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Gardening, Outdoors, Walking in the hills, and making furniture...

Make your own Christmas: a door wreath, a vase of sprigs and garlands

Making your own Christmas decorations from sprigs found in your garden or hedgerows can be hugely satisfying. Photograph: Food and Drink/Rex Clusters of berries, verdant branches of pines and conifers, and, of course, the holly and the ivy. This is Christmas decorating at its best. It’s incredbly satisfying, as every dog walk or park visit becomes a hunt for fallen treasure, and you search for the perfect branch to take.. Read More

Alys Fowler: how to grow perfect pears

‘Treat them right and you are on the road to eating a perfect pear.’ Photograph: Getty Images I don’t have a great track record with pears. Part of the trouble is I want pears to be more like my beloved apples. Pears are not apples; accepting this is the first step on the road to growing good pears. First, do not expect pears to slum it. They like to bask.. Read More

‘Spoons for Escargot’ and other odd plant names | Graham Rice

Purple prose: the not-so-snappily named lilac ‘40th Anniversary Of The Communist Youth League’. Photograph: Lottah Nursery I was working recently on a piece for Amateur Gardening magazine about plants with names suited to special occasions. You know, ‘Golden Wedding’ rose, that sort of thing. There are plants for birthdays, plants for anniversaries, plants for retirements and… and, it turns out, plants for bereavements. So, when your beloved terrier or retriever.. Read More

The garden of peace: helping veterans heal the mental scars of war

Gulf veteran Bobby helps with the planting in Auchincruive’s glasshouse. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Observer On Bobby’s arm is his story. Northern Ireland, Bosnia, the Gulf – the conflicts, uniforms and guns are etched on his flesh. “Sometimes I regret the tattoos,” he said, “they’re a reminder. But then I’m not likely to forget any time soon, am I?” Bobby left the army in 1997 but, like an estimated.. Read More

Gardens: the December checklist | Dan Pearson

Hip, hip, hippeastrum: ignite some winter colour. Photograph: Alamy Clear the decks Lawns should be raked of the last of the leaves and paths and terraces swept. Toppled bean tripods and collapsed perennials can bring down the tone in the beds. Salvage canes and store them in a dry shed to prevent them from rotting. Edit back to the perennials that will provide with wintery skeletons. Leaving as much as.. Read More

Alys Fowler: how to grow elephant garlic

Great plump cloves, so satisfyingly oversized, so suited to their name: elephant garlic bulbs are comically big, its cloves up to 5cm wide, followed by strapping leaves and then, if allowed, a flower spike that tops 1.5m tall. It’s not really garlic; Allium ampeloprasum grows like a large leek, but tastes like mild garlic. It’s perfect for roasting and baking. We have a native variety, Babington leek, Allium ampeloprasum var… Read More

Strange beasts on the balustrade

Wrest Park’s leonine stone dog awaits his jackdaw tormentor as the fog descends. Photograph: Sarah Niemann A strange, pale coloured beast, part dog part lion, was seated on the balustrade of a Victorian terrace. Out of the fog came a jackdaw which landed on its stone head. The bird fidgeted restlessly, clawing the animal’s face with its talons, then took off again. The jackdaw called from the milky stillness and.. Read More

How does your garden grow? The hairdresser, Hither Green, London

Jenny Harford: ‘My garden style is a bit off the wall.’ Photograph: Sophia Evans for the Guardian I was meant to have this place. I lived in a bedsit up the road and was hairdressing for someone else at the time. It wasn’t even on the market, but I saw the shop and fell in love with it. That was 30 years ago and the weeds out the back were.. Read More

Alys Fowler: hot compost bin

‘This bin is small and super-efficient, perfect for the urban garden.’ Photograph: Andrew Fox for the Guardian I have fallen in love with a compost bin. I often start off smitten by the newness of a novel method, but the relationship very quickly becomes one-sided and I end up shouting “you smell” and going back to the ramshackle pallet bin systems. Then the HotBin came into my life. First off,.. Read More

Gardens: winter pots

Grape hyacinths. Photograph: Anne Green-Armytage/Gap Photos You’ve ripped out summer bedding and consigned petunias and lobelias to the compost heap, but don’t just stack those pots in a corner until spring. Follow these tips to get the most out of them this winter. Revitalise old compost Accepted wisdom was always that the spent compost left over when summer containers fade is useless stuff and should be disposed of, until a trial.. Read More