Category Archives: Gardening

Princess turns into Dirt Girl as worms become new pets

AS previously mentioned in these ramblings, our four-year-old daughter Bonnie is not absorbing the influence of her rowdy elder brothers and becoming a tomboy.

Quite the opposite. Much to my surprise and bewilderment, she can be the girliest of all girly-girls. She’ll always choose a floaty dress rather than trousers, will chat away about ‘pretty things’ with her pals, the Disney Princesses, and will pronounce, over-dramatically, “I’m scared” about everything from dinosaurs to the dark, (when she clearly isn’t).

However, she did me rather too proud at the weekend when I finally got a blessed hour or two to tackle some over-due gardening tasks.

Worm girl

Turning the compost heap has been on my to-do list for about a year, and as I shoveled the upper layers into a wheelbarrow, she spotted dozens of creepy-crawlies running, wriggling and slithering for cover.

I expected her to decide that she was scared of beasties but to my surprise she delved right in with her bare hands, gleefully collecting fat brandling worms and letting them wriggle about on her palms.

My requests for her to carefully put the worms back because they needed to be away from the sunlight fell on deaf ears – they were ‘her’ worms. They would be her friends. I had images in my head of finding dead worms in her doll’s house or chest of drawers.

I explained that to the worms, she was a giant – “I’m not a giant, giants are big” – and that she might be scaring them. Only then did she reluctantly give them up to go back into the compost heap.

That’s when she spotted the prehistoric-looking centipedes, running for their lives. She jumped, and hid behind me, unwilling to share my enthusiasm for the speedy bugs. “I’m scared of those,” she announced.

I’m keeping quiet about my similar dislike of moths . . .


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Adventures in muck making: testing starts of new HotBin

I’ve just loaded my base layer into my new HotBin. Unusually for a compost bin, it’s sited outside our shady basement backdoor on concrete.


This new bin doesn’t need sun or a soil base for worms to crawl up. It works on bacterial heat.
But the real revelation is that it claims to compost cooked foods, including meat. Therefore seriously reducing your weekly waste while producing compost for your plants.
Here’s the clincher: it says it will produce useable compost in 30-90 days. That’s about a year faster than my bog-standard compost heap.
The HotBin in also manufactured in Northampton, my home town, so I’m particularly hopeful it works.
The base layer is just 30cm deep of your own compost (a bag from the


garden centre will do). Then when it reaches over 25 degrees (thermometer in the lid) you can start adding all food waste, with a handful of wood chips for bulk.


I’ll keep you up to date with how our six-person family copes.

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First garlic? Major fail


My first garlic is rubbish. I suspected this might happen as I put it in very late, er, like March, and the best crops are planted in October-November.
If the cloves don’t get a decent blast of cold then they don’t split/multiply into a fat bulb. The ones I planted have hardly fattened up at all. Or split into bulbs.
Still, they are edible, and I’ve got another row which look much healthier.
Note to self: plant garlic in autumn not spring.

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Cottesbrooke Plant Finders’ Fair 2011 in pictures

ROOKIE photographer Jed Scoles’ first foray into press snappering. Enjoy

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Gardeners at Cottesbrooke plant finders’ fair




The fourth Cottesbrooke plant finders fair has launched in sunshine, but may have become a wee bit too big for its wellies.
The show has grown in popularity but with country roads around the estate, the queues to get in were over an hour long at some points and there just weren’t enough loos to cope with so many visitors.
Besides the queues for parking, toilets and sandwiches though, there were fabulous plants for sale. Add the excellent, and this year free, talks by the likes of Dan Pearson, James Alexander Sinclair and Ursula Buchan, and the magnificent Cottesbrooke gardens, and it was pretty good value for money.
There’s a plant creche for your purchases and demonstrations too. Fingers crossed, the weather will stay sunny and the parking issues resolved over the next two days. Take a picnic, a brolley and leave early.

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It’s the 4th Cottesbrooke Plant Finder’s Fair this weekend

This is a piece about the forthcoming Cottesbrooke Plant Finder’s Fair, courtesy of

Hopefully the weather will stay dry, but take a brolly just in case.

Cottesbrooke Plant Finders’ Fair started four years ago in the grounds of a magnificent stately home in Northamptonshire.

The ethos was to be up-market, presumably to entice the wealthy North London-folks up the M1. Potential exhibitors, paying a lot for a stand on which to sell their wares, were vetted before being allowed into what was being pitched as an exclusive club. Garden gnomes and bedding petunias wouldn’t be entertained in such exclusive company.

However, after a slow start, and despite the economic climate, the up-market  ethos seems to have worked. The number of exhibitors at the Cottesbrooke plant fair for 2011 has more than doubled from year one and currently stands at 70.

The plants are good and if you don’t get to go to the likes of Hampton Court and Gardener’s World Live, this is a great way to buy plants from people who actually know how to grow and care for them, and who are usually happy to give you some advice.

This year’s fair, which is supported by the Telegraph (Daily, not Evening) and Gardens Illustrated, is set to take place from Friday June 24th – Sunday June 26th and is open daily from 10:00am until 5:30pm

For the uninitiated,the Plant Fair brings a lot of nurseries and horticultural sundries all together in one place selling their wares, plus your admission fee gives you a chance to tour the very lovely gardens.

There are also high-profile guest speakers, including Dan Pearson, Helen Yemm, Stephen Lacey, Val Bourne, Derry Watkins, Juliet Roberts and local garden buffs Ursula Buchan and James Alexander Sinclair. Last year they charged extra for access to the talks but the 2011 entry fee includes the talks if you book in when you arrive (subject to availability (of seats, presumably)).

There’s a plant crèche to stash your purchases, a free plant swap for those organised enough to bring a pot of something with them and help available to take purchases back to the car park.

A word of advice: The food queue was horrendous last year so a picnic might be advisable. It’s not too far from the car park to nip back for your lunch.

A mixture of plant nurseries from as far afield as Ireland will attend, including Crûg Farm Plants from North Wales. This year there’s a print-out of who is on which stand, and a story-teller for the kids

Carla Cooper, Cottesbrooke’s Administrator said “This is all good for the local economy and in time may give the county’s tourism a little boost. In fact next year we hope to offer local hoteliers a preferential ticket price so that they can offer a Fair weekend break deal.”

Here’s the price for up-market though: entry to the fair is £8.50 on the gate. Thankfully, this year there is an advance booking line where tickets are £6.50, although annoyingly, there’s an additional £1 ‘booking fee’ PER TICKET. The booking line is 0845 130 7778 and charged at a local rate. Children get in free.

If the weather stays fine, this could be the CPFF’s best year yet.

Visit for more details and a list of exhibitors and speakers.

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Nesting bird complicates Focus closure in 4 days time?



A blackbird is nesting on eggs in a diy store due to close on Monday.
Staff at the Focus diy store in Weston Favell are protecting the mum’ s nest in the hope the eggs will hatch in the next few days.

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Northants amateur gardener wins Gold and Best in Show for section with her first ever show garden

Elaine Christian with her gold medal, (photo copyright Hilary Scott)

AN AMATEUR gardener from Barton Seagrave has won a gold medal and Best in Show for her group at this year’s Gardener’s World Live event at the NEC.
Elaine Christian, who studied Fine Art at University built her first ever show garden in the Birmingham Borders section, which she funded herself, with help from family.
Despite no formal gardening training, Elaine not only won a gold medal, but also Best in Show for the Birmingham Borders section.
Her garden, titled the Land of the Long White Cloud, was inspired by a planned trip to New Zealand with partner William Portch for their 50th birthdays. It’s been a year of green-fingered success as her own garden in Barton Seagrave opened for the NGS charity for the first time this year and attracted hundreds of visitors.
Three first year students from Moulton College in Northampton also won RHS awards for their gardens.

Nick Hunt’s The Apothecary’s Garden and Shena Whitlock’s Banish The Can garden both won Silver medals while Carole Carrigans won Bronze for First Dance.
Gardeners’ World Live runs at the NEC until Sunday.

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A quarter of a century after listening to Duran Duran in the dark, I meet Simon Le Bon. But he’s mute.

SOME of you might be around the same-ish age as me. Some of you may be female, which means you may, around the early 1980s, have been a Duranie. (A devotee of the band Duran Duran).

Growing up in the deep South West, I could never claim to be a full-on Duranie. I never saw them live, or got an autograph by hanging around where they lived.
The closest I got was watching Top of the Pops, several posters on my
wall, a treasured copy of Rio – on vinyl – and fevered discussions with my friend Sally about how we were going to get John Taylor (her) and Roger Taylor (me) to be our boyfriends.

Needless to say, we weren’t as hardcore and loyal as some of our peers. Apart from the soaring Ordinary World, the music faded over the years as did
our penchant for silly hair and duster coats. I grew out of Duran Duran.

Not just a careless memory

Then 25 years later, wandering around the floral pavilion at Chelsea Flower Show like a proper grown-up, I spot Duran Duran’s lead singer Simon Le Bon, walking hand-in-hand with his sickeningly beautiful wife Yasmin.

At first I pretended I hadn’t noticed them, but in my head I’m thinking, “Should I say something? I’m a journalist for goodness sake, I can ask them about Chelsea. What’s the matter with you Hilary, you don’t usually get flustered by fame?”

I sidled up, offered both a handshake, intending to say, “Hello, do you mind having a quick chat about your favourite gardens?”

Instead, I stammer, “Er, hello, I’m Hilary and I’m, er, 41, which, er, means I was a big fan, and, oh, dear, how unprofessional, I, er, wondered if you’d mind if I took your photo . . ?”

At which point, Mr Le Bon takes my camera phone out of my hand, gives it to Yasmin, and gives me a hug, before posing for a photo with me.

But he doesn’t speak*. Not a word. Having interviewed a few pop-stars and actors over the years, I decided the non-speaking thing could just have been a weird celebrity quirk (I’ve seen weirder), or perhaps he was preserving his
voice, as some singers do before a gig.

So I find myself talking to this mute man – whose amazing voice I listened to in the dark, on a flip-up cassette player in my early teens – through Yasmin. But she’s struggling to make my phone take a picture.

It’s all a bit surreal.
She thinks she’s taken it, but it doesn’t click, I have to get her to
do it again. I’m embarrassed. They are both patient. I wave goodbye
and they walk off together again. Not speaking.

I stand still for a while, staring at my phone, wondering. There’s a picture of me and Simon Le Bon on it. Simon Le Bon!

I tweet it, in a completely show-offy way, hoping that somehow my mate Sally, now in her 40s, living in Dorset and mum to three kids, will see it. And be jealous.

Then I remember . . . she’s not on Twitter.

*I found out later that the first gigs on Duran Duran’s massive tour have been cancelled due to Simon Le Bon’s chronic laryngitis


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Chelsea Flower Show: Monday is mental, advice for visitors

Just got back from Press Day at Chelsea Flower Show. How lucky. Tiptoeing through the tulips (that hadn’t gone over in the heat) was a delight this year.

If you are planning a visit this week, there’s a few things you should know. First, if you haven’t got a ticket, tough. It’s sold out.

Cleve West on his Daily Telegraph Garden. Hotly tipped for Best in Show, so my sources tell me

Second, it’s not like it looks on the telly. The gardens are smaller than they look and the site is enormous. It takes an entire day or more to see everything, and that’s when there’s

Laurent-Perrier Garden by Luciano Giubbilei – Nature & Human Intervention

only a few hundred hacks, snappers and celebrities in your way. ‘Public’ days are heaving, and you just won’t see it all. However, you should try to see everything possible, including the tiny gardens in the woods and the entire floral pavilion.
Get there as early as you possibly can and leave as late as you dare.

Again, don’t think just because you see ladies in floaty dresses and strappy stilettos on the TV that you can do the same. These are ladies who arrive by chauffeur-driven car or, at a push, a cab. They teeter about for a bit and get collected at the gate. Monday is mental. It’s so far removed from reality that it gives a completely different view of the rest of Chelsea week.
Most normal visitors will be carrying bags, traipsing from Sloane Square tube and back (about a ten minute walk) and circling endlessly around the site. It’s sweaty and exhausting. Wear a rucksack. Bring a wheely bag if you have a bad back. Pack drinks.

I’d start with the Main Avenue gardens and work around the outside of the pavilion. Then have a break before doing either the floral indoors or the gardens in the woods. Leave the shopping avenue until the end, so you have less to cart about, but don’t forget to leave time as there are loads of goodies (should have bought those gloves. . .)

Work out where the loos and food stops are on your map in advance when planning your route. There will be queues. Also make sure you know your train times. I left the site late, spent £20 on a cab which missed the turning for Euston and I missed my train by one minute, leading to a delay that meant someone else had to retrieve my offspring. Again.

I’ll have to come back and properly upload and caption some of the photos in the morning because I have to lie down and sleep. Happy Chelsea everyone!

Cancer Research/Robert Myers

More pics to come. . .

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