A book launch fit for a bride

One of our latest books is Georgie Newbery’s Grow Your Own Wedding Flowers. As part of the publicity for this, we organised a book launch in two parts: a bloggers’ tea and a more traditional evening launch. Sadly, we couldn’t invite all of you, so instead we’re sharing the pictures here.

First off, a huge thank-you to the wonderful Clifton Nurseries, who hosted us, and to The Quince Tree cafe who did the catering. As if the oasis of green in the middle of London wasn’t enough of a draw, Cliftons also doubles as a wedding venue, making it the perfect place to launch a book about growing your own wedding flowers.

Grow Your Own Wedding Flowers is a fantastic book for anyone planning a wedding, whether you just want to keep the cost down, are concerned about the environment, or just like the idea of having an extra hand-crafted element in your wedding. If you’re not sure it’s the right choice for you, then read Georgie’s book: her advice is simple, to-the-point, and realistic.

The secret to successful wedding flowers according to Georgie: planning, practice, and a big badge saying BOSS to let your helpers know who’s in charge.

To give us all a taste of what it takes to arrange some wedding flowers, Georgie talked us through making our own little buttonholes using fresh flowers and greenery brought up that morning from Somerset.

Needless to say, Georgie’s buttonhole was much better than mine, but I still wore it proudly throughout the launch.

The evening launch was equally fun, with lots of people coming along to celebrate the launch of the book, and buy themselves a signed copy.

We’d like to say Georgie’s off for a well-earned rest after two books a year apart but… she’s busy working on her next book for us, a grow-your-own-Christmas book!

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Have Yourself A Merry Green Christmas

Christmas is round the corner – it’s time to get wrapping (and maybe buying) gifts, time to put up the Christmas tree and time to dig out the festive decorations from the attic. You might not think of Christmas as a particularly environmentally friendly festival, but have no fear! Kate Blincoe’s The No-Nonsense Guide to Green Parenting: How to raise your child, help save the planet and not go mad shows you how have a very merry Christmas, whilst still keeping an eye out for the planet:

Eco gifts

Whether it is for Christmas or birthday, mass gift-buying is one of the pleasures and pains of being a parent.

When it comes to selecting presents, the first rule is to avoid spending money where possible. Can you give your time instead? Many tired parents would love a day of babysitting their kids, or how about gardening for Granny, decorating for your sister or baking your best friend a cake of their choice? Homemade gifts are always a big hit, such as jam, chocolate truffles or sloe gin. Of course you will have to open your wallet, but try to support your high street, avoiding retailers who keep their doors pinned wide open in freezing weather, wasting precious energy. Garden and wildlife gifts are brilliant for the environment. A nectar-rich plant is a gift for bees and butterflies, and a Christmas box bush is a lovely choice. It provides a source of winter nectar for early bees, is easy to grow and gives a glorious scent in the coldest months. Bird boxes, bulbs and bird feeders (for example, a nyjer seed feeder to attract goldfinches) can bring a lot of pleasure through the year too.Pressies

For children, try nature magazines, some binoculars or a wormery. Membership to organisations such as the RSPB or Wildlife Trusts can open up new horizons. Where possible, choose sustainable wooden toys: they are far lower in carbon and more likely to be passed on to the next generation. You can also buy battery-free torches and wooden phones, wooden construction kits and Fairtrade soft toys. Older children are inordinately delighted with a paper present – that’s the good old-fashioned ten-pound note. It may feel lazy to you, but having their own money means a lot, and you can be sure they will buy something they really want.

Don’t be shy – ask people what they want and drop a few hints yourself. Nothing is worse for the environment than something that ends up straight in landfill, however gorgeous it may seem to the giver. And as for the guilt of re-gifting or eBay-ing unwanted items? Get over it: it’s the greenest option for rejected gifts.

Greetings cards

If you love to send cards, seek those made from sustainable forests that support a nature charity. You could buy blank cards and make your own, or get the children to help cut up and stick old Christmas cards on to coloured card at Christmas. Don’t forget to save this year’s cards for cutting up next year. They’re great for DIY gift tags too. If you’d rather save the carbon, consider donating the equivalent to charity and phoning the people you care about.

Wrap attack

Try wrapping up gifts in old magazines. Wildlife ones are great, as are the glamorous ones such as Vogue for the ladies. These can be easily recycled, as can brown paper. Your children’s pictures will also make very cute, customized wrapping paper, as will fabric remnants from craft projects. And in this day and age of the sat nav, dig out those neglected old maps and use them too. A few re-used ribbons will finish off the package, as well as a sprig of holly or mistletoe for Christmas gifts.”

You can find more inspiration on how to raise your children in a fun and environmentally friendly way in The No-Nonsense Guide to Green Parenting.

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A Winter’s Garden

The cold is creeping in but that doesn’t mean it’s time to put your gardening tools away! Your winter garden may be a bit different from your summer garden but that doesn’t mean it’s any less worthwhile. Charles Dowding tells you everything you need to know in How to Grow Winter Vegetables:

“Vegetables for winter

So what might a winter garden contain in the way of vegetables for harvesting between about December and April? Here I offer some ideas to help you imagine what is worth growing, in four categories according to how much space and protection each vegetable needs. The first four vegetables and some of the salad plants too belong to the same plant genus called Brassicaceae, the cabbage family. Their attributes that interest us most in winter are the ability to resist frost and continual wetness, and beinCh2-kale-outside,-lettuce-inside-in-January-300g able to make new leaves in weather that keeps most vegetables dormant. Remember that successful winter harvests depend on the soil being in good condition, with sufficient organic matter and good drainage. I have found that this is best achieved by surface composting without any digging or cultivation – see Chapter 3, pages 32-8, for advice on soil.

Large spaces

  • Brussels sprouts, when given plenty of room and also a long period of growth, offer tasty harvests in winter, when cold weather helps to sweeten their flavour.
  • Kale is probably the easiest green leaf to grow for winter harvest and is one of the hardiest. There is a good choice of varieties with a range of colours and leaf shapes, and there are also flat-leaved kales, which taste sweet in salad.
  • Purple sprouting broccoli is mostly for early spring, but some varieties, such as ‘Rudolph’, can make new shoots in milder midwinter weather.

Medium spaces

  • Cabbage can cover a long season according to the variety you grow – do make sure you buy seed or plants of varieties that heart up (more or less) at the time you hope to be eating them – for instance, ‘January King’ (although this one may mature any time between November and February).
    Savoy cabbages are the hardiest of all, and late varieties of savoy will heart up from February to early April at a time when greens are extremely precious.

Small spaces

Some salad plants, although making little new growth in winter, are able to resist most frost and keep their leaves in reasonable health outdoors. Corn salad (lamb’s lettuce) is the most reliable and maintains a lustygreen colour at all times. Land cress is equally hardy but suffers more from slugs and birds. Winter purslane resists frost and pests but sometimes discolours in midwinter.

Winter harvests under cover

If some protection can be afforded, especially for salad plants, the possibilities for new growth are multiplied many times. In the severe weather of early 2010 I had a cloche full of lettuce, rocket, mustard, endive and chicory, which endured temperatures of -15ºC (5ºF) and long spells of dull, wet weather. By March they were nearly all growing stronch1-Swede-Helenor-in-January-300wgly again.

  •  Swede grows little in winter but is extremely frost hardy and can safely be left in the soil for harvesting when needed. Sometimes my swedes have all their leaves eaten by pigeons yet still sit proudly and in good condition until early April. Swede has a more solid and sweet flesh than its cousin the turnip, which is less frost hardy and best stored indoors.
  • Parsnip is the king of winter roots, much denser, sweeter, hardier and stronger tasting than potatoes. Parsnips sit happily in the soil all winter, ready for harvesting when needed at any point until about late April, when new growth takes goodness out of their roots.
  • Leeks are not all capable of surviving hard frost, so be sure to choose a variety such as ‘Bandit’ or ‘Atlanta’ if you want harvests in a cold winter. Leeks can put on a lot of new growth in March and up to the end of April, so are a most welcome addition to the small group of hungry gap vegetables.”

To start your journey to a winter garden today, go to www.greenbooks.co.uk/how-to-grow-winter-vegetables

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Make your own Christmas wreath

The Christmas season is fast approaching, and houses are now starting to twinkle and flourish in annual decorations. Whether you’re someone who puts them up close to Christmas or starts to hang them many weeks before, you can’t beat making your own decorations by hand. It’s the sense of achievement as well as having unique designs and fragranced décor, so we thought we’d share some ideas with you. For an added bonus, making your own decorations is also environmentally friendly and cost effective – practice now and you may even be able to sell some to make a bit of money next year.

You can purchase wired wreath frames quite cheap or, if you want a more natural looking wreath, you can grow or buy willow, which you can weave into circles and decorate as you want. The size of it can be to your choosing too, as you can cut the willow to any length you want, but make sure you’re careful. Willow can crack, and a cracked stem isn’t easy to weave.

willow-1

Once you’ve got your wreath frame, whether wire or willow, it is time to garland with your decorate material. Anything can be added to the wreaths; ribbons, flowers, berries, leaves, there are no rules when it comes to making your own. You may want to forage in your garden or in hedgerows, or perhaps you’ll find what you want at a farmers market or a shop.

Anything goes (as long it’s not harmful to handle or have around children and pets) but ideas to get you started could be things like;

  • Holly
  • Ivy
  • Euonymus
  • Mistletoe
  • Rosemary
  • Statice
  • Spindle

and many more things to choose from. That is the beauty of making your own: it’s all your choice so you can be as creative as you wish.willow-2

If you’re unsure about adding the additional material or where to place it, have a practise and see how you get on before starting, and don’t feel like you have to overfill the wreath. Less is more, and you don’t want to overpower the wreath, or make it too heavy. The last thing you need is a big, clumpy thing hanging on your door, too jam-packed full of décor. It’s also a waste of the material, when you could use it for another wreath. Keeping it simple and fresh is what will make it stand out.

Once you’re finished you can hang your wreath, sit back and enjoy your handiwork.

More information on making your own Christmas wreath, decorations or growing your own flowers, can be found in The Flower Farmer’s Year by Georgie Newbery. Her newest book, Grow Your Own Wedding Flowers, is also out now.

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Time for tulips

It’s November, which means it’s the perfect time to get planting some tulips which will brighten up your garden next year! Georgie Newbery gives us some handy hints on how to get the best flowers blooming in The Flower Farmer’s Year: How to grow cut flowers for pleasure and profit:

“Tulips

Tulips get an extra-long entry in this section, as they’re likely to represent quite a big part of your bulb spend – and because they’re such favour-ites of mine. The points I make here about permanent underplanting, buying cheaper elsewhere, and so on, might equally be applied to other bulbs, but I’ve chosen to make them in relation to tulips.

When ordering, check for height: the stem length doesn’t have to be 50cm (1’8″), but less than 30cm (12″) will be less use to you. If you’re planning to naturalize your tulips in a bed, then it’s difficult to cut a shorter-stemmed tulip in such a way that the foliage is left undamaged to hflower-farmer-blog-300welp feed next year’s flower bud. In my experience, the later the tulip flowers, the longer its stem. However, a tulip flowering in mid- to late May is a great deal less use than one flowering in April, when tulips can be the main crop in your cut-flower garden. By May, people have had enough of tulips, and they compete unsuccessfully with peonies, the first roses and sweet peas.

Plant tulips late to avoid disease – November is the best month, as a good burst of cold weather before they start shooting helps kill off diseases. Tulip fire will burn the leaves of your tulips and turn the flowers into twisted, odd-looking specimens no good for sale. In a mild winter, tulip fire is a risk that all growers fear. I’ve been talking to our bulb supplier in the past week, and she’s concerned because this year we’ve not had any cold weather to kill off disease in tulip bulbs.

Tulips cut with still-tightly-closed buds, packed flat in boxes out of water and stored in the cool, will keep for a week if you need to hold them back for a special order. When you take them out of storage, condition them by snipping the stems tflower-farmers-year-blog-tulip-300wo re-open the drinking cellulose cells, and stand the flowers in clean, fresh water.

To keep tulip stems straight rather than curling about as they grow in the vase, you can condition them in cones of newspaper or prick their stems just below the flower with a pin. I prefer the curly-wurly look myself, and so never take either of these tulip-controlling precautions.

Again, choose unusual varieties: they’re more expensive, but you can’t compete on price with the big growers for ordinary tulips. People will be coming to you for something unusual, and five baroque-looking parrot tulips go much further in a bouquet than twenty ordinary tulips.”

If you liked this you will love Georgie’s new book, Grow Your Own Wedding Flowers, out 19th November 2015! Be the first to get your copy at www.greenbooks.co.uk

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Inspired by Grand Designs? Build with hempcrete!

If you’ve been following Grand Designs Live, you might have been hit by inspiration to build your own home – or at least to learn more about the innovative and sustainable methods that are out there. Over the past decade hempcrete has become more and more popular as a building material, thanks to its many attributes; not only is it fireproof, healthy and breathable but it is also very thermal efficient when compared to other material. The Hempcrete Book by William Stanwix and Alex Sparrow provides a detailed study of hempcrete: its history, how to use it and some interesting examples of self builds.

“Inheriting a field with a dilapidated concrete barn on it gave Bob and Tally Moores an opportunity to fulfil what was, for Bob at least, a long-held dream of building his own house. Planning permission had been refused on the barn once, but after some detective work Bob and Tally found an old map which convinced the council that, contrary to previous opinion, the barn sat within the village boundary, and permission was eventually granted for demolition of the barn and construction of a house.

Bob is a carpenter, used to timber framing, so his house was always going to be based around a green oak frame, and having worked for a supplier of traditional and environmentally Bob51-300wfriendly building products, he was familiar with lime and other natural materials. He was doing an MSc in Sustainable Architecture at the Centre for Alternative Technology, from which he says he learnt a lot, but couldn’t understand why everyone was talking about easy-build bolt-together timber-frame houses with lightweight insulation, which needed to be sealed up tight to keep the heat in and then ventilated using mechanical systems to maintain indoor air quality. Bob says, “Up to the point when we built the house, I had lived mainly in vernacular buildings, built from local, natural materials that had stood the test of time. I wanted the same feeling of permanence from the house I was going to build myself… to know that, as well as being a high-thermal-performance eco-house, it would stand a chance of being there for centuries to come, and I didn’t think I would get that from a lightweight insulated timber-frame house.” The more Bob thought about it, the more it seemed to him that thermal mass was the key to passively storing heat, whether created by heating systems or from the sun, and slowly releasing this energy to maintain a constant comfortable temperature inside.

The final design included a green oak structural frame, with a softwood studwork frame built off this to take the hempcrete. The principles of passive solar design were followed: highly efficient glazing on the south-facing elevation and a minimum of windows on the north side, together with a good overhang so that the windows are shaded in summer but allow direct sunlight in during the winter, when the sun is lower in the sky. All the external walls are 300mm hempcrete, Bob12-300wwith additional thermal mass provided by a deeper-than-usual concrete floor slab and slate floor covering in the open-plan living area. The roof is insulated using wood-fibre insulation panels. Being in an exposed location close to the Atlantic coast in north Cornwall, Bob and Tally have sensibly used a larch rain-screen cladding over the hempcrete on the exposed walls (most of the house); on the south side, they used a breathable render. Bob’s motto for the build was ‘Low-tech – high performance’, and this comes out in the solidity and strength of the materials that surround us as we stand in the kitchen: oak posts and beams, solid black slate flooring, black slate windowsills, lime plasters and thick hempcrete walls. The house, on a scorching July day, feels reassuringly cool and comfortable, despite the fact that we are sitting next to the large south-facing windows and the external doors are open, allowing a direct connection with the heat outside.

In the winter, heating is provided by a wood burner in the living room, the flue of which passes through the master bedroom on its way to the roof, allowing the passive transfer of heat into the bedroom. There is a solar domestic hot water system, and an air-source heat pump to supply underfloor heating, but Bob and Tally find that they hardly ever need to use it. Even in very cold winters, the heat from the wood burner alone is more than enough to maintain a comfort­able temperature throughout the house “at least 90 per cent of the time – and to be honest a lot of the time we probably have it on for the atmosphere rather than heating. The only time we turn the heating on is when we’ve got guests in the spare bedroom and we feel we should heat up the ‘north wing’ for them,” says Bob.”

Continue your hempcrete journey at www.greenbooks.co.uk/the-hempcrete-book

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Book Review: The No Nonsense Guide to Green Parenting

Greenmumsblog

book cover

We were recently sent a copy of a new book which is due to be released in October. The No-Nonsense Guide to Green Parenting is a refreshing change from some of the ‘preachy’ parenting books that we find on the shelves. The book gives ideas and inspiration for raising your child in an eco way.

It is delivered in a fun and practical way, yet is still backed up with research and ideas for further reading. It is humorous, colorful and imaginative and very easy to read. It includes information on natural play, an eco-friendly home and garden, foraging, tips to avoid screen time, making greener choices for your family and many more.

It gives ideas for small or large changes that you can make and recognises that you don’t need to implement all of them to make a difference. There are simple projects such as making bird feeders or designing a…

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