This week’s Guest Blogger is Kasia Babel

I love horticulture for the vast number of opportunities it gives to you if you are willing to spend some time on researching and deciding what you want to do.

In the photograph Sasa quelpaertensis, the dwarf bamboo, growing so dense that it does not allow for natural regeneration of the Korean fir forest. The dead stumps of the Korean fir and a member of the Hallsan National Park checking on the seedlings. Babel, 2019.

One of many of those opportunities are bursaries offered to people working in the horticulture industry to allow them to learn new things, create more contacts and enjoy plants to the full. I was able to go on three travel scholarships, all of them to South Korea. I have learnt a lot, met fantastic people and walked a hundred miles. One such project I was interested in (and I still keep my fingers on its development) was the restoration of Abies koreana (Korean fir) forest. This species, with beautiful purple cones, is
often planted in gardens. In its natural habitat, however, the numbers are declining. Two of the main reasons for it, is firstly, the disturbance to natural regeneration of the forest by Siberian roe deer damaging seedlings and secondly, physical overwhelming by the faster and denser growing dwarf bamboo (Sasa quelpaertensis).

I had the chance to see the work the Hallsan National Park Conservation team does to help the forest to survive, and I am amazed by the job they are doing. It is an excellent example of collaboration between science, ecologist and horticulturist.

Summarising, the horticulture team sow and then care for the seedlings in the Hallsana Arboretum Nursery. When the seedlings have established, they are planted into small trays made of biodegradable material and placed in a marked area in the Hallsana National Park. A member of the National Park team checks on them regularly, keeping the dwarf bamboo away until the fir are taller than the bamboo. The tray consists of 6 to 8 seedlings, but
usually, only one Korean fir will survive the seedling stage.

Abies koreana seedlings in the nursery. Babel, 2015.

It may sound easy, but the trees are located almost on the highest part of the Hallsan Mountain (1,995 m), and there is no other way than to walk using one of the four hiking trails (each one of them offers a beautiful view and a good sleep at night). I must admit that hiking the Hallsan Mountain was my favourite part on both my trips (2015 and 2019), mostly because I was able to go there with people who are passionate about their plants, saving the forest and, even that we couldn’t always communicate freely, they put a lot of effort to make me understand the issue regarding the Korean fir forest.

If you work in horticulture, please check if you can apply for one of many available bursaries. Going on a trip like that leaves you with a lot of memories and allows you to meet great people who love plants as (I am sure) you do!

Abies koreana 8(!) years old seedling in a tray. Only one will probably survive. Babel 2019

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Christine Hennessey

Composting at Home

There’s a reason seasoned gardeners refer to compost as black gold. Rich and dark, this earth-like substance composed of decayed organic material is a powerhouse of nutrients. When incorporated into the soil, plants are healthier, flowers bloom brighter, and pests don’t stand a chance.

The best part? Compost can be made at home from ingredients you were planning to throw away, which means it’s not only good for the garden but environmentally responsible as well.

Composting at home is neither complicated nor expensive, and all it takes to start is just a few materials and the right combination of organic matter.

What to put in your compost pile

Composting requires three ingredients.

  1. The first is brown material, which includes dead leaves, branches, and twigs. These provide carbon.
  2. The second is green material, such as grass clippings, vegetable scraps, and used coffee grounds. These provide nitrogen.
  3. The final ingredient is water, which delivers the moisture needed to break down organic matter.

Get the ratio of materials right—too many scraps and not enough leaves, and your compost will turn into rotting sludge. The ideal ratio is two parts brown to one part green.

Make sure materials you add to your compost pile are in the smallest possible pieces. Chop vegetable scraps, shred newspaper, and cut twigs and branches. This increases the surface area and helps materials break down faster.

When building your compost pile, avoid meat, bones, or fatty foods. These require very high temperatures to decompose and can harbor unhealthy bacteria.

Tools for composting at home

Kitchen scraps and dead leaves are really the foundation of a compost pile. Still, there are a few tools that will speed up the process and make composting at home easier.

  • A pitchfork will help you turn, mix, and aerate your compost.
  • A garden hose will make it easy to keep your compost pile moist.
  • A small canister or bowl on your kitchen counter lets you store vegetable scraps until you’re ready to carry them to the compost pile.
  • A compost thermometer allows you to monitor the temperature of the pile and make sure it’s hot enough for decomposition to occur. Ideally, your compost pile should stay between 110°F and 160°F.
  • A tumbler is a composter that spins, and can be used to compost smaller amounts of materials. Beware, though—as the tumbler fills up, it will be more difficult to turn.
  • A compost bin has a small footprint, but makes it difficult to turn the compost, which means the process takes longer overall. It can also be tough to get the compost out of the bin once it’s ready.
  • A traditional compost pile is simply that—a pile. If you want, you can put a fence around the pile for aesthetic purposes, but it’s not necessary.

    How to: building a backyard compost pile

    1. Pick a spot

    Find a dry, shady spot for your compost pile, ideally near a water source or within reach of a hose. Place your compost pile directly on the earth—asphalt or concrete will inhibit the flow of oxygen.

    2. Set a date

    You can start a compost pile at any time of the year. If possible, fall is ideal. It offers easy access to an excellent balance of materials, such as grass clippings (for nitrogen) and fallen leaves (for carbon).

    3. Measure it out

    Composting is an aerobic process, which means it requires oxygen. It also produces heat as materials break down. If your compost pile is too small, it won’t heat up, and if it’s too big, it will be difficult to manage. The ideal range is between 3×3 feet (by 3 feet deep) and 5×5 feet (by 5 feet deep).

    4. Kick it off

    To spark the composting process, throw in a few handfuls of garden soil or finished compost.

    5. Mix it up

    Compost isn’t a set it and forget it endeavor. About once a week, mix the pile with a shovel or pitchfork. This allows more oxygen to flow through the pile.

    6. Keep it moist

    Add water to your compost pile as needed. It should be damp to the touch, but not soaking wet.

    7. Be patient

    Depending on the size of your pile, it can take anywhere from six months to two years to finish the composting process.

    8. Use it up

    To add your black gold to the garden, simply work it into the soil a week or two before planting, or spread it around your plants.

    Benefits of composting

    • Compost enriches the soil, adding nutrients such as phosphorus, potassium, and nitrogen to your garden.
    • When added to loose or sandy soil, it helps your garden retain water. When added to heavy soil, it helps with aeration.
    • Compost an ideal breeding ground for beneficial bacteria and fungi. These produce humus, a rich organic material full of nutrients widely considered the secret to great soil.
    • Composting at home prevents erosion and protects roots from damage caused by the elements.

for more information and to read other articles in the series please visit

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Anita Avent

Sensing the Garden by Anita Avent, All images by Anita Avent

Juniper Level Botanic Garden – Raleigh, NC, USA

Perceiving our environments directly with the senses, without any commentary or judgment, is relaxing, healing, and good for the body, mind, and soul. When we are feeling happy and relaxed we are usually sensing life directly with the body instead of living in our heads glued to our thoughts about what may or may not be happening.

Juniper Level Botanic Garden – Raleigh, NC, USA

When we were children, we seldom lived in our heads thinking about life. Instead, we were present and attentive to each moment and lived in this freedom.

Juniper Level Botanic Garden – Raleigh, NC, USA

As we grew older, we learned to live in our heads and thoughts and to name and label each thought/feeling and store it away in the filing cabinet in our mind. This mental filing cabinet in our heads is the source of so much emotional and psychological suffering yet we have not yet realized this source of our misery. Once we do, meditation, sensory, and mindfulness practices can help us see the filing cabinet in action so we can change our perspectives and relax within our bodies.

Juniper Level Botanic Garden – Raleigh, NC, USA

Want to have a bit of fun and try a little experiment? If so, study the listing of body senses below: 

  • Sight
  • Sound 
  • Touch
  • Smell
  • Taste
  • Balance
  • Temperature regulation
  • Gravity
  • Proximity
  • Breathing
  • Blood flow, heart rate
  • Digestion/elimination
  • Thirst/hunger
  • Intramuscular movement
  • Intuition
  • Navigation
  • Pressure 

Now select one or two sensory mechanisms from the list above that resonate with you.

Juniper Level Botanic Garden – Raleigh, NC, USA

Let’s use this sensory list in this blog post to remind us that our sensory mechanism are many! We can notice the body’s sensory experiences no matter where we are located. Bringing our attention into the body and away from our thinking minds helps calm the nervous system and improve our digestion. Our actual physical experiences of the current moment are a more accurate indicator of what is happening than our mental thoughts “about” the physical experience. 

This subtle shift of perception is healing for the body/mind and releases hormones that induces the relaxation response and reduces stress hormones. 

Did you know science clearly proves movements initiated within the body are claimed and owned by the human brain a full 4-8 seconds after the neurons have fired into action? This blew my mind!

Juniper Level Botanic Garden – Raleigh, NC, USA

Here is an example of how we use these sensory tools in the garden: 

• Select the sensory mode or tool we wish to explore from the listing—let’s 

use the sense of touch as our example… 

• Simply notice the feel and sensation of sweat dripping from our brow…or 

coldness in our hands and feet. Perhaps something on our skin is itching. 

• Feel and sense the tender or vigorous pulsing of blood in our temples or 

chest. Feel our lungs expand on the inhale and contract on the exhale. 

• Feel the warm or cool moist air passing through our nostrils or our mouth as 

we inhale and exhale. 

• Notice how Mother Earth pulls our bodies with gravity. 

• Feel and sense our fingers, toes, hands, bum, making contact with the 

chair or touching the soil or a plant.

Juniper Level Botanic Garden – Raleigh, NC, USA

Consider welcoming the sensory experiences of the body regardless of any limits or restrictions you may currently be experiencing. There is always beauty (sometimes disguised or hiding) within each moment if we only look with an open mind and heart. 

In peace and possibility, 

Anita Avent Owner, Juniper Level Botanic Garden, Raleigh, NC – USA

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Graeme Edwards

Scents for all seasons


Now I don’t know about you, but the first thing I do when I see a flower is bury my nose in its petals (having checked there are no bees lurking within) and inhale deeply in the hope that it might be scented. Though some of the plants in my garden have been chosen for their looks, more often than not I choose a plant for its fragrance. Occasionally this will be provided courtesy of foliage of the rub-it-and-sniff variety, though more often than not its produced from the petalled end.


Some of the most fragrant blooms in the garden are produced by shrubs and, with a bit of planning, you can have something for your nose to enjoy throughout much of the year, even during the depths of winter. Here are some super-scented shrubs I wouldn’t be without in my small garden.


First up is Coronilla valentina subsp glauca. The first of its cheerful yellow pea-like flowers usually start to appear from late October/early November and it’ll continue flowering right up into April. An evergreen, it grows in a sunny, sheltered spot outside my front door where its fabulous fragrance greets me when I return home after a long day at work, particularly if the sun’s been shining

However, if you prefer yellows of gentler hue then Coronilla subsp. glauca ‘Citrina’, often sold as a climber, might be more your cup of tea.

Like the Coronilla, Lonicera fragrantissima (or Winter Honeysuckle) flowers throughout winter and spring, providing bees with an early source of nectar. The delicate pendulous white flowers start to open just as its leaves begin to fall, and as winter deepens the shrub’s bare branches are eventually smothered with fragrant blooms.

Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis (Christmas Box) is another winter flowering shrub and one that’s perfect for a small garden. It provides a bit of glossy evergreen structure during the winter months, some colour with its crimson berries that deepen to black as the year goes on, and come January and February, is covered with tiny white flowers that produce a surprisingly powerful sweet and wafty scent.

Just as the Coronilla flowers are beginning to fade the Vibernum carlesii ‘Compactum’ takes over scent duties for a few weeks. The perfect Viburnum to grow if you don’t have much space, the

pink-tinged flower buds open in late April to produce white clouds of deliciously fragrant blooms.

Alas, I don’t have room in my garden for a proper sized lilac. However, the Korean lilac Syringa meyeri Palibin is a great alternative as its flowers fill the garden with heady scent in early May.

Soon after the lilac of short stature has finished doing its scenty-flowery thing the fragrant blooms of the Philadelphus (or Mock Orange) kick in. If you have a small garden, fear not, as there are a few varieties out there that won’t take up much space. The compact Philadelphus ‘Manteau d’Hermine’ has double creamy-white flowers and is perfect for the tiniest of gardens. But if you have a bit more space then perhaps you might prefer the taller and more arching form of ‘Belle Etoile’ with it’s large single white flowers. I’ve found the latter can sometimes prove popular with black fly though, so keep your home-made soapy sprays or fingers at the ready.

Now if you only have room for one shrub in your garden then the semi-evergreen Daphne x transatlantica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ is well worth considering. It seems to flower, off and on, throughout much of the year. If scent were a musical instrument then I’d describe this one as flute-like. Plonk it near a path or patio and you’ll get to enjoy it’s mellow ‘flutey’ fragrance almost all year round.

So the next time you’re perusing plants at your local garden centre or pondering perennials online, take a moment to consider your nose; treat it to some sniffable flowers to enjoy during those short winter days and balmy summer evenings.


Graeme Edwards,

A full time something-or-other and a gardener in his spare time (if the weather is nice).


Twitter: @GraemeEdwards1