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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.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Baby days

This is the baby who has tilted the very axis of my world. My first grandchild, who arrived two weeks ago today.

I was in the car when I heard the news. I pulled over quickly and listened with mounting excitement. Jasper had finally arrived fifteen days late, weighing in at nine pounds five ounces after an emergency caesarian. His father Harry sent me over a photo of him and within the space of five seconds, I was hopelessly and irrevocably besotted.

I had wondered how I would feel becoming a grandparent - so many friends had said it was wonderful, even better than having your own children. Back then I couldn't quite grasp what they meant. I 've got three children who I fell in love immediately and I couldn't imagine anything as powerful as that love. Would there be a degree of separation?

 Jasper was in hospital for a few days and my husband had only just come out of hospital too so I had to make do with photos, videos and facetime for five days. Even then, I would watch the little videos twenty, thirty times and gaze in awe at how gorgeous he is. When I met him for the first time last week,though, I was instantly lost. Lost in a melange of overwhelming, pride, wonder, and utter contentment.
I didn't think I could love my daughter Lucy even more than I do already either, but my heart has melted watching her with her baby, She's such a good Mummy already, and watching her with him and brought back memories of having her.

Her husband Harry is a doting husband and father, and seeing his big frame tenderly holding his son is quite moving to see....

Spending time with them all for five days at such an important time in their lives has been so rewarding. I spent my time cooking meals, doing the washing...and even pegging those adorable little babygros and teeny, tiny vests on the washing line gave me small frissons of pleasure. It was the long chats though with my daughter and being able to hold Jasper and look after him while Lucy had a nap or two was the best....connecting at such a personal level with both of them.
And who could not connect with such a beautiful, new little person who looks at you with such concentration, who loves you singing to him, and who even tries to talk back already and snuggles in for cuddles.

All too soon it was time to say goodbye, to come back home to be there for my husband who was going into hospital for the third time in six weeks. There was time for one last photo until next week when they are coming to see us and my husband will be able to hold his grandson for the first time..

So, to all those friends who told me, yes being a grandmother is the most wonderful, exhilarating and emotional experience, and I'm loving every single moment of it so far!

Friday, 9 November 2018

A day at St Martin's Lodge - a unique place to stay in Leicester

When King Richard III was found in the car park in Leicester, just a stone's throw from the Cathedral, the eyes of the world honed in on the city.

The story brought tourists from all over the world, on day trips, to stay overnight, but there was only a few modern hotels close by to the historic Cathedral Quarter. Until now.....

You can now stay at St Martin's Lodge which has just opened bang opposite the Cathedral where Richard III is buried, close to the city's mediaeval Guildhall..

It's a Grade II Georgian  listed building, a former house and more recently a solicitors office, which I've watched being transformed over the last year.

What's more, the rooms at the back overlook the very spot, a mere thirty steps away where Richard III's body was actually found in the car park.

Earlier this week, I was given an exclusive preview of the new, luxury accommodation  which offers 28 en suite rooms, two of them fully accessible rooms.

The whole building has been restored sympathetically with beautiful old marble fireplaces kept in situ, and original bow windows restored.  It's also decorated in historic colours, with every room very different from each other. Fortunately though, the bathrooms are bang up to date with the latest designer showers and baths!


 I was staying overnight , and as the door to my room was opened, I was delighted with the view...

All I had time for was a quick look around, as I was recording and editing all day. I couldn't wait until the end of a long day to return and relax.

The view had changed dramatically by nightfall as the Cathedral was bathed in red for Remembrance
and I just stood gazing out at my favourite area of the city.

Prising myself away from the windows which run along the length of the room, I made myself at home 

I eyed the bed longingly,

After a ten hour shift at work though, I decided to make the most of the beautifully appointed bathroom. I wallowed in the huge roll top bath by lamplight, watching the shadows play on the wall and  admiring the beautiful tiles.....

After an oh so comfortable night's sleep in a bed the size of the Isle of Wight , I tested the shower, which was big enough for three people, and reluctantly got ready for work again.

It was the attention to detail I noticed though before I left....lovely drawings and sketches on the walls by local artists, local bottled water in glass bottles in the fridge, organic toiletries in recyclable packaging, USB points and plug sockets by the bed, in the sitting area and at the desk and dressing area.
There's  a Nespresso machine, kettle and a selection of teas available  in each room, but don't expect breakfast or a bar here.

This isn't a hotel, it  has the atmosphere of a private house. Breakfasts and lunches are available at St Martins House just a few steps across  the square, and a wide selection of bars and restaurants are only a hop, skip and jump away from St Martins Lodge.

This is in a prime location for anyone staying in Leicester, especially if you want to visit the King Richard III Centre which is a mere fifty yards away, or walk around mediaeval and Roman  Leicester, or if you're attending a wedding or a conference.

Despite just opening , bookings have been brisk, with the first guests coming from Singapore for a wedding( they took every room except one) and had the reception just across the Square , quickly followed by a posse from Wyoming , USA and a number of business guests.

St Martins Lodge is quirky, quaint and quite unique.  I also like its back story. It's owned by the Church - the Diocese of Leicester , who were offered the building a few years ago. How could the Church turn down the space,  the location , with a large car park at the back ?

It couldn't...the restored building is enhancing the Cathedral Square, attracting visitors to the area, and the profits will help pay the salaries of  priests and church staff as well as extending the church's work across Leicestershire and Rutland. That's what I call a win win situation.

You can find out more information about St Martins Lodge and book rooms here.....

You can also hear more on this story from me here 
- just scroll  I hour 25 minutes into the programme.


Sunday, 4 November 2018

Days of lettering

Are you lucky enough to make your passion your career?

So many people aren't, but earlier this year my daughter Lucy made the step to do just that. She's now working for herself  as Little Old Goose, a modern calligrapher, chalkboard and lettering artist.

I should have seen it coming a child she loved writing, and by her early teens had a distinctive and clear hand. She doodled too,  always having a  notebook or sketchbook close by.

When she got married, she had a ball designing all her wedding stationary, creating the chalkboards and signage. Everyone loved her style, and now she doing it for other couples getting married, for big events and anyone celebrating.


If you visit Southsea, Winchester and other places on the South Coast , you can see examples of Lucy's work in various shops, bars and restaurants....on walls, chalkboards and glass windows.


"I never know where my next commission will come from, or what the client will want. Sometimes they don't even know themselves."says Lucy. "That can be exciting, but I also work to definite briefs."
The commissions come from far afield, down south and across  in Leicestershire, Rutland and Lincolnshire.
Lucy also runs modern lettering workshops across these counties too. Held during the daytime and evenings, she provides brushes, ink and paper and guides groups of up to twelve people through the basic strokes and shapes.
"People come to the workshops alone, in couples, or as part of a group of friends or colleagues and during the break, there's  the chance to have a glass of wine or a soft drink .One thing is certain, there's always cake or nibbles and everyone always seems to really get on. Mind you, when they're practicing their lettering, it's quiet...the concentration levels are high, and everyone is totally focused on what they're producing."
At the end of the workshops Lucy says she loves to see they're pleased with what they've achieved and I love to see what workshop attendees go on to create.
Lucy is also asked to deliver workshops elsewhere for others. -at the end of September she flew to  Copenhagen for the third time to run two sold out workshops and she's also been asked to go back next year.
Before Christmas though, she's running workshops on the Isle of Wight, in Leicestershire  and Lincolnshire.
You can get more details here....
Lucy's also off to London for four days in December to hand letter personalised baubles and gifts at Selfridges and John Lewis.
Meanwhile, what's your passion ? Have you been able to take it a stage further too...or are you planning to? I'd love to hear about what you're doing........