Weekly Top 5 Tips: Heating and Hot Water

  1. Turn down your central heating thermostats to 15C or less for maximum weightloss and energy efficiency.
  2. Turn down your hot water tank or cylinder to 120F.
  3. Let the sun heat your home. We can’t all live in a passive solar house, but we can make sure to draw curtains on south facing windows in the morning and close them in the evening to let natural solar light warm the room and to help reduce heat loss in the evening.
  4. Seal as many draughts as you can to keep out the cold (and heat for those of you lucky enough to live in warm climates!)
  5. Insulation, insulation, insulation. Roll it out in your loft, spray it in your cavity wall space, put under your floors, sew it into your curtains, snap it onto your pipes, put a jacket on your hot water tank, paint and paper it on your walls. When doing any sort of DIY, try to think about ways to include insulation. Just like the supermarket says….It all adds up!

Flowerpot candle heater


This is one kind of unconventional fuel that I can get behind -candles! So, there are loads of videos online telling you how to make your own flowerpot candle heater. More than a few of them are filmed by foul-mouthed Americans so if you decide to watch some, you might make sure your kids are out of the room. Another more worrying concern is that you don’t use zinc plated screw, washers or nuts, as they cause nasty fumes when heated. I wasn’t thinking when I went to B&Q the first time for my shopping, so had to go back to get non-plated metal. Really, heating up zinc plating is a terrible idea, so stay clear of the shiny options.
O.K. now, I hope that I haven’t scared anyone off too badly… But if you are looking for a fun weekend project I can recommend making one of these. I used the three pot design, and lit a 2-inch diameter unscented candle in a glass holder. Scented candles will add smoke, which may muck up your heater with time. Tea lights are ok too, but they are rather wimpy flames so I opted for a larger and longer lasting candle, which was a good call.
Yeah, but how did it work, I can hear you ask! In a nutshell, they are great for a potting shed type of situation, as they take about 30 minutes to start emitting heat, and the output isn’t enough to heat a flat or even a medium-sized room. But they will give off some heat, so where you have no heating and could use a wee bit of ambiance in a small place this is a nice thing to have around.

Foraging Fox

FoxHole2.14Well, after a few weekends away, I have only managed to make it down into the garden to take out the compost… But it’s been cold and wet, so not much really needs to be done at the moment. Yes, that’s my excuse. But, I did replant some poor little bulbs that were uprooted by what I can only presume was a fox.    I found a largish hole in the middle of my Shasta daisies (Leucanthemum x Something or other), where I had recently thinned out an area, giving some plants away to coworkers, and then replanted the space with some lovely double daffodil bulbs.  At least that’s what I think, I planted…  Another reason for starting this blog – to remind myself what I have planted, where and when!!  So, as you can see below, there are some bulbs left, but a wee bit of plant carnage.  Silly fox!  But I suppose an animal’s got to eat…  Oh well, I threw the wet soil back over the remaining bulbs and will hope for the best.  But I am not optimistic about this patch performing well this Spring!FoxHole.shasta2.15

Rose pruning in January

Growing up in southern California, my best friend’s mom always used to prune her roses on 1 Jan, while we were watching the Rose Parade on TV.  She’d bring in several vases full of her lovely sprays of blooming roses year after year while my friend and I sat and marvelled at the imaginative floats covered in exotic plant materials and eating our warm cinnamon mountains.  Wow, those were the days!

Back to 2014… This weekend I forced myself to forget about the brambles and anemone for the time being to do something more fun.  Since we’ve had such a mild winter, I let myself be inspired by some rose pruning videos from the Royal Horticultural Society.  So out came the gloves and clippers, sorry secateurs.

But I think 1 Jan is a wee bit too early to prune roses in Scotland, so I usually hold off until February or so.  However, my gardener friend who looks after Princes Street Gardens and their roses, told me that with warm winters I can prune earlier.  That’s what I did last year, so I hope my bushes are safe this year too!  We’ll see.

I didn’t realise just how mild it has been, until I was cutting off branches down to fairly big and developed buds with aphids safely tucking into my roses’ baby leaves!  Hmmmm, I don’t like aphids at all.  Every year I buy ladybug, sorry ladybird, larvae as soon as possible (they go on sale in early May) and strategically put them on patches of aphids.  And every year I have to really hunt to find early colonies of the leaf-sucking intruders upon which to lay my juvenile ladybirds.  I can’t recall ever seeing adult aphids ‘wintering’ on my plants before and certainly not in such large numbers.  Does this mean we’re in for an explosion of the pests this spring?  I hope not, but again we’ll see.

Evicting unruly border tenants

I'm not sure which is the worse eyesore - the broken bench or the brambles.  Yeah, the sad seat!

I’m not sure which is the worse eyesore – the broken bench or the brambles. Yeah…OK..the sad seat!

I probably should have started my increased gardening endeavour with fun tasks like planting bulbs or installing new garden furniture. Instead I have been locked in a battle to clear out some plants that I once thought nice. Brambles! I will never forget my excitement upon seeing the first blackberry in the garden a few years ago…lovely free fruit volunteers growing in my untended borders. Lucky me! The only problem was that there were too few berries to satiate my family’s berry love. So I let them roam and hoped for more the next year. Last year was the first summer where our garden brambles kept up with our eating. I must admit it was nice to watch the kids foraging in the garden, and our weekly crumbles were divine. However, the growing brambles (aka barbed wire) winding it’s was through my hydrangeas, peonies, roses and azaleas are NOT nice. So, this year I have tasked myself with removing them from my borders. After some thorough web searching for chemical-free ways to clear brambles, I decided to use the snipping root method described here. The only problem for me is that this isn’t really sexy work so I haven’t been as motivated as I should be. Plus it’s been wet, dark, cold yada yada yada.

The next thick-stemmed sucker to come out!

The next thick-stemmed sucker to come out!

The good news is that I have taken out about half of the brambles in my garden.  Next tenant to evict will the one I’ve battled with for the past 5 years.  The Japanese anemone!  But I might first do something more fun and satisfying like planning out and planting a soft fruit patch before thinking about the anemones.