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How to start a bottle garden

How to start a bottle garden.

As it gets wetter and our attentions turn inward for winter it’s a good time to consider houseplants, here are instructions on how to make a bottle garden – the easiest of ALL indoor plants. The only sort of arrangement that requires almost no effort whatsoever is a bottle garden, or plant terrarium.

Bottle gardens water themselves by harvesting moisture from the air when moisture condenses on then  as the surrounding air temperature cools at night the air inside the bottle condenses on the cold glass and waters your plants.

Fine powdered charcoal is the first thing to add, this keeps any spoilage bacteria locked up and increases the life of bottle garden, a well made bottle will last for many years. Dry the soil on a radiator for a few days, this means it will pass through the funnel easily and will be much less likely to stick to the glass.

An A4 paper tube gets to soil right where it’s needed

Don’t use succulents, like you see in the supermarket terrariums, as they will rot, use plants that thrive in damp conditions, especially miniature plants that will accentuate the appearance, Irish or Scottish Moss, Babies Tears, for example. Here is an excellent plant choosing website for any situation, very highly recommended. EBay user, rurallj, has produced this excellent list of plants suitable for bottle gardens. I’m using Mossy Saxifrage and Babies Tears.

Make a plant delivery bag by chopping the bottom of a small plastic bag, put the plants inside one at a time and shake them out the bottom.

Bio-char is charcoal that has been steeped in a ‘tea’ that is teeming with beneficial life forms, it will feed and nourish the garden for many years – it might seem expensive but only a teaspoon is needed! Being that your bottle garden is a little eco-system with relatively little input from the outside world it is worth giving it the best start. Don’t fret if you can’t get any – most people leave it out with no problem and it can always be added later.

I’m attracted to demi-johns, usually used for home brewing, but they are tall and have very narrow necks, so are difficult to work with. Shorter containers are easier. Here I’m using a length of bamboo as a tool, you can stick a fork to the end for different jobs.

Run the newly planted demi john under the shower to clean the outside and a little runs down the inside of the glass to re-hydrate the bone dry soil and charcoal.

Each morning the bottle should have a little condensation on the inside  – if not, you may need to add a little water.

Happy gardening!

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October garden at Sheepskin Towers – in photos

Winter Cherry fruit berries

Here at Sheepskin Towers we love colour, that’s why we sell really cheerful natural dye! We also know the value of being outdoors, here’s our favourite photos from our October garden​.

Topia close up

Check out our guide to growing Topia here

Adult fish

Check out their babies here!

Sunflower seed heads
More Topia!

Topia grow guide

Wishing you a very happy and colourful October – why not try a free sample of our colour-changing Butterfly Pea Tea?

butterfly Pea Tea clitoria flowertops

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How to grow Topia ‘Snowtopia White’

Everyone loves Topia exclaimed the woman who sold me my first little pot of it. Luckily, not only is it so delightful, it is also very easy to grow. See below for instructions on how to grow Topia.

Topia setting off the orange and red of Winter Cherry

How to grow Topia

Get yourself some seeds ready for spring, sow them in compost and put them out when the danger of frost has passed – they are tolerant of cold, but give the young plants a head start by keeping the seedlings indoors for a little.

Snowtopia will flower freely for an incredibly long season – mine are still in flower in late October having started flowering in April. No deadheading is required, no pruning needed, they will just keep on producing cascades of pretty white flowers all summer long.

‘Topia’ is Bacopa, a member of the Sutera family, sometimes listed as Chaenostoma cordatum or Sutera cordata in catalogues, so finding advice can be tricky. Fear not, this easy plant needs no special treatment, it’s able to withstand a degree of neglect so is ideal for containers that might get a little dry.

Filling in the gaps

Plant it in bigger cracks in the paving, at the sides of steps, under shrubs or trees (it prefers some shade to full sun). You can find out how I make my low-maintenance planters (including this Topia kettle) here.

If you have an eye for a beautiful bargain click the image below to grab yourself a free sample of our colour changing Butterfly Pea tea!

butterfly Pea Tea clitoria flowertops

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How quickly can a slug eat a cabbage?

I’ve just planted a beautiful ornamental brassica, I’m not naive… those slugs will have eaten it by tomorrow, but you have to try!

Here at Sheepskin Towers we like to do things naturally, so slug bait is off the cards. It would seem wrong to go to all the effort of sourcing natural dyes, ethical sheepskins, and artisan tea to then go and use potentially harmful substances in the garden. So the slugs around here have an easy time!

When I was young my mum used to put salt on those giant slugs that come out on hot summer evenings, I remember watching them shrivel and foam, it looked like a gruesome death. I wonder if brassicas do so well at the coast because of the regular salty sea spray, a kind of natural slug deterrent?

Either way, I give this delicate little beauty about twenty four hours on this side of Dartmoor. After that there’ll be little left but a stump!

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Small is beautiful – bonsai sunflower!

A tiny sunflower in front of its giant cousin.

In an act of untrammeled laziness, I failed to get all the sunflowers planted out – this one become an unintentional bonsai, and is now in flower!

You may remember me boasting about this really tall sunflower from the same pack of seeds, the only difference was the neglect shown to the tiny sunflower. Something to add to the nature versus nurture argument…

Sunflowers are annual plants, so you only have one season to bonsai them, with this unintentional example I didn’t prune the roots or anything technical, just left the poor thing in the pot it germinated in. I can’t wait to see if it produces seeds!

A true bonsai is usually a tree, of course, and what was created here is simply a small plant. Bonsai fans can be quite picky about how the term is used and what it relates to, so do take care how you describe your tiny sunflowers!

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Grab yourself a free packet of colour-changing tea!

butterfly Pea Tea clitoria flowertops

Have you seen this beautiful, healthy, colour changing Butterfly Pea Tea? You can have a packet on us!

Butterfly Pea Tea (Clitoria Ternatea) has a clean fresh taste, is rich in antioxidants and has special super power.

When you serve it with a slice of lemon you can impress your friends with a dramatic and beautiful colour change!

If you’ve noticed the Latin name sounds a bit, well, feminine, you’re right! The whole genus of plants, native to Indonesia and Malaysia, are so named because their flowers resemble a clitoris (although I’ve yet to see a blue one…)

It’s a wonderful plant, used in Australia, for example, to reclaim old coal mines. It fixes nitrogen from the air and leaves land more fertile than before it was planted. It’s good for humans too! Butterfly Pea Tea provides a rich source of antioxidants.

We love Butterfly Pea Tea so much, we want you to try it for free – just pay P+P!


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Baby Goldfish Update: 7 Survivors

Six week old baby goldfish

Here at Sheepskin Towers we love life, which is why we were delighted to find our goldfish had mated and produced these beautiful babies!

Baby Fish Update: 7 Survivors

Raising baby goldfish is not complicated, but it is by no means likely to work in this post I explain how to raise baby goldfish.

Even the babies will eat anything that can fit in their mouth, including other babies, so do follow the instructions.

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If you don’t like socks and sandals stop looking at my feet

If you have ever laughed, joked or criticised someone for wearing socks and sandals then I urge you to have a word with yourself. Why is it that among all the things you don’t like, you feel it OK to police this one?

You despise 95% cocoa chocolate, extra-large cars and rudeness, so why do you police my footwear?

I’d bet money you haven’t even asked yourself. I doubt you’ve even read the Wikipedia entry.

If you have a problem with socks and sandals, and I mean a problem that goes beyond ‘oh I don’t know about this Jeremy Corbyn fellow, he collects photos of drain covers’ then I recommend you take a good hard look at yourself in the mirror.

Why are you policing this opinion? It affects you no more than the Great British Bake Off, a lot less than homelessness; global inequality, the threat of nuclear war – things you put a lot more effort into turning a blind eye to.

And yet here you are thinking that you are having your own thoughts about some fundamental truth regarding clothing. But you have never questioned this ‘truth’ that sandals worn with socks is a bad thing, despite it offering a moisture wick that trainer manufacturers can only dream of. And, if made well, cross country all-weather ruggedness.

You’ve been told a lie and you are repeating it foolishly.

I worked an entire winter walking around with people with high levels of mental health support needs. We went out and about and I wore two pairs of socks – like a trainer sock on the inside, smooth and flat, and a hiking sock on the outside (not pulled up, I don’t go out of my way to cause outrage). I never got wet feet… just think of all the times you’ve heard people boast about real woolen jumpers and how they keep you dry.

But I will go further. You picked up this opinion, this blindness to reason as if observing an objective truth, and you fought for it like it was your own. Like it was real and authentic, but you never questioned if the reasoning behind the opinion was sound. I’ll break it to you. It isn’t.

Are you racist? Do you dislike socks and sandals because Romans wore them?

The earliest case of socks and sandals comes from an archaeological dig that revealed Roman footwear in Britain.

I urge you to think again before you tell someone that they are ‘wrong’ for wearing clothes that you don’t like – it is the start of you policing attitudes that are not your own. Embrace difference – would you really rather we all wear the same labels?

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Patience, patience… how long does it take tree seeds to germinate?

This seed could be from the largest tree on earth

I bought a pack of mixed conifer seeds from Chiltern Seeds, always a favourite company of mine, and they come in a large packet containing literally hundreds of seeds – enough to reforest the whole of Devon, I’m sure.

There’s a technique involved in successful germination of tree seeds called stratification, those who use it will say it is reliable – to the uninitiated it sounds complicated.

Some seeds, particularly those of hardy trees, shrubs and alpines, require exposure to moisture and low temperature to break dormancy – Chiltern Seeds

How to make the seeds think they have gone through winter:

Step 1. Soak seeds in rainwater

Step 2. Place seeds in a clean tub on damp tissue

Step 3. Leave in fridge for six weeks

Step 4. Remove from fridge and examine daily for signs of germination

Step 5. Carefully pot up any germinating seeds

Chiltern themselves point out that some trees will need to go through this process, designed to mimic winter, twice – because in nature the seeds could sit dormant for years.

Seed size has nothing to do with the final size of the tree.

What I find fascinating is the scale of the seed shown in this image, it could well be a Sequoia, Red Wood, or other massive tree. Sequoias are particularly known for having tiny seeds like this one.

I sown grass seed over a week ago… now, where’s my bowling green?

Another aspect of seeds that delights is somewhat fear-based. Will it even work?

I recently leveled my front garden, creating a usable flat space as a terrace, rather than the rough landscape it used to be, it really was an extension of the rough grazing that can be seen on this side of the River Dart, and somewhat an embarrassment.

I’m naturally drawn to the path of least resistance and also a little impatient, so as soon as the terrace was flat enough I was out there sowing grass seed. The birds have never been so happy.

Loads of seed seemed to ‘float’ to the surface the local flock of House Sparrows seemed to triple in size – I wasn’t expecting any good results, I simply didn’t believe it would happen.

So good to be wrong! The weather was perfect, heavy showers for my entire week off.

And here, after just over a week is the fledgling lawn.

It’s a wonderful thing growing things from seed, a beautiful expectation followed, with luck, by a beautiful plant… tree… or lawn. Take a look at Chiltern’s ‘Lottery Mixtures‘ which offer amazing value for the adventurous grower.

As Chiltern would say, why don’t you grow something new from seed?