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Friday, 1 November 2019

A foodie Friday with mushrooms

As the saying goes "Never look a gift horse in the mouth."

I don't usually, but I was rather surprised  when my husband came home with some mushrooms which he had collected. Yes, he'd been mushroom picking.

He's never done anything like this before, yet here were some large specimens...

I must admit I was a little suspicious, he doesn't usually eat mushrooms. So were these all for me?
Were they safe to eat? 

I'm not being funny, but what my husband knows about different types of mushrooms could be written on a postage stamp.  He'd gone to play a round of golf, so why mushrooms now? I consulted the only book I have on mushrooms - a lovely present years ago from Claire Alexia, our cousin in France

Mmn. I still wasn't sure. Who had he played golf with?

 When he said it was our friend Keith I smiled.That man is a mine of practical information. He's an ex Marine who can forage for England. He knows his onions...and mushrooms too. Within moments those mushrooms were being sauteed in butter with garlic and leeks. Stock was added, and when they were cooked, the mixture was liquidised, and reheated with some grated nutmeg and a rather large slug of sherry and double cream. Sea salt and black pepper too.

I had loosely followed Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's recipe for a rather retro, rich mushroom soup. So comforting, so smooth, so delicious, even if I had run out of dry sherry and had to whack in some sweet as sin Pedro Ximinez.

I immediately put in an order with my husband for more mushrooms, and they came...some as big as my hands, some as big as my face. More soup followed.....

The other day, more mushrooms arrived.
 I just fancied them sauteed in butter, with cream and a slug of brandy. I started getting butter and cream from the fridge, when I asked if Keith had picked some too.

"Oh no, he wasn't there today" was the reply.

The butter and cream were swiftly put back in the fridge. I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, but in this case I made an exception and decided to wait until Keith is there too, when the "gift" is picked.......

Here's the link to Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's lovely recipe online .....

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Days of lust in our country cottage

I don't usually write blogs about lust. Absolutely not - usually I write about gardens and gardening, food, drink, travel, history and books .

Today though, I'm going to make an exception.

It's been an exhausting week in the cottage, with the heavy, relentless air of unresolved sexual tension.

Here are our dogs Boo on the right and her son, Eric on the left.

Here is Eric with Winnie, our son's dog who's been staying here a while.

All three of them get on very well. I call them "Our gang "

But the gang have been driving each other, and me, mad over the last week or so. Boo and Winnie are in season, and they have been letting us all know about it. Winnie ran off on a walk last week, looking for a one night stand, but fortunately she was in open countryside and there were no other dogs around.

The constant rain this week has also meant  they've been indoors more than usual, and with the only available dog around being Eric, the girls have been parading around like femmes fatales trying to raise his interest.

Eric has been flattered and has been following them around with longing. Both of them.
Boo and Winnie have been positioning themselves right in front of him and Eric has been trying to oblige. He had a certain operation as a puppy though, so has not been able to satisfy their lustful desires, or his.

 So, you can imagine the atmosphere here  and with the constant panting of tall of the dogs, I've felt like throwing a bucket of water over the lot of them.The only time they've quietened down is when they've been fast asleep.

Poor Eric, unable to perform, unlike a dog who lived in the same village as my aunt and uncle in the Cotswolds many years ago..

Nipper, if I remember his name rightly, was an alpha male, who was known throughout the village by everyone. Dog wise, all the females adored him, and it is said he had impregnated most. Their owners hated him, and apparently he was so randy if there wasn't a female dog in heat in any given week, he would go further afield to satisfy his lust.

Nipper did it in style, he used to stand at the bus stop, and then get on the bus to Cheltenham, get off in the centre of town and find a dog on heat  to while away an hour with, and catch the bus back home, pleased as punch.

That was a long time ago though, and back in our cottage, the gang have all been quite restrained today, so hopefully life will gradually be a little less fraught.......

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Days of mastering the art of lawn mowing

I've been mowing the lawn quite a lot recently. For those of you who know me well, this is unusual behaviour.

There are three things in life I refuse to do unless forced to -  mowing the lawn, reversing the car, and Morris dancing...

All are extremely unpleasant and uncomfortable.

After having whiplash a number of times, reversing can be problematic, even though yes, I do use my wing mirrors.

As for Morris dancing, all that dancing and prancing about plays havoc with your knees, and nobody warns you about ending up with black eyes...if you don't wear an extremely good bra.

That leaves mowing the lawn...

In the olden days, we had an old hand mower which I tried using a couple of times, but it was too back-breaking.

"It's man's work " I told my husband and left him to it.

Then about fifteen years ago, 'The Beast' arrived.

A petrol mower, a stinky, noisy huge thing which I tried to use once or twice. Not intuitive to use, I almost put my back out each time I pulled the chord to start the damn thing, and it was just as temperamental as I was by the time the lawn was cut.

So I've not used a lawnmower since. Until recently as my husband has had two hip replacements and another op. Someone had to do the lawn and that was me, and I wasn't going to do that using the beast.

At the Garden Press event in London earlier this year, I was paying attention to what I've always considered the boys' toys ranges.

On the Stihl stand, I was asked what I was looking for. My answer was something not too big, not too heavy, cordless, something which could be used by someone who was technologically challenged, and not too expensive.

I looked at all of their range and fancied the Stihl RMA 235.

"Would you like to review it?"

"Yes, but only if I can be brutally honest... I don't get on with lawnmowers" I replied. Despite saying that, the lawnmower arrived.

 All I had to do, was get it out of the box, tighten the handles, slot in the grass collection box and insert the lithium battery, and push the mower towards the lawn. Immediately I realised just how lightweight this mower is, weighing in at only 14 kilos.

I pressed the button on the right-hand side and pressed the handles together, and we were away, cutting a swathe through the thick grass, which was in desperate need of a trim.

So what do I honestly think about this model of mower?

Well, it's a doddle to use, idiot-proof in fact and very safe. It's light and quiet, there's a gentle hum as you walk up and down the lawn, only slightly increasing in volume as you hit a rougher, tougher patch of grass.

It's easy to guide and manoeuvre around the garden with minimum effort... no backache using this machine, oh no.

Although the grass box takes up to 30 litres of grass clippings, it's simple and light to detach and empty the grass clippings on the compost heap.

Should I have gone with a larger model to review though?

Stihl recommends the RMA 235 for gardens sized the size of a tennis court. Mines slightly bigger, but I 'm still very pleased with its performance and have actually enjoyed (I can't believe I'm saying this) using it.

In short, if you have a smaller garden, need a lightweight efficient mower which is so easy to use and easy on your back, this one fits the bill to a T.  I've said in the past that lawn mowing is men's work, but this is an ideal mower for women to use.

Thanks to this small mower at last, I've mastered the art of lawn mowing.

In fact...

It's given me the confidence to be ready to play with some other power tools.

I'm not ready for a chainsaw just yet, perish the thought...but I now feel ready to try the delights of strimming.


Obviously there's lots of other lawn mowers available but if you'd like to know more about this one you can go to

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Two days at BBC Gardeners World Live 2019

BBC Gardeners World Live opened its doors on Thursday after one of the most challenging build-ups to the event. Lashings of rain and wind made impossible conditions for designers, landscapers, plants people, and Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

Luckily, the rain held off at the Press preview on Wednesday, enough for me to spend a  wonderful afternoon admiring what is on offer.

Let's start with my favourite show garden this year - the Watchmaker's Garden, designed by Alexandra Froggatt.

Steeped in history and reflecting Birmingham's Jewelry Quarter in Victorian times, this is a practical yet beautiful design with authenticity and attention to detail.

First of all, the building with its ghost painted sign commands attention. The front garden is a mix of Victorian heirloom vegetables to feed a family - peas, kohlrabi, beetroot, packed alongside herbs and marigolds, columbine and dahlias.

At the side and back, there's fruit trees, gooseberries, even nettles, but unusually, there was a recreation inside the house of a watchmaker's studio. No wonder this garden was awarded Best In Show and won a platinum award.

One garden you won't be able to miss is "Revelation, designed by Mike Baldwin. The sight of four large horses splashing through water is an arresting and powerful delight. which immediately poses so many questions. They're in front of some beautiful gates which lead into a series of garden rooms. Look out for the visual cues which hint at the scriptures and garden history.

I really enjoy the faithful recreation of a canal in the garden "Making life better by water from the Canal and River Trust which is designed by Chris Myers.

It may be at the NEC but this gzrden takes you to anywhere in our country's network of canals, embodying a sense of peace, tranquillity and timelessness. I also like the small vegetable and flower garden alongside, which would help sustain the lock keepers family in years past.

Talking to Alistair Barnsley, one of the charity's volunteers, I find out the boat was on a canal but needed some renovation. The volunteers borrowed it from the owner, painted it up and hey ho, it's having its moment in the limelight.

As you walk along APL Avenue, where members of the Association of Professional Landscapers showcase their designs, there's a wealth of accessible designs for small gardens. My favourite is "Home Solutions "by John Lewis garden, designed by Shaun Beale, landscape manager at the company's Leckford Estate.

There's a nod to the sparkling wine produced there, with vines grown as a screen, a cleverly designed water feature and the small space is packed with plants, including the topically named "Corydalis Tory MP and Lychnis coronaria 'Gardeners World'.

Shaun Beale says that this is the very first show garden he's designed. I tell him he should get a gold, and when I see him at the Awards Ceremony later, he is awarded a gold, and there's a tear or two of happiness in his eyes.

Mind you, if he saw the current state of my garden (overgrown, borders need replanting, redesigning etc) he'd probably cry too but for a very different reason.

Beautiful borders are always a popular category at BBC Gardeners World Live, and this year's theme is My Space. There are twenty-eight different designs here, all very different, but the stand out showstopper is designed by Jonathan Ensell from Roots to Fruits.

It's witty, full of ideas representing different facets of the National Curriculum. I adore the plant abacus (maths tick), the Roman pottery to discover under the pebbles (history tick) and you even play a tune of the hanging terracotta plant pots (music tick) 

A well-deserved platinum award sent this to the top of its class.

I'm always beguiled by the delicious scents which greet you as you wander into the Floral Marquee and there's plenty of plants to tempt.

There are four satellite plant pyramids this year around the huge structure which dominate the whole area. I'm amazed at how they erect them all, and at the wonderful range of new plants.

On closer examination, my top five are Agapanthus "Fireworks" and Clematis "Little Lemons" from Thompson and Morgan, "Blueberry Pink Flamingo" from Suttons, Pinks "Pink Ruffles" from Whetman Pinks and Pelargonium Calliope Hot Pink from Syngenta.

So, just some of my personal highlights from this year's BBC Gardener's World Live, but there's something for every gardener to take away from the show - an idea, a plant, a contact, some inspiration, and even a lesson learned from one of the experts at the many talks on offer...

BBC Gardener's World is on until tomorrow.

Sunday, 2 June 2019

English Wine Week 2019

So, today marks the end of a special week for wine lovers... English Wine Week 2019.

It's a chance for English winemakers to celebrate, to market their wines, to offer tasting sessions to show the uninitiated how good English wine can be. 

In Market Harborough last Saturday, David and Jane Bates who own the nearest vineyard were doing just that. Their Steeplechase Sparkling, a brut, was very refreshing in the summer sunshine.

Elsewhere in Market Harborough, our two excellent wine merchants were also promoting English wines. 

At Duncan Murray Wines, an award-winning independent, you can always buy English wines, but last week there were special tastings of red and white wines from Staffordshire's Halfpenny Green Estates, and yesterday you could taste Biddenden Ortega from the vineyard in Kent.

In the local branch of  Majestic Wines, glasses of Selborne Classic Cuvee Brut were available to try... and although I've drank this wine many times before, I couldn't say no - I like its dry apple and lemon hints.

It's just one of one the amazing sparkling wines coming from the south of England. The big hitters of course when it comes to sparklers are Nyetimber in West Sussex, Chapel Down in Kent, and the oldest one, Hambledon Vineyard.

Nyetimber's Classic Cuvee, and their Rose with its raspberry and redcurrant shout "England in a glass" as does Chapel Down's English Rose.

Sparkling wine accounts for sixty-six percent of all the wine produced in England, and I think it's what we do best.

Being given a bottle of English sparkling wine to celebrate any event is a real treat, and when friends come for supper, I'm noticing that more and more are bringing English wine. Ian, a friend of ours  who lives in Herefordshire, likes to bring his local wine from just across the county border in Gloucestershire,

Opening an English bottle of wine immediately starts a conversation...  about a vineyard, about a county, English history (such as when you open a bottle from Greyfriars Vineyard) and so much more.

There is the passion and the back stories of the smaller producers, who have changed their careers and lives, because of a dream - such as the wonderful Liz Robson who owns the two-acre Rothley Wine Estate in Leicestershire.

There are five hundred and twenty-two commercial vineyards in the UK... here's to their success, their dreams, and their hard work... and I look forward to tasting so many more of their wines, especially the sparklers!

I adore fizz...

Monday, 27 May 2019

The RHS Chelsea Flower show 2019

It's Bank Holiday Monday, and the early morning sunshine disappeared ages ago. I'm in and out of the garden dodging the short, sharp showers as I try to catch up on some weeding.

My garden needs quite a lot of attention, but as I look out over a few swathes of cow parsley and the "wild area" at the side of the cottage where the bees are madly buzzing in and out of the hardy geraniums, lemon balm and forget me nots, I don't feel as guilty as I normally would.

Why? Well, I can see hints of this year's RHS Chelsea Flower Show in my own garden.

This time last week I was at the outstanding, must see flower show in the world. It was Press Day and once again there was that familiar flutter of excitement and anticipation as I walked through the gates.

The first garden to view was the Wedgwood Garden, a quiet oasis designed by Jo Thompson to mark the 260th anniversary of the pottery company.

Arches, water and a pleasing pastel palette of blues, pinks, creams and apricots made a welcoming and peaceful impression - but there was great excitement when a young woman wearing nothing but a wedgwood blue, embroidered body stocking arrived to pose for photographs.

On Main Street all the gardens are of a very high standard... triumphs of design and in the past I've seen some very showy gardens, some designs of such form and precision. This year though, the gardens are so much more naturalistic and wild, so much more accessible with key themes of gardens being havens to escape into, to relax, to be, and to have fun.

There was no time for relaxation or a leisurely stroll through the show though... there were interviews to do and features to record, so I didn't take half as many photos as I wanted to.

I adored the eye catching and oh so evocative "Welcome to Yorkshire "garden featuring a canal and lock gates, a vegetable plot and a cottage garden. Beautifully done, as was Andy Sturgeon's M and G garden - a vision of woodland, water and new growth.

I was particularly taken too with the Resilience Garden which celebrated a hundred years of forestry, with its message of how trees and forests will have a leading part to play in the fight against climate change.

Another garden that stood out was the CAMFED Garden. As soon as I saw the packed red earth path winding its way through a vibrant garden full of edibles, I was immediately transported to Africa. To Zimbabwe, where the Campaign for Female Education is helping girls in poor rural communities to stay in education. Banana trees, sweet potatoes, cassavas, ground nuts and grains were all jam packed into huge oil cans in the soil, just like in Zimbabwe, where they are showing how women are being taught to grow their own food and develop their own agricultural businesses... this was an inspiring garden.

In the Great Pavilion, perfection and plantsmanship were celebrated as always by around eighty different nurseries... I loved the Stihl Hillier garden which won a gold medal.

From the pastels to the vibrant colours on the Grenada stand... and this Richmond Red knocked my socks off.

So did the aroma of all the spices from this lush Caribbean island. The designer Catherine John certainly knows how to win another gold.

Whizzing outside again, my heart sang when I caught sight of this completely riotous and glorious 
display near the artisan food stalls, 

My heart missed a beat though, as I found the D-Day 75 Garden.

It pays homage to the last surviving Normandy veterans, and the centre piece is a statue of Bill Pendell who died in December. He's seen looking across the shingle and sea thrift at a statue of his younger self with his colleagues, as they rushed up the beachhead at Arromanche all those years ago.

Stark and poignant and so sincerely done, many of us looked on quietly.... and I'm so pleased that this garden is now being rebuilt overlooking Gold Beach in France as a lasting legacy.

By now it was time to leave and on the train home to reflect on such a different Chelsea this year. Oh and to look back through the photos I took... one of my favourites being this one on the Sarah Raven stand. I was about to talk to Joanna Lumley when Rachel de Thame appeared... happy air kisses and a short chat later, Carol Klein popped up and they all wanted a photo together. Three wonderful, talented and lovely women enjoying the moment, and enjoying Chelsea.

So did I... a wonderful day at a a fantastic show which highlighted the natural, the wild, the beautiful... just like my own garden, if you ignore the weeds!

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

The darling days of May

May has always been my favourite month of the year.

As a child, I used to love that we could play out in the garden so much later than usual... when really we should have been in bed on a school night.  I remember the blossom in the mini orchard at the bottom of our garden too ... three or four small apple trees and four pear trees, which I used to sit under making daisy chains.

It was my son’s birthday yesterday and  mine on Thursday , so there have always been lots of celebrations in May for our family. I even got married in May on my birthday and so did my daughter so there’s extra reasons to celebrate and make lots of happy May memories.

It’s not just one mad month of partying though. May is the month when my heart sings for so many different reasons...

For waking early and hearing the birds chattering away madly....
For having those first lazy  lunches and suppers outside in the garden ......

For the long May morning walks with the dogs as we amble across the fields and down the lanes around our cottage. Inhaling the scent of late spring, and feeling the gentle warmth of the sun on our backs in the lush Leicestershire countryside.


When the garden becomes more colourful... and I can finally plant out the tomatoes , beans and courgettes and squash at the end the month.....

When I can drive home from work with the windows down , be home by seven and still manage to spend time in the garden

When I can be inspired by so much around me ....May  is a month of such promise....

And of course May is the month of the greatest flower show in the world... the RHS Chelsea Flower Show! It was Press day yesterday and I was there being inspired by the passion and the plantmanship, interviewing so many lovely people and seeing friends from the Garden Media  Guild for a lovely gossip..

But that's another blog the meantime, for me, May really is the loveliest month.