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Spadework; let's all save the earth.

AS we enter the new millennium more folk than ever seem to be aware of the problems our planet faces.

With the environment being squeezed at both ends, it seems likely future generations will be headingtowards an environmental breakdown.

Our only real hope is that Mother Nature will, with any luck, pull a rabbit out of the hat at the last minute.

I will be long gone by then but I am acutely aware of the need to preserve our finely tuned eco-system. Gardeners can make a difference through the practices we adopt.

In it simplest form, it could mean that you may never cut your grass again. Surrounding wildlife will move in from all over the place and it won't be long before butterflies, hedgehogs and birds are all clamouring for a shot in your wildlife resort.

By letting the grass grow under your feet British native plant species such as nettles, campion and foxgloves can all come into flower and provide insects with nectar, which is good for birds and so on.

You need only chop the grass once a year, in September, and it should all be raked away.

If you like the sound of this and fancy the wild meadow look, where field poppies, corn cockle and dog daisies fight it out among the wheat then be warned. This is an addictive, time-consuming task.

If the idea of watching the grass grow appeals to you then you should also consider the `no dig' school of gardening.

In fact, it has been argued for some time that digging the soil over and opening it up changes the natural balance that the soil organisms have become accustomed to and does more harm than good.

You get round this by leaving the soil in peace and letting the insects do all the hard work. You need to build a raised bed to maybe 18 inches, any retaining gravel board is fine, as long as it is well secured.

The idea is that you fill this bed to the top with well-rotted manure and leave it on the surface of the soil in a thick layer.

In no time the worms get to work and they start dragging the manure down into the ground. They are so efficient that by the time a year has passed the first lot has all been carried into the soil by the worms and it is time to apply a fresh layer.

Whatever you do, going organic should be high on your list. The taste difference is obvious, plus you know you aren't eating anything that has been sprayed with E numbers or preservatives.

I admit it wasn't so long ago that I was moaning about the hassle and grief of growing your own produce, but that is because there are too few hours in the day for serious fruit and vegetable gardening.

A properly laid out and well-tended vegetable garden is a sign of a truly knowledgable gardener, as well as a busy one.

If you are stuck for somewhere to start, do yourself a favour and get your backside down to the local shops.

Woolworths is worth a look as is B&Q and the Sunday markets. There are numerous fruit bushes and trees available and you can usually pick up a decent-sized plant for a fiver.

Start with a clean, well-balanced, undamaged tree and remember to use plenty of manure or garden compost in the planting hole.

You can then use some blood, fish and bone for general fertilising while an annual top dressing of bone meal will do the trick.

Just remember to keep the dog indoors, as soil mixed with bone meal appears to be incredibly desirable, according to my collie.

Deciding to grow produce organically is a different ball game from normal gardening.

Because you are unable to use quick-fix chemicals, you have to take a more rounded approach to pests and diseases and, dare I say it, even tolerate them.

However, there will eventually come a time when your favourite plant is getting attacked and the organic side of you is beginning to have doubts. If you begin to falter, here are some tips.

Try planting marigolds among your plants - greenfly hate the smell. Nicandra physalodes, the shoo-fly plant, is another aphid deterrent. Not only does this plant make an imposing feature in the annual border, its large bell- shaped blue flowers are beautiful and always create interest when other gardeners see it.

If the plants have been well fed and brought up, they can tolerate the occasional attack by aphids and other sap-sucking insects. This is where the manure really pays off - it cuts down watering and stops weeds growing, and it's one stage closer to cutting down on landfill waste.

It turns out that all our landfill sites are bursting at the seams and we will have filled all the rubbish sites currently available within the next six years.

Up to 50 per cent of household waste is recyclable. If we begin to deal with our own rubbish by building a compost heap, we could reduce the pollutants that results from landfill sites, improve the soil in our garden and ultimately improve the quality of the food we eat and grow.

You can make a compost bin by nailing together four wooden pallets or, if these are not available, make your compost heap in a pile in a discreet corner of the garden and turn the heap over at least once every three months.

If you want to leave your millennium mark, why not plant one of the most desirable trees in the world, magnolia grandiflora. This magnificent tree has leaves like a large cherry laurel but they are larger and have a rusty felt on their underside.

A small tree, it will eventually reach the first floor window and should by then be old enough to come into flower.

Magnolia flowers belong to the period of the dinosaurs and their massive flowers are pollinated by beetles.

The bowl shaped flowers are ivory white and made up of several thick waxy petals. They are usually eight inches across and emit the most delicious fragrance of warm lemons.

To hold a full-sized magnolia grandiflora bloom in all its wonderful glory between your cupped hands is certainly one of the horticultural highlights of any gardener.

Sadly is it a bit cold to grow this one in the countryside, but give it a sniff of the town and it seems as content there as it does in its native North America.
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Chudziak, Bill
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jan 2, 2000
Words:1093
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