Snakes out and about

 

As the weather hots up (ever hopeful!) we see more and more reports of snakes being seen in UK Gardens. Whilst this is shocking for those who find them (some of them can move pretty fast!), the likelihood of them actually hurting you is remote.

We thought that it might be a good time to share some information about the 3 types of native snakes that we have in the UK to put your mind at rest.

Anguidae

Slow worms – aren’t actually snakes at all, they are a legless lizard. They are shiny in texture and coppery brown in colour. They love to hide in compost heaps and under slabs . If you have a cat, you’re unlikely to have slow worms in your garden, as cats hunt them.

They are generally 30-40cms in length and can live up to 20 years (if pesky cats don’t eat them first!) Slow worms hibernate – usually from October to March (depending on the weather) and the males can sometimes have blue spots along their backs.

Slow worms do not bite humans, but they love to eat slugs and snails – so if you have them in your garden, look after them – they are natural slug control!

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Grass Snakes – the largest species of UK snake – these regularly grow over 1m in length. They love to bask in the sunshine and they like to take a dip in garden ponds too!

These do look like snakes – they’re a dark greeny/brown in colour with a lighter yellow “collar”. They also have black markings on their skins and they like to lay their eggs in rotting vegetation -so your compost heap is ideal.

Grass snakes are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act – so please don’t kill them or destroy their nest sites.

Grass snakes do not bite – they are not venomous. They feast on frogs and toads, and occasionally small birds or fish.

When grass snakes feel threatened by predators, they either play dead or emit a foul smelling substance from their anal gland – it’s best to leave them alone!

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Adders – are the only venomous snake in the UK – but they don’t really like to live in gardens, they’re much more secretive than that. You may however, see one if you are out walking, especially in open woodland and sea cliffs.

Adders will bite when they feel threatened, but their bites are rarely fatal.

Adders feed on small mammals and lizards.

Adders are usually around 60-80cms long and have a very distinctive zig-zag pattern on their backs. They are grey (males) or light brown (females) in colour. Sometimes, they can be almost completely black, but the zig zag pattern is still visible.

If your dog is bitten by a snake (much more likely for a dog to disturb them in their natural habitat) then you should seek veterinary attention quickly as snake bites can be much more serious in dogs than humans.

 

If you see a snake in the garden, marvel at the lovely nature – don’t be afraid of them- if you’re not keen on them, just keep your distance.

The Grassman team can identify native snakes for you if you’re lucky enough to see one.

What are weeds anyway.

Are these weeds useful?

As this week starts with “National Weed your garden day” (wouldn’t it be great if it only needed doing one day a year!?) we thought we’d have a look at whether the weeds that blight our gardens can be useful?

Starting with our old friend, the nettle

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The source of many a childhood red rash as we dashed into the undergrowth to retrieve a lost football – only to be stung by the protective spines on the nettle plant. Lately, we’ve seen Nettle tea popping up in supermarkets and we’ve seen recipes for Nettle soup too (not enough cake in Nettle soup!). Medically, parts of the plant can be used to treat  anaemia, arthritis, asthma, burns, eczema, infections, inflammations, kidney stones, prostate enlargement, rheumatism and  urinary problems.

 

Next we’ll have a look at Burdock

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Again, many a childhood memory of drinking glasses of Dandelion & Burdock. The root of the burdock is a really popular foodstuff – used frequently in Japanese cooking – but medically, it can be used as a detoxing herb and is apparently very effective for skin problems.

Following hot on the heels is our friend the Dandelion

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale agg.) footpath near to Home Barn Farm Sapcote SP 4900 9197 (taken 7.5.2008)

We spend long summers trying to rid our gardens and lawns of the bright yellow flowers – but as well as being mixed with Burdock for a refreshing drink, It supports overall health by gently working to improve the functioning of the liver, gallbladder, and urinary and digestive systems.

Red Poppies

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Are not only pretty to look at and helpful to remind us of the sacrifices made during the world conflicts – but they are also medically useful as a sedative – relieving pain and helping you sleep – without the narcotic effects that the Opium Poppy has.

Sticking with the red theme – Red Clover

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(which is actually more pinky/purple) is another well developed plant that frequents many a garden, meadow or field.  It is used for chronic constipation, skin complaints and bronchitis, it can also help to balance hormone levels during the menopause, relieving symptoms such as hot flushes.

How about our friend, the Bramble?

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We all know that we can pick the fruit of the bramble (blackberries) and make them into a pie or a crumble (served with thick vanilla custard, thank you!) but what else can you do with the plant that invades any spare space in the garden and takes hold quickly? In the summer, the leaves of the bramble can be harvested for making into tea or infused oils to treat bumps and bruises. The infused oil can be added to a basic cream to help to treat haemorrhoids too! The blackberry fruit itself is high in antioxidants and they can be made into a remedy to ease the symptoms of gout!

 

There are many plants that we consider to be weeds or unwelcome in our gardens or open spaces – but perhaps this will make you look at them in a fonder light – knowing that they aren’t all bad. We don’t recommend that you try making any herbal remedies yourself without some guidance. Julie Bruton Seal has written a book called “Hedgerow Medicine” that is useful to explore the healing properties of some of the more common plants/weeds, and for further help, there is the Herb Society of the UK.

Water the fountain of life

 

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When to water in the summer

As we’ve had a couple of really hot days this month, we might be tricked into thinking that Summer is upon us, and then it rains. I think we’ve got a bit more Spring to do yet, but Summer isn’t far away – so it’s important to make sure that your lawn and any garden plants are looked after in the heat to keep them looking their best.

So, let’s start with lawn care – as that is what we excel at. Now, ideally, we want to have lawn grass that is short (but not too short), lush and green. We can keep the grass the required length for you (call for a quote if you’re not an existing customer) and we’ll give you some top tips now to keep it looking lush and green.

Grass is a plant – and plants need water to live. Most of the year, your lawn will be able to sustain itself by sourcing water from the ground and drawing it up to grow the grass shoots – but in times of extreme heat, it needs an extra bit of help.

 

Watering your garden when the weather has cooled a little – or before it gets hot is ideal- so earlier in the morning or in the early Summer evening – and then, rather than drenching the garden, you should water with a lighter spray, allowing the water to penetrate the ground and soak in. You don’t necessarily need to water the lawn every day – a good watering every couple of days should suffice.

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Now, watering your plants is a bit different – and if you have plants in pots or hanging baskets (see our earlier blog about hanging baskets if you’ve not made yours yet) then these might need additional watering the extreme heat – possibly twice a day, as they don’t have access to water from the soil. Again, it’s best to do it before it gets hot or when it’s cooled down, so that you don’t cook the plants when the sun gets onto them – and for pots/baskets, a good drenching is fine – although you might want to be careful if you have young plants or delicate plants like Verbena/Petunia as they can be easily damaged by high pressured water. Use a watering can for ease if you’re able to.

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Ultimately, if your plants are looking a bit sorry for themselves in the heat, they probably need a drink – so help them out with some water, before they give up completely!