This Week’s Guest Blogger is Mairi MacPherson a Smallholder in the Scottish Highlands

I’m Dr Mairi MacPherson, and I’m a mini-smallholder in the Scottish Highlands, about an hour north of Inverness. I consider myself disabled – I have MECFS and POTS, and their impact on me has been enormous. I’ve grown veg for several years but when my chronic illnesses forced me to give up my job as an academic gardening became one of the few things I was still able to do, despite spending most of my time in bed. Gradually over the past year or so I’ve been able to do a bit more – pootling around the garden, and even wielding a wheelbarrow on occasion – and I’ve been lucky to be able to spend as much time and energy as I can in the garden. We’ve got about 1/3 acre of space: a third of which is currently vegetables, and then there’s quite a few fruit trees and bushes. We have three small polytunnels, and also keep chickens and ducks that spend their days wandering around our garden.

Over the last year or so gardening has turned into my job: a Highland Seedlings I teach others how to grow their own, grow veg seedlings for sale, and host tourists and other visitors on smallholding and chicken tours. The chicken tours in particular are really popular – we spend an hour drinking tea, eating cake, and feeding and cuddling chickens! I’m also involved in a few community projects – we’re setting up a ‘free food garden’ in our village this year where we’ll be growing food for the local community, and I’m working with a couple of local schools and nurseries to help them get their kids (and parents!) growing their own food. We’ve also got a homeschool group that comes every other week and grows veg on their own bed in the garden.

For us, gardening has to fit into our lives – in particular into my energy levels. So everything we do is designed to be as low-impact as possible. We grow in long ‘no dig’ beds on what used to be unkempt lawn, built from cardboard and horse manure, and surrounded by wood chips. We did away with wooden sides because we found there were lots of slugs and snails living in them. Weeding these beds is really easy – as the weeds are mostly only in the top layer (with the cardboard acting as mulch), they pull out easily and, as long as you get them before they flower, they don’t tend to spread. I sit down to weed and plant, so our paths and beds are designed with that in mind, and the paths are wide enough for two people so that I can hold on to someone else when my balance is a bit off. I sow seeds at the kitchen table – we’ve got a plastic tablecloth stapled to the table so the soil is easy to wipe off. I start my seeds in large multi-cell trays as it’s a lot less effort to fill and carry one of those than individual pots. I’ve got a sowing schedule on a spreadsheet (which is also available free from but as long as I sow sometime near the week noted on there it’s all good – I’ve given up on precision and neatness, and just go with the flow. Some weeks I’m too unwell to head out into the garden at all and that’s fine – the plants tend to do ok on their own.

I really enjoy being part of the veg growing / allotment community on Instagram. It’s friendly and folks are really helpful, and always up for celebrating those small and big successes. Your chillies germinated? Great! You grew a wonky carrot? Fabulous! It’s a genuine community, and it’s so interesting to see how other people grow their own. I’m @highlandseedlings there if anyone wants to say hello.

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Dave Poulton the founder of Up the Garden Bath

Up the Garden Bath is a new and exciting non-profit making social enterprise in Cambridgeshire. We take old unwanted bathtubs and upcycle them into ready made garden planters. Old bathtubs have been reused on allotments for years but our project entails building a raised wooden surround for the bathtub – transforming it into a raised & contained growing
space at a height that is easily accessible for children, the elderly or disabled.
I’m Dave Poulton, the founder of Up The Garden Bath, I came up with the idea to turn old bathtubs into mini-gardens whilst recovering from a neurological illness last year. It started out as a little DIY project in my own back garden and is now a thriving business bringing gardening
to local people, young and old. “Our planters offer an instant, ready made and contained solution to growing your own flowers, fruit, vegetables and herbs. We use 100% recycled, unwanted wood and paint to ensure a quality finish in a range of wood styles and colours. The soil we use to fill the planters also comes from a sustainable source – it is bi-product of the generation of electricity from food waste.”
“We have designed fun, interactive and educational workshops to teach children all about recycling, sustainability, growing and eating healthily. We feel it is imperative to teach future generations the importance of sustainability and recycling. Our planters provide a practical and
cost effective solution to growing programmes at a time when school budgets are being reduced. Our products are also very popular with SEN schools as they make gardening more accessible to those with disabilities. Not everyone is able to get down to ground level so we like to think we are doing our bit to promote inclusivity for everyone.”

“We have devised themed planters including ‘Mini Allotments’ and ‘Pollen Paradises’. These are extremely popular with nurseries and primary schools. In fact, we’ve just secured a partnershipwith the national charity ‘Buglife’ to promote our Pollen Paradise planters further afield. We’re also working with the Co-operative so watch this space! “We give opportunities to people who need a chance. Our products are manufactured by individuals who have found themselves unable to access mainstream employment for a variety
of reasons. We are currently researching new premises to expand our operation and plan to start a “mentoring” scheme that will pair skilled semi-retired people with teenagers who aren’t in education or employment. Our aim is to give the young people we work with an opportunity to learn new skills, including woodwork, to improve their self esteem and enhance their career options.”
“Our project is community driven with any profits, after the deduction of operating costs, donated to local gardening projects. We hope our project makes a difference by reducing landfill, educating and giving opportunities.”
“It sounds like a cliché but we have encountered children that didn’t know that apples grow on trees! Reconnecting children with nature is so important & making it accessible to everyone regardless of ability is our main goal” Our motto is ‘Together we can grow and learn’. I really believe that passing on this knowledge is one of the most important jobs anyone can do.” You can find out more by visiting our website

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Justine Dixon a professional Nanny who founded Hook Gardening Club and opens her garden through the National Garden Scheme

Gardening can improve your Mental Health

The unseen disabilities can be ignored but throughout life we all can suffer regarding how strong we think we are….

The dark grey gloomy winter days can make us all feel low…. Spring seems so far away so how can we boost out mental health especially at this time of year but throughout the year?

I’ve been gardening all my life and now in my late 40’s it’s such a love and passion of mine I get impatient when the gales and driving rain stop me from pottering in my garden.

A friend told me how she feels ‘When I’m feeling low, getting outdoors into the fresh air and feeling the sun on my skin and the dirt on my hands I feel my troubles slip away. It gives me something positive to focus on and put my energy into and helps me get back to nature. Gardening makes you slow down and appreciate the beauty in things and the magic of nature’

So I’ve been sorting through seed packets, planning to visit NGS open gardens or plant fairs or redesigning a part of the garden this is the time of year for doing such things is the next best thing, but you are not alone. I’ve been keeping myself busy and over the last 18 months I was invited to write a bi-monthly gardening column in a local lifestyle magazine It gives me the opportunity to share my gardening knowledge with others. Our meetings run throughout the year except for the summer so on a dark autumn and winter evening our visitors often say how much they look forward to getting out of the house and catching up with friends they only see once and month at our meetings.

I also keep St. Mary’s Church Hook Garden tidy weeding, planting and generally tidy throughout the year from its array of dancing daffodils to the lovely summer dahlias and lavender hedge as walk up the church path…

Every 2 years I open my garden for the National Garden Scheme – Yorkshire something else that I never though anyone would like to see my garden but they do and although it takes lot of planning it is another thoroughly enjoyable day with almost 300 visitors raising around £1500 for charities.

Have you though of joining a local gardening club? they aren’t as ‘old school’ as you may think and I Founded Hook Gardening Club in East Yorkshire. We are celebrating our 10th Anniversary this year. I was approached from a villager who asked, ‘is there a local gardening club’?  So, I set about investigating what I needed to do to set one up and 10 years on we are ‘growing’ and visitors of all ages and gardening abilities come from a 20 mile radius to our meetings.  I could go on for ever but if you have chance have a look at our website we are very active on social media as well.  I make seasonal homemade preserves from villagers’ surplus fruits and sell them fundraising for club funds….

Oh yes and I work full time too I’ve been a Professional Nanny for 30 years….

And finally…… Life’s always busy but sitting down sometimes and just listening to the birds whether I’m wrapped up in many layers or swinging on my garden hammock on a warm sunny afternoon…  watching a small heard of deer that wander through the field at the end of my garden….I just love where I live ……

Find me on Social media Facebook & Twitter @avidgardener72 – Justine Dixon and Instagram avidgardener163

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Julie Woodworth the Outreach Manager of Gardener’s Path a website full of gardening advice

Whole Small Guide on How to Grow Fig Trees

With origins in the Asia Minor, there is a good chance that the fig might just be the oldest cultivated fruit in the world. Evidence suggests that as at 10,000 years ago, cavemen already planted figs right outside their caves. 

Growing figs is perhaps one of the easiest gardening tasks to undertake particularly if you know exactly what you’re doing. They can be grown in the ground or in containers making it suitable to all gardeners depending on preference. 

If you are new to gardening, you would need some essential knowledge to help you succeed. Specifically, on your path to successfully planting your figs, there are a number of factors to consider as well as steps to take and we would be covering those bases in this article. 

Let’s dive right in.

Selecting a Fig Tree Cultivar 

Fig trees are known to thrive in areas that have long and hit summers (zone 8 and warmer). For them to be grown in colder zones, they would need to be grown in containers and properly insulated to prevent the effect of freezing temperatures. Another option would be to keep them indoors. 

The common fig tree (Ficus carica) is the most popular cultivar that gardeners subscribe to, and this is because of a singular reason – to yield figs, the flowers do not necessarily have to be pollinated. 

Also, there is a range of varieties of the common fig tree comprising certain cultivars that are hardy enough to be grown outdoors in cooler climates (Zones 6 and 7). 

This makes it very easy to work with. Other fig species either require specific requirements in order to be pollinated such as requiring a particular wasp to carry out the pollination or they simply do not produce edible fruit. This makes it quite a hassle to grow them. 

In North America alone, there are over 200 fig cultivars with varying shapes and colors. However, selecting the variety that is perfectly adapted to your climate is essential.

For instance, varieties like Chicago, Brown Turkey or Celeste are suitable for colder regions. Also, going for self-pollinating species is advised compared to those that demand a special requirement for pollination. 

Planting a Fig Tree

Planting a fig tree is not all that difficult. Basically, there are two options available for you. You could either plant directly or plant one that has been grown in a container.

The option to go with typically depends on the temperature conditions of your region. If you stay in a zone with very low temperatures, making use of a container initially is advised. 

Planting Directly 

When you want to plant directly in the soil, you should look for a location that has fertile and moist soil. This would help the fig tree grow faster and aid its eventual development into a spreading tree with a massive amount of leaves. 

If on the other hand, you want a tree that would produce more fruits and fewer leaves, you would need a “fig pit” to constrain the fig roots. A fig pit is simply a large pot that is buried and prevents fig roots from extensively spreading, thereby forcing it to channel its energy from producing foliage to making fruits. 

This process also helps to ensure a large fruit size and nice flavor. 

To get this done, you would need to dig a large hole and then line it with 24-inch paving slabs on all sides so that you end up with a sunken cube-shaped pot. 

Afterward, fill about 8 inches of the pit from the bottom with broken bricks or rubble in order to recreate its natural habitat of rocky subsoil. 

Next, the fig pit’s side slabs should extend to about 2cm above ground level. This would prevent the tree’s root from finding a way to extend and then spread outside of the pit. 

After doing this, fill the hole up with gravel and regular garden soil in the ratio 50:50. You can then go ahead to plant your fig plant. 

Planting from a Container 

To plant container-grown trees, the first step would be to take the plant out of the container and then get rid of any circling roots by placing the root ball firmly on its side and then cutting through the roots with shears. 

Afterward, dig a hole that would fit the plant while allowing for a gap of a few inches in both depth and width – this is to allow the roots to spread. Place the tree on a small soul mound in the middle of the hole while making sure that the roots are spread away from the trunk without excessive bending. 

For depth, ensure that it is planted at least  2 to 4 inches deeper than it was in the pot. To confirm this, a great way would be to check the color of the trunk and note the original soil line. 

Care of Fig Trees 

After planting comes caring for the tree if you want it to survive and thrive. Figs typically require a spot that is sunny and sheltered from winter winds. 

During the growing season, a good practice would be to mulch the trees with adequate compose and then apply foliar sprays of seaweed extract on a monthly basis. 

In the event of a drop in temperature up to 10 degrees or it gets a lot colder than usual in your area, you can protect your cold-hardy figs outdoors with straw placed in a cylindrical cage of hardware cloth. Plastic is discouraged as it can cause overheating. 

Apart from these, regular care such as ensuring that they have adequate nutrients is required for them to do great. 

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This Week’s Guest Blogger is Jimmy Shen the Headman of a wild Ginkgo Hamlet in East China.

In 1989, at Yima Formation, Yima, Henan Province, China, a team of paleontologists led by Zhiyan Zhou and Bole Zhang unearthed ginkgo fossils that they later dated to 170 million years—the oldest ginkgo fossils found. Other fossil discoveries in Europe, South Africa, Australia, and North America reveal that ginkgos once flourished on our planet. 

Following the Cretaceous–Paleogene mass extinction 65 million years ago, the Quaternary brought periodic glaciation that swept across the planet, the last glaciation beginning some 2 million years ago. As a result, only a few plants, including one species of ginkgo trees, survived the catastrophes. These ginkgos found shelter in deep valleys of high mountain ranges in Central China.

Today, Ginkgo biloba trees represent the only genus of the family Ginkgoaceae of the order Ginkgoales of gymnosperms. 

The special smell of its ripe seeds attracts animals including the Masked Palm Civet Paguma larvata, which eat them and disperse the hard-shelled nuts within their droppings. As animal-dispersed seeds, ginkgos spread in the wild. Ancient Chinese found ginkgo nuts tasty and planted them nationwide. Sometimes ginkgo seedlings were included among dowries of brides. 

Because of their straight trunks and extraordinary shapes, ginkgos were often planted in front of temples, lending an atmosphere of awe and solemnity. Old Buddhist monks liked to use walking sticks made of ginkgo stems. When they traveled as missionaries, they stuck their sticks at temple courtyards and new trees grew. This practice spread ginkgos to the Korean peninsula and Japan in the fifth century. 

Engelbert Kaempfer, a German botanist and physician of the Dutch East India Company, discovered the ginkgo while stationed in Japan during the 1730s. He sent the seeds to Holland, and the first ginkgo tree in Europe grew at the Botanical Garden in Utrecht. In 2001, this oldest ginkgo tree in the West was 1.32 metres wide in diameter at breast height. From Holland, ginkgos were introduced to other European countries and to North America. In 1784, a ginkgo was planted in William Hamilton’s garden in Philadelphia, U.S.A.

Ginkgo is a dioecious plant. Males and females are separate trees. How to tell male from female?

Male Leaf

In spring, male ginkgos tend to germinate earlier. They grow pollen. Their leaves are more divided, and in autumn they fall later. Meanwhile, female ginkgos tend to germinate later. They grow ovules. Their leaves have no split and fall earlier in autumn. 

Female Leaf

Check the angle between trunk and branches: branches of males tend to be more erect, about 30 degrees between; those of females more horizontal, about 50 degrees between, for females to grow seeds and to get sufficient sunlight.

The ginkgo ebook is out. Learn a lot of stories by a native photographer stationed in the world only wild ginkgo forest in East China.