’ which produce a vigorous evergreen ground cover. Lavender is another drought-tolerant staple and Lavendula Angustifolia, otherwise known as Miss Muffet is a particularly good variety for reliable growing in even the hottest summers.  Native to South Africa, all types of Agapathus planted in the front of borders or pots are also a good bet for the heat, as are joyful Geums with their bright orange flowers producing a second display when cut back. Other choices include Hardy Geraniums, Bearded Irises and on trend Verbascums and Sedums.        

For a more Mediterranean feel, there is also a host of fragrant herbs which tolerate full sunshine using an oily surface to their leaves as protection, such as Sage, Rosemary, Phlomis, Thyme and Oregano.  Tree-wise, olive and citrus such as lemon are obvious choices but you could also look at an Ceanothus (Californian Lilac) shaped into a lollipop which will withstand cold winters as well as hot summers. Flowers native to the region which also do well here at home include the Rock Rose (Cistus) which is both tough and beautiful with white, pink or even purple flowers that resemble a ‘single’ rose and although lasting for a day, tend to be a prolific bloomers. Another option is Spurge (Euphorbia) which as well as being unusually long lasting, has unique chatreuse-green flowers while looking just as delightful even when they’re not in bloom.  

For a full and fabulous read on planting for drier conditions, we would thoroughly recommend Drought Resistant Gardening by Beth Chatto or the inspiring Hot Colour, Dry Garden by Nan Sterman which explores interesting structure and texture within drought planting schemes, based on her growing experience in the South West.

Like most things in life, climate change gardening has some positives including a longer growing season and less likelihood of frost damage, but also worrying negatives with extreme weather events including storms and high winds already upon us. With a little more thought and planning though, we think the gardens of tomorrow can be more interesting than ever before if we seize the chance to use our imaginations and create new outdoor spaces that will look stunning, come rain or shine.       

What on earth are you growing?

Understanding your soil type can make successful gardening so much easier

Chalk, peat, clay, loam, sand or silt? Knowing your soil type is a one of the keys to garden health and should be a primary driver of your planting scheme. Choose the wrong plants for your soil type and you will literally be battling nature, making it hard work to keep them happy while often having to make the effort to add extra nutrients that are lacking in the natural composition of the soil.

Here we take a look at the four most common soil types in the United Kingdom, giving an overview of each and providing some useful tips on planting that will work in harmony with your soil plus how you can make the most of the earth you’ve been given, giving nature a helping hand. 

Clay is number one for nutrients

We are all familiar with the reputation that clay soil has for being difficult to work, taking extra effort to dig over borders or needing the help of a cultivator. They also tend to ‘bake hard’ in summer, take their time to warm up and can be become easily waterlogged as we experience a wetter climate and concentrated bursts of rainfall. However, if you live in area of clay then it is not all bad news. Clay soils are full of nutrients that adhere to the fine clay particles and the fact that they retain moisture can be a positive for trees such as apple, pear and magnolia that we wouldn’t normally ‘water’ like a flower bed.

It’s also important to remember that using organic matter such as compost, leaf mould or even bark chippings in Spring can help to break down the clay and aid better drainage, as can adding grit if water-logging is a constant issue. Try tackling your clay beds in the Autumn before it gets too wet (never when they’re waterlogged or frozen) and then let the winter frosts break it up further. Specialist products such as a Clay Buster from Sarah Raven are also a great idea as they aid drainage, improve structure and release nutrients held within the clay, while being sustainably produced from bracken and manure.

Plants that thrive on a clay soil include Hydrangeas, Buddleia and climbers such as Common Honeysuckle or Lonicera Periclymenum. Perennial choices for clay are extensive, embracing Hostas, Helibores, Asters, Anemones, Rudbekia and even Geraniums will all live happily on clay. Roses thrive on it too. We particularly like the Shrub Roses from David Austin which are bred for health and hardiness, including the Emily Bronte and Dame Judi Dench. Shrubs are a good idea if you don’t want to dig over the heavier soil including Deutzia, Philadelphus, Weigela and Forsythia.

Giving your sand a helping hand

It’s hardly surprising that sandy soils will usually hold little water and drain well. They also heat up quickly and will be warm enough in Spring for early sowing, while also proving easy to cultivate as they tend to be lighter for digging. However, sandy soil can also be dry and lower in nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium so the best idea is to work with these characteristics and plan a scheme of acid-loving plants (also known as ericaceous plants) that thrive on a PH value of around 4-5 (with 7 as neutral and above this being alkaline). 

Lots of organic matter such as manure, compost or leaf mould will of course improve sandy soils, plus mulch or bark helps to reduce the ever-present challenge of moisture loss and the need for watering. Furthermore, digging over in late Winter or early Spring and then adding a slow release fertiliser such as Osmocote will give you a soil that is able to nourish plants for longer. If you want to minimise the expense and effort of constant soil improvement though, choose plants such as Lavender, Buddleia, Choisya, Verbenas and our personal favourite, Agapanthus. Climber-wise then look for varieties of Hedera, Jasmine and Lonicera While wisteria will also thrive. Japonica and Berberis are solid choices of shrubs on sandy soils as are Cortaderia varieties if you want grasses within your garden scheme.     

Chalking up success on alkaline soil    

Chalky soils are alkaline in nature with a PH value of greater than 7 and are sometimes known as ‘lime rich’ due to their high calcium carbonate content. They can be dry, shallow, low in nutrients and often contain flint which can be a pain when digging. While varying in type, from lighter and more peaty forms to ones that have a heavier clay content, their commonality is their free-draining properties and inability to hold water.  Adding plenty of moisture-holding organic matter or even importing top soil will be a regular pastime if you live in places such as The Chiltern Hills or on the South Downs, as will breaking up larger pieces of chalk so plants have more of a chance to establish a root system.  

While it is often not easy gardening on a very chalky soil, there are some plus points including excellent structure which means that they make very good ‘no-dig’ gardens. Chalk is also particularly well-suited to the more organic gardener as wildflowers naturally thrive on nutrient-poor chalk. Herbs including bay, thyme, marjoram, rosemary, sage and fennel will also be happy additions to a fragrant chalk garden.       

Your chalk-loving plants will obviously need to be chosen with care. Hardy annuals such as Californian Poppies create a natural looking display of colour on even the poorest soils, and if you leave the seed heads after flowering, they will pop up again next year with renewed vigour.  Peonies and wallflowers also tend to do well as do Hostas, Doronicum, Rudbeckia and Dianthus. Shrubs recommended for chalk include blue-flowering Ceanothus, Hydrangea,Ooleander, Deutzia and Lilacs. Plus we musn’t forget that the prettiest annuals donlt object to chalk, with Cornflowers, Calendula and Sweet Peas all happily at home on it.   

You’re on to a winner with loam

If you have loam in your garden then frankly, you have won the soil lottery. Loams are the ideal balance of three soils including sand, silt and clay with particle size reducing with each type. This is important as a mixture of sizes means that the soil is aerated, with oxygen easily passing through it. Loam also pulls off the master stroke of being able to retain water to keep plants hydrated, while also draining easily so their roots do not sit in wet soil and rot. Finally, the clay content means that nutrients cling to the soil particles, keeping plants healthy and well-fed throughout the year.

While occurring naturally in only a few lucky spots, it is possible to create your own more ‘loamy’ soil. Rather than just importing it by the bagful or even lorry load, it can be built over time using organic material that attracts living organisms that will break down leaves, bark and all sorts of manure if applied to a depth of a couple of inches in the Autumn and then dug over the following Spring.

Leave the peat in its natural home...

One word of caution is to avoid buying peat-based compost to add to your soil beds. Not only does it release carbon dioxide when added to your garden and compound the greenhouse effect, but the delicate biodiversity of peat bogs is being radpidly eroded by its commercial use. We are not big fans of it at The Green Reaper. If you do want to give your soil an extra boost, why not try Earth Cycle’s Peat Free PAS100 Compost Soil Conditioner, made form dense organic matter which both aerates clay soil and improves the structure and sandy soils while aiding moisture retention.

We hope that you’ve found this quick soil summary useful and it will inspire you to find out more about what lies beneath your favourite plants and shrubs. Our soil really is the unique life force that deserves to be looked after by us all.           

Life on the hedge!

A useful guide to the best of nature’s screening for your garden

From as far back as Neolithic times, we have used hedges (‘haga’ in Old English) to enclose and protect our land, separate cattle from crops and act as a demarcation of ownership. Even today, hedges are not only a seminal emblem of the British countryside but have become a beloved part of our garden. Hedges frame borders and lawns beautifully, and in the case of front hedges, they also compliment the first view of the house and set the tone for what lies beyond. With hedges taking their time to get established and often costing a great deal to plant, choosing the right one becomes important. We’ve therefore taken a look at some key buying criteria, the kinds of hedge popular in the UK and their suitability for soil types and climate challenges.  

What kind of hedge plants should I buy?    

Often a confusing aspect of buying hedging is whether you should get bare root, pot, trough or root ball plants. Bare root hedging plants are lifted in the winter (November to April) when they are dormant, and come with little or no soil around the root system although this is usually well-established. They are the most cost-effective option especially for taller hedging, but will need some extra TLC as you’ll have to ‘heel in’ the plants in temporary soil unless you plant straight away, and when you do plant, use a specialist product such as Rootgrow. Although bare root hedging can have a 10% plus failure rate, do still go for it if you are on a budget and can put the effort in.

Pot grown hedging plants tend to be most expensive and their main advantage is that they can be planted throughout the year. As they have stayed in the same pot, the roots are wonderfully formed and are robust plants that quickly and happily take to their new surroundings. In the modern era of everything ‘now’, trough-grown hedges provide a great option for instant screening, often coming in metre lengths that are pre-planted with around 3-5 plants, so hedges look mature from the start. Other advantages of troughs include not having to worry about correct spacing, branches that are already interwoven and again, the ability to plant all year round.

Finally, root ball hedging plants are a solid ‘midway’ choice especially for evergreens such as yew as they are a cheaper than pots which means you can afford taller plants. Grown outdoors for several years, the area around the root system is simply scooped out by a machine and encased in hessian or a biodegradable material, ready for delivery. As with bare roots though, the planting season only runs from November to late Spring.

If you need a more detailed overview of the many options for types of hedging plants, do check out a really helpful video guide at hedgesdirect.co.uk.

The UK’s most popular hedges

A hardy Hawthorn or ‘May’ hedge

There are two native hawthorns in the UK (Crataegus monogyna and Crataegus laevigata) and both are suitable as fast-growing, tough hedging plants that suit almost any soil while being thorny enough to keep out intruders. Although deciduous, hawthorn hedges are thick and therefore still difficult to see through in winter. The delightful pink hawthorn blossom in Spring is another advantage, as is the rich red fruit in the Autumn (called ‘haws’) that are berry-like in appearance and can be made into jellies or jams (beware though as the seeds contain cyanide) or used homoeopathically to treat the heart and blood pressure. Hawthorn or ‘quickthorn’ also provides fantastic shelter and food for native birds and insects, scoring well as a wildlife-friendly hedge. Often overlooked these days in favour of ‘trendier’ laurel and yew, hawthorn is a fabulous all-round hedge with a more natural countryside feel than its neatly-clipped alternatives that responds well to cutting back and is easily shaped.    

Evergreen and luscious Laurels

A healthy laurel hedge is like a ‘green wall’ in the garden, growing by up to half a metre a year and acting as an effective screen and noise dampener in even the smallest spaces, as it can easily be trimmed to a shallow depth of around 45cm. Cherry Laurel or Common Laurel hedge plants (Prunus laurocerasus rotundifolia) are versatile for shade or sun, chalky or clay soil and even salty ocean air, as well as being one of the most cost-effective hedges to plant. Laurel is actually a great alternative to a fence; choose between the dark and light green glossy leaves of the Common Laurel or opt for a Portuguese Laurel (Prunus lusitanica) with smaller leaves and a more reddish tinge especially with the new leaves, followed by clusters of white flowers in early summer. It is also worth considering a Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis) which can make a great formal hedge in sheltered positions as well as providing fragrant and edible dark green leaves and yellow flowers in Spring.       

Beech hedges with natural, rustic charm  

There’s nothing quite like bright green leaves of a beech hedge bursting into life every April. Where we are based in The Chilterns, many choose it as a natural extension of the surrounding beech woods and the perfect enhancement to local brick and flint dwellings. The beech is a more rustic looking hedge that despite being deciduous, tends to hold on to its leaves after they turn warm orange in Autumn so it still acts as a screen in winter months, albeit not as dense. A bold alternative is the copper beech which produces stunning leaves of deep purple and rich red. In either case, beech hedges grow well on chalky or well-drained soil but are not wholly drought resistant and also do better away from frost pockets. A partially shady spot is perfect for normal beech while the copper variety is able to tolerate fuller sun without scorching. The best time to trim is in August when the leaves have time to re-establish, but besides the occasional cut back, a beech hedge is perfect for a more rustic garden, giving it a genuine woodland feel.  

Privet is everyone’s all-time favourite  

The evergreen privet hedge (ligustrum ovalifolium) is a British classic; hardy, dense and tolerant of most conditions even if coastal or windy, it delivers on so many fronts and has been at home in our gardens since its popularity burgeoned in Victorian times. What is more, the common privet is one of the most pollution tolerant hedges and is perfect for urban gardens. If you feel like planting something a little different, you can choose from a number of different varieties including Golden Privet (with brighter more yellow foliage) and Wild Privet (with narrower leaves). Although privet does need trimming a bit more than some other hedges, it looks splendidly smart when first cut or alternatively, just leave the oval-shaped leaves to fill out for a softer looking hedge which produces delicate white flowers in Summer and attracts butterflies and birds.

Sophisticated Box for borders   

Recently, many of us have resisted planting new box hedges because of the often rampant fungal diseases known as ‘box blight’ (usually cylindrocladium buxicola or pseudonectria buxi), as well as the ever-present threat of box caterpillar. While we can’t deny these exist, a healthy low box hedge, framing borders or terraces, adds charming continental structure to your garden. If you do get an attack, box blight can be treated a couple of times a season with products such as Westland Feed & Protect and regularly checking for caterpillars underneath leaves will help to keep them at bay, as will spraying specialist products such as Top Buxus Xen Tari. Is a box worth the extra effort and risk? We will leave the answer up to you but we still have one in The Green Reaper garden despite the challenges of the last few years!          

Are Yew on trend?

The hedge of the moment is the yew or taxus baccata. Planted either low as a formal trimmed hedge, avoiding the issues of box, or grown tall as a dense screen, it is thick luscious and as English as a country churchyard where it was traditionally planted to represent eternity and to stop cattle grazing! Yew is also a very tolerant hedge as long as it is not planted on boggy soil, and only requires a trim once a year, even withstanding a hard prune if it has been left too long and has become overgrown. Not quite as fast growing as some hedges (around 30cm a year), it is best to buy as larger plants as your budget allows which are suitable for planting most months except high summer. Once established, yew hedges last for many lifetimes so planting one becomes a legacy as as well as a home for all sorts of birds to nest including robins, greenfinch and chiffchaff, with the red berries also providing a valuable food source.  

How to cut your hedge

Finally, whatever hedge you choose, it’s important to cut it correctly to keep it dense and healthy while giving it the best chance to ‘bounce back’ after a good trim. Each variety will have specific requirements such a favoured month for cutting or the amount of foliage to be removed, but a good principle is to treat young hedges differently from established ones. So a new hedge will need to be shaped in Winter or early Spring before growth begins for the first couple of years, while an established hedge will just need a cut or two in the summer, once you’ve checked for nesting birds.

Traditional manual trimmers are great for small hedges and we particularly like the Wilkinson Sword Ultralight Shaping Hedge Shears with a 10 year guarantee. For larger hedges though, we have a comprehensive range of trimmers to suit every hedge from cordless to electric, and pole to petrol so you can be confident of finding the right tool for your job. When cutting, it’s always best to slightly angle the sides of your hedge out towards the base so that sunlight can penetrate down into the hedge.

Looking after a hedge “signifies vision, persistence and patience” according to Rita Buchanan, accomplished author, gardener and craftswoman, adding that “shaping a hedge is the closest most of us will ever come to doing sculpture” while “shearing is very empowering – it gives you an exhilarating sense of control and achievement. You can stand back afterwards and say, look what I’ve done”. We couldn’t agree more. Let’s get ready to celebrate the British hedge this year.  

How green is your grass?

The eco-friendly guide to a lawn that you and nature will love

From Pimm’s on the lawn after a lazy Summer afternoon, to the hum of the mower and smell of freshly cut grass, there’s nothing like a lush green space as the centrepiece of your garden. These days though, we increasingly appreciate that good gardening is also about the husbandry of native insects and minimising our carbon footprint. So can we still define the ‘perfect’ lawn as neatly manicured stripes, reminiscent of a Wimbledon court, which often takes chemicals to maintain?  Lawn care has now entered a new era, and at The Green Reaper, we’ve got some easy and eco-friendly ways to keep your grass green in every sense of the word.

Lawns can have a positive environmental impact

Although they’ve sometimes had a bit of a bad rap environmentally, a lawn is a positive on many counts. For example, unlike paving or hard surfaces, grass actually absorbs both carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide while producing oxygen as ‘clean’ air with an average-sized lawn providing enough for a family. It also reduces erosion from storm water runoff and traps harmful dust and particles. Urban areas with lots of trees and grass also tend to be cooler as well as reducing noise and benefitting our well-being.

To mow or not to mow?

There can be no doubt that mowing less is a good idea for a number of eco reasons. By letting your grass grow a little longer, the blade will be bigger and the photosynthesis that takes place and feeds the roots will be increased. Secondly, the shade of longer blades both protects the soil underneath from drying out and means that ever-present weeds are not exposed to sunlight that helps them grow. And even if you can’t resist your weekly mow, just make sure that you keep your height adjustment at a reasonable level so as not to ‘shave’ the grass which will then be desperate to grow back and use up valuable nutrients from the roots to do so.

Another great idea is to support insects in Spring and Summer is to join the re-wilding revolution and create a section of the lawn which you don’t mow at all. This still allows you to have practical areas for child-play or pure aesthetics, while creating your own mini-meadow of wildflowers which often grow naturally in patches left to their own devices. Daises, speedwell, buttercups, clover and even cowslips are just some of the delightful possibilities when we change to a less controlling approach. At the end of Summer, ideally in September, just cut the wild patches down to a few centimetres and remove the debris or clippings so that tough wild grasses don’t take over.

Feeding, weeding and watering

Perhaps one of the simplest but most significant ways to make your lawn care more eco-friendly is the kind of feed and weed killer you choose. We are huge fans of the Viano range which is totally organic and available from The Green Reaper as a slow-release fertiliser and moss killer called Mo Bacter which improves the soil as well as feeding the grass. Endorsed by the RHS, it doesn’t leave the black debris of dead moss (as this eaten by the bacteria within the product), is animal-safe, will not harm borders or stain patios and even eliminates the need for scarifying post-treatment.   

As our summers seem to get hotter, another concern is often the amount of water required to keep a lawn looking green. If you want to maintain your regular watering routine, why not invest in a water butt which now come in a more pleasing designs and will actually be a feature in your garden. Our favourites are from Owl Hall and include ones with modern styling as well as a more traditional barrel effect with a 250 or 500 litre capacity. Buying a water butt pump will enables you to water the grass more easily and Hozelock do a sturdy and cost-effective range.     

Equally though, there is the simple option of not watering as much on the basis that brown grass is simply dormant and will come back to life with the inevitable arrival of rain. Even watering deeply once a week is, in fact, far more beneficial for your grass than a blitz with the sprinkler every day, as it gets moisture deep into the roots, especially if done in the early morning when temperatures are lower.        

Push mowing for a cleaner cut

Now let’s turn our attention to choosing a mower with greener credentials. There’s actually a good range of more environmentally-friendly options these days. If you have a small to medium lawn, then there’s always the option of a hand-propelled push mower which have come a long way since your Dad walked one up and down the garden in his drainpipes. Now lighter and often with stay-sharp titanium blades, they cut the grass cleanly and save on fuel as well as being free from maintenance such as oil or spark plug changes. Plus you’ll be keeping fit while mowing in noise-free peace, listening to the birds early on a Sunday morning rather than upsetting the neighbours with the roar of a rotary. Some push mowers, such as the classically shaped Webb, have a grass collection box while others just distribute the clippings back on to the lawn where they act as a mulch, restoring nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium back into the lawn. And if stripes are still all-important, just choose one with a cylinder.           

Charge of the battery brigade 

Cordless and lithium battery-operated mowers offer another alternative to fossil-fuelled machines, especially for medium or even larger gardens. While batteries still need charging, the latest lithium-ion ones last much longer and the electricity we all use to charge them is increasingly coming from more renewable sources such as wind. Because model range is so extensive, a good rule of thumb is to choose one with a battery running time that covers how long it takes you to mow the grass. For example, if takes under 15 minutes to mow your small lawn, opt for one with battery power of 2.5Ah (amp hours), while average lawns that take around 30 mins to mow need a 4 or 5Ah battery. Finally, a big lawn space that takes you over 45 mins to cut, ideally needs a 7.5Ah version. A great all-round mower that we recommend is the zero emissions GreenWorks 48V Push Cordless Lawn Mower that comes with two on board 2Ah batteries that double the power, a twin charger and extra environmental credentials by having a mulching option as well as a bag, so you can redistribute clippings and add nutrients back in into the lawn.

Minimise your carbon footprint

Even major players in the petrol mower market such as Hyundai are starting to take their carbon footprint seriously, planting a young sapling with every power product bought in 2020, towards their overall target of 100,000 trees. There’s no reason why all of us can’t put something back environmentally and planting trees is one of the easiest ways of taking CO2 out of the atmosphere and releasing oxygen back into the air. So with your more eco-friendly lawn, why not create an area shaded from the Summer sun, sitting under some newly-planted native alders, bird cherry, crab apple or dogwoods with a mowed path between your trees and wildflower patches. Sounds absolutely idyllic doesn’t it?  

There are so many options to create a more eco-friendly lawn that the grass really is greener if we make even a small effort. As no less a figure than Francis Bacon, the English statesman and philosopher, once said ‘nothing is more pleasant to the eye than green grass kept finely shorn’. There is indeed a unique beauty to a lawn and looked after with a little more thought means it will not only look just as lovely but you’ll be caring for the environment too.       

Are you getting the natural high?

Why gardening is good for mind, body & soul

As our horizons shrank with the pandemic, and our constant appetite for new experiences was curtailed, so we were forced to slow down and look around us again, even just from the kitchen window, and wonder at the sheer magic of nature. A heightened awareness of the seasons was only part of our lockdown story though; it was participating in the natural cycle of growth that reconnected many of us to a fundamental pleasure. We delighted in gardening again.  

So exactly why do we get such a feel good factor from our green spaces? Besides the sheer physicality of gardening, with every activity from pruning to planting increasing our heart rate, it also releases endorphins, the feel good hormone. The ability of gardening to alleviate depression, anxiety and stress is well-documented by many, including Monty Don, who describes gardening as a ‘healing’ process that allows him to work through problems, “I’m physically engaged, using all my concentration, but in a fairly mindless way. I’m not thinking about what I’m doing, I’m just doing it”. Because gardening is about being in the present and living in the moment, it has the ability to lift us out of ourselves, raising our spirits with every snip of the secateurs or turn of the fork.    
 
There is also no doubt that a timely benefit of gardening is how it can press the reset button on modern life. In a world that is just too fast, and where digital-living demands instant results, gardening reminds us that Mother Nature embraces patience and growth takes time. Increasingly, many of us now seek to turn the dial down on technology and enjoy a more natural pace that’s in sync with the rhythm of the seasons. In hectic lives, gardening is quiet, gentle and unhurried.      
  
Gardening also lets us know that nature is bigger than us in a positive way. As social media puts pressure on us to curate and share ‘the perfect life’ so gardening is a reminder that despite our best efforts, we cannot be in charge of it. We all know the feeling when a carefully-pruned climber refuses to flower, or a well-tended lawn becomes full of moss, but these challenges are actually life-affirming. There is a comfort in the acceptance that we can’t possibly always be in control; we just need to do our best and then let nature run its course. Usually the rewards are delightful, but sometimes it just doesn’t matter if they are not.   

The feeling of well-being from giving plants a green-fingered hand can even be life-changing. As Sue Stuart-Smith, a psychiatrist and avid gardener, explores in ‘The Well Gardened Mind’, there are many examples of how gardening rescues us, from helping with her Grandfather’s trauma post WW1, to progressive prisoner programmes that create a sense of self-esteem for the first time. For others, gardening can be a creative, sensorial and even spiritual outlet, allowing them to plan their plots, play with planting ideas and express themselves through the colour and shape of flowers, trees and bushes, almost like painting a canvas.      

While being part of the cycle of birth and decay that gardening embraces is often a highly personal experience, it is equally a communal one. Organisations such as Thrive help the isolated to connect with others through gardening, while the growth in community gardening, especially in cities such as London where charity Urban Growth has over 30 green spaces, proves that the communal pull of nature unifies ages, backgrounds and culture.           

Gardening really has got it all. Whether we’re working a huge patch or looking after a window box, it’s the tending of grass, shrubs and flowers that feeds our souls. The next time you're out in the garden, just stop for a moment and think how lucky we are to have this unique pastime. As the beautiful and wise gardener, Audrey Hepburn once said, “to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow”.

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